关卡设计师谈创造性游戏(Creative Gaming)开拓

关卡设计师谈创造性游戏(Creative Gaming)开拓

原作者:Dylan Woodbury 译者:Willow Wu

在长达50年的电子游戏行业发展史中,我们见证了很多历史性的时刻,它们让“电子游戏”的含义变得更加丰富。这些转变对游戏产业的健康发展至关重要,因为它们为电子游戏创造了新的可能,在留住用户的同时扩大游戏对新消费者的吸引力。比如说NES拉开了电子游戏全球大普及的序幕、3D画面的引入、多人竞技体验让游戏实现联网以及最近F2P盈利的大规模成功。每个变革都是源于技术/商业/营销的进步。现在又有一个新趋势正在崛起,然而我们很难确定它是源于科技还是商业方面的进步。我把它称为创造性游戏(Creative Gaming)——一种游戏设计风格,它为开发者提供了另一种开发方式。在本文,我会回顾这种新游戏的发展历程,总结它对游戏开发现状的影响,并推测它对未来游戏产业的影响。在讨论创造性游戏的定义之前,我们先来确定传统开发方式是什么样的。

长时间以来,人们都把电子游戏看作是一类挑战。玩家就像是在踩登山机,难度越来越高,而游戏会给你提供特定的技能,让你有机会克服这些挑战。“乐趣”是玩家学习技能、克服挑战所得到的成果之一,就如 Raph Koster乐趣理论所阐述的那样。所有的街机游戏都是按照这种方式设计的,几乎所有主机/PC游戏也是如此。这是一个非常成功的设计,为人类历史上最大的娱乐产业提供了发展动力。事实证明,这种基于挑战的设计也具有非常高的灵活度——不同的游戏玩法就形成我们所说的类型,吸引特定的用户群体。挑战式设计也催生了很多热门品牌和受欢迎的角色,它这是现代流行娱乐获得持续成功、保证观众沉浸的必要因素,也是一种呈现优秀叙事和艺术体验的有效方式。想要让游戏升华为艺术,挑战式设计是必不可少的。然而,它并不是游戏开发的唯一方式。有很多证据表明,另一种设计理念正在吸引不少玩家的关注,这可能是电子游戏行业的下一个开拓。

这种设计理念就是创造性游戏,核心想法非常简单——人们喜欢创造东西。这种理念当然不算新鲜。早在1983年,Bill Budge就发行了弹珠游戏Pinball Construction Set,玩家可以利用各种工具创造属于自己的弹珠电子游戏。然而,创造性游戏的很少在商业方面取得成功,大部分游戏还是聚焦于挑战式设计。直到1989年Will Wrigh发行了《模拟城市》,接着出现了一大波以模拟建筑为主的创造性游戏。在《模拟城市》中,玩家可以创建属于他们的城市,不需要完成游戏设定的挑战。此类设计模式的成功证明了挑战对游戏来说并不是不可或缺的。Will Wright在2000年又把创造性游戏带到了另一个高度——《模拟人生》的诞生。 《模拟人生》中不存在任何明确的挑战任务。玩家可以随心发挥自己的创意——建房子、塑造角色、发展关系以及创造剧情。他们不在乎游戏里没有可以打败的东西或者一定要完成的任务。对于休闲游戏的新用户来说,实际上这就是游戏的吸引点。这就是创造性游戏在市场获得一席之地的过程。

考虑到《模拟人生》的巨大成功,人们可能会惊讶地发现在这款全新畅销游戏发行之后,市场上并没有出现同类竞争产品或山寨游戏。我认为这反映出了行业的绝大多数人并不会考虑开发除挑战模式之外的游戏。不了解创造性游戏的人大概要花上十年的时间才能掌握它的精髓,开发出一款商业成功的原创产品。《我的世界》就是这样的游戏,玩家利用不同的砖块创造物品。游戏是由一名独立开发者Notch制作的,他意识到面对满是挑战式游戏的市场,玩家想要一些不一样的东西。资深游戏设计师Peter Molyneux说:“Notch并没有像其他大多数人那样盲从老式的游戏设计模式,他给人们一个可以自由玩耍的世界。”谈到这款游戏,他说“《我的世界》相信人们能够找到属于自己的娱乐……这是对数字娱乐世界的一种新尝试。”这一次,创造性游戏的力量不会再被忽视了,因为《我的世界》成为了有史以来最成功的游戏之一。近期公布的《我的世界:地球都市》也证明了它的增长潜力。

