Get the inside track on Red Bull’s epic new mountain bike-based mobile game.
Bike Unchained, the new bike-based mobile video game featuring Red Bull athletes and events
Bike Unchained © Red Bull Media House / Roadhouse Interactive
By Ben Sillis on 21 October 2015
Download Bike Unchained, a brand new Red Bull Game for iOS and Android, for free on the App Store and Google Play.
You don’t expect games on two wheels to take their influence from high fantasy roleplaying games, or engrossingly simple mobile hits like Tiny Wings at the other extreme.
As we find out, however, the expected doesn’t carry much weight at Vancouver studio Roadhouse Interactive, where a team of 20 have been working on a game that splices just that, led by a former professional skier turned games developer. The freestyle action in Bike Unchained is not like other mobile games.
“The premise, the heartbeat of the game – it’s actually an RPG,” explains Roadhouse co-founder Ian Verchere. Starting out as a junior local rider, you start competing in races with famous Red Bull stars, upgrading your bike with your winnings, and unravelling the plot masterminded by a suitably dastardly rival team owner, a ruthless property developer, as you go. “This is something we want people to discover over time: why is this guy sponsoring a mountain bike team? Who are Team Praedor?” Verchere says, intriguingly.
Intrigue and cycling have always been intertwined, after all; Roadhouse saw this as an opportunity to tell a story, and give you a sense of progression as you explore three huge locales – Whistler, the Alps and Japan – inspired by almost every genre except racing.
“Some of the team working on Bike Unchained have pro sports backgrounds, and as avid gamers and MOBA players, it seemed completely natural for us to relate the growth and progression of our careers as bikers, boarders, and skiers to that of a character in an RPG,” Verchere says. “All of the progression mechanics are the same: you gain experience (XP) as you session, or enter contests and races. You need specific gear to succeed in different disciplines, and you certainly want to upgrade and keep it in good shape. It’s bikes and boards instead of swords and sandals.”
The comparison stretches only as far as Bike Unchained’s ambition and narrative, however. Individual races are anything but the turn-based snoozefests the RPG genre has something of a bad rap for, thanks to the Pump mechanic that Roadhouse has conjured up.
“Bike Unchained is designed and optimised to the tap, the control configuration,” Verchere explains. You tap the screen in time to keep going, but of course the terrain means you’ll need different strategies for every race – and yet more for the trick events.
“It’s about pressing the bike on the steep pitches and releasing in the transitions. Anyone who saw Aaron Gwin win the UCI World Cup downhill at Leogang this season, despite breaking his chain hammering out of the start, will completely understand how the Pump works. DH is pure speed on descent – fastest to the bottom wins. Enduro has some very short uphill sections that require the game player to TAP, TAP, TAP to power up.”
That’s where the endless runner comparisons come in. “As passionate mountain bikers and gamers, we’re looking at everything that’s out there, especially on mobile,” Verchere explains. “One of our early reference points as we were working on physics and controls was ‘Tiny Wings on mountain bikes’.”
The Pump mechanism is applied across different events however, so don’t assume that if you’re a Flappy Bird pro you can ace them all.
“In Bike Unchained, slopestyle, like Red Bull Joyride, is a judged event, not timed like DH or enduro. Slopestyle is all about tricks. We’re stoked we can deliver three unique disciplines in one game, and give players some variety.”
Expect to see plenty of pro riders in Bike Unchained, the new Red Bull MTB mobile game developed by Roadhouse Interactive
Bike Unchained is a Red Bull game, so naturally, you can expect to encounter plenty of famous faces. Over the course of 60 different events across nine chapters, you’ll face off against the likes of Brandon Semenuk, Rachel Atherton and Gee Atherton, Andreu Lacondeguy and many more. “Claudio Caluori even asks you to join a new team he manages,” Verchere says excitedly.
As you progress, you’ll build up a stable of riders to compete in 3-Crew and 5-Crew events; you’ll find fictional riders sitting saddle-by-saddle with international stars, and shredding trails on real world brands including Silverline, Specialized and SRAM.
“We looked at the roster of incredible bike athletes that represent Red Bull, and wanted to come up with a large variety of athletes for the player to collect, and more importantly, to level-up, develop their skills in all disciplines, or just go crazy in one,” Verchere says. “We’re mixing in some fictional characters that like their real-world counterparts, are the very best at certain disciplines.”
This presented Roadhouse with an unusual challenge. When you’re creating fictional foils for real world superstars, how do you avoid turning a game into Space Jam? Get the latter in to play the game before release, it turns out.
“Whistler is in our backyard, so we had the opportunity to meet and show many of the riders at Red Bull Joyride what they looked and played like in-game,” Verchere reveals. “That was great, and they were stoked. Andreu and Yannick Granieri had fun and posed for some pics to make sure we got their looks right.”
Of course, having top riders actually working a nine-to-five every day also helps and Bike Unchained game director Andrew Murphy has placed on the podium for World Cup Boardercross before. Verchere himself is also no stranger to the world of action sports. In fact, before his career as a game developer, he was a professional skier. An injury forced him to hang up his poles, but it was the poor snow one season in Japan that helped him discover his true calling first.
“Nothing says career-change like a torn ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]!” Verchere jokes, with the padded comfort of hindsight. “Alpine ski racing is a tough sport, and when everything caught up to me, I had to rethink things. After surgery, I spent a year skiing in Japan and left there totally blown away by the ubiquity of games and electronic entertainment.”
This was in 1989, before video games had quite hit the mainstream, and before Vancouver had turned into the Hollywood of game development. “I could draw and animate, knew my way around a PC, and when I found out that there was a small company in Vancouver making ‘computer games’, I applied and got a job right away. Part of my portfolio was a flip-book animation of a couple of mountain bikers hitting a jump on a trail,” Verchere says with a smile. “So you could say that this game has been 25 years in the making.”
Not that the launch of Bike Unchained is the end of the process, Verchere is keen to stress. For Roadhouse, it’s just the start. “We take launch very seriously, like the pilot of a new TV series, in the hopes that we capture an audience who gets what we’re trying to do,” he explains.
Players’ feedback will directly impact the updates Roadhouse pushes out, and there will be daily online multiplayer challenges to keep you coming back.
“With data, we grow the game over time, making improvements, listening to the players and the community. Of course, with new events coming from Red Bull, new athletes appearing, new locations and events, new bikes and gear, all constantly evolving and progressing, each update will be packed with great stuff.”
See for yourself: Bike Unchained is available to download on iOS and Android devices right now.