Celeste (video game)

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Celeste
Celeste box art final.png
Developer(s)Maddy Makes Games
Publisher(s)Maddy Makes Games
Director(s)Maddy Thorson[note 1]
Designer(s)Maddy Thorson
Programmer(s)
  • Maddy Thorson
  • Noel Berry
Artist(s)
Writer(s)Maddy Thorson
Composer(s)Lena Raine
Engine
Platform(s)
Release
  • Linux, macOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
  • January 25, 2018
  • Stadia
  • July 28, 2020
Genre(s)Platform
Mode(s)Single-player

Celeste is a 2018 platform game designed, directed and written by Maddy Thorson[note 1] and programmed by Thorson and Noel Berry. It is a remake of a PICO-8 game of the same name made by Thorson and Berry during a game jam in 2016. Set on a fictional version of Mount Celeste, it follows a young woman named Madeline who attempts to climb the mountain, and must face her inner demons in her quest to reach the summit.

Celeste was released worldwide independently on January 25, 2018, on Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS, and Linux, followed by a release on Google Stadia in July 2020. It consists of eight chapters, plus a free downloadable content chapter titled Farewell that acts as an epilogue to the story, released on September 9, 2019.

The gameplay is based on a series of two-dimensional screens presenting obstacles that require strategy, precision and a quick reaction time from the player in order to be overcome. Considered challenging and often compared to games like Super Meat Boy, Celeste nevertheless includes settings to granularly adjust its difficulty.

Celeste received critical acclaim upon release, being praised for its story, gameplay, and soundtrack. It won several awards, including the Best Independent Game and Games for Impact awards at The Game Awards 2018, where it was also nominated for Game of the Year. Celeste was also a financial success, selling over a million copies by the end of 2019.

Plot[edit]

A young woman named Madeline begins climbing Celeste Mountain, ignoring the warnings from an old woman named Granny who lives at its base. Madeline makes her way through a deserted city, where she encounters a fellow traveler named Theo. Madeline camps out for the night and has a dream in which a dark reflection of herself, known as "Part of Me" within the game and Badeline by the fanbase and developers, splits apart from her via a mystical mirror and attempts to stop Madeline's climb. Madeline escapes from Badeline and wakes up from her nightmare.

Continuing the climb, Madeline reaches an old hotel named the Celestial Resort. The hotel's ghostly concierge, Mr. Oshiro, tries to persuade Madeline to stay despite the damaged condition of the hotel. She reluctantly entertains him by cleaning part of the resort, but he is keen on having her stay for a night in the presidential suite. Upon reaching the suite, Badeline unexpectedly reappears in the real world, taunting Mr. Oshiro before creating a hole for Madeline to escape through. Mr. Oshiro, enraged by Badeline's words and assuming Madeline spoke them, chases Madeline out and destroys much of the hotel before she calms him down, and Madeline continues climbing.

At Golden Ridge, Madeline again encounters Granny. Granny tells her that she is surprised she has made it this far and offers to tell her about a shortcut back down if she wants to give up. Madeline refuses, and after powering through the harsh winds of the Ridge, meets up with Theo at a gondola. Partway up the gondola ride, Badeline appears again and stalls the lift, causing Madeline to have a panic attack as the lift shakes wildly. Theo calms her down, and the gondola begins to move again, arriving at an ancient temple. Madeline and Theo are separated and trapped inside mirrors, but Madeline escapes and finds Theo encased inside a magic crystal. Monsters created from Madeline and Theo's insecurities attack them, but Madeline carries Theo out of the temple and frees him from the crystal.

Madeline and Theo set up camp, and she confides in him about her mental health issues and Badeline's interferences before resting. Later that night, she seeks out Badeline and expresses her wish to leave her behind. In a fit of anger, Badeline throws Madeline down to the base of the mountain, where she once again finds Granny. She suggests that Badeline might be scared and says that Madeline should try talking instead of abandoning her. Madeline searches for Badeline again, apologizes for pushing her away, and vows to climb the mountain together. Badeline initially lashes out at Madeline, but relents and forgives her. Madeline and Badeline recombine and work their way back up the mountain before finally reaching Celeste Mountain's summit.

