Interview with Alex Neuse
Okay! Our first new interview in a long while. And we start it off with Alex Neuse of Gaijin Games as we talk about Bit. Trip Beat and the future of the series!!!
BA: How do feel about Bit.Trip Beat now that it has been released?
Alex Neuse: Firstly, I’m very excited to have the game done and out there. I’m also relieved. Being a new independent developer, getting your first game out there can seem so unattainable a goal at times. It’s just fantastic to have the game on a console for people to enjoy. Yep. Excited and relieved.
BA: How was the process with Wiiware? Was the dev kit easy to get? How was Nintendo?
Alex Neuse: The process with WiiWare was very familiar since my team and I just came off of a DS game before this. The development environment and tools that Nintendo provides is very robust and it helped us to hit the ground running, which is ideal for a small development team just starting out.
The dev kit was easy to get once we became licensed Nintendo developers (of course, we had to buy it). Becoming licensed Nintendo developers was fairly easy for us because we had a publishing partner and had worked on games in the past for Nintendo platforms.
Nintendo is great.
BA: Do you have any pointers for small developers trying to get into Wiiware?
Alex Neuse: My biggest pointer for small developers trying to get into WiiWare is to do whatever it takes to get on the platform. Go self-published if you can afford to, but if not, go with a publisher. There is no feeling like getting your game out there. And contact Nintendo. Everyone I’ve dealt with at The Big N has been super friendly.
BA: Okay. Now onto the game. Bit. Trip Beat is one of the bigger Wiiware games out there despite its minimalistic design. Do you have an explanation for this?
Alex Neuse: Assuming you mean “big” as in file size, not “big” as in hype?
BA: Well hype and file size.
Alex Neuse: The size of the game is within the limits of the WiiWare size requirements, and being a rhythm/music game, we wanted to make sure that the music was of the highest quality possible. The audio is by far the bulk of the memory.
In terms of hype, I very much doubt that it’s one of the biggest hyped games for the service, but for those who are paying attention and contributing to the hype, thank you very much! I love this game, and I hope that it lives up to that hype for you.
BA: Oh I see. While were sort of on the subject, why did you guys go with the type of advertisement you went with to debut the game?
Alex Neuse: Being that we’re a small developer just starting out, we don’t have a lot of funds to spend on a marketing effort and the viral campaign we launched was within our humble means. Also, the viral campaign points to the underlying CommanderVideo lore that will become evident over time (and over the course of our library of games, even beyond the BIT.TRIP series).
It may seem like the viral vid has little to do with the game, but in fact, it has quite a lot to do with it.
BA: Yeah I was definitely interested in the game when I first saw the video. So where does Bit. Trip Beat take place in this story? I’m assuming it’s the travel to wherever he’s going, most likely Earth?
Alex Neuse: Trying to get definitive answers out of me, I see… BIT.TRIP BEAT should be considered part of CommanderVideo’s journey. His journey may have taken him to Earth, or it may not have. Earth may be just a representation of part of the greater mission he’s on. I’m going to leave it at that for now, knowing that everyone will have their own interpretations, which I welcome.
Discerning players will find the answer to that question over the course of the series (and beyond)…
BA: Haha sorry I had to ask. So who was in charge of the messages and stuff during the viral campaign? Did you guys hire an advertisement company or was it all you guys?
Alex Neuse: It was all handled by CommanderVideo.
BA: I see… What kind of person would you describe him as? I’d bet he’s a lover of music.
Alex Neuse: From what I know of CommanderVideo, he’s very interested in all experiences of humankind. I believe that CommanderVideo is a gentle giant, but I don’t know for sure. Other than sharing a name with him (“CommanderVideo” is my video game handle), we’ve had little interaction outside of BIT.TRIP BEAT, so your guess is as good as mine.
BA: Hehe. So was each game in the series planned from the beginning or do you just work on the story and gameplay for one game and after completion continue on to the next iteration?
Alex Neuse: Everything is planned. There is a story arc that concludes by the end of the series. But as I said, it will take the discerning player to see the whole picture. It was very important to me that each of the games be enjoyable even if you don’t care to pay attention to the story.
BA: So have you guys already started on the next game or are you just enjoying the release of Bit. Trip Beat at the moment?
Alex Neuse: There is no rest for the weary. We are well into development on the next game.
BA: So is there anything you could tell us about the next game? Maybe a hint of games you may take inspiration from?
Alex Neuse: Sadly, I have been sworn to secrecy as to the specifics of the next game, but I can tell you the following:
Unlike a lot of sequels that sort of “rinse-and-repeat”, the next episode of the BIT.TRIP saga will have completely different gameplay from BEAT. However, it will still be rhythm/music based.
BA: Will it have multiple players like Bit. Trip Beat or am I asking something I shouldn’t?
Alex Neuse: Ask anything you want to! There will be a multiplayer element to the next game, yes.
