Trials Evolution: Gold Edition – The ergonomics of controlling a motorcycle

Trials Evolution: Gold Edition is a platform racing game developed by RedLynx. You play as a motocross rider on tracks with a great variety of obstacles. The objective is to maintain momentum and to bypass all obstacles to complete the tracks without falling (or more realistically, as little as possible), as fast as possible. Originally released as a console game (Trials Evolution), the title was released for PC shortly thereafter as an enhanced and upgraded version, and not simply as a console port.

User goal:
The goal in this game is to go as fast as possible while also not falling flat on your face. The rider needs to jump over, under or through obstacles set on the course to reach the finish line. In case one falls, it is possible to restart the race entirely or continue from one of the multiple checkpoints spread out across the level.

Tools:
Given that the game has very simple controls, it might come as a surprise for me to dedicate an entire article to the control choices that the developers made. However these choices are very important and show careful consideration of what it means to play a game on a console or on a PC.

The only driving actions used in Trials Evolution are the following four: the rider can accelerate (Gas), brake, lean towards the front (Lean Forward) or sit lower towards the back of the bike (Lean Back).

Game mechanics:
The default controls used for the XBox controller are shown below.

Trials Evolution XBox controls

The right hand focuses on acceleration and deceleration, while the left hand focuses on using the joystick to make the rider lean forwards or backwards. Simple stuff.

There are two things that affect the player while they go through the game. The game’s real-life controls, and the game’s Physics engine. The former dictates what stance and what speed the rider will adopt, while the latter dictates how the bike will actually perform given the control input and the terrain, obstacles, incline of slopes etc.

Here are the default keyboard controls for the PC version (highlighted in yellow). The four directions represent the keyboard arrow keys.

Trials Evolution Keyboard controls

At first glance, this might not be obvious, but the controls are completely counter-intuitive, given the camera angle of this game:

Trials Evolution Screenshot

Side-angle camera with 2.5D graphics

Up is Gas, which makes the bike move towards the Right. Down is brake, which makes the bike stop and go in the opposite direction of Right, which is Left. Right is Lean Forward, while actually it makes the rider get Up on the bike, and Left is Lean Back, which actually makes the rider sit Down on the bike. Confused yet? Good.

Upon taking a second look, however, one will notice the very good reason why the keyboard default translation of the controls seems so counter-intuitive. Let’s take a look at the average keyboard’s arrow keys setup:

Arrows keys

Usually, just like finger placement on the “WASD” keys, players tend to have their middle finger on the Up or Down arrow key, the index finger on the Left arrow key and the ring finger on the Right arrow key. For those who need a little reminder:

Finger names Gamer

Following the natural placement of fingers on the keyboard, Trials Evolution matches the keybindings to the game’s mechanics, and not vice versa. Players in Trials are very often required to make rapid micro-adjustments to the rider’s posture in order to take full advantage of the physics system and perform maneuvers such as Bunny Hops etc. The two dedicated fingers on the Left and Right arrow keys are always positioned on top of them, which allows for very fast presses in one or the other direction. Gas and Brake rarely ever need to be used in fast succession, and as such can be serviced by the middle finger alone (just like W/S are pressed by the left hand’s middle finger alone).

Within the first hour of gameplay, the benefit of following this ergonomic approach to the keybind setup is apparent: it is much less straining for the hand the press the left or right arrows with having the rest of the hand moving. The alternative would see the fingers curling up every time the middle finger would need to move up and down in rapid succession. And from a gamer’s perspective in a game of perfectionism and speed, the actual benefit is immediate: it is faster to have a dedicated finger for a keybinding rather than one finger for two keybindings that need to be pressed within milliseconds of each other.

Recommendations:
None to make. For those that are not convinced by the default settings, every key is customizable in the options menu, and the PC version also fully supports use of a gaming controller instead, catering to all types and preferences.

My opinion as a gamer:
I really enjoyed the game, it was an upgrade of a very cool, but a bit lackluster Trials 2. The Trials Evolution: Gold Edition release brought a really well-designed interface, a revamped trials selection course, a very good sense of progression and some fantastic physics to the table. Overall, an excellent game catering to the creatives with its editor, the normal gamers, the online gamers with a very fast-paced and fun multiplayer mode as well as the full-on masochists and perfectionists with its platinum stars and online leaderboards.

Images © RedLynxmyblogger-tricksorangeinks

Cover image © tuts+

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