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Found 10 results

  1. jblewis


    Version 1.0.0


    The third community-produced official level pack for Chip's Challenge, originally released on March 28, 2014. This set contains 149 levels that can be played in the MS and Lynx rulesets and is meant to serve as a legal alternative to Chip's Challenge 1 that introduces new players to the game. Key features: - 149 levels that will tickle your brain and your fingers - An all-new, epic story with new characters who reveal more about Melinda the Mental Marvel and the Bit Busters Club - Lots of amazing CHALLENGES - Rooms to explore that are so spacious, you'll want to pack up and move into one - This one really hard puzzle that you won't get but you'll look it up online and not tell anybody - All your hopes and dreams
  2. Once upon a time, there was a period in which Chip’s Challenge levels were fairly manageable. As I mentioned in my very first blog post on here, one of the first CC level sets I ever downloaded was just called “LEVELS01.dat” and contained the levels that would eventually grow to become CatatonicP1. There was also a set called “New Levels.dat” that had an unsolvable first level and an open melee level called “Guard Dogs” that involved teeth, which later inspired me to create my own version of the concept. And despite the shortcomings of these levels, I could tell that their designers wanted to create their own version of the CC1 experience that made them fall in love with the game in the first place. But oh, how far we’ve strayed from that since then. The years that followed brought about thousands of levels, and as far as I can tell, the simple life principle of “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should” has gone out the window. “Bigger is better” became the mantra of level design for many, with several designers who felt obligated to fill up the entire map just because, well, they could. And if they wanted to make a smaller challenge, the design principle of choice would be to cram in as much stuff as possible in one tiny room because, you know, anything less would just be a waste of space.. And on top of that, the natural tendency of many was to complicate a level and feature as many of the game elements as possible because, hey - easy and homogenous have to equal boring, right? The sad truth is that when examined in light of assembling a set like CCLP1, all of these design principles fall short of - and in some respects, run diametrically opposed to - the design principles that made levels generally considered CC1 favorites what they were. In past blog posts, I’ve discussed why variety is important for any CCLP. However, in this blog post, I’d like to focus on something else, especially with respect to CCLP1: consistency. Now, that may sound rather self-contradictory at first. But let’s take a moment and think about all the different types of levels out there: Feel: open / closed Design: matriced / organic Gameplay: action / melee / puzzle / maze / speed / collection Size: small / medium / large Length: short / medium / long Structure: linear / non-linear Dominant tiles: hodgepodge / element(s)-focused This may not be an exhaustive list, but I hope we can see each of these types of levels well-represented in CCLP1. Now, I’d like to present a notion to you. It may sound radical, but just hear me out. What if, among all these different types of levels, design principles that transcend their differences existed among many of them in CC1? We toss around the term “CC1-ish” quite a bit, but considering that CC1 has been hailed as a variety-filled set, what does that really mean anyway? We seem all too content to just find “equivalents” to many of its levels for CCLP1, but if CCLP1 is meant to be a CC1 substitute featuring today's levels, shouldn’t we at least take some time to nail down what characteristics defined many of the most-loved levels from the original game and keep them in mind while we vote and at least clarify what we mean when we say “CC1-ish” so we can give each level the consideration it’s due? Or are we too afraid that establishing such standards would eliminate levels that fit our veteran sensibilities and steer us toward those that may feel less interesting to us? It may sound impossible, but I believe I’ve found three characteristics that fit the bill - characteristics that are conducive to beginner-friendliness and (at least so far) seem to have been forgotten by many voters at the ballot box. I’ve mentioned them here and there in passing, but I’d like to examine them more in-depth in a different context. If you examine CC1 closely, you will find that many of its levels exhibit at least two of these three characteristics. Hey, whenever we play any other game, we expect both variety and consistency in quality, so we can't the same be true for CCLP1? Freedom. This is a big one. It’s probably the biggest one that’s often overlooked in today’s level design paradigm. Remember how most of CC1’s levels allowed players to run around without the fear of tripping some button or collecting some item too early? Or just to experience the joy of running around to begin with? Whatever happened to that? This isn’t an issue of “open” vs. “closed” levels. It’s an issue of gameplay rigidity. It’s a tendency that manifests itself in level design because as designers, our natural tendency when we build levels is to think in goal-oriented terms, like this: 1. Decide what the player has to do to get to the exit. 2. Build everything such that every tile in the playing field contributes in some way toward that objective. 3. ??? 