Minecraft(from pocketgamer.uk)

说到《我的世界》对创造性游戏主要的贡献,除了始终专注于创作自由,另外一点就是它的红石块——游戏中的一个素材,玩家可以用它创建逻辑、控制世界中的各种东西。从本质上来说,玩家可以创造属于他们的游戏。它提高了创造工具的复杂程度,尽管过去有很多游戏提供了有深度的创造工具,但很少能成为游戏的核心机制。《我的世界》所具有的强大功能和巨大发挥空间引发了病毒式传播——尤其是在这种社交媒体迅速成熟的大环境下——并形成了一个庞大而活跃的社区。玩家很快就投入到了虚拟互动空间的建造中,包括大型城市、复杂机械以及各种新玩法。虽说设定游戏核心规则的是Notch和Mojang,但决定游戏内容的是玩家,要在游戏中做什么是玩家说了算。在游戏中创造游戏,这个概念成为了新一批游戏产品的风向标。

开发商们陆续加入了创造性游戏这个新领域。随着技术的发展,开发者们可以给玩家更多自由,还能让他们通过网络分享自己的创作。Media Molecule就是早期的先锋之一,他们的平台游戏《小小大星球》非常重视玩家自创内容。这个游戏比《我的世界》早一年发行。主机游戏发行商现在对创造性游戏充满信心,2010年发行的《摩登大赛车》(ModNation Racers)跟《小小大星球》类似,但主题是卡丁车竞赛。看到索尼对创造性游戏的关注,微软也在2013年发行了一款更完整、操作更便捷的游戏创作工具《星火计划》(Project Spark),但由于它的创作自由相对受限,未能成为一款大受欢迎的产品。《机器砖块》(Roblox),一款面向MMO玩家的创造性游戏,也获得了众多玩家的喜爱。如今,游戏的活跃玩家数量已经攀升到了9000万人,收益估计25亿美元。

创造性游戏之所以能成功,这其中有多重原因。首先就如前文说的,人们喜欢做东西,而大多数挑战式游戏都忽略了这个需求。第二,因为玩家也是游戏的创作者之一,他们也想看到游戏成功。游戏越受欢迎,他们的创作就有越多人看到。这样一来,他们就成为开发者最强大的营销力量。这些创造性游戏标志着电子游戏进一步向实时、基于服务的体验发展,利用无限的用户内容延续游戏的生命。与其雇佣一大堆设计师创造内容,倒不如让几个核心开发者定期加入简单的新特色,让玩家探索设计空间、创造新内容。

创造性游戏到目前为止已经取得了大规模的成功,但好戏才刚刚拉开序幕。2018年突然发行的《堡垒之夜:创造模式》(Fortnite’s Creative Mode)反映出了创造性游戏已经成为实时服务游戏取得成功的必要元素,即使只是作为主体游戏的附加内容。考虑到《堡垒之夜》在全球市场所引发的轰动,很多人都非常意外Epic Games在这么早就斥巨资开发附加内容。然而,事实证明这个决策是完全有道理的。Epic Games的挑战在于如何创造鲜活的游戏体验,持续给玩家带来惊喜,否则玩家们就有可能被《绝地求生》 《Apex英雄》等竞争对手夺走。谁的玩法独特、节奏多变,谁就能吸引更多玩家。《堡垒之夜》按季度发行新内容,再加上不定时的游戏内活动有助于Epic实现不断提供新鲜体验的目标。尽管玩家现在有能力创造自己的游戏空间,但Epic表示他们会确保游戏定期加入新的精彩内容。这个附加模式还形成了一个创作者社区,他们也希望游戏获得成功,因为他们的奖励回报是基于玩家的参与情况而决定的。创造模式也鼓励社交玩法,与他人分享游戏,为那些暂时对主游戏厌倦的人提供了另一种有趣的体验(否则他们可能会尝试其它游戏),并为社交媒体和病毒式营销提供了无尽的素材。就比如近期的“死亡速跑(Death Run)”地图,玩家要在尽可能短的时间内克服各种挑战。有些地图的创作者还给挑战胜者提供了现金奖励,相关视频也在Youtube上吸引了上百万人观看。

