Spacing Out: Tools and Trust

If I Had a Hammer...
If I Had a Hammer…

Last night on our podcast, we spoke to the creator of Void Destroyer, Paul Zakrzewski, about his upcoming game, and at one point I asked him about the editors that would be included in the game. He basically said that everything that he used to make the game would be included, so one could make their own maps, missions and even campaigns, all with triggers and cutscenes and all that fun stuff.

I f#$%ing love that.

This got me to thinking, even with the prevelance and popularity of games that include editors, such as Freespace 2, Skyrim and so on, there are a lot of games out there that deserve such tools and don’t have them. There are also games that don’t have such tools and yet don’t really need them, as enterprising programmers and designers find their way into their guts regardless, such as Digital Anvil’s Freelancer. I then began to wonder why some games have these tools while others don’t…

A Question of Time

I’ve heard this one mentioned before by devs when asked about user-based tools. Essentially the time involved in making the tools the developers used available for and accessible to users would be great indeed, to the point where it would take a prohibitive amount of time to create such tools. Now, this seems like a valid point, as I’m sure a lot of dev teams don’t make user tools one of their higher priorities, rather they spend time focusing on making the game itself hopefully great, and I get that. However, I think there’s something to be said for developers who make giving their creative tools to users a higher priority, so that the tools either get released for the game or shortly thereafter. This led me to thinking that time is part of the issue, but not the main one…

A Matter of Trust

Personally, I think it takes a lot of guts or balls or whatever else to give users the power to play with one’s creation. It also takes a lot of faith and trust in one’s community that such tools will be used properly, to give one’s creation the legs it deserves. This has been seen time and time again with games that go open source, such as the Freespace Open project. Give fans the tools they need and they’ll help the game live a lifetime much longer than it might have originally without such tools.

I’m always excited about games that either have tools included with them or get tools afterwards, because it makes things more varied. While it’s not procedural generation, I’m a massive fan of user-created content because, good or bad, it’s always a surprise. This is why I’m always a fan of developers who not only trust their fans enough with these tools enough to put them in their hands, allowing the fans creative control after their creation has been released. The best example of this, I think, is the Freespace Open project. Not only have they helped modernize a nearly fourteen year old game (criminy, has it been that long?), but they’ve allowed others to take the engine in entirely new directions.


Even without this trust and these tools from developers, a creative fan community can thrive. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the tools to mod Freelancer have ever been publicly released, yet that community has a large suite of tools at their disposal, which appear to have been created by the community, to help those folks creative enough to mod Freelancer have the chance to do so. Therefore, even without the blessings of the developer, a game can thrive for years after most games are forgotten.

Ultimately, I’m glad so many devs are seeing the importance of creative toolsets being released alongside their games, so that fans can get a chance to poke around with their creations. I hope this is a trend that we see continue in earnest, because not ever game can or should have dynamic content generation, so tools such as editors and the like are the next best thing in giving games the longevity so many of them deserve.

Author: Brian Rubin

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