While I’d like to kick off the new year with an interesting post about language, I’ve been enjoying myself too much recently to put one together. I’ve become addicted to a cool independent game called Spelunky.

Spelunky: Level 1

Spelunky has cool retro pixel graphics. It’s kind of like Super Mario Brothers (physics) + Zelda (items) + Indiana Jones (theme). What really makes it unique, though, is its random level generation. The game most famous for this is the old 1980 classic Rogue, but Spelunky does it in a more sophisticated, fun way.

Spelunky: Level 5

You play randomly generated level after randomly generated level, knowing you will never play them again. And you die many, many times. Randomly generated levels strewn with enemies and traps are often very unfair, yet the design is sufficiently balanced and full of surprises that you keep coming back for more… again and again and again.

Spelunky: Level 9

Well done, Derek Yu. It’s innovative games like this that make me glad I still have a PC and not just a Mac.

Another noteworthy diversion I’ve spent some time on lately is MS Paint Adventures, a webcomic recommended by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. I say “webcomic” because, well… it’s kind of weird. It’s a webcomic pretending to be a Choose Your Own Adventure, posing as a late 80’s Sierra adventure game (think King’s Quest or Space Quest), with elements of RPG and other adventure game genres.

MS Paint Adventures

This one’s not for everyone, as you can probably guess by the above image. If you got all the references in my description above, though, you just might like it a lot.

Have a great 2009… and don’t forget to play!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. you forgot super pitfall for the NES for possible other theme influence on spelunky. though admittedly this is much much better.

  2. I’m all geared up to make 2009 a productive year. Blog more. Study Chinese. Interact with people. Contribute to society.

    And now… you’ve completely derailed me by telling me about a potentially addictive Spelunky. Having grown up on Super Mario, Zelda, and Rogue… this is exactly the game that I should (and should not) be playing. Thanks, John. Happy New Year!

  3. looks like a cool game…kinda reminds me of Spelunker for the NES. I recently went back and worked my way through the Legend of Zelda (both quests), and it was like picking up a classic novel again for another read through.

  4. Kellen and Ben,

    Yeah, Derek Yu has said that the name “Spelunky” is a tribute to the game Spelunker. Pitfall is pretty similar.

    But randomly-generated levels!

    This changes everything.

  5. Oh, and a few Spelunky tips for new players (I don’t think they count as spoilers, but don’t read if you’re really sensitive to potentially spoiling info):

    1. Unless you’re some kind of gaming god (and I’m not), you will die a lot. It’s part of the game. But with the random levels, easier levels with easier to find loot are a certainty if you just keep playing.

    2. The ghost is really annoying at first, but once you get used to the game, you’ll probably never run into him again. You spend a lot of time exploring and collecting items when you first play, but after a good 20 games or so you realize how fleeting your life is in this game and stop wasting time on the trivial stuff.

    3. If a guy is collecting donations to build a tunnel, give him all your money every time you see him.

    4. It is possible to rob the shopkeeper, but not easy. I’ve only managed to kill him and steal his items once. (He packs a shotgun.)

    5. You can get guns and other weapons in the game, and they can make a huge difference later in the game.

  6. iswitched Says: January 6, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    make me glad I still have a PC and not just a Mac.

    John, I don’t want to enter war again about Mac and PC stuff, but hey … You can run ANY PC game on a Mac nowadays, and you don’t even need to have multi boot with Bootcamp : VMWare (or Parallels) makes it possible to run even 3D games within Mac OSX, so that tiny little 2D game you’re showing us will run without any problem on Mac OSX as well …

    Of course Bootcamp will enable you to run Windows XP or Vista at native speed, and therefore to run just ANY PC game on your Mac machine, but I don’t like multi-boot and I don’t play a lot of games except World of Warcraft, which is also available for Mac OSX so … VMWare is my way to go, it enables me to virtualize just any PC software I still need (i.e. : Outlook, Visio, Internet Explorer, etc.).

    Just my 2 cents.


  7. I need to play this…
    I’m a sucker for retro-gaming. (well, gaming at all, but yeah.)
    Given that I don’t subscribe to x-box live, I missed ‘castle crashers’ last year and it haunts me! The original creators started out making great flash games, so maybe someone, somewhere will make a cpu version.
    That said, I am having issues with the download. The rar file is all ???, but I’m quite sure it’s a Vista issue.
    Stupid vista…

  8. iswitched,

    Yeah, you’re right, of course, but I don’t like to bother with parallels. I’d prefer to just stay on one platform (no VM required), but games like this are one of the few reasons I can’t.

  9. Jason,

    Yeah, I was really looking forward to Castle Crashers, but it didn’t come out on PS2. 🙁

    I was a big fan of Alien Hominid as a Flash game, then as a PS2 game, and my really old post about the Flash game actually led to me meeting the CEO of The Behemoth when he visited Shanghai about 3 years ago! Pretty cool how that stuff works out.

    When I was writing this post, I was thinking about how I haven’t done a post on Sinosplice just about video games (and non-China-related) since that old Alien Hominid post…

  10. […] of Sinosplice, I need give props to MS Paint Adventures, which is best described as Choose Your Own Adventure […]

  11. thats a cool game, Was just thinking(Im a PC by the way) but wouldnt a Mac make sence in China, I mean if they really are virus free then they would be a good idea for browsing chinese websites. I always tought of John as being a Mac but guess I was wrong.

    John PS2 is more or less dead now, get a modded XBOX360, you wont regret it and it has castle crashers on it too.

  12. How to rob the stores:

    -Use bombs to make a hole just outside the store, do not damage the store or activate the bomb INSIDE the store or shopkeeper will get angry.

    -Create climbing rope INSIDE the store.

    -Grab an item for sale and climb the rope inside the store.

    The Shopkeeper will now run around along the ground and fall down where you made the hole in step 1, now quickly drop the item so the shopkeeper stops moving.

    -Jump down and find the shopkeeper, plant a bomb next to him, be careful not to hit him with it. He will be killed and drop a shotgun, you will now be a thief, and you are also free to climb back up to his shop and rob it!!

    *This is better than killing him in his shop because if you damage shops you will have to deal with angry shopkeepers guarding the entrance of future levels.
    This strategy doesn’t work so well for gambling or kissing shops.


  13. heilong,

    I have never seriously considered buying an XBox 360, but God of War 3 makes me want to get a PS3 (plus I’ll be able to play Blu-Ray discs, and all my old PS2 games will work on it).

    Wii looks like a lot of fun too.

  14. @ John
    The problem with a PS3 in China is that it can’t be modded and therefore you have to pay around 350 RMB per game. Now, I’m not directly supporting piracy, but 350 per game? Ouch…

  15. Rogue!! So many hours of my childhood went to that game…and I still play it occasionally for old times sake. Still can’t beat it. If you want to play some really old school Rogue, go here:

  16. John! You and your new fangled video games!

    It’s weird that you’re a “rogue-like” kind of guy. I can certainly see the appeal of those, but they’re just too hard for me. And I get lazy when it comes to video game dedication. 🙂

    BTW, most famous for random level generation = Rogue? That’s certainly generous (and oldschool) of you. But I’d have to go with Diablo. It kind of broke that whole format into the mainstream.

    Wishing rogues weren’t so hard…

  17. Been playing Spelunkying for a week now, awesome.

    I really like the idea of robbing the shop keeper.. I’ve only killed him in the shop before.. I’ll try to get him outside first.

  18. Sigh. Finally downloaded this game and lost a good chunk of my weekend playing it. Can’t get much into Area 4, but I’m getting really good at beating up polar bears and killing psychic eye-monsters. Fun stuff, thanks for mentioning it here.

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