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Derek Yu is the creator of Spelunky. He was also co-creator of 2007 Metroidvania adventure Aquaria, and the 2002 freeware action adventure Eternal Daughter. He's also the writer of the book Spelunky. Maybe one day there will be a film adaptation of Spelunky. We can only hope.
The best thing about Derek Yu s new book about Spelunky is that it answers all the questions I ve ever wanted to ask about his game. The worst thing about Derek Yu s new book about Spelunky is that it leaves very few questions to ask him directly. Part indie development motivational tome, part technical retrospective, Spelunky (the book) is something fans of the game will devour in one sitting, just as I did.
Published by Boss Fight Books, Spelunky traces the game s origins as a free-to-play browser game built in GameMaker, through to the release of the HD remake on XBLA in 2012 and PC the following year. Back then, major indies arriving on console was still a novelty, Early Access and Kickstarter weren t yet phenomenons, and the roguelike had yet to have its unlikely revival, save for The Binding of Isaac.
Spelunky is a divisive game: those who love it sing its praises at every given opportunity, while those who dislike it do so with a belligerent, unreasonable and frankly alarming passion. When PC Gamer named it the best game of 2013, you better believe there was much handwringing involved. For those who love the game, reading about how and why the Hell Run chain was installed, or what inspired the eggplant, will be required reading. Accessible dives into the logic behind the game s randomised dungeons is also present, as is a sort-of manifesto on Yu s preference for game worlds that are indifferent to the player.
I spoke to Derek on Skype a couple of weeks ago. His book is out now through Boss Fight.
PC Gamer: Was it as difficult writing a book as it was making a game?
Derek Yu: Yeah, it was pretty difficult. I mean, going into it I hadn t written anything over a few pages long in college I remember writing papers that were about three pages long. The sheer enormity of having to write something that long was pretty daunting. Mainly, I just realised I didn t have as many writing tools as I thought I had and I don t mean keyboard. [I mean] the vocabulary, the phrases that one needs to put a book together of that length. You need to find ways of saying things that sound interesting, but you need the variety as well. The final book I think ended up being 48,000 words or something like that, so writing and having it edited by professional writers, I realised how many stock phrases and words I really rely on day-to-day. You need to come up with more interesting ways to say things. Putting your thoughts out there is one thing, but putting your thoughts into a form that reads well and is interesting is another.
Then there s the difficulty of describing game design and gameplay using words and making it sound interesting: I ve always had a hard time with that. In the book I started with how I would introduce Spelunky to people when I met them for the first time. That s always been a difficult thing for me because there s so much in the game, and boiling that down into a few sentences, even for people who are familiar with games, is hard. If you think about a lot of classic games, if you try to describe them in words for readers who have no background with them, [it can be hard]. Like Mario: you re this little guy breaking blocks. It sounds weird and totally not fun at all. That s probably why, when we describe games, we rely so much on it s X meets Y , this is the Dark Souls of strategy games, or something like that. Because it s so hard to describe in words what playing a video game is really like and how that s exciting. All of that was very challenging.
PCG: Do you still play Spelunky?
DY: No, not really. I played it so much during development and immediately after release. I d be interested in how many developers play their games. I mean, every now and again I ll play a little bit, usually just to check something. When I was working on the book and wanted to check something, I d play the game. You have to realise I ve been playing Spelunky since the original freeware version in 2008, and I played it until the release of the PlayStation versions of the game. I d been playing it non-stop.
PCG: Sometimes I think I m done with Spelunky. I leave it for two to three months, but then something happens and I m sucked back in.
DY: I think the other thing for me is that it still hasn t been long enough that I can play it for fun. When I m playing a game I m still always a bit on edge in terms of thinking about it, wondering what s going to go wrong, thinking about how I d make improvements. There s not really much I would improve with Spelunky, but the feeling that I should be looking for those things is still present. At this point if I wanted to play a video game for fun or to relax, I m not going to play one of my own games.
PCG: You say there s not much you d improve about Spelunky, but that implies there are small things. Is that true?
DY: Yeah, I don t really think there are, to be honest. I think Spelunky as it is, is pretty set. Another thing is, as time passes even things that may have been flaws become part of the game. I could say, maybe I want to improve the graphics because I m better at drawing now , but you start to get used to something the way it is and has been, and you don t want to change it because the flaws become part of its character and personality. Aside from maybe some small bugs lingering in the game, I don t think there s anything especially anything fundamental to the design.
PCG: Since Spelunky HD released on XBLA in 2012, Early Access has become popular. It somewhat mirrors the way you initially developed Spelunky in GameMaker, seeking feedback from the TIGsource community. Do you think the rise of Early Access is a good thing, or not?
DY: I think it s good. I personally wouldn t ever do Early Access. At this point I feel like I wouldn t use it unless I really had to for some reason, because I wouldn t want that pressure of having people watch the development as it progresses. It would be more difficult to make the decisions I need to make. It s the same reason I probably wouldn t do a Kickstarter: I think a lot of people do it not just for the funding but for the marketing and promotion, but I think right now, with the sales of Spelunky and Aquaria, I can fund my next game myself and choose not to go the Kickstarter route, even for the promotion. Investors make it harder, and adds more pressure it gets people s expectations going before you really want them to have any expectations.
Expectations are so critical. I think that people s expectations of the remake of Spelunky, based on the original, coloured the way that they saw the game when it first came out. I think there was a significant amount of criticism of the remixed music and graphics, because people were so used to the pixel art and the original music. If that original game didn t exist, those people who didn t like the new graphics and music probably wouldn t have felt the same way, without those expectations. Early Access can be great, but you need to weigh the trade-offs very carefully. For people who need the funding, or for people who need the motivation… I think it can be hard to make a game that no one will see for years. I even released the freeware version of Spelunky as a beta on TIGsource in part because I wanted the motivation. I didn t know if it was good. But you may not need any of those things.
PCG: Late last year there was a lot of chatter about a so-called "Indiepocalypse", and the gist was that it s much harder to get any exposure as an independent developer nowadays, because the market is so saturated. Do you think that s true?
DY: It s hard to say for me, because I ve released Aquaria and Spelunky, and having already released some successful games really makes a huge difference. I mean, I think Jon Blow said it himself about The Witness, that because of Braid a lot of people checked it out. It is hard for me to speak on what it would be like, or what it s like for new developers right now.
