Fairness, Discovery & Spelunky

Spelunky is, without a doubt, my favorite game of the past several years. I was extremely excited when its brilliant designer, Derek Yu, agreed to come on our podcast a few weeks ago. (And perhaps even more so when I heard today that a portable PSVita version is in development!)

So what kind of game gets a designer so excited? Well, I’m glad you asked! The answer is one that is extremely, incredibly and completely… unfair. Wait, hold on? Haven’t I said that “unfairness” is a bad thing?

 

What is Spelunky?

Before we start digging into details, we should first explain what Spelunky is. The game is a roguelike platformer with random levels. You play as an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer exploring abandoned mines, jungles and temples. Along the way are a variety of traps, enemies, items and equipment that can either aid or thwart your quest. If you’re curious what all of that adds up to, check out this YouTube video.

I could go on at length about how great the randomly-generated levels are, but I’ve already covered that ground in other articles. Today, I’ll be talking about the other (not so) secret ingredient which helps make roguelikes addicting – their brutal unfairness.

If you lose all of your health in Spelunky, it’s game over. There’s no saving or reloading – death is truly the end. And it’s exceptionally easy to die, as many traps and enemies will kill you with the slightest touch. Pretty unfair, right?

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JRPGs & Persona 4

As I mentioned in episode #3 of TGDRT, I have a strange relationship with JRPGs. I’ve long been a fan of them, even though they’re some of the most egregious offenders when it comes to bad game design. Grinding, poor pacing, lack of tough decisions… my friends, the track record isn’t good. And yet… part of me still enjoys them a great deal.

In this article I’ll be digging into my thoughts on this guilty pleasure. We’ll also examine the genre’s holy grail, which masterfully combines the best elements of both the JRPG and strategy genres:

Atlus’ Persona 4.

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Randomness & Quarriors

Quarriors is a tabletop game that I’ve only played a half-dozen times, but it’s really sunk its teeth into me. Not in the sense that I love playing it, but because it tickles a certain part of my designer brain. For the large number of you that I’m sure haven’t heard of it, the game is basically a deck-builder (like Dominion or Ascension), only with dice instead of cards. It’s fairly simple, but brings many interesting design topics to the table.

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Quarter to Three Podcast Appearance

I was recently a guest co-host on the October 12th episode of the Quarter to Three games podcast. Jason McMaster and I discussed several topics including XCOM, Dishonored, Tokyo Jungle and a bit of speculation surrounding the future of Kickstarter.

XCOM isn’t a perfect game, but I really, really like it. Give the podcast a listen if you want to hear more. Additionally, in honor of XCOM I’ll also be putting up an article next week on consequences, so look forward to that!

- Jon

Case Study: Unity of Command

Along with writing articles on design and other subjects of a more general nature, I’ll occasionally be examining in detail a few games which serve as examples of excellent game design. Unity of Command is first on the list.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it’s a hex-based WWII lite-wargame in the vein of Panzer General. Some of you have probably heard that I’m a big fan of that game. Well, strap yourself in, because I like Unity of Command a lot more.

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