Greg Kasavin full interview from our Subscribathon!

Uploaded by geekandsundry on Apr 27, 2012

FELICIA DAY: I've known Greg since I was 12.
We knew each other on Prodigy.
And explain how we knew each other, Greg.
GREG KASAVIN: We were in an Ultima
fan club on the internet.
I mean, I doubt most people even remember what Prodigy is
at this point.
That feels like such--
FELICIA DAY: We're old now.
GREG KASAVIN: --ancient history.
That was like in the early-- what? '93 or
something like that.
Very young.
Before college, before anything.
And we both loved the Ultima games.
And we were part of a bulletin board, which is an old-time
kind of forum in the pre-days before there was an internet,
girls and boys.
And we would post about the game.
I would write fan fiction about it, where I would burst
into a bar and just kill people with my
amazing Ultima prowess.
Wow, guys.
So we've always been friends.
And the cool thing was that when we were very young, we
would share letters to each other.
We were kind of like online pen pals.
And I remember I would send him letters about how I wanted
to be an actor one day.
And Greg, you would write me letters back
about gaming, right?
Yeah, that's right.
Yeah, I wanted to make games since I was a little kid, and
then got into writing about them and stuff like that.
So now here we are.
So tell people who might not be familiar with the story of
how you got into gaming and what you did
up until this point.
Just kind of give us the bare bones, like how did you end up
in the gaming industry and how did you get into and
GREG KASAVIN: Yeah, sure.
Well, basically I started writing about games like even
when I was in high school still.
I was really interested in these events, like E3 and at
the time it was the Consumer Electronics show.
You here about these things where all the
newest games are there.
You can play everything.
I'm like, I need to go to this thing.
That wasn't the pure motivation, but I was spending
so much time playing games that I felt like I wanted to
do something productive with it.
And I tried programming and stuff like that, which was
kind of the obvious way to get into game development at the
time, and really just didn't take to it.
I don't think my brain is really wired that way.
I know it's kind of like if you set your mind to it you
can excel anything.
But there are certain things I can excel at a little more
easily than others.
And I discovered the level of effort to get into programming
was just kind of overwhelming for me.
But writing about games was something that I really took
to, and started little fanzines just
writing about games.
And one thing led to another and all of a sudden, I had
kind of small-time gigs freelancing for gaming.
And it eventually led to an internship at GameSpot, which
had just started in 1996.
And I started there as an intern and worked there--
I ended up there for more than 10 years.
And I was editor-in-chief by the end, for a
better portion of that.
So I wouldn't have been in the gaming press for 12-plus years
if I didn't really love it.
But I never kind of lost sight of the fact that I wanted to
make games since I was like eight.
And so I eventually just bit the bullet and had an
opportunity to go work at Electronic Arts, where a
former colleague of mine told me about a job they had.
FELICIA DAY: I remember us going to lunch and talking
about the fact that you were going to make this-- because
we met again after you were working with GameSpot.
And then you were saying, I think I'm going to make the
leap and quit my job--
that was very stable for you and you were
very popular on GameSpot--
and go ahead, because I really want to make games.
And I was like, you're following your dream.
You've got to do it.
And I know that you went through some hard times with
your family and all these things in order
to make that happen.
But you did it.
And how was that experience for you?
I mean, it was really interesting, because
I'm based up here.
I'm in Northern California, in Marin County, but I took a job
in Los Angeles where I basically just like commuted
down there.
I never would have--
my webcam is kind of centered weird.
It's cutting off my head.
FELICIA DAY: Oh, believe me--
GREG KASAVIN: I was making myself really short.
There we go.

