Many CC veterans and long-time community members will recognize the significance of this date. It was the release day of CCLP2. Excitement pierced the online air. After years of playing and optimizing CC1 and being disappointed with the lack of release for CC2, the CC community finally had something different and official to get behind. New levels! New challenges! New records to set! It was all so fresh, teeming with possibilities to be explored. After the set was released, the first few months brought about a flurry of activity on the newsgroup. Scores were being reported every day. Busts were discovered. Records were being broken. People were threatening to rip each others' heads off if their records were broken. It was a level of involvement for the game that I still hope can be rivaled in the years to come. And in the wake of the optimization rush, people started thinking ahead: where do we go from here? What will CCLP3 be like? Let's start collecting levels and build something new! It should be fairly simple.
CCLP3 wasn't released until almost nine years after CCLP2. Much of the delay has been attributed to the waning community involvement of the original staff and the piling up of submissions that took place over that time. Even though submissions didn't start until 2006, many sets were already created specifically for CCLP3 in the years beforehand that immediately followed CCLP2's release. When a new staff was finally formed, it took a mammoth undertaking to play catchup and test the gigantic mound of levels. But it finally happened at the end of 2010, and a new official set was born. Fortunately, CCLP1 managed to avoid many of CCLP3's delays by positioning itself as a specific kind of set, with a specific goal to achieve. Even though the work was plentiful, it was much more manageable. So...where does this leave us with CCLP4?
After looking back at how the previous CCLPs were constructed, what the level design scene was like in the past, and what it looks like now, I've come to the conclusion that CCLP4 needs to become a reality sooner rather than later. This isn't normally where I'd land on an issue like this. Many of you reading might know from previous comments I made during CCLP1 production that I'm the last person who would ever want to rush production on a new CCLP, and that is still true. But I think we're dealing with a very specific set of circumstances this time around that need to be recognized. I'd like to dedicate this blog post to explaining my reasoning. Please note that although I'm not mentioning any other potential level packs that could be built in the near future (like a "hardcore" set, CCLP0, etc.), I'm still behind the idea of making them at some point.
- We've already got a solid collection of levels from CCLP1 voting. This is probably the most understandable reason. We can all agree that the CCLP submission periods are typically kept open for a while so plenty of levels can fill up the pool, and thus, there can be plenty of options from which to choose when voting. But there's a difference here between what these pools theoretically looked like between CCLP3 and CCLP1, in which many new levels congruent with the set's purpose had to be created, and CCLP1 and CCLP4, in which there are (so far) no such restrictions, and many existing levels can be submitted again. It's especially worth noting that a lot of deserving difficult levels were given the shaft for CCLP1 for a number of reasons: they were too complex to begin with and didn't even make an appearance in voting, some of the ones that did were perceived by voters as less beginner-friendly than others, and the staff's attempt to establish a gentle difficulty curve meant limiting the number of difficult levels in the final tier of the set. So although there are also plenty of levels in this bunch that didn't make the cut by virtue of being poorly designed or not very fun, there is a very strong collection that could perform quite well in CCLP4 voting.
- We've already got a solid collection of levels created after CCLP1 voting. The term "level factory" has been tossed around in reference to some very active designers in our midst, but it's also an interesting statement on the state of level design in general today. Although the number of designers may have decreased since, say, the age of heavy activity on pieguy's site, the rate at which levels - specifically quality levels - are saturating the potential submission pool is quite astonishing. The past year and a half has seen the release of and/or additions to sets like JoshuaBoneLP, The Other 100 Tiles, JBLP1, TS2, ZK2, ZK3, Ultimate Chip 3, JoshL4, JoshL5, and many more, with even more additions to some of these and entirely new sets on the way. What's really encouraging for a CCLP staff is that many of these sets have tried to incorporate some kind of difficulty curve, which helps introduce a form of variety into the submission pool. One of the indicators that can be an effective way to determine when it's probably a good time to start looking at working toward a set's production is to see if it's theoretically possible to construct a decent 149-level set from the levels available, especially if it's difficult to choose between a number of quality options. Personally, I think CCLP4 submissions are already at this point, though it doesn't hurt to keep them open for at least several more months.
- The set needs to be constructed with CCLP5 in mind. This may seem like an odd reason, but it's an important one. If CCLPs are meant to represent the best of what the community has to offer, waiting too long can end up putting deserving levels under the bus - not only during the current set's production process, but also during the next's as well. Many designers who walked away disappointed after not seeing a favorite level of theirs in a CCLP have been encouraged to submit it again for the next. And as levels like Lazy Hourglass, Yet Another Yet Another Puzzle, Rhombus, Double Diversion, and Traveler show, it is indeed possible. But it's much more difficult when these levels are up against a brand new bunch that's taken the spotlight. Alongside that, waiting too long will bring about way too many "147 candidates" (read: ultra-difficult levels) from which to choose. Of course, the staff would need to be responsible for maintaining a proper difficulty curve for the set, but it would be that much harder for them and voters to make the difficult choices when there are so many of them. Plus, again, the levels that get shafted will have a much harder time competing for a spot in CCLP5 with so many new options available by then.
I don't think we need to have CCLP4 submissions open past the end of 2015. In fact, I'd even go as far as to suggest that they should be closed in the middle of 2015. We've got the components for an amazing set at our disposal right now. Let's move forward. Though I personally don't intend to get involved with its production, I hope we see interest in staff positions from the community in the days to come.