An epilogue shows Madeline celebrating her success with Badeline, Theo, Granny, Mr. Oshiro, and a strawberry pie. The size of the pie and the number of strawberries within it depend on how many collectible strawberries the player acquired throughout the game.

In two post-ending chapters, Madeline explores the core of Celeste Mountain a year after the main story in the chapter Core, and in the final chapter Farewell, Madeline copes with missing Granny's funeral – revealed to be named Celia and a friend of Theo's grandfather.

Gameplay[edit]

In this screenshot, the player-character, Madeline, is seen dashing mid-air towards an item that replenishes the dash ability in Forsaken City.

Celeste is a platform game in which players control a young woman named Madeline as she makes her way up Mount Celeste while avoiding various deadly obstacles. Along with jumping and climbing up walls for a limited amount of time, Madeline has the ability to perform a mid-air dash in eight directions. This move initially can only be performed once and must be replenished by either landing on the ground, hitting certain objects such as floating crystals, or moving to a new screen; later on in the game, the player is granted the ability to do two mid-air dashes. Combining dashes with movement in various ways can be used by the player to gain more speed than usual or access areas before they are supposed to. Some of these advanced movement mechanics are shown to the player as they progress the late stages of the game. Examples include the wavedash, superdash, hyperdash, ultradash and an unintended feature, the demodash. Throughout the game, the player will encounter additional mechanics, such as springs that launch the player or feathers that allow brief flight, and deadly objects such as spikes which kill Madeline (returning her to the start of the screen).

Players can also access an Assist Mode, where they can change some attributes about the game's physics. Some of these include infinite air-dashes, invincibility, or slowing the game's speed. Hidden throughout most "A-Side" chapters of the game are optional strawberries, obtained through challenging platforming or puzzle solving sections, which slightly affect the game's ending depending on how many are collected, as well as a cassette tape that unlocks a "B-Side", a secret level which provides harder platforming puzzles using the mechanics introduced in the A-Side.[1][2] Optional "crystal hearts" used to access post-game content are also found in each A-side. Beating all the B-Sides then unlocks the "C-Side" versions, which are short, very hard stages which expand further upon the mechanics in the A-Sides and B-Sides. B-Sides, C-Sides, and the Farewell downloadable content chapter all teach the player more complicated movement techniques that are needed to clear otherwise impossible obstacles. Upon clearing all C-Sides, the player can access the Variants menu, which allows players to change the game's physics in a way similar to the game's Assist Mode. Some of these "variants" include speeding the game up to a maximum of 160% normal speed, 360-degree dashing, and low friction. The original Celeste Classic Pico-8 prototype can also be found as a hidden minigame.[3]

Characters[edit]

Madeline[edit]

Madeline on the cover of the game

Madeline is the protagonist of the game. Her goal is to climb Mount Celeste, but along the way she faces personal problems of anxiety, depression and fear of negative evaluation.[4][5] She seeks to overcome these feelings by climbing the mountain, which is especially evident in her interactions with several of the games characters, including Granny, who she is initally polite to but becomes aggressive when her and her abilities are doubted.

Her most distinctive picture is her red hair, however this changes throughout the game to represent when she is dashing. Little is shown in the game about her life before the climb.

The character of Madeline is generally very well received. For example, Emily Heller of Polygon says she recognizes herself in Madeline, saying that "she is the most relatable character of the decade, at least for those with anxiety and depression".[6] Jeff Ramos of the same newspaper says she is inspiring in the way she overcomes obstacles and recognizes herself in the way she handles stress.[7] Kyle LeClair of Hardcore Gamer magazine and Jenna of Autostraddle also noted the quality of the character's development throughout the story.[8][9]

Following the release of the Farewell DLC, which depicts Madeline in her room with pride and transgender flags, led to speculation that she was a trans woman.[10] This was confirmed by the games creators in November 2020, and resulted in positive reactions from many in the LGBT community.[11][12][13]

Badeline[edit]

Badeline on the cover of the game
Badeline, recognizable by her red eyes, doubling up to chase Madeline.