4. Profit! Okay, scratch those last two items off, but the second point is the clincher here. It’s the major contributing factor to an issue I like to call Designer Disconnect. In the previous blog post in this series, I talked about another tile-based game called Escape, which allowed the player to see the entire map and provided an unlimited undo function - both of which made it much easier to attempt hardcore puzzles. Chip’s Challenge, on the other hand, is not only more than just a puzzle game, it also allows the player to see only a 9x9 grid! This should give a lot of designers pause, but the sad truth is that it does not. Designers have the freedom to see the complete 32x32 map, and all too often, levels are designed as if the player could see the complete 32x32 map - or wants to see it. Is it possible that maybe - just maybe - we’ve forgotten about the thrill of discovering what’s around that next corner? What this all boils down to is that Designer Disconnect often interferes with a player’s natural desire to explore and experiment. When a designer builds a level with a solution in mind and throws down the pieces of that solution, it’s easy to forget about what happens or what is attempted when a player has no idea what that solution even is. Generally speaking, the more complex that solution is, the less freedom the player will have to take a look around and the more the player would have to remember, especially since the game has no checkpoint / undo feature. And the more the player has to remember, the more the game feels like work. I’m just going to speculate, but if I had to guess why CC1’s levels were not exactly all that complex, this is probably at least one reason why. The issue of rigidity may not be the same as distinguishing between “open” and “closed” levels, but our fascination with rigidity has certainly thrown many “open” levels under the bus. I honestly have to wonder how many of CC1’s simple, open levels would do if we had never seen them before and they were in CCLP1 voting today. Would we vote down Nice Day just because it wasn’t hard enough, and it didn’t give us that sweet satisfaction that comes with figuring out something difficult? Would we have a negative view toward Force Square because the wide open rooms around the titular square weren’t jam-packed with puzzles and were just nearly empty spaces? How about Metastable to Chaos and its spacious dirt room to send the bugs into? After seeing how voting has proceeded so far, I honestly have to wonder. CC1 often flew in the face of modern level design by not reducing everything to function and not resorting to irreducible complexity. Instead, we had arbitrary pieces of fire littering some levels, open spaces with absolutely nothing, and dead ends without any items to collect here and there. They may have seemed random, but from a design standpoint, they contributed to the aesthetic of each level and, in many cases, were quite calculated in their placement. At the end of the day, freedom is not just limited to the feeling of openness in a level; it’s a state of mind with which one can approach the game. Let’s take one of the more difficult, confined levels of CC1: FireTrap. This level has a variety of challenges involving monster manipulation and chip collecting, but although these tasks must be completed in a certain order, the player is left to discover what that order is without too much fear of necessitating a restart. It’s relatively simple to roam around without accomplishing anything for a while - and for the most part, there’s no need to worry about cooking the level! There’s even an extra block toward the bottom - how about that! This is a perfect segue to… Difficulty management. In the previous entry in this series, I briefly mentioned this characteristic as a positive trait of difficult levels. However, much like any transcendent quality, it can be applied to just about any level of difficulty when making a level that can be universally enjoyed. The premise behind managing difficulty is this: a game with over 40 unique elements is inherently going to be complex; therefore, a designer must manage a level’s inherent complexity if the level’s goal is to provide a fun experience. I understand that we’ve got levels in our midst whose sole purpose is to stump players everywhere and encourage them to draw diagrams that are meant to be studied for months before a solution reveals itself. And that’s great. But, for the purposes of this blog, I’m talking about levels for CCLPs, which are meant to be played by all types of players. The first step toward difficulty management is to identify exactly what component(s) of a level contribute(s) to its difficulty. Some levels are a challenge because of the concepts featured in them, and for those of us who are veterans, this type of difficulty is easy to spot. However, difficulty can also manifest itself purely on the basis of design, and I believe it’s this form of difficulty that we as designers and veteran players often underestimate. Levels that take a long time to solve or levels with a linear structure are, by their nature, at a disadvantage in the difficulty management arena. This is not to say that these types of levels are bad. It’s just that CC itself is limited because the measures that games often provide to make these types of challenges more bearable, such as checkpoints, aren’t available in this game. And if the level’s goal is to provide a fun experience, then the other elements in the level that contribute to its difficulty must be constructed with caution. What CC1 accomplished quite brilliantly was limiting its difficulty to one component throughout the vast majority of its levels and dialing down other components to help the player focus more easily on that particular one. Notice, for instance, that almost none of the pure melee levels in CC1 are linearly designed (and if so, they take on a simple A → B structure like the one in Problems rather than a complex A → B → C → D → E structure). Instead, they take place