Interview: RedLynx talks bringing Trials HD to XBLA

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Brutal honesty time: I’m not so into racing games.

I am however very into games featuring motorcycles and the ability to crash said motocycles into a variety of objects that may or may not explode. Basically I’m into Trials, and that means that the prospect of getting a completely revamped version of the PC cult classic in the form of Trials HD on my 360 was pretty darn exciting. The game was just  released as part of Microsoft’s annual Summer of Arcade extravaganza, and is thus keeping some very solid company in the world of downloadalbe content.

We got a chance to toss some questions at RedLynx about the game — their first 360 game — and find out just what it took to bring the over-the-top biking excitment to the world of HD gaming. Antti Ilvessuo (creative director), Jorma Sainio (project manager and network programmer) and Tero Virtala (CEO) got together and answered our questions in unison except for one. Evidently, the best way to destroy your biker in the game is up for some debate.

Hit the jump to find out how to really wreck your virtual cyclist and so much more.

and Trials 2 have already been out on PC for a long time now. Other than the obvious HD boost that the game’s title boasts, what did you guys put into the 360 version of the game that will make people who already have the original games want it?

Well, there are lots of reasons people will want Trials HD too. First of all, Trials HD gameplay has been hugely improved and polished — it was good in Trials 2, now it’s close to perfection. If you liked the core game play of Trials 2, you will love the improvements in Trials HD. Trials HD gameplay is also more forgiving to newcomers. There are also more rewarding gameplay goals with target times, in-game friend scores, (pre-game and in-game) bike and rider customization, a set of mini games called skill games with over the top themes and goals that fit everyone’s style, and last but not least we included a level editor and the ability to share the levels you create with friends.

What were some of the challenges you faced when bringing the game over to the 360?

Trials HD is our first game on Xbox, so part of the early development focused on learning the platform capabilities and requirements and porting our graphics engine and tools to work on Xbox 360. The game itself was written again almost from scratch, only the base idea and playability was taken from Trials 2, but even matching and improving the basic playability of the game was a major challenge as we replaced the 2D bike collision engine in Trials 2 with a proper 3D physics engine in Trials HD.

Tuning the bike took 6 months until it was just right. The bike alone took hundreds of iterations, hundreds of parts and thousands of parameters, so we finally reached a really good balance with realism and playability. This was a big challenge but we knew that it was just matter of keeping on the right path.

Why did you decide to release the game solely on XBLA and not on PSN? I assume WiiWare was out because of the obvious lack of HD.

Being a smaller indie studio, we need to focus our resources on making good games, but at the same time, we have the opportunity to choose what we want to do with our games. As you know, Trials was a big success but there were so many things that we had learned and not done in Trials — so we decided we’d make the next Trials game our dream Trials-title.

There would be no compromise in quality; everything would be made as perfect as possible. Thus, developing for one single platform provided the best possibilities for that. And of course, Xbox LIVE provides a big user base, so we hoped this game would pay itself back. The best part was, everyone on the Microsoft team are really gamers at heart, they were and still are truly enthusiastic about this game and the support we were promised and we hoped for — we got from them. Everything was in place to focus on developing, to put it simply, a great game.

Obviously player created levels are a big draw for the game. How well does the level designer work on the 360? Do you think a large community will grow around trading and sharing levels?

The level editor is exactly the same editor that we used to create all the tracks you see in the game. We didn’t have any secret PC editor or anything else like that. All of our effort was put into developing this editor that is now given to players so users have exactly the same opportunities that we have had — and these opportunities are fun. When we noticed that something was hard to use and didn’t feel right, then we fixed it right away. Just plain practicing and familiarizing yourself with controls is best, and then you’re set to create all the stuff seen in game, and hopefully even more, as we believe there will be lot of crazy ideas that people will have.

Almost every press release and story I’ve seen on the game has described it as “physics-based.” While that sounds really cool, what exactly does it mean in the context of Trials HD?

Physics-based is a very true description for Trials HD. This is because the only actions players can make are gas/acceleration, brake and leaning of the rider (shifting the balance: forward and backward). There are no ‘jump’ or ‘trick’ buttons, etc. Instead, all of the riding and tricks are executed by controlling the balance, inertia and acceleration of the bike (with gas, brake, and leaning as explained).

For example, if you want to jump further from a ramp, you should first lean back to load the back springs (as you would do on a bike in real life as well) and then when launching off, you should lean forward to gain some extra forward momentum. While this might sound simple at first, it really gives the player a large amount of freedom and once they get used to the controls, they can pull stunning tricks and wheelies almost everywhere on the tracks. And let’s not forget the rider rag doll which is like bottled physics-based awesomeness that is released every time players crash or fumble on the track.

Even more, the rider is an actual physical model of a human being, so he is modeling real bones that all have realistic relations and constraints to each other. So when you ride the bike, you’ll see the rider move and slightly change position – not because of animations, but because that is the way the physics moves his body. That’s why the core of this game is truly physics based.

