With guest co-host Paul Dean!
It’s dark down here, in the perilous caves of cartoony platformer Spelunky 2. If only there was some sort of caving instructor we could speak to, who could tell us how to survive. Oh, there is, and we have spoken to her for this episode of Hey Lesson! Christine Grosart is a caver, diver and medic who has found actual skulls in caves. With her help, we can navigate the hazards of earth’s real unseen depths, and the dangerous animals that lurk beneath, such as… sheep?
Links and transcription below…
Big thank you to Christine for her caving knowledge
Night Cave by Kevin MacLeod, who else
Drums of the Deep by Kevin MacLeod, what a shock
Christine Grosart, caver: So long as you leave the wildlife alone, it should leave you alone. You know, you can’t go moving snakes around because that’s the bit of the cave you want to camp on. You just have to go somewhere else and hope they don’t come move into your sleeping bag with you.
Brendan Caldwell: Hello, welcome to Hey Lesson, the podcast where we ask smart people, silly questions about video games. And sometimes we ask non-silly questions too. Today we are going to be talking about Spelunky 2, which is a cave-dwelling platformer, where death comes quite quickly, and dangerous creatures are lurking alongside shiny emeralds. We’re going to be asking a real cave explorer whether she thinks Spelunky’s excitable antics are in any way lifelike. You may look at Spelunky 2, and quite reasonably guess: “no”. But if you want to know for sure, you’ll have to keep listening. First of all, though, we have a special guest on. It’s writer and journalist, Paul Dean.
Paul Dean: I’m a special guest! Thank you. I thought it was a regular guest.
Brendan: Well, I mean, you are a regular guest, but you’re special to me.
Paul: Thank you.
Brendan: Because we know each other.
Paul: We do.
Brendan: We’re good friends. We’ve worked together on many projects…
Paul: We’ve grown old altogether, basically. We’re like two weary veterans. Who’ve seen too much and yet the battle continues and we sit there. What do we do? We probably sip out espressos in some cafe and we reminisce about the people lost. And the terrible human cost of what we do.
Brendan: The terrible human cost of games journalism.
Brendan: It’s been a while. Hi, how have you been?
Paul: I’m not bad. I’m in, uh, I’m very happy to live in Vancouver on the West coast of Canada, which is a place that makes me very happy and excited. And I don’t know if we have caves here. We must do. No, we do. We’ve got an enormous cave in British Columbia, uh, somewhere in the interior, that was on the news a while ago, but we cetainly have like all the other nature…
Brendan: All the “other nature”.
Paul: All the other nature, you know, the main things like the water, the trees, bits of ice, uh, uh, most of the main animals, like the water animals, like fish and whales. And then there are snakes and, uh, bats and spiders and…
Brendan: Okay, I’m going to ask you to hang back on the nature talk just for, just for a moment.
Paul: Oh, okay.
Brendan: I asked you to come on the podcast, partly because you’re my friend and I know you, but also because you are a monster of Spelunky, the video game.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Brendan: Tell the listeners, how many hours of the first Spelunky have you played?
Paul: Well, you know what, that’s actually a harder question than–
Brendan: Gimme a round number.
Paul: It’s in the thousands. I’m actually going to look at my Steam library right now to check.
Brendan: I’ve already checked for you, and it’s 1076 hours.
Paul: Oh boy, so the thing, Brendan, is that doesn’t include the original freeware version of Spelunky, which came out in like, I wanna say like 2009, maybe it was 2008. So here’s the thing that I’ll tell you. Back then when I lived a basement in London – and was also, in fairness, I wasn’t having the best time, but I was also a bit more of a miserable person and I may not have always been the best person myself – my PC didn’t run very much apart from video games that were like already five, six, seven, eight years old. But it did run free tiny indie games and it ran this free Spelunky. So I played that a lot and that was how I got good at this game. And then when it came out a while ago, I was lightyears ahead of other people. Because I couldn’t play anything else. And I was grumpy in a basement. So I might have, I want to say thousands, certainly hundreds and hundreds of hours in that as well.
Brendan: So you have a huge edge on people, right? Can you tell me, for people who haven’t even played Spelunky 1, what are you going to do in Splunky 2?
