Today we will be tackling one of the biggest advantages to the PC platform as well as one of Gaming’s most important and underrated topics – modding. Recently, we have seen fewer and fewer games ship with mod tools and some seem built in a manner that outright denies the creation of mods. Honestly, that is a real shame. In this article we will explain why modding is so important, why it still matters and why gaming would do well to expand its modding support once more or risk losing out on a lot of awesome content.
So, what is this “modding” thing actually? Simply put, it is the act of modifying a game’s files or engine to change existing game content, mechanics, visuals and audio, or making wholly new and unique stuff with it. It is the ultimate form of expression for a community and one of the more important albeit hidden long-term forces in the industry.
Almost all mods are free, distributed by members of their communities or modding groups. They are works of passion and are not beholden to budgets or an approaching deadline. For better or worse, they are an exception to the modern game development scene.
Note: we recommend just using the Sky Reclamation Project nowadays.
Sometimes games ship with bugs. Hell, these days it seems that every game ever releases with some level of brokenness or missing features. While most developers release a few patches and fix some or even most of the issues, very few actually provide continued, long-term support for their works. This is where modders come in.
Experienced modders can fix crashes, bugs, fix quest lines or broken event triggers and iron out animation issues. Sometimes, they can fix engine problems related to a game’s API and restore lost functionality or optimize the game’s code to run better. A few even specialize in increasing accessibility, making it so that more people can enjoy the games too.
Unreal 1, a triumph of FPS game design does not want to start on modern hardware? Modders have an answer, use the Unofficial patch and the game will run like greased lightning in DX9 at least. STALKER crashed for the 5th time in like 20 minutes of gameplay? The Reclamation Projects have you covered. Max Payne does not run at all on your brand-new CPU and OS? Someone likely has a workaround or a fix – a mod.
One of PC Gaming’s greatest sites for mods!
While I understand that it is ultimately unfortunate that for most games it is the community that will have to keep them alive and fix them fully, the fact that we can do that is still ultimately a good thing for all of gaming. An art form has to respect its old works, and modders can and always do rise to the challenge.
Sometimes, modders want to do even more. Perhaps they love The Witcher’s story but do not like its gameplay or combat all that much.
Why not… change that combat then? Modders can look at a game retrospectively and are almost always a part of its core, elite community. If anyone can make good changes, it is them.
Overhaul mods often take the base game/DLC/expansions and change parts of their gameplay and/or story to make something that is still a lot like the original, but different. Some people want to make games harder. Some want to make the RPG mechanics deeper or the shooting wackier or go the other way and make it more realistic. Some love the original game but want to add new factions and mission packs to spruce up their next playthrough.
Ever played a historical strategy game and wondered “What if I were to make the vehicles more realistic?”. Perhaps you are playing Doom and asked yourself “What if I could talk to the monsters?”.
The power of overhauls cannot be denied. They are a great way to experiment with a familiar formula, to see what works and what does not, to get more people into a game even.
One awesome thing about Overhaul mods is that they can and do affect the wider industry long term. Developers and publishers are not ignorant – they monitor what popular and beloved mods achieve and they may even integrate certain ideas from them into future titles.
Total Conversion/New Story mods
Perhaps the best site for mods!
These are the big guns, the pride and joy of the modding communities, the flagships of what pure dedication and passion can accomplish.
These types of mods can often be as big or bigger than the base game, feature voice acting (sometimes professional), use reverse-engineered engines, brand new locations and storylines, hell sometimes they even change the genre of the original work.
Skywind is a remake of Morrowind on the Skyrim: Special Edition engine!
Some of the finest games of all time, in my opinion, are actually not official indie, AAA, AA games but instead mods. From powerhouses of open world game design such as NLC7 or Spatial Anomaly, to ambitious story mods like Underhell or Doom 3: Phobos, what these games lack in budget they more than make up in passion and determination.
One thing that we cannot ignore too is that since these projects are so personal and ultimately free – they are also let loose to be niche and experimental. If one is making a 150-million-dollar AAA game on multiple platforms, they cannot afford to take too many risks unless their name alone can sell copies that is. A modder does not care – they are free to insert as many Turgenev references and high-end literary techniques as they please for whichever niche or elite audience they want to target in their 100-hour magnum opus.
The sheer ambition of some fan projects is at times staggering and this is also why such mods tend to have really long development times. Since people working on them are usually not making a lot of money on their work, bar a few donations here and there, they still need to work another job and thus they cannot dedicate all their time to the project, but that is understandable.
