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.
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.
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).