Transistor and the Secrets of DualShock 4

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Transistor and the Secrets of DualShock 4

While being part of a small independent studio like Supergiant has its share of challenges, it’s got a lot of advantages going for it, too. For instance, one of the ironic differences I’ve experienced going from a very big game studio to a very small one is that things can often move a lot faster when there aren’t too many people around to say “no.”

This simple fact is core to our creative process at Supergiant. We like quickly coming up with, and trying, new ideas all through development. If you can loop through that kind of process quickly enough, it can start to produce great results, while the many inevitable failed experiments are easy to move on from, having taught you something. Let me tell you about one unexpected example from recent months, involving a little trick we decided to try on a whim with the DualShock 4, when we first got our hands on it.

The story of our game, Transistor, revolves around this woman called Red, who winds up with an extraordinary weapon that, among its mysteries, is able to speak to her. When we tested early versions of the game on our friends, everybody noticed the voice, but not everybody could tell where it was coming from or who exactly was speaking. This was an important problem for us to solve, as there’s a fine line between feeling intrigued by the mystery of a thing, versus feeling bewildered.

Transistor on PS4Transistor on PS4

So we started trying different things. We iterated on the introductory moments a bunch of times, until we felt like we had a scene that set up the relationship between these characters as clearly and succinctly as possible. We also developed a cool bit of tech that makes the Transistor flash in sync with the voiceover coming from it.

This flashing effect not only helps our main character stand out amid the colorful futuristic scenery, but because of it you instantly infer that the voice you’re hearing must be coming from that weird computer sword Red’s carrying around. We finally felt like we’d solved the who’s-talking problem. Then we started playing with the PS4 controller, and we had another idea.

See, among its many features, the DualShock 4 has this light bar on it, which can be programmed to display just about any color. When Sony revealed the controller, they suggested this light bar could have a variety of uses, such as visually distinguishing between four players in a cooperative game and stuff like that. Sony didn’t suggest it could be used to indicate when an extraordinary weapon of unknown origin was speaking to you. We soon found, however, that the light bar works really well for that. We got it to match the exact turquoise hue of the in-game weapon, and the flashing effect was in perfect sync. When I played with this for the first time, it felt a little more like the Transistor was right there in my own hands.

Transistor Draws a Crowd

Transistor on PS4Transistor on PS4

Nevertheless, it’s a subtle enough feature so we didn’t really play it up. We don’t like talking about our games in terms of specific features anyway, plus we wanted to see if anyone would even notice. And sure enough, when we showed Transistor at PAX Prime recently, dozens of people who played it mentioned to us that they caught that little detail, and how cool they thought it was.

Our use of the light bar took nothing more than a quick conversation and maybe a couple of hours of engineering time. But to me it’s a microcosm of our development process. If we can pull together little touches like this spontaneously and often, then Transistor will be filled with them. And I feel strongly that the small stuff in games — those fun and interesting little details you notice in your favorites — are just as important as the big stuff. It’s what gives the best games their distinctive character and personality, and it’s the stuff you end up remembering long after you’ve finished playing.

When you see a game like Transistor, know that it’s not the product of some grand vision or massive design document, where we mapped out every detail on paper and then spent the rest of the time building from a meticulous blueprint. It’s a much more fluid and intuitive process, a feedback loop of listening to the game and responding to what we think it needs over a long period of time, where a hundred thousand micro decisions eventually form the finished work. I love that we found opportunities to apply our process even to things like a light bar on a controller.

You know what? The controller has a speaker on it, too. We’re looking into that.

Feel free to check up on us at any time at @SupergiantGames on Twitter. Transistor is scheduled to hit PS4 early next year. Learn more about Transistor on

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14 Author Replies

  • Cant wait to get my own hands on this awesoem game. And the Soundtrack is amazing, too.
    I do love your guys stuff, Supergiant Games!

  • Bastion was great so i’m definitely getting this.

  • Can I preorder this game yet? No? Why not? I have Red on my lock screen on my phone so I’m really looking forward to this!

    • Hey, we don’t have a preorder option available yet though thank you for your interest! Keep an eye on our @SupergiantGames Twitter feed for news about that sort of thing.

