Everything comes from something.
We were before we became.
From life comes rhythm, and from rhythm comes life.
We are beings of information.
Everything is a conduit for learning.
And we will return to something after we become nothing.
After our BIT.TRIP is complete.
Two years ago, a game was released on the WiiWare service called BIT.TRIP BEAT. It was a short, three level long game. The graphics were old school- Atari old school. It garnered a small amount of attention for its difficulty and its new take on rhythm games. It was known to be the first in a series of six games.
But no one guessed that its minimalistic cutscenes and abstract backgrounds were telling more than just the story of a man from outer space.BEAT
The first cutscene in BIT.TRIP BEAT introduces us to Commander Video, the protagonist of the BIT.TRIP series. He is seen coming to life after absorbing some colorful pixels known as "beats." The first level, TRANSITION, begins next to a giant, pulsing blue planet. A meteor emerges from the planet, travels across the vast emptiness of space, and eventually enters another planet. The second level, DESCENT, begins here. DESCENT is a roller coaster ride down into the lava-filled depths of the world, ending with the camera diving down into the lava to finish the stage.
As all this is happening in the background, the player is bouncing beats (the game's form of Pong balls) off of a paddle in a Pong-style rhythm game. The gameplay flows in perfect timing to the beat of the music- the player (and Commander Video) both rely on the music and help create it.
So what's with the backgrounds of the levels? Well, there are two ways to look at it. You can look at it spiritually- Commander Video's soul has emerged from the Nether and is soaring from the ethereal world to the physical world. You can also look at it as Commander Video's conception. No, really. The journey from the blue planet to the lava-filled depths of the other planet represents the sperm's journey to the egg.
The third level, GROWTH, is a bit easier to understand. In the background, a brain is slowly coming together. About halfway through the level, after developing a pair of eyes, it begins to fly around and look at all sorts of Earthly objects: houses, trees, owls, pyramids, trains, and more. This is Commander Video entering the physical world and perceiving reality for the first time.
After the credits in BEAT, Commander Video is in complete darkness. He sees a light-filled room in the distance with other Commander Videos in it. He approaches the room, is overcome by light, and declares, "I AM ONLY A MAN!". Commander Video is born.CORE
CORE opens where BEAT left off. Commander Video is in a completely red room, with three giant Commander Videos intimidatingly towering over him. He stares at them in fear, and backs down. Right after Commander Video's birth, he is frightened of his elders. BEAT was simple- be one with the rhythm. In CORE, Commander Video is thrust into the complicated real world, and must learn its rules.
CORE's gameplay has the player shooting lasers from the CORE in the middle of the screen in four directions at beats in time to the music. The gameplay is much more complex than BEAT’s, and the player feels trapped from the lack of free movement. The level names reflect the player’s and Commander Video's journey as they learn to master the strange, difficult gameplay of BIT.TRIP CORE.
The cutscene after DISCOVERY shows Commander Video standing on the screen, alone and sad. Two Commander Videos, presumably the parents, take Commander Video's hands and fly up in the air with him. CV looks up into the sky and is filled with wonder as EXPLORATION begins.
EXPLORATION features dark, depressing music, and is actually harder than the third level. It could be that this is due to weird difficulty balancing, but it's possible that there's more to it. EXPLORATION’s difficulty further enhances the frustration that the player is going through while struggling to learn the gameplay. It's only truly understanding the game's mechanics out that the player is able to complete the second level and move on to the third level, which is much more upbeat and sort of reggae; it's a celebration of having mastered the game.
The cutscene after EXPLORATION again has Commander Video standing on the screen. His parents come to him, but this time CV turns down their help and flies off on his own. The third level, CONTROL, begins here.
The backgrounds of BIT.TRIP CORE's levels are even more abstract than BEAT's. In this interview
, series artist Mike Roush explains that the backgrounds symbolize CV's physical growth and mastery of motor skills.
The final cutscene of CORE shows Commander Video running and dancing. Having finally begun to understand the awkward physical world, he feels like he can do anything! Unfortunately, he's brought back to reality when he bumps into another Commander Video and knocks him out. Commander Video realizes what he's done and exclaims, "I AM NOT ALONE!"VOID
The first cutscene in BIT.TRIP VOID has Commander Video showing off his dance moves in front of some other Commander Videos. As his ego gets larger, he begins to physically grow in size, taking up the entire screen. The other Commander Videos shake their heads and leave CV in his arrogance.
