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I have created a few smaller games on my own in the past. My approach has always been to create a completed editor where it has all the functionality needed to save a level file and load it into the game.

This has always made most sense to me but I keep hearing from people that a game is never fully done in the editor. I have never worked in a game development team and so I don't have first hand experience, but not adding everything needed to make the game to the editor just seams wrong.

Am I missing something? Is there ever a reason not to add a tool to the editor?

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i keep hearing from people that a game is never fully done in the editor Who says that? Not that I disagree, because what does that even mean? –  jhocking Apr 13 '12 at 12:05
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The thing is i am not sure what they where walking about as its always mention just in passing like: "it would be impossible to release the level editor to the public because all the work that goes into making a level is not done in the editor." –  Borgel Apr 13 '12 at 12:18
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Well then my guess about what they mean is that the editor isn't used to program, say, the behavior of enemies, it's used to place where the enemies are. However I don't know if that's what they mean, especially since this guess wouldn't preclude you from releasing the level editor. –  jhocking Apr 13 '12 at 16:17
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In my experience, the reason we don't release the level editor is that it's buggy. Good enough for us to use, but would be a technical support nightmare if we ever gave it out to the public. Also, we're game makers. We'd rather spend our time making the next game, rather than polishing the toolset for someone else to use. :) –  Trevor Powell Apr 14 '12 at 1:07
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@TrevorPowell No rule without an exception though. Sometimes the editor is the game, see Minecraft or Terraria, kinda. A good editor can improve the lifetime of a game drastically. –  Hackworth Apr 14 '12 at 19:30
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The game editor is for editing the properties of your game-specific entities, together with their specific actions, ai, triggers, etc. But you also need a scripting language binding such as Lua, Python, Unreal script, your own scripting language.. to pass level-design specifics easier. You'll find out that for a strategy game, it's impossible to do complicated things such as assigning different strategies to the same units based on complicated triggers and analyzers and not hardcoding a bunch of that business.

Scripts are good because they are easier for people to work with and aid in customizing the "story" for a certain map/level. Game designers don't need to know heavy programming to see how things evolve if they want to change the logic. This might be just one of the things you can do in a scripting language without hardcoding a plethora of options in the editor alone.

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Time spent making your editor is taken away from the team programming the game.

So you really want to make the simplest editor you can.

Ideally, in order of preference:

  • Use an existing editor application unmodified (maybe not a game-specific one) and write conversion / import tools to build the level based on its output
  • Use an existing game editor (perhaps from a library or toolkit you use), adapt it to your needs
  • Build the simplest editor you can, ideally reusing as much of the game-code as you can

Of course you need good tools so your content team can make the content efficiently. But consider what the best tool is?

Suppose you have a seemingly simple feature such as "undo" - developing this feature is extremely nontrivial, and it would be better to use an existing tool (which already has such a feature) than to try to implement it.

I cannot stress enough, how much better the first two approaches are!

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Developing "undo" is almost always trivial. I feel your advice here is the exact opposite of what any experienced, knowledgable game dev would ever say. The smartest game companies put their best, most experienced devs on the game tools, not the game engine. The engines only job is to run the content, and the content doesn't exist without tools. The better, more integrated, and more customized the tools, the faster the iteration time, which is one of the most important things to optimize your process for. –  Sean Middleditch Apr 14 '12 at 19:30
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As an experienced game-dev, I'd agree with MarkR. The editor is a means to an end, nothing more. If you can get a short iteration time without having to invest in building an editor, then you should absolutely do it. Just because you make the editor doesn't mean it's automatically better at creating content than a pre-existing tool. You could spend years of effort trying to recreate Max in your engine, and still only change a 60 second iteration to a 45 second iteration. And your content creators would still hate you for all the Max features you were missing. Plus undo is not always trivial. –  MrCranky Apr 15 '12 at 13:56
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