I played Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set some time in the mid 80’s. I don’t remember exactly when, but I do know that it was on a friends computer, and I do know that it wasn’t a legit version. It was a disc with the name Budge PBCS written on it in sharpie and the manual was photocopied. I later wound up buying a real copy of it for the Atari 800 computer out of a bargain bin. I think it cost $2.99. I also bought The Last V8, but that is a disappointment for another time. The thought of being able to create my own pinball tables was intoxicating. I had so many ideas, and I sketched many mockup pinball tables in lined paper notebooks. I wish that I could say that I created a great table. I wish that I could say that I figured out how to link the various bumpers, spinners, and score lights into something playable. I pieced together a few terrible tables, but nothing that anyone would mistake for fun. Shortly after that I put the disk back in it’s box and never opened it again.
It wasn’t that creating pinball tables with Pinball Construction Set was difficult. In fact the tools were incredibly easy to use and surprisingly powerful for the time they were made. The tools included, along with all the requisite pinball gizmos, a vector graphics and raster graphics editor. A lot of modern graphics programs can’t muster that kind of oomph. It was shockingly easy to put together something that would play a simple game of pinball. There just wasn’t any good reason to do it.
This has been the failing of most in game editors, or game construction sets, since developers started making them. There can be an inherent joy in building things. Usually that joy is hinged around the fact that the thing you build will be enjoyed, either by yourself or, and this is the kicker, someone else. Building a thing to be experienced by other people is one of the most fun and satisfying tasks a person can undertake. If you get to witness them enjoying that thing, so much the better. In the mid 1980’s finding a way to get a virtual pinball table that would only work on one type of computer into the hands of even a few people so that they could enjoy it was positively herculean. There was very little joy to be squeezed from that activity. It’s not very surprising really that I was not incentivized to work very hard at it.
We have been playing a decent amount of Super Mario Maker around here. All of the ways that Super Mario Maker is amazing and beautiful and joyful made me wonder why the Little Big Planets and Modnation Racers of the world stumbled. Why did games with intelligent and elegant toolsets for creating game levels and other content not stick.
Simply, in Super Mario Maker creation is the game. The levels you play will be created by other people, and you have at least a reasonable expectation that the levels that you create will be played, and enjoyed, by other people. You don’t make a level to enjoy playing it yourself, you make it so that other people can enjoy playing it, and you are informed by the game when they do. You may never meet the people who play your levels, you may never get to see the excitement in their eyes when they play your levels, but the system they have created provides enough feedback to spur you on. The loop is complete. You create something, other people enjoy it, you are provided feedback on how they enjoyed it, and that feeds your desire to create more, and better, levels. This is the exact reason that people make games in the first place. They are made for other people to enjoy.
Creation might be inherently enjoyable, but let’s be honest here, it doesn’t get really fun until you can share it with other people.