Level editors are my favorite endgame destination. I appreciate the highly curated experiences developers create – the easy-to-read level design, or the fine-tuned balance in multiplayer maps – but after I’ve experienced a game the way its developers intended, level editors provide a fun incentive to stick around. They’re often quite educational, too, making me realize the incredible effort that goes into building and polishing my favorite game worlds.
With a level builder on the horizon for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (wahoo!) and PS4 game creation tool Dreams in early access, it’s an exciting time for fans of building games. While we wait, here are some of the coolest level editors I’ve seen in games.
Fortnite Creative Mode (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
At this point, Fortnite’s Creative Mode isn’t just a traditional map editor – it’s a full-fledged game creator. Using the title’s full suite of level-editing tools, players can create everything from medieval castle-themed escape rooms to zombie survival missions modeled after Call of Duty maps. Fortnite celebrates its community of creative players in a unique way, too – developer Epic Games selects the most impressive player creations and features them on a dedicated lot in its Battle Royale mode. Unfortunately, they’re not always to good taste.
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Super Mario Maker (WiiU, 3DS)
Unlike most level editors, which are mere bonus features, Nintendo released Super Mario Maker as a standalone title, allowing players to create their own Super Mario platforming courses in both the classic 8-bit and 16-bit aesthetic as well as the modern glossy look of New Super Mario Bros. U. The level editor utilized the WiiU and 3DS’ touch controls to offer an accessible, user-friendly building experience. It’s not too late to build your dream Mario challenge, though! Nintendo is working on Super Mario Maker 2 for Switch, due out this summer.
Far Cry 5 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Since Far Cry 2, every game in the series has featured a map editor, but the latest numbered entry shook things up with a couple game-changing additions. For the first time, players could create custom mission types, instead of building a map and choosing from pre-created game modes. What’s more, players weren’t limited to just Far Cry 5’s assets – they could populate their worlds with objects and imagery from a multitude of other Ubisoft properties, including Watch Dogs and several Assassin’s Creed games.
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Skate 3 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Skateboarding games have had map editors since the ‘90s, letting players build their dream park and set up their gnarliest grinds – and wipeouts. However Skate 3’s list of features set it apart from earlier skating games: Players could design their own graphics and logos on the Skate website, then import them into the game to adorn their skateboards, parks, and outfits. Additionally, a unique camera feature allowed players to snap screenshots and produce videos of their skating sessions, then upload them to share with the community. We’re still holding out for Skate 4, but while you wait, check out our replay of Skate 3 above.
LittleBigPlanet 3 (PS4, PS3)
LittleBigPlanet’s story mode is charming and respectable as a puzzle platformer, but it’s the series’ level creation tools that really gave each game legs. Between LittleBigPlanet 1 and 2 alone, users shared more than 7 million levels. LittleBigPlanet 3 gave us the most comprehensive suite of tools in the series, including the ability to manipulate the world on sixteen different depth levels. What’s more, Create Mode introduced players to “Popit Puzzle” levels; instead of forcing players to watch long tutorial videos, these levels taught the level editor’s tools by way of puzzles for players to solve.
Spore had a lot of big ideas. The game took place over the course of five phases, each with a radically different type of gameplay, following a species’ evolution from pond scum to space explorers. One feature fans requested most when the game launched was the ability to leave their spaceship during the game’s final phase and go on planetside adventures. Developer Maxis listened with Spore Galactic Adventures, a massive expansion that added the comprehensive Adventure Creator. This level editor, like certain parts of the base game, allowed players to create most of their own assets from scratch – from doorways to spaceships – in addition to offering a full library of audio and visual effects to add to player-created scripted missions.
I’d love to see more level editors in games. They’re great tools for players to exercise their creative muscles the same way developers do, and the creations that come from fans highlight the best parts of online communities. While you wait for that Super Mario Maker sequel, check out this list of custom levels built by the Game Informer staff. Here are some games we wish had level builders.