  • I wants it, I needs it.

    seriously take my money now

  • I’m buying this day one, now for the real question I have for Supergiant Games:

    Why isn’t Bastion out on PSN yet? I would LOVE to see that on my Vita/PS3. Do you not like money?

    • As a small team we have to be really careful of which projects we take on in what order. We were anxious to get started on a new game at a certain point, which is why we’re working on Transistor now rather than continuing to bring out more versions of Bastion. All our focus is on Transistor at this point.

  • I really hope we see a lot more vocal work from Ashley Barrett in this game. Since the main character is a singer, even if she can no longer sing herself. I just love Ashley’s voice, it’s truly amazing. She’s very talented and I even wish she would put out some albums of her own.

  • This is the most exciting indie game for PS4, for me. (and there are a lot that I’m excited for!) I can’t wait to play it.

    @5: I tweeted them if they’d ever port Bastion to other platforms, and they basically said they wouldn’t rule it out. But their focus is on Transistor. Makes sense, they’re a small studio. Probably don’t have the resources to do it.

    Though if they teamed up with some other developer to do the port, maybe it could work out in terms of the process. Business wise, I don’t know how that works.

    I’d love to have Bastion on my PS Vita, or PS3/4 as well. Definitely would buy a third time on PlayStation.

  • Oh, any chance you’ll sell the soundtrack? I think I recall the Bastion soundtrack on bandcamp.

    Really want that trailer theme in full. And I bet the game will have some really awesome music.

    • Hey yeah, we’ll likely have a full soundtrack release around the time of the game’s launch. Keep an eye on our Twitter for details. Darren and Ashley performed a live version of the full-length trailer theme at PAX! You can find it on YouTube if you want a preview of what that sounds like.

  • Hey Greg Kasavin

    your work on Gamespot was really good. Hope to see an action game like Ninja Gaiden from you someday!

    • Much obliged! If I get to one day work on an action game that turns out as great as Ninja Gaiden, I’d be a happy camper.

  • I’d much rather play Bastion on Vita.

    Is this game coming to Vita?

    Also, I’d be more excited for this game if the running animation didn’t look like trash.

  • I went hands-on with Transistor at PAX, can’t wait for the full thing!

  • It would have been very cool if you made the DS4 project the voice of sword alongside using the lightbar.
    In actuality though I don’t know if that is something you guys could do or even if done would it be more of a hindrance on the experience.

    Looking forward to this game. Bastion blew me away. The gameplay was rock solid but that narrative and soundtrack was amazing. It had to be one of the few games I played in many years where it just felt perfect and left me completely satisfied with the experience. Which always makes me chuckle when I think about the fact it is an indie game that only cost $10 at the time. Keep up the awesome work and best of luck with future success.

  • Looking forward to this game Greg! Miss your great articles and reviews on GameSpot – it hasn’t been the same since you left.

  • Love the artwork and music for this game so far. Looking forward to it, reminds of how next gen Zelda 2. Day one purchase for me. Loading up the SEN wallet for holidays!.

  • Yeah, that gameplay video you posted looks a bit better.

    Also, I am excited to hear that you might put the sword’s voice into the controller so the light and speaker are sync’d with the game.

    I notice you didn’t answer about a Vita version though. This is the type of game that would thrive on Vita.

  • When I read that the weapon speaks to you, I immediately thought I knew where this was going, being that the controller has a speaker on it, as you stated later. I would have thought that would been jumped on before the light bar. But I’ll just wait and see what you guys do.

    • Yeah, the simple reason why we tried out something with the lightbar before we tried out something with the speaker is that it was technically easier to do the lightbar thing first. I agree it seems more obvious to try stuff with the speaker.

  • yuck

    the less gimmicks we have in games, the better

  • This’ll be a day one purchase!

    Played Bastion on iPad and didn’t get far cause the whole time, I was thinking id rather play on Vita or PS3. But I liked what I saw regardless of the control issues.

    Only hear good things about this one. Too bad it won’t be there at launch :(

  • Can’t wait for this! Please bring the Playstation Community Bastion ASAP! They really need that one too! That game was CHOICE!!! I feel it could have been and still could be an even better experience on Playstation! Adhere to the MASSES SuperGiant Games!!!

