SpeedRunner HD

A game by DoubleDutch Games for Xbox 360, originally released in 2011.
SpeedRunner HD is a conversion of the Flash-based game SpeedRunner from DoubleDutch Games. The original title was a hit, garnering millions of plays in just the first month after release. The game has been updated with an HD presentation for the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, allowing you to sit in front of your video wall with a controller in hand as you run, jump, double jump, slide, grapple, and wall jump your way through each of the time-based levels.

SpeedRunner HD’s Flash origins helped the development team in a number of ways, perhaps the most important of which is that the original game essentially acted as an ongoing playtest, allowing the developers to gather data about player impressions and gameplay styles, all the while making design improvements.

While the use of a grappling hook may seem to point to Bionic Commando as the game’s primary inspiration, the game was actually more inspired by Canablat. In fact, the original Flash-based SpeedRunner was actually built on the Flixel game engine that Adam Atomic used to create Canabalt. The engine was released into the development community for free, making it an excellent starting point for developers looking to quickly prototype new ideas and create their own games.

The goal in SpeedRunner HD is readily apparent by its title. Players must reach the end of the level as quickly as possible, using the mechanics available to them to find the fastest and most efficient route to the end. There are 18 levels in the main game, each of which is designed to be completed in less than 60 seconds. The eponymous SpeedRunner builds up speed as long as he runs without hitting an obstruction, and so the player must jump over boxes that might slow him down (as in Canabalt), slide under low overhangs, and hit speed boosts to move really fast. Additional obstacles include platforms that fall away beneath your feet, wind currents that push you quickly through tight spaces, and rows of spikes that will put an end to your sprinty ways.

Early in the game, the player unlocks the first powerup, which comes in the form of a grappling hook. Players can only grapple onto surfaces marked with white lines, but these surfaces are fairly abundant. To maintain optimum speed, it’s important that the player get the timing right for jumping, grappling, and releasing. If you’re just aiming for the next batch of solid ground, you should let go with the highest lateral velocity; if you need to reach a higher elevation, you can hold on for an extra second to send yourself flying up into the air. You can also hold on and swing yourself up on top of the platform, which is a great strategy for grabbing pickups.

Each of the environments has optional pickups that come in the form of winged shoes, often placed in areas that are not in the optimal high speed path. For these, you can take your time, slow down, and work with precision. But you still have to make it to the finish line before time runs out, so some speed and platforming skills are required to make it through the level with these collectibles. This is really meant as a second/alternate playthrough. Players are encouraged to replay the levels for the highest speed possible – and are awarded medals for doing so – but the collectibles act as alternate goals and require a bit more exploration and good use of your movement repertoire. Rewards are available to players who manage to collect all of the winged shoes and get gold medals on each level.

The player’s enemy is not always the timer on a ticking time bomb… In some harrowing chase sequences, the player will find himself running away from a huge robotic monstrosity that chews through the level behind him, or below him. The robot is lined with spikes and spinning blades, so falling too far behind will find the player quickly killed. There are also a number of bottomless pits and falling platforms in these areas, so players must not only be fast, but dexterous as well, lest they find themselves starting the level from scratch.

The player eventually obtains a second powerup which allows him to cling to walls, climb them, and perform wall jumps. Again, this can only be done on surfaces marked with white lines. Many speed-based games are designed around simply moving from left to right as quickly as possible, relying on the player’s reaction time to jump or slide out of the way of an obstacle or attack. Here, the player is given much more direct control, providing additional depth and allowing for more possible routes through the environment. This also provides further incentive to return to previous levels, since there are a number of ways to shave a few seconds off of a less-than-perfect run. This combination of a full moveset and momentum-based gameplay makes the experience more akin to Mirror’s Edge and The Fancy Pants Adventures than it does to games like Canabalt and one-button freerunning derivatives.

There is also a multiplayer component to the game, which pits up to 4 players against one another to see who can get through the level the fastest. You can thwart your competitors’ attempts by grappling them to slow them down (or make them miss a jump), launching rockets that seek them out and explode, dropping mines behind you that activate when touched, and dropping boxes to slow them down. Raw speed is still important, as your opponent will lose a life if you manage to run him off the screen, and a refillable boost meter lets you unleash some extra speed at will.

The style of the game gives it the appearance of a 1960’s cartoon or comic book, with high-contrast artwork, exaggerated characters, and color choices that would be right at home in one of the original James Bond movies, or the opening minutes of The Incredibles.

The men behind SpeedRunner’s design and programming are Casper van Est and Gert-Jan Stolk. The project began in 2008 after the studio where they were working, Coded Illusions, went bankrupt and was forced to close its doors during the development of a large-scale 3D action-adventure game called Nomos (formerly Haven). Casper and Gert-Jan saw the emerging market of downloadable games and apps as an opportunity to put forward small, high-quality games that would be noticed in the marketplace. And thus DoubleDutch Games was born.

The duo eventually brought in some additional resources to the team, including former Coded Illusions team member Jonathan vd Wijngaarden, who worked with Casper and Gert-Jan as the music composer on the aforementioned Nomos. Jonathan created the music and sound effects for SpeedRunner HD, and his previous credits include Adam's Venture: Episode 1 - The Search for the Lost Garden and Fairytale Fights, the latter of which earned him the 2010 Dutch Game Award for Best Audio Design. Gerrit Willemse is responsible for the art, and he previously worked in the industry as a concept artist on Fairytale Fights at Playlogic Game Factory (along with Jonathan), as well as Bang! Gunship Elite. Frank Post was the animator on the project, and previously worked in the industry at Guerilla Games and also worked as an animator on Fairytale Fights.