主机发行商仍在进一步拓展创造性游戏的发展空间。今年,我们将会迎来任天堂的《超级马里奥制造2》,一个创造与分享超级马里奥关卡的强大工具;以及《梦境》(Dreams),它很有可能掀起创造性游戏的又一波热潮。《梦境》是Media Molecule的最新游戏,为玩家提供了极其丰富的内置开发工具。玩家能制作模型、选择画面色彩、制作动画、编辑音乐、编写游戏玩法逻辑,游戏的所有方面都由你来创作。之前没有任何一款游戏能做到这种程度,《梦境》的自创体验就像是万花筒。虽说游戏仍在Early Access阶段,但是有些早期的优秀游戏,比如近乎完美的《合金装备》就让我们了解到提供尽可能多的可创造性内容是有益的,而且它们能吸引媒体和社交网络的关注。

《梦境》最有价值的地方在于它的复杂程度,但这也是开发者所面的最大挑战,因为有的玩家可能会被眼花缭乱的创作工具以及无限的游戏可能性吓到。最终他们通过多种不同的方式来解决这一问题。游戏鼓励玩家分享、组合彼此的创作,所以你不必精通游戏所有方面的设计。如果你是一位杰出的雕塑家那就专注在建模上,其他玩家会在你的创作基础上继续延伸,或者是与你一起合作。游戏重视合作的原因在于Media Molecule明白游戏的成功与否取决于玩家创造游戏体验的能力,好的作品通常需要多人协作。游戏的教程是有限的,但玩家可以通过人才济济的支持社区学到更多知识。另外,还有许多Youtube频道和Twitch主播持续发布教程和攻略,社区回应的速度也很快。

《梦境》游戏体验的多样性着实惊人,我认为这会在一定程度上令人们改变对电子游戏行业的现有看法。如果Media Molecule能够让玩家开发出足以与传统发行游戏媲美的完整游戏,那么玩家还有什么理由去购买传统游戏呢?你可以在《梦境》中玩到类似的内容,而且还是免费的!随着《梦境》吸引更多玩家,以及竞争对手的出现,这些创作性游戏最终将迎合跨平台功能,提供更全面的支持,激励创造者。就比如《机器砖块》,开发商已经给创作者们支付了总计达上百万元的报酬,《堡垒之夜》也推出了一个奖励系统。随着创造性游戏的复杂程度的提升,我们有理由相信它们将开始与如Steam这样的传统平台竞争。

即使没有给内容创作者们提供直接报酬,这些平台对独立开发者来说还是很有吸引力的。在开发一款完整游戏时他们很难兼顾用户获取方面的事,许多独立游戏都采取了early access的发行方式,本质上就是面向公众开发游戏,但这不一定是最好的选择。在《梦境》这样的游戏中,或者是《堡垒之夜:创造模式》《超级马里奥制造2》这样相对局限的游戏,设计师们可以在不需要过多投入的情况下定期创造游戏内容,内置工具操作起来都很简单。这些游戏有大量的用户,独立开发者可以创造内容然后在社交媒体上进行推广,建立个人品牌、累计用户,而且他们还是可以将主要时间都花在完整项目的开发工作上。

