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celeste

for my ideas about computing environments, see {harrison}

this page is about celeste, the 2018 video game. it contains spoilers.

i bought celeste at the recommendation of a friend, after they had sent me a copy but i decided i could not play it without a controller (and didnt feel like spending money on a controller). so i played it on switch.

i'd seen a lot of talk about it being one of the best games ever. this was in the back of my mind all through playing it, and i was never totally convinced. i would definitely say it is probably the equivalent of plato's perfect form of a platformer, but i wouldn't have said the best game ever.

well, i revise that opinion. i think it is one of the best examples of game design in existence.

§teaching mechanics

note i played this on console, so there is less of a necessity for instructions on buttons.

celeste has very few mechanics, but they are all very tight and well thought out. the protagonist and player character madeline has a limited move set:

realism is not the goal. while the realistic approach works in some platformers, it is best to throw realism out the window when your goal is a skill based platformer. for example, madeline can immediately change direction mid-jump.

the game is split into chapters, which are essentially levels, all of them are pretty long (each took me an hour on average the first time). there is a prologue, which sets the scene and introduces the controls. like world 1-1, you must know how to jump to progress here.

there is no mention of the dash mechanic until right at the end of this, when you are running across a long bridge which starts to crumble. right at the end, you jump to land on celeste mountain, but you can see you're not going to make it. the game pauses, tells you to press dash, and waits as long as necessary for you to do so. no other movement works, it's a modal situation---dash or nothing.

this uses text, and is explicit. but this is fine. not using language is a design decision and is great, but sometimes making it very obvious what to do is helpful. dashing is a core mechanic of the game and not an established move in platformers. this works well.

(for reference if you haven't played the game: the dash rapidly moves you by a couple tiles. you can do it in any direction, regardless of whether you are touching the ground or not).

it could work slightly better; i watched my sister playing the game for the first time, and she attempted the jump several times. with my experience i know she could have dashed and made it, but the game considered it too early, or too late, and let her fall to death. that's a flaw, but not the worst thing ever. on the third try, the tutorial happened for her.

when madeline dashes, she cannot do so again until she touches the ground. to make it obvious to the player, her hair changes colour after she has dashed (from red to blue---it's not subtle). this is a useful visual indicator, especially as very quickly the game introduces things which can reset the dash ability without having to touch the ground.

§the soundtrack

the soundtrack is stunning by any measure. but it also perfectly fits the game. every track that needs to be catchy is catchy, but has enough variety and length to it that it doesn't get old. this is important, as each chapter has its own track, and each chapter lasts a long time.

§dying

you will die a lot. there is no deaths indicator on the screen while you play, but your total deaths and deaths per level are shown on the level select screen. the game encourages dying; a loading message says that each death is something learnt.

this is not strictly true, as i think many deaths are the result of sloppy playing. in fact, every death is, because the game controls so tightly that i didn't find a single death unfair.

§chapters

each chapter features a gimmick, or unique environmental mechanic. learning how to deal with each is fun and rewarding.

§strawberries

most screens have a strawberry that can be collected for extra credit. they often take more skill to reach. some of them have wings, a visual indicator that you can't use dash to get to them (if you dash, they fly off the screen).

on collecting a strawberry, it floats along behind you until you touch ground again. normally the ground closest to you is fine; sometimes you have to get back to where you started on the screen. (i think; i might be incorrect about that latter part). they are all totally optional. the best part is that immediately on successfully collecting a strawberry, you have collected it. you can quit the level and you will still have collected the strawberry.

the pause menu shows a sequence of dots, one per strawberry in that chapter. it is replaced with a strawberry icon when you have collected it. this is great as you can easily see whereabouts a strawberry you've missed is.

§gush

in the final chapter, madeline makes piece with herself and you gain the ability to dash twice in a row. this is brilliant and suddenly there are whole lot more creative puzzles. she gets a new hair colour to distinguish whether one or two dashes have been performed. the level is like a combination of mechanics from all the other chapter so far but stepped up. it was such an incredible finale.

§complaints

one of the levels features blocks which move when you stand on them, or grab the side of them. some of these can be controlled by moving up or down while you are on them. i think this mechanic is not taught to the high quality of everything else in the game, as i had to look up how to navigate one part of the level which made use of this mechanic after trying for about ten minutes.

actually, the mechanic may not have been the problem, more that the different types of blocks are not sufficiently distinct for me to know which is which. i had been trying to use a block when standing on it rather than holding the side, and it was not working.

there was a part in the final level (of the main story), i think checkpoint twenty one, where i also couldn't figure out how to continue. this might have just been that i was fatigued, as watching how it was done made it obvious. but i struggled significantly more with that single platform than any other part in the game. whereas normally i could see what to do, i just didn't yet have the skill to do it (my skill as a player, not an unlockable skill)

§accessibility

see also