Yeah, It was weird.
I mean, it was definitely intense.
I'd heard plenty of stories that working in the game
industry can be pretty intense.
And I was willing to kind of give it my best, especially
having given up a job that was really good.
It's like, hey.
I better throw everything I've got into this, otherwise I
would have kind of wasted a perfectly good opportunity.
And working at EA, it was kind of every bit of the roller
coaster ride I think I kind of expected it was going to be.
And really one of the best things that happened to me
there was that I met the guys I'm working with now at
Supergiant Games, because these two guys who were on the
same team as me making Command & Conquer games, which are
real-time strategy games about like tanks blowing up other
tanks and stuff like that, we go on to make something that I
think is pretty different and we--
FELICIA DAY: How did you connect with them?
You would just share what kind of games you liked?
And you worked with them on a regular basis
and you just connected?
Or what happened?
How did it work?
GREG KASAVIN: Yeah, that's right.
I mean, they were my friends and coworkers on the team.
And actually, one of the guys, Amir, who's our studio
co-founder and our studio director, he was my roommate
down in LA.
So we spent a lot of time together, working late on Red
Alert 3 or whatever, having beers at 2:00 in the morning,
just talking about games and talking about whatever else
and what we wanted to do and stuff.
So out of those very intense work situations, a lot of
people talk about how bad those circumstances can be in
game development.
But there can be an upside as well, which is that you forge
these really strong relationships with people,
where if you just kind of worked a 9:00 to 5:00 with
people, it just wouldn't necessarily be the same.
I definitely in my time, having made a lot of film.
I have learned more from my mistakes and the hard times
than I ever did with the easy times where it was just, like,
oh, this is perfect.
Everything went smoothly, and everybody knew exactly what
they're doing, and we had all the resources we
needed to do it.
I mean, it's been rare, but those times never taught me
anything to be able to come to this point.
It was all the mistakes, and the things that I did wrong,
and the things I messed up, and the things I
knew I had a hole.
Whereas now, when we're doing six shows at once, it was only
the mistakes that are filling the holes to make it possible
to release this many shows at once.
It's never the victories.
And people don't get that.
They are so afraid of messing up that they're
afraid to make mistakes.
And especially when looking for people you want to work
with and kind of throw in with on something that's kind of
just getting started, having worked with people in the past
where you've seen what they're like at 3:00 in the morning.
You've seen how they handle really bad situations.
It can be immensely kind of reassuring knowing that those
guys are kind of in the trenches with you.
So walk me through the decision to leave EA and make
an indie game.
I mean, now I feel like even probably two years after you
decided to make that decision, a lot of people feel more
confident in it, because it's this huge resurgence.
But like not a recommended idea, because gaming was--
you know.
FELICIA DAY: And tell me why you did that and then what
spurred you to do it.
And also, we did do it--
or these guys, I should say.
I joined these guys kind of after they had already gotten
off the ground.
But the short version is that in August of 2009, so 2 and
1/2 years ago, something like that, we all left EA
one after the other.