Badeline - a nickname given by the gaming community and the development team - is a hostile physical representation of Madeline's depression and anxiety, known as the part of me/you in the game.[14][15] She is initially shown as a game-play mechanic, but once the story is more developed, she becomes an independent character.

She has a similar appearance to Madeline, though with purple hair, red eyes, and darker clothing; she is thus dubbed the "goth version of Madeline" by Theo.[16] She is considered "terrifying" by observers, especially in her dialogue and in the way she chases the player, inducing panic and anxiety.[17][18]

Maddy Thorson has stated that character is based on their own personal experiences, with one example being with Madeline's toxic relationship with Mr. Oshiro, where she sacrifices her own health to care for someone else's illness. Madeline initially tries to fight Badeline, which leads to her falling off the mountain, but over time she learns to work with her. The relationship between these characters during the game is shown to be the beginning of a process, and Maddy Thorson stated that she wanted to make it clear that the protagonist is still experiencing internal conflict at the conclusion of the main storyline.[19]

Theo[edit]

Theo serves as a supportive character who climbs the mountain alongside Madeline.[9] He helps her deal with her anxiety by teaching her breathing techniques, and the two later escape a temple together.[9] During this escape, Madeline saves Theo despite the temple’s best efforts to keep them trapped.[9]

Theo’s character is motivated by social media fame, and his in-game social media handle, @theounderstars, is a real account on Instagram with over 70,000 followers as of November 2022, including the game developers themselves.[20] The account contains posts made in-character, detailing his life beyond and during the game’s timeline.[20]

Mr. Oshiro[edit]

As Madeline traverses through the ruins of a long-abandoned hotel, she is met by its ghostly owner, Mr. Oshiro, who is obsessed with maintaining the hotel.[14] Madeline takes on the task of helping Mr. Oshiro with the hotel’s upkeep despite already having mental health struggles of her own to deal with.[14] By the end of the chapter, she gets so overwhelmed that Badeline has an outburst and enrages Mr. Oshiro with her insults; Badeline's outburst and his anxiety about maintaining the hotel cause him to transform into a hostile monster that Madeline has to escape, and he is not seen again until the game’s end.[14]

Granny[edit]

Over the course of her climb, Madeline is both made fun of and guided by an old woman known as Granny.[21] Little is known about her, but the game’s final chapter, the Farewell DLC, revolves around her death and Madeline coming to terms with it.[21]

Development and release[edit]

Noel Berry (Skytorn) and Maddy Thorson (TowerFall), who programmed Celeste, created the original Pico-8 Celeste[note 3] in four days during a game jam.[22] The result was a difficult platformer with 30 levels designed for speedrunning and precision reflexes. Kill Screen noted that the game was a departure from Thorson's TowerFall, and had more in common with the game mechanics of their older games and Super Mario Maker work.[23] Berry and Thorson then developed the game into a standalone release with over 200 rooms spread between eight chapters.[24] The game was developed during a time when Thorson was battling "painful" anxiety and depression. The gameplay thus developed because she realized that when she was younger she would use "challenging SNES platformers" to escape.[25] NES-era platformers such as Super Mario Bros. 3 also served as inspiration.[26][27] During the development process Thorson realized she needed to take better care of herself, and thus designed the game to be encouraging to players despite its steep difficulty.[25] As the team did not want to minimalize the effect of mental illnesses some of the dialogue went through multiple iterations to get right. [25]

The game is recognized as having several platform game elements that appear difficult, often involving combinations of multiple jumps, dashes, wall jumps and other abilities, but yet has been considered approachable. Thorson revealed in a series of tweets that in developing the platforming logic, they created wide "windows" for a player to make an action as to give the player a better chance to succeed, such as allowing the player to be able to jump a few moments after moving off a ledge instead of falling immediately. Thorson called all these elements part of the "game-feel" of Celeste and made the game more forgiving to players.[28]

