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Note: I added some footnotes, which are represented by numbers in brackets ( [1], [2], etc. ). Each footnote can be read at the bottom of the page.

The extensive customization options which I plan to put into Aeon were the topic of many past debates. One side argued for the amazing new possibilities that user levels could achieve, while another side worried that it would take away from the game's simplicity and accessibility[1]. Many ideas have been proposed, and with the demos' debug panel, it seems like the appeal of tons of options has better been understood. However, this still leaves the original concerns of the opposition unaddressed.

Earlier today, Dekudude and I had a long conversation through Gmail Chat over many of these issues. We came up with a really cool idea, which I will now try to explain. In contrast to previous large posts I've written where I first state the idea bluntly and then proceed with explaining it, this time I will try to explain the reasoning first and then reach the idea as a conclusion.

First of all, the problem here is not in the fact that people may have access to all these customization options, but rather it's in the effects of having these options. The key to understanding my viewpoint on this issue is to be able to distinguish between the cause and effect of this situation, because I believe that removing the cause (customization options) is not the only way to deal with the effects (or more specifically, the problems it brings up).

One problem that arises from having so many options in the game is the loss of simplicity. Simplicity is very valuable in that it keeps the game accessible to newcomers, but it also plays an important role in defining a game's beauty or elegance. A popular but extreme example of lost simplicity would be Zelda Classic's quest editor: its complexity is sure to strike fear into even the bravest of gamers. I have long since argued, however, that this all depends on the presentation of the options. ZC's editor wouldn't be such a nightmare if it had the decency to tuck away its options when not needed, so that newcomers wouldn't be so overwhelmed by all the windows, panels, and grids. And of course, the design would have to help the user navigate all these things. However, I now see that even if the options are presented flawlessly, it still somehow manages to retract from the game's simplicity, probably because these options present themselves as being just as legitimate and as part of the overall design as any other part of the game. Therefore, the image of the game in the gamer's mind becomes more complicated and less elegant.

To fix this issue, perhaps the message we should be sending is this: that Aeon is a wonderfully simple and deep game, but it also allows you to open it up and mess around with its wiring[2]. Now, these options are no longer seen as being part of the overall, real game. Now they are presented as if the gamer has been granted access into some forbidden territory, in which the laws of the game no longer need apply. So in the gamer's mind, these set of options are completely separate from the game's original simplicity. It seems now that in order to keep these settings from interfering with the game's simplicity, we must somehow separate them from the rest of the game. But how can this be done without removing them entirely and still delivering one coherent package? Hold onto these thoughts while we explore another problem brought up by the customization options.

Ultimately, there will be two types of levels being made for this game: normal Aeon levels, and levels that have been altered so much that they no longer play like Aeon. One problem that may arise is that these creative levels may come to overshadow the core game of Aeon. What if people come to play the game mostly for its creative features rather than for it's original intent? This doesn't have to be a bad thing, but we may still be interested in keeping core Aeon levels separated from all the creative ones. Dekudude proposes a strict system of segregation where you can either browse through "normal" levels, or utterly creative levels--but not both at the same time. His reasoning is that people shouldn't consider the two types as being associated with each other. If that happens, not only will the gamer's conception of Aeon as this beautifully simple game be tarnished, but people may turn their back on the "normal" style of levels and start viewing it as inferior and uninteresting[3].  Instead, they should consider the "normal" style as an entirely different thing, concept, section, or game. This is so that the "creative" fan still maintains a respect for the "normal" style of levels, because he/she recognizes that it is its own thing separate from what he/she enjoys most about Aeon. The result is that the user still remains open to the "other side of Aeon", and will hopefully appreciate such levels for what they are.

And this is where the big idea comes in. What if Aeon was divided in two parts: the Game and the Sandbox. The concept is not all that different from the suggestion to create two games, which I opposed. The difference is, of course, the perception of my own workload, but also the fact that the "two halves of Aeon" are still united under one package. I imagine the main menu being split in half, with the left side devoted to the core Game, and the right to the Sandbox, and according to the main menu, each side has its own level editor and level browser (but of course, it'll be programmed more efficiently). If you don't know what I mean by "level browser", it lets you look through the level database without having to get out of Aeon. In the end, nothing's really changing. It's like what I told Dekudude on Gmail Chat, that this would just be one, big, presentational stunt.

