Bastion's argument for doing away with cross-platform development
In a talk at the DICE Summit on Wednesday, Supergiant Games co-founder and studio director Amir Rao (Bastion) talked about the year-plus his team spent taking Bastion to different platforms.
Along the way, he urged the audience to get away from the concept of simultaneous 'ports' and 'lead SKU' and towards a thoughtful, non-parallel multi-platform development process.
Having worked with mixed success on simultaneously shipping PC and console games in the Command & Conquer series at Electronic Arts, Rao decided that in transitioning Bastion to new platforms, they would use a full team, not simultaneously ship, and take the time to understand the new audiences and advantages of new platforms.
Rao gave the example of Plants Vs Zombies, which he loved and bought on multiple sequential platforms, from PC through Xbox to iOS, and he feels like many people rebought on the new platforms.
In Bastion's case, the team went from Xbox to PC to tablet and smartphone, and gave the core original team plenty of time to think through the tricky issues, like taking a multitude of console and PC controls to touch.
By putting a "hard constraint" on themselves that the game be playable only with one hand, the team gave themselves a really tricky goal, but managed to do it, by having a "touch to run" mechanic. They stayed away from the virtual game pad because they wanted an experience that truly felt like it was made for the tablet, rather than hacked across, and the extra time was worth it
The point of sim-shipping, Rao suspects, is meant to be to "maximize the lightning rod of attention paid," but he then showcases the features, attention and bundles that Bastion got by not doing this. In fact, 90% of the 1.7 million copies sold of Bastion were after its first month on sale.
So, by solving the interface problems across multiple devices serially, Bastion has succeeded in a kind of video game "world tour" across separate platforms and times.
Concluding, Rao suggests that you can make an entire business model around giving fans what they want, on the platforms they want it on - "but what they don't want is a bad version of the game" on their particular platform. Your fans want you to take the "same creative energy" that went into the original game to re-imagining it to new platforms.