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A Chip Down Memory Lane

jblewis

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Welcome to a very different blog post - at least for this blog. I'm going to take a break from soapboxing about level design, CCLP1 voting, and the like to take a trip back in time to when I first designed levels so you could get a glimpse into my terrible level design sensibilities when I was a kid. Unfortunately, these levels are pretty much entirely gone, unless I one day stumble upon some sort of backup floppy disk that had some of them on it - or something like that. If that ever happens, rest assured that you all will see these levels in their original, untarnished state. But right now, you'll have to settle for some silly-sounding descriptions. :)

 

Before I even discovered that ChipEdit existed, I had dreams about custom levels I wanted to create, the most vivid involving a level with a lot of sockets. Yes, for some reason, the idea of using lots of sockets was really appealing as a little kid. I always thought that the original game's penchant for almost never placing any obstacles between a singular socket and the exit was downright silly. At the time, my favorite levels were those like FireTrap and Mixed Nuts - those ones where the designers thought to put something between the socket and exit. In my dream, a bunch of sockets led to icy paths that began in parallel, supermarket aisle fashion but then branched off at the ends of the aisles. I think the idea was that one was ultimately supposed to lead to the exit, while the others looped - not unlike the original game's DeepFreeze. (Eventually, I did build this level in ChipEdit. Sure, it could've been called something cool like "The Frozen Supermarket" - and who knows, maybe that might still happen someday - but my kid brain opted for the unoriginal "Dreams" instead.) Around that time, I also asked my parents if Heaven would have some sort of way to design Chip's Challenge levels. I had a vision in my head of a level with a Lesson 8-esque dirt/gravel square with a bug circling around instead of teeth. Why that felt appealing - I have no idea. But I was itching to design it.

 

When I was about eight years old, I had completed 148 of the 149 levels in the original CC, with Totally Unfair being the lone exception. After several unsuccessful attempts at trying to solve it, my dad and I caved and looked up the solution online. Back then, the only online resource with CC text solutions was Richard Field's page. We quickly solved the level, but afterward, my attention turned to a link to an announcement that Chuck Sommerville made: after receiving scores of petitions to make Chip's Challenge 2, he was going through with its development! As silly as this may sound, my eight-year-old brain read "petitions" as "levels." So, I mistakenly assumed that people were submitting levels for the game, and Chuck would be picking the best to feature in the final product. I immediately got to work so I could somehow submit my designs to Chuck. My dad put together an Excel spreadsheet with enough appropriately sized square cells to fill an 8.5 by 11-inch sheet of paper. We took the printout of the blank spreadsheet to Kinko's and made about a hundred copies. For the next year or so, this would be how I'd design most of my levels. And for the most part, they were very poorly made. Aside from the crude drawings of water and fire that dotted many a sheet of paper, I'd often find myself resorting to labels like "IW" for invisible walls (at the time, I hadn't discerned the difference between hidden and invisible walls) and making what amounted to the exact same type of level over and over again: a block-pushing navigation puzzle akin to the end of the original game's CityBlock. (Around then, I thought that was the most fun challenge from CC1.) By the time I had 50 levels made, I started to wonder how in the world I was going to mail all my designs to Chuck. After several fruitless attempts to find a point of contact online, I gave up.

 

But the sadness didn't last for long. For a day came when I was browsing Chip's Challenge websites online, and while I was on Richard Field's page, I noticed a link I had previously missed: one that led to an editor! I was ecstatic. Not only was this a way to record my ideas without actually having to draw them on paper, but it also allowed for those ideas to be played! At the time, I had to ask for my parents' permission before downloading anything off the internet. Excited, I called my dad, who was out of the house, and told him the news. When he got home, I could barely contain my excitement. Designing CC levels became a passion since then, albeit with some seasons where I've taken a break from it. Like many aspiring designers, my original goal was to create a set of 149 levels to match the MS iteration of the original game. Unfortunately, my very first set, "JBLevels" (which, hilariously enough, is a term some people use today when referencing levels I created), made it only to 67 or so levels. Well, okay. Technically, it had a few more than that, but that was only because I accidentally misused the "copy / paste levels" function in ChipEdit and somehow managed to append about 20 extra iterations of one of my first levels, "Wars 2," to the end of the set. Eventually, I began work on a second set, which, after a few years of work, reached 149 levels. Here's just a glimpse at what some of those levels were like, to the best of my memory. At the time, I titled all of my levels entirely in capital letters to match the original game, but I'll use normal capitalization instead.