Things like Indiepocalypse and this is the end of indie : those kind of phrases I don t really buy into. I think there are definitely a lot of new challenges now that indie gaming and gaming in general is a much larger and more diverse place. That said, I think there are a lot of benefits to that, the tools are better, and I think there are a lot more resources available for people to use to make their games, to distribute their games and to learn how to make games. I definitely don t think indie gaming as a whole is in trouble. I think there are some new challenges but there are some new positives. I think the competition level is definitely higher, but the tools and resources are better.
PCG: Do you think there are too many games now?
DY: It s hard for me to say I wish that there were fewer games . I just want to see more and more games. The more the better. It s definitely more crowded though, and I will say that it was probably easier to get noticed when I was working on Aquaria and Spelunky. That said, it also seemed scarier then because not as many people were doing it. It felt more lonely, it felt more like… what are we doing? Is this even a legitimate thing to be doing as a career? How are we going to sell our game, and will people even want to buy it, compared to the big blockbusters? There were a lot more questions. That said, it also felt very cosy, and when you did meet other indies at GDC or wherever, it really felt like a family. Now I think there are so many more people, it definitely feels more crowded now.
Next page: Derek's favourite Spelunky character, and why deathmatch mode never caught on.
PCG: There s a section in the book called feedback loop where you write that Spelunky was a small idea that quickly grew organically. That seems like an ideal situation for a creative person. Is that a hard phenomenon to trigger? Do you work for it, or does it arrive in a fit of inspiration?
DY: You definitely have to put in the work. Start with small ideas and try making them. What I found is that I d often hit a wall, so I d go back and think about what I m going to do again, find a new idea, mix and match some existing ideas I ve already had and go back at it. You hit a wall, and then you hit another, and eventually you get to an idea where everything seems to fit and you just start flying.
That s kinda how it was with Spelunky: I had all these prototypes before Spelunky, and they were all really exciting at the start but pretty soon you hit a wall. Once I started working on Spelunky I never hit the wall, I just kept going and going, and there kept being more interesting avenues to explore with it. I don t think I would have just come across it without working on the previous prototypes, which meant sitting down and making games. I definitely advocate actually making games, getting your hands dirty, because that s the only way to really figure out what sticks. There are so many ideas that sound good in your head, but when you start working on them they aren t [that good].
PCG: Spelunky's Deathmatch mode is one of my favourite competitive games. You write in the book that you were surprised people didn t pick it up more. Why do you think they didn t?
DY: It s a good question. I think it was because people just didn t play it the way Andy [Hull, Spelunky programmer] and I did while we were developing it, where it was just much more tactical. We didn t chuck bombs all over the place, we d wait for that perfect opportunity and try to take out the person when they were vulnerable. Whereas I think most people who tried deathmatch, and maybe multiplayer in general especially for a game like Spelunky where the deathmatch was never really a part of the core game to begin with I think expectation played quite a big part. I feel like that s on us, to get players to understand how to play the game properly. I definitely don t blame the players or anything like that. I think a lot of people do have a lot of fun with it, as a more casual thing. It may also be that adventure mode is more compelling than deathmatch mode.
PCG: We ve got a tournament going in the office. We play 1v1, 12 bombs, 4 ropes, and everything else on default except the ghost, target and AI is toggled off. We find it very tactical with those settings.
DY: It s possible that there are people out there having a lot of fun with deathmatch and it s just not really being broadcast on the internet where I would be able to find out. I tend not to watch a lot of Spelunky streaming anyways, kinda for the same reason I don t play it: it s just slightly stressful for me. I usually just watch the highlights people send me. I think it s also the case that deathmatch isn t a very well-explained mode. It s just there and it s up to you to figure out what to do with it.
PCG: There have been some impressive Spelunky runs: someone killed the ghost, someone got the eggplant to Yama, recently there was a no gold pacifist run. It feels like the community has done everything in this game, but is there any other devious challenge you could set?
DY: Oh boy. I don t think there is! Nothing that s really within reason. I joked about people playing it blindfolded but I don t really suggest that, actually. I don t think Spelunky has enough audio cues to let you do that without a tonne of luck. I said it in the book: people have already completely surpassed our expectations in terms of what can be done in the game. The limits of the game, or what we thought were the limits, aren t the limits at all they ve been surpassed by people like Bananasaurus Rex. At this point anything people do is new and surprising to us.
PCG: Did you expect Spelunky to be such a great spectator sport?
DY: I didn t, though I hoped that it would. With Spelunky Classic, I really thought the random nature of the game would limit it as a competitive game, but it s not been a problem at all if anything the random nature has made it more exciting for speedrunners and challenge runners. Someone released a speedrun of the original Spelunky and broke down exactly what they were thinking at each spot, and talked about how they used the randomisation to their advantage, how they accounted for the randomisation. There is such a thing as increasing your luck with the randomisation by doing certain things, and that gave me hope that Spelunky would be pretty competitive, despite or because of the randomisation that s involved in it.
PCG: You begin to have an innate feel for how the levels are constructed after a while.
DY: That s the thing that I didn t necessarily know would be true, working on the game. I think I had a certain intuition about it too, it just seems to work because despite the randomisation it s not complete chaos. There s enough in Spelunky that s handmade versus random or procedurally generated that from run to run, you never see the exact same formations, but you find familiar ones.
PCG: I ve found in my time playing Spelunky that the Black Market is the easiest place to kill the shopkeepers, thanks to the Ankh room. It s very easy to lob bombs safely down there. Was that deliberate?
DY: It wasn t deliberate but it s one of those things where I quickly realised that it s easy to get them there. I didn t plan it that way per se, it s just one of those things where it happened to work out, which was the case for a lot of Spelunky. Intuitively I design things a certain way without understanding necessarily why I was doing it that way, but after playing it or having other people play it and watching other people play it, I kinda understood why I did it. As I m working on a game, I don t necessarily have these strict ideas in mind, it s more like feelings. It s why you have to make a lot of games and spend a lot of time doing it, to build up that intuition. Then I think making games feels more like drawing, which also feels more right and satisfying, and you feel like you re putting more of yourself into it. It s better than thinking in terms of nitty-gritty design rules.
PCG: I know that Spelunky is feature complete and you ve moved on, but is there any potential to get Steam Workshop support for it? There are third-party map creation tools out there.
