We Built This City

We Built This City
Mapping Perfection

C J Davies | 26 Jan 2010 12:30
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Looks aren't necessarily that important, then - a neat little departure from most other aspects of life. And while the bar is high for mods to actually attain the level of popularity that "de_dust" has, the simple act of altering a game world is satisfying in its own right. "The first time you mod a game, be it changing a single texture for the Mona Lisa or a gunshot sound with a quack, and then see it in action ... it's a moment you never forget," Johnston says.

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But designing a great level is not the remit of the part-timer - it's for those who care. If you were thinking of throwing together the next hit level over the weekend, you'd better revise your schedule slightly. "It does concern me that map-making is becoming a more and more involved affair," Johnston says. "It can require such a broad range of skills and immense amounts of time that people will be put off."

What hope is there, then, for those among us who, while hugely enthusiastic gamers, are somewhat sloppy with our coding skills? Are we doomed to forever play user-created levels made by others while only dreaming of a world where we're able to participate in the creative process ourselves?

Not entirely. For the last few years, the console market has been muscling in on the user-created-content action. The results have admittedly been mixed - Halo 3's Forge system is certainly innovative but perhaps a little off-putting and overcomplicated, while Far Cry 2 has a wonderfully easy-to-use mapping tool offset by lack of developer support and a number of niggling interface issues. The undisputed champion in this field is LittleBigPlanet, a flagship PlayStation 3 title that makes level design almost kindergarten-simplistic.

How do Johnston's pivotal three rules translate to the world of LBP, then? With varying success. Presentation? Yep, that still matters; but with LBP's organic textures, the fact that your level will look amazing is almost guaranteed. Accessibility? Sure - just switch on your console and jump online. Originality? Weeeeeeell, now. This is where things start to get complicated.

One look at the most popular LittleBigPlanet levels reveals that familiarity, not originality, is often the key to popularity. If you're thinking of knocking together a brave new world for Sackboy to leap around, you could do far worse than to base it on an existing cultural reference point. Take Danielsan88's "Little Big Colossus," a tribute to the 2004 PS2 masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus, or RRR30000's remake of the seminal Konami shmup Gradius. You even have the chance to guide Sackboy through Sonic the Hedgehog's Green Hill Zone, recalling that aforementioned game-breaking cheat code

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