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jblewis

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  1. How do you top yourself after having 32 levels inducted into an official set?

     

    Andrew M. (known as “ajmiam” here on CCZone) took the level design world by storm when he released his debut levelset, Pit of 100 Tiles. Originally conceived as a 200-level set, Andrew decided to cut it in half so that a full set could be released in time for CCLP1 submissions, but that didn’t stop him from releasing an early version of the set’s successor, The Other 100 Tiles, with 13 levels, 4 of which were voted into CCLP1. Now, TO100T is finally complete at a full 100 levels. Is it a worthy follow-up? In a word, yes.

     

    It’s quite apparent that a lot of intentionality went into producing both sets, which are ultimately designed to be two halves of one product. The second half is exactly what it’s supposed to be: a notch up in difficulty and complexity. And yet the friendly nature of the first set is retained here. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the relationship between the two sets is Andrew’s choice to reference some of the first 100 levels throughout these 100 levels by building sequels or “harder takes” on concepts explored there while not going too far. An example: immediately, the challenge kicks off with the aptly named A (Slightly) More Complicated Maze, which abandons its predecessor’s open-ended solution with multiple routes to the exit in favor of a more twisty labyrinth where collecting everything is required, yet how one could go about doing so was still open-ended.

     

    The set continues with a few introductory levels. Most of them don’t feel nearly as instructive as Po100T’s, but in many respects, this is for the best, as TO100T is supposed to be for seasoned players. It doesn’t take long before the difficulty really ratchets up, with the lengthy maze Elemental Park (also in CCLP1) occupying the 15th slot. Throughout the journey, we encounter new twists on familiar ideas (Repair the Maze, Build-a-Bridge Workshop, and yes - Automatic (Caution) Doors), but Andrew mostly steers the proceedings into entirely new territory, with levels involving inventive monster manipulation, maze, and navigation challenges. By the time it ends, we feel like we've explored a huge breadth of new ideas.

     

    Many of these new ideas are not so much new as much as subtler revisits to familiar territory that have rarely or never been attempted, yet they comprise the standout compositions in the set: Encased in Carbonite, which uses elements from the CCLP1 levels Alternate Universe and Frozen in Time for something incredibly original; Pneumatic Diversity Vents, an Automatic (Caution) Doors-style challenge where the method of navigation around the little challenges scattered around the map also functions as a challenge in its own right; Platforming?!, which places the player into a 2-D, “gravity”-filled set of pathways to “jump” through; The Whole World’s Sitting on a Ticking Bomb, where Chip must race against an internal clock of bombs shaped like (what else?) a bomb; and the unforgettable Jigsee and Jigsaw, in which the former levels is cut into 3x3 pieces and jumbled together to form the latter level. And these are just a handful of the best levels - I could write several pages on my favorites, but I’ll stop here.

     

    The only two criticisms of this set that I could possibly offer are purely subjective and a matter of personal taste - a testament to this set’s wide accessibility (despite its increased difficulty). First, TO100T doesn’t quite seem to achieve its predecessor’s amazing balance between providing both excellent gameplay and compelling aesthetics. But this is understandable and only a very minor qualm. As Andrew himself has even stated in the past, this set is meant to be more “experimental” than its predecessor. Perhaps the easier difficulty and simplicity of Po100T provided more of a reason to build levels around aesthetic concepts, as the gameplay had to be kept simple and familiar while giving the levels something with which they could stand out. But here, the levels are all about the ideas, and rightfully so - and the focus has to be on developing them so they could work properly and still be approachable for the vast majority of players. The upside to all of this is that the levels almost entirely avoid throwing in tons and tons of extra clutter in attempts to make the design more interesting, which seems to be a new trend in level design these days. And there are still some wonderful aesthetic-centric levels, such as Excavating the Flooded Chipmine, which feels like an excellent marriage between Po100T’s Mining for Gold Keys and The Shifting Maze.

     

    Second, the final string of levels, with some of the most difficult challenges among the two sets, can be a bit hit-or-miss. Levels like Brutal, which feature a tough ball-dodging section, thankfully allow the player to tackle their tough bits early, but others, like Falling Up the Steps, are a bit long in the tooth and require a tad much in both precision and brainpower. But these levels are the exception rather than the rule. I absolutely enjoyed playing through The Other 100 Tiles, and I hope to see many of these levels in a future official set. (That, and a compilation with the originally planned 200 levels, perhaps reordered, would be amazing!)

     

    (9 out of 10)

    • Upvote 2

  2. There are level sets that are simply meant to be repositories of levels, and then there are level sets that are proper games in themselves. Prior to the past several years, few of these types of custom CC sets existed, with the exception of DanielB1 and a few others. But with the surging popularity of Let's Plays on YouTube and the busy lives we all lead, the casual approach to playing CC is back with a vengeance, and it's quite refreshing after a period in which the CC community was heavily focused on dissecting MS CC's many bugs and squeezing out every last ounce of optimization potential. And, to top it all off, this set, which is designed for casual play, comes along. In a word: it's brilliant.

