Archive for July, 2012

Date: July 5th, 2012
Cate: games

Golden Idol on Pressure Plate

Yesterday, Mossmouth’s Spelunky was released.

Yeah, it’s the best. Here’s why:

Discovery

People like to learn. People like to find out new things and expand their minds.

Video games often have a bad habit of equating learning to a task. A task you must trudge through before you’re granted access to the meat and potatoes and allowed to have fun.

I dread the first several minutes of games because I know that’s when I’m going to get barraged with words. Words telling me what I’m supposed to be doing, inane story babble, and what this and that button does. I pay this tax because I know the real game is lurking somewhere after this tutorial level, upon which I realize all the tutorial words have already seeped out of my head like water from a sieve.

Spelunky equates learning with fun. It doesn’t pause the game and pop up a window explaining how to jump. It doesn’t lock you in a room and force you to listen to VO.  Instead, it lets you loose in the world and makes you flex your curiosity muscles.

“Hey, there’s a bloody sacrificial altar. What happens if I blow it up?”

“Look, there’s a golden idol sitting on a pressure plate. What could possibly go wrong?”

“Hi shopkeeper, you have a lot of things we want. What happens if we rob you?”

“Well, that ended in tears.” Yup, it sure did.

Systematic

Many games would work just as well, if not better, were they converted into literature or Michael Bay movies. (And no, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

Spelunky is an example of something that unquestionably works best in its current form. It does this by laser-focusing on systems-based gameplay, something very unique to games.

What’s systems-based gameplay? Basically, it’s when your various game mechanics are designed to poke and prod one another.

Basic example:  the Arrow Trap is triggered when someone or something moves near it.  How does one safely trigger an Arrow Trap?

  • Pick up a rock and throw it at the trap.
  • Don’t have a rock? Pick up one of the other players and throw them.
  • Lure the giant freaky spider toward the trap.
  • If there’s a spiderweb, stand behind it so the arrow gets snagged in the webbing.
  • Go on Youtube and find solutions from incredibly creative people.

 

Layering these systems upon one another results in wonderful chain-reaction situations the game’s developers never imagined. There’s something fantastic about creating a unique moment that will never happen again, but more than that, the game generates these unique moments with such apparent ease.

In short: a variety of these rich interplaying systems + 4-player multiplayer + my sloppy thumbs = good times with Spelunky.

Et al

Spelunky lets you screw yourself over royally. As a testament to how tightly the game is made, this self-screwage never feels unfair or out of the blue. The game doesn’t screw you over, you and your dumb decisions screw yourself over.  With the looming horror of permadeath and lack of safety net checkpoints and savegames, the decisions you face suddenly become life-and-death in significance.

Mix all these things together, and you end up with a darn fine piece of work.

The Roguelike is a game genre I’m very fond of. Their main tenets are things I love: procedural worlds, player-generated narratives, systematic gameplay, and an adamant anti-chuffa stance. Spelunky takes and runs with these promising aspects, while doing that thing that great work does: that twist, of flipping the genre into a platformer, of making a roguelike that doesn’t require memorization of twenty-seven hotkeys, and letting (really, encouraging) you and your friends to throw one another toward giant freaky spiders.

So yeah, Spelunky is the best.