in wide open rooms where the player has the ability to walk wherever he or she wants while avoiding the monsters. The CC1 designers understood that something like monster dodging was going to be no easy task for their audience and tried to implement measures that would keep the player focused on the task at hand - dodging - rather than creating constraints to make things more difficult just because they didn’t look hard enough. So let’s take that principle back to the realm of linear/lengthy levels. Notice how CC1 hardly ever resorts to pulling out increasingly harder challenges as an extremely linear level progresses, nor do most of these levels punish players for making poor choices at a late point. This is because the more opportunities for failure are presented in a long level, the much greater the likelihood for failure and, by extension, the much more frustrating it would be. The hardest sokoban in Mix Up, for instance, was toward the first half of the level, whereas most of the challenges that followed were arguably easier. Even Four Plex, which is probably the most rigidly linear variety level in CC1, had challenges that were fairly self-explanatory. As the level progressed, the challenges became less ambiguous. The opening ice maze contained lots of different possibilities, fake walls to uncover, a few unknowns to discover, and a healthy dash of guesswork. In sharp contrast, the second area’s only big surprise was the bouncing blocks (if one didn’t explore before activating the cloner). From that point onward, there wasn’t really anything unexpected in each room. The northeast room was a monster manipulation puzzle. The next area involved navigating walls. And then, the final challenge was a simple itemswapper. Players could tackle each of these challenges knowing what they were and without any sudden bursts of designer trickery late into the level. Unfortunately, we as voters have tended to approach difficulty management with a stringent “all or nothing” standpoint based almost entirely on our playing experience (“How did this level make me feel?”) when evaluating levels for CCLP1. For many of us, it seems like the general rule of thumb is that if a level can’t be solved on a player’s first try, it must not be beginner-friendly at all and should be automatically discarded. I’m sure we’d have voters giving the proverbial thumbs down to Four Plex purely on the basis of the first room offering a few opportunities for failure. But not only would this voting approach be unfair to many levels, it also fails to recognize that failure is inevitable and to distinguish between different placements of opportunities for failure and how they affect the propensity for an enjoyable experience as they relate to a level’s structure. An isolated tough puzzle in a non-linear level, for example, that allows the player a greater degree of freedom in choosing the order of tasks to complete would be theoretically much less frustrating than a linear level that strictly establishes that same puzzle’s placement in the level at a late spot. The same could be said about the level that involves a bit of guesswork but actually contains multiple solutions or is somewhat open-ended. A similar principle applies to navigation challenges involving recessed walls, especially if there are multiple solutions involved and minimal complicating variables entering the equation. I’m sure even a simple (in design) navigation challenge like Apartment would be slaughtered in CCLP1 voting just because someone didn’t quite get it on their first try. The reality is that Apartment is manageable because it understands just how far it needs to go. Chips, walls, and recessed walls define where one can travel. That’s it. No force floors, no boots, elements, or thieves, no doors or keys. The level works because the design is basic, consistent, and symmetrical, and the end result is a beautiful challenge. But just watch well-designed navigation challenges like Anaconda (Omicron #2) and Cell Swapper (Mushroom #48) or open-ended, multiple-solution levels with a bit of guesswork like Puzzle Box (Jacuzzi #35) fall by the wayside because some people rely solely on feelings and not on discernable principles that helped make CC1 what it is to determine their landscape of CCLP1 ratings...even though both of these levels exhibit a remarkable degree of simplicity and difficulty management. And speaking of simplicity… Identity. This design principle worked in tandem with difficulty management for much of CC1. In fact, you could say that all three of these characteristics worked hand-in-hand throughout many levels. Once again, let’s start with the basics: identity is, in essence, a level’s ability to effectively manage itself. Levels with a strong sense of identity tend to be easily describable, primarily because designers who create such levels actually think through what they want their levels to be before dotting the map with tiles and building away. Levels that don’t have an identity crisis usually contain a discernable objective (or two) that doesn’t require a ridiculous amount of lateral thinking to discover. When we play, say, Digger, we know that the point of the level is to collect chips and find ways around teeth monsters to do so. When we play a level like Mishmesh, we know we're going to be pushing some blue walls. Once again, this type of level design feels so foreign to us today. I’m just going to speculate here, but if I had to make an educated guess as to why, it’s probably because to us veterans, such levels feel all too predictable. And predictable must equal dull, right? That’s probably why many of today’s levels feature room after room filled with completely different challenges that require the player to switch gears and think differently every time the gameplay shifts. It’s certainly a far cry from the low-key days of Tossed Salad or even Mixed Nuts. We’ve gotten to the point now where we recognize that trying to be too clever by injecting CCLP3-esque obfuscation and deception won’t win people over, but we have yet another quantum leap to make: recognizing that building a jumble of stuff just to say that our level is amazing and has more tricks than the previous one also isn’t really all that clever in an age where practically more than half of the levels out there aspire to do the same. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but personally, I find it much more impressive when a designer knows how to exercise restraint. It’s easy to see all 1,024 tiles in the editor and feel inclined to fill them all up. It’s much harder to know when to stop. Predictability to a person who has command over what to build on a 32x32 board is certainly not the same as predictability to a player who’s exploring that 32x32 board with only a 9x9 square viewport to look at while exploring. Thankfully, for the most part, CC1 knew just how far to go. Do you know, for instance, that adding a border around your level reduces the size to 30x30, eliminating 124 (over 10%!) of the 1,024 tiles? And if you stripped the level down to a more manageable 24x24, you’d be eliminating 448 of those tiles? CC1 certainly isn’t perfect at knowing where to stop, as there are definitely some exceptions - long block-pushing levels like On the Rocks come to mind - but even they avoided the pitfall of “breaking up” the homogeneity by forcing players to get their minds and fingers off block-pushing and onto something completely different in the name of “being more interesting.” From a difficulty management standpoint, it’s much easier to temper the inherent difficulty that accompanies length or linearity with simplicity and straightforwardness in the challenge. What I have to wonder is - why do we carry around a stigma toward homogeneity in levels? CC1’s levels managed themselves well because they understood that the game was interesting enough to warrant that focus on individual concepts more often than not instead of flitting around from concept to concept and - SQUIRREL! You get the point. So, to wrap this series of blogs up, I’m going to pose a challenge to you. As you rate the levels in voting, ask yourself the following questions: 1. If I were to take all the levels to which I’ve awarded my highest ratings, how consistent would these levels be with the design principles that made CC1 what it was? 2. From that list of most highly-rated levels, could I build a set of 149 levels that included a proper difficulty curve, levels that explored each of the game’s elements, and plenty of variety throughout? Be honest with yourself. Then play the levels. Examine them in detail. Think outside the fact that you failed or solved a level on your first attempt. Then get back to the ballot box. You’ve got an opportunity to help craft CCLP1 into a suitable CC1 replacement that is one of the greatest, most diverse, beginner-friendly level sets ever made by examining what made CC1 work and applying those principles here. Or, you can undermine the purpose of the voting process and throw around ratings solely based on how the levels make you feel. The choice is up to you.
  3. (This blog post is the second in a three-part series. For the first part, click here.) Several years ago, I came across another tile-based puzzle game online that was similar in appearance to Chip’s Challenge. It was called Escape. The objective, quite simply, was to escape out the exit door while navigating any obstacles in one’s way. Sound simple? The game was devilishly difficult. Thousands of levels created by scores of designers have been uploaded online from within the game. What ultimately set it apart from Chip’s Challenge was that it was turn-based, and as such, it was much easier to implement an undo feature. For instance, monsters would move only when you did. A level’s entire map could also be viewed all at once. One of the game’s most prolific designers was someone many of you may recognize: Joshua Bone. That’s right - the creator of Spiral, Mud and Water, Thieves and Teleports, and other simple CCLP3 levels crafted some of the most diabolical (no pun intended!) and well-designed Escape levels in the game’s level bank. I can’t help but think that at least one reason for this - besides the differing game elements - is the game’s undo feature and ability to view the entire map at once. CC has no such mechanics. So how do we provide a challenge to players when a level has to be completed in one sitting? And how do we do so in CCLP1? By now, many of you reading who are veteran players have no doubt played or at least skimmed through CCLP3, which was filled with many long, difficult levels. Since its release, many casual players - even veteran casual players - have voiced their concerns about its difficulty. But just why was it frustrating to so many, at least when compared to the original game’s final tier of levels? Here’s at least a few of the most mentioned reasons: - Convoluted puzzles. This doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Puzzles are a core element of CC and work well in manageable doses. Puzzles that involve multiple inevitable failures, vast leaps in logic, and copious amounts of spatial reasoning and attention to detail are much less fun. - Needless red herrings. Whether it’s the surprise victory lap in Grand Prix or the unnecessary key in Floating Plaza (yes, I’m going to burn my own levels here...many of them are old shames for me now), using deception, particularly late in a lengthy level where falling for the trap necessitates a restart after several minutes of gameplay, is very, very frustrating. - Excessive length. Long levels aren’t inherently bad, but a general rule of thumb