Paul: Wow. So you are, at the core of the game you’re playing a platformer. Which means you jump over things or you crawl under things. You run left to right in a two-dimensional environment and sort of scramble up ladders. A bit like, almost like classic Donkey Kong from the early eighties or whenever that was. You have a whip which you can use to whip the monsters that come at you, which are like snakes and spiders and bats and these wonderful creatures I was talking about earlier, and occasionally other people who are underground. But there’s a whole extra level to this where Spelunky and Spelunky 2 are randomly generated or “procedurally generated” we say, which is every time you play, the levels are different. They have all these different elements that are randomized and built in a new way. So if you lose a game and you die, that’s it, that game is gone forever and you’re playing a completely different arrangement. It’s a bit like shuffling a deck of cards and all the cards are in a different order. Again, there’s also so many things and there are so many elements in the game as well. Like you could get good at just running up and down the levels and jumping on bad guys’ heads and whatever, but there are sort of all kinds of equipment to find. There’s hidden levels. Some of which can only be accessed if you combine certain items together, Spelunky 2 has this sort of levels-behind-levels thing. So you go through doors and you’re in these other caves that are laid out sort of behind the main level. And then you can come out of that cave in another different part of the main cave. So there’s a sort of extra level of finding cool inventory and, you know, gaining unusual powers. And the thing is… even the original Spelunky, which is nearly a decade old, I don’t know, it still has things in it that I don’t know that well, or I haven’t found very often because the randomizing nature of the game and the difficulty of it sometimes mean some of this stuff is really difficult to get to. And I have no idea how much stuff is like hidden in Spelunky 2. I’ve played, I don’t know, 10 hours or something so far of this thing, over a few days.
Brendan: 10 hours. That is only 1% of your previous time with the previous game.
Paul: Right? And it leaves… things are different as well. They’ve done this thing where I feel like the physics are a bit different… the timing of whipping things and jumping and the radius of bombs and all these things are subtly adjusted. Which is… that… that’s a dirty trick. I’m very angry about that. I’ll be writing a letter.
Brendan: It’s a really cartoony game. So if you haven’t seen footage of it, listener, please imagine a bright Saturday morning cartoon with squat, little characters who have big heads. Everything is quite cute, but it’s also caricatured. It’s very bright for something set deep underground.
Paul: It’s very, yeah, it’s very cutesy for a game that is also really tough. And I think that’s actually a thing that constantly surprises people and will surprise people about the sequel is like: Hey, this looks really charming, but actually I could, if I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing, I could screw myself in the first one or two levels. And I’m just dead.
Brendan: Death is a real threat. I wanted to find out in real life what it’s like to go spelunking in reality. So to that end, I have spoken to Christine Grosart. She is a caver and a medic and a cave-diver as well. So she explores flooded caves as well as dry ones. Let’s just see what she tells us about caving.
[Start of expert interview]
Spelunky soundbite: Dear Ana, if you’re reading this, mom and dad are somewhere down below. We might even be stuck.
Brendan: Firstly, could you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Christine Grosart: My name’s Christine and I’m a caving instructor and I’m also a medic as my day job.
Brendan: So you spent a lot of time in caves and various dangerous subterranean dwellings.
Christine Grosart: Yeah.
Brendan: In this video game, Spelunky 2, you’re basically a little cartoon adventurer exploring underground, but what does real cave exploration look like?
Christine Grosart: Yeah, it’s a little bit different. Um, I would say probably things like caving and climbing and things that are deemed “high risk adrenaline sports”, I suppose caving tends to get lumped into that, that bracket. And it shouldn’t be really, um, if there’s, if there’s any adrenaline in caving, then something’s gone really wrong. So really you don’t go caving for the high. You don’t go for the kicks, if you like, or the thrill. You go because it’s a really privileged environment. Geologically it’s fascinating. Um, you know, going through time basically. It is an adventure for sure. I would never say it’s not an adventure, but I wouldn’t say it was an adrenaline sport. It’s very different to the perception. I think it’s quite a passive pastime, you know, you’re not against the clock. It’s not competitive. You just go to see some really cool places.
Spelunky soundbite: Did you see the giant Olmec on the surface?
Brendan: You’ve done a lot of expeditions and stuff like that. What’s the deepest you’ve ever been underground?
Christine Grosart: We don’t really think about the depth, um, in terms of how deep you go below the surface. Because caving is… obviously everything’s below the surface. So in terms of depth? I dunno, a couple of hundred meters, maybe a kilometer, I really don’t know. What I, what we’re really interested in is distance. A lot of my caving customers, they always ask that question: like, how far below the surface are we? You know, and for me as a caver, I don’t really think about that. I, you know, to go below the surface, it’s natural to me. That’s what caving’s all about. What I want to know is, how far we’ve got into the cave. How much more is there to see? How much ground have we covered? As opposed to how deep down we are. There are caves in the world that are several kilometers deep before you get to the bottom of them. So there’s quite a lot of, usually a lot of abseiling to do. And then of course, rope climbing to get back out of there.
Spelunky soundbite: It feels like we’ve slipped into a crack in the universe, but also it’s bigger, so much bigger.
Brendan: As a caving instructor, uh, what are the golden rules of giving?
Christine Grosart: Cave within the limits of your ability. If you are trying to do things that are way outside the limits of your ability, then it’s going to end up in bad news, either an injury or exhaustion or hypothermia, or you just can’t physically get back out of the cave. Or a rescue. And, you know, some cases, yeah, it can be a fatality. So we kind of… it’s not a game really. We tend to take it seriously. It doesn’t mean it can’t be challenging. You can challenge yourself for sure, but you should always make sure that the trip is within your ability, which means you can get yourself in and get yourself out without, without too much difficulty.
