Interview with Alex Neuse of Gaijin Games, creators of Bit.Trip

After finding out about the retro chiptune rhythm game Bit.Trip Beat coming soon as a downloadable game for the Wii I was automatically intrigued. So I immediately tried to dig up as much info about the game as possible, as is my obsessive nature. Unfortunately other than a round of short previews explaining the game I didn't find too much. So I decided to contact Gaijin Games (creators of Bit.Trip) directly and see what info I could dig up on this game which is clearly relevant to our interests. Below is the slightly fanboyish interview that ensued with Alex Neuse, founder of Gaijin Games and one of the creators and designers of the upcoming WiiWare title Bit.Trip Beat.

(click on the pictures for a fullsize view of the action!)

According to the Gaijin website, Gaijin is awesome, mind explaining why and how you are so awesome?

I’m glad you asked. Hah.

I’m actually not sure where on the site you discovered this information, but if we actually put that on there, I think it’s pretty funny.

Seriously, though, I do think that our company is awesome. Chris, Mike, and I have tried to do something that we all believe in and so far it has worked out well for us. We are three guys who like to have fun, like video games, and want to do something cool with our lives. As long as it works out (knock on wood) I will maintain my stance that we are, in fact, awesome.
If you and your readers play the game and enjoy it, I hope you will feel the same way. :)

Now on to Bit.Trip Beat. Was the idea of having an old school atari style game come first, or did you first decide you wanted to make a rhythm game and the style came together after that?

This is a tough one. I have wanted to make a rhythm/music game forever. Parappa the Rapper changed my life. I also wanted to make a game that was WAY retro. Not just NES era retro, but RETRO retro. I had a lot of ideas bouncing around in my brain, but it wasn’t until Chris Osborn, our Engineer, and I were talking about our mutual love for chiptune music that the design finally clicked.

After the main design revealed itself to me, I tried to use my designer-brain to decide on an art style and I was all like “DUDE! 2D ALL THE WAY!” And Mike Roush, our Artist, was all like “Dude. 3D, but retro-inspired.” And honestly, this game is much better for it.

So, each of us had pieces of the concept locked away in our brains, and it was through collaboration that the game became fully retro-inspired, yet modern at the same time.

How did the idea to make a chiptune rhythm game come about, as opposed to any other style of music?

Since the gameplay in BIT.TRIP BEAT is based off of what we consider to be the ultimate classic game, we felt very strongly about complimenting that gameplay with music that’s based off of classic games as well.

Classic games played with today’s hands and heard with today’s ears, though, sometimes aren’t as fun as we remember them. So our goal became to use the tools of today as a means to capture the feelings of yesterday. This led us to the chiptune-inspired soundtrack and classic-inspired gameplay and graphics that expand on the idea of retro.

How many people are working on this game, and what are their duties on this game?

At Gaijin Games, there are 3 of us working on the game full-time. I am the Designer, Mike is the Artist, and Chris is the Engineer.

In addition to the Gaijin Games development team, we have contracted out the Sound Design/Music Composition and we have a publishing team at Aksys Games who supports us with Marketing, QA, etc.

Who is composing the music for Bit.Trip Beat?

A company called Petrified Productions is composing all of the original in-game music for us. Again, we have decided to go retro-inspired rather than straight up retro. The music is very chiptune-esque, but is also slightly modern.

In fact, releasing the MP3 on commandervideo.com was a little scary for me since it’s not what I would consider “pure” chiptune. I want the chiptune community to like the in-game music, and I also want people new to the chiptune phenomenon to have an introduction to it that is pleasing to their modern ears.

I think we have struck a great balance as I enjoy the music a lot and consider myself a big chiptune fan.

Do you guys have any chiptune or other composers/musicians you enjoy who inspired the music in the game?

This is my chance to give a call out to my favorite chiptune artists!

Bit Shifter, you got me into the scene, and this game may not have even been made if I hadn’t Chased the Information so hard. Thank you for inspiring me.

Bubblyfish, your tunes are currently rocking my world with a vengence. Please keep at it.

Nullsleep, my world has also been rocked by you and your wily ways.

There are a number of other chiptune artists that I enjoy, and I can’t just fill the page with names so I’ll leave it at that.

Also, almost all classic gaming music is an inspiration to me (so long as it’s good, of course). The Mega Man series has some great tunes. Blaster Master comes to mind. You know what I’m talking about.

Who exactly is CommanderVideo and what is his mission?

CommanderVideo is only a man, apparently. I don’t know exactly who he is, but I have heard that his mission is simply to live. To experience life. That would fit with his statement of being only a man, I suppose. It certainly seems to fit with what I believe my mission to be.
I suspect that the longer we know CommanderVideo, the more we will realize about his mission.

Is there a storyline to the game? Can you divulge any of it’s secrets just yet?

There is a storyline to the game. The story actually spans the entire BIT.TRIP series. I won’t give too much away, but let’s just say that it is heavily tied to his mission.

The story will be told through pre-level cutscenes as well as through the art that serves as a massive distraction to the in-game action. Only the most skilled players will be able to watch the action and the art in full.

This is a game about getting in the zone. Get in the zone, and the story will reveal itself.

Will there be any enemies or hazards in the game along with the musical pong balls?

The pong balls (called Beats) are the primary hazard/enemy. There are many different types of Beats with different behaviors that present brain-bending challenges on par with rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.

