Thanks for playing! I'm glad you had fun.
To me the overall environment had this alien technology kinda vibe as some areas where structured in a way I really wouldn't have expected them to be.
I'm pretty happy with that vibe. My early failed attempts at Galaxy modding had a lot of very boring, regularly shaped linear parts; Markeen forced me to work with more interesting structures.
BTW, the moving platforms in this level (level 10: Routing & Remote Access) were laid out in a clever way.
I was pretty proud of that level. Planning a route through it was tough, but Markeen had sprinkled broken tracks throughout with no clear way to loop them, which I took as license to do what I did.
The section down below build around the Slicestars was a very hard but also a very enjoyable challenge. I love these compact areas where a lot of things happening at once and where you have to time your next steps with skill and care.
Markeen gave me the locked security door in the middle of nowhere, which contributed to the routing difficulty. I didn't want to trap the player if they forgot to take the keycard at the start of the level, so I punched through the wall at the bottom to create that challenge. There was a broken track tile right next to the originally solid wall, which was the inspiration for the one-way moving platform.
Of course the randomness of the level design brought some downsides as orientation especially in larger levels could get quite confusing at times. It is somewhat hard to estimate your progress in bigger levels, as some memorable landmarks are missing. Take the Security Accounts Manager (level 6) for instance. Not only is this place huge, but there's also a large section right after the main fuse reactor. I had the impression that this optional path felt somehow tedious and in my opinion it wouldn't hurt to strip this part away entirely.
I agree. I wasn't a huge fan of that level's starting point, but IIRC it was the least bad choice that had the white machine. You're right that I should have included more memorable landmarks. Overall I tried to do something with every reasonably sized space Markeen generated, but when the level's area was >18,000 tiles it was probably time to draw the line and just solid-fill the extra space. (To clarify for others reading, the image depicts Routing & Remote Access rather than Security Accounts Manager. R&RA is about half the area of SAM.)
Level sizes were chosen by sampling normal distributions for the original levels' width and height, but I didn't take into account that very wide levels tend not to be very tall; the distributions shouldn't have been independent. Other problems are that there is a minimum width and height for the engine, and that autogenerated small levels often lacked any interesting features. These cut off the low end of the dimension distributions, increasing the effective mean.
I should also have allowed myself to combine multiple small Markeen levels into larger levels with scroll dividers. The Markeen profiler splits original levels at dividers, but the generator doesn't know anything about them, so it always generates the entire level as one section, which is why there are no dividers in the pack.
On the other hand the sheer number of yellow keys in this level compensates for it. This felt like a neat idea to collect so many of them. I took a quick look at the patch file and was astonished that you haven't added any key gem related patches. So it seems that the engine can actually handle a multitude of collected keys, right?
I'm pleasantly surprised that you liked the multiple keys. This level is a blatant offense to #2 (and possibly more) of Ceilick's Ten Commandments
and I was afraid people would miss one of the many keys in the gray area and have to backtrack a lot. In retrospect I think it would also have been a good idea to add background SGA signs next to the keyholders so the player knows how many of each color to look out for.
The engine does indeed support many keys; the variables are counters rather than yes/no flags. I believe the F10+I cheat grants 99 of each key so you can always cheat in enough keys for the level in one shot.
I've also missed those final floor or ceiling tiles in a couple of levels which represent the border of the level. but this might be my personal taste.
Having the bottom of the level be open and deadly was sometimes necessary, though I probably should have found a way to make the deadliness clearer in Defense Tunnel Ahm. There were also cases where Markeen didn't leave me enough space to add a ceiling to the solid top of the level, but in other cases I just neglected to.
Besides that there are some required areas that can only be accessed via the impossible pogo trick...
This is true and I should have mentioned it in the initial post. There are also occasional, usually but not always optional, parts that require understanding alignment. I suppose this adds to the difficulty and makes the pack require more experience. I tested every level on Normal and Hard; jump/pogo height is the same. Gravity is different on Easy mode, which makes both normal and pogo jumps higher, which should make these tricky parts more manageable.
However I greatly did enjoy the shorter levels a whole lot. They featured so neat puzzle ideas. If I had to pick two I'd probably go with level 2 and 5. From memory I enjoyed them most. But of course there are other great levels as well. But they might actually be my first pick.
That's good to hear. I made the levels in the order of their ID, and at the beginning of the project I was still getting used to the level polishing process, so I picked smaller starting levels. I was concerned level 2 in particular was too small. For that reason, and because the core challenge (platform and switch for the keycard) was my invention rather than Markeen's, I considered replacing it at the end of the project, but decided to leave it in order to get the pack's initial version out for the new year. If some people actually like it I'm satisfied!
Also noteworthy is the layout of those bigger secret areas.
These are all Markeen's ideas. It has no concept of route through a level, so it often creates open nonlinear areas, big solid regions with irregular holes, and unnecessary side areas. I usually had to decide which foreground tiles should actually be solid, but at least it made me incorporate nonlinear extra areas, which is something I struggled with on my own.
and then there are those with a surprising exit path way
I completely forgot about that one! In the early stages of the project I tried very hard to preserve every space Markeen made (the before and after images of the first level line up very well). I suspect my thought process on that particular secret was "argh, there's no normal way to route this, whatever you say Markeen!" In later levels, especially big ones, I sometimes just solid-filled small holes that would be difficult to route.
Can you name which levels where most exciting for you to put together and which elements surprised you most while working with Markeen.
Setup Bootstrapper (level 8) was a fun exception to my usual workflow. IIRC I decided the visual theme pretty early, inspired by the big pipes/columns next to the fuse machine serving as a boundary. It was nice to have a vision to work toward when routing and placing interactive elements.
Defense Zone Lincsol (level 9) was probably the most fun to route. Markeen provided all the door positions (albeit one barely formed), most of the keygem-door structure, and the entire alignment puzzle in the middle (even the little hole above the purple pole)! That starting point was a must-use.
Similarly, the long slopes in York Slopes (level 11) were so unique that I had to use them. It would have been even cooler if the core route was making progress up the slope through detours to the right half of the level, but the stuff on the right was too far away and there weren't really elements to block ascent of the slope. Maybe it'll be inspiration for another, more freeform mod level.
In terms of surprising elements, it was interesting which pieces Markeen liked to use more. It feels like (though I haven't rigorously counted) there are a lot more keygem doors and turrets per unit area than the original game. It's alright at using poles, even ones that go through platforms, but doesn't use switchable bridges super often and has trouble when it does.
It's also interesting that Markeen likes both irregular shapes and very long repeated elements, both of which were useful. It's very good at breaking up flat platforms with steps or slopes, making the areas more interesting that I would on my own. The repeated elements are visually striking (maybe contributing to the alien vibe) and sometimes helped define the gameplay, like York Slopes.
I also found a couple of bugs, but that's for a later post
Ah, I probably missed a couple spots. Bug reports would be appreciated.