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CC2 Custom Set Review - Explorer's Delight 1.2

Joshua Bone


blog-0633732001489627582.pngToday's levelset review is of the custom CC2 levelset "Explorer's Delight 1.2" by H2O.


The set contains 6 levels. As the name suggests, the levelset features very large, sprawling levels where exploration is as much a part of the gameplay as the puzzle solving.


The full video of my playthrough can be found at the following link:



Overall, I have mixed feelings about this levelset.


1) I absolutely love the idea of focusing on exploration. When I think about what it was like as a kid to play the MS version, I remember more than anything the excitement of discovering new rooms and exploring new passageways. That's one area where I think the official CC2 levelset could have used a lot of improvement, with its focus on small puzzles (often 20x20 or smaller). This levelset does a good job in general of capturing that feel.


2) The puzzle design is top quality. The author consistently puts together puzzles that are interesting, fun, and challenging.


3) The epic reach of the levelset is in some ways its own undoing. Levels 3, 5, and 6 all stand out in my memory as being incredibly frustrating. The problem (of course) is that whenever a level is very long, any late mistake results in the player having to replay the entire level. The challenge for the designer is to find a way to mitigate that. Difficulty by itself is okay, and campaign-length levels by themselves are okay, but when you factor both together you run the risk of player frustration. In my case it took me over 4 hours to beat 6 levels, with the majority of that time spent on the last 2. Granted, I'm not the best CC player, and my dumb mistakes may have contributed to that, but the fact is if this hadn't been a Let's Play, I would have given up. Now, I really do appreciate the attempt to create an exploration-themed set, and I did enjoy my playthrough, although I felt it involved a lot of unnecessary frustration. I personally really liked the first two levels. They both did a great job with the exploration element, and they each had ONE central puzzle. My feeling is that this levelset could be a great success if each level centers around 1, 2, or maybe 3 puzzles at maximum.


So, to the author, thank you for uploading! I hope you continue exploring (pun intended) this concept. My personal feel is that large levels should be mostly casual play experiences, and therefore I'd like to see the difficulty dialed down a notch or two.


Individual Reviews:



As described, a great intro to the set, love the deco walls/gravel combo. The 'mineshaft' feel was evident with all the broken railroad sections. I loved all the inaccessible areas with extra chips and all the random monsters. The central puzzle with the three blocks was interesting, I didn't know the first time I played it that you could push a dirt block with a directional block. But I liked how there was really nothing else to try. The maze at upper left added a lot to the feel as well.



A beautiful exploration level with a straightforward concept. My favorite exploration experience of the set. Again, some really cool areas along the sides of the map that you can't quite reach, but they look so cool!



The first level where the problems inherent with large levels begin to show up. All of the individual puzzles are lovely. I particularly love the opening with the ghost and the great hint. Together, though, the combination just begins to cross the line of frustration. I do like how each puzzle is fully visible before committing, but still, I think the average player will have trouble thinking ahead through the recessed wall and railroad switch portions, and it's a lot of level to replay when you cook it.



If FIERY CAVES was my favorite exploration experience, then this is my favorite puzzle experience of the set. All three block puzzles were ingenious and very fun to solve. The difficulty overall was about medium, which is just perfect in my book. I may have busted the west room, since I never opened the red door in the corner. My only critique is that this didn't feel much like an exploration level, and therefore felt out of place in this set. Excellent level however.



I think I may have made my peace with this level, despite the frustration exhibited on the Let's Play.


One issue that's debatable is:



The block slap required to get the dirt block across the fire.



My personal feel is that certain gameplay mechanics are 'bonus' behavior and shouldn't be relied on to solve a level unless help is given either in the form of a hint or else careful level design. Obviously these are up for discussion, but things like monster order, ultra-precise monster timing, block-slapping, or covering up wires are examples of things that are somewhat 'unfair' in my opinion and should be used with caution.


This level absolutely tested the limits of my patience, but in retrospect I do think it was kind of cool. It would make a good level towards the end of a difficulty curve, especially if the set containing it already has examples of the previously mentioned gameplay mechanic. The beginning was delightful. The 'exploration' aspect significantly added to the difficulty, as the inaccessible areas with extra keys made it more confusing. But once explored, it was absolutely a memorable puzzle, with quite a lot of 'how is this even possible' moments and a great, if slightly unfair 'crux'.



