Signal to Noise

by Steve Bowler on July 21, 2008 · 8 comments

in design,general,nitpicking,uncategorized

Stop me if I’ve gone on about this before, but I’ve been wondering if user created content (specifically on consoles) is something that we really want to be courting as an industry, or even as gamers.

On the surface, yeah, this sounds like a very good thing.  I think mainly because we’re all operating from the assumption that it will all be good, or at the very least, most of it will be good.  Hell, I’d even take some of it being good.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, my very unscientific and anecdotal statistics show that typically almost none of it is any good.  I avoid user created TF2 levels like the plague.  Sure, out of the 100s that have been created, Valve has managed to sift through the detritus to find us a couple that are worth sharing every so often (and they just so happen to be ones I’ve already downloaded.  Hooray I get to download them again!).  But good lord, there is no greater displeasure in my gaming than waiting to download a map (a very long time over my wireless DSL) only to have it be some untextured nightmare that looks and flows like it was made by an eight year old.  Easily 99 times out of 100 I get something that doesn’t even remotely resemble a finished or balanced level.

And these are still “gated” by the fact that we’re dealing with PCs.

The PC has a natural buffer to it that keeps most people from attempting user created content.  There’s usually some installation that needs to happen, then some unpacking (meaning you need to get an unpacker).  Then there’s a lot of forum trolling about how to use the SDK for the game you’re trying to mod, and if you even manage to figure out how to get the ball rolling, then there’s the actual work to be had.  Most people give up.  Many just phone it in (as evidenced by over ten years of grabbing mods with only a handful of successes).

Now, imagine the “gate” of the PC being eliminated.  Imagine everyone and their moms generating user created content, because it’s coming to a console near you.  Prepare to smile through clenched teeth and nod politely while your friend subjects you to all ten of his incredibly uninspired Little Big Planet levels he made as a shrine to his favorite animes.  Maybe your other friend wants you to check out his awesome Guitar Hero IV riff he made for the new Steve Vai song.  You don’t even like Steve Vai.  He knows this.  He doesn’t care.  And he has more.

The point here is that professionals make professional grade content.  Amateurs make amateur grade content.  Am I saying one is better than the other?  Oh yes.  Yes I am.  Consoles are wonderful to me because in the past, there’s been two guarantees which up until this console cycle were intact in one form or another:

  1. The game will work straight out of the box and not require a patch.
  2. Only devs working on a dev kit can make content.

People, these are good things, and they were why consoles were wonderful.  Now with the inclusion of hard drives and games including author kits for content creation, we’re right back in amateurville again.

Does anyone remember Napster?  Even that was ruined by people submitting sub-par quality files claiming they were sampled at 128k, if you even got the file as labeled.  Half the time you got static or Barney’s “I Love You” or some other ancient form of “Rick Rolling.”  I can’t wait to grab a version of a challenging song for Guitar Hero IV only to find that the person gave up authoring note patterns halfway through and just repeated the green note a thousand times.  That’s IF the song quality is even worth listening to in the first place.

Sure, there will be an occasional diamond in the ruff, but I’m not really willing to do the sifting to find it.  I already have diamonds.  I bought them at a store and they came packaged in shrinkwrap with little reflective shiny stickers on them that guaranteed me that every single level I downloaded for Little Big Planet was not going to have nothing but hairy penises in them.

Yes, it’s true, in my day, we walked to school through five feet of snow up hill, both ways.

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