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Heresy

by Darius Kazemi on November 2, 2010

in design,facebook,Games I Love,indie,Spelunky

Spelunky on Facebook

Spelunky on Facebook. Click to embiggen.

Spelunky would make a great Facebook game.

Stop laughing. I am serious. Well, I am half-serious.

Think about it. Core gameplay happens in short chunks. Most Spelunky runs are maybe 1 to 5 minutes, and a full standard playthrough takes about 20 minutes. There are valuable items, and there’s a huge social motivation to tell your friends about your individual runs. Spelunky for Facebook could be based on the¬†Bejeweled Blitz model: a really fun game you play in short bursts and compete with your friends on a daily/weekly/monthly/all-time leaderboard.

Core Gameplay

Core gameplay of Spelunky would remain completely unchanged from classic Spelunky, but Facebook would provide a framework around the game to allow for competition, sharing of stories, and yes indeed, monetization.

Monetization

At first I was wondering how monetization would work, but I realized that it would be relatively easy.

Items in Spelunky are intrinsically valuable and qualitatively differentiated, far more so than in most Facebook games. For example, the difference between a pistol and a shotgun in a Mafia Wars clone is basically one of attack power. In Spelunky, the pistol and the shotgun do have different damage values but they also interact with the physical simulation in unique ways: bullet spread, recoil, and range come to mind. And I can’t even recall playing a Facebook game with items as varied as the jetpack, the pickaxe, and the rope.

If you’ve ever played Spelunky at any length, think about a situation where I tap you on the shoulder while you’re playing and offer you a shotgun on your next run for the low low price of a dime. You might actually pay me that dime.

The intrinsic value of items in Spelunky also makes them prime gift fodder. The fact that many items are skill-based could add another dimension to gift-giving. “Hey Jane, here’s a teleporter. I thought you could use some practice — they’re pretty useful once you figure out how they work! Some tips: _____”

If I were designing Spelunky for Facebook, I would only allow item purchases or gifts to be applied at the beginning of a run. I would also limit it to one item used at a time. (Maybe two?) One of the great things about items in Spelunky is that while starting with an item like the shotgun does give the ¬†player a distinct advantage, having such an item does not by any means ensure the player will do better. While being able to buy a shotgun on demand would probably make the game trivial, simply making it so that a player will start with the shotgun doesn’t guarantee anything.

I would also add some kind of inventory system where you can accumulate items that you buy or are gifted, to deploy or regift as desired. I would probably allow players the option of putting an item away in their inventory when in-game acquisition occurs. For example, if you’re playing and you come across a cape, but you hate playing with the cape, you can store it in your inventory and give it away to a friend.

Virality

Spelunky Wall Post

Spelunky Wall Post

If you’ve been following me for more than a couple years you might recall that I once hacked Spelunky to automatically post my in-game exploits to Twitter. What excites me most about this whole silly idea is the prospect of doing something similar on Facebook. It would involve writing some rather tricky code to track not just events that occur, but the context in which they happened. Having worked on a primitive version of this system for SpelunkyTweet, I can say that it’s not a trivial problem but also not capital-H Hard.

One issue that I have with Facebook games is that when they ask me to post about something that just happened on my wall, the event is trivial. Most of the time, I don’t give a crap. Oh yay, I reached level 21. Nobody cares. But if the game could synthesize a short, funny, unique narrative based on the success or failure of my problem-solving attempts and the context in which they occur… that would be awesome. I would post those all the time, because they’d be interesting to my friends.

Imagine a generated wall post like, “I can’t believe it. Nine levels deep into the cave, full health, I’m lucky enough to get a shotgun… and then I fall to my death. Butterfingers can be brutal.” I would be all over that. I would probably limit the moments that in-game wall post requests appear to moments when the player is not at any immediate risk. The post logic would be something like:

  • If a notable thing happens
    • Generate a wall post
    • If within the next 60 seconds the player is not moving and no enemies are on the screen
      • Pop up the wall post request
      • Else, throw away the wall post

Wall post requests would always appear following player death. There would probably also be some way for the player to request a wall post manually.

Leaderboard

I’m not going to bother describing the leaderboard system in detail. I see it working along the lines of the one in Bejeweled Blitz, which you can check out for yourself. You can compete against friends and worldwide for daily, weekly, monthly, and all-time best runs.

