Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 13: Part 3, Trials HD

This is the third installment from Day 13. Trials HD for XBLA. I started out with the demo version and found it entertaining enough to plunk down the whomping 1,200 points to pick it up. Part of it was the fun game play. Part of it was the non-stop laughter of my wife as I played “Motorcycle Ramp Dismount”.

This game has a lot going for it.

Good default UI flow

  • The top option off of the main menu gets you going. Tap the A button a few times and you move from Play Game -> Beginner -> Tutorial
  • Each time you finish a level you just press A to go to the next bit of content.
  • There are lots of modes and options, but I don't have to care about them until I'm further into the game and ready to layer on more learning or try new challenges.


  • Love the use of non-modal billboards (in the background) like in Braid, Closure, Burn the Rope. Sometimes I missed a billboard as I flew past it, but really I only needed to see the billboard if I wiped out or was stuck, so this wasn’t a problem.
  • Simple controls, the game is to master them.
  • In terms of pacing/distribution of learning, having 2 billboards side-by-side is probably a bit much. I tended to miss the second billboard on my first few runs (brakes)

Game Flow

  • Quickly introduces the player to the fact that dying is hillarious and fun and you should be prepared to do it often. The deck is stacked against you early on (you explode to a flaming death by default on the second level). There are tons of checkpoints and you can quickly (B button) restart from the last checkpoint or Back button takes you to the beginning of the level.
  • It teases achievements early on -- which is always a great upsell. Whoops, well sort of. A bug led the game to reset and I did NOT get my gamerpoints. Blarg. Luckily I was able to nail the same achievement soon after restarting with the retail version.
  • Well crafted challenge ramp. It’s easy to blow through the early levels if I just want to see new content or unlock new content. It’s fun to just screw around if I wanted to see how crazily I could wreck the bike and myself. And it was clear that there was lots of room to improve skills and really master the levels if I wanted to put time into that (getting gold ratings). The stats screen after every run tells you how you did and what you need to do to get the next medal.
  • Most importantly, I could progress at my own pace... If Beginner was too easy, after a couple of levels I unlocked the Easy track and could switch to that mode. If I was enjoying Beginner I could stay there and practice some more.
  • From a Trial/Demo perspective, both of the above points made for a great experience: I was given a nice vertical slice from beginner to hard to see how the content changes and progresses over time. I felt like I really understand where this game was going and was better able to make the decision to purchase it. And, because it is very easy to complete the "bronze medal" version of each level and move on, there wasn't much risk of me failing to make it through the entire demo because I could at least finish the advanced levels, if not master them.

Social Play

  • I really liked the persistent leaderboard indicator at the top of the screen. It lets you see how well you are doing compared to your friends in real time as you complete the level.
  • You also get a static leaderboard at the end of each race. You can see how close you were to your buddies before deciding whether to replay the level (to beat them) or move on.

User generated content

  • As I've mentioned in other posts, I'm super excited that this is becoming the de facto standard for games. I'm still looking for the community platform that will be the Amazon/Etsy/Ebay in terms of matching me up with content that will delight me. Note that this does not just mean friendly consumption tools (recommendations, ability to sort content by ratings) but also means that the content generation tools need to be usable and fun to use -- and that there needs to be a low friction feedback mechanism in place so that content creators get rewarded for their work.
  • Sadly, however, there is only sharing amongst friends. This is a huge strike against the game. You need a much larger pool of people to draw from to get quality content. Conversely, if I’m an aspiring level designer, I want a potential audience of thousands or millions – not just my hundred or so friends.
  • I complained about the Kodu method of sharing content, but sadly Trials HD doesn’t even reach that low bar.

Do I have regrets about purchasing the title? Nope. I do think it is more of an 800 credit purchase, though given the lack of practical access to user generated content.

I think about what could have been – and what likely will come soon (if not for this franchise, then for others):

  • Access to “best of” packs of levels that are aggregated based on gamer feedback.
  • Access to Youtube channels within XBL where you can watch highlight films and training videos for the level editor.

NOTE: This was written on the 13th, but posted on the 14th (we flew the red eye from SEA to JFK).

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