Travis Taft here with another edition of Total Access, where I provide unfiltered insight into my perspective as a disabled gamer. From my very first article here at AbleGamers I have been preaching the virtues of games that allow for the player to customize the gameplay experience, whether through adjustments to the rules in play or through changes to the controller and its settings. But this week I’d like to celebrate those games which go beyond letting the player tweak details and into full-on player-created content.
There are many instances of this theme throughout gaming history. Though I’m not sure which game was the first to allow for fan generated content, I can say that the first time I personally encountered it as on a game called Load Runner which allowed for the creation of levels to play. Since then, other games allowed for the creation of more than just maps and let players create entirely new items or abilities. Just last week I wrote about the Creatures franchise, which traditionally had a strong community based around the creation of new in-game toys or entirely new breeds of creatures.
Modern games allow for much more creation from the gamers. One modern example of a game that is known for a plethora of user-generated content is Bethesda Studios’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda gave players the power to do everything from change unit models to creating new powers to implementing different leveling systems. When players buy Skyrim, the included campaign is only one incarnation of the game they now own. New fan content can be found right from the Steam game client just like any brand new title they would want to get. And if you still really can't get the game exactly how you think it should work, with a little programming and one of the many tutorials online there's a good chance that there is a way to bring your ideal vision into reality.
Another game with a notable fan-generated segment is Portal 2. Although similar to Skyrim in that they are both top sellers on Steam's service with fan made content readily available, Portal 2 does something a bit more unique with user generated content. In a move that works perfectly with Portal’s quirky style, puzzles created by fans are treated as existing in parallel dimensions to the main game and the players making the levels are spoken of as workers for the facility’s development crew. This way whatever absurd scenarios the gamers create can still be acknowledged within the game’s story but still not interfere with the designers’ primary vision.
Finally, there are games that are really little more than just building tools for the gamers to play with. One example that is popular right now is Minecraft, which does have a survival mode but is better known for its “Creative” mode which allows players to customize their world as they see fit – as long as they have the patience to get it just right. Another prime example is the Playstation 3 hit LittleBigPlanet (LBP). Although I have yet to play LBP or its sequels first hand, I have seen some of the things that can be done with the game. LBP comes preloaded with a variety of old school platformer-style levels ready to play, but the main draw is using the level editor to create these levels yourself.
In my opinion, the most impressive results of these building games are the ones where players take the mechanics made available and use them to design something totally unexpected. I could write and entire article on some of those projects, but there is plenty of readily available information out there already so I’ll avoid being redundant. But to give some sense of the scope of things out there, I have seen Galaga style shooters made from LBP and accurate scale globes of the Earth made in Minecraft. When Starcraft 2 was released, it came with a level editor powerful and versatile enough to make everything from third-person shooters to kart racers, with plenty of other interesting creations in between.
While I personally think that games should make sure to include solid ready-to-play content and shouldn’t just be building grounds for the player to mess around in, I must say that I am thrilled by the ability to use these tools without any particular special knowledge, since many of these games make the creation process as user-friendly as possible. Thanks to this, a player (such as myself) can use their creativity to make unique puzzles and other content without spending years learning programming and designing a game from the ground up.
So, fellow AbleGamers, have any of you ever designed your own content? I’d love to see an informal contest for best disability-themed game mod. Perhaps a Skyrim mod with a wheelchair-bound hero who can only navigate designated paths and has trouble with stairs? Or an amputee character who can only use one arm? There’s tons of potential out there, it’s just a matter of tapping into and activating it.