Spelunky

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Mossmouth for PS4, PS3, Vita, and Xbox 360, originally released in 2012.
Spelunky was developed by Derek Yu and was originally released as a freeware PC title in 2008. It has since undergone a number of updates, tweaks, and fixes, and officially rolled over to version 1.0 in 2009, and the source code was released later in the same year. In 2012, the game arrived on Xbox Live Arcade under Yu’s Mossmouth label… but this isn’t just a port of the original game; it’s been completely redone to take advantage of the format – with all new artwork, music, and graphical effects – while keeping the tight and tough-as-nails gameplay of the original.


Yu is still the primary developer and artist, but there are some new folks joined the team to create the new version. Chiptune artist Phlogisten is responsible for the music and sound design, and Andy Hull worked primarily as a graphics programmer, but also has experience in game design, and has made some contributions in that capacity.


Original PC version



From a graphical standpoint, the new version of the game looks quite a bit different from the PC original. While it retains the obvious tile-based structure, the overall look is far more smooth and organic, and there’s a lot more detail packed in. A dynamic lighting and shadow engine allows the developer to apply shadows and tints to what would otherwise be static sprite art. This allows for changes to ambient lighting and colors to set the mood of a given area without the need to redraw the artwork, allowing the creation of environments ranging from bright and color-saturated to cold and dank. Light now creates the appropriate shadows within the environment and moves with the light source. Additional graphical effects allow for a particle system, reflections, and water distortion.




The original concept for the game came from Derek Yu’s love for both platformers (Spelunker being the most obvious influence) and roguelikes. The creation of Spelunky was his way to combine both of these loves into a single game, creating a platformer with procedurally generated levels, meaning that no 2 playthroughs are ever the same. While this means that there is a strong element of randomness in the layout of the levels and item placement, there are rules in place to prevent the game from creating impossible situations.

In addition, there are themes that can be laid over the design to create what are known in roguelike terms as “level feelings”. At the beginning of the level, the spelunker will make a comment to give you some idea of what you’ll be facing. For instance, a statement of “I can’t see a thing!” means that you’ll be going into a dark area, or “You hear rushing water…” means that the bottom of the level will be filled with water. These level feelings can be combined as well, so you could have a situation where you’re in a dark level with water at the bottom. To keep things from becoming boring or unfair, the game does limit how often you’ll encounter these themes within a particular area, so you won’t have to play through a dark area over and over again. And some themes only appear in certain areas of the game.



The focus of the game is exploration, finding treasures, dodging traps, and using a wide array of inventory items and weapons to face off against the many many things that can kill you. There are a large number enemy types, including a lot that you’d expect to find in your subterranean adventures, such as bats, snakes, spiders, and various undead creatures. There are some oddities as well, including a fire frog that explodes a few seconds after its death, flying saucers complete with aliens that sometimes parachute out when their ship is destroyed, and man-eating plants that… er… eat men, leading to an instant death. There are also a number of boss-class enemies, some of which are entirely new creatures, and others that are larger and tougher versions of your standard enemies.



And what would a treasure-hunting adventure be without some traps? All of the genre favorites are included: arrow-shooting blocks, spikes, pits of lava, giant Thwomp-like spiked blocks that fall down from above, treasure chests that are trapped with bombs, and pots that contain spiders or snakes.

The player has a number of items at his disposal to help him navigate the caverns, including ropes, climbing gloves, flares, bombs, spring shoes, parachutes, jetpacks, and much more. Many of the items have alternate functions as well, which will allow the player to kill enemies or trigger traps.



In addition to the standard treasures in each level, there are a number of items that must be hand-carried to the exit in order to gain your reward. While carrying these items, you’ll be unable to attack or to use any other items in your possession. Still, the rewards for doing so are great. Once such item is the golden idol, which will summon a huge rolling boulder (hmm…) that will not only kill you instantly if it hits you, but can also destroy blocks as it rolls through the area, opening up new paths through the level. Another such item is the crystal skull (double hmm…), and yet another is the damsel in distress.

Funnily, damsels need to be rescued, but basically operate as if they were inventory items. You can pick them up and carry them around, throw them, and – if you’re particularly bastardly – toss them into harm’s way to lure enemies or trigger traps. But, if you can manage to get to the exit with a damsel in your possession, she’ll reward you with a kiss and restore some of your health. In a game this difficult, you’re going to need all the damsels you can get your hands on. (ahem)



There are a lot of different weapons as well, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the hard-to-acquire yet very powerful scepter is a fast-firing weapon whose projectiles can pass through walls and seek out enemies. However, it also seeks out things you might not want it to, such as corpses, damsels, and shopkeepers (and angering the shopkeepers is ill-advised). There are also a few straightforward weapons such as the pistol, shotgun, and whip.

