Tune Up Your Game!
By Rowan "Sumaleth" Crawford
Among that mods that were finished included the remarkable 'Zerstorer', along with other impressive projects such as; 'Air Quake', 'Action Quake', 'Quake Rally' and 'Quess' (well, I couldn't leave them out!). I think even id Software were surprised at the variety and quality of mods produced, but that’s actually a reasonable reaction when you consider the above list includes; flying, driving, playing chess, and a side-on platform game, all modified from a first person action game!
Other games boasting free mods include a number of other FPS games such as Quake II, Unreal, and Duke Nukem, along with other genre titles such as Total Annihilation with its StarWars mod. Some of these add-ons take as long to create as a real game, plus the authors are generally trying to keep down a full-time job or study at school/university, so the level of dedication and commitment is immense. This is particularly true when you consider the harsh nature of the Internet environment, a place where people say what they feel without too much worry of retaliation. Everyone is essentially anonymous and if someone has a problem with something, you can expect they'll speak their mind. Examples are, sadly, all too easy to think of. For example, a guy emailed the Quake Rally team during its production, complaining that it was taking too long and that we should send all the elements to him so he could finish it off. Or another example might be the clever guy who complained to me that I hadn't made an update on the Quake Rally news page for over a week and, by not doing so, I was "letting the community down". Complaints such as those are rather strange when you consider that the authors are setting aside sometimes more than a year of their free time to create free entertainment for other people, yet they keep coming.
With the success of free mods, it was only a matter of time for commercial mods to enter the equation, and, again, Quake started the ball rolling with titles such as 'Shrak', 'Malice' and 'X-Men'. Commercial mods differ from 'mission packs' in that they present a totally new environment for the game rather than simply extending the existing game, and they differ from 'commercial add-ons' in that the engine itself isn't licensed; the mods can only be used if you already own the game. Additionally, 'mods' are rarely commissioned by the company that produced the original game, they are instead usually made by the fans, or by companies wanting to add some short-term projects to their production schedule.
Working on a commercial mod can be very similar to working on a full commercial game, or it can be a lot like working on a free mod; it's dependant on whether a publishing deal, and therefore development money, is arranged before (eg. the X-Men project) or after (eg. the 'Gunman' project) the game is created. Even with a pre-arranged publishing deal, the structure within the team can vary heavily depending on the departments of the team and wishes of the publisher.
Taking the X-Men commercial mod as an example, the coder and the lead artist worked on the project full-time for its duration, with other artists and all the mappers working in their spare time, with a publishing deal arranged well before the completion of the project. Along the same lines as commercial mods are mission packs.
Mission packs extend an existing game by adding new maps, baddies, and weapons, all within the confines of the original storyline and gameplay. If you trace back the origin of mission packs you come to ‘Doom 2 Episode 3; Thy Flesh Consumed', a whole new episode for Doom 2 created by talent from around the net. Since that time, the idea of mission packs has really taken off to the point where mission packs are almost expected. Consider the approach of companies like Ritual and Valve which have already commissioned official mission packs for their unreleased (or only just released) games (Sin and Half-Life respectively). An official mission pack is one commissioned and approved by the creators of the original game, typically farmed out to other companies or development teams rather than being produced by the original game creators. A number of game companies got their start producing official mission packs, such as Ritual who formed to create the second official Quake mission pack, and there are a lot of individuals now in the gaming industry who used mission packs, and mods for that matter, as methods of getting their foot in the game development door.
Until only recently, 'mods' had been almost entirely a byproduct of id Software titles, due to the games since Doom being designed with mods in mind, but mission packs have quickly engulfed a variety of games covering a number of genres. The 3D action game market can't seem to get enough mission packs; for every game on the shelf it's often flanked by a mission pack or two, but even real-time strategy games, such as Total Annihilation, have mission packs to extend their used by date and playing time. We've been discussing official mission packs, but mission packs come in two main flavors; official, and unofficial, with unofficial packs further split between 'commercial' and 'free'. Since the release of Quake II, unofficial mission packs have taken on a life of their own, with at least a dozen in production right now for that title alone.
|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.|