The 12 Games Of Christmas: Trials 2

By Kieron Gillen on December 9th, 2008 at 8:16 pm.


For the third game of Christmas my true blog gave to me…

…a motorcycle crashing repeattttteedllllllly.

It’s Trials 2!

Imagine Sisyphus, if you will. Standing at the bottom of his hill, with his boulder. He has to think of them as “his” now he’s had them so long, in the same way he thinks of the sky as “his” view and the ground beneath his feet as “his” soil. Surely an infinity together denotes possession?

Imagine Sisyphus surprised to find himself released from his bondage. He’s guided to a computer screen. A kindly god gives him his new task: “complete this”. It’s a videogame. He doesn’t know what a videogame is, of course, but he soon picks up the general gist of things. Tiny motorbike – not that he knows what a bike is, and it takes him a while to work it out, but when he learns he never forgets. Four keys. Lean forward, lean back, accelerate decelerate. Hmm.

Even on the training levels, it takes a while to get it down. Even the simple task of accelerating in a straight line can end with him spinning the bike in the air and cracking open his head if he gets the balance slightly wrong. Which he does often. Many broken bones, which Sisyphus, after all these years, finds hilarious. He suspects he’d have found it hilarious anyway. He suspects seeing the slack-limbed fool twist as he rebounds around a landscape is amusing in the same way that the gods find toying with him. This realisation doesn’t make him question the pleasure – it just makes him glad for the holiday in this infinite sense of power. The amusement of the death certainly takes away the edge away from the frustration of working through the level for the forty-second thousandth time.

But eventually he succeeds. He tries to leave. The god laughs – no, that’s not what he meant. He meant complete the whole game.

“YOU WOTTT,” screams Sisyphus, “ARE YOU PISSING WITH ME? THE LATER LEVELS ARE JUST IMPOSSIBLE, YOU BAST!”

The god shrugs waiting for Sisyphus to turn his back and return to repeated crashing, so he can show a little smile. He doesn’t mean complete all the levels – and he knows that the developers have a tendency to release new ones, meaning that task may be endless. He means top the score tables, where thousands of other, fellow Sisyphuses struggle to get the best runs. And even when they’re at the top, and walk free from the chains of videogame suffrage, when another fellow Sisyphus deposes them, they’re dragged back to reprove merit, re-earn their freedom. Pushing some stones up a hill? Child’s play. This is next-generation sadism for the gods. He sits back and relaxes, watching replays of simulacra of humans in physical pain and thinking of the actual humans in mental pain they represent. And he laughs.

Red Lynx Trials 2 is a lot like that. In that it’s a Sisyphean rock. It also rocks.

I’ve written a mass about Trials 2 over the year, well before it hit Steam and reached a whole new audience. If you haven’t returned to it in some months, its worth booting up – there’s a mass of new courses to play, including lots of extra “Easy” ones for you to rush through rather than just banging your head against the wall in frustration at the harder ones.

Chatting to Erik at Valve, he noted this is a game he likes more in theory than practice. By which he REALLY means, he doesn’t like to practice. Which seems like an insult, but with Trials 2 a lack of practice understandable. It’s only practice in the same way that marching across no-man’s land in WW1 was practice for winning the war. Bodies stretching out as far as the eye can see, all expended for the chance of a distant victory.

How does it get away with such (aha!) trial and error gameplay, when it’d normally be eviscerated for it? Easily. Literally easily, through integrating a single function based on a single button press. An instant restart. Mixed with expertly judged respawn points, the masochistic challenge of getting a bike to go over a ramp is the only thing which frustrates you – there’s no intro scenes, no loading pauses, nothing external to the the experience of actual play which inevitably turns it poisonous.

Trials 2 is a videogame folk-standard executed with 21st century elan. Of all our games of the year, it’s the one which has moved on least from the fundamentals of what videogames used to be. All this proves is that the fundamentals are fundamentally awesome.

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31 Comments »

  1. rei says:

    The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

  2. Dreamhacker says:

    In the battle between Trials 2 and watching-paint-dry, the latter is of to a really good start.

  3. PleasingFungus says:

    That was quite the metaphor!

  4. Garrett says:

    Unfortunately, your interesting use of a mythological character is let down by your terrible grammar and frequent switches between academic and slang terminology.

  5. qrter says:

    Chatting to Erik at Valve, he noted this is a game he likes more in theory than practice. By which he means, he doesn’t like to practice.

    To me it sounds like he means it sounds more fun than it is to actually play.

  6. Meat Circus says:

    Not as good as Kikstart 2 on the Commodore 64, you know.

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=a4raqjC0GSI

    You disappoint me.

  7. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    Great game, if incredibly frustrating. We actually had an interview with the design team over there a few weeks ago.

  8. Trithemius says:

    One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

    This interpretation of Sisyphus is so post-modern it makes my brain implode.

  9. Gpig says:

    I really should try trials 2. All of the videos look pretty fun, like something I would have loved on a console as a kid. I just need to be in the right mood.

    @qrter, I honestly can’t tell if you’re going along with Kieron’s joke or actually not recognizing it.

  10. Zev says:

    Three improvements I would like to see for Trails2 SE:

    1. A level editor [I would pay another $10 for this].

    2. Reverse could be a tad less wussified.

    3. If my corpse slides across the finish it should be for the win.

  11. Chris Evans says:

    That interview that Spongey linked to does provide some nice insights into the game, however I failed to ask what influence that a site like RPS had on the sales of the game =[

    I have done that with another upcoming interview though ;)

    Anyway! Trials 2, a great game, even if it is a hard bugger a lot of the time. The ease of respawning/restarting though makes up for it though :D

  12. rei says:

    This interpretation of Sisyphus is so post-modern it makes my brain implode.

