on Mar 10, 2008
As far as memes go – and I’m not sure if this would classify as a meme or not – Line Rider is an unusual, slow building phenomenon. I first became aware of it way back in October of 2006 at Haibane.info. Back then, it was a very simple little flash game. You scribbled some lines on a seemingly infinite canvas, and then a little guy on a sled would ride down the lines – provided you drew something ride-able. (If he fell too hard he’d get knocked off the sled.)
Sometime later I noticed a lot of people were making little movies of their Line Rider courses. Most of them looked like this one:
This is what my attempts looked like as well. There are lots of stray lines, wiggly lines, and vast white areas where it’s difficult to get a sense of speed because there is little against which we might judge relative velocity.
It turns out to be quite hard to make a lengthy and exciting Line Rider course. The only way to know how the guy is going to react to a tricky curve is to start the show and watch it happen. If you’re making changes to the jump at the end of a minute-long course, you have to watch the whole thing to know your changes worked. Not right? Make another adjustment and watch the whole thing again.
I call this “artistic friction”, although I’m sure there are other names for it. Level designers for videogames endure this as well. Make a change, compile it, fire up the game, see the results, go back and make another small adjustment. Rinse. Repeat. This sort of thing greatly discourages experimentation, and makes it hard for an artist to polish his or her work. The longer you work on it, the longer it takes to test each new addition. The expense of fine-tuning your work is so great that the temptation is just to let it be once you get it to “good enough”.
Still, as the Line Rider meme grew there were people willing to sink vast blocks of time into the process of making a little two-minute movie. Suddenly the challenge went from just getting the guy to do little stunts, to doing so while having interesting scenery:
You can’t really appreciate this until you try it yourself and discover what a pain it is. Every few months I’d check youtube for Line Rider movies and see another step up in quality. Someone new would come along and raise the bar for everyone else. The challenge would be made: How much of your life are you willing to sacrifice in order to top this?
Line Rider 'Transcendentalâ
The answer, in the above case, would be “four months“.
Line Rider has grown since its debut. It started out as a hobby project, and has grown into a game with its own official site, and coming versions for the Nintendo DS and the Wii. The newer version has some nice new features but I stuggest trying the original version first. The former is bathed in flashing, colorful auto-refreshing advertisements that really detract from the purity of Line Rider’s little black and white world. There was even a talking ad (you just won an iPod Nano, ugh) in there somewhere.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.