Spelunky soundbite: There’s no need to rush. Remember, it’s easier to get hurt if you’re not careful.
Brendan: The caves in the Spelunky video games have bats in them, but there are also like other dangerous animals you have to watch out for, like snakes or spiders. There’s even other people down there who will fight you…
Christine Grosart: I’ve never really come across those [laughter]. Maybe other caving clubs, but… yeah.
Brendan: So what are the real hazards of caves then?
Christine Grosart: Um, to be honest, the real hazards in caves is the people in them. You know, just, just doing some things… not having the right training, not having the right equipment, I suppose. Uh, like I said before, things like hypothermia, exhaustion, you know. You need to be careful of loose rocks. When you’re doing vertical, you know, abseils, stuff like that. You need to make sure that the person back up top isn’t kicking rocks down on you. That can cause a bit of damage. Another big one is flooding. You know, the weather is extremely important, especially in some caves in the UK where… it does nothing but rain basically in the UK. So you need to be really careful, you know, some caves can flood faster than you can get out, and they will flood to the roof. Yeah. Environmental factors, but in some ways you prepare for them, you know, you should be okay. But in terms of things sort of eating you and biting you and stuff like that? No. I know in places like Asia, some huge, huge cave systems in Asia where [people] sort of camp underground and stuff like that, you’ve gotta be careful of snakes there for sure. Um, huge bats, insects, you know, um, getting bitten by insects and getting reactions and stuff like that, generally biological stuff. And there was an incident with a crocodile as well, which I won’t go into, but yeah…
Brendan: Wait, wait! You can go into it! My next question is: have you ever had any close calls?
Christine Grosart: Uh, no. I mean the worst thing that’s ever happened to me is a spider bit me, but it was my fault because I put my hand on it. I mean, you know, if somebody put their hand on me, I’d bite them. So yeah. I took it off, [with] two little pinprick holes in my hand and I was like, wow, they itched for days. But no, I’m… there’s nothing. There’s nothing really. So long as you leave the wildlife alone, it should leave you alone. You just have to be respectful. That’s their home, that’s their environment. You know, you can’t go moving snakes because that’s the bit of the cave you want to camp on. You just have to go somewhere else and hope they don’t, they don’t come and move into your sleeping bag with you.
Spelunky soundbite: I know you’ll meet lots of new friends along the way.
Brendan: If we were going caving right now, what kind of equipment would we need? Like, what would I be wearing?
Christine Grosart: I mean, things have moved on a lot. In, you know, sort of the original days of exploration people were using kind of, a bit like mountaineering gear, you know? And jumpers and flame lights, uh, called carbide lights, and hobnail boots, all that kind of stuff. Which is really heavy, cumbersome, and not that good at keeping you warm and dry. But nowadays we’ve got sort of synthetic materials. So you would be wearing, like, neoprene socks, which keep your feet… They don’t keep them dry, but when they do get wet, they’re nice and warm. Sometimes you use a microfiber, like, fleece kind of… a onesie, if you like, like a baby-grow. And that drains really well. So when you sweat or when you get wet, that drains water quite nicely. And obviously you need a helmet to protect your head, but also to mount your light. LED lighting has made a big difference to the longevity of your, of your light underground. Um, yeah. And for footwear, we use Wellington boots… good old rubber Wellington farm boots. And they bend really nicely. They stick really nicely to the rock. They’ve got good grip, uh, and they’re not expensive. So, that’s, that’s the basics of what you use. And then of course, if you’re going to climb, ropes and stuff like that, then you need a whole, whole world of other equipment, you know, harnesses, metal work, stuff like that.
Brendan: So we’d look less like Indiana Jones and more like, uh, an engineer in a hard hat?
Christine Grosart: Pretty much. Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. It’s not a sexy sport at all. You don’t… you don’t do it for the fashion. That’s for sure.
Spelunky soundbite: But don’t worry, we’re having fun!
Brendan: In these games, you can find all sorts of treasure as well. You find gold or rubies or diamonds, even artifacts from lost cultures, you’ll find golden idols and things like that. Do you ever find anything interesting in the depths of a cave?
Christine Grosart: [Laughing] I wish I found some gold, but no, no, sadly not. Um, in Mexico, for sure you get, uh, skulls and bones from the Mayans. They’ll find that, and lots of pottery and stuff like that, because don’t forget those caves were dry before, which is why they formed these beautiful formations. And then they… flooded when the sea levels rose. So you will get, um, human remains and you will get pottery and bones and evidence of civilizations in these caves. Then of course they flooded. So you can go diving in there and find some cool stuff. And in France we came across some really weird, um, neolithic skulls in a cave in France.