 

- Ice Slide. This was the very first level I made. I loved ice a lot as a kid, esepcially the giant ice slides of CC1 levels like Playtime and Mix Up. So my first attempt at designing a level in ChipEdit involved Chip walking through an arbitrary path of alternating dirt and gravel to pick up a yellow key, sliding on the titular slide, passing the exit, going down through a force floor, and facing off against a single ball to collect the chips and a pair of suction shoes to make it back to the exit. And since I didn't have any real concept of centering the playing area in the middle of the map and had no idea what copy / paste even was, I just built the level from the upper left corner. It barely made a dent in the map. ;)

 

- Welcome to JBLevels! A while after making Ice Slide, I thought my set could use an introductory level, so I made this one. It took up only the top third of the map and had a blocks-into-water pushing challenge with a water section akin to the matriced design of CityBlock. Yes, for some reason, I loved CityBlock that much. :P

 

- Wars 2. I always loved the unpredictability of the melee gameplay in the original game's Wars. So I decided to try a concept of my own: pitting two groups of gliders against each other. The level contained about an 8-tile-wide "S" path with giant clusters of gliders trapped behind toggle walls at each end of the "S." In the middle were toggle buttons that Chip would have to run through to release the gliders and create some chaos. I think I also included some blue walls so it would be possible to escape out of the "S" and sneak into the exit area, but practically figuring that out would have required a significant amount of brute force.

 

- Think It, Pal. The title of this level came from a shareware game I played in the 90s called "Ball Game 2." (Yeah...very original title. Basically, it was a more evil version of Super Monkey Ball / Marble Blast / etc.) The level itself wasn't much, just a "don't-use-the-recessed-walls-that-inevitably-lead-to-traps-and-avoid-temptation" challenge that barely exceeded a 10x10 space. I think by this point, though, I started to center the levels on the map.

 

- Two Fireballs. I don't remember much about this except that it was small and had two fireballs. :)

 

- Frogs, Balls, and Blobs. A level with three huge rooms that respectively contained frogs, balls, and blobs. No big deal. Well...except that I intentionally placed a bust that involved getting flippers early and being able to swim to an exit surrounded by water that was supposed to be accessed via block. Yeah...for some reason, I thought that was really clever and non-obvious back then.

 

- The Block-Out. This was a rather funny one. I thought of the title after hearing the term "blackout," and my kid brain thought, "Hey, 'black' sounds like 'block'! I know what I can do!" For the first time while using ChipEdit, I thought it'd be fun to make one of those CityBlock-esque block navigation puzzles. Thankfully, that didn't extend to the entire level here - there were other block-pushing bits that weren't quite as hard. But what really floored me was that when my mother saw this level, she said, "Wasn't there a level in the original game called that?" It took me a while to figure out that she was talking about CC1 #108 - but I'll always remember making this level as the time when my mom knew more about CC than I did. :)

 

- The "I.W." Maze. At this point, I can't really remember if I really intended for the public to see any of these levels. I was mainly designing them just for the fun of being able to personally play them after they were done. So in this particular case, "I.W." was a reference to the way I labeled invisible walls back when I drew those paper levels. Thankfully, the maze wasn't terribly huge.

 

- Impossible Exits. For a while, this was the level I was the most proud of. It was my magnum opus. I remember waking up on a Saturday morning and thinking that I'd dedicate the entire morning to crafting a single epic level. It didn't take too long to decide on a Trust Me-style challenge where instead of keys that were impossible to use, the player would have to find the right exit. Instead of being structured linearly like "Wrong Exit" (CCLP1 Voting's Violin #11), the level was fairly open, with exits everywhere. Most of them just had monsters on top of them surrounded by gravel. Again, it was another case of my young mind concluding that most players would somehow want to go for those exits. :P Some of the unreachable exits were surrounded by bombs without enough blocks nearby to use on them (although I think a bust existed where a clone machine could be used to help out with this, with some monster manipulation involved). Ultimately, though, the "right" exit contained a teeth on top of it, surrounded by green doors that had to be opened with a key retrieved elsewhere. At the time, the concept of being able to "beat" the teeth when on the right parity was entirely new to me, so I figured no one else would know about it.

