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.
October 2007: “Quadropolis”, Combined Effort Level I
by Johannes Laire, Jacob Scott, Raoul Bourquin and Andreas Lochmann
In October our monthly LotM-Excursion to wondrous vistas of Enigma takes us to Quadropolis. Even the sound of the name takes us many centuries back in time to mythic ages, back to the birthplace of modern civilization, to ancient Greece. Inevitably old epics like 'The Iliad' or 'The Odyssey' enter our minds, and old heroes like Heracles, Achilles, Odysseus and Perseus, to name just FOUR. And of course the Ancient Gods and their Enigmatic place of residence, the one exceedingly excellent and divine level of the ancient world, Mount Olympus.
Enigma VI # 79 - Quadropolis
The Entrance - Locked!
But first: Some basic facts and statistics
Quadropolis overcame the neccessary 5 votes minimum in August and entered with a rating of 9.40 at position 1. This is the highest rating ever for a level to become LotM.
The two former race leaders and Level-of-the-Year favorites “Island Labyrinth” and “The Aztec Temple” changed positions. At least for this month they surrendered their LotY-chances and slid into the pack. “Island Labyrinth” established itself with 9.24 points and 8 votes just ahead of “The Aztec Temple”, last month's race leader, which accounted 9.13 points and 7 votes. In positions 4 and 5, “Labyrinth of Puzzles” (8.92/13) and “Houdini” (8.86/6) exchanged their spots. positions 6 to 8 slightly lost ground. As always, you can find more details on the LotM archive page.
It is becoming an exciting race for the title of the “Level of the Year”, particularly as two more hot candidates wait in secrecy for their chances. I don't want to reveal their names, but whoever clicks through each of the levels and checks their ratings will surely find them.
But the outcome could be a complete surprise! Because it is you, who decides the Level of the Month with your votes, and consequently the Level of the Year! So don't forget to rate the levels you've played through.
The journey to Quadropolis leads us to another world
A breath of Olympic spirit blows through the halls of the sports arena. Considering all the sporting ambitions of the promoters of this event, yet the sensibility of “fair play” permeates the place. Aside from the hippodrome, all of the rooms are within the bounds of possibility. In the second and in the FOURth room the black marble is never in serious danger.
Not so long ago, Greek mythology had been theme for several authors and a whole string of levels or strictly speaking a decade (included with level pack vi. Names like Troy, Odyssey, Procrustes, Ariadne come up in my mind) resulted from it. And of course Zeus, a work by Raoul Bourquin, in which not surprisingly st-flash is all-important. The sky-blue stone with the yellow symbol of a lightning flash will be associated with Raoul's Zeus until the end of the Age of Enigma.
Find the hammer, build a sword, beat
the knight! This one will be no problem!
Most part of these levels had been written by Andreas, well-known to the loyal readers as the editor of the LotM-column. As both Andreas and Raoul belong to the authors of the CEL-project, it is all the more surprising to see Andreas pick up the theme of Raoul's Zeus. In an impressive way he demonstrates some surprising abilities of the flash stone in his room. Andreas will give a detailed description of this matter later on. On the other hand Raoul took up an idea from an early work by Andreas, and designed a very special kind of a laser path, making use of mirrors, glass-stones and two kinds of push-stones.
March had been a very fruitful month for Enigma:
For the first time the homepage was published in both English and German. It appeared in a completely newly designed format, and had been extended with several new menu items, one of these innovations being the 'Level of the Month' column, introducing 'Island Labyrinth' by Jacob Scott as the first LotM ever. Being one of the FOUR authors of Quadropolis Jacob already signs on for the FOURth time to the list of LotM authors, a really impressive record.
Also in March, in the evening of the FOURteenth day, it happened that illmind, admin of the Enigma-Fan-Forum as everybody knows, announced his idea for a 'combined effort level' beginning with the following words: “how about we make a level with several people…”. Just the quarter of an hour later the first author had agreed to participate in the project, and another FOUR hours later the first CEL team consisting of FOUR authors was complete.
