Last year, developer/publisher Supergiant Games rightly garnered a lot of praise for the mega-hit roguelike Hades, which opened the company up to a much larger audience beyond the relatively cult following it had after the releases of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. Now, hopefully, people have been searching out their back catalogue after enjoying Hades, and discovering that all three of those games are indeed superb. A key factor of the games Supergiant makes is that, whilst there are definitely key design staples shared across them – for example, isometric viewpoints, a colourful, bold, and detailed art style, and richly brilliant musical scores – a refreshing aspect is that each is a distinctly different genre. They all have the Supergiant stamp, but the developer hops from genre to genre with impressive ease that prevents the line-up from getting stale.
Take Bastion, their first game, which is an action RPG. Following that was their sophomore effort (and out of the Supergiant Games games, my favourite) Transistor, which is essentially a real-time strategy game blended with a narrative-driven adventure. Then we get to Pyre, which is very difficult to pitch to people; it is essentially an action sports fantasy adventure game – yep, really, and it is phenomenal. Then, of course, Hades, a roguelike through-and-through that incorporates all Supergiant has learned over the years and delivers it in emphatic style.
So, William, your point? Well, I have been wondering about where Supergiant might go next. Going by their track record, they are poised to dramatically switch genre again. Therefore, for a bit of fun, I thought of five different genres that I reckon Supergiant would excel at, and even – as was the case with the roguelike and Hades – be great at opening up to players who had not played much of the genre before. This is taking into account the idea that, as aforementioned, they would maintain their key staples of isometric third-person gameplay, a similar art direction, and more amazing music; so, for example, I am not going to suddenly predict that they are going to do an FPS (First-Person Shooter) next. Right, let’s go!
It has always seemed to me that tower defence is a genre that – whilst bountiful (especially on PC, just browse through Steam to see that) – has rarely had breakthrough games with the mainstream. If not accustomed to the genre, it generally has you challenged with overseeing and/or protecting a location from incoming enemies, often attacking in increasingly strong waves or levels. Two of the best-known examples are Plants vs. Zombies and Orcs Must Die; however, even their audience seems to have become more niche over time, and the opportunity for another developer to make a breakthrough, especially on the narrative side, is there to be grasped. Personally, I hold many memories of playing free flash tower defence games online in my school days, often generic (usually a fantasy or medieval setting) yet surprisingly deep. However, beyond that, my personal experience is that the genre is often contained to one-off challenges or modes within other games. For example, Call of Duty often has a moment in each campaign where instead of being on the offensive, you have to hold out and survive as you wait for a timer to tick down. In this way, we are exposed to tower defence without always realising the potential it has for a fully-focused release, and in my opinion Supergiant could be the ones to shine that spotlight.
This is especially the case for my point on narrative and how tower defence games can push it to the background behind the immediacy of deploying units, taking on enemies, and repairing settlements. Supergiant have a track record of integrating rich, engrossing stories without sacrificing moment-to-moment gameplay; in the case of Hades, that is how they reinvigorated the roguelike, crafting a compelling world from Greek mythology starring detailed and well-developed characters. I am confident that the studio could do the same treatment for tower defence, putting together poignant reasoning for why you are on the defensive. Perhaps in a vein similar to Pyre, it could be a band of diverse personalities constantly on the move as they attempt to outwit and outrun attackers set on marginalising them for their differences. If we care more for the characters and places we are defending, it would only serve to emphasise the drama of the battles and subsequently increase player investment. A danger of tower defence is sticking too closely to one gameplay cycle and it getting tiresome, but based on the amount of variety that Supergiant supplied for the repeated roguelike path of Hades, that should not be an issue. Imagine the wondrous range of units and defence options they could bring to life with their beautiful art direction. An isometric viewpoint would be suited too, letting you quickly browse over the unfolding battle and focus on the areas that need attention; there could even be the option to temporarily drop in as a powerful unit and make a difference in real-time, in order to maintain the action elements of the Supergiant stable.
As a contrast to tower defence, stealth is hardly a genre without a proliferation of mainstream hits, with Metal Gear Solid of course springing to mind as one example. However, it is a genre I have personally long struggled to be held by for prolonged periods of time. A developer such as Supergiant tackling it and constructing an espionage-style adventure would definitely convince me to give stealth more of a shot, though! In terms of their previous work, the closest that Supergiant has gotten to stealth is probably the combat mechanics of Transistor, where you plan out your sequence of attacks before then watching them unfold; therefore, it is frequently about waiting for the optimum moment to strike and ensuring that when that chance arises, you have the right lines of sight to deal maximum damage with swift strikes (oh that game is so good). Yet, that was in situations when the enemy knew your presence; if a similar combat philosophy was combined with an increased necessity to stay hidden in the shadows unseen, it could create a compelling base from which to then wrap an altered Supergiant style around.
