Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

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SLAPPYHAPPY2000
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Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by SLAPPYHAPPY2000 »

Here is a level that I made before the forum was created. This is the ultimate test of skill for all vanilla R'n'D players, and I am curious to see how far everyone gets. This level is not intended to be completed, only to see how far into the level you can make it. If you do complete it, I will give you a million congratulations, then I will subject myself to playing every Emerald Mine Club levelset in the EMC collection (actually, on second thought, don't make me do that :( ).

So will you take the test? Feel free to tell me how far you got!
Download the ZIP in this post.

P.S. If Holger plays this, I'm especially curious to see how far Holger gets :D !
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jm28121977
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by jm28121977 »

Wow! What a level! Some amazing design. I've had a few goes (about 15-20 I think) and I've got as far as the bit with all the scissors. Now I have to stop playing before I fall too far behind on the snooker to be able to go to bed at a reasonable time! I WILL complete this level though, you mark my words!

Cheers
Jamie
Anonycat
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by Anonycat »

Here's what the level looks like when you take full advantage of frame advance and repurposing some of the bombs to let you skirt a few of the challenges. 6:48.66.
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Holger
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by Holger »

Wow! What a level! :o
Wow! What a tape! :shock:

And no, I did not get very far in this crazy level... :D
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SLAPPYHAPPY2000
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by SLAPPYHAPPY2000 »

Anonycat wrote: Mon Aug 10, 2020 1:33 am Here's what the level looks like when you take full advantage of frame advance and repurposing some of the bombs to let you skirt a few of the challenges. 6:48.66.
Woah... I am absolutely amazed! :shock:
I would have never known that a tape like this would have surfaced on the forum only around TWO DAYS after this was posted! Truly incredible, oh man!
Now, I'm curious, after you seen what all of the stage has to offer... do you like it? I made it after all, and I'd like to know. :lol:
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SLAPPYHAPPY2000
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by SLAPPYHAPPY2000 »

Holger wrote: Mon Aug 10, 2020 8:31 am Wow! What a level! :o
Wow! What a tape! :shock:

And no, I did not get very far in this crazy level... :D
The tape is cool, indeed!
To be honest, I was able to clear every section of the Trial individually, but not all at once. So, I'm glad someone in the forum beat it and sent me this amazing tape.
Holger, if you're publishing this to contributions, could you wait until I make a more polished version? I'm not changing the stage, but I am changing a few other things.
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by Anonycat »

The level's most egregious flaw comes in this room near the end, just before the start of the time-limited section:
trialofemerald.png
trialofemerald.png (43.21 KiB) Viewed 1431 times
Of course, what you're supposed to do is run under the two gems without taking them, then they fall down and serve as a closed door until you're done with the room and are ready to use them as a preserved exit path. However, sometimes the situation shown in this screenshot arises instead: the first gem falls, then before the second one can fill its vacated square, the growing wall seizes the opportunity to grow into that square instead, cutting off the gems from each other and rendering that route untenable. As far as I know, which of these behaviors you get is dictated by whether the overall frame count up to that point is odd or even. As parity of the frame count is essentially random to a casual player, what this amounts to is: basically, if you get far enough to reach this room, there is a 50% chance that it will settle out in such a way as to make the level "unsolvable".

Having a 50% chance that a player can't reasonably control and where one of the options breaks the level is bad enough in a short level, where it shows lack of polish on the level designer's part; presenting the player with that situation this close to the end of a level this long is outright disrespectful of their expenditure. "You commit to playing this far into the level first, and only then will we (essentially) roll the dice to determine whether this whole attempt is allowed to amount to anything whatsoever. If it's not...welp, sucks to be you."

