It's easy to think that there’s a monopoly present in gaming, with triple-A studios and their million dollar budgets, but you could be mistaken. Liam Ferguson tells us about how indie darling Hades took on the giants head-to-head, and won.
In a year filled to the brim with gaming titles across all genres from development studios of high renown such as Insomniac, Naughty Dog, Square Enix or even CD Projekt Red, one independent title snuck in and captivated the hearts of many to stir the already riveting conversation around what should be crowned 2020’s game of the year. I am, of course, talking about Supergiant Games’ magnum opus; Hades. Supergiant are, in my opinion, no strangers to crafting masterpieces, but Hades is by far their largest critical and financial success to date and has placed the developer on the same pedestal as many of the triple-A giants that are so revered inside of the industry. One cannot help but wonder how this game, made by a team of around twenty people, managed to beat out titles such as Doom: Eternal and Nioh 2 for ‘best action’ at The Game Awards, becoming such a fan favourite seemingly overnight. There are many, many reasons for this feat that I am going to be delving into here, ranging from the quality of the game itself to how it was developed.
Hades is a roguelite that elevates the genre it is a part of to new heights. There is truly something for everyone no matter what kind of gamer one may be. Every weapon has its merits and pitfalls to master. As does every upgrade, or ‘boon’, within the game that helps to deliver the colourful, fast-paced combat bolstered by an immensely gratifying score and visual identity. The game uses its setting, rooted in Greek mythology, to make dying an integral part of the experience, as is common with most in the genre. However, Hades distinguishes itself by having death be something that brings extreme excitement to the end of even the most frustrating runs. Death allows for interaction with side characters, and thus opens up more lore, all of which is given the beautiful voicework and key art Supergiant are perhaps best known for. Characters seemingly never run out of things to say, making for a very alive-feeling Underworld as a result of the sheer amount of dialogue presented. It also allows you to customise the rest area that you will be spending much of your time in and make meaningful upgrades to your favourite weapons and perks. Whether you are simply changing the colour of your bedroom carpet, increasing your max HP, or exploring the game’s romance options, the end of a run in Hades offers you a chance to take a wonderful breather before diving back in for just one more.
The fact that Supergiant’s developers are genuinely happy displays itself in their work.
2020 was a tumultuous year for everyone, including the gaming industry. Pandemic aside, reports on workplace misconduct and crunch within many of the most well-known studios were rampant. The human cost behind how hair could look so real in The Last of Us: Part 2, or why Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City was, seemingly, so alive and brimming with content in the marketing leadup to that release, was made abundantly clear. In the midst of this turmoil, Supergiant took a different approach when developing Hades. Outlined in a 2019 article by Nathan Grayson of Kotaku, Supergiant build their success on forcing vacations on their employees and fighting crunch culture as best they can. There are no reports of artists almost being crushed by metal pipes as they work into the night like at Naughty Dog Studios. The people who work at Supergiant are taken care of and actively encouraged to not overexert themselves and to take breaks when they need to. The fact that Supergiant’s developers are genuinely happy displays itself in their work, and ultimately what should be considered the bare minimum, is viewed as refreshing to gamers who can rave about their game of the year without an underlying sense of guilt that it came at the cost of someone’s mental or physical wellbeing.
It was a clear promise of fine-tuning and additional levels to come, already filled to the brim with heart and style.
On top of this, Supergiant did something with Hades that many triple-A developers could serve to do; they launched the game in early access and built it alongside their community with complete transparency and an understanding that content would be added over time to craft the full package. Even when the title initially debuted in early access in December 2018, there was already enough content to justify purchasing the game in that state. It was not a half-baked, buggy and content barren mess like Crystal Dynamic’s Avengers or built on an empire of lies like CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, it was a clear promise of fine-tuning and additional levels to come, already filled to the brim with heart and style. Supergiant ultimately made good on this promise with a steady release of hefty updates before the final build of the game was ready in September 2020 to take the gaming world by storm.
The reason Hades took on the triple-A industry and won is simple. It is a ridiculously well-crafted piece of work with satisfying lore, enriching combat and a distinct visual style
The reason Hades took on the triple-A industry and won is simple. It is a ridiculously well-crafted piece of work with satisfying lore, enriching combat and a distinct visual style: all of which did not come from a place of malice. From the gameplay to the voicework, art and writing the sheer display of talent from Supergiant is evident in this title and I, like many, cannot wait to see what they do next.