If there’s one thing the past year has taught us, it’s that building in VR is just as fun as playing in VR. Standing toe-to-toe with fast-paced action experiences are expressive creativity apps like Tilt Brush, while long-established development engines like Unity are looking to headsets to revitalise game making in exciting new ways.
But it’s Fantastic Contraption [Review: 8/10] that best understands this principle, combining the joy of play time with the satisfaction that comes from making something functional, a device that achieves something and also has a little bit of you inside it. Northway Games and Radial Games are building (pun intended) on that satisfaction with an update to the game that adds a very welcomed feature: a level editor.
Fantastic Contraption always stood out for its UI, if you can call it that. You don’t sift through items in mundane menus, but instead memorize movements like reaching behind your head to pull out a staff, or putting a helmet on to reach a hub world. In the new level editor, accessed by putting a new mask over your face in that hub world, you’ll enlarge yourself to tower over a start square, and pick items from a Cheese Moon and World Cat to start making your own level. It’s a little like becoming Bob Ross in The Joy Of Painting, only if you’d taken a copious amount of illegal substances first.
Level creation is just as simple and intuitive as you’d expect for a game we already said was “chock full of innovative user interface design ideas”. Once you understand the basics of the game — you have to get an item into a goal zone by transporting it through an obstacle course with a vehicle of your invention — you understand the basics of the world building. Place a goal zone wherever you like, and then design a puzzle around it.
In the space of about 10 minutes I was able to create a simple level that required users to build something that first crawled along the ground, then hung from two railings to get to the goal zone. To do this, I grabbed a rectangular ground block from the World Cat. When you pick an object up, pink flowers will appear on all of its sides. You can grab these to either stretch the item, or move it in a straight line along the axis correlating to its position.
Duplicating one of these blocks is a simple as pressing one of the Vive’s grip buttons while holding it. To give my level just a touch more challenge, I took more blocks and inserted them into my railings so that players would need to keep their contraptions thin if they were to squeeze through. Yellow blocks that obey the laws of gravity could also be placed as obstacles to get in the way.
Once my level was done, I could remove my mask to reenter the hub world, and then take off my helmet to get into a playable version of the level (though it can also be played from the editor mode). The transition from being a giant over my level to standing within it as if it were a challenge in the full game took a few seconds and felt pretty amazing. Switching between modes to tweak levels was fast and intuitive.
Northway Games is looking to release the level editor in January, and I really hope the community rallies around it. Fantastic Contraption currently comes with 50 puzzles to complete, but with these tools that number will now grow and hopefully turn this into something that offers new challenges every week. Similar to recent user-generated content hits like Nintendo’s Mario Maker, Northway is handing the ingenuity of its design over to the players. It’s just up to you to make something worthy of it.
With the game also on the way to PlayStation VR next spring, 2017 is set to be a big year for Fantastic Contraption.