 

- WaterMaze. If you've played Fisherman's Maze I and II from AndrewG1 or CCLP1's voting packs, then you know what this basically is. It's also the first level of the second set I created.

 

- May the "Force" Be with You! Yes...I thought this cheesy reference was really something as a kid. :) When I began producing my 149-level set, I didn't bother to put in lesson or tutorial levels, but I did put in some small introductory challenges that demonstrated some concepts that were completely different from those in the CC1 lessons. This was one of quite a few. Basically, it "taught" players about...guesswork. Yeah. Thankfully, it was short, but the idea of placing groups of chips in front of rows of force floors with invisible walls behind them was a little mean.

 

- That's Right! Once, I had envisioned a Southpole-style level where instead of pressing down all the time, the player would need to go right at each fork. But part of me thought, "That'd just be terribly unoriginal," so instead, I made a level where Chip had to guess which ice path with a preceding east force floor was the "right" one amidst 30 or so choices. Yeah...not exactly fun.

 

- Demolition Derby. This level sounds like it should be a melee extravaganza, but instead, it was an action level akin to MikeL2's "Bouncing Off the Walls." The tie-in for the title was a bunch of enclosed, inaccessible rooms viewable along the way where monsters just collided with each other. Somehow, I thought it was really fun to watch that as a kid. :P

 

- Detective Chip, Parts 1-5. When I originally played through CC1, I didn't recognize the significance of the level "Cypher" - not even with the Melinda dispatch - until I actually opened up ChipEdit and looked at the layout from a bird's-eye perspective. So I thought it'd be fun to craft a different sort of message-style puzzle, albeit one where everything was much more drawn-out. When I finally buckled down and created my 149-level set, I think my intent was to offer an alternative to CC1 where the story of how Chip joined the Bit Busters was completely retold. This segment of levels, which I believe was 52-56, was a series in which Melinda and the Bit Busters planted messages that Chip would have to figure out in order to gain access to the ability to even try to join the club. (What Chip was doing in the 51 levels prior to this, I never thought about. :P ) The "messages" were basically letters written in blue walls or blocks that were meant to spell out "Bit Busters" throughout the first four parts. I don't remember everything about each level, but I do know that Part 2 of Detective Chip had a bunch of gliders circling around a large room with lots of gravel, including a spot where the gravel vertically spelled "CLUB" as a clue. Part 4 was subtitled "Case Closed" and featured Chip "figuring out" the message by revealing it in the level's hint...which I suppose ultimately spoiled everything for the player. Part 5 was subtitled "The Party" and was meant to signify Chip's excitement at "solving" the case and the Bit Busters (monsters) celebrating his eagerness to take the next steps to join the club. I seem to recall that I based it on the layout of a friend's house in which I celebrated a birthday party. :)

 

- Return Back. As mentioned in a previous blog post, "Levels01.dat," which later became the set known as CatatonicP1, was one of only two custom sets available online back in 1998 (at least that I could find). One of the most prominent types of levels in that set was the ice maze. I loved CC1's ice mazes. I enjoyed CP1's smaller, more linearly structured ice mazes. So I thought it'd be cool to make my own. If you were to look at my early levels collectively, you'd probably see a lot of ice mazes and levels with blue walls...most of which were simply real walls. The gimmick of this particular level was that after collecting everything in the expansive ice maze in the top half, the player would have to beat a block-pushing challenge in the bottom half...and then return to the start where the exit was. Sadly, this level was made much less enjoyable by guesswork in the ice maze portion.

 

- Wrong Way. Speaking of guesswork, ice mazes, and CatatonicP1, one of the other notable elements of that set was that at the time of its release, it had only 47 levels, with nearly 102 other "blank" levels placed after it. The notable exceptions were levels 51, 61, and 146. When my second set had reached only 50 levels, I thought this would be fun to do. I threw in an unexpected guesswork-filled ice maze into an arbitrary spot later in the set. The whole level was essentially a dirt border with ice paths that led to other parts of the dirt border, bombs, or, in one case, the exit. Not exactly fun, but I thought it looked cool.

