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Vol. 2, Issue 11
February 7, 2000

From the Mouth of Madness:

Mods!

by Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

 

 

 

kay, confessional time, ladies and gentlemen. I consider myself to be the hardest of the hardcore gamers. Particularly when it comes to first person shooters like Quake and the like. But, the sad truth is that while I love these games to death...I just don’t play mods.

There, I’ve said it...you can throw your tomatoes at me now. I’ll just sit here and take it.

Okay, now that you’ve all gotten that out of your system, let me explain myself. I love first person shooters. Heck, I played all the way through Quake 1 in single player. I love deathmatch. I love multiplayer. I think out of the box, these games are great (often flawed, no question, but great in their own way). Which, I suppose, is one reason why I don’t like mods.

Mods, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is the moniker given to user-made add-ons, or modifications, to these games. I respect them. Lord knows, I respect that. I think it’s amazing how much effort goes into these things. I look at them in the same way I do console emulators – they’re really cool, and show the author is very, very skilled. But that still doesn’t mean I’d rather play that than the original.

There are typically two kinds of mods: full blown total conversions (TCs) and new multiplayer gameplay types. Completed TCs are few and far between, since they require an incredible amount of work. By definition, a TC is a total conversion. That means every level, texture, character model and sound is completely original. At any given time, there are hundreds of these things being worked on. For various reasons, most of them will never be finished, even the ones with the hardcore, dedicated developers working on them. Why? Well, frankly, if they’re that good, then they’ll end up working at a gaming company. It sounds ludicrous, but it happens all the time.

Of course, the other reason is simply that people either get bored with the project, or realize what an overwhelming task they’ve created for themselves. Or, as was the case with several large-scale projects, they simply took too long. The day Quake III Arena hit the shelves, there were a whole bunch of mods that either were cancelled outright, or decided to attempt to convert their existing work to the newer game engine.

Then there’s the other type of mod, the one that’s far more common, and much saner. The new gameplay type, or “PC” for partial conversion. These don’t try and reinvent the wheel, they just add something small and new to the game. They range from the absolutely bizarre to really simple ones, like mods that tweak the speed of the game.

The problem I have with partial conversions is that they usually end up being gameplay types that didn’t make it into the game for good reason. They might be entertaining, but they’re frequently very unbalanced. There are some very popular mods out there that are simply unbalanced, allowing one team to easily overtake the server. Also, because these are significantly easier to make than TCs, the level of quality is all over the map – from retail quality, to something that resembles the author’s first programming exercise. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s just not for me.

What got me thinking about mods as a whole, is the realization that while there have only been a handful of mods for the Quake series of games I’d ever really spend any sort of time playing, I’m very impressed with the most recent batch of Half-Life mods. Now of course, like any game, Half-Life has a whole bunch of mods that are silly programming experiments. But, as Counter Strike has shown, it’s possible to create an original game type that is addicting, and of the same quality as the game itself.

Now I’m not the biggest fan of Counter Strike, but I know a lot of people (loonygames’ own Nick Ferguson for one) that are completely addicted to it. Personally, I think it’s fun, but not enough fun to supplant regular deathmatch. But, and I say but, I have to admit, it’s very well made. It’s well made enough, that the most recent version of Counter Strike was funded by Valve Software.

Can you imagine? Valve is not only actively involved in the creation of mods, but in some cases, they’ve actually funded them (Action Half-Life, another extremely well made mod was paid for as well). That’s pretty significant. But, it would seem that it has paid off. I know several people that ran out and bought copies of Half-Life just to play Counter Strike. The last time I heard someone buying a game just for a mod was back in the days of the first Quake, when hordes of people bought up the game in order to play a little mod called Team Fortress.

The very existence of mods can extend the life-span of a game by years, as the huge number of people still playing QuakeWorld has proven. Valve is setting a strange precedent with their hands-on approach to supporting mods, but the question remains...shouldn’t they be spending that time making their own games better?

When game companies get directly involved in the creation of mods, I think a strange line is crossed. Obviously the mods themselves become more polished, something that is much appreciated. But it raises all kinds of odd issues. For example: will Valve be funding a version of Counter Strike for Team Fortress 2? How about Half-Life 2? (Should they ever officially announce it, of course).

Unreal Tournament shipped with a whole bunch of little “mutators” or mini-mods, such as “insta-gib.” While these are appreciated by fans of the various gameplay types, the more mods included in a game out of the box, the more confusing it becomes to the newbie. When I jump into an Unreal Tournament server, I have no idea what I’m getting into. It could be regular deathmatch, or maybe Insta-Gib. Or something else entirely. It becomes terribly frustrating trying to find a “pure” server with UT.

I don’t have any real answers to the issues raised here. I can’t claim to know all there is to know about mods, and of course, I’m ignorant in many ways. I respect mod authors, and I hope there are plenty made for years to come. But personally speaking, I think I’ll stick to deathmatch and CTF.

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor in chief here at loonygames.


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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 2000 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.