The two livestreamed parts of their development process on Twitch. The game was also demoed at the 2016 PAX West Indie Megabooth.[29] Celeste released on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Linux and macOS on January 25, 2018.[30][31] The game was later released on Stadia on July 28, 2020, later becoming a Stadia Pro game on October 1.[32][33] According to the game's credits and Noel Berry, the game was developed with XNA (on Windows), FNA (on Mac OS and Linux), and MonoGame (on Xbox One, Switch, and PS4).[34] The developers also utilized FMOD for sound effects.[35] The original Pico-8 prototype is included in the game as an unlockable minigame.[36] The game received a limited collector's edition on January 1, 2019.[37] On September 9, 2019, the Farewell DLC was released, adding a ninth chapter, 100 new levels and 40 minutes of new music to the game.[38][39][40] It was the last addition to the game, and no sequel to the game is planned, as the team members behind it plan to move to different game projects.[41]

On January 25, 2021, the third year anniversary of the release of Celeste, a sequel to Celeste Classic, titled Celeste 2: Lani's Trek, was released for free.[42]

Tools[edit]

After the game was published, the developers described the list of tools used during the project's development:[43]

Category Name Application
Programming / Development Visual Studio C# Main IDE
XNA Rendering and input
FNA / MonoGame Cross-platform build
Monocle Custom C# framework based on XNA
Art / Visuals Aseprite Pixel art images and animations
Clip / Manga Studio Concept art
Crunch[44] Texture packing
Blender 3D modelling
BMFont[45] Font rasterization
Sound / Music FMOD Sound effects and music in game
Ableton Live Digital audio workstation
Massive Synthesizer plugin
Spitfire "Felt piano" plugin
Level design Ogmo editor[46] Map design
Map designer Custom in-game tool to link maps
Team management Slack Team communication
Trello Bug tracking and task management
Google Docs Document sharing

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Celeste team at the 2018 GDC Independent Games Festival, where they won the audience award

Celeste received "universal acclaim" from critics according to review aggregator Metacritic. Multiple aspects of the game received widespread praise, including the art, story and gameplay. Russ Frushtick of Polygon stated "Celeste reaches beyond, showing that tricky, well-designed platforming challenges are really just the tip of the iceberg."[60] The art-style of Celeste was received positively, with Jon Cousins of Nintendo Life stating "the art style and narrative are truly special, showing both a visual and emotional range and depth that will resonate and inspire."[61]

The mechanics and controls of Celeste were commended, described as "effortlessly feeding into the narrative" and "wonderfully refined and inventive" by Destructoid and GameSpot respectively.[62][63] Among the most praised aspects of the game was the dash function, which, while talking about the feature, Heather Alexandra of Kotaku stated "Celeste feels good to play and knows it."[64]

The story of Celeste was praised for being "uplifting, encouraging and feel-good"[65] Kinglink stated "At Celeste’s heart, it is a wonderful platformer with an interesting narrative buried behind its fantastic gameplay," and IGN's Tom Marks stating "Celeste blends its story beautifully into the arcade-y game that houses it, making me feel for its characters without ever forcing me to."[66]

The game was also praised for being accessible for inexperienced players.[67][68] When mentioning Assist Mode, a feature that allows players to change mechanics of the game to become easier, Vice Media stated "Assist mode, the kind of thing modders often hack into a game after release, allowed them to tailor Celeste in a way that made it an accessible video game."[69]

The soundtrack of Celeste composed by Lena Raine and released by Materia Collective was highly praised by critics, with multiple sites calling it one of the best video game soundtracks in years.[51][54] An official piano sheet music book and accompanying piano album was announced[70] and released on January 25, 2019,[71] and a licensed album of lullaby music based on the soundtrack, Prescription for Sleep: Celeste, was released in November 2018.[72]