DY: To be honest I haven t thought too much about it. Andy Hull (programmer for Steam + Xbox) would have to want to do it. I m certainly cool with people using editors and stuff to mod the game with, but I don t know about Steam Workshop there would have to be a lot of demand for us to go and muck around in that code again. At this point we re pretty happy to move on.
PCG: Are you working on something at the moment?
DY: Yeah, we re working on a few different things, but unfortunately nothing is far enough along that I can really reveal what it is. The book has taken up a lot of my time during the past year, or over a year. Now that s winding down I m spending more time on games again.
PCG: Are you working alone on the prototyping and conception?
DY: A little bit. It s hard to say that I m in solitude now because I have a daughter, so I feel like I m never alone anymore. I m also working with other people on things. I m doing a little bit of the totally solo prototyping which I did when working on Spelunky, but it s definitely not the same. So much is different now. One is that, like I said in the book, Spelunky really kind of came about because of Aquaria in a way, because I wanted something that was different from Aquaria. That was such a difficult development for me and Alec Holowka [co-creator of Aquaria], so I really needed to decompress and make something very small. I don t feel that as much with what I m working on now, because Spelunky, even though every game development is very challenging, I think the development of Spelunky was a challenge that was much less exhausting for me on a mental and spiritual level.
Spelunky by Derek Yu is available through Boss Fight Books on March 29, in both digital and physical editions. Preorders are open now.
PCG: What games are you playing at the moment?
DY: I haven t been playing as many games as I have in the past. Mostly I ve been playing smaller indie games and mobile titles, because those are the ones that fit my lifestyle more now. Being a parent, I spend a lot of time parenting and when I have free time I want to work, and so my time for playing video games is a lot more limited. I have to sneak it in. Most of last year I played a tonne of Puzzle & Dragons. I think a lot of people saw me Tweeting about that, and thought why are you playing that? It s actually a really good game. It s quite rewarding in terms of requiring a pretty high level of skill to master and all that. There s a lot of variety and the fundamental mechanics of the game are very interesting, it s an extremely innovative extension on basic match three mechanics. I don t play it as much now, but last year I played it a lot.
Other than that I ve mostly been trying smaller games out. Though I was playing The Witness for quite a bit. That s the thing, longer form games I have trouble with because I ll enter a period where I can t play it much and it s hard to get back into. What I played of the Witness was really good.
PCG: Who s your favourite Spelunky character?
DY: You know, I think I usually just play as the Spelunky guy, the main character. I actually like the little purple girl with the glasses.
PCG: She s my favourite, too!
DY: I also like the purple pirate girl. There s something about purple. Usually I play as Spelunky guy, though. But I do like the underdog characters, I like to play the more interesting or underused ones. I used to play Ken in Street Fighter 2 a lot, but I moved to Dudley in Street Fighter 4 because he was a much more interesting and underused character.
For a long time it seemed unlikely that a new Spelunky speedrun record would ever be set. Speedrunner Spelunky God managed to complete a regular playthrough (ie, not a hell run) in 1:41.499 last year, thanks to what has become a mandatory Spelunky speedrunning tool: the warp device.
But whereas Spelunky God only acquired the device in the second level of his playthrough, the new record holder D Tea was lucky enough to get it almost immediately. "In the end luck gets me further than skill," the speedrunner writes in the video's description, which shows the new 1:40.145 run in its entirety. That's only a fraction less than a second compared with the previous record holder, but it's still an impressive feat.
Of course, these runs only visit the (relatively easy) main worlds: there are players dedicated to speedrunning Spelunky's notoriously difficult Hell run too, with the record currently sitting at a smidgeon under four minutes.
In other Spelunky news, creator Derek Yu has written a book about the game, which releases this month. Look out for an interview with Yu in the coming weeks.
Games confront us with failure all the time. It could be the famous YOU DIED message of Dark Souls, or the unfavourable scorecard at the end of a hard-fought round of Rocket League. In the heat of the moment calm Vulcan exteriors can crack. Curses are uttered. Innocent controllers are thrown out of windows. Things can get intense.
Some games induce rage more than others. A long game of Dota 2 squandered by one error will understandably leave some participants furious, but when we started writing about the games that made us quit in anger some surprises turned up. Even a serene adventure like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or a strategy game like Civ can trigger a moment of total despair. Here is a collection of our ragequit stories. Share your own in the comments.
About ten years ago I used to break games, controllers and keyboards on a regular basis after losing at something (without going into it, losing my Ifrit card in Final Fantasy VIII s Triple Triad to the game s awful random rule ended up costing me 30). Then, in the last few years I thought I d mellowed out, sailing through much of my twenties with only a vanquished 360 controller (vanquished by my foot—I don t remember why) to show for it. Turns out, this was delusional and I m still furious all of the time. Usually when I m playing online.
Rocket League came out last year. I must ve reinstalled that game about five or six times after having bad games and deleting it from my Steam library, and it s always for the same reason—losing when I feel I didn t deserve to, either because my teammate was rubbish or because I was (usually the latter). The worst time was when I turned my computer off at the wall after, probably, an own goal. I am a tit. I m staying away from competitive games from now on, going back to my precious little bubble of mowing down NPCs in a bid to see the closing credits of story-based games because I m too much of a baby to compete with other humans. Wah! In a similar vein, I also wasn t massively keen on the time we lost an amateur match of Dota to a surprise team of experienced players, and my measured response was to never play Dota again.
I tend to have more moments of indescribable disappointment than ragequitting these days. This happened to me with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, the first-person adventure released in 2014. I was enjoying the feeling of being in that world a lot, and while I loved a few of the individual, weirder moments I encountered in that world, I didn t really like the story that much at all. I wandered into a mine, went down some stairs and a monster walked up to me and killed me without any explanation. I turned it off, uninstalled it and went to bed. It s a very mellow form of ragequitting.
Now, I ve been told there s a very easy way to get past this bit by PC Gamer s Tony Ellis, and I don t doubt it. But there was something so crushing about this seemingly random death in a game about walking through an environment and absorbing story that I just had to leave it. I didn t play games for an entire month after. I m sure it s not just Ethan Carter s fault, but I found that moment so oddly depressing that I needed a month off from the entire medium. Still, I very much enjoyed the trees and the tense atmosphere, and maybe one day I ll go back and activate the simple solution for getting past that monster. And then I ll take another month off playing games.