Christine Grosart: Yeah. And we got them carbon-dated. It’s kind of… it was basically, like, a vertical shaft into this cave. And then after that it was mostly diving. Um, and we think maybe it was just used as kind of sacrificial burial site, you know, and these bones just got washed in. So as we went in there, we came across them. But anything… things of value? Monetary value? No, certainly not. No. [Laughing] You need shipwrecks for that.
Spelunky soundbite: I’m so sorry we didn’t bring you here with us. We were worried it’d be dangerous. And also we wanted you to finish school.
Brendan: You’re also a trained paramedic. Have you ever performed any kind of rescue operations or anything like that?
Christine Grosart: Um, no. I’m on the cave rescue register and we get the occasional call out, um, in my local area, you know, it’s usually people forgetting to tell people they’ve come out of a cave. That’s the most common, common reason for a call out. You know, you tell people you’re going caving and then they forget to tell you “we’re actually out”. Now, I’ve done some first aid training and stuff like that with, with a cave rescue. And we were experimenting, um, a few years ago with transporting people on stretchers out through underwater passages. And we were using full face masks and all these kind of strategies and this kind of stuff. We’re doing this in about 2009. It was kind of rubbished a little bit by some of the old guard, if you like. “Why are you doing that? You’re never going to need this. It’s a load of rubbish…” Blah, blah, all the rest of it, you know? And then… then Thailand happened.
BBC news presenter (sound bite): We’re going to bring you some breaking news now that’s been coming into us within the last few minutes. It has been reported from Thailand that rescue divers there have now located the 12 boys and their football coach who had been trapped in flooded caves, and have found them alive.
Christine Grosart: That happened. That was almost exactly the techniques that they used to get the boys out of Thailand. So not all cavers are first aiders, but they do, they do take an interest in it because you know, you could be on a trip were someone gets compromised and you’re the only person there, you know? Cavers cross all walks of life. We have quite a lot of nerds, you know, [people who] really like the geology and the surveying and the hydrological sort of aspects and everything like that. It’s a real leveler, caving. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. Um, when you go caving, you go caving and that’s it. You’re all the same underground. That’s what I really like.
Brendan: Yeah. I know that, uh, at least one of the people who was involved in the Thailand cave rescue operation was an IT consultant in his everyday life.
Christine Grosart: And Rick, the other guy who found the guys, I mean, [who] pretty much led it. Um, he’s a firefighter.
BBC news reporter (soundbite): Rick Stanton gave more details today about the incredible rescue by him and his colleagues in the caves in Thailand…
Christine Grosart: I know him, I’ve known him for years. So we were kind of chatting on a, on a professional level, you know… what would we do if this was a big car crash? How would we, how would we deal with this? So, um, you know, Rick said to me, when I first met him after Thailand, he said: “Did you, did you think we’d get them all out?” And I said: “Yeah, I did.” I said: “But I didn’t think you’d get them out alive.” So I’m definitely… kudos to them for not just getting them out, but getting them out in good condition.
7 News presenter (soundbite): Good evening, welcome. I’m Michael Lasher with a special edition of Seven news. Very simply: they are out. We can report with some happiness that…
Brendan: If the player finds somebody trapped underground, you just kind of grab them in your arms and you carry them to safety. But I want to know what a real cave rescue looks like. So, say I got hurt while we are caving. How would you help me? Please don’t leave me behind.
Christine Grosart: No. So if you’re hurt caving, then obviously the trip stops right there. The first thing you have to do, and I do this a lot in my workshops… you’ve got to make that person comfortable and warm. Nobody with an injury or an illness is going to get better if they get cold. Um, and second, they’re not going to get better if they stay underground for a prolonged period of time. So, so you have your little emergency pack with you when you go caving anyway. So I usually carry like a balaclava, um, [and] a little uh, I don’t want to say “body bag”. It’s not a body bag. It’s like a “survival bag” – is the word. Um, and you get into that. So it keeps the drips off you. It keeps the draft out. You need to set them on something other than rock, because that will just suck the temperature from you. So, get something warm on their head, warm drinks, if you’ve got the means, and then go and get help immediately. If they cannot, you know, if they’ve fractured their leg or something, they really cannot move under their own steam. Then you’ve got to make them warm, comfortable, and then go and get help.
Spelunky soundbite: We’ve been on the moon for what feels like many months already, but it’s hard to tell. Just like before, time and death work differently here.
Christine Grosart: The more information you can give the rescue party, the more efficient they’ll be. And usually the ones nearest the cave will come down and have a look first and assess. And yeah, it’s, it’s mob-handed. It’s a lot more organized than it was years ago. It used to be a lot of drunken cavers at one o’clock in the morning, falling out of the pub, going to help their mates back to the surface [laughter] with varying levels of success. But now it’s a little bit more, a little bit more organized. It’s still very much voluntary. It’s very much caving rescuing cavers and it’s not until they’re back on the surface and picked up by an ambulance that, that anybody else gets involved.
Spelunky soundbite: Just remember what we talked about, and you’ll be fine!
