Editorial: The Greatness of Modding

NO! You get your Baldur's Gate out of my Diablo 2!
Get your Diablo 2 out of my Baldur’s Gate!

Hello, Lusinazis! In a strange turn this week, I shall not be bashing EA or feminists like Tim. While Mr. Che the Fey rapidly hammers out his “Games are Racist” manifesto (I am looking forward to tomorrow’s article, Tim!), I will be talking about something a bit less serious, but much more important, modding. Modding has been around for quite some time, and has been something that PC owners gloat about to their console-locked friends ever since its beginning. The increasing complexity of games has giving way to mod tools that are capable of generating equally complex user-created content without much difficulty. Today, it seems that the only limitation placed on modders is not their skill but rather their imagination.

Modding early PC games posed quite the task to the early trailblazers. Games like Doom and Quake did come with a suite of modding tools for fans to utilize like today’s games. Still, this lack of resources did not hinder the creativity of the public. Through vast amounts of trial and error, experimentation, and communicating with peers, many impressive mods were distributed on the internet. Some of these mods garnered their respective creators a vast amount of notoriety. In fact, two of Valve’s biggest series, Team Fortress and Counter-Strike, began as mods of Quake and Half-Life, respectively. These releases impressed Valve so much, that they would later hire the development teams behind both mods.

Games that have large modding communities can experience an unprecedented level of longevity, Diablo 2 being a perfect example. Released in the year 2000, Diablo 2 was insanely successful, taking home awards from many different gaming publications. This success helped grow the Diablo 2 mod community to epic proportions, leading to a veritable sea of mods. These mods varied from the simple, like additional weapons, to full-blown overhauls of the game. Apart from helping maintain Diablo 2‘s popularity early on, the modding community also allowed for a sustained level of popularity that continues on even today, thirteen years after the game’s release. When Diablo 3 was announced, many fans were disappointed to hear that the inclusion of a Real Money Auction house would mean that not only would the game require an internet connecton, but also that modding the game would not be allowed. Some fans of the series even chose to stick with Diablo 2 because of this.

Staying anti-social and catching them all!
What is better than having friends?

While modding is not normally available to console gamers, many people have taken to ROM hacking. ROM hacking is a form of modding where the additional features are hard coded to the game’s data. Games like Super Mario World and the Pokemon series are particularly popular with the ROM hacking community. While official hacking tools are never released for these titles, that has not stopped the hacking community from developing their own. Due to the nature of ROM hacking, most hacks aim to be full overhauls or translations of a game rather than adding a few small changes. On the console side of gaming, almost all hacks are developed for the SNES and PSX eras of gaming. Consoles from these eras can easily be emulated on a computer, something that is vital when dealing with ROMs. The story is quite different for handhelds as even DS titles are extremely popular to hackers.

Sometimes, a quality hack can even produce a game that is more fun than the base of the hack. A hack of Pokemon: Heart Gold/Soul Silver that goes by the title of “Pokemon: Sacred Gold/Storm Silver” surpasses the original in quality, quite the feat for anybody that has played the it. Instead of attempting to rewrite the story, the creator focused on other aspects of the games. Along with being more difficult, all 493 Pokemon are available without the need of another game, meaning even the anti-social can satiate their need to “Catch ‘Em All”. Many other features have been added to these hacks, but not at the expense of the core story experience of the original game, resulting in a fantastic way to play even if it is one’s first time playing the game.

I wonder if Skyrim's physics could have saved Gwen Stacy from Spider-man's incompetence.
Wait, what the hell is a car doing in Skyrim?

With so many great things that modding is capable of bringing, it should be expected that there would be some sort of drawback to counter the greatness. The truth is that modding presents very little in terms of drawbacks, and the drawbacks that do exist are usually mere annoyances. One drawback is that modding can make multiplayer in games like Torchlight 2 a bit difficult because both players must be using the same mods. Single-player games like Skyrim can present a difficult decision for gamers that have both a mid-level PC and a console as they may have to pick between mods and a better graphical experience. The last drawback has to do with the more ambitious mods that set out to completely mod a game. Many times great mods are abandoned in an unfinished state because their creator underestimated the level of dedication required to complete a full overhaul mod.