is that if the level feels like work, the greater the possibility that players will become exhausted and lose interest. This principle is applicable regardless of difficulty (On the Rocks comes to mind as an easier example), but when extreme difficulty is applied, the frustration gets compounded. - Unforgiving linearity. Linearity, again, is just another method used to structure a level’s challenges and can be used to make great levels. Linearity used in conjunction with frustrating design elements combined with opportunity after opportunity for failure can lead to relentlessly difficult levels that are no fun to play again after cooking the level late into an attempt. Not only must the player journey through everything leading up to the cook all over again, but he or she must also guard against making other mistakes along the way - and then anticipate even more trickery beyond the cook. The process just snowballs when more cooks occur. Linearly designed levels are especially frustrating when a level presents at once multiple options to the player that offer several different ways to go, but only one “order of operations” is correct. This may not be an exhaustive list, but it’s a list of qualities that have been mentioned the most. There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to put all of these elements in a list that can be viewed at once - other than the fact that no such list has been written out yet. First, studying these elements to see how CCLP3 used them can be quite helpful. A level that utilizes one of them has the potential to be tough and frustrating, although not necessarily so. A tiny level with a red herring, for instance, isn’t going to make CC players ragequit and hang up their hats. However, a level that uses two or more of them can be relentlessly difficult. Note that the first two items on the list are concerned with gameplay, while the latter two are concerned with design. (All of them can be tied into Designer Disconnect, but that’s another topic for another time.) Convoluted puzzles combined with excessive length or needless red herrings combined with unforgiving linearity are almost certainly going to be trouble for a general audience. In many cases, CCLP3’s final tier of levels exhibited all four of these qualities! And if you were to look at the set as a whole, you’ll notice that there were strings of these levels with two or more of these qualities placed consecutively, especially toward the end. (Side note: Please don’t get me wrong. I do think there’s a place for some of these kinds of levels, but I don’t believe that CCLPs are the context, as they are meant for more general audiences - even the non-CCLP1 packs that are geared toward veterans. Veterans can include casual players who don’t wish to use maps. For this reason, I think we’re really going to have to work hard to adjust our difficulty expectations for CCLP1 and dial down the toughness two notches - one below CCLP3, which would be where a non-CCLP1 pack would ideally be, and another so that CCLP1 is properly introductory and features a gentle difficulty curve.) Second, studying these elements can be quite helpful when we contrast how CCLP3 was difficult with where CC1 ventured with respect to difficulty, which should be an important part of informing how we vote during CCLP1’s voting process. It’s so easy to vote based on how a level makes us feel or how it appears upon first glance, but unless we cast aside our veteran biases and use a rubric of objective standards, we can’t honestly say that we’re rallying behind the most appropriate and deserving CCLP1 levels. (More on how a rubric can be constructed from the most agreeable CC1 levels and what qualities they exhibited is to come in Part 3 of this series.) I bring this up because “This level is CCLP3-ish” is a comment I’ve heard directed at quite a few deserving CCLP1 candidates that are admittedly difficult but barely even exhibited the four above qualities. It seems like much of the time, such comments are often born out of frustration, especially if a player just happens to miss something random or is just having a bad day while playing. When the trouble has nothing to do with poor level design, can we honestly say that it’s entirely appropriate to vote down levels like these if they excel with respect to other qualities that provide a quality experience for first-time players - just because we died a few times? I’m going to go into further detail about the universal qualities that made CC1’s most well-received levels of all gameplay types and difficulties fun in the third and final entry in this series, but for now, I urge you to consider what characterized CC1’s most accessible difficult levels before pronouncing a CCLP1 candidate “CCLP3-ish.” Note how CC1’s difficult levels typically exhibit one quality that defines why they’re difficult but dial down the other qualities that could theoretically make the level needlessly hard if they were dialed Up to Eleven. If a level is long and contains a linear (but not unforgivingly linear!) structure (Mixed Nuts), then the challenges are usually accessible, self-contained, and allow for some room for error. If a level contains a very, very challenging puzzle that requires significant brainpower (Totally Unfair), then the level typically goes no further and refrains from adding additional types of puzzles into the mix. If a level has the potential to involve skill and speed (Underground), then it’s usually open, non-linear, and short. Chip’s Challenge is an inherently complex game. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how complex it is when we design levels. But when we play complex levels, the ones that are built with the intention of bringing order to that complexity are the ones that usually have the potential to be the most well-received.
