Sunday, November 21, 2010

Edit The World!

First off, I’d like to say Thank You to everyone, either here in the comments or elsewhere, who suggested some more games for me to try. In the weeks since I last wrote in, my pharmatech course has properly begun. It’s been going very well, but the downside is that I haven’t had as much game time as usual, and money is a little tighter than it used to be, so I haven’t gotten around to trying all the suggestions I’ve heard, and probably won’t. Thus, if you want to know what Love is, you’ll have to get someone else to show you.

The game I’d like to talk about this time is a rather odd, sadistic, and strangely habit-forming platformer called Everybody Edits, or EE for short. A quick shorthand would be to imagine Minecraft in 2D which should give some idea as to how the editing stuff works, but it betrays some of the quirkiness of this game, which is truly it’s own beast in a number of ways.

I’m actually cheating a little by lumping this game in with the others I've been writing about, because the connection isn’t quite as rock solid. However, the game does technically offer the ability to edit the terrain in real time as you wander around, as opposed to jumping back and forth between an traversal and editing modes, so we’ll use that as the common point. In EE there’s a greater emphasis on using the tools available to you in order to create fixed levels for everyone to play, as well as playing levels that other users have created, and much less emphasis on just playing in the sandbox. Of course, sandbox levels are entirely available, where anyone can hop in, jump around and start building something, editing existing creations, or just making an arse of one’s self, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

So the main game itself is pretty simple, you play as an emoticon, use the arrows keys or wasd to move, spacebar to jump, and use the mouse to add or remove different blocks, coins, crowns, keys, or gravity altering items to the space around you. Controls are slippery, to say the least, and everything has this rudimentary look to it, with more than a couple not so subtle nods to Super Mario World. The stages themselves, called worlds, are giant grids, with each object taking up one space, and anyone at all can create either a free world, wherein anyone else can make edits, or a locked world, which can only be edited by the creator, or any other player with whom the player has shared a special password, or level code, as they’re known in-game.

Oddly, there aren’t really any win conditions or fail state to speak of. Your little smiley face (or frowny face, if you prefer) never actually dies, nor does he ever actually “win” anything when you get to the end of a level. All you really have is the satisfaction of knowing that you managed to see the stage through to the end. The only real obstacle to your progress is the platforming itself, which is tricky due to both the controls, and some seriously sadistic level designers. Little yellow arrows litter the place, which are used to change the direction of the gravity, but are frequently used as a makeshift substitute for deathtraps by being placed in such a way that you’re forced to go back to an earlier “checkpoint.” Other times, arrows are used in order to shift the gravity of the entire room either sideways or upside down.

Coins are available, but don’t serve any function other than to be collected for the sake of it, and crowns can be acquired. The player who has most recently picked up a crown will get to wear it, at least until someone else picks one up. Aside from showing it off to other players, the crown serves no functional purpose.

Also included are colour coded keys, which, when touched, will temporarily cause corresponding door blocks to disappear, and gate blocks to become solid, allowing for more complex level design, but are often used as devious traps. For instance, you could built a steeply inclining staircase out of door blocks, and place a key at the very top. Thus, whenever someone makes it to the top of the stairs that player has the ability to hit the key and make all the blocks disappear, causing all other players to fall back down to the bottom. Many stages will provide a handful of safe spaces along the way, but will be built in such a way that you can’t progress without triggering the trap and screwing over the other players.

While some worlds are designed to be platform challenges, others are more like roller coasters, using yellow arrows to launch you around the screen. Other stages are just pixel art galleries, and every now and then you’ll hit some mazes and more puzzle-like challenges. Being a game where the community creates all the content, people have discovered a pretty wide range of devious or tricky platform jumps, so as not to rely too heavily on just putting checkpoints really far from one another, and there’s a stable of set pieces that may vary a little, but otherwise show up pretty consistently. The aforementioned staircase is a pretty well represented example of this.

At present, there’s no in-game chat, and aside from erasing the ground beneath a player, or some other rude and inconsiderate act, there isn’t much means of directly interacting with other players. They’re just sort of there. Sometimes, I’ve tried hopping around as a display of emotion, or changed the expression on my little smiley face, but by and large, all you really do is share space with other people. I understand that chat is something a lot of players are lobbying for, but personally, I find it much more fascinating to just play without. Partly because I’m fairly anti-social, but also because, much like internet anonymity in general, it gives you the space to just do your thing. Lastly, it forces you to be more actively aware of the other players around you.

For instance, I spent about 20 minutes at one point building a sequence of rooms and platforms with this one other player. I knew nothing about this person, not even a screen name to that I might recognize him/her in a later game, but we played together nonetheless. In most other games, I’d be expected to talk to this person, to coordinate what we wanted to build, work out agreements in advance. Instead, we just built stuff, all either of us really had to go by was watching what the other person was doing, and adding to it. Needing to pay attention to what the other players are doing is an important aspect of multiplayer, and especially of social gaming, and removing chat forces you to more actively watch other players in order to stay aware of what’s going on. For a game as simple as this, at least, it’s fairly effective.

Later, a third person came by and started making some really cool pixel art in our little “base,” and then, naturally, a fourth person came by to deface and destroy all of our work. This is still the internet, after all.

