The most accessible way for people to add some creativity to their gaming time is to play a game that allows the player to create new items or content without any programming knowledge. User-created content is an increasingly popular buzzword in the gaming industry, with companies having varying levels of success promoting ways for players to "make their own fun" within a game. Since the game industry is often a bit like high school, here's my high school yearbook starring three games that have done well in their support for user created content.
The Prom Queen
When The Sims hit the PC gaming world in 2000, it launched an incredibly successful gaming empire. Most people had never before had the chance to control the destiny of little virtual people, and the Sims' addictive formula of customization and virtual life gameplay was a hit that soon went mainstream. Now a series, The Sims remains wildly popular. Publisher EA reports that The Sims 3 had the most successful launch of any game in EA's history.
While the life simulation aspect of The Sims is appealing to many fans, the thing that has really kept the series going through the years is the creative endeavors that the games inspire. Many gamers enjoy telling stories about their Sims or creating and sharing the results of various AI experiments that they've done with the game. Others spend hours creating buildings, outfits, and furniture for their Sims, and sharing those creations either on the official Sims site or on their own sites. The customization tools provided by EA are easy to use, and just about every Sims player has created some sort of original content during their time with the game.
Like the prototypical Prom Queen, however, the Sims series can be a bit elitist. EA would prefer that players create and share content on its terms, and those terms include EA having a monopoly on truly unique game content, which they include in purchasable content packs and expansions. It has never been easy to add new models or meshes to Sims games, although many enterprising modders have found ways to do so. It'd be great to see a Sims game in the future that contained an object/outfit builder, allowing players to truly let their imaginations run free when it comes to customizing their Sims' world.
Little Big Planet is the All-American kid in this high school yearbook collection, the top-notch all-rounder that everybody wants to know. While a number of other games have allowed users to create and share levels, few have done so with the user-friendliness, flexibility, and pizzazz of Little Big Planet. The basic game is a simple platformer, but its creation tools have turned it into a great deal more than that, as users have found many creative ways to stretch what the game can do. LBP's charming style appeals to a wide audience, and the ease of sharing and sorting through content over the PlayStation Network created a good base for the user community, with literally millions of user-created levels available to play. The level creation tools, while not always incredibly easy to use, are a huge step in combining accessibility and flexibility from previous games that provided similar tools.
Little Big Planet 2 has expanded the kinds of levels that players can create with its toolkit, such as action, puzzle, racing, and role-playing games, and has received plenty of praise from game critics both for the game's base levels and greatly expanded creation options. It was a far greater sales success than the original game, and signs point to a long and healthy life for the LBP user community now that there's a solid install base. The two games have been great examples of how to succeed at making a game focused on user-created content, and are sure to inspire other game developers in the future.
The Quirky Kid
While The Sims and LBP are fairly obvious picks for this column, my third pick is quirkier and a bit off the beaten path. Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is a platformer with an unusual twist. The player must use vehicles to get around the game's levels and solve various challenges. Although the game provides basic vehicles for the player to use, most levels allow the player to design their own vehicle, and that's where the main fun of the game is found. As the player collects vehicle parts while going through the game, they'll be able to create vehicles that drive, fly, float, dive, and any combination of those things.
The vehicle creator in Nuts and Bolts doesn't just give the player a set of parts with which to create vehicles. The game has a fully-developed physics system, and a vehicle's performance is affected by the weight of its parts, the way it's put together, how many fuel tanks it has, etc. Armor will slow down a vehicle, but provide protection against crashes and attacks, and different uses of flying parts can allow for either a helicopter or plane-style vehicle. It can be a great deal of fun to experiment with vehicle building, trying to make the fastest possible car without sacrificing too much control, for example. It's also fun to come up with a custom vehicle designed specifically to tackle a certain level.
Of course, quirkiness doesn't appeal to everyone, and Nuts and Bolts has its problems and detractors. There's a bit too much part collecting to be done before the player has the ability to really experiment with vehicle building, and some challenges force the player into using a pre-made vehicle with frustrating controls. For a creatively-minded player, however, there's a lot of fun to be had before tiring of the game.
The Final Page
All three of these games have showcased different ways for gamers to flex their creative muscles while playing. The Sims allows for endless customization of virtual people and their lives, Little Big Planet lets players design and share their own games, and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts gives players the ability to create their own vehicles with which to solve the game's challenges. Join us in two weeks as we look at the history of player-created content in online multiplayer games.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*