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Pit of 100 Tiles Developer's Commentary, part 1 (Background, levels 1-10)



blog-0598462001423201511.pngBackground information (VERY LONG VERSION):



Ah, level design. Pretty much any time I play a game, I think of all the possibilities the developers left unexplored, and think, "Wouldn't it be clever if they had done that?" Ever since I was about 8 years old, I would draw out my own Mario and Zelda levels on paper, and I also made a few paper levels for Chip's Challenge (though not much because I wasn't all that good at the game early on). Unfortunately, I didn't know about level editors for any of the games I played, so my ideas were forced to remain still pencil drawings on the page...and it didn't help that my family got a new computer a few years later, one that didn't have Chip's Challenge on it.


Luckily, one day I was feeling really bored and curious about old games, so I searched up Chip's Challenge, and to my great surprise, I found a clone of the engine (Tile World), a level designer (CC Level Designer) and even a whole new pack of custom levels (CCLP2)?!?! (I can't remember where I found these things, but I sure am glad I did!) Well, I played CCLP2 for a bit, but got kind of weirded out by all the tiles-under-other-tiles-that-didn't-make-logical-sense and stopped at level 19. But with the editor, I was finally able to build my very own levels! I made about 60 of them, and lacking a name for the set, I just went with the default of "levelset 1.ccl".


Unfortunately, this first set did not last, as our computer I was using at the time was dying. I meant to back up all of my files on this computer, but evidently missed levelset 1, since it was nowhere to be found on our external hard drive when I went searching later.


That kind of put me off of level designing for a while. But interests tend to come and go with me, so a few years later in early 2011 I looked up CC again and--surprise!--there was CCLP3! CCLP2 had been a bit off-putting with its unusual tile combinations, but I read that CCLP3 was compatible with both MS and Lynx (meaning I wouldn't have to worry about such shenanigans), so I gave it a try. CCLP3 being CCLP3, the going was slow, and around level 61 I stopped playing it on my own and started watching Trevor Hedges' Let's Play of it. I noticed that many things I didn't care for gave him problems too, especially guesswork, lucky timing, and needlessly difficult dodging right at the end of a level. "I can do better", I thought, and began designing levels again, taking inspiration from CC1, the good parts of CCLP3, and my own ideas. Being somewhat ambitious, I titled this set "Tiles 200" because it was supposed to have 200 levels (to distinguish it from all the 149-level sets, I guess...?) Once again I got through a bit more than 50 levels, but disaster struck again in the summer of 2011 and my laptop's operating system crashed, requiring a reformat! Shame on me for not backing up my set....


Well, not to be deterred, when my laptop was repaired, I got right back to work, remaking and improving on some of the designs from Tiles 200 and adding a few new ones. I also played a few custom sets from CCZone, such as BigOto Returns and JoshL2. Before long, though, the community began talking about creating CCLP1--a set for beginners designed as a copyright-free substitute for CC1. I realized that since my set's levels were all rather player-friendly (partly because of my design philosophy that emerged from the Trevor LP of CCLP3, and partly because I wasn't very good at making hard puzzles), my levels would be good candidates! As CCLP1 plans solidified, I realized I would never finish 200 levels before submissions closed, so I cut the set's planned size into half. Unable to resist a punny name, I renamed the set "Pit of 100 Tiles", after the Pit of 100 Trials from the Paper Mario games. I quickly finished the set, submitting it here on CCZone in 2012, and to my delight over a quarter of its levels became part of CCLP1!




Background information (VERY SHORT VERSION):



"Levelset 1" refers to my first (incomplete) levelset I created in an editor, I forget when but around junior high/early high school. It was between the releases of CCLP2 and 3.

"Tiles 200" refers to my second (incomplete) levelset, created after CCLP3's release. It was much more similar to Pit of 100 Tiles than "Levelset 1" was to it or Po100T.

"Pit of 100 Tiles", or Po100T for short, is my first finished levelset--the one released in 2012 and that provided 27 of CCLP1's 149 levels.



Levels 1-10:


Level 1

"A Simple Maze"

One question I had to ask myself as I made Po100T was who the audience was to be for the game. Over time I decided that it would be for someone who at least played a little bit of CC1 and CCLP3 (kind of like myself), but wanted to leave the possibility that a complete beginner could pick up the set and play it. As such, I didn't make full-blown lesson levels. However, when I made this level, I deliberately put in multiple solutions, each using different items, with the hope that a beginner could experiment with the items and discover how they work.