You only have a certain amount of time to get through a level. If you remain in one area for too long, a ghost will appear. The ghost functions similarly to Evil Otto from Berzerk, and it will chase you around the room. It can pass through walls, it’s invincible, and it will kill you instantly if it touches you, so avoidance is the only option if you’ve managed to dally just a bit too long on your hunt for treasure.



Also of note is that it is possible to hose yourself if you’re not careful. Since you’re generally traveling downward toward the exit, you may be lured into doing something stupid like taking a leap of faith, or using a bomb to drop down into an area that you can’t get back out of without the proper equipment (such as a rope or jetpack). With a game based so heavily around the risk/reward relationship, you must constantly ask yourself… Do you go for more loot, idols, and damsels and risk injury and possible death, or just find the fastest way to the exit? Of course, knowing the proper pacing is key as well, since taking too long will spawn a ghost, but running blindly through the level gives you about the same odds of survival as a hard-drinking sex-crazed sorority girl in a horror movie.



You’ll die a lot, and most of the time it will be your fault. Since the levels are procedurally generated, there is no way to memorize enemy patterns or level layouts… you have to get good at the core mechanics, understand how the items and weapons work, and when it’s best to use them. Oh, and if you thought the main game was challenging, there are a handful of unlockable challenge levels as well, each of which contains a different minigame.



As an added bonus, the new version of the game features an arcade multiplayer mode, allowing for 4 player local co-op. Rather than palette-swaps of the spelunker, each player may select a unique adventurer. Making mad dashes for treasure with 4 simultaneous players – while avoiding explosions and other 4P shenanegans – produces the expected level of mayhem.



There is quite a bit about Spelunky that sets it apart from the other games focused on subterranean exploration. Aside from the aforementioned mechanics – which have seen players happily returning to a game that is equally happy to kill them – there are a few additional goodies in store for gamers who download this title, not the least of which are the behaviors surrounding the shopkeepers and altars. Each has their own rewards and punishments, depending on your actions, but the fun comes from experimenting with these outcomes on your own.




2D CRED
Derek Yu is an artist and a programmer. He studied computer science at Berkeley so that he could learn to make games, and he has over a decade of game development experience. He has collaborated with a number of other folks over the years, and has released games under several different labels.

Released under the Bit Blot label, which included Derek Yu and Alec Holowka:



Aquaria (2007)
After 2 years in development, Aquaria was released on the PC. It came to Steam and saw a Mac port in 2008, and was released for Linux in 2010 as part of the Home Indie Bundle, and the source code was released shortly thereafter. The game also won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival in 2007. The game was ported to the iPad in 2011.



Aquaria is an underwater fantasy action-adventure game featuring high production values, with an excellent soundtrack, quality voice acting, and gorgeous hand-painted graphics. The game stars an underwater-dwelling female named Naija who is searching to uncover the mystery of her own past and the world around her. As she does, she swims through huge and colorful underwater environments, ranging from a blue sea and its mysterious ruins, to a kelp forest, to the dark depths of the ocean floor.



The world is teeming with plant and animal life, some of which is hostile, some friendly, and others indifferent to her presence. And there are some huge bosses to fight as well. Music also plays a large part in the game, and Naija’s songs allow her to interact with the environment, move objects, and change into different forms, each with new appearances and abilities. This is the key to the game’s nonlinear structure, as you’ll need to learn new songs, which will grant you abilities that you’ll need to get into previously inaccessible areas. The story gradually unfolds as you learn new songs and explore the depths of the underwater world.




Released under the Thompsonsoft label, which included Derek Yu, Alec Holowka, and Chris Hansen:



I’m O.K: A Murder Simulator (2006)
This game has a bit of an interesting history… Hilariously misguided lawyer Jack Thompson issued a letter titled “A Modest Video Game Proposal” in which he proposed that someone in the game industry make a game where they (the game industry people) are on the receiving end of all of the violence porn that they were the purveyors of. He claimed that if someone were to make that game, he would donate $10,000 to charity.



So, Derek Yu and pals created “Thompsonsoft”, a game company whose sole vision was to create games designed by Jack Thompson. Their first and only game under that label was I’m O.K., a game that did exactly what Thompson asked, placing the player in control of a man who is seeking revenge on the terrible video games – and their creators – that destroyed his life. It’s also worth mentioning that the game not only met the requirements of Thompson’s “design document”, but actually turned out to be quite enjoyable. Thompson, however, didn’t donate any money to charity… but Penny Arcade did, and made a point to donate it in his name, so as to point out the fact that he had not lived up to his promise. Later, someone took away Jacky’s nice little lawyer briefcase and made him sit in the corner all alone.