The circumstances over there made it
easier for us to leave.
But there are a lot of people we really loved working with
over there.
And we kind of left independently.
But then we all got started talking what we
wanted to do next.
And basically within a month, Gavin and Amir, who are the
co-founders of Supergiant, they moved really fast.
They kind of dropped everything, moved back up to
Northern California, like moved into Amir's dad's house,
and started working on Bastion.
And there was just the loosest idea for the game itself.
And even for like what the kind of studio identity was
going to be, there was just the vaguest sense of that too.
It was just all about creating a good environment in which
people could do their best work unfettered, not bothered
by external forces and stuff like that.
And they were just like, we're going to start taking this one
step at a time and see where it goes.
Since I was commuting down to LA already, I was not prepared
to make the same sacrifices at that point.
And I remained good friends with those guys.
But I didn't necessarily think I was going be able to end up
working with them, especially because, yeah, I've got like a
family to feed and a mortgage and stuff like that.
I really, honestly thought that I was past the point
where I could make that kind of personal sacrifice.
But they made a lot of really good progress in their first
year and stuff like that.
And they got to the point where they were getting ready
to announce the game.
And that was when we started talking again, because a lot
of the formative ideas I was there for.
So it felt very near and dear to me, even though I hadn't
been working on it initially.
And so we made it work.
And then it's been just kind of a whirlwind ever since.
I had to convince my family once again--
I had to convince them to take like a pay cut and to accept a
crazy job when I left GameSpot initially.
And this was an even more drastic of that, in a way,
where it's like, how about I practically stop getting paid
altogether just to go make a little game?
And our odds of success are probably extremely small.
FELICIA DAY: I guess that's why--
I went to the PGA Awards and I saw Steven Spielberg, and Les
Moonves, and all these huge people
accept all these awards.
And the one common thread between all of them is just
thanking their family.
Because in a way, they started from the exact same place.
Every single person who creates had to have somebody
supporting them or at least a little bit of backing from the
people who are closest to them in order to be able to take a
risk, because it's always risky.
And it's really cool.
Thank goodness your wife was cool with it and that you got
to work on a great game.
So like you joined a year after.
And then what was the process.
You wrote a lot of Bastion as far as the
writing writing goes?
GREG KASAVIN: Yeah, I wrote all of it--
well, besides like the songs, which our
audio director wrote.
GREG KASAVIN: But the story and--
FELICIA DAY: The characters?
All the characters and the narration in the game.
Basically like the world of the game and the fiction is
stuff I was responsible for.
And then I did a bunch of the level design as well.
FELICIA DAY: And how do you come up--
like how did you start?
Obviously, they had a lot of visual assets already there.
What inspired you and how did you create this sort of--
the kid?
I mean, basically it's such a very interesting
backstory-less character that you just unveil
so much about slowly.
And it's kind of opposite of what games usually do.
How did you start with that?
And what inspired it?
So it's like inspired by a bunch of different--
both kind of my entire background playing games, a
lot of my personal love for classic games from the 16-bit
era and stuff like that.
FELICIA DAY: Like what?
Ultima, obviously.
But what others?
So for me personally, I've always played both Western and
Japanese games, and both computer games and console
games, and stuff like that.
It seemed like people were a lot more divisive about that
stuff in the past, whereas I kind of played everything.
So for me, it is a combination of like Western RPG
influences, stuff like Ultima, to Torment that
you guys just mentioned.
FELICIA DAY: I see Torment a lot inspired in Bastion, in a
real, tangential way.
That's maybe why it sucks you so in.
That game to me just kind of narratively is one of the best
games I've ever played.
And then Japanese stuff like the classic Final Fantasy
games, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger, games like
Super Metroid, from that whole era.
But, really it, wasn't any kind of one or two games.
And likewise with stuff outside games, both Amir and I
are English lit majors.
So we talk a lot about books and stuff.
And the author Cormac McCarthy was a specific influence on
the tone and writing style of the game.
That was something that we talked about early on, because
we didn't want the game to feel and sound like a bunch of
other stuff that we'd already seen.
We wanted to try to make something that felt fresh,
because we're making a game that's
not a sequel to anything.
It's an opportunity to do something that felt original.
So yes, that's where this idea of what if Cormac McCarthy,
who wrote The Road and All The Pretty Horses and stuff like
that, what if he made these little role-playing games?
What would they sound like?
So that's where we got the kind of dialect and style of
our narrative.
FELICIA DAY: That's so interesting.
That's such an interesting-- like one of those books that
you're forced to read in college.
But in a sense, that's such a cool way to channel something
into a form that you wouldn't expect it.
David Gaider was just on, and he was like Alistair, who I
think is one of the best characters of
the Dragon Age universe--
He's awesome.
FELICIA DAY: --he was inspired by Xander and the
Firefly, Mal Reynolds.
So I was like, oh, I totally see that now.
Now that you've said that about Bastion, I mean, Cormac
McCarthy has such a sad--
I mean, like he has such a distinctive voice.
And I totally see now that you say that how you can move that
into a video game, which most people would not say
is a high art form.
But you are making high art, in a sense, with
some of these games.
It's very cool.
GREG KASAVIN: And I think the key difference for us was I
wanted to extract all the evil from his stories.
Because his stories, they're really dark and messed up.
FELICIA DAY: Really dark.
GREG KASAVIN: So I was interested in having more of
kind of like a fairy tale feel almost, where even though the
Bastion story actually deals with some
pretty dark stuff too--
GREG KASAVIN: It's ultimately like--
I would consider it a fairly optimistic story in the end.