And surprisingly fast (guess when!) - (right!) - just FOUR days later, all of the FOUR authors had finished off their rooms - so they thought. Another period followed lasting FOURtytwo days, in which the rooms were thoroughly tested, corrected and improved, until finally the 'combined effort level' had been given a name: 'Quadropolis'.
FOUR weeks of the FOURth month having passed, this name was suggested by illmind on the secret level project channel at mag-heut.net. None of the FOUR authors raised objections, and after the enigmatic forum oracle had agreed to this suggestion, the CEL project was assigned a worthy name. Another FOUR weeks later Quadropolis was published with Release 1.01 of Enigma within level pack (squareroot of FOUR plus FOUR) as number ((FOUR times FOUR) FOUR times plus (FOUR times FOUR) minus one).
This mystical number FOUR will have a formative influence on the subsequent article as well. As luck would have it, besides the FOUR authors also FOUR players will talk about their experiences with Quadropolis. Given FOUR times as many commentators this time compared to last month, I can leisurely step back from now on and simply listen to their words.
“My favourite things in Enigma are st-chess and st-puzzle”
-- the former because I've played chess for many years, and the latter because I like all kinds of permutation puzzles. I've had many ideas for levels involving these, but for some reason find it hard to just get started; I've made only a few levels.
When I read illmind's idea about this project, I really liked it because one room is big enough to be interesting but not too big so it shouldn't take long to design. So I quickly replied that I wanted to be one of the authors. It then turned out that all others were really good and experienced level authors, and it motivated me.
Robert Marble is 'The Horse Whisperer'
The very first puzzle in my room might seem ordinary, but there's one little trick to it: if you make a mistake in the beginning, you can't solve it! Those familiar with Rubik's Cube might now that if you take out two pieces, swap them, and put them back, the resulting position is not solvable. This fascinates me and I was really happy when I realized that the same idea can be used with puzzle stones.
After that I filled the rest of the room with some carefully designed chessoban-like puzzles. One thing I don't like about my room is that a bit of dexterity is needed at some places when pushing the chess stones, because I wanted it to be a puzzle level. But overall, I'm very happy with it.
I still haven't solved the whole level, but I've played the rooms individually and I enjoyed all of them. Quadropolis is certainly one of my favourite levels.
“The CEL was definitely a good experience”
“Quadropolis”, the result of the first-ever CEL, was really a collaboration between various organizers and level authors, myself included. Each of us wrote one room containing a starting location, a vortex, and whatever fiendish puzzle we had in mind.
On the mag-heut.net forum we thoroughly tested each mini-level and eventually joined them together in sequence to create a multi-author level with many different ideas and diverse challenges.
My room became, surprisingly enough given my track record, one of the easier rooms in the level: a decently simple pattern room with no way to die or force a restart.
The CEL was definitely a good experience -- I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking to make difficult levels and get feedback on their work. In fact, a new CEL has been announced on the mag-heut.net forum, but is still waiting for more level designers....
“It became clear that I had to simplify my room”
It all began with a post by illmind, who came up with the idea to have a level built by several authors, each of them building one room on his own, and finally these single rooms should be joined together to form one level. This idea was well received, and so it happened that 4 authors started building the first “Combined Effort Level”.
So we did start our work, each of us began to tinker at his own room. I had a concept in mind, which I had used before in 'Puzzle Puzzles', but still a bit variant. The player shall move a push-stone across the whole level (or just the whole room). To succeed doing so he will have to clear the path step by step until reaching the final puzzle which has to be solved with aid of this stone. So I designed the room making the way to go as long as possible and making use of various nasty tricks to force the player to look and plan ahead.
When every one of us had finished his room, we started arranging the rooms to a linear order. The level resulting from this arrangement of the rooms soon turned out to be too difficult. Moreover as a result of this linear arrangement one had to replay preceeding rooms as well when experimenting in a room at the end of the line.
Got it now: Just moving blocks
along the laser path!
So it became clear that I had to simplify my room. Because this was not possible without destroying many of the puzzles, I decided to publish the room as a one-screen-level individually. It became 'Industrial Puzzles'.
