RedLynx / Trials HD interview

Following its release on the Xbox Live Arcade as part of this years Summer of Arcade event, we got the chance to put some questions to RedLynx, the developer behind Trials HD. We asked Tero Virtala, CEO, and Antti Ilvessuo, Creative Director, about the origins of the game, bringing it to Xbox Live Arcade and what the future holds for any chance of downloadable content  for Trials HD. Read on to see what they had to say.

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Tell us about RedLynx – how did the company get started?

We are a 25 person game studio (indie developer) from Helsinki, Finland and we develop games for multiple platforms: web, PC, Mac, interactive TV, iPhone, mobile phones in general, NDS, PSP, Xbox Live, etc. The aim is simply to develop great, fun games, that also bring something new to gamers. Games that we would like to play ourselves, but that are not yet available.

The company was founded in 2000 by the Ilvessuo-brothers, Atte and Antti. Having played and, as a hobby, also developed games most of their lives they decided to set up a company to try to make a profession out of the game development passion they had. What could be better thanks making games when you get it right?

Before coming to XBLA, Trials had already been a big hit on Steam and spawned a sequel. Was it just this success that persuaded you to create a version for the Xbox Live Arcade, or were there other factors involved?

As said, we are a multiplatform-developer and we aim to create games that we would love to play. We have developed some smaller games, which have really good core game mechanics in our opinion – games like Trials. The first small Trials games were actually already developed in 2000 but there were long times when we mostly focused on developing games for bigger game publishers. Then, gradually, a few years ago we started to take some of our own games further.

We started with Trials and took that as a bigger game to PC – a platform to which it was well suited and on which we were able to work without needing any special support or huge convincing / sales work to be done. Trials 2 SE turned out to be a great game.

We knew that Trials would fit very well to consoles, especially in the online console space. And we knew that with the right partner we could significantly expand the game with features that would fit Trials really well. Well, Microsoft’s people really are gamers, they saw the potential for a great game in Trials, and we’ve been really happy with that co-operation that has lead to Trials HD.

How did Trials HD come to be included in the Summer of Arcade promotion?

The Xbox people selected a good collection of great games to be included in the Summer of Arcade. I guess Trials HD struck them as both a new type of game and, most of all, as a really good game.

It might be too early to tell, but do you think its inclusion has had any effect on its success?

Sure, it has had a positive effect. In general, there is such a huge supply of games, and really good games nowadays. Which unfortunately means being a good game doesn’t guarantee commercial success, salaries and the butter on the bread that we all need.

A good game needs to break through to the gamers’ consciousness, before they could even start to evaluate whether to even try it, let alone buy it. Summer of Arcade for XBLA is a great campaign that not only provides visibility, but also gives a promise of quality for the players – it definitely helps in getting a gamers attention.

The difficulty level in Trails HD is well documented and there’s always a fear that making a title too punishing may put some people off. Has the team been heartened by the response from the wider gaming community and the way it’s embraced the level of challenge?

We think it’s a very solid package – including  in relation to difficulty. Some people say it’s truly a game to be fully enjoyed by gamers, but that is only part of the truth. The core gameplay, the fun, the challenge, the addictiveness is really built around the extremely simple control mechanism, combined into the highly developed and quite realistic physics model of the game. There is only gas, break, lean forward and backward. And with an easy approach to the tracks at first, anyone can start playing the game and get quite a good feeling of really controlling the ride, since the physics model doesn’t make exceptions; it rewards, punishes, teaches, and whether you notice it or not, makes you learn all the time.

We think Trials HD is a game which is fairly easy for newcomers to get in to, while at the same time it’s true that the harder tracks definitely do provide challenges for the really skilled players. People who just like to quickly play a game through and move to the next might have a new experience with Trials HD. Those people who value lots of fun, rewarding, and also challenging game-play hours as real value for money, they’ll probably value Trials HD even higher. We know, based on our experiences with the earlier Trials 2 SE for PC, that we’ll see hundreds of gameplay hours from many players. And Trials HD is far bigger, and also a better game than Trials 2 SE.

At its core the control scheme for the game is very simple, but it allows the player to pull off the impressive stunts that are a hallmark of the game. What was the process behind its implementation and did it cause any problems getting it to work as you wanted?

