User-generated content: An evolution in gaming (video)
User-generated content is practically a staple of new media, and even the complex world of video games is no exception. With developers encouraging players to get creative, a new level of enjoyment is added to the gaming experience. We talk to Antti Ilvessuo, creative director of RedLynx and lead designer of Trials Evolution, about how gamers can now have a bigger role in the games they play.
Ilvessuo founded gaming studio RedLynx with his brother Atte, with whom he grew up playing video games. RedLynx started off making small web games and eventually moved on to bigger projects, and one of those was a web game that continued to evolve.
Trials became Trials 2 and then Trials 2 SE, becoming a small success on the PC gaming platform Steam. Microsoft then invited the brothers to bring Trials to Xbox Live Arcade, which led to Trials HD – one of the most popular and highly rated games on the service.
It was in this version of the game that player-generated tracks were first introduced. This was something the game’s developers had always wanted to do with the series. Many of them are talented players of the game themselves and the project’s graphics lead and 3D technical artist, who was No 1 on the leaderboards, really pushed for an editor in Trials HD, and developed it for that release.
This allowed Trials players to create the tracks they wanted, which could be as complex and creative as their skills allowed, customising not only the environment but also the bike and rider in the game.
“The ability to create user-created tracks in Trials HD was a big part of the game’s success and helped influence its longevity, because there was always new content,” says Ilvessuo. “So it was something we wanted to do again with Trials Evolution, but this time improve the experience even more.”
This is why Track Central was added. All user-generated tracks can be uploaded to Track Central for any other user to download. Since the release of Trials Evolution in April, more than 100,000 player creations have been added, and the variation and creativity of these tracks are impressive.
“Players have responded in a big way! There have been several hundred thousand tracks created by users, so about one in every four or five players is at least trying to make a track,” says Ilvessuo. “What’s great about Track Central is tracks are rated, and everyone can vote on a track they passed, so this helps players find the greatest tracks.”
Special feeds on Track Central show the latest, greatest and most highly rated tracks in a number of custom categories, as well as singling out the most interesting tracks handpicked by RedLynx. A robust search function is also included to help players sort through thousands of tracks, with filters for level of difficulty, whether it is multiplayer or single player, etc, or search via the creator’s Gamer Tag.
“These custom-made tracks – and crazy skill games, too – are very popular among players, of course, for they give additional content to all players to download and enjoy,” says Ilvessuo. “With the number of high quality tracks out there, your Trials runs never have to end.”
Because of the extensive controls supplied with the editor, plus the creativity of the Trials community, the tracks created for Track Central have impressed even the game’s developers. “The players continue to amaze us with what they can and what they have created. Every couple of days we will see something that makes all our jaws drop, and leaves us scratching our heads,” says Ilvessuo. “Many times, the players have figured out how to do something we didn’t even know was possible, like boxing robots, jet skis, golfing mini-games – you name it. The creativity is seemingly endless!”
So far players have created giant walking robots, adventure games, and even tracks that pay tribute to other popular video games. “Some of it is so good that we had to hire those track creators!” Ilvessuo enthuses.
User-generated tracks are not just for those with a design or programming background. “Any level of skill can create a track, which is the nice thing,” said Ilvessuo. “We have both a Lite and a Pro editor, so players of all level of track-creating ability can quickly get in and simply place objects and create a driving line using a 3D graphical editor.”
Trials is not the first game series to invite players to create their own versions, and with more developers jumping on the bandwagon, it’s likely not to be the last. But what does Ilvessuo think this means for the industry? “This kind of thing is great, because it really lets players get involved and active in making games and letting their imaginations run free, rather than just sitting back and passively absorbing the story of a game,” he says. “Who knows if this is the future of the industry, but it certainly is looking like a great collaboration from where we stand.”