Gaming Steve

January 24, 2008

Doing It Yourself – The History and Future of the "Level Editor"

Where have the editors gone?

It’s a very old concept, the level editor. Lode Runner, a game that will soon become another enhanced and updated classic on Xbox Live Arcade, had the first level editor I spent a lot of time with. Level editors were a bold new idea: take the tool the developers use to create the content, hand it over to the users, and see what happens. Not only did it add tons of content to the game, but it created a community of sharing.

The level editor was most common in grid-based platform games, because platform games were the majority of arcade games since Donkey Kong. So Lode Runner was a big deal. It continued on with some games being mostly a level editor like Pinball Construction Set. I found one of the most open-ended platforming game level editor to be Ultimate Wizard, where you were encouraged to even add your own programming code. Today, games like Marble Blast Gold (PC), Alien Hominid (PC/PS2), GripShift (PSP), and even Dance Dance Revolution (all systems) have editors.

The fringe benefit to the developer when they include the content creation tool with the game is they get free content they can use in future updates and releases. The user created content levels often reveal certain exploits of game elements the designers never thought of.

Unfortunately, there are some negative side effects, too. First, everyone has a natural tendency to make the hardest levels they can think of. The creators know how to solve their own hard levels because they practice them over and over. These levels are typically tedious and devoid of fun. Second, someone with crude humor or bad taste has to create what I’ll call the “Fudge” Level, except I really mean the F-star-star-star word! Equally tasteless is what happened with Forza 2 (Xbox 360) with a user-created detailed car containing hateful and racist symbolism.

Lode RunnerConsidering that these editors have been around a very long time, you’d think they would put them in any game that could logically use it. I mean, Band of Bugs (XBLA) has a terrain and scenario editor, 3D Ultra Minigolf (XBLA) has a level creator, and DDR Supernova 2 (PS2) has the step-editor. Yet, the next-gen versions of Alien Hominid (XBLA), GripShift (PS3/XBLA), and Marble Blast Ultra (XBLA), have the level editors removed! I want them back, please.

Luckily, many hit games have thrived on the creation concept and the community of sharing user-created content. The monster of all these is of course The Sims. Every level of detail in the game can be directed by the player. Create the people, create the homes, create the furnishings, jobs, foods, manipulate their lives, share your creations with the community, and choose to be a benevolent or vengeful god. And that’s all before you try out any of the additional content. Heroes of Might and Magic, a cross between a feudal society sim and turn-based strategy, with its 100+ hours of scenarios, had a scenario editor for impressing your other HOMM-crazy friends. The new Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is also allowing you to create your own scenarios and share them over WiFi. Halo 3 (Xbox360) is also cashing in on the level editing with its Forge and the DLC Foundry level in the Heroic Map Pack. You can edit the other multiplayer maps as well.

Games coming out are also embracing this idea of user content. What would Gaming Steve be without all of the Spore information, where you create life, edit it, give it worlds, and ultimately send it into space? In fact, the user creation is the core of the game, much like The Sims. Future Pinball (currently available freeware) will pull the creative pinball designer out of you! Metaplace is a developing new entry into the MMORPG genre, except it is customizable from the ground up. If ever there was a reason to game on the PC, open-ended games with user created content are all of the reasons you need.

Little Big PlanetSo far I’m only talking PC games, but on consoles, LittleBigPlanet on the PS3 with its incredible graphics, physics engine, and reliance on player-created levels has all of the ingredients of a huge hit. Little Big Planet also promises an intuitive editing system based on play-style. This one is my personal most-anticipated of the year 2008. Although not a game, Playstation Home promises to feature much of the customization available in The Sims. The remake of Lode Runner (XBLA) approaches, I hope it includes the level editor. All of my previous Lode Runner games have it, including the terrible NES version (available on Wii VC). It’s not just tradition, but rather an integral part of the franchise.

There are also many other resources for the game-mod enthusiast. The Internet houses many sites that have the tools to reskin, edit, and otherwise adjust your gaming experience. Garry’s Mod is a very popular Half-Life 2 mod tool. There’s a robust community of World of Warcraft Mods.

Level editors, user created content, and mods add extra spice to the gaming experience, build community, and add concepts and content to their games. For the developer, it may also help the game profits, create brand loyalty, and extend the game life cycle. For the gamer, it is a deeper connection to the game. In fact, if you look at the most popular games, Like The Sims or Half Life 2, they continuously thrive from all of the additional content. When many of the next-gen console games have the editors removed from their games, I believe they should look at the success of the games that have them.

Posted by Robert Gauss at 10:00 PM | Comments (12) | Posted to Feature |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Good article, Robbway!

The first level I created in the original cyan and magenta Lode Runner on my Tandy was "KAREN" and the second was an "I LOVE YOU" level for my husband. True geek love.

