Tune Up Your Game!
By Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford
Add-ons... They're everywhere! The gaming industry has discovered its own little sub-market and it seems that everyone wants in. Is it a fad, or will it become a permanent fixture on the software shelves? The jury is still out on that question, but if the number of announced titles continues to grow at its current rate something is going to have to give. A look at the add-on "industry" (it's almost getting big enough to warrant that title without the quotation marks) shows that it really has become a scene within a scene, with some companies creating mission packs along side full games, and many new companies and development teams using the add-on market as a stepping stone to writing full, original games.
Add-ons come in a number of different flavors, with substantial overlap between the different types. At the very bottom of the list (in more ways than one), there are the "exploitative" compilations, and from there you have a plethora of other types such as; the non-exploitative compilations, the free mods, the commercial mods, the unofficial mission packs, and the official mission packs. Exploitative compilations, made famous by Actura but subsequently seen as a "good idea" by far too many other companies, all tend to feature material pulled off the net, pressed onto CDs, and sold commercially. Copyright issues are neatly folded, pressed, and thrown out the window, with all the material used without author knowledge, let alone receiving financial compensation for the commercial use of their work. This is exploitation in the worst sense imaginable.
Traditionally, the material most often taken advantage of are user created maps, and the main offenders were CDs or id Software's Quake, but you can probably find an example of this type of add-on for any game that has archives of new material on the net. As ludicrous as it sounds, one company even went to the trouble of replacing all the id Software textures with their own (none-too-attractive) texture set, seemingly to avoid copyright issues, yet the authors of the maps didn't even know about this until the CD was on the market. "Money for nothing" as they say in the song...
Thankfully, this trend is all but a memory from the past, or has at least moved underground where the damage isn't quite so severe, a result likely to be due to the combined might of corporate muscle. Both from the companies that created the original games, and the combined outcry of authors and gamers on the net. Gaming magazines produce compilation CDs on a monthly basis that are glued to the cover of their magazines, filled with all sorts of goodies to entice a purchase, and these magazine disks went through their own questionable period around the same time. Material was taken en masse from the net with only passing consideration for copyright issues. There was a time when we authors played and interesting game of "find your mod on game CDs", and the funny (or sad, depending on how you look at it) thing was that they invariably still contained the standard, "may not be included on any CDs" copyright notice at the bottom of the readme files. Perhaps they assumed that magazines were exempt from such rules, thankfully, however, magazines these days are far more stringent in receiving permission for items used suggesting that past lessons learned actually made a difference. Compilations aren't all bad news, however. id Software recently announced an official compilation of multiplayer 'mods' (along with other odds and ends) for Quake II, Extremities. The announcement was met with skepticism from some - how were the mods chosen, are the authors being compensated for their work, why aren't there more mods included etc - so I asked Todd Hollenshead about the reasoning behind the pack:
"There are a number of things we hope to accomplish with the publishing of Extremities. The first of these is to give something back to the mod authors that have worked very hard in relative obscurity. We hope that the example of these authors being published and paid for their work will encourage more amateur developers to get involved in the online community that Quake and Quake II has spawned. Secondly, we wanted to provide people who may be huge single player Quake II fans an easy opportunity to see what online play is like. Some people may be wary of downloading programs from the Internet, or may not have a connection which is reliable enough (or cheap enough - they pay by the minute in the UK) to download mods. So we've sorted through many of the mods, picked what we believe is a representative sample of the highest quality work, and put them on a CD. All of that, and a brand new Quake III Arena poster (included with Extremities) should make for a great Christmas present to any Quake II fan. Even if you're buying the present for yourself :)"
As someone who is lucky enough to have work included on the CD, I can happily dispel any doubts that the authors of the mods used on the compilation aren't getting anything but the best deal. Even without the chance of a nice financial return, having our work published by none of than id Software could be considered rewarding enough. All those months of hard work solidify into the ultimate conclusion. 'Mods' aren't purely the realm of multiplayer mayhem, of course, many teams go the that extra step, and put in the extra time required, to create a totally new game; something that works as both a new single player experience, and often a new approach to deathmatch as well. Make no mistakes, it's a lot of work to create a whole new game, even when you are using an existing tried-and-tested engine, and even borrowing heavily from the original artwork. Yet many teams are quite willing to spend anywhere from 6 to 18 months or more writing these mods for free. I've even worked on a few myself. The concept was conceived back in the days of Doom, with mods such as 'Alien Doom', but really took off with the release of Quake which id Software cleverly designed from the ground up to be as modifiable as possible (complete with it's own programming language; QuakeC). It's interesting, though, that there was a noticably large variance between the number of 'announced' mods and 'released' mods for Quake, with a lot of teams realizing at some point during development that completing a full game involved a lot more work than it seemed at first. Many of those that did stick at it found Quake II released under their feet, and subsequently transferred the project to the new game. In the case of the 'Gunman' project, it recently made a third step and is now going to be a Half-Life mod; now that is perseverance.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Tune Up Your Game! © 1998 Rowan Crawford. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, dangit.|