Giving gamers the opportunity to create their own content for their games is nothing new, I was doing it as early as 1987 with my Commodore 64. And I'm sure there are tons of people that created their own tracks in Excite Bike on the NES knock-offs they bought at Telegames.
But at some point in the mid-to-late 90s level editors and modding tools became more than just a fun little extra widget to mess around with; somehow the pastime had turned into a semi-professional job for some gamers out there. With the tools becoming a lot more powerful, people weren't just putting out a new level for their fellow gamers to try out, they were delivering completely new games. Here's gamesTM's list of the best level editors and modding tools ever:
Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
It’s hard to believe that a Macho Man Randy Savage mod was exactly how Bethesda anticipated the community embracing the Creation Kit for its most recent RPG epic. Fans didn’t just expand the breathtaking vistas of Skyrim, or populate it with bygone characters from previous installments, but instead things went all a bit silly. Endless cheese rolling, My Little Pony dragons and Dr. Zoidberg mudcrabs represent just a few of hundreds of incredibly puerile, deranged and brilliant mods currently doing the rounds on the internet.
Far Cry 2
Implementing a map editor into a shooter was a bit old hat in the PC marketplace by the time Far Cry 2 came along, but that wasn’t the case with consoles. Yes, it’s simple to use, and yes, it pretty much made every in-game object available. But what it also did was enable players to craft anything like some sort of malaria-stricken Minecraft. And we mean anything: we’ve seen Eiffel Towers, roller coasters and grandiose cathedrals populate online servers, all meticulously crafted from the ground up. There’s little doubt that it raised the bar for content creation across the board… we just wish someone had noticed.
It wouldn’t be until Worms 2 that those war-hardened invertebrates received a full-blown level editor, but it was the original Amiga release (and latterly the Directors Cut) that first gave pause to blowing the shit out of cheese-like landscapes for a few minutes to tinker around with content creation. While the original enabled players to make slight adjustments through Deluxe Paint, it was Graffiti mode in the Directors Cut that promoted unbridled creativity, with crude drawings transformed into floating battlegrounds. Do you want to fight atop a giant penis floating in Hell? Well, if the year’s 1997 and you’re fourteen then the answer is most likely a resounding ‘Yes!’
The fact that Counter-Strike began life as a Half-Life mod speaks volumes of Valve’s genial attitude towards their zealous community. Frankly, designing a map is something of a semi-profession in itself, but the way in which the game has blossomed – integrating user-created stages into regular map rotations – has had sweeping influences on the entire industry – suffice to say, modes such as Gun Game and Zombies have cropped up elsewhere since. Basically, Counter-Strike has transformed the first-person shooter into a genre designed by its community.
Duke Nukem 3D
3D Realms’ third outing for the muscle-minded Duke has earned its fair share of plaudits and detractors through a particularly pungent cocktail of brazen misogyny, catchphrase pilfering and a total disregard for subtlety. Yet few recall the pioneering level editor bundled with the shooter, fronted by an intuitive DOS-based interface that enabled even casual Duke-loving knuckleheads to have a fair crack at creating fresh stages. At a time when Doom purists fumbled incessantly with complicated custom-software, 3D Realms’ Build engine invited ingenuity with simple box dragging and a wide selection of button inputs. Hail to the king, indeed.