[Game: Spelunky 2, Mossmouth, 2020]
Motivations to Spelunk:

On Spelunky 2, and Three Corruptible Virtues of Implementing Achievements for Games

Introduction:

This essay begins with a confession, one that feels on-par with admitting that one collects rocks or baseball cards or a similarly useless class of artifacts: I like achievements. In games that I am already enjoying, I actively make an effort to get achievements provided it does not impede that preexisting enjoyment. In fact, far from being impediments, I have often found that certain types of achievements lead to goals and playstyles that enhance the experience of a game. And if nothing else, purposefully attaining 100% achievement completion for a game can be a method of paying tribute to a game of exceptional quality—or of feeling that one has reached a satisfactory conclusion in otherwise endless affairs like roguelikes, arcade-style games, or even normal linear games that one can not seem to cease replaying.

In this article, I shall be covering the three clearest ways that achievements can be used for potential gains in terms of player experience and engagement. My main example in making this argument shall be Spelunky 2, as I believe that it and its predecessor represent nearly perfect implementations of achievements across all three categories to be covered.

The garden of achievements, however, is not filled exclusively with roses. There are a great many weeds and poisonous herbs to be found growing there. Achievements are often an afterthought, tacked onto a game by weary developers at the end of long projects, and—even when implemented with intention—may nevertheless include tedious, unappealing, or even exploitative goals. Thus, in each section of this article, after presenting the possible virtues of each prominent achievement type (with reference to Spelunky 2), I will also cover the vices and corruptions to which each type is vulnerable (with accompanying examples from other titles).

Spelunky 2 screenshot with Pilot approaching golden idol in Tide Pool - achievements

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[Game: Spelunky 2, Mossmouth, 2020]
Motivations to Spelunk:

On Spelunky 2, and Three Corruptible Virtues of Implementing Achievements for Games

was last modified: December 23rd, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

 

Introduction:

For about a decade after I originally played it, Jak II was my favorite game. In the run up to its release back in 2003, I spent over a month convincing my parents (especially my violent-media-averse mother) that it would be alright for me to purchase the game, despite the fact that it would be rated ‘T for Teens’ and I would not quite yet be a teenager.

My ironclad arguments included that I had already played the T-rated games Ratchet & Clank and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4; that Jak doesn’t get access to guns until partway through the game; that the enemies in Jak II simply vanish without any blood when killed; and that I had already completed its E-rated predecessor, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Ultimately, I doubt my folks were swayed by any of those arguments. Rather, they probably relented because I was almost a teen anyway, and I had demonstrated so extensively and so annoyingly the depth of my desire to play it.

In fact, I had not simply completed Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. I had one hundred percented it. And the game did not reward that effort with a chunk of additional gameplay, as had titles that I had previously one hundred percented (such as the entries in the original Spyro trilogy); instead, it simply provided a short, cryptic cutscene lightly teasing the inciting incident of Jak II. This may go some way to justifying my eagerness to play the sequel. Nevertheless, when I did finally get my hands on it, I was astonished by the quality of the game.

Jak II screenshot with piloting zoomer in slums - Naughty Dog, retrospective analysis, analogy, comparison

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[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

was last modified: January 17th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

 

prog.1 screenshot with late-game level - Vector Arcade

Introduction:

Today I am writing about a somewhat unique take on a common indie gaming design trope: casting the player in the role of a computer program. It worked for A Virus Named Tom and it worked for Thomas Was Alone; but does it work for Vector Arcade’s new platformer prog.1?

I played through all 48 of prog.1‘s levels three times prior to writing this review (my reasons for doing so are available below as well), and I am ready to provide my assessment. The general form of my experience with the game is that I am mostly pleased with it. I enjoyed the gameplay, loved the visual design, and found the story energetic. But I also found the game light on content and had a number of minor nitpicks.

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[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

was last modified: January 7th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Rogue Legacy, Cellar Door Games, 2013]
Turned Up to 11:

Rogue Legacy‘s Remix Bosses and the Virtues of Nonlinear Difficulty Scaling

 

[On the five-year anniversary of Rogue Legacy‘s release (two years after this article was published), Cellar Door Games patched Rogue Legacy with an update that (among other things) allows players to buff the characters for the remix boss fights. This significantly degrades the remix boss mechanic in Rogue Legacy as an example of the inflexible, nonlinear-scaling elements discussed in this article. The article remains archived in its original form, however, as the general theoretical case it makes remains intact (as regards the earlier version of the game, and all other instances of this type of design in other titles). – The Gemsbok]

 

Rogue Legacy screenshot with castle - Cellar Door Games - remix bosses - nonlinear difficulty scaling

Introduction:

Today’s topic is yet another indie game, and yet another roguelike-inspired game, and yet another game that I will be praising for its satisfying difficulty. But having covered similar topics so many times now in this series, I would like to do something a little different with Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy by discussing its implementation of remix bosses as an absurd (and, from my perspective, totally welcome) spike in difficulty.

I have done this a few times in this series so far, primarily when covering games that have already been met with overwhelming praise by critics and audiences alike. In such cases, rather than throwing my praise on the praise pile, I try to offer something new, from a reading of the pixel art in FTL to a look at the atmosphere in Spacechem to a precise account of The Binding of Isaac‘s succession of The Legend of Zelda. Today’s angle: Rogue Legacy‘s various remix bosses may be seen as a prime example of nonlinearity in the scaling of a game’s difficulty, which produces potentially unintuitive benefits for the player.

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[Game: Rogue Legacy, Cellar Door Games, 2013]
Turned Up to 11:

Rogue Legacy‘s Remix Bosses and the Virtues of Nonlinear Difficulty Scaling

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games, 2014]
As From a Time Machine:

How Shovel Knight Embraces and then Rises Above its Capacity for Nostalgia

 

Introduction:

Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight is a game whose Kickstarter campaign‘s success may be attributable to, above other merits, nostalgia for the NES era of games whose aesthetics and gameplay Shovel Knight promised to deliver. It’s a winning formula, and one on which many other projects have been happy to capitalize: sell the gaming population its own childhood.

Such projects, often full of wry nods toward and inside jokes from NES and SNES titles, wear the clothes of classics. They have pixel art as a matter of convention, and scrolling text as a matter of principle. But Shovel Knight is a special game, because it does not merely wear the clothes of the classics; it is a classic, every bit as deserving of acclaim and status as are the titles whose trappings got it funded.

Shovel Knight screenshot with NPC village - nostalgia - Yacht Club Games

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[Game: Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games, 2014]
As From a Time Machine:

How Shovel Knight Embraces and then Rises Above its Capacity for Nostalgia

was last modified: December 21st, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski