With the world getting its first glimpse of Spelunky 2 this week, we thought it an opportune moment to look back at the classic procedurally-generated platformer that started it all. Read on to find out how creator Derek Yu crafted the game’s vicious Speedlunky Trophy…
Have you been to the Ice Caves? What about the Temple? You have? OK, have you defeated Olmec and carried home his Giant Idol in triumph? Beating Spelunky is a fantastic challenge, requiring tens, hundreds or maybe even thousands of retries as you learn the skills and knowledge you need to get through the 15 procedurally generated levels of tiki traps, yetis, fire frogs, snakemen and bats that precede Olmec. And then you need to beat this giant disembodied stone head which crushes anything beneath it.
You have? Well, have you done it in eight minutes?
This is the Speedlunky Trophy, a speedrunning challenge that requires seriously deep knowledge of Spelunky’s deep and detailed systems. You need to know how to deal with its many threats, from arrow traps that hurt you and send you flying (often into instantly lethal spikes) to enraged shotgun-toting shopkeepers. You need to know what equipment to take and how to get it reliably. And remember, the levels are random, so you can’t know for sure if you’ll find the most useful gear, and where to find each level’s exit.
You’d think that randomness would make Speedlunky horribly unfair. What if you don’t come across many bombs or ropes? What if you don’t get a jetpack? What if you take the wrong route to the exit too many times? It sounds like an exercise in frustration, failing over and over without it being your fault.
The Moon Room that birthed the Spelunky speedrun
As it happens, creator Derek Yu thought much the same when he was making the very first version of Spelunky, which was a freeware game for PC. “I didn’t think that it would be popular for playing fast due to the randomness,” he says. “At the time, I thought speedrunning was mostly about memorising routes.” And you can’t memorise a random level.
Still, he put a speed challenge into the original Spelunky. One of its three unlockable minigames is the Moon Room, in which you shoot a target with arrows for a high score, and it’s accessed by beating the game in under 10 minutes. As he tested the game, Yu realised that if a run included a dark level, in which the only light is from a torch you have to carry and it’s difficult to see threats, it would be pretty much impossible to finish in time. So he made a little rule that if the player beats the previous level in less than 20 seconds, a dark level is never generated for the next one.
And that’s as far as he went with the whole playing-Spelunky-fast thing. But then, in 2010, a couple of years after he released the original game, Yu saw that a player called Mark ‘ExplodingCabbage’ Amery had completed it in 2 minutes, 53 seconds.
Randomness as an exploitable obstacle
He was wrong about randomness, and Spelunky wasn’t as random as he thought. “I realised the randomness could be dealt with like any other obstacle in a game,” Yu says. ExplodingCabbage explained how his experience with the game allowed him to see patterns in the way the levels were generated so he could make good guesses about which direction he should go to get to the exit. It turned out that speedrunning Spelunky was completely possible.
When Yu, with collaborator Andy Hull, created Spelunky HD for PS3, PS4 and PS Vita and turned the Moon Room challenge into a Trophy, they changed very little about it, other than to reduce the time limit to eight minutes. That’s down to your character in Spelunky HD being a little quicker and more agile than he was in the original.
But Yu was so good at Spelunky that the limit was once stricter. “The first iteration of the Trophy was set to 6 minutes because that was how fast I was beating the game at that point! But because the other testers were having trouble with it, we eventually added two minutes.”
How the community beat Derek Yu at his own game
That extra time might make all the difference to you and I, but for proper Spelunky speedrunners, six minutes is agonisingly slow. In fact, the current world record is Kinnijup’s 1:38, which Yu happened to be watching on Twitch as he achieved it. “The fight with Olmec was meant to take at least a couple of minutes alone, but by carefully placing bombs under him when he drops, it can be done in under 20 seconds! I never did any of that when I was testing the trophy,” Yu says.
Kinnijup’s incredible time is down to his use of a teleporter so he zips through walls, ignoring most of the traps and enemies, and a seemingly telepathic knowledge of the levels, based on his knowledge of the patterns in the random generation so he can unerringly set course for the exit. He makes it look almost simple, but it really isn’t.
You don’t need to be as good as Kinnijup to earn the Speedlunky Trophy, but it’s still a stiff challenge. And don’t be put off by the fact that the Trophy you get is merely a bronze. That’s just a reflection of Yu’s thinking that the gold and silver trophies should be awarded for the core achievements of the game. The real reward of Speedlunky is your personal satisfaction at mastering levels that once felt impossible. You’ll have learned things that will have prepared you for a new challenge, because the chances are that for you, Spelunky is far from over. There’s Hell to beat, and what about the Solo Eggplant Run?
Derek Yu’s 10 tips on beating Speedlunky
- Hold down the run button and never let go!
- Remember that you can just run right over one-tile gaps.
- Go for easy crates and items that will help you move around, like ropes and jetpacks, or tunnel downward, like bombs and mattocks.
- The snake pits that appear in the Mines are great for Speedlunky, since you can drop down quickly and get a mattock at the bottom.
- Aim for around 20 seconds per level to stave off dark levels and leave ample time for the Olmec fight.
- Don’t bother the shopkeepers! The cave should provide everything you need.
- Learn how far you can safely drop! When you look down, the lowest block that’s still completely on the screen is safe.
- Bombs can make the Olmec fight go faster, but they’re not necessary for the trophy.
- Make sure you have some ropes to hit the various enemies Olmec spawns and to give you a way out after you’ve sent him into the lava.
- Keep playing the game! You’ll learn to recognise the patterns that appear in the random level generation and be able to traverse them instinctively.