In contrast to Bastion, Transistor, et al, it may call for a less vividly bombastic approach. Dialogue and audio correspondences might be whispered and tense whilst hiding from the enemy; areas could be less open and expansive; and the colour palette could be more subdued, focusing more on blues and blacks to reflect the spy theme. This would allow Supergiant to keep a lot of their mainstays of perspective and combat, but also clearly separate the game from their consistently colourful back catalogue. One challenge with the stealth genre is the well-established competition of other series that are available, but I have confidence that Supergiant would make their own mark due to the appeal of seeing how they would alter their masterful third-person action to fit the genre; it would have a different feel, not only from their own past games but from other series such as the over-the-shoulder Splinter Cell (not that Ubisoft seems to be making any of those… ). In similar fashion to, say, the 2014 PlayStation stealth game CounterSpy, a unique tone and aesthetic could let this stand out from the crowd – as with the visuals, the audio may require a colder, more clinical touch as well. The fresh questions stealth would ask of Supergiant creatively, forcing them towards a quieter, more muted approach, would be fascinating to see the response to from developer and audience alike.
Now this would be fascinating, if risky. MOBAs, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, are an immensely popular genre – especially in China – but also one that can feel intimidating to get into for the uninitiated; a group I would put myself in. I have never played League of Legends, for example, and one of my only MOBA experiences was when I played around in Heroes of the Storm, which I mainly did because Blizzard were offering Overwatch skins through playing it… So, going with one of the themes of this list, it could be a genre primed for someone to present in newly engaging fashion, encouraging players such as myself to jump in. There is clearly a desire to find ways to open the MOBA up to more players, such as with the incorporation of familiar IP – as in the case of aforementioned Blizzard crossover Heroes of the Storm or the announcement of Pokémon Unite last year. The, ahem, mixed response to the unveiling of the latter shows the disconnect a lot of people feel towards MOBAs – Supergiant could be the ones to fix that, as they have shown they are capable of taking a concept that is complex at first glance, and then efficiently convincing the player of the fun in it. Seriously, pitching Pyre to someone is a tough feat, but let them play a few matches, and they will be hooked.
There are multiple key traits that make up a MOBA, and you may be thinking that quite an important one – the multiplayer – is an area Supergiant is inexperienced in outside of the local split-screen mode of Pyre. Switching to multiplayer-only would have several potential stumbling blocks to be wary of, including the inevitable technical challenges it would cause. Making that transition can be a tough one – just see the disastrous cancellation of Fable Legends, another attempt to switch focus from single-player to multiplayer, for evidence of that. However, the process underwent honing Hades through Early Access before the 1.0 launch would be valuable here – a similar rollout for a prospective MOBA could let players give feedback whilst softening criticism of early bugs and issues. Two more defining elements of the MOBA are a diverse roster of characters with different skillsets, and the three-lane structure of the arena itself. I feel very confident saying that Supergiant would excel at the former; they could even dive into mythology again, with Smite showing how that can be an effective MOBA setting. As MOBAs tend to be viewed from a top-down perspective, the isometric view often incorporated by Supergiant would not need to change much; actually, the contained areas that Pyre plays out in remind me a bit of MOBA maps, so Supergiant could take that as a basis to expand into larger locales that facilitate multiple ongoing conflicts. Control in Supergiant games is usually fast and energetic, but with several players on screen simultaneously, it might wise to slow that side down slightly for the sake of clarity. Similarly to my proposition of stealth, a Supergiant take on the MOBA would ask intriguing challenges of them, in this case not so much tonal as on the core gameplay front.
My next proposal is a deviation less in gameplay and more in atmosphere. What if we took a relatively linear adventure such as Bastion, and plunged it into the horror genre? We have seen that Supergiant can bring imaginative worlds to life, but what if instead of a predominantly bright and bold aesthetic, we go the other way – even moreso than with the stealth proposal – and head into more murky, frightening waters? There are moments peppered throughout the Supergiant catalogue where a more desolate vibe is flirted with, in particular when we encounter Chaos in Hades by literally descending into their realm (quite a feat, considering where we were previously standing). However, Supergiant may have moved close to that edge, but they have not crossed into full-on scares; finding out how they would adapt to crossing that line is a tantalising prospect. Furthermore, there is a gap in the horror market that Supergiant could slot into, namely that of their isometric style. When you think horror, you often picture first-person (Outlast) or third-person (Silent Hill), and there are relatively few releases that do not go with one of these two approaches – take how the upcoming Skyhill: Black Mist stands out partly due to the isometric viewpoint. So, why so few horror games with that perspective? It seems clear to me – the more we can see of our surroundings, the less the chance of threats outside our vision creeping up on us, which makes us feel safer. Whilst I prefer the third-person Resident Evil games, when the series recently switched to first-person it did make it more scary (if not outright better, in my opinion). Given this, how could Supergiant go about their own horror venture?
