To give your players the utmost creative freedom with your game, you can permit them to modify the game itself—to redesign it themselves. Game modifications, or mods, are extremely popular with the hardcore gamer community and almost an obligatory feature of any large multiplayer networked game (apart from server - based games such as World of Warcraft).
Providing the player with mod-building tools also makes good business sense. Your game's original content can keep people interested for only a certain amount of time, but if people can build mods that use your game engine (as they can with the Unreal and Half-Life 2 engines), people will continue to buy your game just to be able to play the mods.
Allowing for mods is more of a programmer's problem than a designer's problem, so this book does not discuss them in much detail.
A level editor allows players to construct their own levels for a game. Some level editors permit players only to define a new landscape; others allow them to define new characters as well; and a few go so far as to permit rebuilding the entire game. Generally, however, a good level editor lets the player construct a completely new landscape, place challenges in it, and write scripts that the game engine can operate. If you work on a large game for commercial sale, your team will almost certainly include tools programmers who will build a level editor for the level designers to use. To make the level editor available to the players, rather than useful only as an in-house tool, you must make sure it is as robust and well designed as the game software itself. Two superb level editors that you should study are the 2D StarCraft Campaign Editor, which is included with StarCraft, and the Hammer 3D editor that comes with Half-Life 2. For further reading about level editors and other design tools, see Richard Rouse's article "Designing Design Tools" in the Gamasutra developers' webzine (Rouse, 2000).
A bot is an artificially intelligent opponent that the player can program for himself. (Bot also has a secondary meaning: a program that help players cheat at multiplayer networked games. This section is about the other kind.) By building bots, players can create tougher and smarter opponents than those that normally ship with the game (usually a first-person shooter). Some players use bots as sparring partners for
practice before playing against real people in online tournaments. Quake III Arena contains a great deal of support for bots, and a number of third-party tools, such as BotStudio, have been built to help players create them.
DANGERS OF ALLOWING MODS
Mods bring with them certain risks. When you allow players to modify your game, you risk the possibility that they will create a mod that includes material you would never use yourself: pornographic or racist content, for example. You could find people distributing a highly offensive variant of your game but one that still displays your company's name and logo when it starts up. The public might be sophisticated enough to realize that a game designer shouldn't be held responsible for the contents of homemade mods, but then again it might not be. The general public doesn't know much about video game development, and the politicians who seek to regulate video games know even less. ч *
Players love to express themselves and to build things. This chapter looked at options for self-expression through avatar selection, customization, and creation. It also examined both freeform and constrained creative play and discussed some of the different kinds of constraints that you may impose on a player's creativity to produce challenges. We noted some options for permitting storytelling play and ended with a brief discussion about allowing players to modify your game. With these tools in hand, you should be able to add support for creative play to your game.