f you've been following the mini-phenomenon that is the Flash version of Line Rider over the past couple years, you've probably heard it called everything from a game, to a toy, to an addiction, or even an interactive screensaver. Since it hit the Internet in 2006, it's been ripped off, cloned, and YouTube'd more times than Jimmy Kimmel doing naughty things to Ben Affleck, all thanks to a simple design that asks players to draw a series of lines, and then drops a physics-enabled sled onto them.
As Bo?tjan Cade?, the Slovenian college student who created it, explains the origins, the idea came from a doodle he did in an Industrial Design class. "I got the idea from a drawing I have in my sketchbook where there is this little guy on a slope, just raising his hands, excited to be going down a slope in a couple of seconds," he says. After about a year fiddling with the design, Cade? came up with a workable Flash game/toy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it and submitted it for class credit.
Then it got popular. And now it's heading to DS, Wii, and PC retail, courtesy of Newport Beach-based developer inXile entertainment. The transition started when inXile's Chris Keenan stumbled onto his roommates playing the Flash version at home one day. "Sit down, get the mouse in my hands, next thing I know I'm sitting there for hours," he says. "I played 'til three in the morning. Take it into work the next day...it takes down the office, you know, for two, three hours...everyone's playing it."
SCREENS: The game's price will be different for each platform, with the Wii version at $39.99, the DS game at $29.99, and the PC one at $19.99. All three versions are scheduled to ship in the second quarter of 2008, so roughly a couple months from now. Click the image above to check out all Line Rider Wii screens.
From there, inXile head Brian Fargo signed a deal with Cade? and set the retail versions in motion, landing a deal with publisher Genius Products along the way (who are new to games, but you may recognize as a distribution branch of The Weinstein Company).
With contracts out of the way, Keenan says the main goals for making this into a game people would want to pay money for were to flesh out the creation tools with an expanded version of the Flash "toy," and then build an objective-based Story mode to give players something to do when they're not feeling creative.
Freestyle mode is the creation tools part of that -- you start with a blank page and a set of tools, and can make a course for the line rider to sled across. There's no goal or timer -- you can spend as long as you like nipping and tucking your track and its appearance until you're happy with it.
Building on the Flash version, Freestyle will include new lines (such as one that shatters when the sled touches it, one that bounces the rider into the air, and one that stops your sled at the end of a run), clip art support, art tools, and a Photoshop-style layering system that lets you place art in front of or behind your course. For those worried that the new options will hurt some of the charm created by the restrictions in the Flash version -- part of why the current YouTube videos are so impressive is because they're difficult to make -- Keenan tells us that you'll be able to use black lines on a white background and nothing more if you choose.
One of the big questions we had when we first heard the game was moving to Wii and DS was how line precision would be handled, since it seemed like drawing using a stylus or Wii Remote would lead to a lot of wobbly lines, and we're happy to see the developers have come up with a solution. With the new "curve tool," it's no longer necessary to have a steady hand -- you can adjust a line after you draw it to get the exact angle you want, and you can also push and pull lines for further adjustments, or group lines together and move them in chunks. While we haven't had a chance to mess around with it yet, the interface appears much more forgiving than the Flash version's, which will hopefully take some of the planning frustrations out of the process without restricting the pixel-perfect accuracy approach.
SCREENS: Adding a bit of personality over the Flash version, the game's characters will cheer and perform stunts in midair if you make them happy. Click the image above to check out all Line Rider Wii screens.
For part two of inXile's goals, Story mode is where Line Rider starts to feel more like a traditional videogame. Here you choose from three characters -- Bosh, Chaz, and Bailey (and yes, there's a bit of a love story) -- and set out on a quest to solve approximately 40 challenges, complete with CG cut-scenes and a defined appearance with clouds and trees in the backgrounds. In each level, you'll have certain limitations and have to find a way to use the game's tools to reach a certain part of the map. You'll come across Targets (mandatory) and Tokens (optional), and have to figure out how to draw lines to reach them, creating a puzzle game based around the line-drawing concept.
To create these challenges, inXile dug into the Flash community and hired well-known track designer "TechDawg," putting him in charge of each course. (Do a search for video clips using his name if you want to kill a few hours.)
The game's full potential, however, looks to come from the third and final mode. Puzzle Creation is essentially a mixture of Freestyle and Story, where you can create challenges with Targets and Tokens on a map, and upload them for other players to download and solve. If this gets properly executed and the community supports it, we can easily see thousands of bonus challenges being available online.
It's a pretty impressive feat that everything we've mentioned so far will be available in all three versions of the game -- especially so with the ability to upload and download tracks in the DS version. There will be features in the PC and Wii games (which are roughly the same) that are not in the DS one, such as user-generated clip art, multiple line riders on one track, a video editor, certain graphical effects, extra line options, etc., but at the base level the game features will be the same across all three platforms.
And yes, we're confident in calling it a "game" at this point. We'll even go so far as to label it a puzzle game, though there are clearly other aspects as well. We'll stop short of getting too excited until we can put the new interface through its paces (the versions we saw for this story were too early to check out in-depth), but the creation tools look good and the puzzles seem like a perfect fit to expand the concept, so the potential is definitely there and it's a game we'll be paying close attention to over the next couple months.