Not so long ago, I picked up the recent Playstation 3 title known as ModNation Racers. A game that comes under Sony’s ‘Play, Create, Share’ marketing campaign.
This is a campaign that promotes the idea of videogames that feature some sort of tool set for users to create their own content for the game and share it with other gamers.
The first game to be released under this banner was the fantastic ‘LittleBigPlanet’; a game which allowed players to create their own levels to share with the community.
Of course, it was more complex than that. LittleBigPlanet’s tool set let you do much more than create a simple Mario-style level to run though.
In fact, the scope was massive. Simple to learn and complex to master, LittleBigPlanet’s tools allowed users to make vehicles, create monsters, recreate their favourite movies, other video games and a variety of different settings.
What some thought would allow for little more than running and jumping from platform to platform was now being used to create scenes from ‘Shadow Of The Colossus’, the opening to ‘Final Fantasy 7′ and even an R-Type style shooter.
It was, as you can probably guess, a huge success. Since its release, millions of levels have been uploaded and shared with others and earlier this year, a sequel was announced by Sony and Media Molecule.
LittleBigPlanet 2 aims to take the concept even further, allowing users to create entire games instead of just levels. Now users are not just limited to a 2.5D style plane but now can make full 3D Games in a variety of genres. The trailer already shows a few examples from the original platformer; from a kart racing game to a real-time strategy. It could be the most ambitious project on a console yet.
The ‘Play, Create, Share’ campaign is Sony’s way of pushing games with facilities for gamers to create and share their own content, but it isn’t by any means the first example of games to feature some sort of tool kit.
For anyone new to gaming or not so knowledgeable about the subject, did you know that the popular online shooter ‘Counterstrike’ was actually created using such a tool set?
For most gamers this isn’t a closely guarded fact but my point is that this concept has been around a while, however, it has taken until now for companies to really capitalize on it.
Of course I’m talking about PC Gaming and the modding community. Most big budget PC games released in the past 15 years or so have come with what is known as an SDK (Software Development Kit).
This is a set of tools that allows users to create their own maps, characters and, in some cases, their own games. Some examples include games such as Half Life, Half Life 2, Quake, Neverwinter Nights, Morrowind, Oblivion, Farcry, Crysis, Fallout 3, Dragon Age, Doom, and Unreal Tournament.
There are a whole host of games out there that have huge communities who are constantly creating and sharing content back and forth and this shows just how talented and creative gamers can be.
Though the concept has been around for quite a while, it has been a restricted area so to speak; the toolkits can take some time to learn and aren’t as user-friendly as newer games like LittleBigPlanet or ModNation Racers.
We also come into the issue of hardware. Up until this generation, online gaming was something that not a lot of people indulged in; it was somewhat popular, but it wasn’t until the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 that console gamers had an infrastructure in place to support this concept.
Not to say it hadn’t been tried though, the ‘Timesplitters’ series was known for having a map creator within it that would allow you to create maps for you and your friends to play.
Going further back the idea of creating games was even attempted by Sony as far back as the original Playstation with a kit known as Net Yaroze. Net Yaroze wasn’t a simple piece-things-together tool kit. It was a development kit for programmers to create games with, something that was a bit more expensive and complicated for the general gaming community.
The Bedroom Coder
So we’ve seen how PC Gamers have had access to these sorts of tools for a while and how Sony are going to allow users to develop their own games. Of course, with ‘LittleBigPlanet’ we’re still somewhat restricted in the creation our projects. We’re not up to what PC Games have yet but can we get there? Well read on…
I just mentioned Net Yaroze, this was an expensive development kit and not really ideal for the average person who wants to make something less complicated. Not only was there the cost, but you also had to understand programming language.
But now there is a kit that will allow creators full control, title screens, physics, character models, enemy models and textures. Enter Microsoft with XNA Game Studio.
I’m currently studying the subject of Computer Games Industry and I actually used XNA Game Studio to create my Final Year Project and was surprised at the result.
XNA is a set of tools that allows individuals or small teams with a dream to develop games. You can create for the PC, the Xbox 360 or the Zune Platform. It uses a programming language called C# and there is a full community out there sharing games, advice, tutorials and more.
While the flaw here is that you still have to dedicate yourself to learning a programming language the advantage is that it isn’t too difficult to learn and there is a whole community out there willing to help you every step of the way.
Thanks to things like the Indie Marketplace on Xbox Live, the option is there for bedroom coders to showcase their work.
So where does it all lead? Will all games a few years from now feature some sort of facility to create content? I don’t believe so but through Sony’s efforts with ‘Play, Create, Share’ and Microsoft pushing ‘XNA’, I envision a brighter future for gamers who want to be creative or for those of us with dreams of being a part of the industry.
I can see user-generated content being a big part of certain genres though. Gamers only need to take a look at racing games Forza 2 and 3 as a big example of that with its superb decal editor.
More recently we’ve saw a game called All Points Bulletin attempt to push the idea of user generated content in it’s symbol and music editors. These allowed played to create custom content for their characters clothing, vehicles or even graffiti tags. Unfortunately All Points Bulletin is no longer with us but it was interesting to see these functions added to an MMO.
So really what does it all hold for us gamers? As I said I don’t think a few years from now every game we play with have full toolkits or will be based off of user-generated content, but there is certainly a lot of potential here.
More and more games are allowing for customizable characters, we’re beginning to see that users enjoy creating their own levels, XNA is allowing indie developers into the market and games like ‘All Points Bulletin’ show a possible path for other massively multiplayer games.
Maybe one day the ‘Call Of Duty’ series will allow us to create and share our own maps, ‘Grand Theft Auto’ will contain a mission creator and console RPGs will feature toolkits like their PC counterparts. With optimism, it’s a potentially bright future with a world of possibilities.
Written by: JCMoorehead
- News Contributor