So a new room had to be done, but for a long time no useful idea occured to me, how to build a room which would go well with the level concept. It had to be an alleyway and it should not be too difficult. Some day later in the evening I got an idea: How about building a laser path?! The path should be crossed by the laser beam several times and thus being impassable, on the other side the path itself should be full of holes and broken.
The player should clear the path step by step by pushing wooden boxes into the breaks and holes. To go on further across these fixed parts of the path the player needs to switch off the laser. But this alone would have been a bit boring. So what if the player would be in need of an operating laser to leave the room? Could there be something more obvious than a door connected to a laser switch?
So finally, the laser beam has to be rearranged, mirror by mirror, to its initial state, to let the marble gain entrance to the next exciting room.
“I like to present new objects of Enigma in my own levels”
The main idea for my room emerged way before illmind's call to CEL I. As all so often, things develop in quite unexpected ways: In this case, I think it was my work on Enigma's reference manual in June '06. As I collected information about Enigma's unique gaming objects, I also took a look at st-flash's code. It was quite easy. Each time an actor hits it, it would take its velocity, multiply with 20 and use this as a force on another marble. This “20” caught my attention - why “20”? This factor was hardcoded. In contrast to many other factors in the game, which could be changed by attribute or global variable, this factor was fixed. Probably to a value which fits to the old Oxyd games. But an unchangable factor? Wouldn't it be better for st-flash if this number were an attribute instead?
I wrote a bug report on Berlios to not forget about this point, and thought about it a little more. st-flash was very seldom used. Was there a possibility to make it more interesting to the level authors? Maybe by adding some element of surprise to it: Changing the direction of the impulse, for example. Like on fl-inverse, or even more contorted? I came up with the idea to apply a matrix on the velocity vector of the marble instead of just multiplying it with some factor. This matrix would give enough freedom to implement reversions, rotations and more convoluted connections. And other stones could benefit from such a behaviour as well. So I searched for other stones which use the marble's velocity. I finally found st-spitter and the st-actorimpulse-family, both seldom used and somewhat uninteresting objects as well. A simple addition from which three different objects could benefit - it would be worth the trouble. In July '06, Raoul commited the neccessary changes I programmed in the month before.
'ELLAS? This machine was made in Greece?!
By Jove, where's that English manual!?
I like to present new objects of Enigma in my own levels. But for st-flash, I didn't get a good enough idea. Just showing off on this feature would not suffice to support a whole level on its own. Hence Enigma 1.00 came without an example.
In March '07, illmind came up with the idea of a Combined Effort Level. When I asked in the forum about the items we could use, I already speculated to get a chance to demonstrate the new st-flash, and not to worry about the items, but about other white marbles my fellow authors could have used. So I didn't tell about my idea, to not disrupt their plans. As Jacob and Johannes joint the crew, I further assumed that at least their rooms would become hard puzzles, some dexterity room would be a compensation, and my speculations became plans.
One problem I had to solve was the design. I announced quite early that I wanted to try Raoul's new st-bigbluesand-stones. Only after that I realized that there is rarely a floor that fits to these stones. I didn't want to use white tiles, because Raoul already did so in “Zeus”. I finally remembered a tip I gave to Ronald, and simply used wood.
I'm very glad to hear that my boring room didn't lower the rating of “Quadropolis” too much, and want to congratulate my three fellow authors and illmind on this wonderful and unique project! I hope there will be more such collaborations in future.
Now that the FOUR authors have spoken at some length abouth their rooms and the Quadropolis project at this point I'd like to throw in some lines.
First of all a few words to Andreas:
Of course I'm aware that you just want to provoke some protest. Well, here you are. Let me quote some lines from a Neil Young song: “There's more to the picture than meets the eye! Hey hey my my!” At a quick glance one might get the impression that your scenery looks boring. But that changes with lightning speed by the first touch of the flash stone. Room FOUR proves to be a really nerve-racking experience, like Lukas has said before (er!, sorry, will say soon), it's quite a test for the player's patience, or in other words it really IS a “puzzle”!
By Jove! How the white marble is speeding if you don't act very cautiously. To finally reach the vortex in your room took me more time than to cross the previous three rooms altogether. A lengthy challenge, but not a bit boring. Sorry, Andreas, I just had to say this.