Brendan: In Spelunky, you do sometimes even find dogs wandering about, lost down there. Is that something that happens? Do dogs get trapped in caves?
Christine Grosart: Not dogs. Um, definitely sheep. Sheep are the worst cavers on earth. They fall down cracks. Of course they’re quite valuable to farmers. You know, they fall down cracks and, uh, the cave rescue are quite often sort of called to say: “Hey, would you mind going down and getting farmer Charles’ sheep? It’s fallen down the cave again”. Um, so yeah, sometimes… usually sheep falling down on to ledges and stuff like that. You know, they’re pretty stupid, sheep. They don’t really get it. And it keeps the farmers happy because, of course, a lot of caves are on farmer’s land. So I think, so long as we keep rescuing their sheep, they’ll keep letting us go and cave.
Brendan: So you’ve never seen a pug down a cave?
Christine Grosart: No, I’ve never seen a pug down a cave. That’s not to say it’s never happened, but I’ve never seen a pug down a cave.
Spelunky soundbite: Stay close to Monty and look out for each other
Brendan: In the game, there are a lot of levels. Uh, you know, you go further and further into these strange places. At one point in, in these games, you can reach hell itself. Uh, but as a real spelunker, what drives you personally to keep going deeper and deeper into such extreme places?
Christine Grosart: There’s not many things you can do in life where you can call a piece of the planet your own. There can’t be that many more places left on the planet that haven’t been mapped either by satellite or by imagery or by just physically going there. You know, we’ve, we’ve pretty much covered most of the planet. I think then the only two places left really are the deep ocean, of course, we’re mapping that now, you know, they’re sending submarines down and cameras, and technology is coming on all the time…. But caves are the one place that… you can fly a drone all day long, but you won’t see what’s underground unless you physically go there. You know, you can’t send a submarine, you can’t send a satellite, you have to physically go there to see it. If somebody has never, ever… if no human has ever laid eyes on something before and I get to go there. It is a real privilege to say: “Hey, you know, there’s this bit of cave passage is mine. I found it.
Spelunky soundbite: This journey is yours now. Make the most of it. And we’ll see you soon. Happy spelunking!
[end of expert interview]
Brendan: That was caver and medic Christine Grosart. If you want to hear everything she told us about spelunking in real life, you can subscribe to our Patreon. Donating $2 a month will let you hear unabridged interviews with all of the experts that we speak to on the show. That was 15 minutes, but they usually talk to us for a little longer, 30 minutes or 45 minutes sometimes. We just have to cut it way down to fit into the show. But to unlock that, and some other bonuses, you can support us at patreon.com/heylesson.
Paul: Am I an unabridged expert?
Brendan: You are… no, you’re an absolutely abridged expert. I’m sorry.
Paul: That’s fine.
Brendan: Uh, but I mean, as a spelunking master, Paul, how many pugs have you rescued so far in Spelunky 2?
Paul: Let’s say, let’s say 40 or 50, because there’s been… Brendan, there’s been a problem with the pugs.
Brendan: Ah, go on.
Paul: So, because things work differently. And it feels like some of the whipping, and the jumping physics and the… these sort of things that I thought were the sort of the fundamental laws of the universe have slightly changed everything. And everybody is in peril, including me. And, you know, I try things sometimes, and they go wrong. And the thing with rescuing a pug in a cave, for anyone who’s rescued a pug in a cave in real life, which is, you know, most of us, we would understand that there are traps and spikes and arrows and other creatures. And occasionally whatever you’re holding – which could be a pug, I don’t know – It’s useful to throw that ahead of you to clear a blockage or get rid of a creature or a very aggressive caveman. Um, so there have been some, there’s been a series of incidents, uh, involving many of the pugs that were on the list to be rescued. Uh, and they’ve been put into the, what I call the “unrescued” column.
Brendan: They’ve died.
Brendan: They’ve died is what you’re saying.
Paul: Well, I think if we examine the facts of what happened to the pug, there’s actually a variety of different–
Brendan: Deaths that can occur to them.
Paul: Uh, there’s a collection of… what I want to say is that you have to look at the data. Which is going to take some time to collect. Inherently, you know, being a pug, there is a risk that when you sign on to be a pug, it says in the contract, like, you know, there are things that could happen and it’ll let you know what… what you’re getting into.
Brendan: Have you ever found a sheep down there?
Paul: I’ve found… I found a boomerang. I guess that’s not really an animal. I mean, it’s sort of, you know, it comes back to you. So that’s a bit like a dog. So it’s a bit like [the same] idea.
Brendan: There are other animals, though. There are turkeys now. I’ve seen videos of turkeys. What do the turkeys do?
Paul: They, well, you can jump on them and ride them around, which I don’t recommend in real life. I’ve seen… So here’s the thing. Because, you’re from the Island of Ireland, I’m from the Island of Britain. And we don’t have native turkeys. I’ve seen turkeys in real life, in North America. Brendan. They’re very strange. I don’t like it. I saw a lot of turkeys in a graveyard once in Minneapolis.