Finally, here's why I think this idea is so cool:
1) It successfully segregates core Aeon from all the creative stuff, which is a good thing so that it can avoid getting overshadowed and forgotten.
2) It promotes the original Aeon gameplay and keeps it from falling into obscurity, while at the same time promoting open customization. It's amazing! Promoting two seemingly opposing concepts at the same time.
3) It successfully presents newcomers with the incredibly simple game first, and then tells them that they can "go in and mess with the wiring", which as a concept sound very exciting to a gamer.

So that's the idea. Comment below and be sure to make suggestions. Hopefully I explained it well.


Footnotes
[1] Of course, another major counterargument was that if you gave players the freedom to make almost anything, then they will abuse it to create annoying levels with little fun or value in them. In other words, it may lead to a lot of spam. I don't think this issue is very urgent, because I believe that it would never turn out to be such a big problem that the costs of expanded creative freedom could outweigh the benefits.

[2] Dekudude will recognize this phrase, since it's almost a direct quotation from our conversation.

[3] Actually, in the past I made the argument that people will not make "creative" levels all too often because of the ultimate complexity and work necessary to create interesting creative effects. This means that the rate of new "creative" levels would never quite exceed the rate of new "normal" levels. However, I now realize this: because I was planning on putting in some features that would help people share custom tiles and good ideas, it will become increasingly easy for people to make "creative" levels as the library of popular creative objects and settings expanded. Also, in the long term, if we ever develop a large following, it's also plausible that the number of people interested in the "creative" side of the game would outnumber those who are mainly interested in the "normal" side.
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Isa
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 6:36 am EST
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...so, basically, you took an idea you rejected earlier, added the word "Sandbox" to it, and now approve of it?

I'm still in favour of it, but you make it sound like this is something spectacular and revolutionary, when the only thing that seems to have changed is your attitude towards it.
Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 12:56 pm EST

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Come on, Isa, I added that point as a little joke at the end almost to say "as if all that wasn't enough for you, it has a cool name".

And this is not the same two-game idea, for a few reasons:

First, the main reason I was opposed to it was that it just seemed impractical to make two games when I can barely make one. I guess I could lessen the workload in the long term by making the first game compatible with all the options in the second game, except just not use them. But if that was the case I would feel more compelled to save time in the short term by making two differently programmed games. Either way, I just really don't like that idea

Secondly, it's not really divided into "two games" this time. It's more like you have the core game and then a mode that lets you edit the way the game works. I greatly prefer this approach over the two game idea.
Isa
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 1:13 pm EST
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Isa said:
I recently downloaded Game Maker 8 and they have a good approach to newcomers. They have a "simple" mode, along with an "advanced" mode. Beginners start out with the "simple" mode and a tutorial, that learns out the basics of the editor and teaches you how to make a basic game. The advanced mode allows for much more complex editing - in the simple mode, you're bound to icons, while in advanced mode you can write your own strings of code.

We could use something like that. In the "simple" mode, you can just place standard tiles and edit the size and name of your level. Along with that is a tutorial on how to place tiles, how to use them, possibly also what each tiles does - all of this while creating a decent level. With "advanced" mode, tile editing comes into place, and a short tutorial explains how to edit tiles, backgrounds and so on.


I honestly don't see how this differs much from your suggestion, except for level separation included as well as level editing.
canadianstickdeath
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 1:20 pm EST

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"A popular but extreme example of lost simplicity would be Zelda Classic's quest editor: its complexity is sure to strike fear into even the bravest of gamers."
LIES. I figured most of it out, without having to ask anybody for help, and the rest I figured out from google search. If you need help with anything, just ask, k?

"ZC's editor wouldn't be such a nightmare if it had the decency to tuck away its options when not needed, so that newcomers wouldn't be so overwhelmed by all the windows, panels, and grids."
Alright, you might have a bit of a point there. But basically, if you see something, and you don't know what it's for, just ignore it, lol. All you really need to know, in order to make quests is warps and flags. The screen building stuff, where you place objects onto screens, it pretty obvious, and everything else can mostly be ignored. Seriously people, if you need help with anything, just ask, geez.