In this particular case, it's not quite that bad because if you managed to save a bomb from an earlier room, you can deploy it here to blow up the first growing wall and not even have to deal with the question of which tile gets precedence to move into the vacated square first. But is that really the message you want to send--"You had better find a way to break at least one of my puzzles if you want to be adequately prepared for this situation and avoid leaving it up to something that, on a zoomed-out scale, is indistinguishable from chance"?
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SLAPPYHAPPY2000
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by SLAPPYHAPPY2000 »

Anonycat wrote: Mon Aug 10, 2020 2:11 pm The level's most egregious flaw comes in this room near the end, just before the start of the time-limited section:
trialofemerald.png
Of course, what you're supposed to do is run under the two gems without taking them, then they fall down and serve as a closed door until you're done with the room and are ready to use them as a preserved exit path. However, sometimes the situation shown in this screenshot arises instead: the first gem falls, then before the second one can fill its vacated square, the growing wall seizes the opportunity to grow into that square instead, cutting off the gems from each other and rendering that route untenable. As far as I know, which of these behaviors you get is dictated by whether the overall frame count up to that point is odd or even. As parity of the frame count is essentially random to a casual player, what this amounts to is: basically, if you get far enough to reach this room, there is a 50% chance that it will settle out in such a way as to make the level "unsolvable".

Having a 50% chance that a player can't reasonably control and where one of the options breaks the level is bad enough in a short level, where it shows lack of polish on the level designer's part; presenting the player with that situation this close to the end of a level this long is outright disrespectful of their expenditure. "You commit to playing this far into the level first, and only then will we (essentially) roll the dice to determine whether this whole attempt is allowed to amount to anything whatsoever. If it's not...welp, sucks to be you."

In this particular case, it's not quite that bad because if you managed to save a bomb from an earlier room, you can deploy it here to blow up the first growing wall and not even have to deal with the question of which tile gets precedence to move into the vacated square first. But is that really the message you want to send--"You had better find a way to break at least one of my puzzles if you want to be adequately prepared for this situation and avoid leaving it up to something that, on a zoomed-out scale, is indistinguishable from chance"?
Holy crap, THAT'S not a thing that's supposed to happen. I can ensure you, that I did not mean to make this an RNG thing, and I really tried my hardest to make this level fair, but extremely challenging. I beat every single section of this level individually while testing it, and I tried a few times to beat the whole thing myself, but I always died at the Supaplex section for some reason, so I was hoping that someone else could beat it, because I knew this was possible. This level was really hard to make and test, and I put full effort into making it, so I often ended up not thinking about things like this, stuff that you could do in 1-step mode. Thank you for telling me about this, and when I create the polished version for the Contributions level package, I will be sure to modify this room so that it will not be unfair to players. (although you could have done without rubbing so much salt into it... you made me feel bad for making the experience a 50/50 hit or miss by accident :cry: )

Let me know if you find anything else, and if you actually like it or not (because you just pointed out the flaw, which leads me to believe you like it, but think this is holding it back, but idk for sure).

SlappyHappy2000
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by Anonycat »

It's a fine level, working in plenty of variety in game elements. Really, the issue is that by making use of all that variety, that's more opportunities to be susceptible to perceived flaws that go all the way back to the burden of the people who originally programmed the source games and how they defined their elements should work, before they were picked up and faithfully implemented in RnD.

One of the concepts that comes up a lot in games of this genre, at the micromanaging level, is something called "reading order", which dictates what order things are set off in after every opportunity for the player's input to be reflected. For example, suppose you have this 3x3 snippet of a level:

Code: Select all

1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
Each of the tiles 1 through 9 in turn will be checked for interactions, on every frame. So, let's suppose there's a gravity-prone element in square 2, another gravity-prone element falling out of 5 into the vacant square 8, and a growing wall in square 6. Perform the checks in order:
  • 1 is irrelevant and doesn't do anything.
  • 2 can't fall because 5 isn't empty yet, so it does nothing.
  • 3 and 4 likewise have no interactions.
  • 5 finishes vacating its square,
  • Now we get to 6. If this is one of the frames on which it can trigger expansion, it will go "Dibs on square 5!" and immediately close up that square, sending out another growing wall in its formative stage before 2 gets another chance to look at it. If this is a dormant frame for 6, then it won't do anything right away, and on the next frame, 2 will get to look at the empty square and start falling first.
Interestingly, if you flip that configuration around so the growing wall is in 4 rather than 6, gravity will win 100% of the time: after any action taken by 5, 2 will always get the next look at that square on the following frame, before 4 does. This means that if you could rearrange the rooms so that one has its entrance/exit on the right side rather than the left, the issue of the gems sometimes being split would be eliminated. But the fact remains that this is a reasonable way to want to set up a room, and having the rules work so that the mechanism only works one way around and not the other, at least not without risk of malfunctioning, is a case where sensible level design is at the mercy of the rules. If growing walls were programmed with enough state knowledge so that they wouldn't grow into a square until they observed it empty for two consecutive frames, that would be a sufficient change that they would always defer to gravity elements in a fight over a newly vacated square, no matter which side the growing wall was positioned on. Then again, that change would also break the last levels of both tutorial sets, which want you to keep jumping up and down over a growing wall so it has room to grow under your feet, enabling you to climb against gravity. Different rules have different consequences.

