For a few weeks in 2012, Trials Evolution was a record-holder. Launched in April that year to roaring success, the last entry in RedLynx's racing series sold quicker than any Xbox Live Arcade title in history. Until the following month, that is, when the console version of Minecraft arrived.
If you're going to be beaten by any game, to lose out to Minecraft seems fair enough - two years on and there's still no sign of its success waning. And yet the game repeatedly pops up in conversation throughout my time at RedLynx. The studio is incredibly aware of the sandbox success but, far from grumbling, it has instead been busy examining how it might earn a similar level of ongoing devotion.
Step up Trials Fusion, RedLynx's new take on the series for PC and next-gen consoles. The pitch is clear: it is the next-gen Trials. It's not just RedLynx's first next-gen outing, but the definitive Trials experience for years to come, a platform from which the game can, like Minecraft, be adapted and updated on an ongoing basis with a long stream of new content.
It's a natural evolution for a series which has increasingly been home to some spectacular user-created wonders, some just as complex as those many marvels built using Minecraft's own blocks. Evolution's track editor was used to create courses that pushed the game's bike engines to their limits, but which also re-purposed Trials' game engine to create entire mini-games encompassing wildly different genres.
When Fusion launches it will include the usual 60-odd tracks from RedLynx, but also more than 1000 parts for the game's content creator mode. Progression through user-created tracks will now count to your overall character level, and multiplayer progress has been lumped in too, as part of an effort to blur the lines between what RedLynx has created and the parts that the community have worked on themselves.
"Trials Evolution launched with less than 60 tracks, but the community has now made over 650,000," RedLynx managing director Tero Virtala told Eurogamer. "We created a game that started evolving by itself. Then after Trials Evolution there came Minecraft - a great game that listens to its audience and keeps growing and growing and getting better. Trials Fusion will be the biggest Trials game when it launches, but we're not stopping there. We have a roadmap of extensions and content packs that will continue growing the game, and we have a team reserved for listening to the audience to find out how we should take it further."
And this is why Fusion will launch with a Season Pass, a first for the series, which will grant users all six - count 'em - expansions that RedLynx currently is planning. Each will include another dual helping of extra pre-made tracks along with a fresh dollop of items and options for use when creating your own.
But maybe you don't care about all that. Maybe you just want a great physics-based bike game, ready to play with straight out of the box. Maybe you just want to see how good a Trials game can look on your new next-gen console. Well, Fusion has all of that too. The game is shinier, sure, its glossy glass surfaces and bloomy backdrops a far cry from the dingy warehouses of Trials HD. And it's bigger too, both in terms of map size (up to four kilometres square is now open to users) and in what you can do on them.
Most revolutionary perhaps is the addition of tricks to the game, performed by rotating your rider with the right thumbstick. You can flail your limbs around at any point (preferably while airborne) but the option's point-scoring potential is only unlocked when competing in certain events. Hold a certain pose above or beneath your bike while soaring through the air and you can chain tricks together for a big points boost.
Each regular track now includes three hidden Easter eggs to find, some of which are ludicrously well hidden. The one we were shown involved parking your bike in the middle of a tennis court until an impromptu match began, your rider suddenly holding an oversized racquet and asked to hold serve against a penguin. Other examples transformed whole levels - speeding the game's clock forward into darkness to create an extreme version of the track layout, or littering a course with flaming rings to angle your ride through.
The game's quad bike is another new addition, a vehicle that instantly feels weightier but whose tires grab firmer onto the track. Fusion also includes the BMX bike from Trials Evolution's Origin of Pain DLC as standard, and plenty of new skill game challenges.
And there are other things that remain a mystery - there's some kind of story that links all of the game's stages, an optional extra that oddly includes voices emanating from your bike. And, perhaps most notably, the exact nature of Fusion's link-up with the game's mobile brother, Trials Frontier. There appeared to be an option to connect your progress somehow via the game's main menu, but when pressed on details RedLynx said it still wanted to hold something back. "There are certain nice surprises," Virtala teased, "certain benefits."
All in all, Fusion is a huge project, one which RedLynx's 110-strong team have been able to source manpower from another 100 extra Ubisoft staff to support: they've been put to task squashing bugs, powering up servers, and for comparing notes with on the early days of next-gen development. "We were still in the development of Trials Evolution and we saw where the game was heading," Virtala adds. "Even at that stage we had much bigger ambitions, but we saw it would require so many more developers and support in areas where we weren't experts."
It's allowed RedLynx to focus on the game itself, a decision which seems to be paying off. The version of Fusion I played was pretty much feature complete, and only its online services weren't unavailable (although local multiplayer was just as competitive as ever). And RedLynx is still working. "Our future is defined so much by the perception of our games and nothing is important as the quality of how polished those games are," Virtala concludes. "These final moments - they're so important."
When Trials Fusion launches on 16th April it will be exactly two years since the launch of Trials Evolution, but it's clear that RedLynx plans Fusion's release to only be the game's beginning. I'm looking forward to seeing it completed, but I really can't wait to see what happens after.
This article was based on a press trip to Helsinki. Ubisoft paid for travel and accommodation.