  4. That's right - the title doesn't lie! As of yesterday, August 28, all 33 CCLP1 voting packs are out in the wild! We have had an incredible amount of participation from 56 voters, who have collectively casted a whopping 25,207 votes! For comparison's sake, CCLP3 had only 15,242 votes casted throughout its voting process. At this point, we haven't set an end date for voting in stone yet. However, I did promise you all when voting started that I'd revisit a timetable "around the end of August." First, I'm really hoping we can see at least 20 votes on every level in each level pack so that the results can be as informed as possible. Again, for comparison's sake, only one level in CCLP3 voting actually got this many votes. Right now, all packs except the three released yesterday have 10 or more votes on every level. Nine of these packs have already hit the 20 mark, with three more very close to it. That means we're already about halfway to this goal. Ultimately, I'm hoping we can close out voting at the very end of October. This isn't set in stone, but if we can keep up the momentum we've established, we could make this goal a reality. If you visit the CCLP1 Voting Pack News and Releases thread, you can find a count for every pack on the first post, as well as a grand total of votes. Every pack that's reached the 20-vote mark is marked in green. In the meantime, enjoy the packs! If you're submitting all 50 votes for a given pack at the same time - and most people have been doing this - make sure every radio button is pressed. We've had quite a few instances of one or two levels not getting a vote because someone's mouse was slightly off or something to that effect. Also, be sure to review your votes, especially as you play more levels, and make sure your evaluating is consistent throughout the landscape of your votes. We've already had quite a few people do this as they've played more and more levels, and it's been great to see. Keep up the good work, everyone! Remember, every vote counts, and your votes do help us determine the final makeup of the set. Let's push, push, push these next several weeks!
  5. There's a thread on this forum dedicated to what we as Chip's Challenge players called certain game elements when we were younger that really intrigued me upon first glance. Some of the names given to the various monsters have been quite funny. (For instance, I didn't know that thieves have been called both "firemen" and "policemen"!) But I feel like another one should be made about the misconceptions we had concerning certain game behaviors when we first started playing. Wouldn't that be interesting? Perhaps part of my perspective stems from being only 5 years old when I first started playing the game, so reading the help file provided only limited understanding compared to engaging in actual gameplay and the experimentation that came with it. I'm assuming that's the case for most first-time players, though. I didn't understand what "following the left wall" meant for bugs - I just assumed that the game programmers somehow instilled set paths for them - nor did I understand that all grey walls were actually permanent. When I tried Nuts and Bolts for the first time, I saw the thief and the bombs above the opening area and thought that there was supposed to be some way to break through those walls to get to them! But no - the only walls that I could break through were blue, of course. Why do I bring this up? Because we've taken upon ourselves the rather awkward task of evaluating and voting on levels for a level set whose target audience is comprised of people who are the exact opposite of us veterans. These are the people who will struggle not only with understanding the game and its elements, but also with being able to control Chip to begin with. These are the people who will make the mistakes that we forgot we once made when we first started playing. These are the people who would lose patience with the game if the CCLP1 of today were constructed exactly as CC1 was, with a level like Nuts and Bolts throwing newcomers into the fire and steeply escalating the difficulty curve immediately after the tutorials. And sometimes, I think it's difficult for us to cast aside our veteran sensibilities and remember how these people feel - how we felt - upon playing the game for the first time. At the time of this post, there have been 10 voting packs (500 levels) for CCLP1 released and nearly 6,600 votes cast. Although the voting process is far from complete, I've begun noticing an interesting trend in the results - most of the top levels so far are either hodgepodge or "themed" levels with some degree of variety and (usually) moderate difficulty - though for a beginner, many of these levels would probably be fairly difficult and would fit right at home in the last quarter of CCLP1. In contrast, most of the CCLP3 top levels were those that obviously involved a lot of time and effort spent to build them, which typically meant that they were also the hardest of the bunch. A lot of these levels were also hodgepodge or themed levels as well, or at the very least, they were non-homogenous. But the irony of this penchant for non-homogeneity in individual level design was that by primarily using the voting results as the determinant for what was inducted into the final set, CCLP3 was a rather homogenous set when viewed as a collective whole. "Puzzle," "long campaign level," and "hodgepodge" would probably be the three main descriptors players would give CCLP3 if asked what kind of level best described the set. On the other hand, it's hard to nail down a specific type of level that CC1 featured a lot, mainly because the set itself had so much variety. (The same may be said of CCLP2, though some people might answer "invalid tiles" if asked that question.) So how can we avoid making the same mistake with CCLP1? Thankfully, the CCLP1 staff will be making the final decisions on what's inducted into the set and what's not for the sake of variety and the establishment of a friendly difficulty curve. I think this is important for any CCLP for the former reason, but it's especially important for CCLP1 for both reasons. But since we will be using the voting results as a guideline, we need some way to know what levels everyone enjoys besides the aforementioned hodgepodge and themed levels. If voting continues to go as is, there's going to be a huge mass of levels below the top tier that are averaging around 4.00 or so and a whole bunch of easy levels that aren't even reaching that point. So here are a few tips that I thought I'd pass on to all of you voters out there that I thought might be helpful to keep in mind when rating levels - especially when it comes to making sure easy levels get their due: - Not every level needs to be "extraordinary." It's true - the CC community of today is a very, very tough crowd to please. For the most part, we have a tendency to play and rate levels based solely on how interesting we find them. And we've seen and played so much that even our level design tendencies can often reflect this; many levels out there today try to outdo each other by trying to include just one more trick in their compositions than the last one. Again, though, there's an irony in this, especially with respect to designing for beginners. The easier levels