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Spelunky Developer Interview – Andy Hull

Andy Hull (right) and Derek Yu (left), developers of Spelunky HD

If you’re a hardcore gamer committed to first person shooters and RPGs, the release of Spelunky HD may have slipped past your radar. The acclaimed update of a freeware classic, Spelunky HD slipped out as a Xbox 360 exclusive in the summer of 2012. The game had very little promotion from Microsoft but garnered great reviews and a devoted fanbase.

Now with Microsoft’s exclusivity agreement over, the developers at Mossmouth have updated the game for the PC and have a port to the PSN in the works. Releasing on August 8, 2013, Spelunky HD will now be available to PC gamers via Steam, GOG, and directly from Mossmouth’s Humble Widget. The release date for the PSN version has not been announced.

Andy Hull is one of the two developers responsible for Spelunky HD and he was kind enough to field some of our questions about the game.

AS: So, Spelunky is making its way to the PSN/PSV and PC very soon. What is the most exciting part about bringing the game to these platforms?

Hull: I’m most excited that more people will finally be able to enjoy the game! We know from countless emails and tweets that there are many fans of the original Game Maker version who don’t own 360s, so this will be their first chance to experience the HD version. I’m especially pumped for the Vita version that Blit Game Studios has put together. The short and quick nature of the game really lends itself well to a portable system, and I can’t wait to play on the go!

AS: The first title update to XBLA version of Spelunky made some tweaks to the gameplay (like a more reasonable mattock). Are there going to be similar adjustments to this version of Spelunky?

Hull: In the mattock’s case, that was actually a bug. It was always intended to break after X number of uses, but if you carried it to a new level in the original XBLA release, the “use” counter would get reset to 99. A better example might be the spectacles, which were given an additional ability in the title update to buff them up a bit. At this point though, we are pretty happy with the balance of the game as is. The PC and PSN/PSV release will include a few additional bug fixes, but we are not intentionally altering or rebalancing any of the elements in the game.

AS: What have you learned from the XBLA experience that helped with the upcoming release on PSN/PSV and PC?

Hull: The XBLA release was the first published game I had worked on, so the whole project was a learning experience for me. From the programming hurdles, to the design challenges, to the hours of testing and polishing, I saw how brutal game development can be in terms of the sheer work and effort required. I went into the PC port much more prepared, both technically and emotionally. It also helped that the bulk of the work had already been completed, and the new versions benefited directly from a full year of players playing the game on XBLA and discovering bugs. In addition, I had plenty of time to find additional bugs and optimizations in the code that were missed in the rush to release the XBLA version.

AS: Have you been surprised by the persistently positive critical response to Spelunky? It seems that even a year later, Spelunky is still getting a ton of positive support.

Hull: I think from the start we were focused on making a quality game that would stand the test of time. Like the original PC version, we wanted it to be a deep, rich experience that would continue to surprise, challenge and delight players even on their 500th play-through. So to answer your question, I don’t think we are surprised by the positive response the game is still receiving, but we are certainly pleased that we were able to achieve our goal. Derek and I still have a blast playing the game, and hopefully more and more people will discover it now that it is reaching new platforms.

AS: Super Meat Boy made a cute cameo in Spelunky. Are there any other characters you’d like to see pop in for playable cameos?

Hull: There are lots of other characters out there that would make for neat cameos. However, we were very deliberate in not cramming in the who’s who of indie games, especially following on the heels of Super Meat Boy. Ironically, the one character we did include was the boy of meat himself. Edmund and Tommy (Team Meat) were very supportive of Spelunky throughout development, offering testing, tips and advice. Tommy in particular gave me technical assistance on multiple occasions as I worked on the XBLA version. We got to know them both well, and thought Meat Boy would make an especially cool addition to the game. Plus, Spelunky Guy was in Super Meat Boy, so it was only fair.

Spelunky HD

AS: Interesting that you mention the depth of the experience – just the other night I experienced the ball and chain for the first time after 1500+ playthroughs. I was bamboozled to say the least. With that in mind, do you think that there is something more inherently addicting about rogue games because the game is never the same?

Hull: Certainly I think that the randomly generated nature of roguelikes adds replayability. It becomes impossible to see everything in one play through, so it strongly encourages a sense of discovery that lasts beyond just beating the game. I think this is only amplified by roguelikes’ emphasis on component interaction. The possibilities just multiply so quickly that it gives the player a ton of things to try. You see the same sort of thing happening in open-world sandbox games as well. Of course, this creates a ton of extra work, making sure all the different combinations work in interesting ways together. This is in pretty stark contrast to traditional games. How cool would it have been to try out Kuribo’s Shoe on different levels in Super Mario 3?

AS: Considering that you’re part of a very small development team, how much time in an average day is spent in the depths of Spelunky?

Hull: My schedule varies pretty wildly, especially since my wife and I recently welcomed our first child. I work anywhere from probably 5-12 hours a day. Obviously, I’ll tend toward the higher end of that as we get close to deadlines, and the lower end as things ease up. I do tend to work some on the weekends too, which helps spread the hours out a bit more. But if you mean actually playing the game itself, the number is surprisingly low. Most of my time in game is spent just testing code I am working on, and hopping right back out. I do try to have at least one serious run of the game each day though.

AS: How did it feel shipping off the PSN/PSV work to another studio? Do you get to see their progress?

Hull: Honestly, it feels amazing. Haha! Learning a new console is a ton of work, and after developing the XBLA version, I don’t think I had it in me to do another one. The guys over at Blit are super experienced on the Playstation side of things. I’m sure it would have taken me at least twice as long to tackle the ports, probably more. At first it was a little nerve-wracking handing over the source code to another team. Every day I was expecting horrified emails as they discovered my nasty hacks, and we didn’t really know what kind of quality to expect. But any nervousness we might have had went out the window when we tried an early build of the game on Vita. Even then, it looked and played great. We’re in constant contact with them about the ports, and Derek is able to try builds regularly and send feedback.

AS: Let’s take a fantasy trip – Nintendo approaches you and Derek about re-imagining any game in their canon – what game would you pick and why?

Hull: Personally, I’d love to take on Mario Kart. I’m a big fan of the series, but I think it has gotten pretty stale in its current incarnations. I’d be inclined to try to open the world up a bit and improve the single player experience. Try to get away from the “Cup” system. Something like Mario Kart meets Burnout Paradise with a dash of GTA. I think that could be pretty amazing, cruising all throughout a bustling Mushroom Kingdom.

And while I can’t speak for Derek directly, my guess is that he would reimagine The Legend of Zelda. He is a huge fan of the original game, and feels it has gotten worse over time as it has become more accessible. He’s mentioned that Dark Souls feels like much more of a spiritual successor to the original Zelda then something like Skyward Sword does, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he would want to steer it in that direction.

AS: Lastly, what would you like those gamers unaware of Spelunky know about the game?

Hull: To stick with it, because it is packed full of cool interactions and content! I think new players can initially be put off by a perceived lack of progress at the start, so I would encourage them to keep pushing forward and realize that they are learning more and more about overcoming the different dangers in the game. Once you get over the hump, the game really opens up. The mines, which once felt impossible, will become just a warm up for the amazing adventures ahead.

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