Extra Bytes - Celeste Byte Club

March 2, 2019

Hi there! I’m Jesse, co-host of the monthly indie game club podcast, Byte Club. I’ve made YouTube videos in the past about Dishonored’s level design, why Tony Stark is the best MCU superhero (don’t @ me), and how indie games like The Novelist reflect my own personal struggles. This Extra Bytes is a collection of articles and videos that I enjoyed while doing research for the Celeste episode of our podcast. I’ve compiled everything from articles about how people connected with the game, to a GDC talk from Matt Thorson himself about how he designed the levels. If you heard our episode, or if you’re just a fan of the game, I recommend checking out some of these pieces to gather some new perspective on the brutally challenging platformer, Celeste.

Celeste stresses me out, and that calms me down // Jeff Ramos (Polygon)

I’ve always found it very odd how a lot of people, hardcore gamers or casual Candy Crush aficionados, choose to unwind with a hobby that so often causes stress. Whether it’s an intense firefight in Apex Legends, or a frustratingly unfair NES game, people live for this sort of thing. That’s kind of weird, right? I could never really wrap my head around the “why” of it, but I think Polygon’s Jeff Ramos does a really good job of explaining it in his discussion of why he loved Celeste’s brutal difficulty. By taking the stresses of his everyday life and the dread that accompanies it and viewing it through the lens of some of Celeste’s brutal platforming, Ramos is able to compartmentalize his problems and view them as challenges to be overcome, rather than inevitabilities that cannot be changed. A very powerful piece.

How Celeste’s Mirror Temple Creates Fear | Forging The Level // Daryl Talks Games

A lot of videos, articles, podcasts (ours included), etc. only end up covering the painfully obvious thematic topics of the game overall. It’s just so easy. But here, Daryl Talks Games covers Celeste’s individual chapters, focusing on Mirror Temple and the themes that it reflects (heh) from other parts of the game. There’s a great break down of the earlier section of that chapter, and how it evokes fear in the player through its colours and other subtle visual elements. It’s a well put together video, with a strong message at the end about the symbolism of the mountain, and I encourage checking it out, because there’s something to be learned here.

Celeste: The Kotaku Review // Heather Alexandra (Kotaku)

Like Nevyn said on the podcast, I spent a lot of time reading about Celeste. I spent a lot of time watching videos about Celeste. Listening to podcasts about Celeste. For two weeks I ate, slept, and dreamed about Celeste, and in that time, I read a lot of reviews. Some were okay, some were written by some very angry men, and some were good. This one, by Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra, was the best one that I read of the bunch. Alexandra discusses a lot of the themes of Celeste, her experience playing it, and how people she knows cared about the game in a major way. It’s one of the best and concisely written pieces on the game.

Why The Very Hard ‘Celeste’ is Perfectly Fine With You Breaking Its Rules // Patrick Klepek (Waypoint)

A big element of Celeste is that its eponymous mountain that Madeline must climb is one that is both literal and metaphorical. The message therein is of course that, with self-acceptance and a little help from your friends, any mountain can be climbed. The mountain that must be climbed in Celeste, though, is more than a bit challenging. With that in mind, the game’s Assist Mode really drives home the its message. Sometimes people need a little help to climb the mountain, and that’s okay. Patrick Klepek interviews Matt Thorson, interjecting to include some of his own takes on the game and how its difficulty and accessibility are so important. It’s interesting because Thorson wasn’t even interested in adding an Assist Mode at the start, and it took a good bit of convincing before he did so. He’s since come to believe that the game wouldn’t have been the same without it, and you can feel some of that in this article.

What Celeste Borrows from Mario // Nitro Rad

The de facto standard for pretty much every platformer that proudly wears the genre label owes a lot of its design to the groundwork laid down by Nintendo and their Mario franchise. Whether it’s mastering a jump that feels good, or level design that teaches you through repeated understanding, developers have been taking ideas from the franchise and putting their own spin on it since the first game came out almost 34 years ago (that felt gross to type). Nitro Rad really breaks it down with Celeste though, and there’s more going on here than just the secret for one of the crystal hearts. James’ vast knowledge of the mainline Mario games helped him create a supremely thorough video, breaking down so many of the shared design decisions that exist between Celeste and numerous Mario games.  

Celeste Taught Fans And Its Own Creator To Take Better Care Of Themselves // Nathan Grayson (Kotaku)

There’s a lot to be said about trying to imply that you understand a creator from their work. The notion that we can grasp some degree of understanding of people from what they create is something that critics latch onto, for better or worse. Occasionally, though, it’s right to do so, and Celeste is one of those examples. In this piece from Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson, Matt Thorson and Lena Raine discuss some of the struggles they went through before and during the completion of Celeste, and how those feelings came through in their work. I especially love when Raine, who suffers from anxiety, discussed how a fan of Celeste told her that the game helped them work past their suicidal thoughts. Powerful stuff.

The Anxiety of Celeste and its Music // Game Score Fanfare

If you’re not already watching Game Score Fanfare’s videos, you need to be. There are few channels on YouTube that cover game music in such a thoughtful and in-depth way, and their video on Celeste and how it represents anxiety through its music is no different. Moments in this video at times are reflective not just of the narrator, Mathew, and his experience with the game, but also of the people that created it, and it’s made all the better for that. So much of Celeste is an experience in reflection for Madeline, for the player, and especially for the composer of the game’s score, Lena Raine. We briefly touched on why we liked the music in our Celeste episode of Byte Club, but I highly recommend checking this out to hear more about it.

Also, there’s a bit where they play Mirror Temple’s music backwards and… it’s phenomenal. So good. Please watch this.

Level Design Workshop: Designing Celeste // Matt Thorson (GDC)

As much as a well put-together YouTube video can cover a lot of the great aspects of a game, GDC talks are often a significantly better way to gain insight into the things that make a game special – straight from the creator’s mouth. In this talk, Matt Thorson, designer for Celeste, discusses his iterative process for the game’s level design, and how the stories that the game, it’s chapters, and those chapters’ levels were trying to tell influenced its design. Given how much discussion there is of the explicit narrative elements of Celeste, and how good its music is, it’s nice to see Thorson get to nerd out over his approach to making sure that playing Celeste felt good.

Celeste Developer Commentary Livestream // Matt Thorson & Noel Berry

Like the previous entry about Thorson’s discussion of Celeste’s design, here we’ve got a developer commentary where he’s joined by Noel Berry, another indie developer who helped Thorson work on the original PICO-8 version of Celeste. In this video, the pair play through older prototype versions of Celeste, while answering questions and tossing in tidbits of fun trivia. Games are such a monumental process, and it’s incredibly rare that we see how they came to be; always a finished product, the creation of which we cannot truly comprehend. Here, Thorson and Berry demystify some of that process, and it’s a lot of fun listening to them walk us through it.

And those are my picks for this month’s Extra Bytes; I hope you got as much enjoyment from them as I did. Next month’s episode of Byte Club is on A44’s open-world, skill-based action RPG, Ashen, so expect another article to accompany that one.

If you have any pieces – written or otherwise – about the game that you’d like us to check out, feel free to hit up the Indie Bytes Twitter (@IndieBytesYT), send an email to nevyn (at) indie-bytes dot com, or use our contact form!

Check back next month for more #ByteClub content!

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