If you haven’t played either of the Xbox Live Arcade Trials games yet – Trials HD or its sequel Trials Evolution – then you’re either missing out big time, or don’t own Microsoft’s console. They’re truly awesome. Your goal is to sidescroll your way through an obstacle course on the back of a motorbike, expertly balancing weight distribution, speed and angle of descent to get the best possible time. The course design escalates from fun, to grueling, to out of this world amazing as you ascend in ability and engine size, while the splitscreen or leaderboard driven multiplayer is addictive as hell. But ultimately it is the detail and depth in the physics that escalates the series to greatness - you can truly feel every thousandth of a second lost from the slightest blemish in your performance through your fingers.
The fantastic news is that Trials is shifting gears and coming to touchscreens shortly – we anticipate this April – with a brand new entry, Trials Frontier. However, unlike the upcoming console release Trials Fusion, it doesn’t follow the trend set by its predecessors. We spoke to lead game designer Justin Swan to find out more about what Trials Frontier will deliver when it throws a lazy backflip onto iOS, and also found out about how it connects to Trials Fusion.
The Trials series has etched its name into gaming folklore through the brilliant XBLA entries, but Frontier takes a different gameplay approach. Can you talk us through how Trials Frontier differs from other Trials games?
The first thing you will notice is that because we are developing for mobiles and tablets, we have a touchscreen interface and a 2D driving line as opposed to the controller-based gameplay and 2.5D space of the console games. So that affects everything from how we design levels to how we implement the controls. The other major difference in our approach is that we designed the game as free-to-play from the start, which obviously means some significantly different game mechanics and progression through the game than what you would get with games on consoles and PC.
Considering the different gameplay mechanics, has this changed the way you have approached level design and if so, can you give us some examples of how?
The fact is, Trials Frontier owes a lot to one of our previous mobile games, MotoHeroz, which is also a side-scrolling, physics-based platform racing game. So we are bringing a lot of the technology and design principles from that game to bear here, but at the same time we are bringing in a lot of the elements that make level design in the Trials console games so much fun: the ramps, the big jumps, the spectacular environments, the colourful and colossal endings.
The multiplayer features in Trials Evolution were a riot, as is the ability to see your friend’s times dynamically move with you through the level – do both or either of these elements carry across?
One of the core elements of Trials is the ability to compete with your friends continuously even in the single player game, we definitely get that. The way we work that into Trials Frontier is a unique approach that we feel really fits a mobile game. So what we have is ghost racing, so that you can download any ghost from a single player track, whether off your Friends Leaderboard or the Global Leaderboard. We also give you fast access to a snapshot of the Leaderboards when you end a track, so you can always see how you are measuring up against your friends. We've also put snapshots of the Leaderboard right in the main map, so every time you are looking at a previously explored track, you can instantly see the rankings. This will let you know if you need to take any action right away or if your friends are still below you in the rankings, as they should be.
Has the touchscreen or mobile environment offered up any new gameplay opportunities that you weren’t able to implement on consoles previously?
Having Trials on mobile opens up all kinds of new gameplay opportunities. Here is a game we feel can be as addictive as Trials Evolution, and now it's in your pocket - it's with you throughout the day, every day. It's with you on the bus, at work, at the grocery store and during French class. You can play it during TV commercials, or while on jury duty. You can play it at weddings, funerals - you can and should continue playing it even during the coming zombie apocalypse. Really there are very few situations now where you could not play Trials now: deep sea diving perhaps.
The game certainly has a different tone to it, with the character dialogue and less gritty aesthetic; do you feel like you are tailoring it to a different audience for iOS, or is this another reason – like technical limitations – for this change?
Frontier is the first Trials game to introduce characters and a story to the Trials franchise and we're really excited to be the first one doing this. The reason we went in this direction is because it helps build out the sense of how huge the world is that you have to explore. We want to bring the Trials experience to as many players as possible and we think elements like funny characters, a huge world, quirky storylines and meaningful missions will give all kinds of players compelling reasons to play the game and come back to it. Who would not want a candy addict or an old, befuddled prospector complimenting their riding performances anyway?
Trials: Frontier has been in soft-launch for a while; what have you learned from those lucky enough to have checked out the game already? And how is that influencing changes on the final release?
It has really been helpful to watch how players play through the game and the kind of feedback they send us. We see where players drop out of the game so we can adjust the difficulty, we learn about the technical issues they are experiencing so we can smooth those out before a worldwide launch, and we learn how to get our servers up and running and balancing larger and larger loads so we don't get ambushed by a massive rush of players pounding the Leaderboards on the first day Trials Frontier is available worldwide!
The core Trials experience on XBLA may be complex under the hood, but the simple control scheme seems like it would have worked fine on a touchscreen – did you consider just building the upcoming Trials Fusion for iOS as well?
It is something we considered at one point, but the fact is Trials Fusion is being made for high end PCs and the new generation consoles. It is running at blazingly fast frame rates in high resolutions, with very long draw distances and a complex physics model between bike, rider and environment. Mobile CPUs simply can't run that kind of game at this point in time, so rather than limit the design of that project or create a game that was a compromise or build a separate, non-interactive companion app, early on we made the decision to have the best of both worlds and to do two Trials games. One is perfectly suited for the new generation of gaming, and the other is optimised and created lovingly just for mobiles and tablets.
I believe the games – Frontier and Fusion - do connect to each other; can you talk a little but about how that works and what it offers?
Yes, definitely. The first thing is that Fusion and Frontier share a common world; these aren't two separate games in a vacuum. There are story elements, visual elements, elements of the world that even though they take place in two very different time periods occupy the same space geographically. So the events in one game led to the events in the second game. We'll kind of let players explore and play around with those ideas and those connections, and we really hope some of them will play both games and explore the connections between them. Other more tangible ways that the two games connect is that you can receive notifications, unlock exclusive gear on the two platforms and, as we continue to update and grow the two games, many other interesting connections are also possible.
The game is F2P with IAPs, which is always rocky ground – what approach are you taking with IAPs and how do they influence the experience?
This is something we talked about a lot internally because we are ourselves hardcore gamers and the last thing we want to do is take a rising brand like Trials and damage the competitive element with excessively intrusive IAP or, even worse, "pay-to-win" mechanics. So we avoided that route: you can be the best Trials Frontier player in the world, at the top of the Leaderboards, without spending a dime. That said, we do have families and bills to pay so yes, of course, we do have in-app purchases that are part of the free-to-play model. It's not possible to make everybody happy, but we think ours is a generous and forgiving model and one we really hope everyone can at least give a try.
Finally, do you think there is room for different types of Trials games on iOS in the future, perhaps something new like Frontier, and something old like Evolution?
There is an infinite amount of room for different kinds of Trials games on iOS and any mobile platform really. There is no end to the number of ideas that we could execute, the trick is choosing the best ideas and concentrating on those. One of the greatest misconceptions about the games industry is that it’s only about the ideas - in reality most people working in games can come up with twelve interesting game ideas before breakfast. The challenge is choosing the right idea, picking the right platform, polishing it properly, and then having the perseverance and bravery to see it through to the end. We think that's something we've accomplished with Trials Frontier.
If you’re looking for something to play while you are waiting, you should check out Issue 1 of our game discovery app, Grab It Magazine – over 100 great games can be found within.
Alternatively, check out these very solid Trials-like iOS games:
- Mad Skills Motocross 2
- BMX: Pumped