that we often deem "boring" are most likely going to be the ones that newcomers would find interesting, whereas those that we find interesting would probably also be intriguing but sometimes frustrating for first-time players. The other major takeaway from this point ties in with the above bit about CCLP3: individually great levels do not necessarily make a collectively great set. A set composed entirely or even primarily of "epic" levels would get frustrating and repetitive after a while (in fact, some people would say that CCLP3 was exactly this), even if they weren't all difficult. Easier, smaller levels do have their place, even if they may not seem quite as engaging as the epic ones. - Try to avoid comparing apples and oranges. It's very easy for us to look at the easy, simple maze we're playing and think about the thrilling campaign level that included every game element or the level that reinvented the wheel for a familiar concept to which we awarded a 5. But why can't all three levels succeed on their own terms? While a collection of individually great levels doesn't necessarily make a collectively great set, a collectively great set is composed of individually great levels - specifically, a variety of levels that do a great job being what they were designed to be. Almost no one would say that it would be fair to compare Sampler with Four Plex from the original game; yet both of them are often praised - the former for being an excellent, simple itemswapper, and the latter for being an excellent campaign level. Is it fair to give that excellent maze a 3 just because it doesn't feel quite as thrilling as that giant hodgepodge level? For instance, I've given Chip Be Steady (Lipstick #50) a 5 out of 5 rating. It isn't a mind-blowing level that left me with a sensation of "Whoa!" when I solved it, but in the context of being a maze in which you had to avoid touching toggle buttons and a level that beginners would find inventive, it succeeded. The only other levels I'd even be thinking of when looking at it would be similar mazes in which the player isn't allowed to touch the "walls," not the campaign level with every game element included that I may also enjoy too. The reason why this one in particular stood out was because of its symmetrical "border" with the colored doors and teeth waiting to be released, which made it look a lot neater than similar levels. - When evaluating easy levels, don't look for the interesting - look for the uninteresting. Yes, you read that correctly. But it deserves a bit of clarification. The aforementioned designing tendency to outdo other levels by including more "tricks" in them is especially harmful to easy levels. As veterans, we tend to frown upon levels that feel more minimalistic - though not necessarily trivial, even for a beginner. Maybe this is because we've played the game so much that so little feels original to us anymore. We play through a level and immediately turn to one of those prepared level categories we've already created in our head so we can file it away under something like "blob level" or "ice maze." We may also turn to our preconceptions about those categories as well, some of which may be negative, even if the level would be ideal for a level set targeted at beginners. Sometimes, we may even have specific levels in mind that the ones we're playing remind us of, so much so that we're willing to discard them just because they feel like yesterday's news to us. But there's a difference between a level that's a blatant ripoff and one that does a commendable job being simple and generic, either by presenting its concept in an approachable way or by demonstrating some degree of artistic merit. Many of CC1's levels accomplished both of these objectives well. The problem with us is that we not only want to throw away these types of levels out of comparative instinct, but we also prefer easy levels that are inherently more complicated because they feel "more interesting." In many cases, these levels would be an inappropriate, muddled teaching tool for beginners and would be too uninteresting for later portions of CCLP1. Don't be afraid to give a deserving easy, generic level a good rating because it's generic and does a fantastic job being so, especially when that level excels with respect to design quality and playability. - CCLP1 may be a CC1 replacement, but it need not succumb to its shortcomings. I remember the very first time I went to a Chip's Challenge website. I was eight years old and was nearly done with the game, with the exception of "Totally Unfair." Richard Field's site had a complete walkthrough that came in very handy, but what was even more interesting than that was the collection of testimonials on the site about the game. Some of the levels that other people listed as the hardest to beat may surprise us today - levels that we as veterans find easy, such as The Last Laugh, Knot, or even Blink. It may seem unbelievable to us that they could be a challenge, but they certainly were. Another common thread from first-time players was that Nuts and Bolts presented a huge step up in difficulty from the lesson levels that preceded it. And I could totally empathize with that sentiment, as Nuts and Bolts took me an entire month to complete. Does CCLP1 need a "Nuts and Bolts" equivalent immediately following its lesson levels, or could there be some space in between to amp up the difficulty a bit before such a large level? Do we need to wait to introduce partial posting until level 138, for instance? Or is there a level simpler than Partial Post that could teach the concept in a different spot in the set? We shouldn't feel obligated to give CCLP1 all the trappings that made CC1 what it was; rather, we need to recognize what made CC1 work and avoid the areas in which it fell short while still being flexible. - Don't forget about what made you love the game when you first played it. Whenever I vote, this is the principle that I try to come back to - but it's also the one that I so often neglect. That desire to break down those walls on Nuts and Bolts is something that I forget when I play the game now. But when I think about what got me hooked on Chip's Challenge in the first place, it was that. It was that desire to break out of the box, to explore, to see what was around that next corner. In hindsight, I was so thankful that the gameplay window was only nine by nine tiles. I would spend hours trying to figure out the secret to the opening room of Paranoia while looking wistfully at the bugs roaming around in the room on the left. I didn't know what else was over there, but I was determined to find out. Sometimes, I think we now focus so much on dissecting the game, cram in as much content in as little space as possible in our levels, and find it easy to turn to the editor for a level map that we've forgotten the joy of walking around in open space, exploring that newly opened path, and remembering what made Chip's Challenge so fun to play to begin with. It's my hope that CCLP1 can recapture that sense of awe and wonder for a new generation through top-notch level design and accessible gameplay while still retaining the "challenge" part of the title that kept us coming back for more. Let's not forget about the easy levels along the way that prepare newcomers for those challenges!
