February 6, 2011 12:00 PM | Simon Carless
[As part of a series of "Road to the IGF" interviews with 2011 IGF finalists, Mike Rose speaks with Alex Neuse of Gaijin Games about the runaway success of IGF finalist BIT.TRIP.RUNNER.]
Gaijin Games was founded in 2007 by industry veteran Alex Neuse, and has since gone on to develop the popular BIT.TRIP rhythm game series for WiiWare.
BIT.TRIP.RUNNER is the fourth in the saga, and has been nominated for the Excellence In Visual Art award at this year's Independent Games Festival, thanks to its quirky retro stylings.
In this "Road to the IGF" interview, Alex Neuse talks us through his positions prior to founding Gaijin Games, discusses elements that were removed from RUNNER before release, and why the indie gaming scene is out of control.
What is your background in making games?
I started in QA at LucasArts back in 1997 and have bounced all over the industry since then. From LucasArts, I moved to Activision, and then to Santa Cruz Games before founding Gaijin Games with the hope of finding creative freedom.
I've held jobs in QA, Production, Business, Management, and Design. By far my favorite is in Design, and it is the discipline that I call my home.
How did you come up with the concept for BIT.TRIP.RUNNER?
We wanted to make a 2D side-scrolling platformer to represent CommanderVideo tackling the challenges of the real world and not taking no for an answer, but of course the BIT.TRIP series is a rhythm music series, so we had to figure out how to turn a platformer into a music game.
Once we knew the theme and the gameplay style, we dealt with the constraints of our genre and found gold.
How did you make sure the game wasn't too similar to the previous titles in the series?
BIT.TRIP RUNNER and FATE are probably the most dissimilar to the rest of the series; and because they are much less abstract, making them stand out wasn't that difficult.
I think it would have been harder if RUNNER had been as "high-concept" as BEAT, CORE, VOID, and FLUX. The specificity of running and jumping automatically differentiated it.
What development tools did you use?
All of the BIT.TRIP games are 3D, so we used the standard game industry fare. Maya, Photoshop, and then a bunch of Nintendo tools. For our design and coding process, we used Code Warrior and various Office applications and wikis for documentation.
Super Meat Boy, a past IGF finalist, plays a cameo role in your game, as did CommanderVideo in Super Meat Boy. How did all this come about?
The Team Meat guys are really good friends of ours. We're in the same town, and we share a lot of the same views about what video games are and what they should be. They asked us if they could put CommanderVideo in Super Meat Boy, and we thought we'd return the flavor.
Our two companies have wanted to do some sort of a collab for a while now, and hopefully this won't be the last time we get to work together.
How long did your team work on the game?
There were 3 of us working on the game full time with one audio engineer on it part time, and we spent about 4 months making it.
Were there any elements that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision?
There were. In RUNNER, we cut a lot of features. There were certain gameplay features that turned out to be too complex, and there were some art desires that just didn't pan out. For instance, CommanderVideo used to be able to turn into the VOID from BIT.TRIP VOID to collect black beats. He also had a couple other abilities as well.
Being able to do too much detracted from the experience, so we cut those features. Also, we wanted a much more isometric look to the game, but because of the musical elements, the 3Dness didn't suit the precision of the gameplay, so we went with a more traditional side-scrolling camera. There are several other things that are on the cutting room floor as well.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
I haven't played as many of them as I'd like, but yes, I have played some. Of those that I played, I particularly enjoyed Cave Story and Miegakure.
What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?
I think that the indie scene is out of control. There are SO many games being made, it's hard to keep track of them all. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as a gamer who loves to play a game through to completion, I find it hard to set aside the time to give these games the play time they deserve.
In the future of the indie scene, I hope to see more games actually get finished and make it to market. I'm sick of playing half-done games that are riddled with bugs. Like all consumers, I like products that work and that are complete experiences.
That's what we try to deliver at Gaijin Games, and I've found that my favorite indie games are the ones that are complete games that have made it to market.
[Previous 2011 'Road To The IGF' interviews have covered Markus Persson's Minecraft, The Copenhagen Game Collective's B.U.T.T.O.N., Alexander Bruce's Hazard: The Journey of Life, Nicolai Troshinsky's Loop Raccord, Chris Hecker's Spy Party, Frictional Games' Amnesia and Monobanda's Bohm.]