Game designer Zach Gage at the 2011 E3 Expo in Los Angeles

Options for sidestepping asteroids in the mobile game Bit Pilot just got more expansive, as the iOS title received a free update today providing universal support. Previously exclusive to the iPhone, high resolution gameplay is now supported on the iPad, as well as iPhone 4 and latest genertation iPod Touch retina displays. Meanwhile, Apple's Magic Trackpad now syncs up with Bit Pilot for the Mac as a wireless controller interface.

The 2.0 version update has added Game Center support, OpenFeint Ranking, cumulative score tracking and in-game achievement screens. There is also a different intro song and three additional music tracks by chip music artist Sabrepulse (Ashley Charles).

The demo, which requires a trackpad, Magic Mouse, or Magic Trackpad, is free to play (containing all of the content of Bit Pilot 1.0), while the full title is currently priced at 99 cents on the Apple Store. We caught up with designer Zach Gage to hear what brings him back to Bit Pilot.

What is it about the gameplay for this game that you felt was intriguing enough to you as a designer that you wanted to adapt it to additional platforms?

Zach Gage: Creating the control scheme was really satisfying. While coming up with new modes I played a lot of Geometry Wars and other dual-stick shooters, though none of them ever ended up feeling as tight as the controls on Bit Pilot are. I feel like the game has succeeded not just in approximating a dual-stick shooter on the iPhone, but having the kind of very exact control setup that can't really be done on other platforms.

Bit Pilot is a "bullet-dodging" game for iOS platforms that uses gestural control. It maps the velocity of your swipes directly to the control of your ship. Traditional analog sticks are really strong, but I feel the granularity of the control is missing.

This depth of control sort of goes back to the style of older arcade cabinets that used trackballs. On the iPhone and iPad, you can get really, really good at the game, simply because there is so much control you have over the ship. With this update, I wanted to continue with the same game to see how far I could push players and also see just how epic the challenges can get when you have such tight controls.

There's a divide in methodology between shooters in the West, such as the unpredictable hazards of Geometry Wars, and on the other hand Japan's bullet hell genre, where it's so often about memorizing all the set patterns in order to perfect each level. Which of these approaches interest you more as a designer?

They're both really interesting. The Bit.Trip games represent a really interesting Westernization of the pattern-matching approach. Gaijin Games did that really well in a way where it didn't feel rote.

But Bit Pilot falls really squarely in the Western camp of unpredictability. For the type of control scheme that it has, the improvisation required by random hazards really plays to its strengths. Because you have such fine control over the ship, it allows for a very fluid interaction with the environment. Especially If you play the Mac version with Apple's Magic Trackpad as a wireless controller, it's shocking how fluid the controls feel.

What are some of the major additions that you decided on for the 2.0 release?

The main one is universal support. The original was designed for iPhone, but now you can use it with iPads and retina devices. Ash Sabrepulse added three music tracks to the game, doubling the original number. He also rewrote the intro music, and there could be even more than that coming in a future update.

There are two new game modes. One, Super Massive Mode, is specific to iPads, providing the same resolution as the iPhone game, but four times the size. (That also works with retina devices, it's just super tiny.) What that means for Bit Pilot is that it can work with the enhanced sensitivity of the touchscreen, scaling everything appropriately and retaining the pixel aesthetic, while keeping all the lines really clean. There are also some added particle effects to take advantage of the faster processor of those platforms.

The other mode, "Tunnels," is for all devices. There you're dodging really large asteroids. It's more about planning what you're going to do so that you don't get trapped. Potentially we'll build a couple more modes that will show up as updates in the future.

On the subject of the background music, Sabrepulse has performed his tracks at last September's Tokyo Bip Festival and was recently a guest on the Engadget Show. What is it about his style of chip music that has made this a meaningful collaboration on Bit Pilot?

Ash has been amazing. His music has a high-powered dancey feel, but it also manages to maintain a melody and really catchy loops. It really reminds me of Mega Man music, though it doesn't really sound like it. There's that quality where it very quickly gets stuck in your head. That works really well for Bit Pilot because the track cuts off every time you die. There's such a great build to the musc that you're motivated to play again to get at least slightly farther in the game.


Your iPad music game Halcyon, a collaboration with Kurt Bieg, was nominated for an Independent Games Festival Award in the category of Best Mobile Game this year. In terms of your development of both these titles for iOS platforms, what has made that a good fit for you as a game designer?

Technically, I'm now super proficient with working on the iPad, so that has helped with development on Bit Pilot. For one, I really like the iOS audience. There seems to be a large community of smart people who are into art and design that own iPhones. Getting in touch with those people is fun.

Apple also makes the technology extremely accessible. When they moved to retina displays, the only difference was a pixel doubling, making the transition very easy. It all makes for a platform where I can get very creative, work really quickly and easily put it out there.

Image courtesy of Zach Gage. Photo by Jeriaska. For more information about the game, see the official website. For additional images from E3, see our flickr photo set.