Your turn: creativity and social gaming

It took little time for the internet to latch on to the frenzy of social networking, and it was only a matter of time until the videogame console industry took it's turn.  Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games (or MMORPGs for short) were the first frontier in which social networks and gameplay meshed together in an addictive and entertaining formula for players of all ages to enjoy.  It allowed players to meet other players in a world not limited by distance, but by character behind their words.

Not too long ago, arcades used to be the bastion where other gamers were able to meet other diehards in a setting where gaming was glorified, respected, and enjoyed.  But the arcade boon has long since passed, replaced by internet gaming and dominated by social networks such as forums and posting boards.

Now the games industry has embraced social networking and a new frontier is being created as we speak: user generated content.  The wheel has rotated from simply enjoying a game with a buddy into creating your own playground for others to enjoy.  A few examples of user generated content include building your own maps in Halo 3 (XBOX 360), and user created stages for Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii).

Perhaps the best example though is the astonishing amount of creativity you can pour into Little Big Planet (PS3).  Here, players are not only encouraged to create their own maps, but instead to tweak the entire experience however they see fit, be it music samples or humourous demonstrations of physics.  It's not easier either; the amount of game testing that goes into a seemingly simple level could be enough to ward off eager creators, but the risk gained from a single successful run highly outweighs the numerous headaches triumphed through trial and error.

Take a look at this particular example of a fan-made labor of love:

(Little Big Planet)リトルビッグプラネットでグラディウス1面

Old school fans will immediately recognize the video as stage 1-1 from the original Gradius for the NES.  Although it doesn't show the behind-the-scenes creation process, the level itself is still hugely impressive in detail and execution.  Here's a better example of the amount of work devoted to creating another classic title:

Little Big Planet Tetris [JPN] – リトルビッグプラネットでテトリス

Starting at 6:02, you can see the inner workings behind the level.  Each of the rows on the diagram at 6:08 represent a line on the actual playing field (where the blocks fall), and the yellow lines represent triggers that connect where the space gets filled up by the blocks.  As for which blocks get selected to fall, there's a randomizer the creator made at the 6:41 timestamp that determines the type of block, where it falls, and how many of each.

In the end, user generated content may become the next wave of videogaming for all of us.  As the market proceeds, I can foresee a larger emphasis on games driven by the players, not the creators.  In fact, they're already around us.

But don't fear though, there's still room for single player games. Just be aware that the special things you discover on your own won't necessarily be seen by a larger audience. 

And that would be a shame.

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November 2008
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