Behind the Scenes with Spelunky Creator Derek Yu

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There's always time for a bit of shopping in Spelunky

Spelunky stars an intrepid explorer, who scours randomly generated caves for treasure, while avoiding traps and nasty critters and rescuing distressed damsels. It was released on the PC back in 2008 – you can head to the website to check it out. There’s a new version in the works for Xbox Live Arcade, and it’s been nominated for awards at the Independent Games Festival. We spoke with the Derek Yu, the game’s creator.

Game On: Tell us a bit about yourself; How did you get into game development?

Derek Yu: I started developing games as a kid and haven't stopped since! Most of my games have been released as freeware, but four years ago I released my first commercial game, Aquaria. It's out for PC, Mac, Linux, and iPad.

Right now I'm working on Spelunky for Xbox Live Arcade.

Game On: What is Spelunky? How did you come up with the idea?

Derek Yu: Spelunky is a platform game where the levels are randomly-generated each time you play - it's like a new adventure every time you press start! Actually, I came up with the idea while I was working on a completely different type of game - a turn-based dungeon crawl with random levels, otherwise known as a "roguelike". I thought it'd be interesting to apply some of the ideas behind roguelikes to a platformer.

The original Spelunky is available to play on PC for free and the XBLA version will be out some time this year.

Game On: Why should traditional gamers tap into the indie scene-- and into this game specifically?

Derek Yu: There are a lot of great games coming out of the indie game community, and it'd be a shame to miss out on them just because they're not as well advertised. Some of these games have depth that rival what's put out by the big studios. Some are interesting because they're wildly different, or reflect a developer's unique, personal vision. There's so much out there that it's worth a look no matter what type of game player you are - if you want to play all of the best, most interesting games, you can't afford to ignore the indie side of things!

As for Spelunky... it's become much more popular than I ever thought it would, and I like to think that speaks well of its design. I've spent four years working on the game, and I've done everything that I can to ensure that it's the best it can be. There is quite a lot of depth to it - people have played thousands of times and are still figuring out new secrets.

Game On: What tools and training did you employ to create Spelunky, and how long have you been working on it?

Derek Yu: I used Game Maker to create the original game, and the XBLA version is being programmed in Visual Studio. Each version has taken about 2 years to develop.

I went to school to learn programming, but developed my artwork on my own, for the most part.

The Xbox Live Arcade incarnation will add cooperative and competitive multiplayer.

Game On: What do you think sets Spelunky apart from other games?

Derek Yu: The randomized levels are pretty unique to platformers. Also, there's a lot of freedom in terms of how you approach the game. For example, all of the floors and walls in Spelunky are destructible, and you can use bombs and other items to create your own path through the levels. There are a lot of fun decisions to make each time you play, and because of the randomization your experience stays fresh.

I'm pretty happy with how things have turned out - there's not much I would have done differently, to be honest.

Game On: What were your projects previous to Spelunky-- did Spelunky stray from the path you normally tread?

Derek Yu: Aquaria was the game I released right before Spelunky. I worked on it with my friend Alec Holowka, who did half of the design work and otherwise handled the programming and music. Both games are about the kinds of things I enjoy: action, exploration, cool worlds, and interesting game mechanics. Spelunky doesn't stray too far from what I normally make, although I do think it's my best game yet!

Game On: What are you excited to do, see and play at the Independent Games Festival this year?

Derek Yu: The other nominees look amazing and I'm eager to try them all. I'm especially pleased with the games that are up for the grand prize and design awards: Dear Esther, Fez, Frozen Synapse, Johann Sebastian Joust, Atom Zombie Smasher, English Country Tune, and Gunpoint. So many different types of games, and they all look fun! It's a slice of indie gaming that I'd be proud to show anybody.

Game On: Any advice to offer to someone eager to dabble in indie game development? Any tips or warnings?

Derek Yu: It's very easy to underestimate the length and difficulty of game development, so you should endeavor to start small and, most importantly, FINISH YOUR GAMES! You don't have to finish every one, but if you find yourself abandoning one project after another it's worth scaling back your ideas a bit. I see a lot of developers never get anywhere because they're always starting over on something new.

Also, be active in the community and try to meet people, either online or at a game convention or jam. It will help keep you motivated and you never know when you'll find someone to work with (there's a lot of talent out there). I run The Independent Gaming Source, a news site and forum for indie game players and developers - that's a great place to start if you're having trouble finding like-minded people.

Game On: Where and when can we play your game?

Derek Yu: You can grab the original game from my website! And the new version will be available for download on Xbox 360 later this year. We would like to port [the new version] to PC at some point, too, but right now we don't have any definite plans.

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