A lot of things explode in Nuclear Throne. Barrels. The grenades and rockets you fire out of very dangerous weapons. Worm things. Frog things. Cars. I ve died many times in Nuclear Throne, often due to one type of explosive or another. Usually that death comes swiftly and unexpectedly, and I sigh or go UGH and start up another round. But sometimes that death is annoying enough to make me mash the ESC key until I m back on my desktop to cool off. And man, nothing in Nuclear Throne has managed to piss me off more than a stupid exploding car.
The cars are just environmental hazards to avoid or use to your advantage. Shoot em and they can take out a good chunk of enemies. Stand near them when bullets are incoming, and you might be blown up yourself. Got it? Easy to understand. I never took damage from an exploding car. Until. UNTIL. Until I cleared out a level and the portal to the next level appeared near me with a boom, as it always does. Near me also happened to be near a car. And when a portal appears near a car with a boom, that car explodes. And when you re near a car and it explodes, even as you re being dragged helplessly into the portal that whisks you away to the next level, you take damage. And, in my case, die. And, also in my case, mash the ESC key so hard it will forever fear the touch of an index finger.
Fuck you, portal. Fuck you, car.
I relaunched Nuclear Throne three minutes later.
I ragequit a series. One of my favourite series, in fact, but despite knowing that I burn with the self-righteous anger of a fanboy, I won t go back to Tomb Raider. Each time I post about an impending Rise of the Tomb Raider release I secretly wish that Microsoft s exclusivity deal had been that little bit more exclusive. I retreat to a dark corner so as to escape the vile glow of other people s excitement.
I tolerated the new Tomb Raider, for a time. The blocky climbing frame formula of the previous games was ancient after all, and the series was due for a refresh, but Crystal Dynamics refreshed it so hard it became something else, namely an over-earnest story about a psychotic, angst-ridden gap year.
The open, choose-your-own-route environments had a dash of brilliance about them, but on every clifftop was a platoon to be mown down while teen Lara warbled about Bastards! in a comically bad British accent. And the actress is British! I got so sick of shooting things and failing QTEs that I left the main story in search of what I was led to believe would be a tomb to raid: The Tomb of the Lost Adventurer. It was in the name. What I got was a lone physics puzzle, but as I was willing to try anything to relive Lara s glory days at that point, I gave it a crack anyway.
The lone physics puzzle bugged. The body of a crashed plane I had to topple to make a bridge just hung in the air devoid of support. The sole remnant of Tomb Raider s heritage as a puzzler was inexplicably borked. I m done.
Sometimes I wonder what it would take for a video game to kill a person. During my senior year of college, I found Super Hexagon. I dabbled with the mobile version between classes, but didn t get serious until I could sit across from 50 inches of warping, pulsing, spiraling shapes on an obscene TV via my PC. Games rarely hold my attention for more than their running length or the first few times I hit a difficulty wall. There are just too many other interesting games to try out, and I get anxious about missing something special.
Super Hexagon consumed me. I spent hours and hours trying to beat my friends high scores on every level, and eventually unlocked the final stage, Superhexagonest. At first, it seemed impossible to survive for 60 seconds, the requirement to win a given stage. During a weekend visit back home, I ignored my family for a day, working to hit that sweet 60. Hours of attempts didn t even net a close run. Sleep was difficult that night.
Immediately after waking up, I booted up the game, still not entirely conscious. It was magic. Like some kind of sleepyboy superhuman, I hit 45 seconds with ease and kept going. Suddenly aware of my nearly perfect run, I started to wake up. 55 seconds, still going. My hands start shaking. 57 seconds and the sweat rolls in. 58 and I nearly cry out. 59 and I fuck it. Without a word, I got dressed, packed up the dogs into the pickup and drove up Elk Ridge, a mountainous forested area ten miles out of town. I brought headphones and set Boards of Canada on shuffle. My dogs were excited for the impromptu walk, and started peeing on every tree and bush they could. This was something I could control, something I could win. So I peed on their pee until my place in our little hierarchy was made clear. We walked for a while, spooked a black bear, sat on a log, and then went home. I didn t touch Super Hexagon for months.
Not only is Spelunky the rare game that makes me ragequit, it s the only game that always makes me ragequit. I never finish on a high note: if I have a good run but die, I always play again to try to best it. If I have a terrible run, I keep playing until I have a better one, but then after that better run, as I said, I keep pushing until I have another terrible one. It doesn t help that I ve never once successfully beat the game, which means every single session has ended in disappointment or frustration. And we re talking about over a thousand sessions.
What s more frustrating is that the rage is directed at myself rather than the game, as my deaths are pretty much always caused by a mistake, a stupid risk, or an error brought on by trying to be overly cautious due to a previous mistake or stupid risk. Spelunky is harsh but generally fair: I ve learned how everything works so there are no real surprises. I love it, but stink at it, and the only way I see not ragequitting it is to beat it, which I just can t seem to do. I hate you, Spelunky. Never change.
When I was a kid, a friend mercilessly pummeled me at Street Fighter 2 and then said I was a gaylord, so I threw the controller at him and power-walked out of his house. They called me sensitive back then. I don t really get too mad in competitive games anymore, though. I ve spit angry half-words at Rocket League teammates here and there, because what are they even doing, but I do it with my mic off, because I m not a jerk. I ve never left in the middle of a match, except once when my roommate started uploading a YouTube video and my ping went to hell and so I had to go throw the controller at him.
What really gets to me is Civilization V. When I ve got a sweet little empire going, and I m just about to realize my master blueprint of roads and port towns and cozy, defensible foothill settlements, some bastard like Alexander the Great rolls up to my capital with a bunch of siege engines. I ve been tinkering with trade routes and figuring a military can come later, trying to make a pretty civilization before a toothy one, and Alexander just has to pop in and kick over my sandcastle. I play this way almost every time, even though I know better. I probably Alt-F4 half the time I play Civ these days. I wonder if I wouldn t prefer to play without any other civilizations. Just me, alone, slowly covering the world with little buildings.
Ragequit moments are deliberately built into Dark Souls. As you push into a new location you steal souls from hollowed corpses that Alt-F4 d out of existence long ago. With each new difficulty spike Dark Souls dares you join them. It's clever, but it doesn't make me feel any better when things go wrong.
In fact, knowing this only makes me angry about my own anger. I'm playing right into their hands. When the Four Kings' homing purple missiles of hot bullshit one-shot me, a noise like a strangled moped emerges from my throat. I throttle my pad and grimace like a Sith lord on the bog. Sometimes I say "whyyyyyy" out loud. It is very undignified.
The burning fury in my soul can only be resolved by blaming things. I blame my ageing Xbox 360 controller, with its stunted insensitive shoulder bumpers. I blame FromSoft, for everything. I blame the laws of chance, for some reason, even though damage in Dark Souls is metered out through blows and counter-blows without need for dice rolls. I blame the bus-wide butt-cheeks of the Demon Firesage for blocking the camera during a deadly area-of-effect attack. Screw it all. Turn it off.
I ve had a stuttering relationship with Dark Souls, then. I was left so exhausted by the descent through Blight Town that I stopped playing for a few months. I put it down after attempting the opening section of Anor Londo, which has you running up and down buttresses under heavy arrow fire that knocks you to your death. But looking back, it was a broadly positive experience. Dark Souls infuriating moments are matched by euphoric highs. Even in the throes of agonising frustration, at least Dark Souls made me feel something. Few games put me through the emotional wringer in such a way.
Fuck the Bed of Chaos forever, though.
On Tuesday at the Awesome Games Done Quick bi-annual charity gaming marathon, Spelunky's creator, Derek Yu, jokingly asked on the Twitch stream if anyone had ever done a combined no-gold pacifist run of his platformer. A day later, Yu posted to his Twitter account that he had received an answer. YouTube user krille71 uploaded a video today showing a no-gold pacifist run: not only beating the game without collecting any gold or gems but also without directly killing any enemies, including bosses, including the bossiest boss of all. You can watch it above.
Combining these two feats into a single run seems impossible, but by now we know that Spelunky junkies are capable of just about anything. What's really neat, however, despite the extreme talent on display, is how krille71 deals with Olmec and King Yama. Olmec he hides from before bombing his way to Hell's entrance, then using a couple stone blocks to stand on so he can climb inside, leaving Olmec behind (and alive). I certainly wouldn't call his encounter with Yama pacifism, since he tears Yama's face off, carries it to some spikes, and lets it be jabbed to death. For the impatient, you can see it happen at 34:50.
I hadn't seen this particular technique used before. If you've fought Yama, you're aware his face comes off during the fight and flies around the room dumping fireballs on you. There are a few ways to deal with him, typically stickybombs, ranged weapons, or using an eggplant (if you happen to be talented enough to carry one the entire way through the game). But krille71 actually pulls Yama's face off and carries it away before it detaches on its own.
Derek Yu explained it on Twitter, remarking that monsters and items in Spelunky are both derived from the same generic entity class. Items can be picked up, and unless their "isHoldable" flag has been set to false, so can monsters. The boss Olmec, for instance, had his flag set to false, meaning he can't be picked up and carried, but Yama's face didn't get the same treatment. That's why you can pluck his face right off his skull and abscond with it.
— Derek Yu (@mossmouth) January 6, 2016
Neat! No gold, no kills. Quite an accomplishment.
PC games have produced some beloved music, but there's a tiny irony in the fact that the technological advantages that the PC held over other platforms in the 1990s have actually hindered a music scene from forming around that original work.
We had CD-ROM, hard drives, and discrete soundcards years before anyone else, and those advances pushed many studios toward not only full-motion video but elaborate, orchestral music rather than the chiptunes possible on the NES, SNES, and other sound palettes—a sound that has become a beloved aesthetic and genre in and of itself. Nintendo s (and even Sega s) platforms inspire a ton of affection, but there s still a lot of worthy professional and amateur PC gaming floating around the web.
Songe is an unbelievably talented multi-instrumentalist, mixing everything from flutes, drums, and ocarinas (when appropriate) to multiple guitars and piano, to his own vocal backing, like on his terrific takes on Warcraft II s Orc theme or the Skyrim Dragonborn theme. Among his dozens of tracks, his Spelunky Mines Medley stands out as a reverent interpretation of a song heard thousands of times by any dedicated Spelunker.
The only piece of game music to win a Grammy, this performance by a Los Angeles choir is my favorite among the many that have been recorded. Composer Christopher Tin was, interestingly enough, the roommate of Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson.
Performed by: Angel City Chorale Original composer: Christopher Tin Buy on Amazon
This rock-metal cover of UNATCO (the organization of which Deus Ex s JC Denton is a member) was one of the favorite things I found online, mainly due to how restrained it is. So many of the metal covers of game music fall drift dangerously close to parody with over-applied kick pedaling and overlong guitar solos. Skilton keeps it simple here while producing an exciting take on what was a pretty sedate, austere tune originally.
We really like Ben Prunty s stuff around here—so much so that we asked him to compose an original song for our podcast—so it s great to see an FTL track covered so well by Canadian guitarist James Mills. Give Mills System Shock 2, Hearthstone, StarCraft, and Dragon Age: Inquisition tracks a listen too.
From the Weird Al genre we have this rap from Captain Spalding, a regular on the PC Gamer TF2 server circa 2008-2010.
Way back in 2005 OCRemix, the web's biggest game remix community, assembled a team (that included Super Meat Boy composer Danny Baranowsky) to produce a massive two-disc, 23-track tribute to Doom. The best way to get it is by downloading it through OCRemix's official torrent.
There s an insane amount of Mass Effect covers out there paying homage to Jack Wall (and others ) incredible work. Sadly, an uncomfortable amount of it is dubstep. Tim Skilton s take on the wonderful Suicide Mission theme isn t, thank goodness.
Tidwell is well known to fans of game music covers (you can find a lot of his stuff on Spotify), but he rarely covers songs from PC games.
Danny Baranowsky is absolutely prolific, having most recently composed for musical dungeon crawler Crypt of the Necrodancer. With his style of mixing modern composition with instrumentation from the 8- and 16-bit era, it s no surprise that Baranowsky got his start on OCRemix. Super Meat Boy remains his essential work and while the official Super Meat Boy album contains a bunch of covers, I love the official piano collection by Brent Kennedy, a 10-track set that can be had for $5.