Brendan: What, were they having a service?
Paul: No. Like, they just… when I think of a turkey, I just think of… it’s dinner. And the main place that it lives is, like, Tesco or Asda or Safeway. And it’s in an aisle and it’s, like, under cellophane because, right? That’s what Turkey is. But in America they’re just wandering around. Like the same way that we would have a fox, or it’s like a squirrel or something, wandering around, which is really weird. Because it’s the same as if – I don’t know any of the other meats – it’s like seeing a pizza wander around. Like, that’s weird. That should be dinner on a plate. And I’ve seen them in California and I’ve seen them in the Midwest and they just walk around and they’re huge. And they’re very stupid. Somebody should do something about it, is what I’m saying.
Brendan: Throw them down a cave.
Paul: Right. Yeah. Otherwise, in the video game, you can ride on them. I don’t think that works in real life, but I actually am not really sure because they just, they look ridiculous and they behave ridiculous and they gather in large groups, which is a bit intimidating.
Brendan: Have you ever gone caving in real life?
Paul: I feel like I kind of have. If we… will it count if we say things like sea caves of the coast?
Brendan: I’d say if you’ve walked into a cave and explored a bit of it, [that counts].
Paul: Yeah. I would say a bit of that, and a bit of the thing that, uh… I don’t know, what about if you grew up in Hampshire in some crappy Home County suburbs and there’s like a, I don’t know, there’s a hole in the ground that you go into as a teen. Does that count? Like a sort of a pit?
Paul: Abandoned industrial estates?
Brendan: No. No. We’re getting into non-caving territory here. If you search YouTube for caving, you will get some terrifying videos of people squeezing through very narrow gaps. And I think that is what I’m thinking of whenever I say caving.
Paul: No, I’m not… That sounds less like a thing I would do. I probably did that while I worked in a hardware store. I probably squeezed into some narrow gaps in–
Brendan: Again, Paul, not a cave.
Paul: It’s probably very much against health and safety, but like I’ve seen how people drive forklifts in real life. And none of those people care about health and safety. They’re in, like, a tiny vehicle that can carry stuff. And especially if they’re under 20, they don’t care about that. You could have a lot of dangerous fun with that.
Brendan: I’ve got to say, right… Listener, I have a list of questions in front of me and they’re all kind of spelunking related or cave related questions. And it’s really difficult… It’s really difficult when you have Paul Dean on, to try and make sure the questions line up one after the other, and that we’re still talking about caves or spelunking at the end.
Paul: A thing that we used to do, we’d rent out vans to the public. Don’t rent out vehicles to anybody because all they do is crash them. Don’t… like, hardware stores are just a very special place to watch men be bad at stuff. While their wives sort of think about their life choices.
Brendan: You could say that they’re pushing their limits, right? They’re working outside of the limits of their ability. Um, one thing that Christine told us–
Brendan: …during that segment, was that you should cave within the limits of your ability. But in Spelunky 2, if I know you, Paul, I imagine you push the envelope quite often, right? You probably test your own limits.
Paul: That’s actually a really good question. So here’s the thing with the sort of the core dynamic of something like Splunky, or Spelunky 2, and games like it. These games called roguelikes that randomly generate a lot of their levels and their content and things. I feel like when you’re playing, you’re always striking this balance between, “Hey, do I want to try something that I’ve never done before?” Which is like a roll of the dice. And like, you meet a new creature or you find a new element in the game and you, you have no idea if this thing is going to kill you, or if it’s going to help you. Like the first time I saw one of the turkeys we were talking about, I wasn’t sure, uh, I had this moment where I was like, this is just a monster. This is another thing that I need to kill. Until I tried jumping on top of it, which turns it into a creature you can ride. Funnily enough, with a creature I found later, which I won’t spoil, I looked at that and I was like, “I can definitely ride that”. And I jumped on top of it, and I could not. And it went very bad. But this, this happens a lot in the game. There’s this constant choice between like, are you going to try something new that could go badly? Or are you going to play it safe? And I think that’s one of the core elements of this game and a lot of games like it, is you are always weighing those things up.
Brendan: How big a motivator is greed when you’re making those decisions?
Paul: That’s a good question because for me, it’s not. For me, a lot of it is about surviving and doing the thing that I wanted to do in the game. And that can be kind of completionist. It can be like, “Hey, I want to run through this level and pick up as many things as I can and get to this corner and get a pug or get a certain treasure”. But aside from that, I’m not trying to collect every single thing necessarily. But there’s absolutely people out there who play it to get as high a score as possible, or, uh, play it as fast as possible and try and speedrun. Neither of those things are quite my bag, for me. It’s a lot more about trying to explore or just achieve a personal challenge, play the game in the way that I like, and do a certain thing.
