Gaijin Games Interview - Bit.Trip Beat

Bit.Trip Beat looks set to be one of the most original and fun games of 2009 on WiiWare. It’s a clever blend of Atari 2600 visuals, Pong gameplay and a slamming chiptune soundtrack.

Intrigued by this mysterious looking game we contacted the developers Gaijin Games to find out more. Thankfully the head honcho, Alex Neuse agreed to spill the beans on their upcoming game so you lucky readers can be in the know in this exclusive interview:

WiiWare World: Can you tell us a little about how Gaijin Games came to be? What different talents are represented in the Gaijin team?

Alex Neuse: Gaijin Games started when I left my last job looking for a change of pace. I felt that my career had started down a path that I wasn’t as interested in walking. I hungered for greater creative freedom. So, after some soul searching and much needed travel, I returned to Santa Cruz and reconnected with some former coworkers. As it turned out, they too had been looking for a change of pace as well and I told them that I was thinking of starting my own studio. To make a long story short, we decided that the creative freedom we wanted could best be realized through our own venture. And Gaijin Games as you know it was born.

The team at Gaijin Games is pretty well rounded.

Our Engineer, Chris Osborn brings a passion for games as well as a passion for Engineering to the table. He has a perspective that’s bigger than just the task at hand and pushes me to be a better Designer. He’s also very interested in streamlining the development process and is spearheading our development methods.

Mike Roush, our Artist, has an “out there” creative style and a can-do attitude that inspires the team. He has pushed me as a Designer and our game is better because of it. Mike has also worked on high-end projects, low-end projects, and everything in between. He brings an artistic knowledge base to the team that is invaluable to a new development studio.

I bring the Design and leadership angle to the team. I’ve been in the industry since 1997 and have learned a lot during my tenure. I had tried to start Gaijin Games back in 2004 and failed once, so I know a lot of pitfalls to avoid. I like to think that I have a strong design sense, and the other guys continually challenge that, so I’m always learning.

The best thing about our team is that we are committed to maintaining a learning attitude and we believe that this commitment will make our games better and better as time goes on.

WW: Who is this CommanderVideo chap we keep hearing about?

AN: CommanderVideo is only a man. But which man, we’re not yet sure. I’m certain that his story will be revealed over the course of the BIT.TRIP series.

WW: Can you tell us a bit about your viral marketing and what response you got?

AN: The viral marketing campaign got more of a response than we were expecting, and we were quite pleased with the results. As a small developer, we don’t have a lot of marketing muscle, so we wanted to do something within our means - hence the viral video. There were a lot of lovers and a lot of haters of the campaign and all of them taught us what we did right and what we did wrong. Overall, I’d say it was a success, because people now know about our game.

WW: What inspired you to create a game with a retro Atari 2600 style?

AN: The Atari 2600 is one of my favorite consoles. It’s a system that dates back to an era where games were just that. Games. It seems more honest, more happy-go-lucky. Because of these nostalgic feelings that I have, I’ve always wanted to make a 2600-era retro game. It wasn’t until I started getting into the chiptune scene that the idea seemed feasible. As the chiptune genre started getting legs, I saw a window of opportunity to make the game I’ve always wanted to make - something with 2600-style gameplay. The Gaijin team then worked out how to give it a much needed modern flair while retaining the simplistic gameplay. That’s how we settled on a Pong-inspired gameplay mechanic mixed with music/rhythm gameplay using chiptune-inspired tunes.

WW: Which games inspired you to try your hand at the rhythm / music genre?

AN: This is a good question, because I think that music/rhythm games are underappreciated and I want to call out my favorites. Even before Guitar Hero and Rock Band, there were a lot of music games that inspired me to make a game in the genre. And while Guitar Hero and Rock Band are great games, they are not the ones that speak to me. My music/rhythm game inspiration comes from the following games:

  • Parappa the Rapper & Um Jammer Lammy
  • Bust a Groove (1 & 2)
  • Space Channel 5
  • Rez
  • Gitarooman

The games above are much more imaginative than the rhythm games of late. I enjoy them because of their original compositions and crazy storylines. Once you accept that you’re on a wild ride of synesthesia, you can let go and enjoy it. I can only hope that BIT.TRIP BEAT ends up living up to its inspiration.

WW: The basic idea of the gameplay seems to be to return the pixel blocks. What makes this so challenging and fun?

AN: The same thing that made Pong fun is hopefully what makes BIT.TRIP BEAT fun. I have found that if you get in the zone and allow yourself to get lost in the music, you sort of get into a meditative trance that just feels good. Putting my finger on why it’s fun is kind of difficult. There are different kinds of “pixel blocks”, which we call Beats, that have different behaviors. Predicting the behaviors of the Beats is part of it. Also, I think there’s something to be said for a simple challenge (you only move up and down), and mastering that challenge which is exciting and engaging. And let’s not forget the music interaction. While you’re not creating the music as such, you are playing with it, which feels good.

WW: We understand that the paddle is controlled by twisting the Wii Remote. Won’t that get tiring? Do you offer a D-pad option as an alternative?