In VOID, the goal is to move the void around the screen, collecting black beats to increase the size of the void. The bigger it gets, the more points the player is able to “cash in” when he presses the A button to shrink the void back down to normal size. However, there are white beats that immediately shrink the void down without rewarding any points. As the void gets bigger, it becomes easier to collect black beats and harder to avoid white beats. To truly master BIT.TRIP VOID, the player must find balance between the game's risk and reward.
VOID's gameplay, compared to CORE, has a ton of choice. The player can move to any point on the screen. This freedom can screw the player up if they're not careful. It also means that the gameplay is less reliant on music; this represents Commander Video’s depressed state of mind. While he once reacted to the beat and mastered it, he now feels helplessly caught in its flow.
VOID's second cutscene shows Commander Video once again trying to show off in front of his peers. They won't have it; they form together to make one giant Commander Video. CV shrinks down and backs off. In the third cutscene, CV humbly tries to make friends with a couple other Commander Videos. They accept his apology; the three of them dance together and have a great time.
The levels in VOID are named after the three parts of the human psyche (according to Freud): ID, EGO, and SUPER-EGO. The player and Commander Video must learn to balance the three parts to be in full control of their choices. One theory says BIT.TRIP VOID takes place completely in Commander Video's mind, and all the different CVs are different parts of his psyche.
The pre-credits cutscene shows a ton of Commander Videos all holding hands around a big black planet. Everyone is at peace, and Commander Video has balanced hubris with reason.
After the credits, Commander Video is seen running. He begins to pick up speed and zooms off the screen, yelling "I AM READY!". Commander Video now understands the world around him and how to interact with the people in it. He enters adulthood and leaves home.RUNNER
While in the first three BIT.TRIP games the player controls an object, RUNNER has the player directly in control of Commander Video as he runs and runs and runs (and jumps!). The gameplay in RUNNER once again is tied to music, and feels very empowering.
There are no Game Overs in RUNNER. When CV hits an object, he is quickly sent back to the beginning of the level to try again. This happens in an instant, and is hardly a punishment. The player is never discouraged, and CV will always keep running.
Compared to the other BIT.TRIP games, RUNNER's plot is really simple. IMPETUS, the first world, begins with a void crashing down onto a strange planet. Commander Video emerges and begins running, taking in all the whimsical, strange sights. This is the first time in the series that CV encounters beings who aren’t identical to him. On this planet he meets Junior Melchkin, his first real friend. The last level of IMPETUS is a boss fight against Mingrawn Timbletot. Now that Commander Video has left home and entered adulthood, he must face diversity and the adversity that goes with it.
The second world is called TENACITY and takes place in a grassy countryside. Commander Video can still find beauty in the world around him, but it isn't quite as new or strange as the first world. CV meets Radbot here and faces off against a mining robot named Rusty Warren. In the third world, TRIUMPH, Commander Video meets another new friend, Meat Boy.
TRIUMPH takes place in a dirty city. The music is very calm and quiet. Commander Video is getting bored with running, and is beginning to lose a bit of excitement about the world around him. In the final level of RUNNER, called The Source, Commander Video chases down Mingrawn Timbletot to thwart him for good and put an end to The Source of his problems. Junior Melchkin, Radbot, and Meat Boy return in this level to give him a helping hand, and it's here where he meets CommandGirl Video. After putting a stop to Mingrawn by stomping on his head, CV runs back to CommandGirl Video and falls in love.
After the credits, Commander Video and his four new friends are standing in the city. Mingrawn Timbletot flies down next to them. CV tries to be kind to Mingrawn, but Mingrawn rejects Commander Video's kindness and tells him: "YOU ARE NOT A MAN!"
Mingrawn flies off. Commander Video and his friends take chase.FATE
Commander Video and his friends fly up into the air in pursuit of Mingrawn Timbletot. Mingrawn flies off of the screen to the right. Commander Video pursues him, and begins to seal his FATE.
