Video games: with “Hades”, the independent studio Supergiant seduces players and developers

When the pandemic and American politics transformed everyday life into a threatening universe, the employees of the independent studio Supergiant found refuge in the making of “Hades”, a video game where hell has the advantage of being virtual, funny. and entertaining. The result won over gamers for the same reasons, especially lovers of old-fashioned games and well-crafted stories, poles apart from blockbuster sequels produced in record time by studios that operate like factories. “Hades” even won the “best game” award at the 2021 Bafta for video games in March. “It’s a very fun game, in a very trendy style, which seems to have been ethically designed”, noted Mitchell Kernot, author of a video game blog. “Supergiant has a knack for designing games whose operation is interesting and also pleasant for the user”.

In 2009, the two co-founders, Gavin Simon and Amir Rao, left Electronic Arts – the publisher of titles such as “Fifa” and “Apex Legends” – and moved from Los Angeles to San Jose, a Californian city where they worked. launched Supergiant from the childhood home of the second, in the purest tradition of start-ups from Silicon Valley. ” My father told us that we should start our business while we were young, in order to have the possibility of finding a job two years later in the event of failure ”Amir Rao told the PAX video game show in 2019. After nine months, the two friends had become seven, and they were working on “Bastion”, a game whose dazzling success launched their small business.

Benevolence and demons

Amir Rao now leads a team of 23 people, to whom he tries to instill the same spirit as twelve years ago. ” We have established rules to save us from ourselves, because we love to work together and we are the type to never stop ”, he assures AFP. Supergiant prohibits its employees from sending emails after 5 p.m. on Fridays to prevent them from working on weekends. And they are forced to take at least 20 vacation days a year. Before the pandemic, they had access to offices in San Francisco, but telecommuting was already the norm. The developers therefore did not have too much trouble finishing “Hades” from home.

For a lot of team members, the hardest part was when they weren’t working ”, recalls Amir Rao. “Because in those moments they were confronted with what was happening in the world”. He says the start-up is founded on values ​​of benevolence and acceptance of individual limits and unforeseen circumstances. “If what makes our games different from others is the people who design them and the way they work, then our entire corporate culture must support and encourage these behaviors over the long term”, he adds. Released in September, “Hades” is an action role-playing game where players face demonic opponents in the various basements of a dungeon they are trying to escape.

Small budget, big imagination

Unlike big-budget role-playing games, which have Hollywood movie-themed graphics and storylines, the in-game sets and characters look like cartoons, and the storyline is full of imagination. It is based on Greek mythology, and the player embodies a rebellious son of the god and king of the underworld Hades, determined to escape despite his father’s disagreement. Everyone got involved to give them substance, even Amir Rao’s dog, whose barks were used for the sound effects of Cerberus, the multi-headed dog who guards the entrance to the kingdom.

“‘Hades’ is a family drama, in the end”, laughs Amir Rao. ” Because we are staging the Olympian gods who look like a huge family with lots of problems ”. With a big advantage: dying is part of the fun. “If all goes well, when you die you are not too disappointed because there are so many things going on”. Players also appreciate the freedom they have in terms of progression, with different battles depending on their level. ” The game adapts to your skills », notes Lucas Garcia, a California computer science student. “I felt good in the game even when I was not good. Their concept is really promising ”.

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Video games: with “Hades”, the independent studio Supergiant seduces players and developers

Hank Gilbert