The Lost Art of Modding - Power to the Gamer | Week 1

February 4, 2019
The Lost Art of Modding - Power to the Gamer | Week 1

How could your favorite PC, console and mobile games news site not talk about mods? The lost art of modding will be a weekly series about mods for both older and more recent games. I hope that every week you will be reminded of a great game that you’ll want to play again.

To start off this series, let’s have a small introduction. Mods are user created alterations to games. They can be anything from small changes to textures and models to total conversions of games. This obviously adds to the replay value of any given game, since every time you play it can feel like a completely different game. It also makes the gamer feel closer to their favorite developer.

It’s also not uncommon for mods to gain a following so large that they become their own standalone games.

The types of mods

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Image source: Killing Floor Steam page

Total conversions are practically different games from the original, sometimes even being an entirely different genre. The mods feature completely new art and different gameplay mechanics. Dota is a great example, it began as a mod for Warcraft 3, completely changing the gameplay and today it’s a standalone game.

Overhaul mods are borderline remakes. They improve on what the game already has and add things that are missing from it. GTA 5 Redux is a great overhaul mod, besides higher quality textures, it also adds a new weather system and visuals.

Add-ons are a lot smaller and simpler. As the name suggests, they add on to the base game without trying to change it. The added content could be a new weapon, vehicle, character or map, etc. Games are usually flexible enough to allow this in one way or another.

Unofficial patches are there specifically to enhance the player’s experience. The focus is on fixing bugs, balancing gameplay, bringing content inaccessible by normal means. They’re also useful for games that are no longer officially supported, keeping the game playable for the fanbase.

The beginnings

 

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Image source: Doom Wiki

The first game to have a large modding community was the 1993 Doom. It began with the mutual agreement between id Software and the modders that the mods should only work on the full release and not on the demo. The modders were given a foundation to begin from and they kept their word. Another big thing was the increasing popularity of the internet at this time. This allowed for the modding communities to form and for modders to meet and exchange ideas.

Even today, from time to time, new mods for Doom show up. After 20+ years of modding, they needed a new challenge. Obviously, the only thing left to do was to port Doom to everything with a screen. That’s an entirely different story though and we will be covering it in a future article.

After Doom came Quake (1996) and it really made an impact. Modders added 2 game modes that we know and love today. The first one was Capture the flag, something that we’re used to seeing in modern games. The other was Team Fortress… Yes, Team Fortress is that old.

 

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Image source: Half-Life Steam page

Two years later came Half-Life and that single game has given gamers so much. Valve actively encouraged and supported modders, even hiring those that stood out. They released both the level-editor and software development kit giving modders limitless opportunities. This amazing level of support from the developer increased the shelf life of Half-Life well past the usual 12 to 16 months.

Because of Valves continued support for Half-life and later Half-Life 2 modders we have games like Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Day of defeat, Black Mesa, Cry of Fear, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, Garry’s Mod and more. Maybe saying that Half-Life is the best thing to happen to gamers really isn’t an overstatement.

The good, the bad and the ugly

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Image source: Garry's Mod Steam page

Developers quickly realized how impactful it is to allow players to modify their games. In the early 2000s, games that didn’t have modding tools were rare. This new relationship between modders and developers also meant that most developers were happy to share new more powerful engines, editors and tools with their community.

Mods are a bit of a gray area legally, mostly because it’s hard to draw a line on what belongs to whom. Due to this, modding continued to exist based on an unwritten agreement. The modders won’t sell their creations or do anything to harm the developer’s reputation or game and the developers will continue to support them and won’t abuse their position of power.

Everything aligned perfectly so we were given great games with amazing mods and even more mods became standalone games.

 

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Image source: PUBG offical Facebook page

Well, until some decided to abuse the opportunity they were given. People started packing malware and keyloggers into mods. They started modding multiplayer games giving players unfair advantages and ruining the experience for other players.

Obviously after the bad, comes the ugly. In the form of Valves paid mods. The first game to implement this feature was Skyrim. It didn’t last long because, well, everyone was really pissed off. The most glaring problems being ridiculous prices because of people trying to earn a quick buck, the content being published without the consent of the creator, third party assets being used.

Modding today

In 20 years we have seen the rise and fall of modding. Today modders mostly stick to older games they enjoy, making new mods and updating older ones. It’s not like they have many other options since most developers are no longer as keen on giving source code and development tools to their players. The relationship between modders and developers was always a fragile one. Neither could force the other to uphold their part of the deal and with time respective goals changed and left modding behind.