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The game development philosophy behind Pyre

We talked to Amir Rao and Greg Kasavin of Supergiant Games to learn more about the development and philosophy behind Pyre.

Bryant Francis

July 28, 2017

3 Min Read

What would you do if you were exiled from your homeland, and only had one chance to get home? That’s the question Pyre (Supergiant’s latest RPG) poses, as it sends you off on a jaunty adventure across a fantasy wasteland with a cast filled with colorful characters. 

We already talked to the folks at Supergiant about making a game that takes the sting out of defeat, but we still wanted to learn more about the development process that brought this game to life. So today, we invited studio director Amir Rao and game director Greg Kasavin on to the Gamasutra Twitch channel for a chat about the process behind Pyre

In case you missed it, you can watch the full video up above.  But if you’re just hopping on your own Blackwagon on a journey of redemption by way of magical sports, here are a few key takeaways to learn about the making of Pyre.

(A warning, reader, there are scurrilous spoilers below.)

Pyre began as an exercise in building a game about multiple characters

According to Kasavin and Rao, while there were a lot of high-water marks for realizing what made Pyre “fun” during development, it all began with a desire to try something different from Supergiant Games’ previous two successes. While Bastion and Transistor were stories of individual characters faced with changing worlds, work on Pyre because its creators wanted to explore the possibilities of making a game with multiple characters. 

So while you’re playing, you should definitely pay attention to how Supergiant uses these characters not just in the fantasy arena, but also in the choice-driven gameplay that takes place between the missions.

Players get attached to "dumb details"

In Pyre, there’s a grey-haired young woman who joins your journey shortly after the game begins. Instead of telling you her name though, she asks you to remind her of it, and the game offers a huge litany of names that all end with the “ae” sound (Shae, Bae, etc). And every time she enters battle,  the game's snide narrator (voiced by Logan Cunningham) announces her by the name you picked, despite there being a huge variety of different names.

So that means there’s dozens of audio files that players just won’t hear because they only picked one name—no doubt a huge undertaking that must have required a lot of tracking and management. We asked Kasavin and Rao why design decisions like this were worth it, and Kasavin passionately argued they’re sometimes the thing that players will remember most about your game. 

Kasavin challenged everyone else on the stream to recall their favorite games from childhood, and pointed out that the moments we probably best recall were finely-tuned details that stuck around in the game because someone on the team was really passionate about them. Rao added that because Supergiant is such a small team, it’s easier for those features to stick around in development, because all it takes is two members (a large percentage of the team) to think they’re worth working on. 

“It’s a game that asks you to consider the outcomes of [defeat]”

As mentioned before, we talked to Kasavin about Pyre being a game that deals directly with defeat. But he and Rao were able to share more thoughts on that subject. Most ‘learning’ in games, Kasavin points out, happens in an extra-narrative fashion. But he says Pyre asks you to consider a different viewpoint. “In a zero-sum competition, If I’m against you, I win, and you lose. It’s a game that invites you to consider what that means from multiple points of view.” 

If this insight was helpful for you, we ask that you follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel so we can provide you with more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary. 

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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