人们一直以来都认为社区创作无法替代游戏开发者本身的创作工作,然而创造性游戏的崛起就有可能改变这一观点。很多情况下的确还是无法替代,比如长篇的过场动画制作。但许多游戏设计师的多数时间还是花在内容创造上,为挑战式游戏机械式地重复设计障碍。有不少实例证明了社区用户设计以及AI驱动设计在创建内容方面能起到非常大的帮助作用,它们与专业人员的作品不相上下,而且有时候甚至是超越,因此我认为对专业游戏设计师的需求注定会变少,或者他们必定是要转型。就像是个存在已久的大泡泡,等待着被刺破。我之前也有开发过挑战式游戏,跟某些热衷于制作游戏的人一起合作过。对许多人来说,这是一份不带个人感情的工作。我不是在指责设计师——他们所呆的这个行业因为员工待遇问题受到越来越多的批评。但当玩家社区获得这些工具后,开发商就能花更少的钱得到更好的内容,这是不可避免的。想想看,一边是心力交猝的职员,每隔十分钟就刷Facebook,想着快点回家。另一边是热情满满的爱好者,在一天疲惫的工作之后还用闲暇时间创造游戏内容,用爱发电,不在意报酬。你选谁?这就是为什么Media Molecule经常从社区的关卡创造者中雇佣设计师,这也是当下行业的常见做法。创作者的转换,以及他们所带来的优秀设计证明了专业课程训练或多年从业经验对内容创作者来说并不是必须的。游戏设计是一种主要靠本能驱动的艺术,虽然理论知识是可以发挥作用,但我认为开发和测试游戏就是成为世界顶级游戏设计师所需的全部教育,特别是考虑到现今存在的各种网络社区和丰富资源。

对于电子游戏,大众最常见的消极评价就是花钱浪费时间。而创造性游戏则可以作为一种回应。在家长们看来,孩子对于《我的世界》的着迷相对于其它游戏类型是更容易接受的。因为他们一看就能明白这个游戏的内容,就是类似乐高那样的创意活动。而像《使命召唤》这样的暴力挑战游戏对他们来说就是雷区。另外一点,《我的世界》是开放世界设定,玩家可以根据自己的需求设计内容,比如说让它成为一个强大的教育工具。你可以利用游戏的各种mods来教授编程、机械工程、各种数学分支学科、经济学等等。我在闲暇时间会教小孩学电脑,总是有孩子说:“我们能玩《我的世界》吗?”通过创造性游戏,开发者可以创造出丰富玩家生活的产品、提供创造渠道、表达平台以及改变传统枯燥学习过程的有趣方式,从而打破游戏是浪费时间的刻板印象。

创造性游戏的未来会是怎样的?尽管这类游戏已经取得了巨大的成功,但我认为这只是变革的开始。我相信许多类型的游戏都能从创造性游戏的实验中受益。拿F2P游戏来说吧,《机器砖块》就证明了手游玩家对创造性玩法也是有兴趣的。我认为在不久之后会有越来越多F2P游戏尝试这个新领域,让玩家有机会为游戏的设计和内容出一份力。虽然开发创造性游戏需要充足的资源基础和庞大开发团队,但我认为独立开发者也可以尝试制作一个小规模的产品。创造性游戏将继续重塑游戏的本质,并为挑战式游戏注入新的活力,我相信每一类游戏都会多多少少受到创造性游戏的影响。

另外,我认为这次变革不仅限于传统游戏市场。互联网的引入能够让所有人创造属于自己的虚拟空间。社交媒体的操作更加便捷,人们互动更加频繁,但同时用户也失去了定制个人空间规则的机会。创造性游戏将彻底改变社交媒体和互联网,让用户更容易地创建类似游戏的虚拟个人空间,并根据自己的需求自由定制。公司将不再使用Slack、Google Docs、Excel等工具,而是能够创建一个包含所有所需功能的虚拟空间,完全符合员工和客户的需求,会有更多人使用。各种类型的内容创作者也会打造不一样的虚拟空间来吸引用户,具体要取决于内容主题和目标用户。

