Boss Fight Books: Spelunky (#11) – Derek Yu

5 out of 5

I like reading very long articles that are deep dives on games’ (or series’) development histories. I enjoy well-researched youtube videos on the same.

As I read through Boss Fight Books’ offerings, I’ve come to realize that, while they certainly contain a fair amount of research each, they are often not deep dive histories. They are reactions. They are occasionally cool-kid nostalgia + factoids; they are thoughts on the impact/s of the games, or the environments that allowed for them to occur. This has been interesting most of the time, but my most common criticism here is that it doesn’t amount to a book’s worth of material, and most of the authors can’t settle on a tone of being descriptive – you haven’t played this game before – or inclusive – we’ve all played this, and let’s talk about it – resulting in ultimately wishy-washy reads.

Given the preference for the type of focus I’ve mentioned, of course the first BFB that matches exactly what I want is one that’s written by its own game’s creator: Derek Yu, writing on Spelunky. But it’s not just that simple, either. It doesn’t have to be the creator giving it to us firsthand. While that certainly allows for the most direct access, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a well-balanced piece, or even well-written, as those in the weeds of game design aren’t always the most adept at crossing the conversational threshold required for book writing. So the fact that Spelunky, the book, corrects my other BFB laments while also doing all the deep dive stuff I want, and offers the sociological elements that the series seemingly requires, and does so in a clearly and entertainingly written fashion, and manages to be appreciably as unbias as possible, given who’s writing it… that’s all on Derek Yu, and not just because he’s the one who worked on the game. There is a thoroughness here – that carries through to the way he walks through his game’s gameplay, and design decisions, and different iterations of the game – and an awareness of the value that everyone in the pipeline, from his fellow devs to the fans and critics of Spelunky, added to its history – that suggests that had Yu deigned to write on some other game, it would’ve produced an equally valuable entry.

I understand that a lot of the games covered in Boss Fight are of a previous generation, and digging up material – or new info – on them, and then spinning that into an entertaining read, is difficult. But there’s a reason people want to read about these games (and that people want to write about them…), and Yu’s book is the first one in the series to really make me appreciate the journey of a game’s lifecycle, from its first demo to its ports and legacy. Not everyone is checking these out with the same preferences I have, for sure, but I have to imagine that Yu’s passion would be a desirable trait to carry forth to other entries.