I have to get to a few thoughts about running competitions such as the ones here on CC Zone, which currently are the Time Trial, Treasure Hunter, and Create Competition. As I haven't made any notes before hand, I'm sure I'll forget something, but at least I'll hit the main points I've been thinking about. I won't say anything about the Chip Cup or scoring systems yet, because it's hard to judge the merits well with only a couple months worth of experience under the belt so far.
First off, I feel it's a great idea to hold these competitions! It keeps the community together, allows for interaction that arises naturally from the game we love, and is just simply fun. The competition formats are a bit varied also, so different types of players can participate in the ones they like the most. And there's no pressure to win (though of course that's fun too), but the focus can be on the participation.
The basic competition is of course the Time Trial. I think of it as more basic than the create one, because it's easier to judge. Just make a level and people submit their times. From a organizing stand point, it is of course more work to come up with a great level (or levels) for the TT than with a good theme for create. A good time trial level should be easy enough to complete, have a quickest solution that is not easy to determine, but not utterly impossible to find or execute. This generally means people won't like random elements, or extreme boosting, or very short levels with a single trick for the best time, or extremely long and complex levels either. The balance is hard to find, but so far at least this year's levels have been superb. Often the trick is to make a level with many things going on in different directions, such that even the level's designer has no clue what the quickest approach is. There should be more than one way to solve any subpuzzle, particularly when it comes to interconnected areas. There should not be just the one obvious order in which to traverse the map.
There are three important things that separate a Time Trial from just competing on the high score tables in some CCLP. First, there is the submission window of just a month. You have to be active when the competition is on, or you miss the chance. In normal CCLP records, this window is much longer, falling in between the release and when pieguy reports a serious score. Having this window allows for players to concentrate on a the same level in the same time and see who stumbles on the best answer in that time. A related note is that I find it a very good practice to not break ties with the submission time of an entry. This has the danger of deteriorating into a contest of who has the time to work on the level as soon as it is released. The second thing is not knowing what others have accomplished until after you are done with your own submission. This adds tremendous excitement in waiting for the results! There was a time when the competition scores were public during the competition, but I feel it's much better to keep not have them public, if only to create this distinction between any normal optimizing efforts. The worst possible thing to do is to have the whole route public during the competitions, as it totally takes away the point of finding the best approach yourself. Third, there is the requirement of sharing and publishing the best route. I realize we're still waiting for the best solutions from January, but I trust the competition staff to do that soon, and once everything is set up, the solution to future competitions will also be easier to share quicker. Of course there is a trend to share any optimized routes for any set, but some choose to keep those private to actually keep the high score tables relevant to optimizing ability instead of execution ability. Publishing the TT routes is a nice difference which gives everyone a chance to see what they missed. It would be great to even see all the submissions, if possible. A possibly simple way to do this, would be to have a hidden solutions folder where people upload their solution during the competition instead of emailing it to the staff, which would become viewable only after the competition has ended. (So players could see the folder and be able to upload solutions, but not see the files in the folder.) Overall, these aspects keep the Time Trials interesting and different enough from playing competitively in a CCLP.
The Treasure Hunter is of course the newest format we have. This is similar to the Time Trial at least in relying heavily on the level used for the competition. The idea is not to focus so much on the time, but on collecting items. One of the main ways to establish this difference is to have a simple level to complete, but extra effort is needed to get more items. Another is to not have all the items accessible and still be able to solve the level. This second quality is harder to design. The February treasure hunter level did this by having a small time limit, but it's not the only way to go. A built in way to deny some objects would be to use pop-up walls or fewer keys than doors of a color. I'm eager to see how the level design for the Treasure Hunt will evolve. The format is a fresh change to what we've had before, and I feel keeping it distinct from the Time Trial is a big part of that in the future. One way to share the burden of building these levels (and the TT ones as well), is for the staff to ask the rest of us for level candidates to use. Personally I find this hard to do, because it will mean I can't participate in the competition myself, and I do like to keep that option open.
The Create Competition is totally different from the other two. It requires a fully different type of participation, and the judging is very much a matter of taste. The current trend of having quite specific requirements from the levels is a good one. Many times restrictions breed creativity, and a loose theme doesn't inspire as much. I'm not sure how I feel about the "bonus" requirements. How exactly do they factor into the judging? Why not keep it simple and just have them as requirements? It would help if the judges were to share more of what things they enjoy or are looking for in the submissions, and definitely comment on past entries. For me at least, this competition takes the most time to participate in. It might be possible to keep the submissions open for two months, instead of just one, but this might put off people who design much faster. If this was ever done, there could still be a competition each month, because there's no reason to not have two competitions going on at once. At least if the competition was to design more than one level with some interconnected theme, then I would really appreciate more time than just a month. If the staff ever find it too much work to judge the entries, maybe we could try it as a poll some time? So simply release all the entries once the submission time is over, and let everyone play the levels and vote for the winner. This would be a new way to participate and would stir more feedback for the submitted levels. And one more thing before I forget: even though it might sound like critique to the format, I find the Create Competition is fun and it should always be around!
Another thing I think should be around always are the compiled sets from the competitions. It's great to be able to see all the levels from one competition together in one set. Bringing them together allows for players to get a better sense of what has been going on, whether or not they participated in those competitions themselves. It might even work to have just a set for each competition, instead of a monthly ones like now. Like for the Time Trial, there could be a single set and new levels would be added into that instead of releasing new small sets each month. Maybe this creates some logistical problem with the submitting the solutions, but I would find it worth the effort compared to having a thousand small sets (with dac files for each) of time trial levels for every month. So if it's logistically easier to release these larger sets only every once in a while, I guess that works too.
So in conclusion, I like the competition formats we have. They all fill a specific need or aspect of Chip's Challenge. Competing for the best times is fun and rubs our optimization inclinations. Running around collecting stuff can be very different and flavorfull. Designing and sharing levels is a big part of our community. I hope all these competitions keep running for years, and at least two every month! I'm sure the staff will have to do a lot of work for that to keep happening, and I hope they remember that they can also ask the rest of us for help from time to time. Most importantly, I want to see all players enjoying participating in these competitions, and really feel a part of this community!