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How Supergiant weaves narrative rewards into Hades' cycle of perpetual death

Supergiant Games’ Greg Kasavin digs into the narrative structure in a recent interview with Rock Paper Shotgun, shedding light on how the studio’s foray into Early Access has fared so far.

Hades is completely different [from Bastion and Transistor]. We have no idea, apart from a couple of moments, how things are going to be sequenced and how they unfold for a player.”

- Supergiant Games' Greg Kasavin walks through the development of the studio's non-linear, early access game Hades

Hades is Supergiant Games’ first foray into creating a roguelike, much like the in-development game is the studio’s first stab at community driven, early access development. Those new elements bring their own share of challenges and solutions, some of which Supergiant’s Greg Kasavin took a moment to share in a recent interview with Rock Paper Shotgun.

There’s a ton of interesting moments to be found in that piece, but Kasavin’s discussion on how the narrative structure of Hades differed from the team’s past games, and how it fits into the death-and-rebirth loop of the roguelike genre, deserves particular attention.

“It was an explicit goal of our early development, to take the pain out of dying and having to restart,” explains Kasavin. “If the whole game is structured around dying and restarting, then we had to make sure the moment of death isn’t about rage-quitting. You have to be compelled to explore further and feel the time you spent wasn’t a waste of your time.”

The overarching story of Hades has protagonist Zagreus rubbing elbows with several beings from the Greek pantheon, though the order in which those encounters play out—and if they do at all—is one of the variables that can change from player to player.

So while roguelikes typically let gear and skill upgrades persist after death, Hades also builds its narrative hooks around a similar structure. Kasavin explains that the game peeks at the moments players encounter mid run, like encountering a character while Zagreus' health is below a certain threshold, and feeds one of several possible pre-written events to players based on that situation.

So while the development team can weight certain events in a way that gives them more of a chance to pop up, the narratives that’ll play out for each player throughout their time with the game remain a bit of an unknown.

“Reactivity has always been a goal of our narrative design, to have those moments where you feel the game is paying attention,” he tells Rock Paper Shotgun “Those moments in games are so good, so we try to create as many as possible in the hope players can experience them.”

The rest of Kasavin’s chat with Rock Paper Shotgun offers a more indepth look at this system, as well as a discussion of the process for introducing new characters throughout the early access period and other lessons learned throughout Hades’ yet-ongoing development.

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