The number of companies that release mod tools has been steadily growing this generation. I hope that this trend continues as mods can be an excellent way to add free content to a game. Some larger companies worry that promoting modding will cut into DLC purchases. While modding combats retarded DLC like vanity items, companies like Bethesda and Fireaxis have proven that modding works well with DLC that is focused on story and gameplay content. I hope that the next era of consoles can finally bring modding to the living room, and with consoles becoming closer to PC, this may become a reality. Now, LusiHitlers, how have mods/hacks altered your experience with a game? Also, do you feel that modding will be the next of the PC-exclusive features to fall?

6 comments

  1. As someone who has extensively modded Skyrim, from both graphics and features standpoints, I can say I think if modding ever comes to the consoles, it won’t have the breadth of content that is present on Skyrim Nexus, Steam Workshop, and various Russian/Chinese sites that also deliver mods (yes, these exist).

    This is because Microsoft and Sony currently have their system to the point where all DLC and patches to a game have to be approved. As a PC gamer I got Skyrim patches the day they were finalized by Bethesda. I had to wait on the DLC thanks to the Xbox exclusivity contract Bethesda signed, but I certainly got that quicker than the poor PS3 gamers.

    So if Sony and Microsoft were to somehow agree to a mod portal (which I think they wouldn’t, because it’d be large files on someone’s server that would likely be downloaded for free (unless they decide to charge a monthly amount for a mod portal, or made all mods microtransactions; I don’t believe the latter would go down very well in the community). They wouldn’t allow any graphic mods like Skyrim HD because those mods are simply very large and make what will probably be already-taxed systems work even harder.

    Furthermore, there are also feature mods that conflict with others. How are Sony/Microsoft supposed to approve mods when they could conflict with any other number of mods?

    One can suggest that they could simply not approve things and let everything get posted, but if there’s adult content in the game then Bethesda/Sony/Microsoft/any-other-party-involved could possibly get sued unless there is something in the ToS for the mod portal that states Sony/Microsoft/Bethesda is not responsible for any content uploaded.

    But I think Sony/Microsoft would probably not want to get involved in any of this business, simply because it’d likely be very hard for them to make any money off of it.

    As for altering experience… Yes, very much so. Realism mods in Skyrim make roleplaying my characters in the game more enjoyable and more realistic. Also it provides a use for the cooking function in Skyrim, which is basically useless after level 5.

  2. @Lilithsahl ALL of your points about Sony/Microsoft and mods are correct. For the responsibility aspect, both companies already include language in their TOS, as do all of their games, with their respect towards adult content. I would assume that modding on both consoles would require a premium for the next generation, but I think that future generations would make this free.

    Also, I conclude that HD mods, or anything that increases the graphical quality to be excluded from the console user.

  3. This may sound weird but… thank you so much for changing your nickname.

  4. SO SAY WE ALL.

    I just want to apologize in advance, Gyme. The article about white hegemony over games has been put off in favor of something a bit more…bland. Yes, bland, that’s what I’ll go with.

    More on topic with your article, though, for me the Modding community in games is most definitely one of the most unique features of video games in contrast with other forms of entertainment. Of course literature has fan fiction, and films have fan films, but neither of those fan-based riffs operate with the same amount of legitimacy as video game mods. Like you pointed out, the Team Fortress and Counter-strike teams are now officially part of the larger production company, which isn’t something you see happen in other mediums.

    As for whether we’ll be seeing people modding their console games, it’s a possibility but I sincerely doubt that console versions of games will ever have files as ready to be modded as their console brethren, at least to the same degree as PC games. On the one hand, yes, we already have console games with level editors and other basic modding tools, plus I would argue that a willing community is certainly there. It’s just that the consoles themselves will need to jump through a lot of hoops (a different OS that let’s us access files on the disk, better input to mess with those files, etc.) to start reaching PC levels. Then again, there’s plenty of time to watch the PS4 and XBOX come up with some sweet way of circumventing or addressing that issue, so I am completely willing to eat crow a few months from now when I’m proven wrong.

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