Humble Beginnings, Humble Endings
My Introduction to Indie and Thanks to Matt Thorson
Sorry for the hiatus. I had an unfortunate episode with something, but now I am back and hopefully that doesn’t happen again.
The origins for me loving Celeste go all the way back to when I was young and indie games were a super niche thing. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so games were a special occasion. However, I began to wander the internets for more games that I could get for free and stumbled upon indie games. The ones that really stuck to me were a group of developers that seemed to be connected. A lot of them proved to be so in a website that, unfortunately, no longer operates today: the eo community. Then from there my interest in indie skyrocketed.
One game I obsessed over was released a couple months before I got into all of it: Jumper 2. I was tired of the glitchy platformers that inhabited many indie websites, but when I found Jumper I was so excited because platformer games were the thing back then. The graphics were great and the game wasn’t glitchy. The main character is a failed experiment named Ogmo, who looks like a red block with legs. Ogmo is adorable and I love him so much. I bet I can find sketches of him in the margins of old school notebooks if I somehow have not thrown them away yet.
And that was it. I was sucked into the world of indie games. I made levels in the editor all the time. I wasn’t super good at platformers, but I think I managed to make it an okay distance through the game while not being pro. I have followed Matt Thorson’s career ever since. I even got my friends to play Jumper: Redux on LAN. I’ve seen how Thorson grew over time in their designs and it has been an incredible journey.
And then Celeste was released and it took me a long while to play that one. I was bogged down in everything in life. Eventually Celeste was being given for free on Epic Games Store. It brought a renewal of attention, so I decided I would finally play it. I am immensely grateful for this game.
Why I Love Celeste
Celeste is not an easy game, and it is not a hard game either. In fact, I don’t know what to say about difficulty in Celeste. For me, the difficulty curve is the prime example of well done difficulty curves. And yet, I can say that it was not easy.
Good video game design usually involves teaching the player without having them read blocks of texts or having them look at a video. But I would like to propose the idea that Celeste takes good design one step further than pretty much any other game I’ve ever played so far. The game is humble. This is not because the game is modest in content or gameplay or anything. The movement designed in the game is insanely well done. No, this game is humble because it feels more like a teacher and it feels more like a human, than any game that attempted psychological strategies (or even tricks in the case of some horror games) that I’ve ever played.
Celeste already does the established good designs with good level layouts and quick respawn with little consequence. Through the game’s story and mood, the game helps you with one more thing that so few games do: it wants you to improve and it makes that clear. I’ve recently finished Dark Souls 1, and while the game has many good designs in it, the whole attitude and system it has encourages a strong culture of gatekeeping, which is a definite no-no. There’s always the “You’re Not Good Enough, Scrub” attitude. I said that it encourages, not creates. While the culture definitely surrounds it, and I found friends whom I didn’t expect to be enveloped in it too, it does not create it. Because of the universal struggle in the game, there have been good experiences with other players as well. But I just can’t say that the culture of the game is good. It unfortunately, just isn’t. It wasn’t a good experience, but I’ll talk more about Dark Souls in its own “Why I Love.” (So at least I still love it.)
Celeste successfully brings difficulty without that kind of attitude. It shows its tough side with extra objectives and B-Sides to stages for those who want to push themselves to breaking limits, but it does all this with the note saying “You can do it,” or “If you want to.” I don’t feel like this aspect is “weak” in any way. In fact, I think it shows that it knows the player, or rather I should say, the person.
The best professionals and inspirational people in my life are always the humble ones. The ones that made it through without becoming hardened. The ones that chose to stay soft so that they can truly uplift. It is never the easier choice. These are the kinds of people that when they teach, they teach with heart because they still choose to remember what it was like to struggle not only with the limited skill set of someone just beginning, but also the limited knowledge as well.
The honor of their prestige is based on being able to share their experiences rather than boast about how others cannot get them. I think this is what Celeste embodies, in both story and gameplay. This is why I love Celeste. The game is no slouch. It will push you, but in a way that allows oneself to commit to learning and becoming better. It teaches the player to push themselves more than the game pushes them. That’s what I’m all about, I’m sure you know. It is something that I hope that schools one day better integrate into their systems. It is the optimistic hope that humans can be like that to help each other, because let’s face it, life is not easy alone.
Celeste is #9 on the ULTRA. Thanks for reading. Stay safe out there. I hope that we all can stay humble, remember to stay soft, and remember that it is not a weakness to help others.