Thompson’s proposal included lots of terrible acts that should be included in the game, and the game goes out of its way to include them all, offering ludicrous over-the-top violence that is both funny and pretty, what with its near Metal Slug-quality graphics and animation. The whole thing is done in a satirical manner, and mainly just goes to illustrate how restricted Thompson’s world view is, and makes more than a few jokes at his expense (such as having Thompson’s in-game likeness be named Jack Offson). There are even a few in-jokes, and the developers did go so far as to put themselves in the game as well.



Oh, and per Thompson’s proposal, you can urinate on brains in this game. Seriously, brainpissing is a bullet point in the game’s list of features. Where else are you going to get that?




Released under the Blackeye Software label, which was founded by Derek Yu and Jon Perry in 1996:



Quibble Race (2004)
Quibble Race was Derek Yu’s first Flash game and allows 1-3 players to bet on horse races, but instead of horses, you’ll be watching little green creatures called Quibbles in a race to the finish line. You can also borrow money from loan sharks and “cheat” by giving your favored Quibble steroids, or by drugging or otherwise injuring the other racers.



Diabolika II (2003)
Diabolika II is a remake/sequel to one of Yu’s older games, Diabolika. It was originally released as a freeware PC game, and was also released on the iPhone in 2009.


PC release



This is a puzzle game where the goal is to destroy demons, and you do this by using one of your many types of bombs. Each bomb has a different explosion effect, which determines how many demons you can kill at a time. The goal of the game is to lay bombs in succession, overlapping their blast radii to form chain reactions that kill multiple demons in a single turn, which awards you with bonus points. As the game progresses, you are challenged with creating larger and larger chain reactions to clear the area.


iPhone release




Mean Cuisine (2003)
This is an arcade-style game in the vein of Pac-Man, where you try to eat up all the food in the area while avoiding the xenophobic humans, and you can belch on them too!




Eternal Daughter (2002)
Eternal Daughter game was in development for 2 years, with a soundtrack by Swedish musician David Saulesco. Originally, Derek Yu and Jon Perry had been working on a top-down action game called Trigger Happy 2, which was heavily influenced by Metal Gear Solid. While a demo was released in 1999, the game was eventually abandoned in favor of the development of Eternal Daughter.



Influenced by such games as Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which also clearly informed the design of some of Yu’s later games as well), Eternal Daughter is a non-linear side-scrolling action game with RPG elements, and includes a number of different paths you can take, some of which are completely optional. You can increase your weapon’s strength, gain more HP, and use a number of secondary weapons. But the key to progression is gaining new abilities that will allow you to access new parts of the game world.



The game stars Mia, a member of a spiritual race known as Lorian. The Lorian have been enslaved by the more industrialized Dungaga race, and forced into menial labor. After watching her Dungaga stepfather abuse her mother, a Lorian priestess, Mia suddenly gains magical powers, which she uses against her stepfather. She is convinced by her mother to leave the village, whereupon she sets out to free her people and stop the plans of the Dungaga who intend to summon an evil god into the world.



On your quest, you’ll fight a number of colorful and well-animated enemies and huge bosses, increase your strength, gain new abilities, and even stumble across a few references to some of the previous video games that inspired the development of this one. You can also discover a dragon, which starts out as a small creature that simply follows you around, but as it eats more food found around the environment, it will grow. Similarly to Alisia Dragoon, the dragon acts as your familiar, and once it grows stronger, it will eventually be able to use its fire breath to attack enemies. It can even help Mia by flying over and picking up hearts, emeralds, and other environmental pickups. Since the dragon can fly through walls, it is able to get items and attack enemies that might otherwise be out of Mia’s reach. Powering the dragon up to its full strength will also allow it to carry Mia in short bursts, and fly her to higher areas in the environment.




Snowbrawl (2000)
In Snowbrawl, you fight off hordes of baddies in a big snowball fight, in single player or 2P co-op. Between enemy waves, you can set up traps and build barriers to hide behind to defend yourself.




In addition to these games, Yu has also collaborated on some other interesting projects. In 2008, Yu worked with Kyle Pulver of Romeo Pie Software to create Diamond Densetsu Gaiden: Everlasting Symphony of the Red Diamond which is a bullet hell shmup created in the span of 48 hours.



He also did design and coding work on a game called Game Over in 2009, which he describes as a surreal beat-em-up, which seems appropriate given that it’s a never-ending fighting game with art done by Hellen Jo an Calvin Wong. In this game, you beat up naked people – with crazy way-too-pink genitalia – and take their animal masks. The game was created for the “Game Over/Continue?” show at Giant Robot San Francisco, and was available for play at the show’s opening.



According to the GRSF press release, this was “a group show that pays homage to the massive influence and continuous evolution of videogames. The impact and inspiration of videogames will be represented through a wide assortment of styles and genres provided by top artists in the fields of illustration, painting, sewing, and indie comics.”

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