We recently had the chance to catch up with Mike Roush and Alex Neuse, founders of Gaijin Games and developers of the Bit. Trip series. Roush and Neuse are currently hard at work on the upcoming Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, and gave us some insight as to what’s going into their latest running platformer.
First of all, why is the game called Bit.Trip Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien instead of just something like Bit.Trip Runner 2?
Mike Roush: This was… we said we weren’t going to make any more Bit.Trip games…
Alex Neuse: (laughs)
MR: and I don’t really know if I consider it a Bit.Trip game, because it’s not in the same style… However, it is a sequel. So we thought… if Bit.Trip was presenting it, it sounds fun, and it’s still kind of a Bit.Trip game, it is a mechanic from Bit.Trip.
AN: It’s a side story. First of all, we wanted to make a sequel to runner because we thought it was really fun to make and a lot of people really liked it! So we were discussing making a sequel, but we’d already said we were done with the Bit.Trip series. The games fit together well as a series… But if Bit.Trip presented a side-quest that Commander Video may have done, that you didn’t see… that felt better.
MR: We said that we were done with the series proper. We’re pretty adamant that the actual story was finished, but now we’re doing this little side note to the story, so it fits into that world.
AN: Yeah, if you were to find a place for Runner 2 in the series, it would be set between Runner and Fate. It’s a thing you didn’t need to know to enjoy the story arc, and if you don’t want to buy Runner 2, you don’t have to feel like your Bit.Trip story is complete.
Can you tell me a bit about the art direction? Commander Video looks a lot more flexible and… “wiggly” for the lack of a better term.
AN: He is wiggly! (laughs)
MR: We changed the art style because… It was almost three years of working with squares in the Bit.Trip style, so we wanted to change that up a bit. We were doing next-gen consoles, so we wanted to push out a bit more. Alex and I… basically, we wanted to make a game that feels a little deeper and richer, something that sort of hearkens to more of a Mario aesthetic.
AN: It’s more full. Not to say the original series didn’t have its own flavor and fullness, because I think it did. It had a very good artistic integrity… But we wanted this to feel like you wanted to hug it. Like you want to be in that world. The other art style, while awesome, is very abrasive, and this is very soft.
MR: The other art style is also very limiting. We had to work within a rule set… we had one of our artists do an original Bit.Trip style piece of artwork, and after two days, he came up to us and said “I don’t know how the hell you did that for three years!”
Speaking of things that you want to hug… tell me a bit about the cucumber man I’ve seen at checkpoints.
AN: Unkle Dill! He’s a pickle man!
Oh! I feel really racist whenever I mix up my pickles and cucumbers.
AN: Well, luckily Unkle Dill isn’t here to hear that. Unkle Dill represents Unkle Dill’s Dills: “put a pickle in your mouth-hole!”
MR: Pickles are “garden sausages.”
AN: Unkle Dill is one of the hidden characters in the game who you can unlock. All of the hidden characters give you a little taste of who they are at the checkpoints, they’re standing there waiting for you cheer you on. We’ve also announced Whetfahrt Cheesebörger. And we’ve just started talking about another character we’re very excited about: Reverse Merman.
AN: He’s a fish on top, man on the bottom. And he is a MAN on the bottom.
MR: And of course, there’s CommandGirl Video, who will be playable from the start. And we have what we’re calling the Ty Dunitz Commander Video. Ty Dunitz is one of our fans, but we started talking to him and now he’s a friend of ours. Amazing artist. He did concept art for the game.
Was that the long-armed Commander Video?
AN: Oh yeah, you’ve seen him!
MR: So, that guy. There’s one other character that we might do called Glorns… I’ve been working on him for years, and I’ve never put him in anything yet. So this might be his debut. We’re not 100% about that.
AN: And we want to make a game with Glorns in it, eventually. So, if we can pull it off and have it be good enough, he might be in this game. But I won’t even know who to look for, since I’ve never seen him.
MR: Nobody knows what he looks like!
It’s interesting to me that you guys are kind of half-publishing Runner 2 on your own and half-working with Aksys. Can you tell me a bit about that?
AN: Sure, it’s a little weird. The original Runner 2 plan was to release on PSN and XBLA, and Aksys were up for it. We asked if they wanted to be involved with the Wii U and Vita versions, and they said, “Not really…”
It’s just as simple as that, they just weren’t really into it, and that’s fine. So we decided to do it on our own!
I didn’t know there was a Vita version.
AN: We’re not sure if there will be, but if there will be, we’ll probably be doing it.
MR: We are telling everyone that there is going to be. (laughs)
What sort of mechanics have you added to Runner 2?
MR: Well, we have speed boost, which is kind of… Scary, since you go super fast.
I assume the music follows suit?
AN: Actually no. (laughs) It doubles your speed so the beats still line up. We wanted to get the music to speed up and we might do that in the final version. Maybe.
MR: We’ve also got dancing…
AN: Dancing’s a big one. You know how in the other Bit.Trips there’s always a score multiplier? We’ve got that through dancing. When you start dancing, you’re locked into a dance for a full beat. If you run into an object, you’ll “bonk” (Kris’s note: this sends you back to the last checkpoint), but if you successfully pull off the dance, you get a score multiplier.
The best strategy for getting the highest score and beating all your friends on the leaderboards is to dance early and often in every level, so that your multipliers are active longer.
MR: I’m telling you right now, the dancing is so frickin’ addictive. You’ll try to get little dances in everywhere.
AN: I was playing Runner 1 and kept trying to dance all the time!
Was there anything you’ve managed to do with Runner 2 that you wanted to do in the first Runner?
MR: The biggest one for me is that we’re doing it in HD. One of the biggest things we lamented on Runner 1 was that the Wii didn’t have HD capabilities. We did Runner 1 in four months. For me, I just wanted to make a richer experience, and we’ve got that in Runner 2.
Bit.Trip Presents… Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien will release for PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U in Q1 2013. Gaijin are hoping to release the game in January.