A big part of the game (and the trailers we’ve seen) is blowing stuff up and hurting your biker. What’s the best way in your opinion to go about doing this?

[Jorma Sainio, project manager and network programmer] If we are talking about hurting YOUR biker, then we could say that Antti is particularly fond of dropping something heavy and solid on the riders head just after he has finished the track and cannot run away anymore. This has about 95 percent accuracy and 100 percent hilarity. But generally, you don’t really have to try that much to hurt the rider. The game does that for you as it quite often finds new and unexpected ways to abuse the rider when you least expect it. If I have to pick one good way to hurt the rider, it’s when your rider’s head is rammed through the floor making him look like a scared ostrich. This always brings a little smile on my face.

[Antti Ilvessuo, creative director] I’ll just end with a bang. The best way to hurt you rider is in editor. Just build whatever doomsday machine, huge drop, crocodile mouth, hammer, etc. and off you go! (No humans are harmed in the process… have you ever seen the rider’s face??)

How is the in-game leader boards and ranking system different? Saying that it’s “unseen in any other Xbox LIVE Arcade game so far” makes it sound pretty revolutionary.

In normal race mode you can see your time difference to your friends’ best scores in real time. The game always compares your current run to a friend with the closest time at that point of the run and if you catch up to that friend, the game automatically chooses another friend with a faster time for you to try and beat. In skill game modes there are two different friend score systems used. In points based skill games, there is a side score bar which shows your current score progression and the final scores from 10 different friends. In distance or position-based skill games the final crash position of 10 of your best friends is marked right into the game (that is, the scores are actually graphically INSIDE the track) on location where your friend crashed. When you pass your friends marker you can point and laugh and wonder how on earth he managed to crash on an obstacle like that.

Scores also work without any settings. If you have LIVE friends with Trails HD you can race against them instantly, which adds a fun competitive element! When we got the feature working everyone in our office was immediately asking to see each others’ gamertags!

The first thing that comes to mind when I see Trials HD (other than its PC predecessors) is Excitebike. Were you influenced by the NES classic at all?

There are some older bike games which have a similar idea to Trials, starting from Kickstart(s) on the Commodore and Excitebike on NES to the bit newer Action Supercross and Elastomania on PC. However, Trials actually got its start in early 1999 from a simple question: “We have a good 2D physics engine so what would be a good game to properly utilize physics?”

From there, we came up with idea that you could ride a motorcycle in a cool new way where your posture controls the bike. So the biggest innovation of the Trials games isn’t actually the ‘riding bike over obstacles’ part, but rather the unique natural rider controlling mechanism which we implemented a number of times in smaller Trials-games over the years – and it is still found even in the most recent Trials HD game.

Trials HD is launching as part of the “Summer of Arcade,” which means it’s coming out pretty close to some other heavy hitting downloadable games. Are you worried about the game getting lost in the shuffle?

We believe Trials HD is a game with such high quality and most of all, such a fun game to play that is stands out really well in comparison to any other games. And being part of a popular campaign like Summer of Arcade, gives the game good visibility. We think it is an honor to be selected as one of the Summer of Arcade games, where only high quality games get included. And when you have a program where all the games are good, we think it will make it easier for people to see Trials HD is a game that definitely gives them value for their money. And as I said, we would be surprised if gamers weren’t excited about Trials HD.

Downloadable content and games are growing in a big way. As a developer of mostly mobile and downloadable games you must be excited. Would you be happy to see retail games go away or do you think there is a place for both for a long time to come?

It is really hard to forecast the future. Downloadable content will of course grow in the future, that development is certain. In the short-term, retail will remain prevalent. What happens in the long-term, who knows? Most likely big retail games will continue to grow in size and the physical box will still have some value, whether it’s given as a gift, bought on launch day by a dedicated gamer, etc.

Even though the box itself might be around in the future, the games they contain, and the features they provide, will evolve. It will not be a black-and-white world of downloadable vs. retail, but there will be many shades of gray as well. And who knows, some new colors as well.

Any plans to bring any of your other PC or mobile games to Arcade?

First, our aim is to make Trials HD as good as it can be, so let’s see about releasing some DLC first…

But in general, true, there are some smaller games that we created years ago. They were really addictive, and always had something unique. But back in those days we were mainly making bigger game projects for publishers and did not focus on making those smaller games into polished, sellable titles. Planning some of them further, making them a bit bigger and really polished, that sounds interesting.

For one example, we have an older Game called Phobia where you are against not just tens or hundreds, but you’re alone against thousands of enemies, all on one screen at the same time. It would be really great to make new experiences in that game and further develop it. It’d be fun to develop something nobody has seen, but at the same time keep the game play tight and polished, not going too far. Focusing on the core gameplay elements that we know is great. It would be different and would be fitting for digital distribution. That being said also off course let’s see if Trials HD will be loved by gamers how we can evolve it even further.

Nothing is set yet and we hope Trials HD will be a hit that people pick up and love!

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Matthew Razak
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