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.
April 2009: “Plan Ahead” by Jacob Scott
In October 2008 we presented the first contribution in the classic one-screen format as the “Level of the Month”: “Industrial Puzzles” by Raoul Bourquin (LotM 10/08). Then in December the second one-screener has been voted to join its companions on the Mount Olympus of excellent Enigma level productions: “Procrustes” by Andreas Lochmann (LotM 12/08). This month another level in the “handy” one-screen format will be awarded. But that surely doesn't mean, epic big adventures and long expeditions of discovery are out of fashion. Apparently the little chamber puzzle suites are showing that there's something rich about them, and that they're more than just a caprice to be taken less seriously.
One of these levels is riddled with mirrors and mysteries; laserbeams are whizzing by in this industrial brick building, so that it's hard to believe that it will work out well. Somewhere else a conflagration is blazing inside an ancient inn, a “welcome” game strangely attractive in its own way: An invitation from Procrustes himself. There's nothing blazing in Jacob Scott's “Plan Ahead”, everything seems so strangely quiet and still, and the two actors give the impression that the whole level is supposed to be a mathematical equation, calling for balance, transformation, elimination:
White marble + 2 dynamites + y oxyds = Black marble + x seeds + bag + y oxyds (?)
This level creation is everything but a wild action level; it calls for action with deliberation from the player. Metaphorically speaking it resembles a symmetric baroque-style dungeon housing two inmates who are enjoying more-or-less freedom of movement, and who know: Only when all oxyds are shining, they have succeeded in escaping from this dungeon level — and only then the silver or the gold medal is bestowed upon the player. :-)
Enigma V # 21
Welcome to the dungeon of Yin and Yang
No guards are left inside this prison to upset our marbles' plans, Black and White are left to their own devices. In peaceful seclusion both inmates can think about a solution to escape their fate. A “dialogue of thoughts” arises.
White whispers to Black: “Hey you, over there! Come over here to my side. But watch the brittle floor, it can only be stepped on once, before it crumbles into the abyss. You've got these five seeds. Put them into the bag and take it with you. This might be our last meal.” White looks at his watch and notices the passing time. His stomach gives a rumble and then he continues to speak: “Hey, over here on my side the guards have left two sticks of dynamite in the storerooms, before they got away and abandoned us to our fate.”
Yang, we're getting closer!
We're only one seed
short this time.
Spitefully they howled: “We grant our guests one last chance to escape their fate to die of starvation. With the dynamite the two may damned-well blast the walls next to the pool, to take a refreshing bath in the cosy and warm waters of caustic soda.” BWAHAHA!!
From our fountain of youth, no one returns,
Black thinks about it carefully, then cries out hysterically: “I know the architect of this dungeon! 'Duffy' he calls himself. Many of his buildings seem to be impossible to escape, but however hopelessly the situation appears to be, he always provides the visitor with a solution, although it may be well concealed. So there must be a way — no, there is a way — to open all oxyds and to survive this challenge unscathed. Let's think it over.”
Ahead … Look ahead …
Welcome to Jacob Scott's (aka Duffy) “Plan Ahead”! :-)
1. Here, there and back again
Black inspects her opportunities and thinks: “I can get around the pool once; over to White and back again, following the arrow signs — but only once, then the path will have crumbled away. I'll have to seize this opportunity with both hands. I must make a permanent connection, right-left, east-west, which ideally can be used by my white partner, to open the one oxyd here on my side, which is only accessible to White.”
2. A game of Yin and Yang
White dreams -
White murmurs: “Why is the one of us allowed to do things, which are forbidden to the other one? Which creator defined me to be white? And why shouldn't I be allowed to stroll along a black arcade, gracious Gods of Enigma? How much easier life would be, if I were able to do everything — if I were allowed to do anything I'd like to do … And that also should apply to my dear partner Yin over there! Then I wouldn't need to wait until she finds a way to get to me — and Duffy, the architect, couldn't stop me, Yang, from going black ways.”
3. Divided world
Both are shouting in chorus: “Duffy, what have you done to us? Incarcerated in this joyless world, separated from each other — with all these odd items: dynamite sticks, birdseed and an empty bag.” And it starts dawning on both of them: “With the two dynamite sticks we can blast holes into the walls to the right and the left of the pool, and then build a bridge across Duffy's 'dishwater' by means of the special properties of the seeds. That should work. And then find a way to make the black and white arcades passable for the marble of the opposite color — and to get out of the 'ammunition depots' again, by transforming the 'one-ways' into 'two-ways', or whatever.”