But anyway.

If I make one small, simple edit to the "core gameplay" I'm automatically put into the advanced section? Perhaps it should instead be at the discretion of the level's creator (or staff, if they see that a level has been blatantly categorized) whether or not it's a normal or a custom level?

And how does the idea of being able to make your own full game, fit into all of this? Are we going to allow people to make their own campaigns, and allow them to make their own world maps? It almost seems to me that have a large distinction between two types of content... would be better put to use differentiating between full games and single levels? I'd also expect that custom content options would find more use in a full game...

If you need a distinction between normal and custom levels, perhaps a option to switch between simple and advanced in the level editor would suffice? If you want people to be able to tell before playing a level, you could simply show whether or not the level has custom content and allow them to filter by whether or not it does? I think that if people only want to make and play Aeon levels, they can just stick with "Simple" and I don't really think there will be much of a source of confusion or whatever this is about a "tarnished image" or whatever...
Isa
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 1:23 pm EST
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Quote:
If you need a distinction between normal and custom levels, perhaps a option to switch between simple and advanced in the level editor would suffice? If you want people to be able to tell before playing a level, you could simply show whether or not the level has custom content and allow them to filter by whether or not it does? I think that if people only want to make and play Aeon levels, they can just stick with "Simple" and I don't really think there will be much of a source of confusion or whatever this is about a "tarnished image" or whatever...


Yes, yes and yes.

I didn't think we allowed players to make full-fletched campaigns for Aeon though?
canadianstickdeath
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 1:25 pm EST

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I don't think that was ever fully decided, but I'd like to see it happen.
Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 2:23 pm EST

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I remember Dekudude saying one thing about how it would be best if the regular Aeon levels were closed off to being "in its own little world." He said it was necessary to keep people from seeing normal levels and creative ones as being the same thing, because then they may begin to focus solely on the creative side and lose respect for simple levels from the "normal" side.

Of course there will always be some people who still admire the core game, but at least by dividing the "normal" and the "creative" into two separate worlds, we could showcase the original game, as well as the sandbox, and people who play mostly on the sandbox side will still be open to the "normal" style, and when they play such a level, they will be more likely to appreciate it for what it is, rather than seeing it as boring for having no customizations.

Because of this, he really did not like the idea of a simple-to-advanced editor, or even a mixed level browser, as it would emphasize that the two types are really just the same thing. While that may be true in reality, especially in terms of programming, it certainly helps keep the distinction if the game heavily segregates the two kinds of levels.

I suggested to him a system where the "creative" marking would be applied manually to a level by its creator, similar to what you said, csd. But this again, makes people think that the two types are really the same thing.

I guess if there's any disagreement here, it's in whether or not you think he's making a valid argument. I certainly think there is some validity to it, and I think the Two-Halves-of-Aeon idea is an interesting way of addressing that problem.  
Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 2:33 pm EST

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As for what CSD was saying about letting people create their own games, where settings and tiles can be saved as a "game" and then you can use that as a starting point when you create a new level, there certainly is room for such organizational features in the Sandbox idea.

I imagine that such features would turn out to be the same whether or not we actually implemented this two-halves idea. So I'm not sure what relevance it has in this conversation.

And sorry csd, for making fun of ZC.
Isa
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 2:35 pm EST
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I think that by dividing them into two almost different games, you're going to have a lot more levels that are "creative", because once you go there, why would you go back? There's no real reason to, when everything you can do there can be done in the sandbox as well. Playing a normal level suddenly seems very tame.

By dividing the levels into two groups, you're making a barrier for the players. The level is either black or white, there's no grey - your level can ONLY be a normal level or a creative one, not a mix of both. I think this will lead to a huge decrease in levels made with only a little user-made content, and my opinion is that no matter what we do, we'll have a hard time getting vanilla levels. If you instead mix the levels, you can search for all levels at the same time and appreciate them for what they are.

Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 2:41 pm EST

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Those are good points, Isa. But to further represent Dekudude's point of view, he thinks that mixing the levels will do the exact opposite of letting you appreciate them for what they are. And I guess what you're saying is that dividing them so boldly would make it even worse.

hmm... Hold on, I'm thinking about this...
Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 2:50 pm EST

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That's true, it certainly would be annoying to have levels with only one custom tile in it to be thrown into the sandbox category. I can see that this two-category system can be very unbalanced, especially when one category's specifications are much narrower than the other's.

If we were to keep working with the sandbox idea, perhaps it would indeed be better to manually specify a level as being either "Aeon" or sandbox. Rather than housing all types of customization, the sandbox area could house those custom "games" that CSD talked about. That certainly would make more sense, from the level browsing point of view.

As for the level editor, we could sort of keep the two-editors idea, while merging it with the simple/advanced idea. One would be the normal, simple editor, and the other would be the advanced, sandbox editor. You would find two links to them on the main menu, each under it's respective side, but we should also make it so that you can switch in and out of the simple/advanced editors at any time while working on your level.

So in the end you end up with a much less strict system of segregation, where the line between the two sides can be blurred a little. Perhaps that could work?
Isa
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 2:55 pm EST
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Yes, that could work. I would not complain about that, I think.
Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 3:03 pm EST

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I'm trying to clarify my own ideas here, but basically the system would look like this:
Code:
|--Aeon----------------------|
|                            |
| |--Normal--| |--Sandbox--| |
| |          | |           | |
| |          | |           | |
| |   |--Level Editor---|  | |
| |   |                 |  | |
| |   |                 |  | |
| |   |-----------------|  | |
| |          | |           | |
| | Campaign | | "Games"   | |
| |          | |           | |
| | Levels   | |  Levels   | |
| |          | |           | |
| |      -----------       | |
| |        Levels          | |
| |      -----------       | |
| |          | |           | |
| |----------| |-----------| |
|                            |
|----------------------------|
As opposed to looking like this:
Code:
|--Aeon----------------------|
|                            |
| |--Normal--| |--Sandbox--| |
| |          | |           | |
| | Level    | | Level     | |
| | Editor   | | Editor    | |
| |          | |           | |
| | Campaign | | "Games"   | |
| |          | |           | |
| | Levels   | |  Levels   | |
| |          | |           | |
| |----------| |-----------| |
|                            |
|----------------------------|

There's now at least some overlap between the two sides. The levels crossing over the border represent how there isn't a giant wall keeping the two sides separate, where you can easily go through all the levels if you wanted to, especially now that there can be some that blur the line between the two categories.
DeathBunni X
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 5:54 pm EST
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I would love a playermade campaign. Is there going to be constant update on the campaign or is it just going to be all together? Plus, how do we emphasis plain level editing w/o editing motion controls and whatnot


  
Dekudude
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 10:13 pm EST
Dekudude

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Isa: another thing we discussed is the idea of someone using SOME custom stuff, and some normal stuff: the very issue you present.

Basically, the way we saw it, if someone were to make a level, but put in a bunch of custom boxes, it'd still fit very well into the Sandbox section, as it's homemade. I don't think it was made very clear that sandbox levels don't need to be pure chaos. A normal level with solid gameplay and interesting, unobtrusive custom tiles, would still be a sandbox level. In fact, it would likely be a very fun one. However, it's still a different style of level.

The sandbox mode wouldn't just be for testing craziness, but for changing the game, and bending physics. If someone wants to make a very low gravity level, they could: it'd just go in the sandbox section. That's not bad. It's just a different type of level. There would be black, white AND grey. However, grey and black would be in one section, with white being in another. That's the only difference. If someone wants a completely customized level with graphics and stuff, it doesn't need to completely stray from the normal game. The sandbox section would be for people interested in designing, or playing, something new. Mixing black and gray into that section wouldn't offend anyone: it'd be exactly what those people are interested in, I think.

Does that make sense? It's not hurting any color: it's promoting the entire spectrum.


