Hawkes Editorial: Where PCs reign

In: Uncategorized by David LaMont

24 Nov 2008

I was a PC gamer.

I’m pretty sure most of us were or still are. It’s the easiest starting point since most households now have a PC as standard equipment. No matter the game you started with, I’ll guarantee you that it was a PC that was point zero towards your collective gaming addiction.

I could be wrong, please don’t correct me; I’m getting a point going here.

Back in the old days (and, man, does that sound like an 80-year-old man typing there), you had your PC and your floppies. In the Commodore 64 days, you would load up the first level with the next level floppy sitting on top of the device ready to go when the word came.

Some people complain about load screens today? Try waiting on floppy disc 2 to load! I remember waiting 15 minutes for a game to load — puts the PS3 mandatory installs into perspective a bit, huh?

Another point in PS3’s favor: Once loaded, you didn’t have to do it again. With the ol’ 64, you had to do it EVERY time. No hard drives to install to back then.

Wow, that was a tangent, where was I?

Oh yes, where PCs reign.

Sometime after the Star Wars: Rebel Assault days came the Descent and Quake days. This were the true early days of user-created content. From this content came custom skins, and in the case of Half-Life and Unreal, a whole different game was built on the engine of those fine games.

The designs weren’t always the best — finding said content was akin to walking into an orgy blindfolded and trying to find your wife out of the pile of groaning bodies. Possible, but with rather messy results.

But when you succeeded, it was amazing. It was the best value you could find: A whole new game built on the sweat of some dedicated (and some would say crazy) fan.

When I decided to embrace consoles after years of turning my nose up at them, I did so knowing that I would lose this wonderful addition, but I tempered that knowing that at least I wouldn’t have to worry about hardware limitations and have to upgrade every year or so.

In short, I embrace consoles as a cost-effective measure. If income were not a problem, there would be no PS3 or Xbox 360 in my house. (We can debate the PC-software versus console-software pricing another time.)

With PC gaming you had free online. Sure it could be spotty. Yes, in most cases you had to find a third-party way of voice communication, but in many manners it was almost a wonderful challenge to get yourself prepared for an online match. But when the matches began, you had almost no problems.

When the Xbox 360 was first introduced, J Allard talked about user-created content, and it was something he appeared to really believe in and wanted to build an infrastructure that would allow this type of activity, potentially allowing some creators to profit from their creations. This excited me. To have a closed box that would allow users to not only create but to potentially profit from their creations was a brilliant and bold move on Microsoft’s part. Either by design or in response, Sony said that the PS3 would offer the same deal.

The promise however has hung in the air, not really materializing in any real discernible way. Sure you could argue that Unreal Tournament 3 for the PS3 was the first game to truly embrace user-created content, but my problem with UT3 is that you need a PS3 version and a PC version to create the levels. Double dipping at its worst. No, the big hope (some would say hype) was LittleBigPlanet.

LittleBigPlanet offers an unprecedented level of customization and creativity in a single package. People I have talked to about it say its depth and possibilities are almost like when Unreal included the Unreal Editor. Some very brilliant minds started cracking out amazing levels just during the beta alone — to the point that Sony and Media Molecule had to promise that beta levels would make it to the final build.

To entice creativity, Sony offered Sackboy skins that looked like Kratos from God of War, Old Snake from Metal Gear Solid 4 and Nariko from Heavenly Sword. I’m sure many design fans went nuts with ideas of what they could use these skins for.

It’s a shame we’ll never see them used to their best potential.

On or around November 9, 2008, Sony and Media Molecule put the kibosh on a ton of user-created levels due to copyright infringement. Levels based on Mario, Batman, Pacman, Scrubs — heck, even a level honoring the PS3 were all scraped, all because of copyrights. To make it worse, there was no notification, no warning, just someone waking up one day to find their hard work had simply vanished from the LittleBigPlanet servers.

I’m not going to argue copyrights; companies have the right to their intellectual properties and the use of thereof, etcetera, so on, and so forth. No, my issue is with the broken promise of user-created content on consoles.

Because of the closed environment inherent to consoles, things are more “easily managed,” ergo, they can be deleted without notice or provocation at the whim of some lawyer or intern. The entire infrastructure for finding customized levels of LittleBigPlanet was gutted with the click of a mouse, and it left many a hard working designer disillusioned and dismayed.

This is where PCs are superior. Because of the nature of the internet, it’s impossible to hold a game developer accountable for “copyright infringement” should someone take Freespace and make it into Battlestar Galactica sim, or if someone takes the Half Life 2 engine and makes it into a flawless remake of Goldeneye 007.

Yes, both of those are real, and they are amazing. But we shouldn’t forget the granddaddy of user-generated content: Counter Strike. The Half Life engine turned into something that is still a popular online game and launched the careers of many talented people.

The point of user-created content is to offer freedom to let someone come up with a concept, design the level, create the character, put it together, and let everyone enjoy it. There should never be limitations to creativity just because you’re worried that Warner Brothers will get upset over a Batman Sackboy. Considering there isn’t a charge to download the levels, it makes this itchy trigger finger reaction look like one of two things. Either Sony is a spineless company that isn’t willing to back their product or they plan on putting in place a means of charging consumers for some of these levels.

In this case, I suspect it’s the latter.

If you had read the updated EULA on PSN and LittleBigPlanet, there was mention of users losing their rights to their creations and potential charges for others to download said creations. Put the updated EULA together with the ban-hammer on copyright-infringement levels and the pattern becomes clear: You can’t charge for levels if there’s copyright infringement.

In an effort to monetize an old system, Sony (and probably Microsoft) will take away one of the best parts of user-created content: The ability to let your imagination take you to a world you love and bring it to life.

This isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’ll just mean people will have to be far more creative in their endeavors. But a part of me is sad over the loss of customizable skins that make you look like Batman, and that amazing Gradius level that must have taken days to build.

This was supposed to be Sony’s big win — something that Xbox 360 doesn’t have — and considering Microsoft’s recent attitude about it, probably never will have as far as I’m concerned. They’ve taken the big win and brought it down to a moderate one.

PC gaming isn’t dead, but piracy and the ease of console use has hurt it pretty bad. It will never go away, but it may not be the same it once was. Perhaps MMOs are its future, or some kind of rental service, but no matter what the future of PC gaming is, it will always be the king of user-created content.

Hail to the king, baby!

Hawkes

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2 Responses to Hawkes Editorial: Where PCs reign

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November 25th, 2008 at 4:13 am

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pc gamer | Dell.com

November 29th, 2008 at 9:14 pm

[...] Hawkes Editorial: Where PCs reign I was a PC gamer. I’m pretty sure most of us were or still are. It’s the easiest starting point since most households now have a PC as standard equipment. No matter the game you started with, I’ll guarantee you that it was a PC that was point zero towards your collective gaming addiction. I could … [...]

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