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Commonwealth Games 2002

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banner Monday, 28 January, 2002, 11:46 GMT
Games by players, for players
Baldur's Gate computer game, Bioware
Players want to make games their own way
Players are increasingly able to tailor computer games to their own specifications, writes BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward.

For most of us the chance to forge empires, settle alien planets or rescue those in distress is sadly lacking in real life.

So it's perhaps no surprise that people increasingly turn to the myriad worlds created in computer games to become, albeit briefly, someone other than they really are.

Firing up a game is an easy way to imagine that you can augment your physical abilities, convert nations to your cause or bend the ancient powers of the cosmos to your will.

But the plethora of ancient, fantastic, contemporary and futuristic worlds available for exploring in many games is still not enough for many.

Fans and plans

This dissatisfaction partly explains the growing popularity of multi-player games that let gamers work with, or against, other people.

Game graphics and sound are improving, but even the most sophisticated computer-controlled opponent has a limited behavioural repertoire whose quirks can be exploited to the gamer's advantage once known.

Wolfenstein 3D, Apogee
Wolfenstein 3D: Map your own course
Certainly there's none better to pit your wits against than the superhuman surrogates of other gamers.

Now, not only are gamers taking on each other, they are playing in scenarios, arenas or maps created by other fans.

Although players have been extending computer games for years, but now it is reaching a new intensity.

Early computer games such as the Zork series were text-only adventures that anyone with a basic knowledge of programming could create for themselves.

From these games grew more advanced adventures that allowed multiple users to take part, often in locations created by the players.

Make your own fun

Although the arrival of graphical computer games in the 1970s made it more difficult for players to create add-ons, this changed in the early 1990s with the release of Wolfenstein 3D, a shoot-'em-up which allowed fans to create new maps for the main character to roam.

This trend continued when Doom hit the market in 1993, followed by other first-person shooters such as Quake and Half-Life.

Half-Life screenshot, Valve
Half-Life remains popular years after its release
These titles that let the players make a modification, or "mod", to the original game enjoy a longevity denied to those that don't.

Quake in particular has reached its stripped-down apotheosis thanks to David Wright, who created Quake Rocket Arena which pits two players armed with the same weapons against each other.

This, Mr Wright says, stops Quake being about who grabs the best weapons or can get through a level fastest and instead makes it a contest to find the most skilful fighter.

Fantasy fiction

Now gamers who usually play fantasy games with pen and paper are getting their chance to translate their adventures onto computer. Typically these cast players in the role of a swordsman, sorcerer, priest or thief and task them with a long and involving quest.

Although single- and multi-player fantasy computer games are hugely popular, these frustrate some players because the action is confined to scenes of the software designer's making.

Quake, id Software
Quake: Futuristic gladiators with guns
This is about to change with the release of NeverWinter Nights - set in the same world as the popular fantasy game Baldur's Gate - which includes a set of easy-to-use tools so players can put their own adventures into the game world.

The tools will involve linking together chunks of computer code that represent elements of the game world, such as monsters that can be programmed to react when its allies are attacked.

Each adventure will be overseen by a referee who can take over characters to make an encounter more or less challenging to the players.

The creatures that players pit themselves against could soon be as wily as the players themselves.

Richard Gaines, co-creator of The Darkest Day (an add-on for Baldur's Gate II), expects NeverWinter Nights to be influential.

"3D shooters can only be modded in weapons and armour and such," he said, "Role-playing games can be totally remade."

Thus all wannabe-heroes can disappear into a world of their own making.

See also:

03 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers kill off heroes
03 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Playstation 2 gears up to go online
10 Jan 02 | Reviews
Keeping Wolfenstein alive
10 Jan 02 | New Media
Record year for computer games
05 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Gamers go for gold
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