Line Rider

By Shamus Posted Monday Mar 10, 2008

Filed under: Links 31 comments

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 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 'Transcendentalà¢

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.


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31 thoughts on “Line Rider

  1. Vegedus says:

    I know I’m a cronic procrastinator, but that stuff is just scary. What is it that possess people to spend so long at something so trivial?

  2. onosson says:

    Vegedus: it’s the same impulse that causes people to write songs, or paint a picture.

  3. Tacoman says:

    Awesomely Ridiculous

  4. Snook says:

    Excuse me while I find my jaw, I seem to have dropped it…

  5. Joe says:

    I saw Transcendental for the first time yesterday and was actually laughing the entire time. I just can’t imagine how much work was put into that, I can barely get the guy to stay on his board after 8 seconds. I can’t draw to save my life. This guy does both for the entire video and my bind = blown.

  6. Xiphos says:

    Techdawg is actually paid by the creators to make those amazing runs.

  7. Cineris says:

    @Joe: “I can barely get the guy to stay on his board after 8 seconds.”

    This video is probably made with one of the versions of Line Rider where it’s much harder/impossible to knock the rider off.

  8. Blurr says:

    “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.”

    There is a little flag that you can use to set where you want to begin. It’s quite handy.

  9. Xiphos says:

    No, it just takes skill to make him land without crashing.

  10. Zimboptoo says:

    While the things that these people do, and how much time they spend on it, is rather astounding, and while I don’t want to make accusations without any proof, a couple grains of salt:

    The new line rider versions have the ability not only to erase lines, but to set a flag where the run should start from the next time you run it. This cuts down on the amount of time spent waiting through the current incarnation significantly. Which of course makes the courses made before the new version came out that much more impressive.

    Both old and new versions of line rider are downloadable, and when you use a local copy you have the ability to go into the configuration files and set values, such as how easily the guy falls off the sled. I know there are many movies out there, especially from old line rider, that were done with this little cheat because it allows for more impressive stunts and less accurate line drawing.

    Again, I’m not making any statements about how the people who created the videos linked to here made their videos, and even if they tweaked it they are still quite impressive. But things are not always as they seem.

  11. Phil says:

    First time reader, long time poster. Wait, that’s the opposite !
    Anyway, what’s so beautiful (jaw-dropping, I admit ^_^ ) about it, is that it’s totally useless. Kind of art, right on.
    13thM, from France

  12. man, and i thought that 1st video was impressive!

    hey btw your link in the first para is a 404…

  13. Martin says:

    no eraser?

    screw that!

  14. Dev Null says:

    The internet is a living monument to all of the things that humanity could achieve if the internet didn’t itself exist.

    Personally, I prefer the internet.

  15. Dirty Dan says:

    I wonder, does the flag of this much-touted “new version” preserve the momentum that would normally exist at that point having gone from the actual starting point? After having sunk hours of my life into trying to create a perpetual motion machine with it, I’ve realized how sensitive the Line Rider can be to a tiny change in momentum at some way earlier point. I think I once had a circuit where he went around five times before finally crashing — which goes to show, every little change to inertia is documented. If it were so easy to start him out later in the course, you’d think that in any course where he can make it around twice, he can go forever. But he can’t. With just a tiny tweak in the length of an accelerative line earlier on, the actual length of a big jump can change drastically.

  16. Dirty Dan: it should be easyto “remember” the motion, you just need a vector for X and Y containing position, velocity and acceleration. The world is only 2d so its a lot easier to keep track. the program is probably not keeping “state” for more than a sec or so. I think there also has to be friction, which would just be a realtime modifier to the acceleration term. Thats why you cant do perpetual motion.

  17. Shamus says:

    Fledge: Dang. Thanks for the heads up.

    Link fixed.

  18. Davesnot says:

    Wow.. nope.. If you haven’t shared it.. odds are.. I haven’t seen it.. Thanks for workin’ so cheap!

