User and Procedurally Generated Content
This post is mostly a discussion of theory. Editors and Procedurally generated content can be very difficult to make. Especially when under the limitation of some game engines and creators.
We are past the days where designers are forced to provide players with large amounts of content which add replay value to their games. As a matter of fact, by providing players with procedurally generated content or editing tools for their respective games, players theoretically have the ability to create an almost infinite amount of content. Being limited by only your imagination and ambition, players are now able to create very imaginative and challenging levels which the original designers of the game may have never thought of.
Since most indie teams are small and have limited resources these level editors provide a great way to add life to their games. Small communities in which fans share and trade content are growing at a rapid rate. Indie games on the PC are unique in regards to the fact that the games and additional content is easily distributed, talked about (forums) and patched. Some games are even open source like Knytt Stories (we love Nifflas here) and NetHack which spawned a large amount of mods, remakes and levels.
Mods are on a slightly different level than added content such as levels. My definition of mods involve actually editing the game source code or project files to change or evolve the game. I won’t be discussing mods today but I will address the issue later.
User Created Content
Games that offer easy to use tools to create content not only provide enjoyment for players, but help developers as well. There are many great indie titles today that offer editing tools.
Jay is Games has a good list of games with level editors here. However, I have to add my two personal favorites Elasto Mania and Jumper 2. Other examples that come to mind (some non-indie) include Neverwinter Nights, Warcraft III, N game and TrackMania. Even the new Smash Brothers has a level editor in which you can trade levels on-line. Best of all… its on a console!
A good tip for indie developers would be to create their own editors in which to create their content and share their tools with others. This system works best with games that are tile based such as some platform games and puzzle games.
Procedurally Generated Content
Procedurally generated content is the next stage in game development. While a computer using an algorithm to generate levels will never replace a human in terms of creativity, it provides designers with a way to generate an infinite amount of decent content for their game in a controlled way.
While there were others before it, Diablo was one of the first major releases that contained procedurally generated levels. The game would play out differently for every player thus creating a fresh experience every time.
NetHack and Dwarf Fortress are other great examples of indie projects that are entirely procedurally generated. These games are usually referred to as rougelikes, I’m sure most of you have heard of NetHack, a game which was released in 1987 and has a large cult following today thanks to it’s infinite replay ability.
Procedurally generated content could include Levels, Characters, NPC’s, items and even dialog. Procedurally generated games could even go as far as creating entire games from scratch– we are not at this stage yet (at least not with a ton of code) but it is theoretically possible. Imagine a game that can create games.
Now, I’m definitely not telling everyone that adding level editors to their games is the best way to go. Perhaps many designers have a certain vision or degree of linearity that they want in their game or even that your development environment does not offer an easy way to create a level editor. Either way, the choice is completely up to the designer.