 

- Clues / Who's for Dinner? Before Miika's Outer / Inner / Reverse / Full Circle series made an appearance in kidsfair.dat (and in CCLP1 voting), I had a similar idea, only not quite as polished. As a kid playing through CC1, I always thought it was interesting to see other areas of a level before you could reach them. So I thought, "Why not make one level where you could see an entire other level before you got to it? The result was a rather oversimplified blue wall maze (the idea was that you were supposed to evade a ball at the bottom that was blocking the exit path by pressing on the blue walls above - the "clues"!) that took up about half of the map, the top section of which allowed parts of the second level to be visible. The second level was a melee-ish level in which teeth were set loose and were hunting down Chip for dinner. The sad part about all of this was that in the end, the top section looked a bit different by the time I was done with the latter level, and I didn't know how to copy/paste pieces of levels between levels at the time.

 

- The Fun Maze. This was the Nightmare equivalent in my set. I must've had a pretty sadistic definition of "fun." :)

 

- More Impossible Exits. The original Impossible Exits level was so fun to make, I decided to try for a second. This one didn't feel quite as fresh, though. Instead of a sea of impossible exits, I focused a bit more on the steps necessary to reach the "possible" one, which was visible in plain sight in the middle of a twisty ice slide. The ice skates necessary to get to it, though, were not quite so visible. Instead, they were hidden behind a block that was smack dab in the center of a huge sea of blocks, chips, and walkers. I can't remember if I even required all of the chips, or if the solution was intentionally a bust - but it was still fairly fun to play. Perhaps the chip socket was meant to lead to another impossible exit. :)

 

- The Grocery Store. Not to be confused with the JL1 level "Grocery Store," which was based on a more linearly structured HEB Central Market-style supermarket, this grocery store was much more basic and based on the many Safeways and Albertson's I saw back in California, where the produce was always on the left, and most of the store was dominated by aisles. This level shared a lot in common with Tom P.'s level "Supermarket," though I think his ultimately looks much cooler.

 

- Science Fiction. I have no idea why I even named this level as such. It featured a fire maze, some nifty puzzling, and some dodging elements, and it was all very random and arbitrary. Maybe I felt at the time that sci-fi was too...or something.

 

- Tankx. A level with a bunch of tanks in the shape of an "X." Get it? :)

 

- Stations. One of the reasons why I enjoyed CC1's lengthy ice slides was because they often allowed the player to see different parts of the level. I decided to make a level based on this concept. In many ways, it was a precursor to a fad that seemed to sweep the custom level design world (sliding around and seeing the entire level before tackling a series of challenges that crossed the long slide multiple times). Instead of that, though, this level felt more like Amsterdam with a bunch of different types of tasks built into larger "houses" instead of little rooms. It was also one of my first true variety levels.

 

- The Whirlwind. I have no idea why I went with this title in the end - all this was was a wide open expanse with a single row of teeth on all sides that the player had to evade in order to get to one of the four exits at the corners. Fun stuff, but a bit rigid.

 

- Wipeout. This was another fun melee level. Divided into four quadrants, the first section featured a bunch of random, arbitrary balls to dodge, then the second was comprised almost entirely of a series of open-the-door-and-let-the-monster-escape-while-you-duck-into-a-niche bits, much like the second section of TS0's "The Sewers." Finally, there was a push-blocks-into-bombs room or two. I think the reason why I remember this so much was because the blocks spelled "go!" :)

 

- Impossible Exits 3: Fast Blast! This final entry in the Impossible Exits trilogy was probably the most linearly structured. The title came from the very first obstacle, which was a 10x2 (or so) ice slide the player had to cross on skates...with balls bouncing around. Of course, with MS being the only ruleset with which I was familiar, slide delay made this ridiculously rigid.

 

- **INVALID**. One of the discoveries I made while playing through CatatonicP1 was that it was possible to create invalid tile combinations in ChipEdit. I never knew it was possible, mainly because I had the "Check" option checked, and I had no idea what that even did to begin with. But once I unchecked it, I created a level that ran rampant with invalid tiles, though it was still very playable. Most of my experiments were silly-looking things like Chips, keys, and boots on clone machines and items hidden under dirt. Still, most of my early work didn't include invalid tiles - mainly because I was interested in creating something that resembled CC1, though I didn't know about Lynx compatibility or pedantic Lynx at the time.