In addition to the Beats, there is a boss battle at the end of each level that serves up a beefier challenge.

How many songs do you plan on having in the game?

There will be 3 levels, each with its own original song that builds along the way based on how skilled the player is.

How will multiplayer work? The very mention sounds quite intriguing. Will there be battle and/or cooperative modes of play? Any word on online play?

Multiplayer is entirely cooperative and is local only. We would have loved to include a battle and/or online play, but being a team of 3 developers, we had to make some difficult decisions and those were features that ultimately won’t be included.

We decided that we’d rather make a solid cooperative experience than rush too many features into the game.

The multiplayer turned out to be pretty awesome. Up to 4 players can play together and each player gets their own paddle. The team then works together to earn a high score. Depending on how many players are in on the action, the paddles vary in size to maintain the challenge as well.
Working together will make getting the elusive “Perfect” score easier to achieve.

When is the planned release for the game? Any chance of a a chiptune concert to coincide with it perhaps? Or a classy dinner to celebrate?

We are madly scrambling to finish the game up as I type this. Our hopeful launch will be in mid-February, but I will not promise a date yet. :)

A chiptune concert to coincide with the release would be AMAZING! I have no idea how to arrange that. If you figure it out, you bet your butt we’ll be there.

We are planning on finding our way to the Blip Festival in 2009, and we wanted to go in ’08, but starting a company is pricey and we couldn’t yet afford it. :) If anyone out there wants to organize some sort of awesomeness for the 2009 Blip Festival and BIT.TRIP, let’s do it.

Oh, and a classy dinner would also be nice, but instead, I think we’re going to do a launch party with CommanderVideo cakes and things. Dude! I should video some of the launch party antics and post it to our site. We’re still small, though, so whatever we do it’ll only be a Gala Event in our minds.

The article on your site states that this will be the first of several Bit.Trip releases. Any plans you can divulge for the future titles?

I can divulge that there will definitely be a sequel to BIT.TRIP BEAT, but beyond that I can’t yet say. Episode 2 of the BIT.TRIP saga will continue the story of CommanderVideo’s mission and will also introduce an entirely new gameplay mechanic—still rhythm based of course, and still chiptuney.

Each of the entries in the BIT.TRIP series will maintain the style, but change the gameplay. This sets us aside from a lot of series’ because usually, it’s the gameplay that ties them all together. For us, it’s the theme of it all.

Any plans on having licensed music, or perhaps music from underground chiptune musicians in this or future releases?

I’m glad you asked. We are licensing a couple tracks for the “bookends” of the game. The Main Menu and Credits Roll will sport some tunes from Bit Shifter—our special guest star.
We are hoping to continue the tradition in future titles as well.

Do you plan on releasing the songs in the game, either for sale, or as a free download in the future? I must admit I am already a fan of the song “Desention” on the games website.

We would really like to release a game soundtrack. I’m a big fan of game music and have an extensive game soundtrack collection. I think it’s high time that the game industry got the same kind of props that the film industry gets for their soundtracks.

I’m totally stoked that you like the Desention track. If we get enough interest in the soundtrack, I’m sure we’ll figure out how to release it to the masses.

What are some of your favorite game soundtracks?

The tough questions. Hm... Here’re a few, in no particular order:
Rez
Metroid
Super Metroid
Mega Man 3
Silent Hill (the whole series)
Pixel Junk Eden

Some of your favorite games or game creators? Any game you just can’t shut up about?

Again with the tough questions. Again with a list, in no particular order:
• Game Creators
Shiggy. I mean, come on.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi
• Games
Super Metroid
Rez
Super Mario Bros. 3

For the chiptune music in the game was their any particular console sound you are emulating?

We’ve sampled sounds from the 2600 and NES primarily. Aside from that direction that we gave to the composer, we really let them run with it.

Do you hope for this game to be particularly enjoyed by the chiptune and video game music loving community? Not sure if you know but many an 8-bit music fan (myself included) has been waiting for a game like this for some time.

We REALLY hope that the chiptune/video game music fans enjoy this game. Mostly, we hope that everyone feels the same way we do about it. We really feel like this game brings us back to that happy place we lived in when we played our first games back in the 80s.

Is there anything you want folks to pay particular attention to when they play the game?

This is a funny question, because the more you try to pay attention to what’s going on in-game, I find the worse you perform. If you can get into the zone and move beyond “paying attention” and into the realm of simple perception or meditation, you do better. I’d like players to see if they experience this as well.

Anything I fail to ask that you are dying to tell people about?

Follow your dreams. It inspires people. A lot of folks have inspired me, and if our game manages to inspire ONE of you out there, I consider it a huge success. Live.

And finally. Any shameless plugs, shout outs, or self promotion you want to add?

Bill Gildan, if you’re out there watching, we hope that we’re living up to your standards.
Readers, get us some fanart and we’ll continue to post it to our fanart site.

If anyone reading this lives in Minnesota, we just LOVE Earl’s Cheese Puffs. Feel free to send some to us.
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Thanks a ton to Alex Neuse for taking time to answer all these questions! Definitely grab the game when it drops on the Wii soon! And for the still uninitiated here is the trailer for Bit.Trip Beat again below!


Also check out the official Bit.Trip Beat site for some more footage and info.