Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Vanilla? I prefer mint choc chip.

So, it's been a while, huh? I haven't posted for some time, maybe it's because I've been busy, maybe it's just me being lazy, I'll leave you to guess.


I haven't even started and I digress. Let's outline what I'm about to talk about, the subject of modification. Before you get all "Microsoft ban you for that shiz", I'm referring to PC games primarily, and the ability to modify, improve upon and add content to games.

So, why did I decide to descend this article on you guys now? Because it interests me, and through my interest, I think perhaps I might inspire some others to try it out, and explore the vast world of content that other fans have created.

Let's start off with a fairly obvious example, Counter-Strike (CS). What started out as a team of a few guys making a mod for the Half-Life engine, with modern weapons and some nifty game modes, turned into a phenomenom, which in turn led to some of those guys getting paid some big bucks from Valve, who bought out the idea and have been working on it, refining it and making it their own ever since. Funny to think such a polished product, with achievements, worldwide leagues and tournaments started out with a couple guys in their spare time huh? Alright, CS is a bit of an exception, but it's a great success story for the modding community.

So what is there these days? Well, sticking with Valve products, there's a whole wealth of mods for the source engine, from cyberpunk team shooter, Dystopia (below), complete with it's tron-esque data hacking sections, to everyone's favourite sandbox playtime game, Garry's Mod, a single-player or co-op "tool" that alows you to go crazy with the source engine's various functions, building combine soldier catapults or ridiculous rube goldberg machines.

Dystopia, a world of cyberpunk badassery in the source engine.

Mods such as these are usually large projects, with separate communities of their own, dedicated websites and teams of people working on them, for a first step into modification, mods like this are a great way to get going, being easy to get hold of and install and with the dedicated community, it's easy to find help if something's going wrong.

So, what if you feel like going deeper? Good question, and one I'm happy to go into more detail about. The humble RPG (most prominently western RPGs) generally has a large community behind it, wether the game is online based or not. Mods come from the community, and by and large, the community continues long after the credits roll because of it. One major example is Bethesda's TES4:Oblivion, by no means a game lacking in content to begin with, but with the passion, dedication and tlc of it's community, it transforms into a world with next to no limits. When Bethesda released the Construction Set in the months after release, the community went mod crazy, and still is today. Anything ranging from custom weapons and armour, to entire gameplay and graphical overhauls, with new lands, quests and dungeons somewhere inbetween. After a few minutes browsing one of the most popular sites dedicated to modding TESNexus, it's apparent that there's something for anyone to improve their Oblivion experience in some way.

My Oblivion, with dual wielded swords, improved
graphical effects, custom armour and a custom character race.

Oblivion's mods are more focused on implementing functionality to the standard (or vanilla) game, which means installing and using these gets a little more complicated than hitting an install button. For the Bethesda games (Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas), the community has mod managers, and these exist for other games too (Dragon Age: Origins being one that instantly springs to mind). The mod manager is a way of organising your mods and keeping the process as user friendly as possible, but not all mods use it, and require direct installation, adding files to the game directory manually. An important note when manually installing mods, is to KEEP BACKUPS of any original files that may be overwritten. Not every mod might be to your taste, and you don't want to spend the rest of the day reinstalling the game to make it work again. So, from this view, we can see that this is a little more in depth, but by no means needs a degree in computer science. Thankfully, the support individual modders provide with their work is again, usually great, taking feedback, updating and patching their work and helping people getting them to work, so if you do run into trouble, there's always someone you can ask.

The last example of modification I want to give is though a little program called TexMod, which is a handy tool for replacing texture files in games, it allows you to boot up the game and browse through currently rendered textures, then save them as editable files. After you've edited them, you can then package them up with TexMod and fire up the game with what you've done. There's a wealth of games it's compatible with, including Mass Effect and popular online RPG Guild Wars.

A quick before & after shot of one of my characters in Guild Wars,
using TexMod to edit the texture file.

Existing mods that use TexMod are limited, sadly, at least with the games I've used it for, so it falls to you to do it yourself, for the most part. This kind of modding is a first step into making your own mods, albeit quite simple, limited to changing textures in game. Nevertheless, it's rewarding seeing the results in game, the efforts of your work, as part of the game you're playing.

So what does it all mean, really?
For some, it's a way to extend the life of a beloved game, by creating extra content. For others, it's a way to get experience in working with different forms of game development, which, to a degree, it is. The best part of it all, is that by and large, people choose to share their work with others, for free.

As an afterthought, if all this interests you, one good place to start is the Mod Database, which is something of a library of mods both released and in development, take a look around, there's a lot.

Over to you, then. Maybe I've quirked someone's interest, maybe not. Talking about stuff we're passionate about is the Gainboy way, and this is certainly something that's eating up my time these days. If you've got some recommendations, let us know, I for one would love to check out your recommendations, so long as I don't have to spend any money, of course ;)

No comments:

Post a Comment