Playing in slow motion enables you to have a watchful enough eye to analyze a lot of things like this closely. Here's another example.
trial2.png
trial2.png (14.94 KiB) Viewed 1411 times
This is the room immediately before the first Supaplex room, designed to test landmines, and DX-Boulderdash-style traps. Mines, of course, are always deadly, where the point is to notice the visual bulge that prevents them from blending in seamlessly with the surrounding dirt. Fair enough. Traps, meanwhile, cycle between safe and deadly phases at irregular intervals, where the safe state is visually distinct from dirt only by a small black dot in the center, which animates into a large sinkhole during the deadly phase. However, for the first three frames and last three frames of the deadly phase, its animation shows a graphic that is completely identical to that of the safe phase. Unless the DX programmers intended that the presence of their new trap tile in a level should have induced all players to proceed with extreme caution, only ever dispatching of the traps by snapping and only one square at a time, it's inevitable that someone eventually walked up to a trap that, by every visual indication, was in its dormant state at the time, attempted to clear it out, and was greeted by the equivalent of "Whoa there! You couldn't have possibly seen anything to detect it, but this tile flipped to the deadly phase some time in the last three frames before you attempted to walk into it, so congratulations! You're dead now!" Granted, the chances of this are only three frames out of the length of each safe cycle, far less than the 50% chance of a right-side growing wall misbehaving against a gravity element that wants to fall into the same square. But it's a separate, cumulative chance for every instance of the DX trap that the player is forced to walk through for lack of another path that goes around it, and those chances add up, again unless they take the ultra-cautious approach of only snapping to get rid of the traps.

For what it's worth, the Supaplex equivalent of the trap (buggy wall) errs in the opposite direction. There's a period of time where it's just started visibly sparking up, but hasn't become deadly yet, and you can safely enter the square to put it out for good. This at least insulates their programmers from complaints on this charge, as one less thing that can reasonably be considered "unfair death".

RnD, for its part, does mitigate the potential for perceived injustices like that to irrevocably throw away large amounts of progress into a level, by virtue of its tape system. Even if you don't micromanage it to play in slow motion, anyone can still replay the most recent tape even after dying, fast forward through the bulk of the level, and pause a few seconds before the end. Then they can take over playing again from there, knowing the perils of the misbehaving elements, and try again until they're more cooperative.
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SLAPPYHAPPY2000
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by SLAPPYHAPPY2000 »

Anonycat wrote: Mon Aug 10, 2020 8:29 pm RnD, for its part, does mitigate the potential for perceived injustices like that to irrevocably throw away large amounts of progress into a level, by virtue of its tape system. Even if you don't micromanage it to play in slow motion, anyone can still replay the most recent tape even after dying, fast forward through the bulk of the level, and pause a few seconds before the end. Then they can take over playing again from there, knowing the perils of the misbehaving elements, and try again until they're more cooperative.
Well, what do I do now? Do I get rid of the entire level because it has too much variety and it is too susceptible of causing problems because of the way the original creators designed this game? I can't just change everything because of an oversight on the developers' part, I either have to scrap it entirely or leave it be, for those reasons.

