Level of the Month

Each month, we take a closer look at excellent Enigma levels. Excellent levels are those with the highest average user ratings and the greatest number of ratings altogether. Thus it is your vote that determines the Level of the Month. So please rate the levels you play and do not forget to submit your ratings together with your scores at the end of each month. You can find all previous Levels of the Month in our archive.

August 2007: “Houdini” by Ronald Lamprecht

Grab your top hat, search your magic wand, this month it's going to be magic! Ronald named his level after the great escapologist Harry Houdini, and this is exactly how you start: Bound to a rubber stone, guarded by thieves, trapped by abyss beside you, the oxyds far away behind water and locks, whose keys are fused in glass … can you still open your locks and oxyds? For this level you need all your skills; logic, precision, and dexterity!

Level of the month
Enigma VI # 74

“Houdini” got an average rating of 8.67 from 9 gamers (5 of them voting for an older version) which makes it third in the current LotM-highscore. Sorry, we can't give a highscore-list this month, as a recent release-change makes the scores incomparable to each other :-/. As a compensation, you can now sort our LotM-highscore by rating, month, and position!

“Many happy hours of puzzling”

Many puzzle levels force the player down a path to find that one twist which will unlock those elusive oxyds. Not so Houdini. Houdini gives a far more open space with a myriad of interactions between chess stones, swap stones, pull stone and brake. Though this leads to many possible routes - it's not easy to find one that works … Tarim was always surprised when he made a mistake, to find that if he thought about it for a while, there might still be another way to complete the level. Of course, it wasn't always so - how Tarim remembers setting up nearly everything for the solution only to slip into the abyss and find that he had left the pull stone over the respawn space. There he was, trapped like a fly in amber, with nothing to do but F3 all those extra lives away :( Or the time he accidently posted his yin-yang away - he spent some time with the swap stones trying to get it back - only to discover (well you can find out for yourselves …) Ah, this one certainly gave Tarim many happy hours of puzzling :)

Ronald is a strong advocate of levels in which nothing is hidden - “Houdini” shows this quite impressively. Although not all things are visible at first, it's not too difficult to find the missing links and things. Tying them together to a working solution is the challenge! Harry Houdini was a strong anti-spiritualist. He hid his tricks from his audience, surely, but he always assured that everything happens according to nature's laws. His friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle was heavily encumbered when Doyle started to believe that Houdini escaped using esoteric powers and didn't believe Houdini's explanations. Houdini then decided to expose the psychics and mediums who swam on the bow wave of the rising Spiritualism movement at the turn of the century. He became part of a committee of “Scientific American” and debunked numerous cases. And just as Houdini's magic had nothing extramundane in it, Ronald uses just the mechanics natural to Enigma: No timer stones, no internal queries for stones or positions, no chameleons, no hollow stones, no trigger codes - just plain Enigma. Well, with one exception …

My first thought, when I started playing Houdini, was that it's not only difficult but extraneous and different. Usually in a standard level you have hard and easy moments. In Houdini you cannot rest, it's one challenge after the other. Every mystery must be solved and executed with precision. Ronald did an impressive job here. You have to master riding a horse. In fact I learned the movements and behavior of the chess stone playing this level. Don't you hate thieves? Of course you do. Well in Houdini you can take revenge on them and become a thief hunter. For the first time you can recover what they plundered from you. But be careful, they are dangerous in some instances, one mistake and game over. There are steps to accomplish before you get success. If you like thinking logically and you're not afraid of hard work, try Houdini. You'll enjoy it very much. I think this level is the “extremely-hard” kind; the best of course within the “logic-intelligence-strategy” group of levels. For consistent players only.
Alejandro Lacava

If you don't understand what Ale just hinted at, try “Knight's Journey”. Although it might seem as if this feature was created just to suit “Houdini”, it isn't so. However, another feature was added to Enigma specifically for this level - the exception I mentioned above - and it hasn't been used since. Hence, I want to advertise a bit for it; this'll become a bit technical, and is directed towards level authors. See the scissor stone on the right? Scissor stones since 1.00 call their action/target-pair when they cut a rubberband. This simple addition gives lots of possibilites at hand: You can ensure that the gamer removes a rubberband before entering some region of the level, or force them to free a rotor, or trigger some more complicated action. Now imagine a net of small white marbles connected by rubberbands, and one or more scissor stones. Open doors by removing the rubberbands, but remember that the marbles change their positions after this …

“I've lost more marbles to the HOUDINIan abyss than to the Trojan waters”

As loyal readers will know, I did not have the honor to contribute a Level of the Month of my own yet. However, with “Houdini” at least a small little piece was added by me: I was the one to suggest the wood floor, yes! At first this was only a consideration on colors and designs, as wood fits with the many other elements. But retrospectively I think it adds some more charm to this level, as it somehow resembles the stage of a magician like Harry Houdini … Now, let's listen to what Harry can tell us about this level:

Today is the 31st day of July, birthday of fiction's best known wizard of all times, Harry Potter. A good day to write an article about another wizard and another Harry, the Great HOUDINI, the most famous magician, illusionist and escapist of the early 20th century or - as many would say so - of all time.
Or more precisely i'll try to elaborate my impressions of a level created by one of Enigma's magicians, Mr Ronald Lamprecht, and which obviously was inspired by HOUDINI's escaping arts and in his honor bears his name: HOUDINI.
Compared to the size of Enigma's first Level of the Month “Island Labyrinth”, with its two screens HOUDINI is not much bigger than a milk can compared to dairy. To escape from such a giant milk can filled with water and then padlocked was one of HOUDINI's most spectacular tricks.
Level of the month

Aviation was also one of Houdini's hobbys,

but without restraints!