A few remarks to Jacob's room:
Patterns Reloaded? I'd better go and
get my 'Advanced Maths' book first!
On entering the white tile at the beginning, the vortex at the end of the room opens up again. I didn't expect such amicability from the author of such nasties as the two “Nightmares” and “Monsters in the Dark” (just to name two out of an uncountable number). The first two times when the vortex closed, I frustratedly pressed the Escape-key, and chose “Restart”. However, Jacob designed his contribution to the joint project in a really fair way. Actually, the design of this room reminds me of a landscape in water colors, with smooth light tones and airy strokes of the brush.
This simply is pure Enigma only
The nice thing about this room as well as the other three is: There is nothing hidden, no hollow stones, no chameleons, no invisible triggers, no races against the time, and this simply is pure Enigma only. Equally considerable and even exceptional I think is the fact, that one needs not a single item throughout Quadropolis, and this is, as I think, Enigma in its purest form!
Maybe one should have spread some thief floors in the foyer, to remove the burden of the two extra lifes from the marble. This would have avoided a small derogation of the game's aesthetics in the third room.
Sorry for the interruption! Now the FOUR players shall do the talking!
“The first room includes probably the best st-chess-puzzle ever made”
Quadropolis as of the levels I've solved so far is my absolute favourite. The very concept to have a level built by several authors is great! The independence of each room from the others authors is great! The independency of all rooms from each other resulting from this concept as well. Each of the rooms has its individual design and its own basic idea, the sole common ground being the vortices connecting the rooms one to another.
Thieves, even in Quadropolis!
Pegasus, my loyal quadruped,
treat them right!
Which means each room on its own would have made a good level. The first room includes probably the best st-chess-puzzle ever made. It took me a very long time to figure out how to open up all the doors blocking the way to the final destination. My favourite part!
What follows next is some sort of a relaxing room, none the less quite interestingly conceived. The third room seems to be quite complicated at the beginning, but after taking some time to think it over turns out to be quite solvable. It's a pity that you can use items instead of wooden boxes. The nearly complete symmetry of the room and the original concept on the other hand are big plusses.
The following room is exactly the opposite of the previous one. At first sight it looks a bit boring, but it proves to be a rather nerve wracking challenge - especially when the white marble has lost all its extra-lifes! And it's quite a demonstration of fascinating possibilities of st-flash!
The only point giving rise to criticism: In my opinion the design of the oxyd-room is somewhat boring. If there should be another project of this kind (which would really please me very much) this part should be elaborated more thoroughly.
“You have to look twice before moving”
Seeing the first yellow puzzle I had been gobsmacked. Solving puzzles can end up in a situation where you finally have to exchange just two pieces. A task that sometimes proves to be harder than you think it should be. But this tiny puzzle introduced a new idea to puzzles. Adding the last piece to the puzzle is up to you. Of course you can mess up everything by choosing the incorrect spot. But finally I saw the solution - easier than I initially thought, as the puzzles has been permuted less than a dozen times. What an entrance to a level!
Each of the following chess puzzles proved to be another challenge of its own. Finally I curiously reached the vortex that would certainly warp me to the next challenge.
Hey, Hole in the Ground, open up!
It's me, Sundance Marble!
What a contrast! A new world with new laws! As easy as it was to figure out the idea of this world I started racing the marble through this very special maze. Just to notice that you have to look twice before moving.
And another world on the next screen. Now a challenging push stone riddle. I had just decided how to move, when I bounced too hard for the metal floor and crashed my marble. Now I had to replay all the previous puzzles! I guess a little bit of increased friction values on the first and third room would have been a welcome addition.
Finally reaching the fourth room I faced again a totally new task; controlling a marble on a catwalk while dealing with distorted forces. I never experimented as carefully as on this screen to understand the directions the marble would take. Don't let me crash the marble again! What a relief finally reaching the oxyds.
Congratulations to all four authors. Everyone definitely gave his best ideas for this project. Even though the level misses a storyboard that glues the rooms together in more than a linear fashion the sum of new ideas and puzzles is overwhelming. Let us hope that more combined effort levels will follow.