They're getting closer to the solution — together they can work it out!
4. Gaining extra-space within one's own inventory — About the metamorphosis of a seed
Black understands: She must bring seeds to Yang, the white marble, on her “one-way” tour around the pool — but how? In the story of the Creation the Gods of Enigma implanted a very special quality in the seeds, which is of particular relevance: A “planted” seed grows into a movable wooden box, the Gods renamed it “st_box”. Player, make the most of this attribute! But watch out! If Yin picks up a seed, runs over to Yang and rashly “presents” her gift to him, well then … it's time to “unwrap” another gift from the Gods: Shift-F3 :-(
The bag! Player, make use of the bag!
5. Who's in power in this “partnership”?
what's inside the bag?
First Yin is the active marble, if she switches to Yang using her yin-yang-item and transmits the power on him, her partner isn't capable of bringing her back into the game, however much he'd like to — Yin stays passive for a very long time — in difficult mode forever. Player! Be careful that you “make the transfer” at the right moment! Ultimately both of the marbles will thank you for doing so. :-)
This onescreener is completely different from “Industrial Puzzles” for instance, it's a yin-yang level, with a plain symmetrical structure, everything's revealed right from the start — WYSIWYG. That such a small and clear level can cause so much “trouble”: many thanks to Jacob Scott for this “fugue” of inspiration. At the beginning one wouldn't really expect it to require so much knowledge, timing and precision — and “planning ahead”.
Yin and Yang, symbolized by different colors, separated in time and space by a few grates (or more precisely by some “st_oneways” as the Gods have named them), can manage to find common ground and in combined effort to solve the level. Teamwork and faith in each other have been the secret of their success: Who switches when to whom, and where does who use what and when? Duffy's order of things has to be solved to establish a physical connection. Within the beautifully dusted factory hall order had to be reestablished to get the production going again. Easy answers are unwelcome. Like in everyday life. ;-)
I'd like to spare myself further hymns of praise: “Plan Ahead” is a precious piece of “chamber” music by the level author, who has composed such lovely symphonies like “Island Labyrinth”, and who's given so much pleasure to the enthusiasts of Enigma — and so he has done again with this composition. Thank you very much! Well, I'd like to “look ahead” and express my hope that more excellent Duffy levels will be coming soon. Plan it again, Duffy! :-)
Many thanks for your inspiring words, Dear Mecke. We can reassure you and all our readers as well as all Enigma players and Duffy fans: There'll definitely be “several” excellent creations by Jacob Scott among the levels in the next release of Enigma, although no new compositions — the creator of countless Enigma worlds is currently celebrating his well-earned “seventh day”. But some of these “new old” works are really remarkable, and possibly we will encounter some of them here again in the near future.
Besides the inquiry on his level of the month — which can be found on the Yin side of the article — we also received some reflections on level designing in general from the author, which will make a worthy final movement of our Yin-Yang article composition. Most of what is said in these sentences not only applies to “Plan Ahead”, but to many other excellent creations by Jacob — and to many others of our “Levels of the Month”.
About elegance in level design
I would like to make a couple of general comments about Enigma levels, and by extension game levels in general, concerning what it means to be “elegant”. In my opinion “a level is elegant” means first that no part of the level is arbitrary (and a unique solution exists) and second that it is the most difficult of all such levels with the same overall structure. For example I believe “Plan Ahead” is in some sense “solid”; it has a (fairly) unique solution, and there are no conspicuous additions for the sole purpose of preventing alternate solutions — the puzzle all fits together well. Furthermore, the puzzle seems to be “maximally difficult” for the given setup; that is, there is no small tweak one could make to increase its difficulty (without changing its overall structure; this generally means all items must be used, for example). I believe it is somewhat rare for a level to satisfy both conditions (it's structure admits just one solution without arbitrary modifications and it is as difficult as possible); I think that when a level does so, it is what one usually considers “elegant”, and otherwise probably is not. Elegance, then, seems to be the overall goal of designing a level — the elegant levels are those that best challenge the player and reward them the most upon completion. I hope this is the case for “Plan Ahead” and that “Plan Ahead” provides a refreshing trip to a small lake, almost impassable except through Henry Blackball's careful planning ahead.