Conclusion

Someone needs to make this. Derek? Please?

{ 14 comments }

Rob November 2, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Frankly, that’s genius right there. The only reason I’m not still playing Spelunky is that eventually it came to an end; give me a score-based endless Facebook app version to show off my caving skills to all and sundry, and I’d never see daylight again.

Kate Baxter November 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Wow, that makes a lot of sense. Would Desktop Dungeons work, too? Similarly short but compelling gameplay experience, but I’m not sure the wall post events would be as interesting as Spelunky.

Joe Tortuga November 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I like the idea of giving a story instead of those generic blurbs that no one cares about. Wasn’t part of the fun of CowClicker coming up with something fun to say in those blurbs?

Some sort of story thing would give these games some interesting meat to them, I think.

Jake Eakle November 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I think I would start playing Spelunky again if this existed.

Like, a lot.

Ian Schreiber November 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Why not? I still see Canabalt runs posted to Twitter, doing something similar to Facebook seems natural enough.

Darius Kazemi November 2, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Yeah, I think the “heresy” part is more related to the monetization aspects. Updates/leaderboard everyone can agree with.

Nels Anderson November 2, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Since the XBLA version include leaderboards and the like, how does this version improve upon upon the player’s experience? I’m so, so not the target for FB games, but I can’t see myself ever opting for this over the XBLA/PC versions.

Darius Kazemi November 3, 2010 at 7:22 am

Couple points here. 1) I don’t know for certain whether XBLA Spelunky is including something like it but XBL certainly doesn’t lend itself to the kind of story-sharing I describe. 2) XBL’s social framework, while always improving, is still complete crap compared to FB’s (which is itself kinda crap). So even if the XBLA version had some kind of story-sharing element to it, I don’t think it would be as good a UX you could manage on FB.

It’s really the story-sharing I’m excited about, and XBL is crap for that kind of thing.

I also don’t think Spelunky will be as compulsively replayable on the Xbox as it is on the PC, and the only reason is platform. I’m on a PC at least 40 hours a week, probably more like 60. I use my Xbox maybe 4 hours on a normal week, 20 hours on a week that I have a new game I want to play/finish. The reason that I was even remotely able to play Spelunky for hundreds of hours of the course of a year and enjoy its depth is that it was ready at hand on both my work computer and my home laptop. I feel like on Facebook there would be more people playing Spelunky more often, and that combined with FB’s more robust social UX would create for a waaay more compelling social experience around Spelunky.

Though my excitement and skepticism is rooted in the fact that I see Spelunky’s primary value as a social experience (with the brilliant gameplay in a close close close second place).

Nels Anderson November 4, 2010 at 12:37 am

Interesting. Maybe it’s just because I never talk to other people about Spelunky, at least not with any regularity, but I’ve never found my enjoyment of the game to be telling “war stories.” For me, it’s got the same draw that nethack or other roguelikes do. But I remember when L4D came out, there was definitely a lot of water cooler talk about experiences in it. So I get the appeal in that regard (even if it doesn’t hasn’t hit me personally w/ Spelunky).

Tom Francis November 9, 2010 at 2:44 am

You could also sell the shortcuts to later worlds for 1, 2, and 4 bucks respectively. Usually those put you at a bit of a disadvantage because you don’t have the items you’d have picked up in previous worlds. But combined with the ability to buy, store and be gifted these things, it’d actually be more useful.

Danc November 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Best idea ever.

Nick Robinson January 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I would play the motherfuck out of this. You’re absolutely right – it fits the Bejeweled Blitz format so perfectly, I’d actually be upset if they changed anything about Spelunky for a Facebook version.

To use a phrase used only by people like myself who know nothing about programming: JUST DROP IT IN, DEREK.

CJ February 10, 2011 at 8:14 pm

This must be done. Plain and simple.

mcc September 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm

This is a really good idea (and hell, I’d be indescribably happy with just a Flash version of Spelunky). Personally I don’t think I want to play a “monetized” game though (I’d happily pay for Spelunky but don’t like the model of microtransactions in the middle of a game). And I don’t use Facebook…

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