总结来说,挑战式的游戏将不会像以前那样一家独大。他们肯定不会失去原有的一席之地,但玩家也想要让有趣的系统来引导他们发挥创意。我在文章开头就说过,电子游戏的可探索空间不断扩大对行业的健康发展至关重要。挑战式游戏的空间已经非常狭窄了,能开拓空间的游戏也需要高昂的成本,还要承担不小的风险。另一方面,我认为创造性游戏具有巨大的潜力,能够开拓新的创意渠道和新玩法,并为挑战式游戏注入新的活力,从更深层次吸引用户。作为一名游戏关卡设计师,我知道在电子游戏中创造关卡远比单纯地玩游戏更吸引人、更有意思。这就是为什么我相信已经蓬勃发展的创造性游戏只会继续增加影响力,《梦境》《堡垒之夜:创造模式》等类似游戏的成功就证明了这一点。从挑战式思维转换到创造系统思维当然不容易,但做游戏是一件很有趣的事,我对此充满了期待。

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In the 50-year history of the video game industry, we have seen many watershed moments that have expanded our definition of video games. These transformations are essential to the health of the industry because they create new possibilities for video games, keeping audiences engaged while broadening games’ appeal to new consumers. Some examples include the NES’s revitalization of the market, the introduction of 3D graphics, use of Internet in competitive/multiplayer experiences, and most recently the skyrocketing success of free-to-play monetization. Each of these revolutions stems from advancements in technology, business, and marketing. But there is a new trend booming that is harder to put one’s finger on, a movement which doesn’t descend from an evolution in technology or business. This trend is what I call Creative Gaming, a style of game design which offers an alternative way of approaching game development. In this article, I am going to trace the development of this new gaming paradigm, define its implications on the current state of game development, and postulate its future impact on the industry. But before I define what Creative Gaming is, it’s important to define what our traditional approach has been thus far.

For a long time, video games were understood in terms of challenge. Players of games are put on treadmills of increasing challenge and given certain abilities to surmount these challenges. The “fun” is a result of the player learning to use her abilities to overcome these challenges, as Raph Koster’s much indoctrinated theory of fun lays out. Every arcade game followed this formula, and nearly every console/pc game since also fits this definition. It’s an immensely successful design that has powered the largest entertainment industry in human history. This challenge-based design has also proven to be highly flexible – different twists of gameplay result in what we call genres, which appeal to unique audiences. The challenge-based approach has also produced massively popular brands and characters, a necessary ingredient for consistent success and audience engagement in modern popular entertainment, and has been proven a successful method of delivery for incredible storytelling and artistic experiences, essential for the medium’s legitimacy as a medium of art. However, this challenge-based game design is not the only approach for game development, and there is much evidence to believe an alternative philosophy is gaining traction, one which could be the next revolution to grow the video game industry.

That design philosophy is Creative Gaming, and its core principle is simple – people like to make stuff. This philosophy is definitely not new, an early example being Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set released in 1983, which simply gave players the tools to make their own digital pinball game. However, the Creative Gaming approach was rarely applied in a financially successful way, with most games continuing to focus on challenge, until the release of Will Wright’s SimCity in 1989, which sparked a new wave of Creative Games in the form of building-management sims. In SimCity, players are given the ability to create their own city, and aren’t forced to complete game-defined challenges. The success of this design proved that challenge is not an essential ingredient to video games. Will Wright took this formula to new heights with the release of The Sims in 2000. In The Sims, there are absolutely no explicit challenges. Instead, the player spends her time creating – building houses, personalizing characters, developing relationships, and creating stories. Players didn’t care that there was nothing to “beat”, nor an objective to accomplish. To a new audience of casual gamers, this was actually one of the game’s appeals. This was the realization of Creative Gaming in the market.

