Five Years of Story Revealed Through Trials and Error
RedLynx Studios’ Trials games are pure, unadulterated evil.
The basic premise of their motorcycle racing game has remained largely unchanged over the past decade: navigate through a series of unforgiving and often lethal obstacles to complete the track. More often than not, the “reward” for completing a track is to witness your rider explore new and creative ways to die. Given the game’s unforgiving learning curve, cycling through hundreds of riders on a single track is par for the course. And for most players, that’s where the story ends. Riders enter the track, riders finish the track, and riders die. But for players willing to dig a little deeper, Trials hides a deeper mystery.
It all started in 2009 with Trials HD, RedLynx’s console debut. Many of Trials HD‘s levels contained a series of codes, ciphers, and objects referencing key moments in history tied to the advancement of science and the arts. One level’s course was built around Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, with the song’s notes appearing in the background as the rider’s path followed the rise and fall of the famous song. A projection at the end of another level replicated Charles Darwin’s famous Tree of Life sketch, exploring his theory of evolution. Prototypes of Da Vinci’s inventions provided the backdrop for another level. Even JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box typifying his approach to the integration of mystery in storytelling makes an appearance. Intrigued, players identified the connections between the disparate scientific advances highlighted in the game to reveal metaphysical musings from the game’s creative director, Antti “ANBA” Ilvessuo, on the meaning of life. In Ilvessuo’s vision, much of this thought culminates with the Voyager probe and its Golden Record, as an attempt to reach out to life outside our solar system.
When Trials Evolution was released in 2012, Ilvessuo and the team at RedLynx hid instructions to an even more unforgiving puzzle, despite its more straightforward solution. Various stages in the game contained signposts featuring a message encoded with a Vignere cipher, using text from the Bohr-Einstein debates as the key. Following the instructions unlocked an audio track leading to the website FixedPatternEncodes.com, which soon featured a string of icons representing key moments in science in a manner highly reminiscent of the Trials HD puzzle trail. Matching the names of famous scientists with their discoveries provided an alphabetic cipher for one final riddle before GPS coordinates for four locations in Helsinki, Sydney, Bath, and San Francisco were revealed. Players who went to each location treasure chests containing keys, along with instructions to take the key to Paris, France on August 1, 2113. On that date, one of five keys will open a box underneath the Eiffel Tower.
That’s right: a video game about motorcycle racing is planning on unveiling a mystery box at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in a hundred years, and the mystery box can only be opened by one of five keys entrusted to future generations.
But only four keys have been discovered so far…which brings us to the riddle currently underway as part of RedLynx’s Trials Fusion, released earlier this year. Players toying around Trials Fusion discovered a virtual fifth key, buried underneath a mountain in the game’s track creation tool. A number of unresolved puzzles imply there’s more to be discovered. Players have already identified a secret audio transmission in the game’s end credits hiding a visual representation of cosmic microwave background radiation, and an unexplained entry in the game’s menu entitled “Pyrosequencing” has been cycling through DNA codons paired with number strings. The puzzles are back, but at least one thing has changed with Trials Fusion.
Over the past decade, games in the Trials franchise has never really bothered explaining why their motorcyclists keep throwing themselves at increasingly hard tracks, with death as the only reward at the end. Trials Fusion breaks from that tradition by liberally scattering hints through the game. Two artificial intelligence systems named Cindy and George converse with the player as the game progresses, casually referencing a global catastrophe that led to their creation and alluding to previous riders. While your rider still manages to find elaborate ways to die at the end of every track, detailed cut-scenes infer there might be a larger purpose behind each death. Further pieces of the narrative are doled out in Trials Frontier, a mobile companion game that takes place in an Old Western town in an even more distant future than Trials Fusion. In Trials Frontier, a cartoonish rider faces off against ghosts of people who remember the world before the catastrophe.
The narrative is disjointed across two games, but a few things are clear. Within the Trials universe, the comet Moros hurtled towards earth from the rings of Moros in 2020, making landfall on Antarctica and changing the local climate, broadcasting a massive beacon into the sky. Researchers (possibly associated with the often mentioned Samsara Industries) established a base around the Greater Crater area to study the beacon. Some of the lines in the game imply that humans found a way to take what they found at the crater site and turn it into an artificial intelligence, which then turned the machines against humans, who appear to be largely absent from the world of Trials Fusion.
The presence of the rider and a small cast of characters in Trials Frontier‘s Old West setting indicates there are survivors of whatever cataclysm took place, although there’s convincing evidence that neither rider nor frontier townsfolk are wholly human. One theory posits that the rider in Trials Fusion is being constantly respawned in new bodies, leaving a trail of hundreds of corpses in his wake after every death. As for the more human townsfolk in Trials Frontier? They have an unfortunate habit of glitching like their amnesiac robot neighbor ANBA.
For most people who play games in the Trials franchise, the games are just an opportunity to play an unforgiving racing game where successfully navigating each level is a puzzle designed to test their dexterity. But for those interested in a different kind of puzzle, the Trials games hide something much deeper. With Trials HD, RedLynx experimented with a celebration of mankind’s progress, and attempts to reach for the stars. With Trials Evolution, the team expanded their love letter to progress into the real world, offering an unknown mystery for future generations to discover. It’s too soon to say what the puzzles buried within Trials Fusion and Trials Frontier will bring, but the games’ twin narratives are already weaving elements of past riddles into a greater whole.
Video games are increasingly integrating secret narratives into the gameplay to provide players with less scripted stories to explore if their curiosity is piqued. Valve littered its Portal games with abandoned “Ratman dens” hinting at the life of Aperture scientist Doug Rattman, while Halo 3: ODST scattered the tale of Sadie Endesha through 30 audio files scattered across the game’s map. And in Grand Theft Auto V, an alien conspiracy provides an as-yet-unsolved meta-narrative for players who completed the game to explore. While secret narratives are becoming a common element of video game design, these complex narrative add-ons are typically reserved to provide additional narrative branches for players to explore. With Trials Fusion, the meta-game is the primary method for accessing the puzzle game’s underlying story, hinted at for years. Trials has actively resisted including a story for so long, this comes as almost as much a surprise as discovering a story behind Pac-Man or Minesweeper.
RedLynx’s decision to wait before revealing the game’s final treasure hunt prize is a welcome twist on a common trope. With 99 years to go before the hunt’s finale Ilvessuo is effectively giving each of the five keyholders their own personal Mystery Box as hinted in the Trials HD riddle, never to be opened within their lifetimes. Unlike Abrams’ vision of the Mystery Box, there’s the expectation that the box will have the potential to be opened by someone they entrusted with the key. The sentiment is similar (albeit on a smaller scale) to Jason Rohrer’s A Game for Someone, a board game designed to be discovered 2,000 years in the future. What would an experience designed explicitly for future generations look like?
The Trials riddles are showing themselves to be increasingly interconnected. In Trials HD, the Voyager probe’s Golden Record was celebrated for its communications with future generations, while Abrams’ Mystery Box was lauded for its ability to capture tangible mystery. Both promises were realized through the Trials Evolution riddles. What new secrets await, buried within the newest generation of Trials games?
Trials Fusion is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Steam: Trials Frontier is available on iOS and Android devices. More discussion on the riddles can be found on Ubisoft’s forums dedicated to the game as well as the University of Trials YouTube channel, run by Brad “FatShady” Hill, who compiled much of the information on previous riddles.