  6. Fellow Chipsters, The next great chipping adventure is underway! After a stressful past 36 hours, the staff is pleased to open up the voting process for CCLP1 with our first four voting packs of 50 levels each. The levels are downloadable from CCZone and the Yahoo! group, but the voting will take place at CCZone. For the sake of voting integrity, you must be a registered member of CCZone to participate. Each voting poll for each pack is located in a separate thread under the "CCLP1 Voting" subforum, which is accessible from the main page. When you make your choices, you can submit and save them using the button at the bottom. You do not have to vote on every level on a poll at the same time; your votes will be saved, and you can see them upon revisiting the thread with the poll. In other words, you have the freedom to vote on some levels and return later to finish the rest or to change your votes. Important: be sure to turn on the default blue skin in order to see the polls. They will not be visible otherwise. A few guidelines and notes about voting (which are also listed on each voting page): - Please remember that the target audience for CCLP1 is comprised of people who have never played the game before. The best levels for this set are not necessarily the hardest or the most clever, though this set will have some difficult, but still fair, challenges. - Try to evaluate a level as holistically as possible. Please consider criteria such as enjoyability, beginner accessibility, design quality, and overall appropriateness for a set that's designed to be a CC1 alternative when casting your vote. - Try to play the levels as a beginner would play them - in other words, without the use of a map or other aid. - Whether the level you're rating is easy or difficult, please consider it in the context of an appropriate position within the set based on difficulty. If the level you're playing would work as an introductory challenge or "lesson" level, then evaluate it as if it would be in that difficulty tier. We've tried to eliminate levels that are trivial, with a few exceptions that stood out from the norm, so for the purposes of CCLP1 voting, there should be no such thing as "too easy." - Don't worry about time limits because we'll be ensuring that each level in the final product has adequate time, unless there's a really compelling reason to keep the amount low, and/or the level is obviously designed to be played with a low time limit. If either or both of the latter two is clearly the case, please rate the level taking the low time limit into account. - Similarly, level titles are subject to change if the title in question is questionable, copies a level title from an existing CC1 or CCLP* level, or directly references an existing CC1 or CCLP* level (for instance, "Block Buster III"). For now, though, we have maintained the original titles for each level, although we have used normal capitalization on all of them for consistency's sake. - For optimizers: please don't worry about levels with a heavy amount of luck required for a bold solution. Levels that involve a Blobnet-scale chance of reaching the exit with the highest possible time will most likely be untimed, though levels that involve mild randomness (such as Jumping Swarm and even Catacombs) will most likely be kept timed, all other factors notwithstanding. - If you discover a bust in a level that we had not found, please report the bust to us and rate the level as if the bust did not exist. We'll make note of it, and if the level is inducted into CCLP1, it will be addressed. - Most of all: have fun playing! We've certainly enjoyed testing these levels, and we hope you enjoy rating them! Please keep in mind that you have the ability to make this process move much more quickly if you vote; to put it simply, the more you play and the more participation we have, the more quickly the next wave of packs will be released, and by extension, the more quickly CCLP1 will be done! - J.B. Lewis
  7. Right now, the last few hours of the CCLP1 whitelisting nomination period are quickly ticking by as we prepare to start voting tomorrow. But why wait to start playing the levels for yourself? We've just released the first four voting packs for you to download - right here on CCZone! http://cczone.invisionzone.com/index.php?/files/category/10-cclp1-voting-packs/
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