Gaming Thoughts... Creation in gaming

Not all gamers dream of building and creating video games, and that's fine - great even. After all, if we all wanted to sit around designing stuff, there wouldn't be nearly as many people actually sitting down to play them. Game editing has been around forever it seems, whether it's just using a specific game's engine to perform building tasks (like Roller Coaster Tycoon or SimCity).
City Building... without an always on connection

This article originally appears at Digitally Downloaded.

My wife sunk so many hours into Roller Coaster Tycoon 2, designing her park and building coasters. She has gone through spurts over the years where she spends time on video games, but usually they are of a very specific type (Sims, SimCity, Roller Coaster Tycoon... oh, and racing games, because she can generally wallop me in them). She has no interest in shooters, RPGs or general sports titles, but these games with building elements have often tweaked her imagination.

The other side of the spectrum comes from game creation engines. Not everyone can create their own game from scratch - in fact it is the very rare person who can. Games have so many different facets now, from the visuals to the code, to the music and the story design. Programs like RPG Maker and FPS Creator help fill this void. They provide a general framework, give you some tools to work with and let your imagination run wild. Believe me - I wish I had had a chance to work with an RPG Maker program as a kid when I was first fiddling around with BASIC.

This mindset is also how I got into MUDs - and more specifically how I got into building another MUD about fifteen years ago, and eventually started my own with my wife. I had storyline ideas, and while I am not what I would consider a programmer, I have had some success reading, modifying my own bits of code for the MUD using C or working with Ruby on RPG Maker over the years. I use music and graphics from other sources however, because those are definitely not areas I am strong in.

My son did some creation with FPS Creator when we tried it out and reviewed it, and he did pretty well with it for the most part. He is fourteen and the FPS is easily his favorite gaming genre. Technical problems with the software got him discouraged somewhat early in the process however. However, worse than that he did not know how to program or properly make use of all of the tools. It was just too much.

My son has taken a few cursory pokes at RPG Maker XP in the past.  RPGs are something he will play for small bursts of time, but fail to completely capture his interest. He is a bright kid, but he looks at things in these larger game creation engines and does not feel like he can do anything special or that will stand out. These tools are incredibly flexible, but without at least one or two specific skill sets, your efforts come out looking just like everyone else in the crowd. When using these types of tools, the community can often be pretty harsh. If you do not find a way to distinguish your project - and ideally not just one way but several - it feels like your efforts might be wasted.

 There are some other complications as well. These are frameworks that you generally work on locally. this provides other logistical concerns like sharing the content and making sure it can work in a variety of environments. Again, I would have eaten these up as a kid, but I was working on text based games in BASIC when I was nine and just showing them to friends in the neighborhood when they came over. Some amazing things can come out of these tools. Over the holidays I had a chance to play a game called Too the Moon that was built on RPG Maker XP by a very small team of talented individuals. They had a goal and realized it wonderfully - but this is not an option for many gamers who have an interest in creation.

The area I am most curious about for this article falls somewhere in between. My daughter and son have both made use of games with built in editors over the last several years. These kinds of editing tools have been around for a long time - I recall spending dozens of hours working with the toolkit in Neverwinter Nights about a decade ago. My younger two kids are both gamers, and both have gotten hooked on Minecraft, Roblox and the LittleBig Planet games.

I will likely never get around to writing a proper review about either LittleBig Planet 1 or 2. We have both. I have played both very sparingly now and then and with platforming games being among my least favorite genres (along with racing games), I just lose interest quickly. My younger two kids however, have sunk a ton of time into those games. My son got pretty good with the tools, and my daughter - who is only eleven - has gotten very good with them.

She loves Roblox on the computer the kids use, but whenever she has access to the television she puts in LittleBig Planet. For her this is more than just a creative outlet however - it has also become a means of socializing. She will use the headset and talk with other kids that sound about her age, and they talk about Pokemon, cats, My Little Pony and more - and then create areas based on these and more. Half the time they do not even finish their areas, but they seem to be enjoying the process all the same.

It makes sense really. The toolkit is there and powerful, graphics and sound are already part of the system and it is easy to share materials - but the level of acceptability in using these preexisting assets is much higher than someone using the RTP that comes standard with RPG Maker. Sharing what you have made and playing what others have made is easy because it is all built into a framework with sharing and community in mind. The creativity and community are both very accessible for players.

I wish tools like this had been available to me as a kid, and I think it is great seeing games like Mod Nation Racers and LittleBig Planet giving gamers an outlet for their creativity. It also wonder if these tools might not be something more developers should look into more carefully. It seems like there are a lot of games that tack on multiplayer because it is expected now. Some games are simply built with multiplayer in mind from the beginning, like Call of Duty or an MMO.

However, I bet all of us can name a half dozen or so examples off of the top of our heads where multiplayer just feels like a bullet point on the back of the box. Bioshock 2 and Dead Space 2 are examples of slightly older games that added multiplayer components that their predecessors lacked and that gamers generally ignored. This trend has continued recently as well, with the latest God of War and Tomb Raider games getting good reviews for their single player content but for online modes that one of my coworkers described as 'throwaway'.

