Review: Spelunky

Series: Boss Fight Books: #11

The games reminded me of something the author Haruki Murakami says in the intro to the English edition of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: “I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden. The two processes complement each other, creating a complete landscape that I treasure.” In video games, we don’t have corresponding terms for novels and short stories—we simply have large games and small games. These Game Maker games were Murakami’s gardens: vibrant, intimate, and full of charm. Having just planted a large forest with Alec, I was eager to find my own little patch of fertile soil.

I absolutely love Spelunky. I remember playing the (now) Classic version when that’s all there was (even going so far as to decompile and mess with the source code, yay GameMaker Studio), spending hours on the HD remake (beat Olmec, made it to Hell, never did beat Yama)–mostly on Steam, and more recently put just as many hours into Spelunky 2. It’s a great game and what little I knew of the story was already inspirational. So when I saw this book, written by Derek Yu himself, of course I had to give it a try.

In a nutshell, I’m glad I did. It’s great to see the thought process behind various things (I love how carefully calculated the ‘Chain’ to get to the City of Gold was and how relatively not the Eggplant ending was1). On top of that, there’s always that little bit of me that thinks it would be fun to make a game–I’ve done a few game jams at least. So there’s good advice to that.

The final tip from my “Finishing a Game” article is to remember that the last 10% is the last 90%. This is a tip that I credit to my dad, who told me to double my estimates for how long a project will take. This notion is also popularized in a computer science aphorism called the “ninety-ninety rule.” Attributed to Tom Cargill of AT&T Bell Laboratories, the rule is: “The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

Too true…

I think the favorite new bit I didn’t know before was the original relationship between Spelunky HD and Braid, how the former was almost built on the latter’s engine when moving to the XBox. Both excellent games; a small world it seems.

  1. One might think that a single-player eggplant run would have taken years to complete, but that would vastly underestimate the tenacity and intelligence of Spelunky’s best players. It only took one month before the Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex, with the help of other prominent members from the Spelunky community, was able to do what I had thought required either cheats or leprechaun levels of luck. It was the holy grail of Spelunky. The solo eggplant run.