AN: You are correct; the game is controlled by holding the Wii Remote sideways like an NES controller and tilting it forward and backward. I’ve been playing the game every day over the course of development and it hasn’t gotten tiring for me yet. During our preproduction phase we tried out various options and kept returning to the Wii Remote tilting. It feels the most like a spinner controller and offers much more precise navigation of the play field than the +Control Pad ever could so we decided not to support it. I’m a big fan of “paddle” games like Super Breakout, Kaboom!, Arkanoid, etc., and on the consoles with D-pad controls none of them feel right. We chose to go with the control scheme that felt the most “right”, knowing that we couldn’t get a true spinner controller.

WW: When returning the blocks the sound they make becomes part of the tune. Did games such as Rez inspire this neat idea?

AN: Games such as Rez most certainly did inspire this idea. Rez was a big influence for us. It’s one of my favorite games of all time, and I’ve probably beaten it over 100 times - maybe 200. I play a LOT of Rez.

The sounds the Beats make in BIT.TRIP BEAT don’t always contribute to the tune, but they always feel like they are in the same world as the tune. Much like Rez or Lumines, the player isn’t altering the music, but instead is playing with sounds in parallel to the music in a way that fits the overall soundscape.

WW: Are there any consequences to playing badly other than getting a low score?

AN: Getting a low score is the ultimate consequence, as our game is high-score based. However, there are many other effects to playing poorly before your score is recorded. If you play poorly, you won’t experience the entirety of the story told through the background imagery in each level. You won’t hear all the layers of the music. You will fall into the Nether Mode, which is a realm devoid of color and sound, like the original Pong. Conversely, if you play well, you will layer the music, progress the story, and remain in the highest of the Modes, Mega Mode, where visual effects bombard you and the music really gets pumping.

WW: What can we expect from the end of level boss battles?

AN: Each of the boss battles is unique from the other and without giving too much away, I will suggest to you that they may feel more familiar than you’d expect.

WW: Can you tell us how the four player co-op mode works?

AN: I can! The four player mode is entirely cooperative. Players work together to repel Beats, just as in single player, but in order to keep the challenge alive, we’ve made some mild alterations. In one or two player, the paddles are full size, but in three or four player, the paddles are shrunk slightly. If you can get in a good co-op zone with your buddies, you’ll have a great time passing juggle beats from one player to another and trying for that elusive “perfect” score.

WW: Can you tell us more about the chiptune inspired music in the game? Did you do it in-house or outsource?

AN: Initially, we had wanted to do a straight-up chiptune soundtrack, with 2D, 2600-style art. After talking to more and more people and getting more perspective on the project we realized that for the year 2009, we would have to make everything across the board more accessible to today’s eyes and ears. It was because of this that we decided to go chiptune-inspired rather than chiptune proper. We outsourced the music composition and worked with a video game composer who used 2600 and NES samples as well as original vibes to create a sound that’s both retro and modern.

WW: Might you release the Bit.Trip soundtrack in some shape or form one day?

AN: We would love to release the BIT.TRIP soundtrack. We’re not sure how or when, but it is in the plans.

WW: Who are some of your favorite chiptune musicians?

AN: Bit Shifter is one of my favorites, and in fact, we’ve licensed two of his songs for use in the game. You’ll be rocking out to the Shifter during the Main Menu and Credits. We wanted something truly chiptune to bookend the game and since Bit Shifter is the chiptune artist who got me into the scene, it seemed appropriate to incorporate some of his tunes.

Bubblyfish is another favorite as of late. I’ve only recently gotten into her tunes and it’s a great vibe.

Nullsleep is another artist that I enjoy quite a bit.

There are a number of other chiptune artists that I like, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

WW: We understand you have another 5 games planned for the Bit.Trip series. What other game styles are you considering? Could we see an Atari 2600 style platformer such as Pitfall perhaps?

AN: For the other games in the series, we’re definitely keeping a 2600 vibe going strong, and while I don’t want to give too much away, we might have some kind of side scrolling adventure - although it might be more akin to Jungle Hunt than Pitfall!. All the games in the series will be music/rhythm based, of course.

WW: How did you come to find Aksys Games as a publisher? What put you off publishing yourselves?

AN: I have known Akibo Shieh, the President of Aksys Games, for years. He and I have wanted to work together and this seemed like the right time to give it a shot. Gaijin Games has a value of only working with people we like and trust. Aksys fits the bill, so it seemed like a good angle to try out. Since moving forward with BIT.TRIP they have been nothing but professional and supportive. They are a great cohort to have in this industry.

While someday we’d like to go self-published, for our first game as a new developer, we wanted to minimize our risk so we went with the publishing angle - a process that the Gaijin team is familiar with - instead of trying yet one more thing new, like self-publishing.

WW: The dreaded question! When do you expect that Bit.Trip Beat be released in North America and how much will it cost roughly? Do you know if Aksys are planning a European release?

AN: BIT.TRIP BEAT is going through the approval process as I type this, and I would expect it to be released in North America before March (knock on wood). There will also be a European and Asian release soon thereafter. The game will cost less than 1000 Wii Points. After picking it up, drop us a line and let us know what you think!

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