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The Games Of Christmas: December 16th

Poor old Optimus.

It’s the dark mouth of our seasonally festive advent-o-calendar we descend. What quirks lie beyond? And will we be able to tunnel our way through to a brighter future? Only time will tell. That, and some help from the pointy-hands of the one true leader of the Autobots.

Spelunky!

Alec:

With the desert stretching beyond me,
I squeezed the whip at my side,
And wondered how long I’d be below.

After I double-checked my map,
I squeezed the whip at my side,
And swore I heard voices up ahead.

As I recalled my father’s last words,
I spotted the cave’s entrance,
And felt the gods smiling up me.

After I double-checked my map,
I paid my bedouin guide,
And held my hat hard against the wind.

Tiny masterpiece Spelunky’s brief, text-based introduction is remarkable: a tale told, with haiku-precision, from three lines plucked randomly from a collection of short, adventure-themed phrases. In a moment, they offer more story, create more sense of place, than even the longest, more expensive cutscene. They also summarise Spelunky’s nature there and then: it will be random, but it will always make sense, and there will always be adventure.

It’s the Canabalt of tomb raiding: different every time yet always strong, coherent and thrilling. Simple graphics evoke everything they need to, backed up by slimmest of concepts that you’re free to interpret as you wish. Big-boy gaming has failed to truly realise procedural generation, and when it does it makes such a big deal of it. But independent developers have coolly mastered it – they’ve identified the few factors key to making a game near-perpetually enjoyable, and polished them into brilliance. Spelunky is the proudest of these proud games, but it hides it light under such an understated bushel that its expertise and cleverness is barely even apparent. We used to pay £30 for games kinda like this, but with a fixed course, no variance, the level designer’s control absolute. Now, for nothing, we get a game that will infinitely renew itself. Plus ce change.

Kieron: I haven’t played as much Spelunky as I wanted to this year, though I’ll salve a little conscience by being the first guy to write about it. Of course, even that was kind of a cursory post, which lead to this memorable mocking by Quinns…

Secret fact: If you read that post very slowly and in a totally silent room you can actually hear the sound of Kieron phoning it in. The closest thing to hyperbole in the post is him calling Spelunky ‘clever and neat’, which is analogous to calling sliced bread, uh, sliced, or saying that war is bad. I mean, what I’m saying is that the man’s an asshole. You dropped the ball, Kieron! The ball is currently rolling away from you! There it goes, rolling through the door to the old people’s home! You’d better chase it!

Which made me smile like the grand old man of games journalism, sitting on his rickety-porch, watching the youngsters eat mud.

Spelunky is basically “What if Rick Dangerous was good?”. Someone will say Boulderdash, but they’re wrong. Even if they’re the developer, they’re wrong. In terms of sheer brutality, it’s Rick Dangerous – but it apotheosizes the design by rather making it a game solely about memory it becomes a game where memory is impossible. It’s about adventure, in the purest terms. Adventure, really, is about travel to some place where you don’t already know. If you replay any single level of a game, it stops being an adventure and becomes something else. You can never replay a level with Spelunky. It is always new. It is always adventure. I hail it and may one day get around to playing it some more.

And you should all go read Quinns’ piece on Spelunky. It’s one of his best this year. He’s not bad, for a mud-eating whipper-snapper.

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