12 December 2012

My favorite authors - Marcus Palstra

Marcus Palstra - Level 101 The long way home

A few months ago, last March, I wrote to Marcus Palstra and he answered me with an extensive and very interesting email, of which some paragraphs I have copied below for the interest of all Sokoban fans:

Date: 08/03/2012
Hello Jordi,


I came across Sokoban in the early '90s when somebody at work uploaded some of the early levels on an old Macintosh system. Then I forgot about it until around 2000 when, as you said, a whole lot of Sokoban game clones and unique levels started exploding onto the Internet. I came across an early version of the game (PocoMan!) that had some interesting levels with a sort of adventurous feel to them. Then I came across Gerald Holler's Sokomind, which I loved for its ease of use and wonderful graphics, and also its very easy-to-use editor! I believe the original Sokomind website no longer exists, unfortunately...

I started experimenting with the editor, and eventually developed a total of 30 levels over a period of around 4 months. The levels were numbered 1-28 and 101, 102 (the last two were made on a larger format board, hence the different numbering system). I had great fun creating them, but have got out of practice now: you really need to be "in the groove" to be able to create interesting and challenging levels! I haven't been able to dedicate much time to Sokoban recently, and I even find some of my own levels difficult to solve now!!


I tried, in my levels, to create a sort of adventure for the player: a series of logical challenges, often one depending on the other, so that each challenge had to be overcome in a particular order, or else some challenges had to be overcome in parallel with other challenges, otherwise one would reach an impasse... In particular, many of my levels had a tricky first move, which if one got wrong, one would regret many steps down the line! Also, I sometimes tried to create some visual effects that would fool the player, or lead him down the wrong path... In a way, my designing was somewhat influenced by the marvelous game Prince of Persia by Brøderbund Software company, released in 1989. It set a series of challenging levels that required a good deal of lateral thinking to solve.

I would be happy to answer any other questions you may have about my levels and their creation!

Best regards,
Marcus Palstra

Concerning himself, Marcus said to me:

I was born in 1961 in Australia. I grew up in Europe and worked around the world as an engineer in the oil & gas industry. I was living in Bolivia when I made my Sokoban levels. I have recently returned to Australia where I am living on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

If the Jean-Pierre Kent levels (see My favorite authors - Jean-Pierre Kent) are a collection of sophisticated storage problems, the Marcus Palstra levels - with few exceptions - have a "rotary" structure, which makes it necessary to carefully study the routes of circulation of the boxes, and calculate which boxes should be transferred to each area before closing off the passage ways. This "rotary" structure - sometimes with long runs (levels 19, 101...) - provides the puzzles with a character of "adventure", and the player feels as if he is undertaking a journey of discovery through the intricate puzzle's map. Moreover, in some levels there are small "traps" (sometimes obvious, as in level 1, and other times not so obvious, you might need to restart the level!, as in levels 21 and 25).

Like the Jean-Pierre Kent levels, the Marcus Palstra levels are not easy, but they are accessible to players with some experience.

My favorite levels are: 8 ("No way!!!"), 20 ("The Three Arches"), 22 ("The Fat Pussy Cat"), 27 ("Blood Stone") and 101 ("The long way home").

You can download the Marcus Palstra collection here:

Marcus Palstra (30 puzzles, 2001-2002)

In the file "Marcus Palstra_arrangements" I've collected 76 remodels, all the ones that I know of. I have checked the solution to all of them.

Years ago, GRIGoRusha gave an evaluation of the levels of Marcus Palstra. I have copied it below, and have added my own evaluation:

   GRIGoRusha evaluation         Jordi Doménech evaluation

Level  Difficulty  Comment    Difficulty  Funny   Comment
         (1-5)                   (1-5)             

1         3                       3        +     Nice
2         3                       2.5
3         4       Beautiful       4              Logic
4         3.5                     4        +
5         3                       4              Tight storage!
6         3.5                     3
7         2                       3
8         4.5     Artful          5       
+     Very good!
9         4.5     Good            4        ++    Nice!
10        4.5     Artful          3.5      +     Nice!
11        3.5                     3
12        3                       2.5
13        4       Artful          3        +
+    Nice
14        4.5     Artful          4              Clever storage
15        4       Beautiful       3.5      ++    Very nice!
16        4       Artful          3
17        4.5     Good            4.5            Difficult
18        4.5     Artful          3.5
19        4.5     Artful          4        +     Nice! Long way
20        4       Artful          4        ++
+   Very nice!
21        3.5                     3.5
22        4       Artful          4        ++
+   Tight! Very good!
23        4.5     Good            4.5            Difficult storage
24        4.5     Good            4        +
+    Tangled
25        4.5     Good            4
26        4       Artful          3.5      +
27        4.5     Artful          4.5      ++
+   Exciting!
28        5       Very good       4.5
101       4.5     Artful          4.5      ++
+   Very good!
102       5       Very hard!!!    5              Hard :P

Interview with Marcus Palstra

JORDI DOMÉNECH: I'm amazed that in only four months you made 30 such good puzzles, of considerable difficulty… I suppose this was a moment of "inspiration"… and then nothing! Not a single puzzle more… Maybe this interview will incite you to make another series…

MARCUS PALSTRA: I guess it was a period of inspiration. Actually I had become very interested in solving Sokoban puzzles but it never occurred to me to actually design one until a friend of mine, also a fan of Sokoban, urged me to try my hand. And since I had recently downloaded Sokomind, with a very user-friendly editor, I thought I'd give it a go. I surprised myself to find that I could actually make a reasonable level (level 1, "Look Before You Leap")! I really got into making levels after that, and in fact at my peak I made three levels in under 24 hours (levels 6, 7, 8) including one of my favourites: level 8, "No Way!!" I ran out of steam after 30 levels, though. I reckoned I needed a break, and then I got busy with other things and never got around to remaking levels. Maybe I will get another inspiration soon!

JORDI DOMÉNECH: When you made your puzzles, what was your objective? What did you want to achieve? Did you have in mind puzzles from other authors as reference or model?

MARCUS PALSTRA: My primary objective in making my puzzles was to entertain and challenge the player. I wanted to make the puzzle a sort of adventure, beset with traps and false leads, which would make the player really think in order to solve the level, and be entertained at the same time. I did not model them after any particular existing Sokoban author, but certainly got several ideas from many authors, and incorporated certain "techniques" and "tricks" into my style. So I am indebted to a great range of authors for their uniquely-styled puzzles!

JORDI DOMÉNECH: Finally, of the 30 puzzles from your collection, which one is your favourite?

MARCUS PALSTRA: There are several that I particularly like, but I think my favourite has to be number 8 ("No way!!!"). It is a neat puzzle with a tricky solution that takes some lateral thinking to resolve. But there are some others I like as well: 23 ("The Venus Fly Trap") has a tricky first move and a complicated stacking order; 28 ("a-MAZE-ing...") has a convoluted solution, and I like 102 ("The Storage Factor") for its sheer complexity. I also like 17 ("The Intricate Plot"), 20 ("The Three Arches"), 22 ("The Fat Pussy Cat") and 27 ("Blood Stone").

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