BA: Cool. I forgot ask. How fun was it watching the viral ad go along? What specifically can you find the most memorable from the responses and theories that started when the site first came started?
Alex Neuse: Dude, the viral campaign was very fun to take part in. Some of the most memorable moments were when people finally tracked us down and contacted me through Xbox Live! I was sitting in my game room playing The Force Unleashed when someone sent me a message that said something like…. “I’m on to you Alex Neuse.”
BA: Yeah I remembered that. There was also a Youtube profile as well, right?
Alex Neuse: And from then, it was really fun to include people in the mystery. I asked The Commander if he could get more folks involved and he started sending people on missions, which was just great. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other future missions for those initial recruits.
Oh, and the YouTube profile was mine from a few years ago. And I had favorited Weird Al or something. Yeah. That’s what led people to Gaijin Games, I think. Man, Weird Al rules.
BA: So did you guys plan this whole thing a long time ago?
Alex Neuse: What whole thing are you referring to? The viral deal? The game?
BA: The game and the viral thing. I mean you said that the Youtube page was from a while ago so was the game and story planned a long time before it was first revealed and junk?
Alex Neuse: The YouTube profile was just mine from a while ago. Had I thought about it, I would have removed it or woven it into the viral campaign somehow. It was totally an accident that it was still there to trace the campaign back to me. Honestly, I think it’s pretty cool that folks found it. As far as planning the campaign and the game goes….
The game idea had been bouncing around my head for a while, but after talking about it with my team, we realized that the core of the game would have to be music-based. That wasn’t that long ago. From concept to completion on BIT.TRIP BEAT was probably under half a year. And the viral campaign evolved while we were in development.
BA: So how did you guys get IGN involved with the viral campaign? Did you really just send a video to them in an email?
Alex Neuse: I’m pretty sure that IGN got involved through our publisher, Aksys Games. I think they tipped them off. I certainly did not. Maybe The Commander did…
BA: Oh I see. That Commander seems to be a pretty busy person. Recently it was announced that Flash may soon be supported by the Wiiware service. How does this make you feel?
Alex Neuse: It makes me feel like I wish I knew how to use Flash in the slightest. But alas, I do not.
I look forward to playing a lot of rad Flash games though, I’ll tell ya what! I just really want Nintendo to start supporting the Atari 2600 on their Virtual Console service!
BA: Yeah somehow I feel you guys love stuff like the Atari 2600. Somehow… So was the Wiiware size limit a problem while in development?
Alex Neuse: The size limit was something we were often dealing with, but I must say, as a lover of classic games, the size limit kind of forces us to be more creative with our scope all around. For someone like me, limitations foster creativity, so even though we were constantly at the limit, it was neat to try to work within it.
I think it would have been much different if we hadn’t tried to make a music game where the fidelity of the audio is key.
BA: Well the quality shows. Do you have any plans for other digital distribution services DSiWare, XBLA, PSN, the iPhone?
Alex Neuse: Right now, we’re focusing solely on the BIT.TRIP series, each game of which will definitely debut on the Wii. But in the future, I can’t imagine not tackling each of the above named platforms. I cannot wait to hit each of them–each for different reasons.
BA: Cool. I guess the interview is almost over. Do you have any final words or shout outs to any people?
Alex Neuse: I suppose I can give a shout out to all the people who seem to be enjoying the games on all the forums. I’m reading a lot of the forums and love your praise and criticism. We’re making these games for you as much as we’re making them for us and we definitely appreciate your feedback.
Also thanks for supporting this game, especially since it’s an unknown brand and not part of an already existing franchise. As a gamer, I look out for the fresh properties that bring something unique to the medium. I’ve tried to design the BIT.TRIP series with this in mind, and I hope that you all find it to be refreshing, as I do.
BA: Thanks again for the interview and I look forward to your future projects!
Alex Neuse: Thank you! I can’t wait to share our next game with the world! Let’s chat again once it’s out!
Alex was really cool. Seriously I can’t think of anything else that could better describe him he was nice and all that.
I also promised Alex a piece of fanart a few months ago. Here it is.
It was originally more complex with more frames and stuff happening but I was using NES sprites which would ruin what the Bit. Trip games were all about. Maybe I’ll make a better one when I find some better retro sprites.
UPDATE: I’ve got two more questions I never asked. I got a reply back from Alex so here they are:
BA: Were there any licensing issues relating to Pong and Atari seeing as the gameplay is slightly similar?
Alex Neuse: Our game is not a recreation of any pre-existing property, so there were no issues like those you’ve mentioned. Our game is merely one in a group of hundreds like it in the paddle genre (an underrated genre, in myopinion).
BA: Will there be DLC for Bit Trip Beat like more levels and songs or perhaps a level editor any time soon?
Alex Neuse: Currently, there are no plans for added DLC (although it would be totally sweet).