It’s more or less par for course in EE, actually. New open worlds show up in the lobby, people hop in and start building, then some people will hop in just to grief, or in many cases, there’s just so many cooks in the kitchen all at once that everyone’s creations just end up encroaching on one another’s, and before long, the world is a cluttered mess, then someone starts a new one, everyone flocks over to that world in order to have a blank canvass to work with, and the whole process begins anew. Nothing in the open worlds is permanent.

I’ll give you an example.

This is a little puzzle room I built for fun one night. The entrance is on the lower right corner, and the yellow dots indicate spaces where there’s no gravity. One can float around freely on zero g spaces, but it can be tricky to stop if there's no solid block to absorb your momentum. The “solution” to this puzzle (air quoted because a skilled player would be able to bypass my puzzle altogether) is to start on the right side of the the stopper on the floor, and, continuing in a straight line until hitting a solid object, you move up, left, drop down, right, down, left, up, left, then drop down again to get the two coins. Nothing too spectacular, but a fun little 5 minute project.

This is the "general area" around where my puzzle room used to be, a mere 12 hours later. I can only speculate as to what went down in the intervening time. By the end of the day, the world itself dropped off the lobby menu entirely.

This sort of thing would probably be pretty aggravating for a lot of people. After all, why put any effort at all into building stuff in the first place is just about anyone can come in and wreck it all? For myself, it’s part of the appeal, the reason to play these games online in the first place, as opposed to just mucking around with the level editor in Bangai-O Sprits, which would be deeper, create more playable stages, and would protect me from having my creations defaced by anyone who happens to have a mouse. Not that I have anything against more properly structured content creation games; I just find EE to be a really interesting experiment.

Interesting in that you’re given total anonymity in a game that’s practically made for griefing. Not only can you simply deface and destroy other people’s work in the sandbox areas in a matter of seconds, but you can also delete the platforms that are holding people up, or build a box around them, or just litter the map with penises and swastikas. (Doesn’t online gaming fill you with such hope for humanity?) In the locked areas, anyone with the build code has free reign to be as much a bastard as they want to a mass of players who have no recourse whatsoever, and in the name of really grinding someone’s gears, some players have taken to “acquiring” the level code (I won’t go into detail, cause I don’t actually know how they do it) for someone else’s level, then either vandalizing it ten ways from Sunday, or changing the name of the level to “code is inception552” - to give a made up example - thus opening up the stage for anyone else to vandalize at their own leisure.

All of the above examples certainly do happen pretty regularly, but are still surprisingly rare when you look at per capita.

Perhaps the only thing keeping the game from devolving into utter mayhem is the fact that there’s so little actual payoff for griefing. You don’t really get any sense of reaction from the people you’ve been harassing. It’d be like trolling a forum only to discover that no one is particularly upset with you, and in fact, they’ just don’t care enough to even bother telling you to stop doing it. At that point, why bother? Or maybe its just that the majority of players want to play the game for serious, such that we enter into a kind of social contract with one another, and it’s merely assumed that we’ve agreed to be civil for the sake of civility.

Isn’t it just a fascinating little metaphor for life? You’re in this elaborate, often cruelly designed little rat race with a bunch of other people, and getting from one end to the other is going to take a fair bit of patience and dedication. You see other people along the way, struggling through the same challenges, and sometimes you push ahead of them, sometimes you fall behind. Along the way, you’ll likely end up pushing other people back, and other people will push you back. You can try to buffer against this by watching them very closely, but more often than not, there’s nothing you can do but just keep moving forward and hoping for the best, and when you do get pushed down, all you can really do is get back up and try again. Sometimes, you jump ahead of the pack, sometimes you fall behind, but it doesn’t really matter, since there’s no actual reward for reaching the goal other than the satisfaction of knowing that you “did it.” Sometimes you don’t make it, but that’s okay too, because at least you tried. In the end, it’s not really about the destination at all, it’s about the…

Whoa! Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to get all “new games journalism” on you. When you’ve just missed the same crazy hard jump for literally the 50th time, to say that the mind “wanders a little” is like saying that the Sahara Desert “has ample legroom.”

And, really, that’s kind of what this game comes down to. By rights, it “should” be the worst game I’ve played this year, between the often brutal level design, the slippery controls, and the free reign to be a jerk to your fellow player from behind a veil of complete anonymity and impunity, this game can, and at times will, become the purest form of sadism the gaming world has yet known, but if you go in knowing this, maybe you can learn to just roll with it, and in those moments when it does come together, when you make something worthwhile, when you find a well fun and well balanced level to play, when you do see a challenging level to the end… and then run around with other victorious players, stealing that stupid crown from each other, or when you meet a player you can get along with, and you build together without sharing a single word, somehow it makes all the madness worth putting up with.

Play Everybody Edits for free
Watch Jay’s Let’s Play, it’s short and shows both the highs and lows of the game.


  1. Tried to play it a bit. It was fun to draw some stuff, though my silly brazilian internet connection is no good for playing such online games. Also, everytime i tried to draw something, some jerk ran after me in order to delete the blocks under my feet or to mess with whatever i was doing. >=(