One may find it surprising that, given its remarkable success, The Sims didn’t inspire competing titles or knockoffs, something one would suspect following the release of a fundamentally new, blockbuster game. I think this fact highlights how unprepared the industry was to develop games beyond the challenge-based paradigm. It would take another decade for an outsider to pick up the mantle of Creative Gaming with another original, financially successful Creative Gaming experience. That game was Minecraft, a game in which players create structures from blocks. It was made by independent developer Notch, an outsider who had a sense that players wanted something different than the mostly similar challenge-based games which continued to flood the market. Esteemed game designer Peter Molyneux said, “[Notch] didn’t stick to the old rules of game design that most developers slavishly obey. The gift was giving people a world to play with.” He said of the game, “Minecraft trusts in people’s ability to find their own entertainment… It is a glimpse into a new world of digital entertainment.” This time, the power of Creative Gaming was not going to be ignored, as Minecraft would soon become the most successful video game of all time. And the recent announcement of Minecraft Earth proves its potential for further growth.

One of Minecraft’s biggest contributions to the Creative Gaming movement, beyond its steadfast focus on creative freedom, has to do with its Redstone block, an element in the game which players can use to implement logic and control in their creations. It essentially allowed players to make their own games. It raised the level of complexity of the creation tools beyond that ever seen in Creative Games in the past. While many games had offered deep creation tools, rarely had they been presented as core mechanics of the game. The incredible functionality and huge possibility space of Minecraft, especially presented in the context of the quickly maturing social media landscape, created a viral sensation and ignited a massive, passionate community. Players quickly got to work crafting virtual play-spaces, including huge fictional cities, complex machines, and new methods of gameplay. While Notch and Mojang defined the core rules of the game, it was up to the players to make the game, to define what we actually do with it. This concept, that game-making is a game in itself, set the tone for a new wave of video games.

Game-making as games caught fire. Utilizing advancements in technology, developers were able to give players far more freedoms than was previously possible, along with the ability to share creations online. An early adopter of this approach, Media Molecule released Little Big Planet, a platformer game that focused on user created content, a year prior to the release of Minecraft. Console game publishers, now confident in the approach of Creative Gaming, continued to release game-making games. 2010 saw the release of ModNation Racers, similar to Little Big Planet, but focused on the genre of kart racing games. Microsoft, inspired by Sony’s efforts, released Project Spark in 2013, a more complete, user-friendly game creation tool, though limits on the game’s creative freedoms prevented the game from becoming a smash hit. Roblox, a game-making game targeted towards MMOs, continued to gain popularity during this time, and it currently boasts 90 million active users and a 2.5 billion dollar evaluation.

The approach of game-making games is successful for many reasons. First, as stated above, people like to make stuff, a desire that has been massively underserved in most challenge-based games. Also, because players are given part of the responsibility in making the game, they are incentivized to see the game succeed, and act as the developer’s strongest marketing force. The bigger the game gets, the more their creations shine. These game-making games mark a step towards video games becoming live, service-based experiences, with never-ending user-content extending the game’s life. Instead of hiring dozens of designers to churn out tons of content, a core group of developers could add new, often simple new features over time, and allow players to explore the design space and build tons of fresh new content.

This trend of Creative Gaming has been massively successful thus far, but is still just coming to fruition. The sudden release of Fortnite’s Creative Mode in 2018 is an industrial admittance that game-making as games is an essential ingredient to the success of these live service-based games, even if only as a supplement to the main game experience. Given the massive success of Fortnite, many were surprised that Epic Games would invest so much into a supplementary mode so early in the game’s life cycle. However, upon inspection, this move make perfect sense. Epic Games’ challenge with Fortnite is to create an experience which feels alive and continues to surprise players, or it risks losing them to competitors like PUBG or Apex Legends, which have unique gameplay elements which could attract players with a change of pace. Fortnite’s structured release of new content by season, along with occasional in-game events, helps to achieve Epic Games’ goal of providing fresh experiences. However, by embracing Creative Gaming and giving players the ability to create their own play-spaces, Epic Games ensured that there will always be new, exciting content for players. The mode also builds a community of content creators which are incentivized to see the game succeed, as they are paid based on the dedication of the audience they build. Creative Mode also encourages social gameplay and networking, provides a fun side-experience for those who feel temporarily burnt out from the main game (and might otherwise be tempted to play something else), and provides an endless source of material for social media content and viral marketing. One example of this is the recent “Death Run” maps, which require players to navigate a series of challenges, competing for the fastest time. The creators of some of these maps have offered cash prizes to the winners, and have racked up millions of views on Youtube.