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Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 11:07 pm EST

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Dekudude said:
There would be black, white AND grey. However, grey and black would be in one section, with white being in another.
As I mentioned earlier this could be problematic because "white" is such a narrow selection of levels, thus creating an imbalance between the two categories. The SandBox section could really begin to outweigh the other, and eventually not many may even go into that category, like Isa said. I think it would help if the "white" category accepted at least some shades of gray. And the best way to decide which level goes where would be to do it manually by the level-maker's judgement (which also includes staff). It'll be just like when you select whether your level is a novelty or not, except now you say if it belongs in the Sandbox, and that of course will be clearly explained.

But what exactly should go into the Sandbox? Aside from the original super-segregated approach, I can see maybe two ways:
1) Sandbox will contain only levels that really stray from the Aeon type of gameplay. So in a sense, this is where all the custom "games" can go. That will leave the main Aeon side with levels that still follows the original Aeon gameplay, even if levels are made completely out of custom objects with imported sprites and stuff. This could work pretty well, and it's kinda what I was thinking earlier in the conversation.
2) Another alternative would be to have the Sandbox house "collections of options" and the levels made with them. For example, if you made Mario Bros sprite set, you could save all those options/settings into one package and put it into the Sandbox. Then anyone can go in and make a level using those settings as a starting point, and these levels will too go into the Sandbox. I guess we would eventually have such a convenient service no matter what we decide here about the Sandbox, but the difference with this idea is that now all of these collections of settings will go straight to the sandbox, even if they're for levels that play relatively the same as regular Aeon.
Dekudude
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 11:12 pm EST
Dekudude

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I disagree: many people won't want to customize levels. Neither will outweigh the other. The best way to ensure the normal levels are outweighed would be to treat slightly gray levels as not gray at all, I think. It'd be more work to make custom levels too, so though they might offer a lot more possibility, they'd still never take over, especially if the sides were segregated, as I mentioned. I envision both sides being in relatively equal portions, especially if the custom section is easy to work with.


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Livio
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Tuesday, September 14 2010, 11:20 pm EST

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Livio said:
Because I was planning on putting in some features that would help people share custom tiles and good ideas, it will become increasingly easy for people to make "creative" levels as the library of popular creative objects and settings expanded.
and because of this, we could easily see an increase in "creative" levels. What if someone came up with this really amazing idea for a tile, and there were really cool features in the game that lets people import that tile into their level? For example, if the original game didn't have boosts, but someone made a booster tile, I imagine quite a few people would want to use that tile. Suddenly all these levels that use that imported tile will be listed under the "creative" section, even though they didn't do much customizing.
canadianstickdeath
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Wednesday, September 15 2010, 12:57 am EST

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We think of HATPC as a game with a level editor, but maybe with Aeon, we should think of it the other way around? Maybe we should instead make a puzzle-platformer-making tool, and the Aeon campaign is more the demo that shows off what it can do?

You can still have the simple/advanced modes, but simple will allow you the option to import a set of graphics, tiles, and mechanics (let's call this a tile-set), which you would then use to make your level. An online database of tile-sets is available, and when you browse levels, you can see what tile-set was used to make this level (it'll say "Custom" if you made your own using the advanced mode's capabilities, or maybe "Modified" if you imported but made a handful of changes). To get Aeon levels, you can filter by levels that were made using an unmodified Aeon tile-set.

To the simple user it becomes, pick the type of puzzle-platformer you want to make a level for, and then place the tiles onto a grid to make your level.
Isa
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Wednesday, September 15 2010, 6:05 am EST
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Livio got my thoughts summarized pretty well in his last two posts.
Livio
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Sunday, September 19 2010, 4:30 am EST

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Oh yeah, I was writing a response to this when I suddenly lost internet and I guess I forgot about what I had written when I closed the browser.

Anyway, that's an interesting idea csd. But the ultimate problem will be how the main levels will turn out to be. If it really is meant to show what the game can do, then wouldn't the campaign be made up of really varied levels, with different mechanics and really creative stuff? Or if we were just gonna make a HATPC-like campaign, then technically that would be just another "custom-game" within Aeon, and therefore, wouldn't we want to make multiple built-in custom-games if we wanted to show what the game could do, which is basically multiple campaigns?

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