Level 1 is quite trivial for any moderately experienced player to solve, and I liked it that way. I wanted it to serve as a gentle "welcome to the set", setting the tone for what was to come and serving as an extremely low difficulty level that I could curve up from. I felt as though "Entrance Examination" from CCLP3 was a poor choice for a Level 1--the hot block at the beginning made me expect unfair CCLP2-like shenanigans throughout the set, and the partial post (without explanation) would have likely stumped me if I weren't an avid Chip Wiki reader by that point. I found it strange that the next 6 or so levels after Entrance Examination were, in my opinion, far easier than it.


I wanted to be sure my Level 1 didn't have the same problems CCLP3's did, but still served some purpose. I ditched my previous idea from Tiles 200, which was a smaller, more open maze with a few monsters and no non-chip items.


Level 2

"Welcome to Dinner!"

This level's goal was very simple--introduce monsters! The name stuck through all three iterations of the levelset--Levelset 1, Tiles 200, and Po100T--but the idea of a house-shaped upper area (where a :teeth: has invited Chip to have be dinner), wasn't added until Tiles 200. The wall formations outside the house aren't meant to represent anything, even though some say the upper-left one looks kinda like a fork.


Level 3

"Returning the Favor"

The title and basic concept of helpful monsters lasted through all three iterations of my levelset, and it was Level 3 in each of them, but each time I remade this level I added something new to it while recreating the previous parts nearly tile for tile. It started off with just the glider and tank/fireball in Levelset 1. In Tiles 200, I added the :teeth: area (inspired by one of my favorite early CCLP3 levels--My Friend) and the fireball area at the exit. In Pit of 100 Tiles, I added the ball/toggle wall area between the Teeth and fireball areas because I figured it was a good idea to show that monsters can push other buttons too.


I realize that the fact that the tank needs to be flipped before it's released (else it drowns, cooking the level) may trick new players, and it's a minor violation of my friendly design philosophy, but I decided to let it slide because it's less than 10 seconds into the level and should only be a problem at most once.


Level 4

"Chip's Checkers"

(CCLP1 Level 24!)

This level is wholeheartedly and unabashedly inspired by Doublemaze from CC1--but it's even more complex in concept, as there are toggle wall states to swap, too! Thankfully, from the very beginning I chose to keep it small (imagine how hard it would be if it took up the whole map!) The level was originally made in Tiles 200, then reproduced (in concept, though certainly not in exact layout) in Po100T. The original version in Tiles 200 had 29 chips, and realizing that Doubledoublemaze was quite hard for Level 4 of any set, from the start I decided to make only 25 of them required. The Po100T version has 25 chips and requires Chip to collect only 20 of them.


Level 5

"Leave No Stone Unturned"

(CCLP1 Level 12!)

I'm not sure why the "stuff can be hidden under blocks" lessons of the time always seemed to have the side-effect of teaching the player "Be nervous about pushing blocks, since you never know when :fireblock: will happen." It wasn't just Lesson 4 of CC1 that did this; several custom sets I started playing as I was making this set had a "things can be hidden under blocks" lesson level where at least one of the blocks had a water, fire, or bomb tile underneath. Obviously that would not fly under my minimal-guesswork philosophy, plus I didn't want to make the player shy away from blocks in the future, so I came up with a safe way to teach the lesson. I force the player to acquire fire boots under a block before they have any chances to push hot blocks!


This level first appeared in Tiles 200 and didn't change much between then and Po100T. It has a few references to Lesson 4: the first sentence of the hint here is the same as the last sentence of the hint in Lesson 4; and the contents of the X block formation (chip in middle, fire outside) is the inverse of the same shaped formation in Lesson 4 (fire in middle, chips outside). Later I decided to use this difference as a very subtle hint for part of a future level....


