The Bit Trip Runner series has always been charming, bright, and an action packed adventure following Commander Video through a musical journey. At PAX East 2018, the third game in the main series was announced with a release date of May 22, 2018. The game released with great success and improved upon every concept of Runner 2, as if that was even possible.
During my time at Pax East, I was able to meet Dant Rambo, one of the writers for Runner 3. After playing the demo, and knowing he contributed to the story, I knew I had to interview him about Runner 3. A couple emails later, and here we are!
What’s your history with video game writing prior to Runner 3?
I started writing game reviews back when I was in high school, and continued to do so for many years without ever being paid for it. With a little persistence and a lot of luck, I finally managed to find a paying gig covering games. This, in turn, led to a few other paid gigs, and I finally reached a point where I was able to make a living doing it. I felt beyond lucky!
This was how I met Choice Provisions, actually. I was living in Santa Cruz then–where the company is located–and I thought it might be fun to reach out and interview them for the site I was writing for at the time. It went well enough, in spite of my nerves, and we ended up staying in touch after the fact. And by “staying in touch” I mean “occasionally running into each other around Santa Cruz.”
When they reached out to ask if I’d be interested in working for them, it was a no-brainer. I loved being in the press, but it had always been my dream to get involved with game creation at some point. I definitely felt (and feel!) very lucky!
How’d you get into writing for Runner 3?
I was originally hired at Choice Provisions as a producer, which at the time meant I handled scheduling and taking care of whatever odds-and-ends popped up. I kept dropping hints I was interested in doing writing, which initially led to me writing a lot of store descriptions, press releases, and marketing text. This led to an offer to do some of the writing for our game Destructamundo, which we released on iOS and Steam back in 2014.
When we first started planning out Runner3, there was a lot of talk of fleshing out the story a bit more and allowing CommanderVideo and friends a chance to interact with other characters in the world. Fortunately, I was asked if I would like to be the one to do the writing for the game!
Spoiler: I said yes.
Did you write for Runner 2, and if so, was your writing approach different?
I wasn’t lucky enough to write for Runner2, but I did study the game’s script closely before I got to work on writing Runner3! Mike Roush and Alex Neuse–company co-founders–wanted the script to be as alliterative and difficult to read as possible with Runner2, which we decided early on was a tradition we wanted to keep alive with its successor. This is especially noticeable in the opening and closing cutscenes, though you can hear some of it crop up in the game’s other cutscenes as well.
What is it like to work with someone as iconic as Charles Martinet?
It was pretty amazing, honestly! He’s an unbelievably kind person, in addition to being an incredibly talented voice actor.
It was recently announced that you’d have some cameos such as Shovel Knight, Eddie Riggs (from Brutal Legend) and more. What was it like integrating them into the story cameo wise and what was it like working with other companies to get access to those characters?
It was a lot of fun to be able to include those characters. They all felt like a really good fit for the wacky world we were trying to create with Runner3. The Narrator in particular felt like the perfect addition.
As for getting permission, it was only a matter of us firing off a few friendly emails to Double Fine and Yacht Club Games! This isn’t too uncommon in the world of indie game development. We’re a pretty casual bunch.
From when we spoke at PAX (and please correct me if I’m wrong), the levels are built around the music, meaning you get the music first and build levels around that. Does the music affect your writing for the story in any way?
The level design and music composition happen more or less in tandem. This is made easier by the fact we’ve been working with the same composer (Matthew Harwood) since the start of the BIT.TRIP series. We’re pretty well on the same page by this point.
I would definitely say the music affected the story in some ways. In particular, the music Matthew composed for the Hero Quest conversations is very fun and silly, which in turn inspired me to up the silly levels of the dialog I was writing.
For Runner 2, there were cameos from other indie games and you could even play as them (Spelunky guy, Dr. Fetus, Quote etc.). Are there any plans to incorporate more indies into Runner 3 as playable characters? Perhaps Shovel Knight, Shante, Blaster Master etc.?
It’s something we’d love to do, but we don’t have any plans for it at this time. We’re interested in releasing more content for the game, but we’re still in the early stages of figuring out what that’s going to look like. DLC characters are certainly on the list, though.
What were some of the roadblocks that you all encountered when making Runner 3?
There were some challenges along the way, to be sure, but we were fortunate enough to never encounter anything so bad as a roadblock. I’ve said this on a few occasions, but the biggest challenge we faced was ensuring the game we were making was worthy of being a numbered sequel to the first two BIT.TRIP RUNNER games. We wanted to introduce some new elements to the series, but not to the point of making it unrecognizable to fans of its predecessors.
We’re confident we pulled it off!
What is your favorite part of Runner 3? Is it the improved graphics, the cleverly named levels, tighter mechanics etc?
I really like how players have more agency this time around. I’ve been watching a lot of streams of the game since it released and it’s been interesting to see how many different playstyles people have adopted. Some choose to utilize the double-jump and ground pound at every opportunity, whereas others avoid those mechanics whenever possible and opt for a more precise style of playing. I think it’s great people have the option to choose how they wish to play the game!
How is Runner 3 different than its predecessors?
There are quite a few differences and additions! We’ve added an in-game shop with costumes, capes, and accessories, Retro Challenges that offer free movement of CommanderVideo, branching paths in every level, vehicle sections, a new collectible in the form of Gems, Hero Quests, and so much more! It’s a surprisingly dense game.
If there was any video game you wish you could have been on the writing team for, what game would it be?
That’s a really good question. I really love how Remedy Entertainment handles narrative in games, and consider the Max Payne and Alan Wake games to be some of my all-time favorites. I would have loved to have been a part of any of those titles, but especially Alan Wake.
So I guess my answer is Alan Wake!
I would like to formally thank Dant for his time. I know setting aside time for giving such full answers is never easy. Looking forward to more game you write and contribute to, Dant! As for Runner 3, you can buy it here on the Nintendo Switch eshop, or here for PC on Steam!