Saturday, November 23, 2013

Game Makers vs. Level Editors

Well, heck, I guess I finally broke my string of one post a week every Saturday, but not in the way I intended. Yeah, sorry I missed last week; I was out of the country last weekend, and while I hoped to get the post up before I left, I... didn't quite. (I came close, though; actually, nearly this entire post—this paragraph obviously excluded—was written well in advance; I just never quite got to posting it. Well, and to getting the screenshots for it, which honestly took way longer than writing the post itself...) I hope this will be the only time more than a week passes between posts, but I can't guarantee it. And, sadly, even after the long delay, this won't be a big meaty post about either Eamon or 001, either. Those are coming, of course, but first I have to post about another slight change in the blog's policies.

I've said that I haven't had much time lately for the blog except on Saturdays, but that's not entirely true. Honestly, part of the reason my blog posts have been so infrequent is because much of the time I have been devoting to the blog has been spent not working with the game creation programs but compiling that chronological list of game creation programs I'm still getting together. It's not easy, and not made any easier by the fact that many of the programs are shareware or freeware distributed on websites that either are long defunct or have preserved no information on their history. Nor did it get any easier when I decided that, rather than just the year, I wanted to try to pin down the dates to the day, if possible, or at least the month, so I could put them in as close a resemblance to actual chronological order as I could achieve. I've been spending untold hours delving the depths of the Wayback Machine and old Usenet announcement posts. (And found in the process, incidentally, that the release dates given for shareware/freeware programs on sites like MobyGames are often off by a year or more. Blargh.) Also slowing down the procedure is that in the process of hunting down information on programs on my list, I end up running across webpages I was previously unaware of listing more programs to add to my list, so the list keeps on growing. I'm up to over three hundred programs now, and counting.

A partial glimpse of the spreadsheet I'm using for the list.  I could probably be doing a slightly better job of organization.

I'm pretty sure at this point I've spent much more time compiling the chronological list than I actually have using the game creation programs, let alone writing the blog posts about them. This is not because I enjoy compiling the list. On the contrary; this is the least fun, most laborious part of this blog. But for that very reason, it's something I want to get over with. (And once I do finally get the list ready to post, I'll have that much more time for blogging about the systems.)

By the way, for what it's worth, it turns out 001, the "current" game system I'm working with (in parallel to Eamon, the first system chronologically), is older than I thought; the first release version came out in August 2005. I guess it still qualifies as current, though, since it's still under development. (I don't know how different the current version is to the original release... I'm guessing it's probably significantly improved, but I don't think 001 is as seminal to the evolution of game creation systems in general that I'm going to feel obligated to look at different stages in its development.)

As I've been working on the list, though, I've had to grapple with one issue that I kind of addressed when I first laid out my ground rules, but that I'm increasingly uncertain I addressed satisfactorily. This being the difference between a game creation program and a level editor. There are some programs that are clearly not level editors, in that they either don't come with any games, or, even if they do, the editor came first and the accompanying game is overtly intended as a demonstration of its capabilities rather than an independent release. 001 is an example of this, as are RPG Maker, Adventure Game Studio, and Adventure Construction Set (Rivers of Light notwithstanding). And then there are level editors that clearly can't be considered independent game creators, like the level editors that came with, say, StarCraft, or Lode Runner, or The Incredible Machine. But then there's a big fuzzy gray area in between, of editors that may be intended to work with a particular game, but are flexible enough to allow large levels of customization and possibly qualify as game creation programs in their own right. And I've got some of those on my list. Blades of Exile and Blades of Avernum. Exult Studio. The Bards Tale Construction Set. Heck, there's DinkEdit, mentioned in the last post. I tried to set forth some objective criteria to decide whether or not a particular program met the qualifications, but they were never as clear-cut as I tried to convince myself there were. When a commenter suggested that I add the Elder Scrolls Construction Set to the list, I readily agreed; I'd been thinking it was a borderline case anyway. But truth be told, that just shifted the hairline border slightly, and created new borderline cases. Or really, even that's an oversimplification, since the programs were never really in a strict linear continuum anyway. Heck, in my ground rules I explicitly list the Dungeon Siege Toolkit as an example of a level editor that doesn't qualify as a game creation program... but really, given its userbase and what's been done with it, a very good argument can be made that it should qualify too.

Some of the resources available at

Then, too, there's the argument that level editors could have contributed to the development of game creation programs, so if I really want to explore that development, I ought to look at them. After all, even a very specialized level editor is doing some of the same things as a game creation program, just on a smaller scale, and it may very well introduce an interesting new way of doing things. Looking at just game creation programs obviously not tied to any existing games, and ignoring level editors that are so tied, may not give a big picture.

On the other hand, there's the counterargument that adding every game that ever had a level editor may bloat my list beyond manageability. Nowadays, level editors have become a common feature, and even obscure Flash games on Newgrounds and similar sites often have level editors of their own. As desireable as it may be from some standpoints to look at level editors as well as dedicated game creation programs, in terms of sheer volume it may be unrealistic.

It may be time for a paradigm shift.  (Sorry.)

And, of course, even more so than the systems already on my list, many level editors come with commercial games that aren't readily available, and may not be cheaply acquirable. As I've mentioned before, I'm not exactly rich. I'm not even approximately rich.

On consideration, though, I think the arguments in favor of including level editors are stronger than the counterarguments. In my concurrent modern games, I'll stick with the less questionable game creation systems; I'll only deal with level editors in my chronological trek. And there, I won't have to worry about too many near the beginning; level editors may be commonplace now, but I think they were far less so in the 80s and early 90s. The financial argument won't apply as strongly to those older games, either, given that most of them are readily available online (albeit, of course, er, not entirely legally). The real problems with including level editors will only crop up once my chronological journey starts approaching more recent years. And it'll be a long time before that happens. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

And hopefully won't end up just walking through it. (If you haven't read the previous post, that reference won't make sense to you... sorry.)

Oh, another thing... the time it will take to blog about a dedicated level editor should be relatively short, too. I expect at least another four posts about (the current incarnation of) Eamon before I'm done with it. On 001, probably dozens. But something like the Boulder Dash Construction Kit, heck, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to knock out everything I have to say about that in one post.

Do not expect a ten-thousand-word disquisition about this.

So, yeah, I guess I'll be adding level editors to the chronological list, too. Which I guess is going to make it take me even more time to compile. But I'll keep plugging away, and I'll get this dang thing done eventually.

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