One of the great things about PAX is that gamers can come face to face with the developers that create the games they love. I spent a chunk of my PAX-time doing brief interviews with indie developers for a series called “Mini Indie Interviews.” You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn some things you can never unlearn. Enjoy.
I’m going to start calling Mini Indie Interviews “If you haven’t heard of BLANK, I’mma slap you.” Today’s developer is Gaijin Games, creator of the Bit.Trip series that you should already know about. Combining rhythm, chiptunes, bit graphics and solid difficulty, Gaijin has a fairly impressive portfolio across the board and at PAX East, they pulled back the curtains on Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien.
I had a chance to chat with Alex Neuse, founder, game designer and hall monitor of Gaijin Games about their new and fairly sexy project, if I may be so bold to say. Gaijin has taken Commander Video and unfused his reality, putting him in a different dimension, a whole new world as someone might sing.
Neuse described how fun it was to continue the good times the team had on the first Bit.Trip title, rolling the fun into a makeshift Katamari ball that may someday consume us all. Other members of the Gaijin team recounted being incredible fans of the series and what an honor it was to work on the second project. Development on Runner 2 began in August, but in the past few weeks has really started taking shape. Neuse explained that early in development, communication between the art and programming side is a real test of faith. Programmers promise that the game will come together and “eventually, it is awesome.” Squealing PAX East-ers are inclined to agree.
The art style has been cut loose on unsuspecting gamers as Gaijin moves Runner 2 into an HD format and with no constraints on style, the whole team was able to think big. And although I didn’t see a Commander Video mech suit with star nipples, the evolution of Runner’s world is obvious. Gaijin Games made a point to keep the same soul of the first, so the title would seem different yet familiar.
With a few years to play Runner 1 and suss out what features were missing from the already robust design, Neuse explained that quite a lot had been added to Runner 2. You’ve got all the moves from the first, plus combos such as sliding while jumping, kicking while sliding, loop-de-loops and speed boosts. If that wasn’t enough, you can also make Commander Video dance. Activate dancing and CV breaks it down in ways I can only dream of, but there’s a catch. Once you start dancing, you can’t stop until the groove has left his system.
In addition to the multitude of new gameplay features, all levels are a uniform length; each will feature optional checkpoints, and there is a difficulty selection. All of these features combined may not create Captain Planet, but it does amount to more meaningful competition via leaderboards. Dancing will augment your score (as long as you don’t bonk and ruin everything), and the difficulty setting will give you the option for higher point values.
This all spells out a game that will grow with the player. Once you have the levels down, shooting for those leaderboards will give you a whole new way to play. Personally, as a player of Runner 1, leaderboards are the last thing I’m worried about. I was having flashbacks to the difficulty of remembering the smaller set of moves and translating them into not-usually-successful twitches, so merely getting to the end of each level in Runner 2 will leave me satisfied.
And that’s what Gaijin was going for. They wanted to satisfy across the board, hitting the casual and hardcore players. When developers attempt to appeal to that wide range of skill, sometimes the hardcore gamers are the ones that suffer the most, but Neuse reassured me that the difficulty is still there in spades.
“The hardcore players who played Runner 1 and loved that will be able to get the same experience if they turn [Runner 2] up to hard and skip the checkpoints,” he said.
The variations in gameplay are impressive, but more importantly, Gaijin Games listened to their fans and critics and made those meaningful changes while still maintaining the heart and soul of this project. It’s wonderful to see an indie developer find success in a project, but still look for ways to improve upon their initial design. Speaking with Neuse and other Gaijin team members, I gained a whole new level of respect for the group.
Get your dancing shoes ready because the crisp new Runner game will be dropping in October or November of this year. If you’d like to cut that wait down a few months, Gaijin is already planning their attack on PAX Prime, so expect to see them in full force.