If it didn't work, it wasn't going to ship.
A mobile version was always a consideration when Gaijin Games was developing Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien for consoles and PC. The prospect of putting the lighthearted, rhythm-infused platformer onto a platform with so many users had a way of motivating the developer. The problem was that they didn't know if the game, which was built with real-life buttons in mind, would translate well to touch-based devices.
There was only one way to find out. About six months ago, Gaijin began prototyping an iOS version of the game for an internal audience.
"We had to prove to ourselves that Runner 2 could work on a mobile device, and were ready to scrap the project if didn't," associate producer Dant Rambo told Polygon in a recent interview.
It worked. Commander Video is headed to iOS in Bit.Trip Run on Halloween, Oct. 31.
"We also made a deal with a demonic bird."
Polygon spent hands-on time with Bit.Trip Run on iPhone and iPad and spoke to the developer recently about learning mobile development though trial and error, figuring out new controls and why Gaijin christened the mobile version with a new name.
Bit.Trip Run plays well and just like we expected. Gaijin even added in some floating buttons to tap at certain places in certain levels, and they feel right at home alongside the original content.
As with earlier versions, Commander Video, Unkle Dill, Whetfahrt Cheeseborger and all of the eight playable characters run automatically. Instead of relying on physical button presses, the iOS version substitutes taps to jump and swipes to kick, slide and dance. Because they tend to correspond to the on-screen movement, they're also easy to remember. It doesn't take much to memorize a swipe down to slide, for example. But they're not perfect, as seems to be the nature of touch-based controls. Rarely, it will think you tapped when you meant to swipe, and the invisible string will pull your character back to the checkpoint. As we pointed out in our review of Bit.Trip Runner 2, though, it's a game built for everyone, and replayability is built in.
The controls Gaijin settled on were just one of several tested during development. Swipes and taps won because they felt the best.
"In the end, implementing and testing out several different control schemes is what led us to our current swipe-based controls," Rambo said. "It also doesn't hurt that we have friends in mobile development to provide pointers and suggestions.
"I mean, we also made a deal with a demonic bird who said it would help us create the perfect control scheme if we gave it our souls, but I doubt that played a major role."
Players earn gold as they play through each level, which they can cash in to unlock playable characters, bonus levels and more. Those who don't necessarily want to invest their time to earn their gold will also be able to line their coffers through in-app purchases. Balancing free content alongside paid content is something Gaijin put plenty of thought into.
"We definitely don't want to nickel and dime the players," he said. "Our intention is to allow plenty of content that is optional for the player to unlock and explore, but they still have a full experience even if they don't unlock a thing. Costumes, characters and levels can be unlocked with the gold you collect normally in the game. These items are not priced so that you'll have to grind or be forced to buy gold. The option to buy gold is there for people who want to get that content right away instead of waiting."
In the iOS App Store, Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is known as Bit.Trip Run, a change made for several reasons, all of them practical.
"First off, the original name was unnecessarily long and for comic effect, but also to reference the amazing Japanese-translated names of our previous games (the first Runner was renamed A Flat-Out Run of the Rhythm Alien)," he said. "Secondly, the first Runner game is not on the App Store which could be confusing and restrictive for people that don't want to jump into a sequel first. It is not necessary to have played the original Runner and we make sure to bring you up to speed so that you can enjoy this game on its own. Thirdly, we wanted to put the focus back on the Bit.Trip series since people seem to be more familiar with Bit.Trip as a whole more than any one of the games. Fourthly, we simply wanted a name that would fit below the icon without being cut off, which also meant we couldn't even capitalize Bit.Trip like we normally do."
The project worked, and now Gaijin Games is a bona fide mobile developer, which Rambo sees as a positive development for the series and its creators.
"Developing for iOS presented a lot of unique challenges (controls, monetization, touch interface, etc.), but we overcame them like the amazing, majestic beings we are."