BIT.TRIP FATE is a shmup themed around the destructive power of negativity and cynicism. In RUNNER, Commander Video dodged his enemies; in FATE, he destroys them. The player moves Commander Video down a set path on the screen called the vibe line. The screen is always scrolling, and Commander Video can only move along the set path. As the heavy dubstep soundtrack plays in the background, enemies die to the beat of the music. CV has completely lost sight of the rhythm of life and will harm anyone who gets in his way.
FATE’s world is a transformation of RUNNER’s. In RUNNER, happy gears dotted the second world’s background. These same gears return in FATE, this time with sad faces.
FATE doesn't have as many cutscenes as the other BIT.TRIP games. Its story is completely straight forward. The level names, DETERMINATION, PATIENCE, DESPERATION, FRUSTRATION, ANGER, and FALL reveal exactly what is happening. In the last level, FALL, Commander Video finally faces off against Mingrawn Timbletot. At the end of the battle, Commander Video sacrifices himself to kill Mingrawn Timbletot. The Source of Commander Video's problems is gone, but at the cost of his own life.
The pre-credits cutscene shows CommandGirl Video looking for Commander Video at the site of the final battle. Upon realizing what happened, she sheds a single tear.
After the credits, Commander Video is seen standing in complete darkness. A bright light shines, and his body transforms from a black, pixilated Atari game character to a transparent white ghost. His soul slowly rises up and off the screen.FLUX
The first cutscene in BIT.TRIP FLUX shows a small black rectangle, representing Commander Video, on a white screen. It moves around, seeming confused. More shapes enter the screen, representing CV’s four best friends. Commander Video tries to interact with the other shapes, but they drift away. CV is dead, and has lost his friends. He slowly sinks down off the screen.
BIT.TRIP FLUX plays identically to BEAT, with a few changes. The paddle is traveling from right to left this time, to show how Commander Video is returning to where he began. There are no Game Overs. When you miss a certain number of beats, the players goes back to the last checkpoint. Commander Video will
return to where he began.
In the second cutscene, Commander Video (still represented by the black rectangle) encounters five strange shapes- a target, a gear, a triangle, a diamond, and a hexagon. Commander Video tries to investigate the shapes and figure out what they are.
In the third cutscene, colors fill the screen, cheerful music plays, and the shapes begin spinning around Commander Video. The next cutscene has Commander Video dancing with the shapes in what looks like a celebration. The shapes surround Commander Video in the shape of a person.
BIT.TRIP FLUX is a celebration of the BIT.TRIP series. Throughout the three levels, EPHIPHANY, PERCEPTION and CATHARSIS, there are a ton of references to the other games. Past level names scroll by in reverse, starting with FALL and ending with TRANSITION. The other games’ music is remixed into the levels. CATHARSIS ends with the meteor from BEAT returning to wherever it came from. Everything comes full circle.
After defeating the final boss, there is one last epilogue level. It's actually the beginning of TRANSITION in reverse with a few constellations thrown in. As the player and Commander Video slowly make their way to the left of the screen, the Wii Remote starts rumbling. Commander Video eventually reaches the blue planet from the beginning of TRANSITION, and the Wii Remote goes insane with rumbling. As Commander Video passes the planet, the rumbling starts to die down. The player and Commander Video continue to hit beats as the screen slowly turns white. After a minute or so, the screen is so white that the player can't see anything. Pressing buttons doesn’t trigger anything, and no matter how long the player waits for something else to happen, nothing does. The only thing left to do is to let go.
...Of the Wii Remote. The player sets the Wii Remote down. It stops detecting the fine movements in the player’s hands, and Commander Video stops hitting beats. The screen fills with two words:
FLUX is a very hard game to figure out. The levels are packed to the brim with hidden messages encoded in Braille, binary, and Morse code, and the cutscenes and level backgrounds are incredibly obtuse.
Ultimately, the game is about looking back on life- celebrating the good times and reflecting on the bad times. Remembering those that were left behind, not ready to die yet. Commander Video’s final introspective journey gives the player a chance to look back on the wonderful and woeful experience that was the BIT.TRIP saga.
BEAT. CORE. VOID. RUNNER. FATE. FLUX.
After the credits roll, Commander Video is seen one last time before fading away.
The BIT.TRIP is complete.