GDC '08: EA ringmaster of game-creation Carnival

Rod Humble hopes new set of tools aimed at nondevelopers at Simscarnival.com will encourage the hoi polloi to make their own games.

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SAN FRANCISCO--User-generated content seem to be the buzzwords of this year's Game Developers Conference, especially after Microsoft's announcement yesterday that it would be launching a new version of game creation toolset XNA.

Now Electronic Arts has decided to get in on the trend, and has launched a new Web site called The Sims Carnival, which comes with a set of tools designed to help nonprogrammers make games.

Rod Humble, head of EA's The Sims Studio, speaking at his talk titled "The Emergent Gamer," said that he hoped that the site would help broaden the types of games available. He pondered, "If your mother could make a game, what kind of game would she make? How about your son?"

The Sims Carnival, which is currently in beta, has a game by genre creator wizard, which allows people to quickly create certain kinds of games--Humble gave the example of a quiz--by choosing from a series of multiple options.

For those who want to get a bit more technical, there will also be a more advanced toolset. Humble explained, "We also have a very complicated tool that allows you to create things from the ground up. You can go as deep as you want without actually having to boot up a compiler."

The Web site was beta tested internally at EA Studios, with the 100 people that had access to it creating over 500 games in a month.

Explaining why the company was making this move, Humble said, "Children take games and change them naturally. But [with video games] ease of creation is a problem. But over time that barrier of entry, whether it be literacy for books or programming skills for games, goes down and down."

He then showed the audience some of the games which had been made using the tools, including Tomb Laser, a Space Invaders-style game, where you could insert the faces of different politicians onto the aliens and rocket sprites. He also showed off a quiz which tested people's trivia knowledge of the history of games, and Meteor Command, where the aim is to keep a meteor from the hitting the earth with a series of explosions to propel it away.

When the game is complete, it can then be published on The Sims Carnival Web site, or elsewhere on the net. It will be free to both upload games and play other people's.

So, what's in it for the creator? Humble said, "We believe in ad-sharing, and we hope to have the most competitive terms."

When asked what EA would do about adult content, Humble responded, "Our preferred method is for people to put things up and then take them down [if they're inappropriate.] I don't really like the system where people have to wait a day for a real person to go through and check it."

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