That’s a very good point. At the heart of Trials HD there are simple controls (accelerate, break, lean forward, and lean backward) combined into realistic / highly developed physics model. And this combination has been to polished to perfection.

As you have noticed with the “stunts”, there are no predetermined actions; you (the player) really control the bike. And even though the player may not think of it, this feeling definitely relates to them.

When you control the bike, you immediately start to get a feeling of how to control it. There isn’t anything complex in the controls that you could highlight, you get them instantly – you make a mistake, it’s your mistake – you succeed, it’s your skill – and whether you make a mistake or  are successful, you learn. That’s a real basis for continuous development. With that, the game is actually impossible to ever master to perfection. This is a game of developing your skills – not the skills of your virtual avatar, or game character – but your skills. And that game of skill development never ends, there is no upper limit.

We sure haven’t got into this model by accident. Trials actually got started in early 1999 from a simple question: “We have a good 2D physics engine, so what would be a good game to properly utilise physics?”

From there, we came up with the 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 game 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. We were able to test the highly appraised Trials-control mechanism and physics model numerous times, and think of the features that would link well with this game mechanic. And Trials HD is the resulting diamond from the current development phase.

The inclusion of a level editor is an excellent decision, and something developers don’t seem to spend enough time considering, or they tend to just throw them in afterwards. What made you decide to include this straight away?

We probably could have thought about it differently, perhaps more “business-minded” or more systematic. But we didn’t. To tell the truth, we simply thought of developing a Trials – game that we ourselves, as gamers, would love to play. When we had the means to do it, it was clear that we would like to have the level editor included and share it with players.

And actually, the level editor is exactly the same editor that we have 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 the effort was put into developing this same tool that is now given to players. So users have exactly the same opportunities that we have had – and these opportunities are big. So when we noticed that something is hard to use and doesn’t feel right, we tuned it right away – we also needed that ourselves. The editor is balanced and you can create really neat stuff with it, fast. Just by practising and familiarising yourself with the controls, you’re set to create all the stuff seen in game. Or perhaps even more, and we’ve already seen that happening. There have been some absolutely amazing tracks created by players.

Does its inclusion mean you have no future plans for DLC (such as level packs)?

No, there’s going to be DLC. We are working on it right now as we speak.

With pricing being less rigid on Steam compared to XBLA, did you feel the need to provide extra content with this release to justify the price point?

Comparisons to Trials 2 SE for PC, or the pricing on Steam played no part when we planned and developed Trials HD. We wanted to make a dream Trials-game, a game that we would love to play as gamers. And having developed Trials 2 SE for PC, which was a great game and a success as well, we still had number of really cool things and big features that we hadn’t been able to include in the previous games. Trials HD was the chance do the game we had dreamed of.

Given the rather fevered reaction from some parts of the Xbox community to titles at the higher end of the price range, was there ever any concern about the 1200 price point that was settled on?

There is always discussion on what the pricing should be, but in the end going for 1200 Points was quite obvious. Trials HD provides so much play that anything less felt difficult to justify.

Trials HD is quite a new type of game, its a big game, and there’s huge replay value in there. The game lets you in quite easily, but it has huge amounts of depth and challenge. As said earlier, based on our earlier Trials 2 SE game for PC, we know that there will be huge numbers of players who will play this game hundreds of hours. In Trials 2 SE for PC, which was a smaller game, there were players who played the game for over 1000 hours.

In addition, there are different game modes and naturally the level editor and level sharing…and when the core game is definitely good, with all the features that fit into this game, well, there should be quite good value for money.

Are there any plans to convert Trials HD over to other console platforms after XBLA?

At the moment, no. We are still very much focusing on Trials HD and on the coming DLC.

In general for other potential RedLynx games, we are a multiplatform developer, having already developed for a number of platforms. For Trials, XBLA has been an excellent fit. We’ve been really taken on how fluent the development has been for XBLA. The tools were in really good order, the Microsoft people truly were both gamers and experts in their own fields and they gave us excellent support for Trials HD. And of course Xbox Live at the same providers a big user base, so also commercial success is a very realistic possibility on Xbox Live.

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A big thanks to RedLynx for taking the time to speak to us. If you haven’t already be sure to check out the brilliant Trials HD on Xbox Live Arcade, available  right now.