By no means from its small size one should jump to conclusions that it's easy to disentangle HOUDINI's knots. Completely to the contrary it's the most challenging level i was able to manage so far. Especially with the last revision, HOUDINI's “Difficult Mode” now does deserve this mark, one really has to be a master of escapology to succeed. And there's no “short cut” available as (according to legends) for the Great Alexander with the Gordian knot. I strongly recommend to everyone to try “Easy Mode” first.
You start the game tied to a stone with a rubber band. Your first task is to free yourself from this shackle and to open the door to the second room. It's not so easy walking around leashed like a dog. And how you will strain at the leash at times: in vain.
You need quite a bit of careful consideration to figure out how to manage this task. Carrying out your plans requires that you gather together all the dexterity you've got and then concentrate. And you need a lot of patience as you'll have to repeat certain actions again and again.
In particular, jumping across the abyss while tied with this rubber band without coming into contact with those highwaymen really is an art. This sort of bungee-jumping often comes to a bad end. I've lost more marbles to the HOUDINIan abyss than to the Trojan waters. If one of you ever learns to love such sport please let me know.
Though this part of the game is the most difficult one, at a rough guess it just takes up one fifth of the time you need to finish HOUDINI. So there's still work to be done …
I've spent more time with HOUDINI than with any other level so far. But what kept me going on when reaching a deadlock? A natural ambition to finish things started alone would not have been enough. Two things helped: There is some kind of magic to the name of the level that invoked extraordinary perseverance inside me. As i've seen in my crystal ball things could have taken an entirely different course: If Ronald would have decided to call it “Chess-Stone-Demo IV” instead, i'm sure i would have surrendered. And there is this note you find once you've opened the first door. It reminded me of one of the favorite books of my youth: “The Neverending Story”. Suddenly it was no more just a level that had to be solved: a world had to be rescued.
Some concluding words: “Houdini” is difficult, it's really hard to succeed, but it's playable, it's enjoyable, it's full of surprises, and it's very well devised! Brilliant work, Ronald!

Harry already mentioned “Troy” - this level offers you some riding lessons for free before you try your stunts in “Houdini”. “Random space” might be of help as well, to get some feeling for the rubber bands.

“The freestyle design of Houdini is a key to its versatility”

Here's what the author himself can tell us about his level's history:

In August 2006 “st-chess” emerged from a joined brainstorming targeting the addition of a most favourable new object. Andreas did initiate the discussion with some prototypes and Raoul did favour a stone moving 2 grids straight forward being able to jump over another stone. But when I proposed to use instead the chess knights move, that could be controlled by the marble's hit direction, we all agreed immediatly. Andreas did a great job in coding the stone and added the black and white flavours. “Checkmate I”, “The Stable” and “Chessing Positions” were the first levels using the new object. Now it was my turn to write a demo level that makes use of all “st-chess” features especially as I had asked for it being the natural enemy of the thief stone.
Level of the month
Captured! But was this a good idea?
Thus I had a closer look on patterns of “st-chess” in combination with other stones. I made experiments how to move “st-chess” in narrow alleys and what it needs to stop an “st-chess” crossing a barrier. In just a few hours I collected so many interesting patterns that I was convinced that I could write a valuable level.
Next evening I started with the design of “Houdini”. Due to the tedious way of moving a “st-chess” I limited the size of the level to 2 rooms. As the patterns were complex enough I decided to create a WYSIWYG level. Both rooms should be visible and all essential objects should be visible or locatable within the first few moves. Finding a way to reach the obvious targets with the given objects should be the main challenge of the level.
In contrast to “st-wood” that is usually a one-way object as it sinks in water or ends up unmovable at a wall the “st-chess” can fulfill purposes and can easily be reused for further tasks. Thus I designed the whole level to make heavy use of reusability - not limited to the “st-chess” but of all components. It proved to be a challenge of it's own.
Another technique, that I used first on “Houdini” and that I call nowadays “freestyle”, is the freedom for the player to use every item and movable stone anywhere he likes. Of course you first have to free them - remember the level is named “Houdini”. This freedom is another challenge as it is no longer obvious which objects to use for a certain task. Another consequence of this freedom are different solution patterns at some points of the levels. But the various intended solution patterns are all equivalent and differ just in very local aspects. All other emerging solution approaches are ridiculously complex. The “freestyle” design of “Houdini” is a key to its versatility.
I admit that “Houdini” is a very difficult level that needs to be solved by a lot of thinking - take your time. I am happy to see that several users did deduce the solution without any hints. Actually I designed essential parts by trying to solve candidate patterns on my own. Writing “Houdini” did take me just 2 evenings and an afternoon. I started on Wednesday and mailed the first version on Friday evening. Afterwards I just had to fix a few minor shortcuts and to solve the level on my own noticing what a challenge this level is.
Good luck solving, and have fun!
Ronald Lamprecht

“Houdini” undoubtedly is one of the most sophisticated levels of today's Enigma, and it needs no sorcery to say that it will persist being one of the best levels in Enigma for many years to come, combining a unique atmosphere and gameplay with traditional elements of the game. Ronald, thank you very much for this masterwork of level wizardry!

Andreas and Harry

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