Some popular PC games are delivered with tools for the players to create new content. From user generated maps to be conquered in strategy games to whole world building kits as the TES Construction Kit from the Elder Scrolls roleplaying series, there are many possibilities for wannabe game designers to test their skills or simply create some new content for the fun of it. Why they are worth to try them, we will discuss here.
As it is widely known, most of user generated content is crap. Even modifications (mods) to the game which have been rated rather well by a worldwide community may be not worth of installing or spending time with them. What about the climax of modding, the so called standalones? Such content is based on the engine and created with the provided construction software and can be played as an autarkic game, independent from the core game. The example we want to discuss here is the German total conversion “Nehrim: Am Rande des Schicksals” of “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion”. It took Sureai, a team made of a group of students, over four years to complete their vision. We will discuss in this article the question whether it is worthy to spend time with a non-professional game or not.
After stumbling upon the enthusiastic announcement of Nehrim’s release on Bethesda’s webblog (the studio which created Oblivion), we downloaded the free game and started to play after reading some interviews with the team. Here are some differences we found till now which come up only between a game sold by a professional studio and a game created by fans.
1. “They cannot be trusted!”
After a short time of playing Nehrim we realized some sort of slight “terror” as the term is understood in Romanticism. Every time you play a commercial game you have some feeling of trust. Trust can be seen as a contract between yourself and some other you expect violent acts against you, as Jan Philipp Reemtsma writes about in his book “Vertrauen und Gewalt” (2008). Every thing you expect from a game is based on your experience from other games. Every game whether it has been played till the end or not has shown you some positive outcome. Even if your avatar was put in some dangerous situation, something unpredictable or even when your expectations were betrayed, there was always a solution and some happy ending in the greater sense. This is fine for commercial games which are supposed to satisfy the player. You trust in the happy ending, in some positive solution because you are used to it as a strategy to satisfy the customer. What about non commercial games? They mustn’t satisfy you or your expectations. Maybe this game was created by someone who wasn’t satisfied by happy endings, maybe because they weren’t consequential? Maybe this game will turn out differently, because it isn’t dependant on selling numbers which seem to be guaranteed by some stereotype plot structures.
Playing Nehrim, we often felt that everything is possible. Especially the unexpected. Why? Because this team of young designers is a team of young players who wanted to create a game which satisfies needs beyond the standard formulas of the game industry (see interviews). So you move your avatar through a world of all possible outcomes, a world which cannot be trusted because it hadn’t been created by a team of professionals who had shown in the past that they cling to standards. And this is something what creates the most fun in a nonprofessional game. The creative open minded design pushing the player over the borders of “traditional” games.
End of Part 1
Text: Rafael Bienia, 2010