A few last things: I think the "push all blocks" puzzle in the room before the fire boots might be a bit too tricky for an absolute beginner to get on the first try, but oh well, the set needs to start being a challenge sometime. Fun to optimize, that was. For some reason, the CCLP1 staff removed the hint's second sentence ("But don't worry about being killed by fire in this level") in the CCLP1 version--maybe because it sort of referenced CC1? Also, the level title is apparently a common phrase, but I first saw it in a Super Mario Bros. 3 strategy guide, of all places :P


Level 6

"25 Cell"

Trinity had always been one of my favorite CC1 levels. I liked mazes of one-way passages for some reason, and the dodging was simple enough for me to handle back then, so I made this level full of one-way passages and 3x3 room monster dodging as a sort of tribute. I first made it in Tiles 200. After playing it a few times, I decided I liked it so much I made a few sequels....


Level 7

"Two Mazes for the Price of One"

I seem to get a lot of my level ideas by thinking of clever-sounding titles, and this is one of them. It appeared in all three iterations of my set (with the same concept but completely different layouts each time, naturally). I realize that this "the walls switch places with the floor" maze concept is rather well-known and common by now, but to me at the time of Levelset 1 it was an original idea. I think the closest thing CC1 had was Steam, which offers a lot more chances to "change mazes" and thus plays differently. Ah, well. I purposely made this level's borders in a bit from the outside of the map on all sides since I didn't want the player to get tired of the level. This level, and another one, helped me realize just how much of a difference moving the borders in made....


Level 8

"The Monster Cages"

(CCLP1 Level 13!)

This level appeared in both Tiles 200 and Po100T, virtually unchanged. I always liked "Hunt" from CC1, in particular the use of chips to contain monsters, so I used that concept here. I also decided to include water around the edges so the escaped monsters wouldn't be a problem, and so that the player wouldn't have to ever take an isolated chip as it was being circled by a bug or paramecium (like in Chchchips). I then added a hint to make it clear that water kills monsters. (I found the hint especially necessary for MS players, where the lack of a splash animation/sound can make it a bit confusing what happens to the monsters. For instance, back in my early CC1-playing days, when I used a block to deflect a paramecium into the water in Arcticflow, I thought I had actually crushed the paramecium under the block.... :P)


One notable thing about this level is that there's no time limit. This is because of the walkers. For the vast majority of CC levels, there's a clearly defined, well known best possible time, and I don't think it's fair if the player has to restart the level 512 times or so to score it because they were playing perfectly but got unlucky. Therefore, I decided to make all* of my levels with random elements untimed. *There's a minor exception coming up in a bit, but there the randomness shouldn't really be a problem for optimizers.


Level 9

"Cloud or Circle?"

(CCLP1 Level 29!)

Religious references? In my CC game? It's more likely than you think. Well, I had a bunch of level ideas as I was making Po100T, but none of them seemed a good fit for the 9th slot, so I went with the ol' clever title method and came up with this, which references two phrases including the number 9: "Cloud 9" and "9th circle". Naturally, I made the upper part a wide-open sky with a couple gliders flying around and a few small blue-wall clouds containing chips, and the lower part a perilous, Fireflies-inspired fire-and-brimstone gravel region with fireballs patrolling in circles rectangles, just difficult enough to trip up anyone who's not sufficiently cautious. Oh, and since the imagery or references or whatever you want to call it couldn't stop there, I put 7 chips in the "Cloud 9" and 13 in the "9th circle" and stole digits from the numbers 13, 7, and 666 to make the time limit. 376 is also the number of an interstate near my house.


Interesting fact: I made all the fake blue walls be non-adjacent to glider paths so the player could find them all without having to take too many risks.


This level was renamed "Sky High or Deep Down" in CCLP1 because the title didn't work very well without the level being in the 9th slot.


Level 10

"Three Strikes You're Out!"

Obvious baseball reference is obvious. This level appeared in all 3 iterations of my set, and the only major change between versions was the very long detour to the 12th chip in the Po100T version to make it both easy to pick up that chip if the player needed it and easy to skip past it if they didn't. I'd say that this level was inspired by Joyride II from CCLP2, but I actually don't think it was, since I never made it that far before I built this in Levelset 1....


This is the level that gave me the idea to make every 10th level (except 50) an "action" level, since I liked how fast-paced and short this one was. Admittedly, some of the "action" levels like 30, 40, and 51 had much slower pacing than what I was going for with this category of levels, but 20, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 are closer to my idea of "action".


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This is very interesting back story. Can't wait for more! Once you finish the whole set, you can consider making a ccx file with all the text.

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