Never start a company with your friends. You’ll wind up hating each other. Amir Rao didn’t listen to that advice, and so far it’s working out for him.
Rao’s small startup, Supergiant Games, managed to create an original game called Bastion that is going to be published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, the video game arm of the big movie company, on Xbox Live Arcade this summer and on the PC later this year.
Bastion is one of the truly imaginative role-playing games I’ve seen, a rarity among the fantasy-themed video games that come and go by the dozen. With lush hand-painted two-dimensional art, Bastion takes you away into a destroyed world populated by a silent hero known as the Kid. He wants to recreate a safe haven, The Bastion, where he and others can go in case of an emergency. An event known as “the Calamity” divides the world into a series of floating islands. The Kid has to move carefully about as the ground reassembles itself or disappears in front of him.
The Kid finds weapons that he uses to dispatch gas-based monsters, and he builds a hub where he can restore the Bastion. One of the cool parts of the game is that it has a narrator who recounts all of the Kid’s actions as they happen.
The narration appears to be dynamic, almost as if it were created in reaction to the events that have just unfolded in the game. Logan Cunningham, the voice actor, recorded 3,000 lines of narration.
The difficulty of the game is also dynamic. You can deliberately make it harder to play and then receive rewards for that later in the title.
Bastion is the first game created by Supergiant Games, which Rao founded in 2009. He previously worked at Electronic Arts on the Command & Conquer series with his friend, Gavin Simon. They left to start their own company and began work on the title 20 months ago. They assembled a team of seven developers — including former GameSpot executive editor Greg Kasavin — who worked for the past 20 months on the game.
“I got all of my friends together to start the company, so I’m not sure why they tell you not to do that,” Rao said.
They had no place to work so Rao’s father let him use his house in San Jose, Calif. His father suggested that Rao go ahead and start the company because he was young enough where failure wouldn’t harm his career. They showed the game off at the PAX Prime event where the game was selected as one of the top 10 independent games of the show. It also received two nominations at the 2011 Independent Games Festival. The team took some of the feedback from the shows and worked it into the game, tearing up narrated lines and adding more to replace them.
The team is putting the finishing touches on the downloadable game, which will last for around eight hours or so, Kasavin said. That’s a pretty long experience for a team of just seven people. And the company can publish the title quickly and easily online thanks to the online game services on the consoles.
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