"Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, Fable 2... uh, LittleBigPlanet," I nonchalantly listed, sliding my scroll bar up and down a ludicrously large list of games that'll begin hogging shelf space next week. Instantly, a deafening shout of "OH! LittleBigPlanet!" flew straight and true, right into my unsuspecting ears, from the other side of a view-obscuring television. "You're so buying LittleBigPlanet!" My friend's voice continued, registering at somewhere around War-crime on the decibel scale.
Yeah, LittleBigPlanet's kind of a big deal around the gaming scene's more console-y bits, but what's it mean for PC gamers? Well, in these parts it's not quite a revolution, but it's pretty damn close.
Over the past couple years, "user-created content" has crept onto many game developers' billowing lists of PR-friendly buzz words, and with good reason. Whether it's Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's character creation system or Spore's, well, everything, people love to spill their creative frustrations onto videogaming's canvas. (And drawing new Mega Man levels on graph paper is so nineties.)
Now stop! Take your finger off the scroll wheel; the comments section isn't going anywhere. Yes, PC gaming gospel states that we must fling ourselves into Internet forums, kissing the ground, and praising mods -- and games like Oblivion and Spore did not invent user-created content -- but guess what? Mods are old news, no matter how crazy-awesome they might potentially be.
Why? Consoles. Consoles. Consoles. Like it or not, aside from a few shining examples, game design has parked its heart in simpler interfaces and ease-of-use. PC gaming, its cash cow now six feet under for a number of reasons, simply isn't worth the effort these days. As a result, real mod support -- sloppily attempted in only a single console game -- watched its bungee cord snap as it plummeted right off developers' priority lists. After all, mod tools don't just appear out of thin air; they siphon extra time and cash away from other areas of development. When user-creation tools can offer a menagerie of similar (but less versatile) powers to a wider range of people, mod tools sadly get kicked to the curb.
For instance, when asked about possible mod tools for the upcoming Far Cry 2, creative director Clint Hocking instead chose to emphasize the game's map editor, saying, "One of the really great things about the Far Cry console games is that they had a really usable map editor. It wasn't super powerful in the way the Crytek engine was or the way our Dunia engine is. It wasn't full featured like that. But it was really usable and it allowed people to create very good maps very quickly. So we're going to have a map editor that's sort of a version two, upgrading all of the functionality in that and integrating a lot of fan requests."
Additionally, games like Fallout 3, Diablo III, and (probably) Rage won't see official mod tools because, between console ports and user-creation tools, mods are less of a priority these days.
However, things aren't nearly as bad as they sound. Sure, games like LittleBigPlanet -- as well as map editors and things of the like -- aren't versatile enough to pop out the next Garry's Mod or flood us with copyright-kamehameha-ing Dragonball Z clones, but spectacular projects like Half-Life 2: MINERVA are well within the realm of possibility. On top of that, whereas modding is a niche within a niche, user-created content could very well expand into its own genre.
Simple -- and downright fun, in LBP's case -- tools allow anyone shoot a bolt of life into their wildest dreams, while Youtube-esque community tools raise the player-crafted wheat onto a pedestal where hungry, chaff-devouring flames can't touch it. Suddenly, hammering together a series of wow-worthy levels isn't a soul-draining, year-long project enticing only to those with a hard-on for compiling code; it's accessible, while still remaining a mere notch below modding on the versatility scale.
And of course, the modding scene will never evaporate completely. It'll just find itself with a few hundred pairs of eight-sizes-too-large jeans, if you catch my meaning.
So ultimately, don't think of user-created content's comeuppance as an end to yet another thing that made PC gaming special. Think of it as a change with tremendous, but different potential -- not for PC gaming, but for videogames as a medium.