Sales[edit]

By December 21, 2018, Celeste had sold over 500,000 copies, with Thorson stating "We never expected it to reach so many people."[73][74] Although sale figures for each platform have not been released, Dual Shock reported that the Switch version was the most successful.[75]

In a September 2019 interview with IGN, Thorson stated that the game was "coming up on a million copies [sold] soon."[76] In March 2020, IGN confirmed that the million copies threshold had been reached before the end of the previous year.[77]

Accolades[edit]

Year Award Category Result
2018 National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards 2018[78] Original Light Mix Score, New IP Nominated
Independent Games Festival Awards[79][80] Excellence in Audio Nominated
Audience Award Won
Golden Joystick Awards[81][82][83] Best Indie Game Nominated
Ultimate Game of the Year Nominated
The Game Awards 2018[84][85] Best Score/Music Nominated
Game of the Year Nominated
Games for Impact Won
Best Independent Game Won
Gamers' Choice Awards[86] Fan Favorite Game Nominated
Fan Favorite Single Player Gaming Experience Nominated
Fan Favorite Indie Game Nominated
Titanium Awards[87] Best Indie Game Nominated
Australian Games Awards[88] Independent Game of the Year Nominated
Game Informer April 2018 Game of the Month Won
2019 New York Game Awards[89] Big Apple Award for Best Game of the Year Nominated
Off Broadway Award for Best Indie Game Nominated
22nd Annual D.I.C.E. Awards[90][91] Action Game of the Year Won
Outstanding Achievement for an Independent Game Won
National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards 2019[92][93] Game of the Year Nominated
Control Design, 2D or Limited 3D Nominated
Control Precision Won
SXSW Gaming Awards[94][95] Excellence in Narrative Nominated
Matthew Crump Cultural Innovation Award Won
Excellence in Musical Score Nominated
Trending Game of the Year Nominated
Video Game of the Year Nominated
Game Developers Choice Awards[96][97] Best Audio Won
Best Design Nominated
Game of the Year Nominated
2019 G.A.N.G. Awards[98][99] Best Music for an Indie Game Nominated
G.A.N.G. / MAGFEST People's Choice Award Won
15th British Academy Games Awards[100] Best Game Nominated
Game Beyond Entertainment Nominated
Game Design Nominated
Game Innovation Nominated
Music Nominated
Italian Video Game Awards[101] Game of the Year Nominated
Best Indie Game Nominated
Game Beyond Entertainment Nominated
ASCAP Composers' Choice Awards[102][103] 2018 Video Game Score of the Year Won

Legacy[edit]

Celeste, which was designed with speedrunning in mind, became an instant hit in the speedrunning community.[104][105][106] USgamer called the game's popularity within the community "a huge part of Celeste's success."[104] Celeste sound designer Kevin Regamey stated that the team received a lot of mail from fans claiming that the game led them to try speedrunning for the first time.[104] It also became a staple at Games Done Quick events.[104]

Both Madeline and Badeline are playable characters in the Nintendo Switch version of TowerFall, another game by Thorson originally released in 2013; the Switch version was released on September 27, 2018.[107]

The ending cutscene of the Farewell DLC features various items in Madeline's bedroom, such as pride and transgender flags, that led to speculation from fans and media outlets that Madeline was a trans woman.[108][109] Thorson confirmed that Madeline was transgender in November 2020, stating that they never formally announced this before as she was figuring out her own gender identity at the time, and because the team did not want to make a spectacle of the reveal.[110][111] The fact that Madeline is canonically transgender was met positively by the LGBT community, but also received backlash from some players.[108]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Thorson was originally credited under her birth name Matt Thornson in the game, but adopted the name of Maddy Thorson in 2020 after coming out as transgender in 2019. The game was updated to include this name in 2021.
  2. ^ The game also supports the FNA Game Engine, and is the default on platforms other than Windows
  3. ^ Both popularly and officially known asCeleste Classic since the release of the 2018 game.

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]