User Generated Levels!
For decades video game players have been creating their own levels in their favorite games. From DooM WADS to Warcraft 3 maps all the way to Mario Maker Kaizo levels, user created levels have been a big part of games culture. Not only do they serve as a creative outlet for some, but they allow others to spend more time with games they love.
So, what are your favorite user generated levels? Do you have fond memories of a particularly compelling user made Thief 2 heist? Is there a great dungeon in your favorite Skyrim mod? Feel free to share any you’ve made if you’re a creator yourself!
There were so many great user made maps for Unreal Tournament 2k4 wish I could remember the names of some of them. I had some friends who worked at a laser tag place and one of them made a map of it in UT2k4.
I used to mess with map editors a lot, especially in RTS games. I remember making a 4v4 version of a Dawn of War 1 map that had a single choke point between the teams, that map was a disaster in terms of being able to actually win, but i was fun to goof around on.
Oh boy the time I spent playing variants of Tower Defense in Starcraft’s user made customs. And what percentage of popular maps in early online FPS games were made by users instead of developers?
Admittedly, in recent years it’s mostly been Doom WADs that have fit this bill for me. There are so many talented map creators still putting out work for that. A recent favorite is Monument for Doom 1, for its fun tricks and traps.
I am absolutely going to spend this entire post talking about the Quake mapping community.
(I hope someone else talks about the Zachtronics user-submitted-puzzle community though…)
There’s tons of fantastic maps (and mods) for Quake on https://www.quaddicted.com/ , but I think still one of my favourites has to be
Bal’s Tears of the False God , a beautifully designed level using the Arcane Dimensions mod (which adds monsters, items (including jump boots that give double/triple/etc jumps) and one or two additional weapons), with some interesting mechanical additions - breaking pots can give you pickups, but can also trigger spawns of monsters - a lot of actually fun to find secrets, and just generally great to play.
Also, because it’s so clever, a bonus mention of:
Ionous’s Microcosmosophy II (from the Xmas Jam 2021 pack, also using Arcane Dimensions) - all of Episode 4 of the original Quake, fitted into a 1024x1024x1024 cube (which isn’t that big). Squishing identifiable minified versions of each level into an eighth of the cube each is super impressive, and Ionous even manages to squish in a host of secrets as well.
I remember spending a frankly unnecessary amount of time on the inFamous 2 UGC tool back in 2011. That was such a bizarrely stacked year for the PS3 and an aggressively multi-player focused one at that. Every PS3 exclusive had to have a hook to keep people from coming back, and because it was a singleplayer open-world game, Sucker Punch basically slapped the Forge editor from Halo into infamous 2.
Let’s just say it was no Little Big Planet but I spent hours trying to perfect a hold-the-line wave defence mission whose scripting would break as soon as the enemies got over the barricade.
infamous 2 just had me back in the day. It’s such a kinetic, satisfying game to play but the structure and design of the missions and open-world paled in comparison to how strong the toolset was. That UGC tool got me interested in trying to make levels that I wanted to play, levels that I felt were missing in the main game, which defaulted to chaos once combat really got rolling.
I almost skipped this topic because I don’t have a ton of history with user-generated content (no shade, it’s just that my gaming history doesn’t spend much time there - I grew up on PCs, but before the mod scene really exploded and internet access was easy enough to get hold of things, and then spent most of the rest of my time on consoles where access to mods and user-generated levels is still patchy). But I’d be remiss not to mention Halo 3’s Forge mode.
I had a friend I played a lot of Halo 3 local multiplayer with and we’d spend a lot of time messing around in Forge setting things up. The things we created were not remotely ‘good’ multiplayer maps, but they were attempts to push the game engine to the limit of how many objects it could cope with. It was possible to set items to have a (near?) instant respawn so if, say, an explosive barrel went off, another would immediately appear in its place. This led to the creation of maps that were full of constant explosions as new things appeared and went off, or ones set up to be incredibly dangerous if you weren’t careful with your shots, as likely to blow yourself up as hit another person. Like I said, good? No. Clever? Not particularly. Fun? Yes.