There's isn't a great source of evil.
There isn't some evil monster that's trying to destroy the
world or whatever.
It's like the evil in the game, without really spoiling
anything, it's kind of in the past.
And it's about how the characters deal with that
realization and what they want to do with it.
Like I said, it is this kind of stuff like Ultima, where I
played it at a pretty formative age.
Where I don't know which age group Ultima was created for
necessarily, but it felt like it was suitable for all ages.
FELICIA DAY: I think what impacted me most was those
questions that you had to ask in order to formulate your
character, where you had to pick your virtue.
And in a way, I don't even think nowadays there is a game
that you could say--
you're able to control what you are, but there's nothing
like telling you what you are, in a sense.
And that's what Ultima did.
It was like, oh my god, honesty, and all these virtues
that had-- you were like especially when you were a
teenager and trying to find yourself, like those virtues
help define who you wanted to be and who you are.
And you were able to manipulate the questions to
become that person you want.
It is a much more deep layer of character creation than--
we just have our faces now.
GREG KASAVIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
FELICIA DAY: And BioWare has Paragon, and Mass Effect has
these good and bad decisions.
But the sort of granular nature of creating your
character on this very subtle plane is so much more
And I wish that more games put that into
the character creation.
I totally love that too, like the fortune teller kind of
mixing your crazy potion depending on your answers to
this series of moral questions.
I love that.
GREG KASAVIN: It was awesome.
I actually still refer to that as well, as like--
I feel the same way.
I don't know why character creation isn't that
interesting in most games at this point.
FELICIA DAY: Well, maybe you can put it in the next
Supergiant game.
We'll see.
FELICIA DAY: Have you guys announced your follow-up?
We're probably a way off from even announcing anything.
I mean, we're definitely a way off.
FELICIA DAY: You're busy porting Bastion to every
single platform.
I hope you get it on the iPad, because I
think it would be fantastic.
GREG KASAVIN: We'll see.

We haven't ruled anything out.
Our whole stance of it is like we want as many people to be
able to play it as possible, as long as we can create
versions of it--
FELICIA DAY: Create other versions, yes.
GREG KASAVIN: --that are at least as good as any other
versions that we've made so far.
And we definitely want--
we're absolutely sticking together as a team.
We're now eight people.
We were seven all through Bastion.
GREG KASAVIN: So we're still pretty small.
It's not that small for an independent studio, actually.
So we're kind of medium-sized.
That's crazy.
That's about as big as--
well, Geek and Sundry's a little bit smaller.
I think we've got four people.
Well, we have six, if you include our interns.
FELICIA DAY: You grow based on what you need if you're an
indie person.
Can I ask you a last question, and then we're going to bring
in some crazy food combinations?

For young people considering long-term getting into games,
what do you think is the best thing they can do now to learn
more about games?
I think there's no real easy answer.
But the closest thing, I think, is just to start doing
it right now.
There's nothing to stop people.
I get questions all the time that are along these lines of,
like what do I do?
And it's just start doing it.
There's absolutely nothing to stop someone from downloading
a free toolset.
There's stuff like Unity, GameMaker.
There are all these fee tools available, great online
tutorials that will walk you through the
actual game-making process.
And even if you have a--
if you're like me, you have a vague sense of you want to
make games and you don't necessarily know what you're
going to be proficient at.
So you just start doing all of it, try the art, try the
audio, whatever.
And you will be able to find what your proficiency is.
And then you can go from there.
But it's a really kind of winding and weird road.
And there's no easy way to get into the industry.
But no one would ever fault someone for taking the
initiative and actually going and trying to make
games on their own.
I think that's always a good decision.
And that'll show you whether you really want
to do this for real.
Or it's OK to just love games and want to play them, as
opposed to wanting to make them.
FELICIA DAY: Being in the industry.
That's exactly what David said earlier--
That's What Matthew said.
You can be a lover of but you don't have to make them.
Well, thank you.
We're going to bring in our trivia people.
But thank you so much, Greg, for making time.
GREG KASAVIN: Yeah, any time.
FELICIA DAY: And I'm a huge fan of Bastion.
I'm so proud of you.
GREG KASAVIN: Thank you.
FELICIA DAY: And thank you for setting an example that you
can take a risk and follow your dream and
make something awesome.
GREG KASAVIN: Thank you.
FELICIA DAY: I hope that inspires other people.
And you can talk to Greg at @kasavin.
K-- whatever.
Just look on my Twitter.
GREG KASAVIN: Yeah, yeah.
Bye, guys!
Take care.