Well, for one, there is nothing stopping Supergiant keeping the isometric view but moving the camera in closer, to restrict our view in a fluid version of how early Resident Evil games were portrayed in a series of fixed camera angles. Such a fixed isometric style could actually serve to emphasises the dread if done right, as they could be constructed to give us uncomfortably cropped fields of view (take the claustrophobic sewer areas of Hades as inspiration here) that do not show incoming enemies until they are right next to us. Perhaps go even further; take a cue from the fragile suspended pathways of Bastion and the vast empty expanse below – the sort of unknown void that breeds fear. If this sort of level design is matched to a more deliberate take on the combat systems of Bastion and Hades – less firepower would be required to keep us feeling vulnerable – it would be a framework for the art direction of Supergiant to fly like never before. The design of Chaos, the Furies, and Thanatos in Hades hinted at an untapped talent for more unsettling character and world depictions – let’s see the studio go from the kinetic satisfaction of head-on fights to the catharsis of avoiding downright disturbing foes, all concurrent to beautifully horrific art. Then, there is the musical side, and wow, just imagine the soundtrack this genre could extract from Supergiant. A distinctly harrowing ambience could be injected, especially in the customary lyrical tracks – talk about an enticing proposition. Just set the audio geniuses Ashley Barrett and Darren Korb loose with that! A horror Supergiant game is an idea I realise some people would not be into, but the more I let my mind run with it, the more excited I get.
Yeah, I know, Supergiant doing an RPG (Role-Playing Game) is not technically new for them – there are clear elements of the genre present in their library of releases, especially in the upgrade trees of Bastion and Pyre. For my last genre pick, though, I am gonna push the boat out. How about if, off the back of the success of Hades, Supergiant took extended development time and resource investment (perhaps with continued Hades DLC to sustain them) to create a larger-scale, open-world RPG of their own? One of the multitude of strengths in the Supergiant skillset is their world-building, so just picture the level of personality, lore, and secrets they could put into an RPG, most likely as a brand new invention but with the capability of references to past games and worlds as well. They would need all their talent, too, to make a breakthrough in a fiercely competitive genre packed full of other isometric hits such as Path of Exile, Pillars of Eternity, and Divinity: Original Sin. A Supergiant on top of their game, though, has the capability to shine in this space. A lot of the appeal of an RPG can be within the side content, and Supergiant has precedent of impressing in this regard – Hades might be the best example, where outside of the family-oriented main plot beats, there were several compelling supporting threads naturally interwoven into your playtime. Before you knew it, you were drawn into seeing how they would unfold, and that ease of investment is a sign of how well developed they were – pepper these into an absorbing open world and you may well be onto a winner.
I am under no illusion of how much of a task this would be for Supergiant – they are a successful studio, but it must be kept in mind they are an independent one too, with less of a safety net to fall back on than, say, an EA or Ubisoft. This is a hypothetical dream idea, not necessarily the most likely. OK, so for weapon progression we could take cues from the deep armouries of Bastion and Hades, and then for character progression focus more on the personalised way that Pyre did it. We would target an emotionally powerful main story tying it all together in the vein of Transistor, with lots of side content (as was brought up before) to match or surpass the longevity of Hades. The actual structure of the world? Well maybe we could go the Dragon Age: Inquisition route of a smorgasbord of large, distinct areas, which may also make the task of developing the game more manageable – it could be a significantly more built-out variation on the world map of Bastion, where you choose different levels to travel to. Conversations could still be in text form, with a choice of replies as in Pyre that make subtle changes to the direction of events. Visuals and music would depend on the sort of setting Supergiant went with; for fantasy, closer to Bastion or Pyre, but if it was more cyberpunk, then more along the lines of Transistor. Combat would likely remain in real-time, yet but with more of a focus on gathering loot and improving your character stats. If you have not noticed, I am throwing a lot of ideas at the wall here, the purpose of which is to show how much Supergiant could do with an open-world RPG. Their awesome capabilities mean that, as with the other genres on this list and more besides, the sky is the limit!
Those are just five genres that I reckon Supergiant Games would revel in tackling for their next game; whichever direction they go, though, I am confident that the result will be brilliant – their track record speaks to that! If you have not played any of their previous four releases, I recommend seeking those out in the meantime. Have an awesome day!