The latest war between the Landos and the Stormtroopers isn't going well. As always, the Landos are horrendously bad shots, firing wildly into the air like a pack of Tusken Raiders. One by one, the Stormtroopers whittle down this army of identical administrators - but the Landos have an ace up their sleeve: me. I swoop in and spawn a few Luke Skywalkers and a just-for-fun Mon Mothma, and the tide of battle quickly turns in our favor.
Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast was my favorite Star Wars toy, topping the Lego sets, action figures, and those retractable plastic glow swords that weren't called lightsabers (but they were lightsabers). Even so, I never really played the game; I don't even think I made it past the first level. Instead, I played with the game. Through a combination of cheat codes and game mods, I transformed Outcast into a gladiatorial arena that answered to the whims of my imagination. Giving players the tools to create their own fun is something more games need to embrace.
Outcast turned my PC into the ultimate Star Wars toy box. With just a few codes, I could spawn any NPC or warp to any location in the game. This invited several burning questions. Could I best an entire hangar bay filled with Stormtroopers (yes)? Could Luke go toe-to-toe with a Rancor (no)? These queries - and a hundred more - fueled the many hours I spent with the game, but none were more entertaining than the ongoing Lando vs. Stormtrooper war.
Before each battle, I would make my character invisible. Then I'd spawn a massive glob of Stormtroopers on one end of the map, followed by an equally massive glob of Lando Calrissians on the other. Finally, I'd become visible again, and personally lead the Lando army into battle. The two forces would exchange volleys of blaster fire like 18th century minutemen while I bounded between them force pushing everyone off ledges and dropping in new enemies. It was glorious bedlam.
As fun as the NPCs were in Outcast, the real star of the show was the lightsaber. This game had the best lightsaber mechanics of any to date, combining melee strikes with nimble acrobatics and force powers. Remember that scene in Episode II where all the Jedi are fighting in the arena? You could basically build that for yourself in Outcast. Sure, sometimes the game would crash under the weight of it all, but learning how far you could push those boundaries was part of the fun.
This sort of do-it-yourself, imagination-fueled play is rarely seen outside of the PC. However, it can add hours of longevity to a game like no DLC release schedule or microtransaction pricing model ever could. And I'm not just talking about downloading some funny character skins or whatever else you might find on the Steam Workshop. Players should have access to the nuts and bolts of a game in a way that's easy to understand, not unlike the debug rooms of old.
Look at any other type of game - from sports to board games to card games - and not only do you get to enjoy the game itself, but you can also play with the individual pieces. Using your imagination, you can even rearrange those pieces to create a new experience the creators may not have imagined. Video games are made up of similar pieces, so why not let us use them to their full extent?
Sadly, offering this level of access is at odds with the trend towards games as a service. It's difficult to give players the freedom to do whatever they want inside a game while juggling DRM and in-game purchases, or if you're streaming the game to their console from a server two states away. You're not so much buying a game as you are buying the privilege of playing a game; specifically in the way the developers intended.
Again, this argument largely applies to games not released on the PC, but even there these restrictions can limit what is and is not acceptable fun. The ability to play with the inner workings of a game should be so commonplace we take it for granted. Doing so gives players more value for their $80, while simultaneously making the most out of what developers have already created. Video games are one of the most creative forms of entertainment, so it's only natural they should let us get creative with how we enjoy them.
Check out the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens - it's beautiful.