success down to pleasure over pain, says RedLynx's Virtala
Released earlier this month, it was pretty likely that RedLynx's Trials Evolution was going to be a hit, given the franchise's huge fanbase from the previous PC and Xbox 360 games in the series.
Who could have predicted, however, that the follow-up would be so popular as to break Xbox Live Arcade records, selling more than 100,000 copies in its first day on sale? Look to the game's leaderboards now, a week after its launch, and the game is close to half a million units sold - an incredible feat for a single-platform console download game.
What is the key to Trials' mass-popularity then? Is it the advances in game design and social elements over the original. Or does the popularity of this tough-as-nails game just prove we are all simply masochists at heart?
"I think there is a more positive explanation than sheer masochism," laughs Tero Virtala, managing director at RedLynx.
"In almost all RedLynx games, if you strip away the outside elements and look at the absolute heart of the game, it boils down to a combination of a few key elements," he continues.
For Trials, he says, it was all about making the controls simple and friendly enough that a child can pick up and play the game, yet at the same time introducing a sophisticated physics model such that mastering the controls in more difficult scenarios is the key to success for more hardcore players.
"It's like in real life when you start practicing something very physics-based, like tennis or billiards, there is no limit how far you can develop your skills," he continues. "In Trials, it's also about your own true skill, not the skill of your avatar or game character."
RedLynx then balanced this with the ability to restart the action very quickly after a crash, removing a great deal of potential frustration, and a notable competitive aspect.
"The game is always showing you your friends' times, and that is incentive for you to immediately get back into the game and try and beat those scores," Virtala explains. "This time around, we even have your friends' runs showing in the game as dots bobbing ahead of you. It's amazing what a little competition can do as an incentive to keep people playing."
"So I am not sure it's masochism, because that suggests pleasure derived solely from pain," he says. "The sense of accomplishment is that much more genuine because it was all your own doing: your skill, your persistence."
He adds, "In an era when too many games reward players for simply showing up, Trials rewards only for truly developing your skills, and for excellence. A lot of gamers actually appreciate that."
Trials Evolution is a serious step-up from the original Trials HD, keeping the original gameplay intact, and instead injecting gorgeous settings and a barrage of new social elements. This, says Virtala, was a "crucial decision" from the very beginning of development.
"Don't break the base game, because it isn't broken," was the studio's philosophy behind this sequel, Virtala tells us. "We didn't add on a bunch of extra features to the core game mechanic. Instead, we went through our wish list of every single ancillary feature around the core game and designed Trials Evolution to really bring those features - player-created content, a more powerful editor, and multiplayer - up to where we have always wanted them to be."
The game's engine was also given a makeover so that it was able to handle the impressive outdoor environments and required draw distance.
As mentioned, Trials Evolution has a heavy focus on player-created content, with a full level editor which allows players to build their own Trials track. However, the editor goes even further, allowing for the creation of non-Trials levels and games too -- quite similar to that found in LittleBigPlanet.
Virtala says that the Trials engine differs to that of LittleBigPlanet, in that it has a heavy focus on physics and a physics-based world. However, as Media Molecule noticed before them, RedLynx is already seeing users making mini-games that it never thought would have been possible.
"It is the exact same editor our level designers used to create all the levels, skill games, and scripted endings within Trials," he notes. "They built those on an Xbox too, with a controller - we never built a separate PC editor, believe it or not."
The access to logic triggers, data sources and camera controls make the Trials Pro Editor "a modder's dream for a console game," suggests Virtala.
As for the future of Trials, Virtala is not yet ready to commit the series to other platforms such as smartphones and tablets, although he does tease, "Trials is most of all a physics-based game, and that by definition creates very little limitations."
For now, he says, the team is still fully focused on Trials Evolution, and helping the user-generated content to flourish. "There are many great things still to be done with Trials Evolution," he concludes.