This level, coming after SCATTERED, gave me the most grief of all. Like SUBTERRANEAN ADVENTURE, it's definitely got the exploration theme going for it. And like that level, it has a collection of individually wonderful puzzles which together are just... frustrating. It's a great feeling to solve another section, but when you cook it instead and have to replay everything, it gets old really fast.


Additionally, a couple extra factors made this not so fun to play:



It's really hard to know in advance what you're going to need further on in the level. Remembering to drop the fire boots on the fire at middle left, or remembering to leave the upper middle swivel door in the right position, or remembering to leave the ice block at upper left just above the swivel door... all of these are very hard to know in advance! It also turns out I needed only one of the two blue keys, and neither of the bribes, but it was stressful wondering if I'd screwed the level.



Also, the later puzzles are HARD. I'm not a particularly good CC player, but I'm pretty sure almost anyone who plays this will mess up the yellow teleport section multiple times and have to replay pretty much the entire level on each go. This adds a lot to the frustration, and makes it more likely the player will make stupid mistakes earlier in the level (a few of which you don't realize until much later). Finally, the last puzzle on bottom left relies on



your ability to recognize that a bowling ball that destructs on a pop-up wall will not activate the wall,



a gameplay mechanic that most people probably haven't tested. In a short level this wouldn't be a deal-breaker, but coming at the end of what was for me a 2+ hour ordeal, it felt pretty unfair to try out something new that might require yet another replay.


So, I didn't like this level at all, despite it consisting of some great puzzles. I'd recommend splitting it up into either 2 hard puzzles or, even better, 3 medium puzzles.


Recommended Comments

Wow, thanks a lot for the Let's Play, it was incredible interesting and helpful to watch and I definitely learned a lot about level design in general, and playing experience of these specific levels.
You did a great job in the LP, and I'm thankful that you did not give up, despite the frustration of the last two levels, since this really showed where I made horrible design decision and what has to be changed and especially where I have to pay way more attention in future level designs.

I will write in detail about the things when I've watched the whole LP another time and fixed some of the major design mistakes in the levels, since it might be interesting and even helpful for other designer, to not make the same mistakes.
Perhaps first some words in general. I really like to play longer more difficult levels, even though there is the potential frustration one can encounter on the way, it's often outweigh by the feel of accomplishment after beating them. Regardless of how good or bad they are designed, they might not be for everyone, yet almost always the most memorable (probably already based on the time you spent on them). However small design mistakes can easily add up, and decisions about the level which wouldn't be to bad in a short one, can ruin the playing experience. So those levels need play testing and feedback, and I have to say, you did an incredible job in this regard. So again, thanks a lot. Most of the design problems will be fixed, and future players hopefully will have a better playing experience - and future design can avoid certain problems completely. As a designer you will never have the blind first play experience of one of your own levels, which means certain problems in this regard are really hard to detect. That said, I might have underestimated how difficult the last two levels are a little bit, and will focus more on easy and medium difficulty levels in the future, and pay way more attention to not make levels to long.

04 POWDER MONKEY - The red key/door issue is indeed a small bust, I will change this, more to avoid confusion about having two red keys obtainable without needing than the bust itself.
05 SCATTERED - There are several smaller problems I obviously didn't pay enough attention to when designing, which will be improved. The general crux as well as some other parts probably will stay as they are, and are more things I learned for the future. Over all recessed walls as a major element of an exploration type level was at least for me a design experiment, most likely there are way better approaches for future levels.
06 SMALL OBSTACLES - The best example of small mistakes adding up to destroy the huge parts of the playing experience. I'll probably go into the details when fixing them, but for in some part they where caused by designing a way stricter and even longer level (you had to make three rounds, where certain now optional solutions to save keys were required), some bonus puzzles, a lot more uses of the ghost (getting the dirt boots back at a later stage,...) - and simplifying after realizing that it was probably to complex, to make it a playable level. Yet I obviously underestimated how difficult the remaining puzzles, even through way more linear, are quite a bit. I think you might have overestimated while playing how strict the level is, I removed a lot the initially required setups for doors and blocks, which made you reset the level even when not required. I made a rough count of your restarts, 25, and the reasons for them to identify the sources of the problems. The biggest reason, 10 times, for restarts was without the level requiring it, 3 times they were related to reasons outside the level itself, 7 times you might have thought you cooked the level, but you would have been totally fine, as the level is not that strict. 5 times there were random cooks, those occurred mainly towards the end of the LP, with 3 times the most frequent reason caused by the level, was collecting or better said not collecting the chip above the ghost. Up to a certain amount I would conclude, that part of the main problem with the level is being a long level, especially coming after a long level (based especially on my own experience with sets), and small design mistakes leading to frustration which than leads to errors. Some small fixes and especially removing the last puzzle entirely, removing the thieve bribes completely, redesigning the blue tank section completely or removing it completely (this will eliminate the confusion with the blue keys, which I didn't expect, and probably the single biggest design mistake in the level, I just removed the requirement to get the blue key, without changing the puzzle and/or removing the key itself, and indirectly was responsible for a lot of frustration) will hopefully address most underling reasons for the level being not a great playing experience, as especially being less confusing and slightly shorter. Splitting the level up is definitely a possibility, but hopefully I’ll come up with new puzzles for new medium difficulty - especially shorter - levels in the future.

