A level editor is a software tool designed to edit or create levels for a video game. This special software may be created by the developers of the game or third-party programmers may develop them individually. While level editors are most commonly seen for video games for computers, they sometimes show up for video games made for home consoles as well. These are almost always designed by the developers of the original game and are usually included with the game.
Level editors are frequently designed for game engines and not individual games. A game engine is the computer software that is used to create and develop the game. They help set functions like the physics, sound, animation, and graphics of the game. The Unreal Engine, for example, is a game engine made by Epic Games that is often used by other game companies to develop their own games. Modified version of the level editor UnrealED make it possible to edit or create levels for individual Unreal engine games, such as Thief or Deus Ex.
Developers will usually release free level editor software for games and encourage fans to make their own levels. Levels fans create using level editor programs are then released online to the fan community so others can play them. They are especially popular in online first-person-shooter games such as the popular games Quake and Doom. Fanatic players can avoid becoming bored of the same levels by building their own and actively seek user-created levels to change things up.
The nature of video game consoles, such as the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, make it difficult for full-featured level editors to exist on those platforms. While level editors made for home computers are often similar to the level creation programs the developers themselves used, level editors for game consoles are often stripped down, simplified versions with limited functionality.
Sometimes illegal level editors are made for console games by fans who want level editing capabilities in the game. These are often illegal because they require modified game consoles or pirated copies of the game to properly run. More often though game developers are beginning to see the potential for built-in level editor programs and are including some form of them in games. Some games even incorporate level editors into the progression of the game, requiring the player to edit or create aspects of a level in order to progress further in the story.