 

- Chips Ahoy! My mom came up with this title. It was a simple, neatly designed chip-collecting level with teleports and paramecium. Thankfully, this was no Telenet.

 

- Chip "Peninsula." Continuing the trend of putting quotation marks where none were really needed, this was another itemswapper / variety level. For a while, I wanted to make a level set on an island, but then, I thought it'd be more interesting to remove the water on one side of the island. I was probably studying what the word "peninsula" meant in school or something when I made this.

 

- Hawaii. Carrying on with the island theme, this level was, in many ways, like DanielB1's "Island" with a big, open area in which to dodge monsters and collect chips. The smaller islands were accessible via (what else?) ice slides. Of course, none of this was to scale at all. :)

 

- Job Search / Chip Finds a Job as... The first level here (#124) was originally titled "Workers." Basically, it was a Kablam-esque level, except the player had the ability to control the clone machines. I'm not sure what kind of work was being done here (bombs as occupational hazards?), but in the end, I decided to change the name in the interest of taking the set's storyline in a direction where Chip was looking for work while trying to enter the Bit Busters. The second level came later (#139) and was a filler level that just served as a cliffhanger-ish announcement that Chip found a job. Though the "cliffhanger" part of that didn't really last for long, since it was just another level where Chip was surrounded by teeth and had to escape...this time in two seconds or so. :P

 

- Detective Chip, Parts 6-10. I decided to make a second "season" of Detective Chip at the end of my set as levels 140-144. The storyline direction I was trying to take was that Chip's love for detective work was rekindled while he searched for a job, and the Bit Busters decided to surprise him with their admitting him into the club by giving him another puzzle to solve. The message this time was "Traveler (Chip) has membership!" (Maybe I thought it'd work to use some sort of generic-sounding welcoming message, but then insert Chip's name in the middle of it?) I don't remember much about the actual levels, except that Part 6 was subtitled "Here We Go Again!" and featured Chip starting on an exit, and either Part 7 or 8 was subtitled "The Future" and featured a bunch of walker dodging. At any rate, level 145 was designed to be a "celebration" level, much like the party level in Season 1, only without the Detective Chip label. I forgot what I ended up calling it, but I do remember that it was the level I had originally designed as a warmup level for the set, with lots of variety included.

 

So that's a peek into my level-designing past. :) Eventually, I discovered other sets online circa 2001. The one that made the biggest impression on me was EricS1, primarily because it had a full 149 levels, many of them were excruciatingly difficult, and some of them were based on CC1 levels. I never thought to edit CC1's levels, but it was certainly a welcome change of pace. Other level sets that really impacted me were AndrewB1, DanielB1, and TomR1. There were eras where I forayed into designing levels meant to resemble the design styles employed in these sets (JohnL2 was my attempt to be AndrewB1-ish). But lately, I've settled on designing much simpler, more accessible levels.

 

I hope one day to find some of these levels from the past and share them with you all, but for now, I hope this blog post was entertaining to read. :)



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Hi JB, I wanted to let you know that I did enjoy reading about your early years with designing. Looks like you have made a lot of levels over your time. Of course, you've been around a long time, too. As for me, I've only known about designing for about 2 1/2 years, and I'm pleased with what I have been able to accomplish in that short of time...especially, with the "SexyFogs" levelset that I dedicated to you for all of your hard work and time you spent with the CCLP1 project. I hope that you got around to playing at least levels 1 and 2. Since you are such an expert, it would be nice to know what you thought of them...that is, if you have played them, etc.

Ian Wilosn

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I didn't even read this blog, and I don't even care what it's about. I just have to tell you that the name of it is such brilliant wordplay, that it could be in Latin and I'd still give you five stars.

Where can I go vote?

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Re. May the Force be with you.  Cheesey puns in level names always make me smile.  In an unpublished level set that died with my old computer I had 'Chippy chippy bang bang' and'Chiphikers guide to the galaxy'.  I dont know if either have been done before but I enjoyed them both. CCBB used a concept of listening out for bombs being exploded in an unseen part of the level as a cue to pass an aparently random trap, and CGttG predictably used counting to 42 as the key, more specifically chasing the 42nd cloned glider down a path to the exit which left a bold time of 42 as well.

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