The high-end mods of this class now are a real influence to the rest of gaming in more ways than one. Not only are developers looking at them, they also often hire some of the talent working on such projects. If someone’s small team managed to crack Moddb’s top 10 and got a million downloads on Nexus, you know they are doing something right after all.
Lambda Wars – ever imagined Half Life 2 as an RTS?
Obviously not all mods are these grandiose achievements that can rival AAA games, recontextualize classics, or fix games and preserve the art form for all of eternity. In fact, the dark side of modding is full of shovel ware, frankly offensive content, or even hacks and cheats for multiplayer games.
Now, quality is ultimately somewhat subjective. One man’s shovel ware can be another man’s fun adventure. Besides, since almost all mods are 100% free and require at least some user effort to install, is it really that much of a problem if some mods are ultimately bad? Plus, the reality is that most games are not masterpieces, the fact that we even have a surprising list of mods that can compete with the finest AA or AAA games ever made at all… while costing nothing at all, is already darn impressive. It would not be intellectually honest to hold mods to standards no one else in the industry can reach even if they wanted to.
What has changed and why do they matter?
Alas, these days few developers release dedicated modding tools for their games, and very few releases source code access or even just full SDKs. Often, we even have games that are made intentionally difficult to modify.
2001’s Return to Caslte Wolfenstein is open source – there is no higher level of mod support possible!
Why did this change? Well one problem is microtransactions and DLCs. Some of the smaller DLCs or microtransactions, such as skins or unique weapons and units, can easily see competition from modders that know their craft well. While I understand why publishers may be worried here, I do believe that history has proven this to not be an actual problem. Counter Strike, Team Fortress, StarCraft, Oblivion, Fallout 4 – they all have skins and small microtransactions of some sort but they also come with dedicated modding tools. Their communities did not harm the sales of microtransactions in a significant manner but the free press and love has instead created immortal juggernauts that other titles, without mods, cannot match.
Some mad lads turned CoD 4 into a mission pack of Men of War! CoD4 Real Time Tactics anyone?
For some others there is actually no malicious intent. They just do not want to provide modding support and tools for it – and that is ultimately fair. As long as they don’t go after modders or go out of their way to make it harder, all of this is fine, even if a bit disappointing.
There is one good thing to come of this and this is all thanks to the modern free engine ecosystem. These days, anyone can download Unity, Unreal or a few other prominent game engines, find models and assets for free or even make their own and turn it all into a video game. This is obviously awesome and has led to the creation of many new awesome games and IPs, but a part of me wonders – why must this be enough? Why not have both excellent modding and awesome free engines? Surely that is even better than just having one or the other?
The Dark Mod lacks a coherent story, but the gameplay here is fantastic!
Another very important factor to consider – many developers do in fact recruit from talent from fans or modding groups. MachineGames, id Software, Valve, GSC Game World, 4A Games, CD Projekt Red, Ubisoft Sofia, Creative Assembly and many others have members who started their journey in making awesome games by making custom maps, skins, storylines. This is not a new thing, it has been happening for decades and many AAA, AA, or even smaller indie projects have benefited from this vast pool of talented people with passion.
How can one forget that some mods successfully became their own, “full” games? That Counter Strike that is one of the most popular games of all time? It was a mod first, 20 years ago. PUBG, the game that started the current Battle-Royale craze and is still a juggernaut? Its origins are in modding. Red Orchestra? Mod. Team Fortress? Mod too. Same for DOTA by the way, it started as a custom map (mod) for the excellent Warcraft 3.
A final, perhaps more niche but I do feel important point about mod support is that mods increase value for the consumer and can help emerging regions and less developed countries get in on game development even quicker. Think about the value people who love Skyrim and its mods got over time with their purchase? Or all the many amazing Source or id Tech mods I sprinkled across this page, all the awesome free maps and scenarios for the great strategy games of old. Many of these amazing titles have people working on them from the developing world and one day their experience may form brand new studios that will head the vanguard of game development. It has happened before after all.
The maker of Minerva: Metastasis got to work at Valve thanks to his godlike level design skills.
Modding is one of the absolute greatest things about PC Gaming. The entire industry, all of gaming itself owes so much to the continued output of the fan community. Even gamers who have never installed a mod for a game in their whole lives have benefited long term. Modding is sometimes the only thing allowing people with different ability to enjoy gaming at all.
Was it not for modding, all of gaming and all gamers would lose tremendously. It really is that simple and I believe we would do well to make it more open, more accessible across the industry once more.The articles content, opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in SAPPHIRE NATION are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of SAPPHIRE Technology.