A list of PC gaming music wouldn't be complete without Frank Klepacki. Almost two decades after its release Red Alert's "Hell March" track gets the most play, but rather than recommending one of many, many takes on that boot-stomping classic, I think stuff like "Act on Instinct" represents Klepacki's grinding, industrial oeuvre much better.
Performed by: Tim Timofetus SkiltonOriginal composer: Frank Klepacki
You won t see X-COM getting a lot of recognition for its music in remixing communities, but this track from Fnotte manages to make something good out of the memorable intro sequence to UFO Defense.
Performed by: Fnotte Original composer: John Broomhall
I don't even know what to say about Spelunky speedruns anymore. YouTuber D Tea has beaten the game's hardest run through the City of Gold and Hell in three minutes and forty-four seconds, and you know what? I'm not surprised. I won't be surprised when it's beaten either. I've ceased to be surprised by what amazing Spleunky players can achieve.
Last time we reported on a Hell run it was impressive that the game had been beaten in less than seven minutes. How far away those innocent days seem now.
"Very, very good run," D Tea writes in the YouTube description. "This was a seed where pretty much everything went right, apart from a few small factors like not having a compass. The fast start, shopkeeper de-aggro on 3-4, and a 42 second hell were all amazing (and lucky) things that made this run good."
D Tea reckons there are ways to shave time off the record, too. "The only realistic time saves here are in the temple with the somewhat slow 4-2 and 4-3," he writes, "as well as Olmec with the hell door spawn being on the right side."
Think you're up to the challenge? I'm not. No siree.
Here's a pattern I've noticed: you either "don't get" Spelunky or you're obsessed with it. As a member of the latter category, I have the deepest sympathy for the former. I haven't played Derek Yu's masterful, procedurally generated platformer for a couple of months now, but I still think about it all the time, so news that Yu is writing a whole book on the game's creation is very welcome indeed.
Published by Boss Fight Books, 'Spelunky' is the "story of a game's creation as told by its creator", tracing its origins as a free PC game through to its rebirth as a multiplatform classic. Here's what the publisher writes:
"Spelunky is a game design manifesto in which Derek Yu uses his own game to discuss wide-ranging topics such as randomization, creative process, team dynamics, the philosophy of challenging games, and player feedback. Grab some ropes, a mattock, and your favorite pug—this book is going to dig deep."
Spelunky releases some time this summer (or winter down in Australia). You can pre-order it on the website, where you'll find several other books in the Boss Fight catalogue, including works on Baldur's Gate II, World of Warcraft, Chrono Trigger, ZZT, Galaga, Jagged Alliance 2, and Super Mario Bros. 2.
In celebration of the release of Crypt of the Necrodancer, maybe, Valve has collected some of Steam's best roguelikes and lopped off much of the cost. The Steam Roguelike Sale runs over the weekend, and discounts roguelikelike heavy hitters like FTL, Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain and Spelunky, and even a couple of fits-the-rigid-definition-of-a-roguelike, also known as 'proper' roguelikes, too.
My picks of the bunch would be Delver for 50% off, a first-person dungeon crawl with great music; the maybe-too-grindy-but-still-good Rogue Legacy for 75% off; the deeper-than-Moria NEO Scavenger for 33% less; Spelunky for chump change; and the fab One Way Heroics for a ridiculous 77p. You can also grab Binding of Isaac: Rebirth for 33% off, FTL for just under 2, and, well, browse the list yourself, there's a load of great stuff here.
The Steam Roguelike Sale ends Monday 27th April at 10am PST, which my brain always tells me stands for 'PlaneScape Torment'.
Speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they also poke away at the edges of what a game intends you to do. Watching a perfect speedrun is similar, I imagine, to watching good gymnastics, but they're more than just skill-based. They're borne of a curiosity about the edges of games: the things we're not meant to see and the things we aren't supposed to do.
There's a whole science behind speedruns. Players spend weeks and sometimes years chiselling a perfect path through a game. They exploit minor traversal bugs to gain speed, they tap away at the outer limits of a game world in search of hidden routes, and then they move to execute all these tricks in one graceful swoop. There's a strong collaborative spirit among speedrun communities, because in the end, it's all about what's possible, not who wins.
There are lots of different speedruns, and the rules vary depending on the type of speedrun a player hopes to achieve. Most of the runs I've featured below are Any% runs, which simply require the player to complete the game under any difficulty setting as quickly as possible. These contrast with 100% runs, which as the name suggests requires full completion of the game (any secret worlds or any optional collectibles, for example).
What follows aren't "the best speedruns of all time" but instead a selection of especially impressive runs. I've tried to collect those most suited to spectating, so there are a lot of shooters and platformers. Meanwhile, I've generally avoided speedruns too heavily reliant on glitches that bypass huge sections of a game (like this Pillars of Eternity run, for example). I'm not arguing these aren't legitimate: just that they're not as fun to watch.
Bethesda made a big deal of Skyrim's 100 hour potential back in 2011, but I'm sure they're not surprised that speedrunner gr3yscale has beaten the game in less than 40 minutes. After all, Skyrim QA guy Sam Bernstein managed to complete the whole game, glitch and cheat free, in two hours and 16 minutes. If you know what you're doing, the biggest games can be reduced to a series of carefully timed leaps.
Gr3yscale's world record time of 39:24 uses a number of built-in exploits, but arguably more interesting than the run itself is this accompanying tutorial video on how he achieved it. The lengthy video is a step-by-step instructional, detailing everything from the graphics settings you should use (as low as possible) through to how to steal the Blank Lexicon from Septimus Signus in less than five seconds. If you've got any interest in the painstaking process of routefinding for a speedrun, it's a must watch.
For the best example of speedrunner Kahmul78 s thoroughness, look no further than the 1:56 mark below. The way he switches his inventory load out in the middle of a plunge attack demonstrates that every second is precious for an adept speedrunner. He won t need those newly equipped arrows for a while, but when you re looking to shave off precious seconds in a notoriously difficult game, you don t waste time.
After clearing the tutorial area, Kahmul78 takes a very unconventional route through Lordran. Using the Skeleton Key starting item he passes through New Londo Ruins and Valley of the Drakes into Darkroot Basin, then onto Undead Parish. This not only skips the second boss encounter, but it also means facing off against the first mandatory boss battle by the eight minute mark.
