Dr. David's Indie Spotlight: Interview with Runner2 developer, Gaijin Games
If you've yet to play Bit.Trip Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, chances are you're not a fan of happiness. Or maybe you just haven't gotten around to it -- what the hell do I know? If you have played Runner2, though, you're aware of just how pleasant and plentiful the game is. CommanderVideo successfully embarks on a journey rife with incredible music, cheery visuals, and outstanding style. I had the opportunity to interview Mike Roush and Alex Neuse, co-founders of Runner2 developer Gaijin Games, and got some insight on the creation process of the game, what the future holds for Gaijin, Charles Martinet's role as narrator, and much more. Check out what these two talented dudes had to say about Runner2 and CommanderVideo!
GameZone: What has the overall reaction to Runner2 been? How have people reacted to the changes made from the first Runner? Were you expecting said reactions?
Gaijin Games: The overwhelming response to Runner2 has been incredibly positive. We knew we had a fun game, but reading review after review that comes in at 9/10 has really pumped us up! We’re so excited that people are liking the game as much as they are.
Initially, people were wary of the changes that we made from Bit.Trip Runner to Runner2, but practically everyone who plays it comes around and realizes that we’ve made the right decision with the enhancements.
I don’t think we were expecting the initial backlash against the new graphics, but that’s probably because we had been working with it throughout development and could see the magic on a daily basis. Again, once someone plays it, all of that retro-baggage falls away.
GZ: What prompted Gaijin Games to go in a completely new graphical direction with Runner2? Was there a little trepidation regarding how fans of the original Bit.Trip games would respond to the visuals?
GG: The initial driving force behind the graphical overhaul was twofold.
One: We were telling a story of how CommanderVideo gets his reality un-fused and ends up in a new reality. If the graphics and music were the same as in Bit.Trip Runner, it really wouldn’t have felt like a different place.
Two: We wanted to do something new. After years of retro-inspired graphics in the original Bit.Trip series, we were ready to do some artistic stretching, if you will.
We didn’t have any trepidation as to how the fans would react. We knew that it was the right direction for the game, and we let that guide our vision.
GZ: What was the most enjoyable aspect as far as the development of Runner2 is concerned? What did the dev team have the most fun with?
GG: We have the most fun with our wholly inappropriate private chatroom, where we post all kinds of nonsense that the public should never see.
But as far as the game itself is concerned, the most fun is without a doubt when you realize that you have started playing the game when you’re just supposed to be working on it. Both of us found ourselves losing hours of our development time just getting sucked into playing for the sake of having fun. That’s when we knew we had a good game. And all of us on the team suffered from this ailment.
GZ: Was there anything you had to leave out of Runner2? Any mechanics, elements, or abilities that didn't make the cut?
GG: Early on, we were toying with motion control and other Wii U-specific GamePad features, but when it all came down to it, those were just too much for us to wrangle. Also, they never really felt appropriate.
GZ: The first Runner became notorious for its unforgiving difficulty, meanwhile Runner2 is still a challenging game, though not at the same level as its predecessor. Was this the plan from the start? Did you go into the development of this sequel with the hopes of creating a more accessible experience?
GG: From the start, we wanted to make Runner2 much more accessible than Bit.Trip Runner. We did this by implementing three difficulty levels. Easy is for people who liked the idea of Bit.Trip Runner but found it impossible to play. Normal is for people who struggled through Bit.Trip Runner and maybe put it down or maybe beat it, but with great effort. Hard is for people who thought Bit.Trip Runner’s difficulty was great.
GZ: Can you describe what it was like to work with Charles Martinet, the infamous voice of Mario? What inspired Gaijin to have the legendary voice actor be a part of Runner2?
GG: Charles is an absolute sweetheart and a professional through and through. Getting into the recording studio with him was a joy. We got to riff back and forth about silly product placement advertisements, and he even came up with some of those on the spot. I believe Tim’s Tomato Grinds is his.
When considering our narrator, we wanted someone who could speak clearly and say all of the impossible things we wanted them to say without tripping over our words. We wanted the voice to be reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoon narrators. Silly and full of whimsy. Charles, as you might imagine, fit the bill rather nicely.
GZ: What's next for CommanderVideo? Do you plan on making games that span different genres like the original Bit.Trip series? Or will you continue with Runner? Will you work on a completely different franchise altogether?
GG: Being that Runner2 is the most ambitious project the company has done to date, we’re going to continue to support Runner2 throughout the year, and maybe do some DLC, etc... We’re not 100% sure. But 2013 will likely be about making sure that Runner2 gets the attention that we think it deserves. I mean, we still have the iOS and PS Vita versions ahead of us. So, we’re still hard at work in the Runner2 universe.
All that being said, we are definitely going to be branching out once we’re ready, and will likely launch a brand new franchise.
GZ: What's CommanderVideo's favorite fruit?
GG: Melon balls dipped in barbeque sauce.
GZ: Can you share anything with your fans regarding when you hope to release another game? Are you already working on something, or are you just soaking in all the post-launch craziness from Runner2?
GG: We are fairly certain that fans can look forward to another game from us before the year is out. After the post-launch craziness of course.
GZ: Now that Runner2 is out, is the Gaijin team looking forward to playing anything?
GG: We’ve all put a lot of games on hold during the final stretch, and our combined backlog is as follows:
Middle Manager of Justice
Derrick the Deathfin
Race the Sun
Kentucky Route Zero
I would like to personally thank Mike Roush and Alex Neuse of Gaijin Games for taking the time to answer my questions. Runner2 has quickly become one of my favorite video games, so it goes without saying that getting the chance to ask these developers questions about the game was a total blast. Thanks, and say hi to CommanderVideo!
Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.