Console publishers are continuing to push the boundaries of Creative Gaming. This year will see the release of both Nintendo’s Mario Maker 2, an incredible tool for making and sharing Super Mario levels, and Dreams, which has the biggest potential to again explode the Creative Gaming movement. Dreams, the newest Creative Game by Media Molecule, gives players a complete game development toolset. Players can model, paint, animate, conduct music, program gameplay logic – players are in control of every aspect of their game. This level of complexity has never been attempted before, and results in players’ ability to create an insanely diverse set of experiences. The game is still in Early Access, but some early standouts like the near-perfect Metal Gear Solid replication offer a hint as to the diverse creations that are possible, and the high potential for attention in the press and on social media.

Dreams’ biggest asset, its complexity, is also its biggest challenge, as some players may be overwhelmed by the complexity of the tools and the sheer scale of possibilities. However, the game addresses this in several ways. Because players are encouraged to share and remix each other’s creations, you don’t have to be an expert in every discipline of game development. Are you a great sculptor? Then just focus on modeling, and other players will make games out of your creations, and perhaps collaborate with you. The game focuses on collaboration because Media Molecule realizes the success of their game lies in the ability for players to make incredible experiences, and this can often require teamwork. The game offers a limited set of tutorials, but players can also rely on the already incredibly supportive community to further their education. There are multiple Youtube channels and Twitch streamers dedicated to Dreams tutorials and walkthroughs, and online communities are quick to respond to questions and problems.

The diversity of experiences possible in Dreams is astonishing, which I believe challenges some fundamental assumptions we have about the video game industry. If Media Molecule can put its players in a position to develop full games that can compete with games released via traditional methods, it becomes harder to justify purchases of traditional games. Why buy a game when you can play something similar in Dreams for free, along with millions of other games? As Dreams expands, and as competitors emerge, these game-making games will eventually embrace cross-platform functionality, and they will soon perfect new ways of supporting and incentivizing creators. For example, Roblox has already paid its creators millions of dollars, and Fortnite has launched a system of rewarding creators based on the devotion of their audiences. As these game-making games advance in complexity, like Dreams has, there is much reason to believe they will begin to compete with traditional platforms like Steam.

Even without directly paying creators within game-making games, there is much potential for independent developers to utilize these platforms. It is hard for an independent developer to build an audience while working on full-fledged game. Many independent games have gone the route of early access releases, essentially developing the game in public, but that isn’t always the best option for releasing a game. Games like Dreams, and even more limited games like Fortnite Creative or Mario Maker, allow these designers to regularly create game-content without very much investment, due to the ease of use of these tools. These games have huge audiences, and independent developers can create content and promote it on social media to build a following and a personal brand, while still spending most of their time on their full-fledged games.