  19. Mrs. Peel says:

    Shamus, those are very neat videos. Thanks for pointing them out. Also, your posts on piracy were awesomely awesome, and I appreciate your gaming posts in general. I don’t buy computer games because they’re ridiculously expensive, too hard for a casual gamer like me, and wouldn’t run on my machine anyway. So naturally I am LOVIN’ Eschalon: Book I. Thanks for pointing me to that. Oh, and DMotR rocks.

    You may be asking, “And what is to be the pill in all this jam?” A typographical correction, naturally. In your first sentence, I think you mean “phenomenon.”

  20. Cineris says:

    As impressive as these Line Rider courses may be — Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler if you could import any image you wanted as the background, and have the course itself hidden from view (so you wouldn’t get black lines all over your image)?

    While this might’ve been impractical as purely a flash game, it seems a little ridiculous that it’s moved to being more than that and yet failed to make such basic-seeming functionality available. Not that there isn’t something to be said for simplicity, but… At the degree of proficiency these high-level videos are at, it just seems crazy (among other things) to limit yourself to Microsoft Paint style graphics created in the game’s extremely primitive track editor/graphics program when you could use a program that’s actually designed for creating graphics (Photoshop).

    When I was younger I played a couple of motorcycle games based on the concept of drawing courses using lines, and, heck, even ExciteBike for the NES had a better track editor. I wonder why people (including myself) seem to be so accepting of a game like Line Rider that offers pretty much nothing new and, realistically, is a step backward in a lot of ways (DIAS gameplay, lack of reasonable features, etc.).

  21. AR says:

    On a completely unrelated note, a developer from Stardock posted some thoughts on piracy here.

  22. lxs says:

    re: last post; I read DMotR but I don’t read CB or listen to FtB.

    Your meme posts rock my socks. You seem to have done some actual research, which always helps journalistic coverage. Contextualising with the first couple really make the last so much more impressive.

    re: falling off… the dude actually grinds upside down for a while. I think it may be tweaked.

    re: the restart point, it needs a save button not a start-here button. Ideally rewind and pause buttons.

  23. Dirty Dan says:

    Fledgling Otaku: I’m afraid I tend to disagree. In the course I constructed, as I said, the Rider made it around five times. Not once and then crash, but no more than five. Even though the course was the same each time, each circuit was subtly different based on where the last short hop placed him on the first accelerator. If the new version can both predict and replicate the vector of motion at a given point on the run, then 1. I haven’t give it enough credit and 2. yes, it would work as people say. In the version I’m used to, all you can do is pick a point to drop him from, starting with only whatever potential energy is inherent to that point.

  24. I think thats teh behavior youd expect, Dan, if the system is not saving state. When Line Rider enters the circuit the 1st time, at the bottom of the loop he will have a vector of pos/vel/acc = A. one loop around the circuit, theres no reason the vector would still be the same. the position is the same, but not nec the vel and acc. in fact if they were idnetical on the 2nd circuit then they would always be identical on the Nth circuit too, and youd have perpetual motion.

  25. King of Men says:

    The accurate way to do it would be to run all the simulation from the chosen starting point, and just not output the graphics. The simulation can probably be done in a few milliseconds; the big holdup is in showing the results at a speed a human eye can comprehend. So you don’t need to bother with state, you just say “don’t do any graphics until you get to this point.”

  26. Dirty Dan says:

    That’s what I’m saying — that a similar position/velocity/acceleration isn’t enough to create an accurate run, it has to be exact. I don’t know if you’ve used the version that I did, Otaku, but there was certainly no interface for anything more precise than “Line Rider starts here with no velocity and only acceleration due to gravity”. There were no options for changing the starting velocity. Now, I’m not *at all* a programmer — I have to write out binary by hand, for a frame of reference — so don’t go suggesting I crack open the flash file and fiddle around with it. All I can do is what the interface allows me to do. That said, I’m positive that what’s been suggested is possible. It just wasn’t possible for me when I did it.

  27. Anthorin says:

    Lateral thinking. If the testing process takes so long, then start the design at the end and build backwards. That way you only need to test the first bit – not the last bit ;-)

  28. Freggle says:


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