Action game level design is hard. If you want to hone your skills at designing action game levels, the problem is that first of all you have to make a good game, with good controls, interesting enemies, not to mention all the more basic code like collision, rendering, and of course the level editor (okay, so you could use an engine for a lot of that, but it's still a lot of work). Even once you have that, if your game isn't any good, that'll hinder any potential practice you might get from designing levels.

So I'm looking for 2d action games with level editors. In addition to reducing your work load and allowing you to focus on level design, having a complete game means that you can play the professionally-made levels first and have something to compare your work to.

Personally I'm thinking of sidescrolling action/platformers, but 2d action includes any 2d game that is primarily execution-based, ie reflexes and knowledge of the controls. So, Super Mario Bros. counts as 2d action in this instance.

My own examples are on the PC, but console games are fine too (although I think PC games usually have better level editors, maybe that's changing though).

PS: I hope this question is acceptable, even though there's obviously no single right answer. I noticed there's no "big-list" tag here, but I've seen questions like this on other SE sites, and it'll be plenty useful to future readers, which is part of the point of SE questions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know if this question is on-topic or not, but it certainly is interesting -- thanks for asking. \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 Aug 29 '13 at 16:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've made it a wiki while it's decided if it's on topic or not. Personally, I don't think it is. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Aug 29 '13 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do we really have to be such hardliners about list questions? I realize I'm biased, but a list-type question isn't the same thing as an opinion-based or ambiguous question. SE sites attract such great communities, think of all the great information that could stockpiled if we stopped rejecting all but the most narrowly-focused questions. And meanwhile, who is hurt by allowing list questions? The community isn't, because unlike discussion-type questions, list questions are concretely useful to current and future readers. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack M Aug 29 '13 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ You realize you're saying "The stack exchange sites are so great! Lets change the way they work". There's a reason they're so great. If you want to discuss it further, create a meta post. Comments isn't the place for that type of discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Aug 29 '13 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Byte56 I'd respond, but this discussion would be better for meta. My defense stands, I'll go ahead and let the community decide now. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack M Aug 29 '13 at 16:43

Well, since I'm not one of the more strict members of SE, I guess I'll give my take. A few games I know of:

  • Braid - Has an in-game level editor
  • Super Meat Boy - comes with Steam version
  • Unity3D - Much more involved, but more flexible; there are doubtless some scripts you can use to put placeholder artwork in a 2D-movable world (and the physics can be constrained to two dimensions as well)
  • Stealth Inc., AKA Stealth B____d: Have not played this one, but I can see it includes a level editor.
  • Aquaria - Somewhat old by now. This game is an "Ecco the Dolphin"-type exploration game, not a platformer. Still, it has its fast-paced action moments.

The trend I notice is that they're often available for newer indie games, many of which (even the unpopular ones) should not be ignored.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Super Meat Boy! I'm surprised I forgot that one. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack M Aug 29 '13 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unity3D is a game maker, not a game. It doesn't belong on your list. \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 Aug 29 '13 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ashes999 I don't think the list is helped by technicalities. I certainly wouldn't include XNA, but if someone looks at all other options and says "No, no level editors let me change the internal logic of how X works" then Unity is perhaps the quickest way you could put together a very changable, working prototype. It's about as useful as saying "Technically, UDK isn't a first-person shooter" - sure, but it takes about 3 minutes in the editor until you have a rudimentary FPS with UT3 guns. \$\endgroup\$ – Katana314 Aug 29 '13 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey man, it's your list. I'm just pointing it out, because the question lists games (not game makers), and your answer contains a game maker in it. You could then list every game maker or engine and say "sure, you can make a 2D game in ..." but that's not the point. \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 Aug 30 '13 at 12:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ashes999 You can answer questions with technical precision, or ranked by helpfulness. The OP described his problem - he wants an adequate, premade sandbox to be able to practice level design. One option is if he wants simple game mechanics no one uses, he can put just a little bit of work into strapping together existing components. Just like how if someone finds a coding problem, and posts it on SO with a certain question, someone can say "Actually, rather answer the exact question you gave, here's a better solution to your problem!" \$\endgroup\$ – Katana314 Aug 30 '13 at 13:16

Here are my own contributions.

Super Mario World has a fully graphical level editor called Lunar Magic, which I've never used, but it's very popular. You'll have to download a ROM and an Emulator, I think Lunar Magic outputs patches for the ROM.
Platform: Windows

Super Metroid has a similar level editor called SMILE, which I've also never used. This one is less well-known and I'm not sure if it's as stable or functional.
Platform: Windows

Knytt Stories is a free Windows platformer that comes with a fully graphical level editor. The game tends to be more exploration driven than platforming and action, but I've seen pretty good action platforming levels made for it. The level editor is great as long as you don't need to do any complex scripting. Support community is still very much alive on the forums.
Platform: Windows

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think he wanted 2D games he can edit legitimately and release on PC. Editing ROMs is an iffy thing at best. \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 Aug 29 '13 at 16:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ashes999 He and I are the same person :) There may be issues with editing ROMs, but there's no problem putting them on the list. This is about using level editors for practice, after all, not commercial release. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack M Aug 29 '13 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ you should clarify in your original question text, which doesn't indicate that you specifically mean ROM editing only. \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 Aug 29 '13 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ashes999 He didn't. The last link is not a ROM utility. \$\endgroup\$ – Sidar Aug 30 '13 at 10:23

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