    Sisyphus’ experience in death isn’t inherently different from our experience in life; what is different is that he has absolute certainty that that will be all he will ever experience. Therefore he has no hope, and hope of something better is what would make his existence miserable in contrast. With no hope, he can accept the reality of his fate with no expectations that it should be anything different, thus he has no reason to despair.

    Existentialists are such a cheery bunch :D

  13. Grandstone says:

    rei, is that Camus, then? I never read “The Myth of Sisyphus,” just The Plague, a bit of The Fall and The Stranger (all in the original French, thankyouverymuch).

    Anyway, I never played the full game. The demo was addictive, though.

  14. rei says:

    That it is! Definitely worth a read, especially since it’s such a short one.

    I wish I could read the originals, too :(

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    qrter: I was mocking Erik for his lack of persistence. I’ve edited it to signpost it a little more.

    Garrett: A little grammatical clean up, but only because I really liked the Thief games. I kept the switches in style though, because a dirty mash-up between academic and slang is RPS’ basic idiom.

    KG

  16. Saul says:

    I like your dirty mash-ups, Kieron. Keep them up! That’s what the internet is for, IMO.

    Trials 2 is so not my kind of game, but my brother was pretty obsessed for a while there. I do like the whole ‘failure can be fun’ principle, though. Other games should take note!

  17. noom says:

    I’m gonna stick my neck out (into gloating town) and claim to be the best RPS reader at Trials 2. I’ve put in nearly 300 hours, and currently rank about 15th in the world. Was 6-8th for quite a while but haven’t played much since the last patch and it’s masses of new tracks.

    Suffice to say I am a fan.

  18. Ginger Yellow says:

    Given how awesome Trials 2 and Trackmania are, you’d think more developers would have realised how important instant restarts are.

  19. karthik says:

    And yet, the high score tables display most levels as having been completed in under a minute with no faults. And by hundreds of people.
    Who are these people, I wonder? I’m coming to believe they’ve sold their souls to the devil in exchange for this abominable skill.

  20. Kieron Gillen says:

    One is Noom, clearly. Ask him! He scares me with his talent.

    KG

  21. karthik says:

    Also, since it’s escaped notice until now:
    Elastomania
    Did everything that Trials 2 does about ten years ago. (Motorbike simulator, platforming, instant restarts)

    The trailers back in April/May seemed to suggest Trials was a total ripoff (everything up to and including the handling is similar), but, um, not.

  22. DigitalSignalX says:

    So.. on the third day of Christmas, dear RPS gave to me,

    3 persistent trials,
    2 types of Shepherd,
    And an arcade racer disguised for PC!

  23. Solar says:

    @Rei
    what is different is that he has absolute certainty that that will be all he will ever experience. Therefore he has no hope.

    You can also look into his experience. Although he will always have to push the rock up, he is also released from his burden on the walk down. It is in this walk that he can be said to be truly ‘happy’, contemplating his rock rolling achievement or anything he likes while he walks down, soaks up the view etc. In that sense he can have hope, hope for the next trip down the mountain, but then he may also suffer despair toward the end of that walk, knowing the work will continue after his brief respite.

    We are all limited to certain experiences in our lives but hope is not destroyed by knowing this is true, in fact hope thrives in situations of being told, ‘this is all you can ever experience/do/achieve’. Sisyphus has plenty of hope in my book. Furthermore, he cheated death several times before he got punished this way. I’m sure he’s planning his escape even now. At least I hope so.

    From existentialist to optimist :P

  24. Caiman says:

    Trials 2 never got its hooks in, and the “why” is encapsulated in your description of Sisyphus laughing like a drain at breaking his neck several dozen times on the very first level. You see, I didn’t laugh like a drain, I said “great hairy bollocks to this” and uninstalled it.

  25. Ginger Yellow says:

    Karthik: They’re porting Elastomania to DS. Eurogamer wrote about it a week or so ago.

  26. houseinrlyeh says:

    Not being Sysiphus, I despaired after I was unable to complete the last two tutorial levels. I’m not enough of a masochist to recognize class, it seems.

    Really, it would have helped to have “easy” levels that are actually easy instead of mindnumbingly hard.

  27. TelefonHonda says:

    I prefer X-Moto, basically Elastomania with internet high score boards. I didn’t buy Trials 2 because it was too similar to those games. But still adding in ragdoll physics and a “broken bone counter” was enough to keep me playing the demo, trying to kill my driver with such original ways as driving to a wall at full speed.

  28. Iain says:

    Trials 2 is the reason I will never buy a motorbike. Because I seem to be worryingly good at killing the rider.

    It is a terrific game, though. Great for just dipping in and out of when you’ve got a spare 15 minutes. I can’t claim to be any good at it (I’ve only completed about half of the tracks) but it keeps drawing me back into it, and I’ve clocked up over 18 hours on it so far this year – which is 18 times more than Far Cry 2 has managed… though I don’t know if that says more about me and the amount of time I have to sit down and play games than the quality of the games themselves.

  29. SightseeMC says:

    A wonderful metaphor, and exactly why I may never play this game. Also, why most MMOs suddenly became anathema to me a few years ago.

    Once I realized that I was creating my own Sysiphean tasks in my spare time, I realized that I had reversed my true life trajectory. Endless repetitious drudgery should require a substantial paycheck, and my happy time shall not be squandered on such tasks.

    Of course, if I choose exactly how far I care to roll the ball up the hill before deciding to let it roll down again, I am actually in control of my own destiny. From existentialist to optimist to pseudo-objectivist. :D

  30. Radiant says:

    If you can’t beat the easy levels in under a minute you’re all sisys.

  31. Radiant says:

    You’re welcome.