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Roguelikes and narrative design with Hades creative director Greg Kasavin

On GDC Podcast episode 16 we're joined by Greg Kasavin, creative director at Hades developer Supergiant Games. We talk narrative design, his journey from game journalist to game developer and the allure of the roguelike genre.

On GDC Podcast episode 16 we were thrilled to have Greg Kasavin, creative director at Supergiant Games, the studio behind awe-inspiring games like Bastion and most recently the instant-classic Hades.

We spoke with Kasavin at length about his journey from a top-tier game journalist and critic to a game developer at one of today's most respected studios. We also talked roguelikes, narrative design, and how the "dumb" stuff in games are sometimes what makes them so memorable.

Listen now on iTunes and Spotify

Greg's view on narrative design

"There's nothing more frustrating in games where you're really engaged with the story, but then you just hit a difficulty wall, and you just want to see how the story ends. But you can't--you can't make any more progress because it's too much for you. So we try to build systems into our games that mitigate those kinds of moments, so that if you are engaged in the narrative, but you haven't been playing games since you were six or whatever, you can still work your way through and have a good experience."

Greg on the importance of 'dumb stuff'

"I call it--this isn't a great expression--but I call it the 'dumb stuff' in the game. Like, it's the pointless stuff. I mean it in an affectionate way. But the things that are unnecessary in a game I think are the things that, paradoxically, can make a game very special.

"We try to jam all our games full of it, because we as a developer don't actually know which of those unnecessary, pointless things a player is going to really respond to. But for me, if you could just put enough of them [in the game], then one of them is gonna work on you!"

Greg on roguelikes with narrative continuity

"...Can we use the genre format to tell a story? A thing I would think about often is even in the hardest-core roguelike game where it resets you completely to nothing from one playthrough to another, there is in fact, something that you carry forward, which is your knowledge of the mechanics in the game, right?

"So using your knowledge, you can get farther and farther in a game like Spelunky. So it was a fun thought exercise to think of a game premise where the character had the same ability. So it leads you to well, what sort of character would still remember what happened after they die? Well, what about a character who's just immortal--like they don't die for real, Because you don't really die for real in roguelike games?

"...What if there was a roguelike with narrative continuity, where every time you run into a boss, they remember, you start keeping a tally of who won this time, who won last time. And it was fun to think about...We had done a game with a complex narrative in Pyre just before so it wasn't that intimidating of a starting point. And we started chipping away at it basically, in early access. ...And then here we are."

GDC Podcast music by Mike Meehan

Listen now on iTunes and Spotify

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