When I first embarked on this project, I had no idea how diverse, weird, and interesting the stuff you can find in natural cave systems are. I of course knew about all the cool flowstone formations, because everyone knows about flowstone formations. They're a staple in every movie that has even a few moments underground.
But what is really making the game feel grounded in reality is putting in the stuff that you don't see in movies.
Back when I first started tinkering with the game, the naive guy in me pictured veins of gold or gemstones like rubies and sapphires peeking out of the rock. I knocked out a little script that would even add them to the rooms.
Instantly, it felt trite. "Rubies," really? Veins of gold? What is this, Minecraft? And could those things really appear in caves?
Since then, I've found a voice for the game and realized why that felt so lousy. Even though gold and rubies are real-world treasures that really do occur underground, they are simply common. The number of games that use either gold or rubies in them is too high to count.
In the real world, they're still treasures. But in video games? They're a dime a dozen.
This week, I delved into a little research and discovered that good candidates for different minerals showing up in caves are, for instance, Malachite and Azurite, two strikingly-colored Copper oxides that occur naturally in caves and fetch a pretty penny on the market due to their uncommon beauty.
I dusted off some of my old code, killed the rubies and gold, and swapped them out with Malachite or Azurite. Instantly, it felt more real, more interesting, and more meaningful, simply because it wasn't trite. The simple decision to avoid "treasure" tropes made the treasures feel that much more important...which is the goal of a treasure, after all.
I shouldn't be surprised, of course. Lone Spelunker is all about offering a new and different kind of treasure in a video game. But sometimes, it just strikes me all over again how grounding a game in reality can make it feel fresh and fantastic. It's extremely odd.