Can't believe it took one person to show why this level doesn't work. It's a bit disappointing on my part, how I would create something like this.
filbo
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by filbo »

Whoa, don't despair! He(?)'s just pointing out some subtle flaws, where the flaws are more due to the original games' designs than your fault. I don't think you're required to know every subtlety to make great levels.

Think of this as an amazing service where some anonymous person who apparently understands the engine flaws very well, is standing ready to point out where you've run afoul of them.

Your reaction here should be along the lines of 'Wow, didn't realize that, lemme tweak that part a tiny bit to avoid the problem. Done, ok, do you mind testing it again?'
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by SLAPPYHAPPY2000 »

filbo wrote: Tue Aug 11, 2020 11:13 am Whoa, don't despair! He(?)'s just pointing out some subtle flaws, where the flaws are more due to the original games' designs than your fault. I don't think you're required to know every subtlety to make great levels.

Think of this as an amazing service where some anonymous person who apparently understands the engine flaws very well, is standing ready to point out where you've run afoul of them.

Your reaction here should be along the lines of 'Wow, didn't realize that, lemme tweak that part a tiny bit to avoid the problem. Done, ok, do you mind testing it again?'
Thanks, but how do I know how to change it? I designed these levels with challenge in mind, and this whole level was supposed to be one, big, challenging test of endurance. How do I change all of the flawed sections without removing any of the challenge? And I have to do it in the same amount of space too, because moving only some sections to accommodate for size changes is going to be a chore.
jm28121977
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by jm28121977 »

Yo, SlappyHappy2000

I definitely wouldn’t scrap the whole level, just tweak the luck-based sections, as filbo says.

I get what you’re saying about having to replace a room with a new section of exactly the same dimensions, which isn’t easy, but you could replace it with something like a maze of invisible walls, which can very easily be made to fit any size. It’s a bit lame compared to the puzzle you had, but it’ll save you either putting the whole level on the scrapheap or reshuffling all rooms’ positions.

Great level btw, which I’ll complete soon since finding out TODAY, having played R’n’D for about 20 years, that you can pick up playing tapes from just before where you died. I think I’ll start reading documentation.

Jamie x
filbo
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by filbo »

SLAPPYHAPPY2000 said:

> finding out TODAY, having played R’n’D for about 20 years, that you can pick up playing tapes from just before where you died

Wow! I do that probably multiple times per minute while I play R'n'D!

Meanwhile, Anonycat said:

> micromanage it to play in slow motion

-- which is something I've seen mentioned before, but not sure what it means in practical terms. What do you do and what effect does it have (at a guess, let you time your actions down to the single frame?)

Back to this level -- I haven't played it yet. The described problem with the 2 gems falling in or out of sync with wall growing, sounded like it could be dealt with by the player doing some short delay tactic before setting off the trigger for that event. Which would be a giant pain if you had to play from start-to-there each time, but easy if you can replay from tape.

Am I misunderstanding the depth of the timing problem?

And I didn't see Anonycat mention any other specific problems with the level. The complaint about landmines is a complaint about the inherent nature of that element, not your fault (except in choosing to use it).

The description that it becomes deadly shortly before changing appearance (and remains deadly for a short time after) sounds like it could be fixed with custom graphics for just the one element. I think.
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Re: Trial of the Emerald: The ultimate skill test

Post by Holger »

> micromanage it to play in slow motion

-- which is something I've seen mentioned before, but not sure what it means in practical terms. What do you do and what effect does it have (at a guess, let you time your actions down to the single frame?)
Although this may refer to real slow motion using the debug speed keys, I assume that he meant using the single-step mode, probably using the "snap" key to switch to the next frame various times, to be able to do frame-exact actions when solving a level. Which may be considered kind of "cheating"(*) ;-), but definitely results in impressive tapes. :-)

(*) Regarding "cheating", I always thought that it should be everybody's own decision to either play 100% by the rules, or use any degree of help to increase fun and decrease potential frustration. That's why there are tools like "handicap: off", the tape system, the editor (to see the whole level and how it works), F1/F2 quick save/load, solution tapes for level sets and debug speed keys. Use it if you like, or don't use it if you like that better. :-)
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