Brendan: Tell us some of the ways that you’ve died. I want to know. I’ve been hearing a lot about moles.
Paul: I mean, first of all: spikes, arrows, bats, spiders, men with masks who run at you, uh, plants that chomp you occasionally – but I’m good at avoiding the plants that chomp you – hidden spikes, obvious spikes, there’s a variety of spikes now. Giant spiders, which are different than the regular spiders, uh, angry shopkeepers, because I’m absolutely a kleptomaniac and I just steal things in the game that you’re supposed to buy. Poisonous snakes that fire poison, poison scorpions that poison you with their poison. But the moles… ugh… there’s a… furiously. I hate them. These things, they live, like, within the level’s structure. They live, like, within certain kinds of ground and they move around or they leave a little trail behind them as they move on. But if you’re not looking, it’s hard to see the trail. And here’s one thing, Brendan, it’s Spelunky 2 – my eyes are all over the screen. So I’m looking at things I’ve never seen before. So I don’t see a mole coming up underneath me and then like biting me on the shin. And I hate them. And also jumping on top of them is hard because there’s something about how they move. It’s difficult. It’s difficult. I hate the moles. I’m really upset about it.
Brendan: Christine also said when you’re caving, you’ve gotta be careful of flooding. Do you ever drown in Spelunky 2?
Paul: So far, I’ve seen less water in the game than in the first Spelunky? I don’t think you drown in the water if you stay in it. I have… I wouldn’t say drowned, but I’ve had incidences with lava.
Brendan: You’ve drowned in the lava?
Paul: Well, I feel like the nature of boiling rock means that the drowning is… it’s sort of secondary really.
Paul: You know, if you were sliced to pieces by a giant whirring fan, it’s like, they didn’t really say like: “Oh, there, he died from blood loss.” Because you definitely lost blood, but also it was a giant whirring fan, you know?
Brendan: Yeah. No, point well made. Um, one thing I wanted to ask… I put little clips of a person talking in between the interview with, uh, Christine there. It seems like there’s a bit of a story attached to the game. Like the main character’s parents have gone missing underground. Is that a new thing? Or has it… is it even a big thing in the game, or is it just kind of an excuse to get you to explore?
Paul: I think it’s an excuse, but you know what, I’m not sure. You don’t need that much of a plot for a game that is about jumping across randomly generated platforms, because all the excitement comes from not knowing what’s next. But there are, there are definitely characters with names.
Brendan: Have you played any of the co op yet? There’s cooperative you can play with up to four players, right?
Paul: I haven’t tried that. Yeah. I’ve talked to a couple of people about the idea of it. Uh, but not yet. It will happen.
Brendan: Would you find virtua-caving with other people quite stressful? If they weren’t as experienced as you, say, like, if I played with you, I’ve never played any Spelunky really. I would probably get into trouble with the traps and the baddies, and you will have to, you know, like our caver expert said, you know, you’d have to wrap me up in a warm cloth and make sure that nothing happened to me and call the cave rescue.
Paul: I would. Uh, you know what, I’m going to clarify a point I just made, like a politician. I’m going to roll everything back. I have played a little bit of Spelunky 2 multiplayer at GDC, which was an early version of the game with a lovely fellow called Matt Cox, who has written prodigiously for Rock Paper Shotgun and some other places. Matt and I are both pretty big Spelunky 2 players. I found playing at multiplayer to be a series of experiments where one of us may want to try something and the other one goes: no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. And I think that that’s the cool dynamic of what multiplayer is. Plus you can pick up the other person and run around with them. So I guess, yeah, if we tried that I could potentially pick you up. I don’t know if I could swaddle you, but there’s definitely… we could try and carry one another around in the style of Richard Gere. I feel like other people just introduce an element of chaos where you’ve gotta be constantly negotiating what you do, or you risk triggering things that harm the other person.
Brendan: Christine also said she didn’t think about exploring caves in terms of depth. She thought about them in terms of how far she’d get. Is that how you feel whenever you go into the mole-murder place?
Paul: Yes. I’m not so much looking at the scoreboard for the level I’m in. I’m more looking at what’s new. And just trying to, honestly, just trying to get through the day, you know. It’s like kind of… how well am I going to handle this ongoing underground horror?
Brendan: Is it that thing she said where there’s a feeling of reward when you reach a new part of the cave, or you see something new that you’ve not seen before? Like a place possibly nobody has ever even been. Is there, like, a similar feeling to you?
Paul: Absolutely. Yes. There has been actually some real moments of wonder where, you know, sometimes I’m just playing the game by myself. There’s not a person around… like my partner isn’t hanging around or something and I’ll just talk to myself and be saying like, “Hey, what is this? Ooh, this is good.” Uh, and that’s a really nice feeling. Because it… the game shows you some cool surprises sometimes. I really like that.
Brendan: As a huge fan of the first game, is this sequel… is it everything you hoped for? Or has it lost something from the first game?