I've often pondered if it's intrinsically more difficult to implement editors on the consoles than on the PC. Hopefully, some of the readers here are developers who can address that question. I'll be heartbroken if Lode Runner comes to XBLA sans editor.

Posted by Karen at January 24, 2008 11:01 PM

lol @ white power car.

Posted by pikmini at January 24, 2008 11:23 PM

Perhaps this article should've been called "Stuff everybody already knows, with a couple of lame controversies I got from Kotaku peppered in for spice and hey Little Big Planet is lookin' pretty cool too". Next time try to either add some new/lesser known info or more interesting commentary. Not trying to bash you, but I just don't think this is up to par with what I expect on GS.

But yeah, User Created Content is pretty cool. But also pretty not cool sometimes because people take all the good ideas and then the developers can't make a sequel and therefore can't make the cash monies. (Actually this probably doesn't happen all that often but, whatever.)

Posted by Malt at January 24, 2008 11:25 PM

Good article.

I loved making levels for Lode Runner on my Commodore 64. I'm hoping for the editor in the XBLA version as well.

Posted by Blake at January 25, 2008 12:12 AM

Ahhh, the countless hours of my life I spent lost in Morrowind mods and the TES Construction set. Good times!

Posted by Fade2Gray at January 25, 2008 1:03 AM

Ahh, lode runner. I had it for gameboy, and I remembered the premise but not what it was called.

As for level editors in general, I always got enjoyment out of games like sim city, which essentially were giant level editors. I also confess to making diabolical lode runner maps for my friends to try.

All in all I say that the added benifits of having a map editor outweigh the costs. Starcraft survives because of it's great original game play, but it's helped by the fact that new gameplay can be invented for it.

Posted by Nicholas at January 25, 2008 9:36 AM

I agree! And it should be as common to include a map editor with every game as it is as common to include Multi-player or now becoming common Co-op play...

It truly is a community and friendship builder... And editors should evolve to allow co-editing either at the same time or sharing map file save. You did miss the (FPS) Far Cry game series in your list, the most extensive editor to date for consoles that I know of. And the one game for console heading up the Map Making community/Chandra future...

This I believe is the future of game, CREATIVE PLAY! This creates the element of brand loyalty into the next title release for a company... And heck why doesn't anybody jump on the gold mine by offering piece downloads in the marketplace online for the supporting consoles? If a company can't sell their game to everybody's taste, why don't they let the consumer create their own taste to make the sale? I'm surprised that no company has created a title that is strictly a map editor for user created maps to be played multi-player and offers "Map Packs" for download!!!

With all the Crying of games being the same and no creative ideas in the industry, why haven't they created this as a new chandra and put the creative element in the hands of the consumer.. This creates endless content and developer devotion, keeping the game fresh and alive in the consumers mind until the developers next title release, where maybe a new theme is welcome or graphical improvements/options with a new editor...

Who knows maybe parents would be more accepting of gaming and maybe get involved themselves as hobbiests when a creative element is involved in software content. Then we will truly see the "casual gamers"... Lego is a simple toy everybody loves... This is a simply concept...


Posted by Tactical Recon at January 26, 2008 9:11 AM

Creative Play is truly Interactive play! Creating a map and getting the worlds reaction is very Artistic! Not to mention develops personal growth... This is a positive element that gaming can adapt!

Posted by Tactical Recon at January 26, 2008 9:25 AM

I think we should have a black power car to neutrulize it. A white car with a swatstika in negitive and BLACK POWER! on the side.

Note that this is a very bad attempt at humor. I do not approve of racism or biggotry. I also am not trying to offend anybody. Thank you for reading fully.

Posted by Ninteen45 at January 26, 2008 1:41 PM


Posted by Tactical Recon at January 26, 2008 11:24 PM

I'd LOVE to have a Level Editor for Portal!! One that is actually easy enough to handle, I mean. I know there's the Source SDK...

Posted by Doubleclick at January 28, 2008 6:38 PM

Nice article, we at specialise in customizable content on Console Games, check us out sometime.

Other Console games with editors.

Nintendo Wii
Super Smash Bros Brawl
Blast Works - Build Trade & Destroy
Boom Blox



Operation Flashpoint 2 (Codemasters) PC-PS3-XBOX360
The level editor is confirmed but as of yet it doesn't say what platfors it is for. (The xbox1 version had a level editor)

Again a level editor is confirmed and again it doesn't say what for. Previous console FarCry (Xbox1/360 had a level editor)

No news confirmed but rumour that the game will have a level editor which could have outdoor sections also.

The game has a level editor on the PC and levals/mods can be ported to PS3 via memory stick, as of yet this is not confirmed by Microsoft - they are digging their heels in and making things dificult for developers.

Bangai O-Spirits-DS
A shoot em-up with a level editor.

Posted by Fallen Champ at February 7, 2008 5:32 PM
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