  • I love it when developers put little touches like this in their games. They do so much to enhance the overall experience.

    Keep up the good work!

    And I’m going to echo the sentiment that Bastion is awesome.

  • Looking forward to this. Looks awesome.

    Someday, if you guys find yourself in possession of the time to do so, I’d love to have the opportunity to play Bastion so if you bring it to the PSN you’ll have yourself at least one guaranteed sale. Thanks :)

  • I second IzoGray’s comment about wanting Bastion on Vita, even if he was rather rude beyond that point.

    Anyway, Greg, I’m another big fan of yours from the old GameSpot days. You should try to come on the Bombcast or something again sometime. Maybe have a HotSpot reunion and get that joker Rich Gallup to join?

    Also, I’ve seen a lot of people express some skepticism about the light bar and whether or not you’ll actually even be able to see it while holding the controller, so I was hoping you could maybe elaborate on that a bit. Is it easy to catch with your peripheral? Is it all dependent on the angle you hold your controller?

    Thanks! Looking forward to the game. (I would again like to reiterate that Bastion on Vita should happen.)

    • Hey, the light bar is not readily visible if you look head-on at the controller, since it’s sort of tucked behind the touch screen. If you’re playing normally during the daytime you probably will not notice it at all (though you would see it if you were watching someone else play). In a lower-light setting you would likely notice the glow on your index fingers in your periphery if you glanced down. I don’t think you’re going to notice it if you’re just paying attention to what’s on the screen.

      Thanks for the kind words about my past work. I’m always happy to appear on the BombCast anytime those guys want me.

      Regarding Bastion and/or Transistor on the Vita (or anywhere else), all our focus is on Transistor for PS4 and PC at the moment though we haven’t ruled anything out for the future.

  • Think using the speaker in the controller is a great idea, though it’d have to be loud and clear enough.

    Played Bastion on Mac and enjoyed it. If you really wanted to put it on PS3/Vita you could get another studio to do it like Double 11 did for Playdead’s Limbo.

  • This is one of the rare games that my hype grows every time you show it. That’s probably because you guys know exactly what you’re doing. Just don’t show us too much now ;)

  • So the color of the Transistor can match your light bar’s color? If so I’m going with either orange, red, or blue.

    • Sorry if this wasn’t clear but it’s the other way around — we can control the color of the light bar. We don’t have plans at this point for players to customize the color of the Transistor in-game, as its colors are part of the design.

  • If you can make the transistor speak out of the DS4, that would be so incredible–provided the audio quality is really good.

  • I’m staying blissfully ignorant about Transistor for as long as I can before playing it. Great job Greg and SuperGiant.

    Logan’s voice coming out of the DS4 speaker saying “PlayStation” really needs to happen. ;)

  • this game looks awsome,will it be on vita?

  • That is an awesome use for the lightbar on the DS4. Bought Bastion on PC a while back and played it a bit. It was amazing. Definitely looking forward to Transistor coming to the PS4. And if you can make it work, projecting the voice from the controller would be another nice touch.

    Also, another vote for Bastion coming to a Playstation platform (PS3/4 or Vita). Even doling it out to a port developer would be fine, as long as we can get it eventually.

  • Is there a possibility to release this game for ps vita?

    • All our focus is on the PS4 and PC versions of Transistor. We’ll see what happens once those are done and out.

  • Sorry, not interested in Transistor until I see some indication that Bastion is coming to PSN. With that game ported to nearly everything EXCEPT PSN, it feels like we’re not being fully supported by Supergiant and/or Sony. If your team isn’t big enough to handle the conversion right now, then Sony needs to step up and help make it happen.

    • Sorry you’re not interested in Transistor in that case, as all our focus is on this project.
      Transistor in no way assumes the player’s familiarity with our first game.

  • Really cool use of the lightbar hoping to see more cool ideas for the new features of the PS4. I would also love to see Bastion on PlayStation :)

  • This game holds great promise!
    But i want an artbook!

  • I guess we will hear this voice coming from the speaker of the DS4, right?

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