Paul: Oh, Brendan watch this space because, ah, I don’t know. There are definitely things where I’m like, “Oh, that’s a good change. I like that.” And then there also, there are things where I’m like, “Oh, that’s different. I don’t like it that way. People changing things, you know, the world should eternally stay the same. What’s the point of progress? Seems bad.” So it’s a wonderful kaleidoscope of different emotions that I’m having because there are things that I’m used to in the game that function differently. Some of the equipment I was talking about, like picking up bombs or, minor spoiler, a jet pack. That’s very cool. Now those things, if you’re not careful, they just explode. You know, if you accidentally shoot a jet pack in a shop, it explodes.
Brendan: I mean, that makes sense though.
Paul: Well, it does. It’s totally coherent and consistent, but it, you know, we’re looking at an assumption here that I’ve had for many, many years that I have to change and… you don’t change those assumptions overnight. So you know, your muscle memory and your reflexes can point you towards doing things that are no longer a good idea. And sometimes that drives me crazy. And sometimes I look at that and I go, “Oh, that’s actually really cool. The way that old thing has changed slightly.” The angry shopkeepers that I’m talking about, they now use ladders. I used to climb ladders to get away from them while they would jump away firing their guns in anger. It doesn’t work anymore. They just climb up the ladder after you, with a gun.
Brendan: Oh my god, they’re learning.
Paul: Right. Uh, it’s a small change, but it’s a good change. And again, as I say, having worked in a hardware store, very common for you to, in real life, climb up a ladder to shoot a customer. It’s just how it goes.
Brendan: With that, I’m going to leave it there. This is all we have time for.
Paul: I have loads of time.
Brendan: No, it’s all I have time for. Okay.
Paul: We can talk about anything.
Brendan: You’ve been listening to Hey Lesson with me, Brendan, and our special guest co-host Paul Dean. Thank you for coming on, Paul.
Paul: Thanks for being wonderful with me, and putting up with my incredible nonsense.
Brendan: I enjoy it a lot. Thank you for spelunking with us. Where–
Paul: No, wait, Brendan, have you been in a cave?
Brendan: Have I been in a cave?
Paul: Yeah. No, come on. Let’s…We want to know if you’ve been in a cave.
Brendan: This is the end of the pod! I have to… I’ve been in one, I’ve been in one cave, if not in a squeezing through narrow spaces sense, but I went into a cave once in Basque country, which has, like, old cave people paintings in them.
Paul: Oh, you know what I have been in? I’ve been in the Paris catacombs.
Brendan: See, now, why is this all coming up now?
Brendan: I am halfway through the outro, and it’s all, it’s all bubbling up. You’ve been in the catacombs, go on.
Paul: Just, they’re all full of skulls because I think, you know, they’re all Catholics who were like, “We’ve got to keep our bits of body alive because they’ll get used again” in the same way that I guess, you know, pharaohs thought like, “Even though I’m decayed, I need to keep all my bits”. And it was very dark and it was all, you know, it’s not really a cave. It’s more these fashioned tunnels. And there was a sound of water dripping around the corner. And I was there with my, my old partner, my ex from many years back, and she didn’t want to go around the corner because she was scared of the dripping noise. Which in fairness was not an unreasonable thing to be scared about.
Brendan: Yeah, it does sound quite sinister.
Paul: Yeah. It was very cool and very atmospheric.
Brendan: Where can people find you online? Not in a cave or in a hardware store, where can they find you on the internet?
Paul: You know what? I’ve made a lot of pillow forts as well.
Brendan: [big sigh]
Paul: You can find me on the internet if you search on pretty much anything with my username, Paullicino, which is P A U L L I C I N O. And that would be Twitter, Instagram. Uh, I have a Patreon which includes some audio content and a whole bunch of written content. I’m on Tumblr. That’s where I catalog a lot of my work and favorite cool stuff and links and pictures on Tumbr. Just search that name and you will find me, and nobody else has yet tried to steal that from me. It could happen in the future. Someone could try and sit on that domain, but not yet.
Brendan: If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Hey Lesson–
Paul: I have.
Brendan: …please consider supporting us on Patreon. If you become a regular subscriber, you get extra goodies, including unabridged interviews, as I mentioned, but also bonus episodes, video updates, or shout-outs on the show. Uh, on top of that, you can simply bask in our ad-free episodes. It’s promoless patter. We rely only on the support of our listeners and our donors. So if you want more of that, please think about throwing us some pennies. More importantly, if you like the show you should tell your friends, Tweet us out, email us, tell your mom, tell your Gran, leave us some stars on iTunes. The more listeners we have, the more we can do.
Paul: Brendan, why have you put up with my nonsense for eight years?
Brendan: Because it’s wonderful. And as much as that is going to almost certainly guarantee that you pull this nonsense once again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Paul: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
Brendan: Thank you. Goodbye listeners and goodbye, Paul.