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Born from a game jam, Hotline Trail is Zen in a browser

How a browser game inspired by Hotline Miami grew beyond its game jam beginnings to become its own unique, utterly relaxing experience.

Alex Wawro

December 6, 2013

2 Min Read

Hotline Trail bears a passing resemblance to that other 'Hotline' game, but don’t let the neon-soaked similarities fool you -- Trail’s endless riders are here to cruise, not bruise. They’re the brainchildren of independent developer Przemysław Sikorski, better known as rezoner, who quickly built the Hotline Trail prototype during the 0h game jam and has since expanded it into a surprisingly immersive browser game. The 0h game jam, for those who missed it, is a pan-Atlantic hustle to see who can make a game in zero hours -- that is, who can build a working prototype in the pre-dawn hour before our clocks roll back due to Daylight Savings Time. This is where Hotline Trail started, as a hot mess of bits and pieces of Przemyslaw’s other games -- the riders were actually cars at first, built using modified versions of the achievement graphics from qbqbqb, while the basic design evolved from his earlier game experiment pointless. The influence of Dennaton Games' Hotline Miami is much clearer in the prototype Przemyslaw submitted to the 0h game jam -- play it and you can hear it in the pounding bass soundtrack, see it in the "You left the road and got beaten to death" message that flashes whenever you slip off the track. The latest version of Hotline Trail -- the name is a reference to Przemyslaw’s current fascination with playing Organ Trail -- is a far more comforting experience. The soundtrack has evolved into a relaxing blend of '80s electronica composed by Przemyslaw himself in FLStudio, and every round starts with a grandfatherly narrator encouraging you to play your best. The graphics are still little more than artful smudges on a black background, but Przemyslaw says that's kind of the point. "I am not a good pixel artist, so I use a lot of stains and shapes to create a metaphor of what I want to see," Przemyslaw told Gamasutra via email. "If I manage to get players immersed, they will see what I see despite [the game] looking nothing like that." Sure enough, it’s a little world that's deceptively easy to lose yourself in, but limited enough that you aren’t likely to spend more than 5-10 minutes of your day there. The ride doesn’t stop here for rezoner -- Przemyslaw has already sunk 50 hours of work into the current version of Hotline Trail, and he’s hoping to continue building the project into something like a minimalist, randomly-generated Grand Theft Auto game that takes place entirely on the road. You can see an early mockup of what that might look like here.

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