Here’s another potential implication of the rise of game-making games – the work of game designers has long been seen as irreplaceable by community-driven design. Their work in many cases is still irreplaceable, like in long-form, cinematic experiences, for example. However, many game designers spend most of their time as content creators, in charge of creating obstacles on the never-ending treadmills of challenge in challenge-based games. Since this model of design may be under some threat, and since community-driven (as well as AI-driven) design has proven to be wildly successful at creating content which rivals and often surmounts that of professionals, I argue that this profession is posed to shrink and/or transform. I think this is a bubble that has long been ready to burst. Speaking from my personal experience designing challenge-based games in the industry, I have had the opportunity to work with some very passionate people who love making games. However, for many, it is a job to be executed with little personal attachment. I am not faulting designers for this – they are doing a job, in an industry which has been increasingly criticized for their treatment of workers. But it is inevitable that, when the player community is given these tools, the result is going to be higher quality for far less cost. Who would you rather have designing your game – one burnt out employee checking Facebook every 10 minutes while waiting to go home from their design job, or dozens of passionate hobbyists who come home after a long day at work to spend their free time creating content in a game for free, because they love it? This is the reason why Media Molecule has often chosen to hire designers from their level-making communities, a now common trend in the game industry. This shift in who creates content, along with the remarkable designs that have come out of these game-making games, proves that training at university or years of professional experience are not necessary for content creators. Game design is a highly instinctual art, and while knowledge of theory can be useful, I would argue the act of developing and playtesting games is all the education one needs to be a world-class game designer, especially given the online communities and resources which exist today.

Creative Games also poses a solution to a common criticism of video games, that they are a compulsive waste of time. Children’s obsession with Minecraft was more accepted than other game trends because parents can understand just by looking at the game that it is more akin to creative activities like Legos, than violent challenge-based games like Call of Duty. Also, Minecraft’s open design, which allows users to tailor it to their needs, set itself up to be used as a powerful educational tool. Mods of the game were created to teach programming, mechanical engineering, all branches of mathematics, economics, etc. I teach kids computer science in my spare time, and I am always being asked, “Can we play Minecraft instead?” By embracing Creative Gaming, developers can make products that enrich their players’ lives, providing creative outlets, a platform for expression, and methods of learning what would otherwise be tedious subject matter, refuting the stereotype that games are a waste of time.

Where is Creative Gaming headed in the future? Despite the movement’s already smashing success and momentum, I think the revolution is just getting started. I believe many categories of games can benefit from experimenting with the Creative Gaming approach. Take free-to-play mobile games, for example – Roblox has shown that there are mobile gamers interested in creative gaming. I don’t think it will be long before more free-to-play mobile games launch their own forays into this new space, giving players the chance to contribute to the game’s design and library of content. Although these games often require a large infrastructure and development team, I think independent developers could also experiment with Creative Gaming on a smaller scale. Creative Gaming is going to continue to both reinvent what games can be, as well as breathe new life into challenge-based games, and I believe every category of games will be touched by this movement in some way.

I also don’t think this movement is restricted to traditional games markets. The introduction of the Internet allowed everyday people to create their own virtual spaces with web sites, and Social Media has made that experience more connected, more user friendly, while removing the potential for users to define the rules of their individual spaces. Creative Gaming is set to revolutionize Social Media and the Internet, which will make it easy for users to create their own game-like spaces online and specifically tailor them to their own needs. Instead of companies using a bunch of tools like Slack, Google Docs, Excel, etc., they will be able to create a virtual space which will encompass all needed functionality, with a higher level of engagement, perfectly tailored to the needs of their employees and customers. Content creators of all types will also be able to tailor their virtual space to engage audiences in their own way, depending on the kind of content they create, and the nature of their audience.

In conclusion, challenge-based games are no longer going to be the monolith they have been in the past. They will definitely have a space in the market, but players want to engage with interesting systems that channel their creativity. I said in the introduction of this article that the continued expansion of the possibility space of video games is critical to the health of the industry. The possibility space for challenge-based games is running dry, and the kinds of games which push the possibilities of this approach are increasingly more expensive and riskier to develop. On the other hand, I see enormous potential for Creative Gaming to open up new creative outlets and new styles of gameplay, and to breathe new life into challenge-based games, while engaging their audiences on a much deeper level. As a level designer in the industry, I learned that making levels in a video game is a far more engaging, enriching experience than just playing them. That’s how I began to believe that Creative Gaming, already booming, was only going to grow in influence, and the success of games like Dreams and Fortnite Creative prove this. It’s definitely going to be a challenge to shift our thinking from challenge-based games to systems-based Creative Games. But making games is fun, so I’m looking forward to it.

(source: gamasutra.com )

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