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Indie Developer Profile: Derek Yu

When it comes to the indie game development community, few developerss can claim to be as notable as Derek Yu. Spelunky and Aquaria are his most recent and probably most well-known projects, but his work has been around for far longer than either of the two games. His earliest game creation listed on his website (derekyu.com) dates back to 1999.

Concept art for Derek Yu’s “Aquaria.”

Yu is a talented artist, and a regular blogger. He is also the main man behind one of the largest indie gaming resources on the net, TIGSource. (tigsource.com) Many small indie games have been discovered through this site; it has been a vital medium of distribution for budding developers who may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Though Yu is well versed in many forms of artistic and technical media, I’d like to utilize this article to hone in on his fantastic game design. His site has acted as a springboard for so many small indie games to become roaring successes, a lot of Yu’s work has appeared as a mere whisper in the gaming community at large.

My first encounter with one of Yu’s games was also in fact his newest game Spelunky, shortly after its launch a few years back. I was immediately taken by the retro-like graphics and soundtrack. The game was difficult, but extremely addictive, and so I found myself spending many hours on it. In Spelunky, every level of the cave is generated randomly by the computer.

Spelunky's protagonist.

One might expect a feature like this to cause the game to feel mundane and sloppy, but to my surprise, the generator was sophisticated enough to create all sorts of interesting environments. In fact, Spelunky contains many puzzles and encounters which require tactical thinking and much trial and error.

Now, here’s why this is awesome: To make a game with great level design that keeps the player engaged is not exactly rare, but can be somewhat uncommon in mainstream games today. Yu has not only created a game with great level design, but a game that DESIGNS great levels at random. That’s quite a feat.

The variation from level to level truly means that the player can’t know what to expect. In a game all about adventuring into a treasure-filled cave, it’s a fitting gameplay feature. This combined with mysterious pseudo 8-bit music and vibrant graphics tie it all together to produce a complete sense of exploration.

The game is loaded with humor and quirks and will easily keep you entertained for hours. It’s free for PC, so there’s really no reason not to give it a fair try. (spelunkyworld.com)

Yu has produced loads of other great games including Aquaria, an adventure game which received overwhelming critical support, as well as The Eternal Daughter, a story driven and very well-designed “Metroidvania.” Links to all of these games can be found on Yu’s homepage (again, derekyu.com).

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Game Review: L.A. Noire

The atmospheric title screen for L.A. Noire.

“L.A. Noire,” developed by Team Bondi and published by Rockstar Games, delivers a cinematic gaming experience following the character Cole Phelps through his career as a detective in 1940’s Los Angeles. The game incorporates photorealistic faces to portray the emotions of its characters.

This is an important feature of “L.A. Noire,” as it expects the player to read the facial queues of suspects and witnesses in order to determine the validity of their testimonies. After questioning a suspect, the player is offered three options once character has finished their story.

Cole can believe their story, allowing them to continue their train of thought, and grant valuable information or in the case of a lie, misinformation. If the player chooses to call the suspect into doubt, Cole will question the statement’s logic, or threaten violence if the testifier doesn’t set the record straight. The final option is to catch the suspect in a lie, and to prove it with evidence discovered through the investigation.

Though this mechanic is immensely satisfying upon completion of a successful interrogation, it doesn’t always behave in the way one might want it to. The “doubt” option can be particularly dubious, triggering dialogue ranging from a simple assertion that the testifier knows more than they’re letting on, to actually insinuating full blown murder charges.

It is extraordinarily frustrating during an attempt to catch a suspect concealing the full story, only for Cole to make a wild accusation and frustrate the witness, especially when it causes the interrogation to end.

In spite of its flaws, this is a unique game with a lot of great things going for it. “L.A. Noire” manages to seamlessly incorporate shooting sequences, chase scenes, interrogation, investigation, and exploration points together in the same game without bogging down too much under the weight of its own ambition.

Most games attempting to diversify their gameplay ultimately fail and only manage to detract from the core gaming experience which they originally set out to portray. “L.A. Noire’s” primary goal is to tell an engaging story with interesting characters, and ironically can say that it makes the player feel more in-control of the plot flow than most sandbox games would dare assert.

While “L.A. Noire” may not be a golden new standard for storytelling in games, it’s certainly an interesting turn, and I for one would love to see more games coming from a similar angle in the near future.

“L.A. Noire” earns a very gritty M rating from the ESRB. Containing graphic violence, coarse language, drug abuse, and depictions of full nudity, this isn’t one for the kids.