    I've stated in various forum threads here on CCZone that part of the homogeneity that a player can really feel when playing through a set like CCLP3 is what one other chipster once described as "compressed cleverness." Everything's reduced to function, with every boot and key serving a specific purpose with little room for error. Here, this set completely demolishes that rigid design style, allowing the player to be free to explore each level and enjoy the variety throughout. The proceedings kick off with "A (Mostly) Simple Maze." The title certainly isn't kidding: not only is the maze easy, but it also offers multiple solutions! That's right: for once, we've got a maze that isn't an itemswapper in which every item must be substituted for another. You can pick a certain item or two and find your way to the exit with them. This is a wonderful touch that sets an inviting tone for the friendly challenges to come.

    Some players may consider the next few levels, along with the first, to be this set's "tutorials." But unlike the typical custom CC set with an introductory phase, these tutorials aren't blatantly designated as such; in fact, they are proper levels in their own right. For instance, the introduction to toggle walls, "Chip's Checkers," is a straightforward maze in the style of CC1's "DoubleMaze," complete with the set's signature friendly tone - it's not big and overwhelming at all, and you don't even need all the chips. Some of these tutorial levels, such as the trap-centric "Returning the Favor" and the block-focused "Leave No Stone Unturned," present several applications of the featured game element without going overboard and save some of the more sophisticated applications for later challenges. Even the latter level has a hint reminding players that they don't need to worry about dying via hot block, which is normally a pitfall associated with tutorials involving blocks.

    Not going overboard is pretty much the name of the game with respect to this level set. It's a wonderfully considerate gesture on the part of designer ajmiam, who knows exactly how far to take a concept when deciding how much of the map to fill up or how much to use a certain tile that could easily become an annoyance. It's an especially welcome touch that feeds into the set's fairly gentle difficulty curve. For example, the level "Repair the Maze," in which the player must open certain doors to reach chips in a maze entirely made out of doors, could have easily been extended toward the outer reaches of the map. It could have presented the player with only the amount of keys necessary to complete the level's objective. But ajmiam knows how to exercise restraint and contains the map to a reasonable size while providing the player with extra keys. It's a perfect example of being considerate of the player. Another example appears a few levels later in "Nitroglycerin," where fireballs must be released from traps to blow up bombs and open up new sections of the level. If this sounds like a CCLP3 level that requires the player to be calculating with what chips he collects out of fear of sending the fireball in the wrong direction, fear not - this level is a simple maze with a simple gimmick of opening up new sections of the maze in a non-key-and-door fashion. That's refreshing.

    Aesthetically, this set is a triumph. I've tried to advocate level design that are fun to walk around in and explore. Some levels feature what many custom CC levels have been sorely lacking: open space! Just play levels like "Corral" or "Courage" to see what I mean. But even more than that, much of the fun of playing the original CC was wondering what was around that next corner. That sense of wonder is captured in many levels here. Perhaps the most obvious and well-executed example is the fantastic "Mining for Gold Keys." This level isn't trivially easy or ridiculously hard at all; it's a maze first and foremost, and the challenge of finding keys under blocks is very well-handled. A less-experienced designer would have either offered options that led to cheap deaths or reduced everything to function by placing blocks only where keys needed to be picked up. Neither of these design mistakes are made here, as there are plenty of blocks that have no purpose at all and can't even be pushed. It's a beautiful decorative touch that enhances the experience beyond what the level would have been if there was no gravel or mining theme in the title whatsoever.

    Pit of 100 Tiles also ventures into creative territory with game elements that have been used to annoying extent in levels past, such as blue and invisible walls. One of my favorite levels, "Secret Passages," incorporates both in a clever way that removes the irritation while replacing it with the anticipation of what lies ahead. There are other clever uses of familiar game mechanics, such as the sound of button presses. Several levels in this set use the "popping" or "click" sound as a warning when something's about to happen, and thankfully, considerate hints are provided so the player knows exactly what to expect.

    Finally, the set spends its last stretch with a collection of tough dodging and campaign levels (mixed in with a few easier, friendly entries). The campaign levels are especially wonderful and a masterclass in creating a fun "flow" for the player while resisting the temptation to place needless opportunities for failure. Both of those elements make for excellent long, linear levels, like "Automatic (Caution) Doors." Everything feels so intuitive and easy to understand, and for such a long level, that peace of mind while playing is certainly refreshing and desperately needed in more CC levels. The final mental challenge, "Rube Goldberg," is a brilliant send-up and response to the deviously challenging "You Can't Teach an Old Frog New Tricks" from CCLP3. But unlike that level, ajmiam's version allows for exploration before anything of consequence is done, and the final solution is very satisfying to execute. The other gigantic challenge is the diabolical "I Wanna Be the Bit Buster," which isn't quite as fun to play but is still enormously rewarding to complete.

    Overall, this set hits all the right notes. There's only a few levels that aren't all that spectacular (like "Cross-Eyed") and a couple that are a bit annoying ("Laser Refraction" had me frustrated with its constant fireball cloning), but the pros far outweigh the cons here. This is CC level design at its finest.

     

    (9.5 out of 10)

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