The temptation to add these online modes makes sense for developers. In an age where they lose a good deal of profit to the used game market, they want a reason for their customers to retain their copy of the game. If the single player content is exhausted, what is the reason for keeping it? One option is of course to add multiplayer, and it sometimes that works. I was a huge fan of Mass Effect 3's multiplayer when it came out.

I wonder though, if development teams might not benefit from exploring content creation options? Obviously this might not work for every game type - but it seems like the potential is there. If Call of Duty offered map creation, or you could come up with your own trials for God of War or build your own maps in Fire Emblem - it just feels like this would give players a reason to keep those discs in their systems and homes well past the completion of the story mode.

Developers have explored options ranging from online passes, to DLC (including controversial first day) to multiplayer as a way to keep gamers invested, but very few games use creation as a tool to this point. Not every gamer wants to create, but a lot of them do and lack the ability and/or resources to turn RPG Maker XP into something as impressive as To the Moon.

What do you think? Do you personally find editing and creating content entertaining? Would it be a reason for you to keep a game longer than you might otherwise? Or do you think I am completely nuts (always an option as well) and the benefits would not outweigh the effort?


  1. So, you copied the post, but NOT my comment...what a crying shame!

    *from a bit ago...
    Kind of interesting just seeing this piece, as I downloaded another game program last night, Construct 2 (it's free to try).

    My first real attempt at using a game engine, was the CryEngine Sandbox, which was included with the original Far Cry on the PC nearly 10 years ago now. I have said it before (might be old news to you, not sure), but I spent MONTHS working on 2 levels in that game. One was more single-player focused, just learning how to script AI characters, give them paths to follow and such. I created a "bathroom" and had an enemy scripted to walk into it and stand/sit by the pot (inspired by one of my favorite N64 games, GoldenEye).

    The other map I worked on was for multiplayer. I spent MONTHS learning how to make a cave/tunnel, add lights/take them away. It had a waterfall in it you could jump off of (even though the game engine didn't have a waterfall, I just got a "river" and turned that sucker vertical!) and survive (if you landed in the water below).

    Our oldest, Bean 1, plays LBP and has played on several of the player created levels, but I have never sat down and really tried to use the level creator in the game.

    So, based on my time and Bean 1's with games, I would say creating content is fun (my experience) and that Bean 1 being able to play others' levels in LBP certainly helped keep him entertained longer.

  2. I still need to try out Construct 2. It looks interesting, but with my whole rebuilding of my PC over the last few weeks, I haven't tried much new game-wise on it.

    Glad to hear your experience, as well as Bean 1's, rather matches my own with the kids. I don't believe I had heard that before about the CryEngine experience of yours. I'm trying to think back to what my first was. I mean, technically, probably old text-based games written in BASIC when I was like 8 years old? :P Then working on my MUD. My first graphics engine experience was either one of the odl RPG Makers or Neverwinter Nights.

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  3. I've played around with numerous creation kits and level editors, from GTKRadiant to Worldcraft to in-game editors (like Halo's Forge and StarCraft/WarCraft's Editors to UDK, Source: SDK and Skyrim Creation Kit) and the one thing that I can say about them all is this: they have changed. Drastically.

    In the days of old the level-editors were simply that; you had pre-installed assets and had the ability (albeit, through no easy feat) to incorporate your own assets. That much hasn't changed, what has is the scope and complexity of the editors themselves. Unlike LBP or Halo Forge, which are more "Level Editors" most editors are more "conversion kits" that take the concept of modding / level creation to an entirely new level, though, in some cases (Skyrim Creation Kit and UDK) the complexity of the editor is so high that there is a very good chance that your average gamer can't go through and pick it up and just create something.

    While this can go through dissuade the masses from creating junk, there have been some great levels / designs created by "normal" gamers (I can think of a handful of amazing StarCraft maps that were created by your ordinary average joe) not to mention some fantastic mods (Gary's Mod for the CounterStrike engine). The unfortunate fact that the complexities of the editors are pushing away would-be designers is disheartening, though, for those that really want to do it, the rewards are significant.

    With the difficulties of using the mainstream editors, games like Halo (with its Forge) or LBP fill a niche that allow those average gamers to go through and really create something. I am also pleased to see more simulation-like city-building games (SimCity, Anno series, etc.) trying to fill in the niche, as well, though, more flexibility in their assets (i.e. being able to upload your own skins / textures) would add a great deal.

    One could hope that developers are willing to put more modding/user-creation tools in future releases ...

    Excellent post, though.

  4. Hi T1ckles! Thanks for the comment.

    I agree that it definitely opens up avenues for people who might not feel like digging into more involved editors. My son did okay with FPS Creator, but never was able to delve in much past the basics when fiddling around with RPG Maker. My youngest is 11 - and she loves games like Roblox, Minecraft and LBP - but they allow her some creative freedom and the ability to share what she's done, without needing to actually 'develop' anything. Glad you enjoyed the post! Take care.


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