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Hey, glad it was useful! I really like the Let's Play format even though I don't have much to talk about. I think I may do all of my testing and reviews this way. It's clearly useful to the level designers, but it's also quite useful to me, as I have more reason to really engage with a level. 


On SMALL OBSTACLES, I'd really like to hear some feedback from anyone else who may have tested it. While I certainly had my trouble with it, it might not be that bad compared to some of the crazy levels in CCLP3, for example. I've never even tried certain levels like 'You Can't Teach An Old Frog New Tricks' or 'Avalanche', but from the videos of other people's solutions it might be that this level of difficulty is actually fair game. I don't know. And I'm sure we all tend to have a much higher tolerance for difficulty in our own levels as well... Half the time when I do these reviews I feel like a hypocrite because of some of the challenges in my Walls of CC1 pack. So anyways my review is just one perspective, and I'd love to hear someone else chime in with theirs. 

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The busts of the west puzzle should now all be fixed.

I ended up not changing as much as first thought here; the main change is replacing the green door below the flame jets with a chip socket and the key with a chip, to give more incentive to use the green key on the door instead of going through the recessed wall, especially since all other keys up to this point had to be used more or less immediately. The assumption of having to use the green key to get the yellow key, which got apparent watching the LP, even after collection the second green key is therefore way less likely. Other changes I had initially in mind turned out to either would mean major reworks of the entire level, and therefore will be more of a guide for future levels than this particular one, or have roughly even downsides compared to their potential upsides.

As signalized before, the last puzzle is removed, having some kind of gimmick puzzle, even though not that difficult, at the end of a long level was definitely not the right choice, the bribes are removed, and the wall pattern changed to make it clear that the bowling ball can be used in just one way. The blue tank section just got slightly redesigned, removing it completely didn't feel right, and the puzzle itself didn't seem to be responsible for any major problems in the LP, in stark contrast to the extra blue key, which does not exist any more, and just one tank is remaining. Now it is possible to see beyond the fire in the clone machine section, initially I thought being able to see the fire tile is enough, but that was not the case judging the cook in the LP. The wire for the revolving door now is completely visible, to avoid any possibility of the player making the assumption that maybe more is going on than meets the eye. A solid tile is added in the yellow tank puzzle, to avoid any reasonable chance (theoretically still possible, but unlikely) of cooking the level in a late stage.

I hope all those changes together will increase the playing experience quite a bit :)

An interesting comparison difficulty wise might be as well between SMALL OBSTACLES and OBFUSCATED AND INTERRED from a pure player perspective, especially because they are both CC2 levels which just recently where released. Your level is a bit longer compared to SMALL OBSTACLES even after knowing what to do (at least measured on my times to play through them), and it felt part of the challenge, and the setups/ordering/... in OBFUSCATED AND INTERRED seems to me a maybe even a bit less obvious to figure out, but there is less of it, yet that might be just caused the different perspectives of player and designer in the two. I had a lot of fun figuring everything out and solving it, but it did take me quite as much time, but watching the LP however it felt as well like you could have solved the last level in 30 minutes, when you had seen the whole level and solved basically every puzzle - even with an extra blue key ^^.

The other really interesting question would be, how difficult or easy does the majority of the community wants the levels to be. It doesn't make to much sense designing challenging levels if hardly anyone will ever play them, or easy levels if they are perceived as boring and people would wish for more difficult ones...

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