For the average first time player it s likely to take up to five hours to make that much progress (or about ten, if you re like me). The fact that this whole run wraps up in under 48 minutes naturally attracted a lot of attention when it was first posted. There are quicker Dark Souls speedruns out there which exploit a major glitch, but this is the real deal.
With so many tools at his disposal it's little wonder that Corvo Attano can get the job done quickly. He's not really meant to do it this quickly though, with speedrunner TheWalrusMovement completing the stealth adventure in 34:35. Attano's Blink ability a lightning quick dash mainly used for covert operations is utilised a lot in this run, to the extent that it's difficult to keep track of TheWalrusMovement's routing.
Nonetheless, Dishonored is a surprisingly enjoyable game to spectate, and TheWalrusMovement is forthcoming with his secrets. This world record run can probably be improved the runner's commentary points out a couple of areas of improvement but this is the best out there in the meantime.
Picture this: you ve just returned from Hell only to find that Earth is in worse shape. You were really looking forward to having a beer though, so you want to save the world as quickly as possible. But how quickly is as quickly as possible? How s 23 minutes and three seconds sound? Not bad at all! Start pouring.
The work of speedrunner Zero-Master, this Ultra-Violent mode playthrough managed to topple a record set in 2010 by Looper. That s a long time in speedrun years and it only managed to come out on top by 22 seconds. A backseat speedrunner will no doubt see areas of improvement in the below video, which Zero-Master concedes to in his YouTube description, but for the time being this is the quickest run there is.
While Doom 2 is probably the most popular speedrunning instalment in the series, it s worth checking out speedruns of the two Final Doom WAD packs too. These outings upped the difficulty dramatically, and if you want to see a run with a few clever rocket jumps, look no further.
Duke 3D s Build engine is home to a lot of glitches very handy to speedrunners. As Duke speedrunner LLCoolDave explains in this video, a major one is crouchjumping . If you crouch while freefalling and then hit the jump key before touching the ground, Duke can clip through certain walls and structures. The engine in Duke 3D is less than stable, allowing for switches to be triggered from unintended vantage points and whole regions of levels to be skipped.
As in most glitchy speedruns, triggering the engine s limitations at just the right moment is an impressive skill in itself. Speedrunner Mr_Wiggelz manages to complete the game in 9:19 below, though it s worth noting that only the first three episodes of the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition feature (the fourth episode didn t appear in the original game).
Mr_Wiggelz admits that he messed up a couple of times during this run, so it probably won t be long before we see it bettered.
Some genres, especially platformers and shooters, are particularly suited to the speedrun. Others, like the open world RPG, definitely are not. That doesn t stop people from trying to beat the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Skyrim and Fallout 3 in the time it takes to prepare an English breakfast, but there s inevitably glitches involved. Games like these are designed to eat up your time and life.
Rydou s 18:53 speedrun of Fallout 3 (that s 18 minutes, not hours) utilises a few glitches, but no cheats or third-party programs. As he explains on his YouTube page, this run makes liberal use of a quicksave bug. Basically, if you rapidly quicksave and then quickload you ll briefly have the ability to clip through walls. In this way, the player-character goes from birth to saving Washington in less than 20 minutes.
After a bit of publicity off the back of this speedrun, Rydou moved to emphasise the difference between cheating and exploiting glitches. For those who wonder about the legitimacy of the run, using and exploiting glitches have always been a part of the speedrun community. This is a way to push the game even further, and [is] not considered cheating.
An hour and 32 minutes might not sound impressive for a Half-Life 2 speedrun: the game's an all time classic and ten years old to boot. You can blame the game's regular unskippable dialogue sequences for that record, but hey, at least it gives record holder Gocn k some time to take a break. He needs it.
There are some interesting strategies in this video. GocAk makes liberal use of two traversal glitches common in Valve's Source Engine, namely Accelerated Back Hopping and Accelerated Side Hopping. For a stunning example of the former skip to the 29 minute mark, where a sequence of careful jumps actually propels the player into the air.
Sourceruns.org has a more detailed description: "When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slow you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going - the more you will get accelerated."
No big tricks or glitches here, just an exceptionally talented player. Speedrunner Dingodrole completes Hotline Miami in 20 minutes and seven seconds, but his ultimate goal is to get below the 20 minute mark. If you watch the whole run you'll notice there's very little room for improvement, and Dingodrole seems to have the routing down pat. He's been steadily chipping away at the time for a while now, so it's probably inevitable that this will be beaten some day.
It pays to know a game intimately before embarking on a speedrun, but that rule has a different meaning when it comes to I Wanna Be The Guy. A parodic love letter to 8-bit platformers, I Wanna Be The Guy subverts every reliable trope in the platformer rule book. Shiny red apples aren t collectibles: they ll kill you. Don t worry about reaching those spikes: they ll come to you. Nothing is predictable, and everything is learnt from the experience of dying. You can t learn this game, you have to memorise it.
So it s always fun to monitor the speedrunning community s progress with I Wanna Be The Guy (as well as its many follow-ups). You need a great memory and superhuman dexterity to complete the game once, let alone in 28 minutes and 40 seconds without glitches, as Tesivonius has done.
A few caveats: this is a segmented Portal speedrun, which means the game wasn't completed from beginning to end in a single playthrough. Instead, the best level times were stitched together for the final video. Additionally, there were four different speedrunners involved: Nick "Z1mb0bw4y" Roth, Josh "Inexistence" Peaker, Nick "Gocnak" Kerns, and Sebastian "Xebaz" Dressler. Some would argue a segmented speedrun is illegitimate, but wherever you stand on that matter, it's still interesting to see what's possible.
This run uses neither cheats or hacks, but it does exploit a number of glitches. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches," the team writes. As you'll see below, the glitches make for a disorientating watch, but its fascinating nonetheless.
The Quake speedrun scene used to be massive, boasting its own highly organised community in the form of Quake Done Quick. The below video sees all four episodes of the game completed in 11 minutes and 29 seconds (on Nightmare difficulty!) and demonstrates world class bunny hopping and rocket jumping skills. The occasional glitch is implemented and whole chunks of certain maps are skipped with the help of rocket jumps, but no cheats were used.
Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex is, or was, the world authority on Spelunky. It was he who figured out how to kill the game s invincible ghost. It was he who achieved a solo Eggplant run (this involves carrying an Eggplant to the end of the game, obviously). It was he who collected $3.1 million worth of gold in a single playthrough. Arguably the highest bar he set was the legendary 5:02 Hell speedrun. Simply reaching Hell is difficult enough on its own, but completing the whole game using this route is punishment. Doing it in five minutes is God tier.
Unfortunately for Bananasaurus Rex, someone managed to beat his Hell run, and not by a measly couple of seconds. Youtuber Latedog beat secret boss Yama in 4:36, creating a new record which let s face it will probably only be beaten by accident. Like Bananasaurus Rex he utilises the warp device, which is somewhat reliant on luck but pretty much crucial if you want to shear minutes off a playthrough.
When humankind is wiped off the face of the earth by some malevolent alien society, the planet s new inhabitants will learn a couple of things as they sift through the rubble. First, we really liked bottled water. Secondly, Coca-Cola was an especially totalitarian leader. Thirdly, we were really bloody good at Super Meat Boy.
Speedrunner Vorpal has been chipping away at the world record for a while, but this is the best he/she has managed so far: the base game completed in 17 minutes and 54 seconds. That stat doesn t include the dark levels or any of the retro themed ones, but anyone who has spent half-an-hour with Team Meat s punishing platformer will peek through fingers as Vorpal passes the final boss run by the skin of his teeth.
Speedruns can be beautiful. Twitch streamer sheilalpoint completes VVVVV in 12:12 in the below video, and watching it (with the sound down) can be like watching a weird 1970s art film about a little man s efforts to euthanise himself in outer space.
The beauty of this run is that there aren t really any major tricks, just a thorough knowledge of the game s layout. Sheilalpoint pulls some interesting maneuvers with the game s checkpoints particularly in one sequence where hitting them as they collide with spikes actually increases the momentum of the player character but otherwise, this is plain old fashioned mastery.
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil explains why he loves Spelunky's biggest asshole.
Spelunky's Tunnel Jerk is an asshole. Seriously, screw that guy. Here's why I love him.
First, let's backtrack a second. I love so much of Spelunky, so deciding what particular element to hone in on should be difficult. The procedural generation is a given: it makes the game what it is, and allows for a difficulty that's based on learning systems over memorising routes. Those systems are brilliant too. Everything that happens in Spelunky makes sense, and is the result of its individual elements interacting with each other. It can be surprising, but it is so in a way that's consistent with its rules.
There is bullshit in Spelunky, but it's traceable bullshit. You can enter a level, hear a distant explosion and be informed that the shopkeeper is very angry with you. Make no mistake, this is bullshit—but it happened because a Fire Frog was caught by a Tikki Trap and the resulting explosion caused a rock to fly into the shopkeeper's face. Chaos theory. A Fire Frog jumps in the jungle, and now a shopkeeper will murder you in 3-2.
Spelunky, in so many ways, is perfect. Infuriating, but perfect. It's a bundle of nasty surprises waiting to punish any mistake, and a series of rewards designed to tempt you into making one. For me, Tunnel Jerk is the personification of this principle.
Tunnel Jerk—referred to as "Tunnel Man" officially—is an ostensibly helpful NPC. He appears in the transitions between worlds, and offers to create a shortcut to the world that you're travelling towards. This is helpful. Most people's experience of any unfamiliar world in Spelunky is to die within seconds. New worlds take on a semi-mythical property. They are the unknowable land of death beyond the comfort of the familiar. Spelunky is always difficult, but knowledge is your shield against its most homicidal tendencies.
Tunnel Jerk offers a way to kickstart that familiarity. Learning the jungle is hard when you can only get there by first traversing the mines. But if you can skip straight to the jungle, you can more easily absorb its tricks. And it's not like Tunnel Jerk is asking for much. Two bombs? Fine, whatever. Given that you'll probably die in the first three seconds of entering the jungle, it's not like you'll be using them.
It doesn't end there, though. Oh, you want ropes now? Yeah, okay, I guess? And now you want... wait, what? $10,000?! Seriously, dude?
At this point, you have a goal. Spelunky is great at this. In addition to its primary success state, there are multiple potential goals along the way. Jetpack? Nope, I'm $5,000 short and the ghost is here. Alien base? Maybe, but it's a long shot. New character? Only if I stumble across a coffin. Well, I guess I could always give Tunnel Jerk the thing that he wants.
Completing Spelunky is an achievement to be proud of, but it's also a long-term battle. I'd played it hundreds of times before I ever completed it. I'd reached the damn City of Gold before I ever completed it. I would never have brought down Olmec if it wasn't for the smaller successes along the way; if it wasn't for the feeling of progress, no matter how small. Reaching a new world is an obvious mini-triumph, but so are Tunnel Jerk's most absurd challenges. They feel impossible. $10,000?! That's a lot of money when you're starting out, and a lot to blow on a shortcut.
From there, it escalates. A shotgun? You want me to take a shotgun to the ice caves and then just give it up?! Are you a crazy person? Well fine, I'll do it. I'll do it to prove I can. See, Tunnel Jerk, I was prepared to give up a shotgun. What else have you got?
Chaos theory. A Fire Frog jumps in the jungle, and now a shopkeeper will murder you in 3-2.
The reveal of what else Tunnel Jerk has got is almost beautiful in its audacity. If you've not experienced it, consider this a spoiler of sorts.
Tunnel Jerk's final request—the one that unlocks a shortcut to the Temple, and an end to his dominion over you—is a key. The key that unlocks the chest to the Udjat Eye. The Udjat Eye that lives on one the last few levels on the mines. It's so wondrously arbitrary. Away from the chest, the key does nothing. It has no use. Worse, it stops you picking up genuinely useful items like the shotgun, damsel or idol. To take it all the way from the mines, through the jungle, and to the end of the ice caves? It's the definition of pointless.
But it's also a goal, and so you try it. You lose the key in the rivers of the jungle, and you lose it in the void of the ice caves. Maybe a boulder crushes it, or you die trying to retrieve it after leaving it in a "safe place" in order to rescue a damsel. Every time you fail, you curse that Tunnel Jerk's stupid request. You curse him over and over, until the glorious day when you finally bring him his idiotic trinket. All in all, he seems pretty happy about it.
For me, defeating the Tunnel Jerk was more satisfying than completing the game. He's an asshole. Seriously, screw that guy. That's why I love him.