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The Ghost, Permadeath and You: Coping with Misunderstanding Spelunky

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XBLA Ghost

this game is ruined becose of this sucks the fun out of playing at my own pace i want my money back

"Spelunky." You say to yourself. "Looks like a Terraria rip-off[1]. Well, I'm all about casual sandbox games, let's check it out. I want to build a house or some bullshit like that."

Stop right there. Well, I mean after you've paid for the game.

OK, now stop.

First and foremost, you should never pay for something without having an idea what you're getting. Not that you've made a bad investment - Spelunky could be the best fifteen Washingtons[2] you've ever spent[3] - but lots of people make the mistake of running into the caves without having any idea what they're doing, only to have their ass kicked and whine about it.
You know Youtube? It's a website where you can go to watch videos of people playing video games. You don't need to read reviews, look at the game for yourself and make your own mind up. Conglaturation, you learnt how to buy great games. And prooved the justice of our culture.

It's not your fault you don't understand the game. Well, it is, but the important thing is that you want to learn. That's why you're here. Read on, and I'll teach you all the things you never learnt about Spelunky in the four minutes you've known about it.

Spelunky is hard, but the difficulty level is perfect.

So you've been coasting through triple-A FPSs on easy mode. You've completed point-and-click adventures with a walkthrough open on your lap, and one time you even got an achievement for watching the intro cutscene in GTA IV. You're a pretty bad-ass gamer, but have you ever wanted to dip your toes into the grown-ups pool?

Yeah, I've got no reason to be condescending. Everyone dies. Even that fella at the top of the leaderboards knows how the spikes on level 1-1 feel. You mark my words.
Here's the kicker: You're supposed to get slaughtered within the first few seconds of the game. That's how you learn, son.[4] So now you know that spikes kill you in one hit. Therefore, to survive you must avoid spikes. Are you taking notes?

If you can learn one thing in the short time you spend being abused in some dusty old cave, then you will not have died in vain. Getting killed in a way you never knew about before is a gift.
It's the gift of success when you find yourself in the exact situation again in the future, and all the times after that.

The more you play, the more you learn and the better you get. Suddenly, this rock hard game will only be hard as... well... rock. But a softer rock. Like sandstone or something. It still hurts when you bash your face into it, but it's not unyielding. You can crack it, just like you can crack Spelunky.
Not because the game it getting easier, but because you're getting better at it. It doesn't hold your hand, but pretty soon you won't want it to. It's rewarding to win at something hard, and win you will. And only then you'll get the joys of beating a game.

Yes, there's a sort of time limit. But it's a good thing.

So you're getting better at not committing suicide. Alright, you've even managed to scrounge up a few grubby gold bars. Yeah, maybe you can play this game after all!

But OH NOES! You've spend several minutes dawdling, creeping over everything that looks even a little bit pointy and now there's a big ass-ghost after you! And what's worse, she's not bothered by the sticks and stones you're throwing to break her bones! Does she even have bones? There are bones on the screen, but wait a minute...
They're yours!

That freaking Ghost has just vaporised your trembling ass and is now hollering at the kill cam![5] What's that? You didn't know this was a fast-paced game?

Well, actually, it isn't. Yeah, you get punished for being too slow, but the 2 minutes, 30 seconds you get on a level is more than enough time to do whatever you need to do. You don't have time for a nap, but that doesn't mean you have to rush, rush, rush. You'll feel pressured at the start, but that's because you suck right now, remember? We just went over this.

Next time you're gonna move a little faster. There aren't any roses to sniff, just grab all the booty you see[6] and haul ass to the level exit. Maybe one day you'll actually make it there without being tagged out by Miss Never-had-a-tan-in-her-life.

After enough close calls, you'll start to be confident enough to take liberties. Just grab that one gold bar before you dive into the tunnel. Just go round and smash open that crate. Just decide to go back to where you left that shotgun three floors up and grab that Golden Idol while you're at it. Right after you dig out a few jewels from the rock and jump over the Ghost like you're playing keep-away with your eternal soul.

You'll be laughing at that spook as you stroll - stroll - to the level exit. It's another obstacle you've learnt to overcome, and one that continues to confound everyone who scores less than you. They died because they weren't good enough. To the victor, the spoils! No spoils for someone who can't run away from a ghost. Not even one spoil. It's good to deserve stuff.

Pretty soon you'll realise that the Ghost is only a 'soft' time limit. You can spend as long as you darn well please on the level, and you'll be damned if - Oh, she got you again.

But still, that was a riot. You'll be whackin' the quick restart button without even thinking. When did this game become so fun?

Ultimately, the game would be less without the Ghost. There would be no hard decisions, no point in taking risks, and collecting treasure would be an exercise in tedium. Spelunky is more about time-management than exploration or exploitation(of resources).
No game benefits from design decisions that lower the skill ceiling.

Get out of the Minecraft/Terraria mindset and start playing Spelunky how it's supposed to be played.

You fucked up and died. That means you have to try again.

Roguelegacy

Why don't you just marry Rogue Legacy if you love it so much?!

That's so unfair, right? When you die, you should just respawn with all your stuff five steps from where your own failures caught up to you.

No.

Spelunky is a roguelike. It's supposed to have short games that end when they end. You want to do better, you've got to GET better.

You can't take your money with you when you die. You've heard that before. You can't take your clothes either. Or your weapons. You just got müllered and you're wondering what you have to show for it. You're literally back at square one and you've lost everything.

"Spelunky features a robust XP and leveling system, but it happens inside your heart"
-Ben Kuchera

This guy nailed it. The one thing the game can't take from you is your goodness.
Your goodness at Spelunky. Even if you erase/lose your progress, you'd still be as skilled as before. 
It is a small little flame. A single torch of light in a yawning cavern of darkness. But each game you play, your goodness will grow a little bigger and soon enough you'll be burning through the levels. You ain't even gonna be afraid of ghosts.

Other games may let you win by burying your enemies under a mountain of your own corpses, but in Spelunky, the alternative to winning is losing.

It's a strange concept, I know; but when you beat a system like that, you can rightfully say that you were good enough to do it. And that's awesome. You don't need carry-over from dying, you don't need to unlock the ability to start with a fukken jetpack and fifty health.[7] And if you play better than someone, that's only because of your skill and no one can disagree that.

Footnotes

  1. In actual fact, Terraria was partially inspired by Spelunky. However, the games have very little in common and neither is a rip-off of the other.
  2. That's how you say dollars in America, right guys? Right? Yeah. I'm down with the kids.
  3. Seriously.
  4. Anything that doesn't destroy you, is a lesson. Here, you don't die, but only your player does... So think that you've learned something from your death, rather than being annoyed.
  5. Yeah, she's one of those jerks that taunt after every kill. She doesn't even try to cap the points, either.
  6. IfyouknowwhatImean
  7. Yes, I know about shortcuts. I don't care. It doesn't change the point I'm making.

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