“THIS's a cool level, it get's a 10!”
There was no lunch on the first Sunday after the release of Enigma 1.01. I had to explore the new levels and right away came across the chess stones. Although I can play chess, hence i knew how this pieces should move, if they actually would move, I didn't know yet, how to convince them to move. So instead of having the chess stones skip through these levels, it was me skipping most of them.
Some levels went by, until I could handle these skippies. Now I started to work on all those skippy-levels and this way came to Quadropolis.
First I spent a tremendous amount of time trying to solve the puzzle. I really had hard times. Of course I solved it once in a while, but never remembered how. Kindly, the puzzle pieces are always in the same place at the beginning, such that I eventually learned how to crack it, after many (many many) attempts.
It wasn't too difficult for me to get the chess stones in position. But now and then I fell through the cracked tiles in the top right area of the room while doing some skippy-pushing over there, and had to start all over again. I think this point is especially evil.
For some reason, I was firmly convinced I would reach the oxyds, when I had opened all the doors to the tunnel; after all, there had been enough to be done in this room.
I was all the more astonished to enter a second room, which on first sight held no barriers at all .........
.............. except for the fact, that the tunnel closed after two or three steps. Pondering, I cruised around the top stone on the colored tiles, and got the solution. I think this room is the easiest of all.
Of course, there were no oxyds in the next. However, as I like mirror-levels anyway, it didn't cause unsolvable problems to me. With some “tools” one can get well around the lasers.
Room 4. No oxyds. I already knew these energy transmitters, so I navigated the white marble to the first strategical point. The door opened. The next energy stones still more seemed strange, the white marble crashed, and I prepared to play the whole level from the beginning. However, the white marble kindly has some lifes, too. At the third kind of energy transmitters, I failed. I considered Quadropolis closed.
Some weeks later I ventured on Quadropolis again, and promptly had forgotten, how to solve the puzzle. My note with the instructions has disappeared, too. I learned anew (it didn't take long this time) and reached the fourth room without bigger problems. With the help of a sketch of the movements of the energy transmitters I was able to open the last door and made it.
When the last oxyd stone lighted up, I yelled a loud “yeah”, which made my friend ask me: “What's up?” I said: “THIS's a cool level, it get's a 10!” If I remember correctly, I gave a 10 only to “Pleasure Garden” and “The Passage” as well. And all three are deserving it.
“Four very talented composers have put together a concert for all of us”
While they all agreed to write for the same ensemble of musicians, each of them has written a piece in a different, contrasting style. The result is a musical journey through vastly different sonic landscapes.
Show jumping: The ditch
Johannes' room is like a Fugue with its puzzles and chess stones that have to be moved every which way. I am grateful that this wonderful collaboration is front-loaded in terms of dexterity (unlike some particularly galling levels where you've been playing for 20 minutes before you encounter an almost impossible task). Like many Enigma levels, there's a crucial 'make or break' moment where if you succeed at negotiating the challenge, you stand a pretty good chance of completing the level. For me, that 'make or break' moment comes when my marble crosses the cracked grass at the top of the room. If I can manage to move the chess stone without breaking the other cracked floor square, I feel I can do anything.
Jacob's second room is an Adagio for strings. It's so simple in its elegance. Very consonant with open harmony. A really clever idea that always brings a smile to my face.
Raoul has gone for Modernism. Lasers and metal over an abyss - I hear a pulsing drum propelling the music along. I initially solved it using sunglasses, but that is totally unnecessary. If you think carefully, you can manage it without any extra help.
And finally, Andreas has written us a Jazz composition. In his penultimate room, he plays with our expectations. Each action has consequences - but the consequences change the way a hot Be-bop combo expands the concept of harmony over chord changes.
I hope these fine composers bring us many more collaborative concerts to come. I will be sure to be 'listening'!
As the final words of Taztunes still sound, I want to reunite the harmonies of the Quadropolis' FOUR authors and FOUR friends and join them in a final and concluding chorale of joy: “CEL-I was a great event! And the journey to Quadropolis really paid off!” There's nothing else for it but to wish that the success of Quadropolis gives new impulses to the second CEL project.