Icebreaker: More Specific Levels

The statutory two weeks are just about over for this game. When I posted yesterday, I was still shy of level 100, which is only 2/3 of the way through the game. I was thinking that I’d play up to the round number and call it quits for the time being, but my progress has suddenly accelerated — maybe I’m getting good at it or something — and it’s a holiday weekend, so I think I’ll make a try at powering through to 150. I’m up to 130 already.

I’ve encountered one more level with unusually difficult terrain: level 96, “Live and Let Slide”. The gimmick here is that the periphery consists of slime pits, and the outer edge of the playfield is all ice with blue pyramids on it. Thus, to break the blue pyramids, you have to venture out onto the ice and risk slipping into the slime. Well, that or wait for them to change color. I indulged in that a bit. Vanquishing this level took me fully 95 tries — yes, just one short of a pleasing coincidence, but I wasn’t about to let myself die one more time just for that. It’s also one of only three levels so far where I’ve needed to drop back from Hard difficulty to Medium.

Level 122, “The Valley of Death”, is another. The gimmick here is that the center of the playfield is walled in, surrounded by rock except in two corners. Inside, it’s wall-to-wall swamp, with zombie spawn points around the edges, so that you start off surrounded. The best way to clear this area is to kill zombies as seldom as you can get away with, because you can get them to trail you in a pack as long as they’re alive, but once they respawn, they’re likely to do it in front of you. This is really one of the basic tactics of the whole game, but compressed into a smaller space.

Like level 53, both of these levels were designed by Ken Megill. I’m starting to detect a pattern here, but have to be wary of confirmation bias. The game doesn’t tell you who designed a level unless you ask (by pressing the “Level info” button), which I seldom do. Checking out some other levels at random, it looks like Megill is responsible for an awful lot of them, possibly even the majority, and certainly not just the hard ones. But the very hardest ones are always his work.

The few levels designed by Andrew Looney himself are quite mild in comparison, and seem to be put together more to create pleasing visual patterns than for challenging play. I think my favorite of his is level 112, “Lemmings!”, which puts the player in a path girded by pits. Hordes of yellow Seekers charge from all directions, smashing through the green pyramids that surround the path and falling into the pits. Eventually you have to venture to the the end of the path, where it empties into the dangers outside, to deal with the few pyramids that have avoided destruction (mostly by changing color before the Seekers got to them), but you can spend a while shifting around within your safe haven and directing the destruction.

Looney also collaborated with Keith Baker on level 71, “Advanced Pits”, which is notable for its simplicity of conception: it simply fills the entire playfield with purple pyramids, the ones that turn into pits when shot. Why did it take two people to design this? Maybe the idea came out of a conversation. At any rate, this is one level that takes some planning to pull off successfully, because you need to preserve access to the parts you haven’t covered yet, and can easily destroy your escape route while trying to swat Seekers. I managed it by rushing to the edge at the beginning, then shooting as much as I could of three edges from the outside, creating a box that’s only exposed to attack from one direction.

That’s just a few of the things that the level designers have managed to do with the tools this game makes available. All in all, I think they did a really good job of exploring the possibilities. I wouldn’t have guessed from a description of the game elements that they would be capable of this much variety.

No Comments

Leave a reply