Gaijin Games co-founders Alex Neuse and Mike Roush

Gaijin Games' BIT.TRIP series started life on WiiWare, spread onto Steam and then got the compilation treatment for Wii and 3DS, hitting retail in 2011. BIT.TRIP Presents Runner2 is the series' first step onto PS3, so we cornered Gaijin Games co-founders Alex Neuse and Mike Roush at PAX East to get the scoop on BIT.TRIP's latest run.

Push Square: Where does Runner 2 fit in the general BIT.TRIP canon?

Alex Neuse: This takes place between BIT.TRIP RUNNER and BIT.TRIP FATE. You remember at the end of RUNNER, CommanderVideo stomped on the bad guy? The bad guy’s mad now, so he hits CommanderVideo and his friends with a Reality Unfusion Beam. That’s how the art style has all changed because he’s in a different place. By the end of this game, CV will basically thwart the bad guy and find him in the beginning of FATE. It fits between the two and we’re going to make the story make sense.

After doing six pixel art, Atari 2600-style games, the art style here looks like you’re getting a lot out of you — it feels almost liberating. What was the inspiration? I’m getting a French-style animation feel from it.

AN: It was Mike’s vision.

Mike Roush: There is sort of a French flair to it, although that’s not necessarily going to be there the whole game. The influence is basically just trying to get CommanderVideo into this unfused reality world that separates him from the BIT.TRIP world, and what is more separating than this new art style from the original styling? Part of it is that, and the other part is, after three and a half years of doing that style, Gaijin Games wants to spread its wings a bit. We’re not just an 8-bit studio, we do want to do other things. And also we had more graphical power, so we wanted the art team to have some more fun with it.

I saw CommanderVideo go through a Sonic-style loop-de-loop, which is a new mechanic for the series. Are there additional new mechanics that may not be present in this demo?

AN: There’s quite a bit new that CommanderVideo can do, and we paid close attention to not overburdening the player with crap they have to remember. We found that five things to remember is enough for this kind of game.

So you wouldn’t like Steel Battalion at all.

AN: (Laughs) Yeah, right. We’re gonna support the Steel Battalion original controller for this game.

After three and a half years of doing that style, Gaijin Games wants to spread its wings a bit. We’re not just an 8-bit studio, we do want to do other things.

I’m quoting you on that.

AN: You should! You can now do combo moves where you’re sliding and can jump or kick. We also have more passive moves like the loop-de-loop you saw, and there’s a little microgame within the loop-de-loop. There’s also a square-to-square, which you’re not seeing (in the demo), that has a microgame. There’s speed boosts, fans, all kinds of crap. The best one is the dance move. If you hit the dance button, you’re locked into a dance for a whole beat; if you mistime your dancing you might bonk into something, so it’s a risk vs. reward system that augments your score so that people can compete on the leaderboards even if you’ve all gotten perfects.

Was any of that held back by the previous art style? You could’ve technically implemented loop-de-loops on Wii hardware but it may have clashed with the Atari 2600-look you were going for.

AN: It kind of did. We thought about doing slopes in the first game, but with the time frame that we had to work on it — we made it in about three and a half months — we couldn’t suss out the tech and gameplay in time. I think we just didn’t do it because we were trying to get the thing done, you know? This game we’re taking about ten months to make it and we’re really trying to amp up our polish and do it right.

Has there been any adjustment as a studio now working on an HD platform?

AN: We all feel more freedom, we can do a lot more with what we have. For instance, on the WiiWare versions we couldn’t push the art to the extremes because the download size was restricted, and so we shipped those first games without even using textures, at all. In this game, we can use textures, have big models, there’s some detail on this stuff that’s pretty rich — we’re not nearly as limited, so that has been liberating, and the art team is going nuts with it. In a good way.

With a pushed release date to October or November and the Wii U releasing around then too, does that mean that you’ll try to finagle your way on there?

AN: (Smiles) I wonder. I wonder if that means that. Let me put it this way: we have a Wii U dev kit, and our game is coming out around the time that system launches, so that would be pretty cool.

What excites you about the Wii U tablet controller?

AN: I have to think of it in terms of Runner2 now — thinking about it broadly would be too much — but if we were to do a Wii U version, what if you could have a pick-up in the game that reveals hidden bonuses and stuff that you can’t see on your screen but have to hold the controller up? You’re still playing but it’s sort of like an X-ray vision.

So sort of like a CommanderVideo detective mode.

AN: Yeah, exactly! (laughs) You get a Silent Scope kind of feel. But anyway, if we do a Wii U version I don’t know what we would do with the controller. I would want to do something unique, but honestly we haven’t figured that part out.