Saturday, May 30, 2009

Timeless Fun

One of the most common elements in racing games are Time Trial modes. It doesn't matter whether the game is simulating the real world or set in a fictional setting with outlandish characters, the mode is a staple of the genre and even expected to be in each racing game that is released. Despite this, the modes of racing games are rarely discussed and people can't seem to clarify why they enjoy playing them so with that in mind, it's time to enter my own thoughts as I explain why I enjoy setting lap times over and over again.

Time Trials are fun due to the precision I alluded to in my previous post about striving for perfection. By being precise, the player is concentrating as hard as possible on ensuring that every single corner is taken perfectly, because in doing so, the reward will be seeing their time be faster than the one that was originally set out to be beaten -- a friend's posted time, an attempt for a position on online leaderboards or their own previous record. When the word precision is used, it's easy to associate the term with realistic (sim) racing games only. They concentrate on providing realistic handling and physics so the benefit of precision is more integrated and important in those types of games. The term can, however, still summarise how a player approaches Time Trials in a fictional racer such as Mario Kart or F-Zero, as despite the tracks in these games featuring unrealistic jumps, obstacles and speed boosters, the fastest times will still come from the laps that were taken precisely. In fact I would say that Time Trials in these fictional games are more fun and interesting, as the addition of those elements ensures players are kept on their toes.

Beyond the precision element, Time Trials are also fun because of the numbers associated with the mode. The notion of beating a time is appealing for two reasons: First, the challenge with testing a player's skills and pushing them to their limits and second, the competition shared with friends or leaderboards. Both reasons are common place in gaming as a whole and have been around for many years, the difference being that instead of trying to beat times, it is usually an attempt to beat a high score. The reason why players aim to beat those scores is the exact same reason why people try to beat times in Time Trials, the end result being success in beating others or a rewarding boost to the ego as you finally improve your skills and result.

The mode in itself isn't necessarily exclusive to racing games either; other genres have implemented Time Trials to various success, adding a nice, different take on the mode as a whole. A conveniently recent example would be Mirror's Edge, which used Time Trials to separate the game's core mechanic -- free running/parkour (whatever you would like to call it) -- from the game's story and other bells and whistles. This allowed players the chance to explore the levels more thoroughly and experiment with different routes and paths across the rooftops, something that couldn't be done in the normal game due to the urgency of a countdown timer or something related to the story. Extending even more on the Time Trials were the Speed Runs, which challenged players to see how fast they could traverse the levels from the story. Including such modes gave players something to do after they completed the main game, as well as exploring the limits of it at their leisure. Being able to explore levels to find the fastest route and then exploit it to set times is a rewarding feeling and it's nice to see other games experimenting with the mode.

In summary the reasons someone like me, a massive fan of motorsport, enjoys doing laps over and over again around a track is because I enjoy aiming at the times and trying to beat them, but more importantly I also enjoy the pressure and satisfaction that comes from trying to be as precise as I possibly can. It can be something as significant as finally getting a corner right, or something as minor as taking a section of the track a fraction faster than previously -- all of it ends with a feeling that I have achieved something and while it might not mean anything in the grand scheme of things, the reward is too hard for me to resist.


pete said...

The screenshot (and tag) begs the question: have you played much F-Zero GX? If so, what're your "completion" requirements?

Unfortunately, my own requirements are so high that I'll likely never knock it off The List... fantastic game, though.

Steven O'Dell said...

I have indeed, so much so that my completion requirements are fulfilled. 100% baby, on all difficulties. I love the game so much I even nominate it as my favourite racing game ever.

pete said...

Story mode? All ship Master wins, unlocking all their extras?

Story mode is a complete bitch on GX. And, while I blitzed all the Cups on Master with the help of an incredible custom ship I put together, the basic ships? Hell no.

More power to you, sir :)

Steven O'Dell said...

Absolutely everything. And yes, Story mode was insanely hard. I still can't believe I managed to do it, all these years later.