Mod (computer gaming)

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Mod or modification is a term generally applied to PC games, especially first-person shooters, RPGs and real-time strategy games. Mods are made by the general public or a developer, and can be entirely new games in themselves, but mods are not standalone software and require the user to have the original release in order to run. They can include new items, weapons, characters, enemies, models, textures, levels, story lines, music, and game modes. They also usually take place in unique locations. They can be single-player or multiplayer. Mods that add new content to the underlying game are often called partial conversions, while mods that create an entirely new game are called total conversions and mods that fix bugs are called unofficial patches.

Games running on a PC are often designed with change in mind, and this consequently allows modern computer games to be modified by gamers without much difficulty. These mods can add extra replay value and interest. The Internet provides an inexpensive medium to promote and distribute mods, and they have become an increasingly important factor in the commercial success of some games. Developers such as id Software, Valve Software, Bethesda Softworks, Crytek, and Epic Games provide extensive tools and documentation to assist mod makers, leveraging the potential success brought in by a popular mod like Counter-Strike.

Mods can significantly outshine and/or continue the success of the original game even when it is dated. Playing a mod might even become more common than playing the unmodified original. In those cases, players might have to clarify that they are referring to the unmodified game when talking about playing a game. In some cases the term vanilla is used make this distinction, "vanilla Battlefield 1942", for example, refers to the original, unmodified game. For vanilla games, prefix "v" or "V" is commonly used together with acronymed game title, eg. VQ3 stands for "vanilla Quake 3".

As early as the 1980s, computer game mods have also been used for the sole purpose of creating art, as opposed to an actual game. This can include recording in-game footage into a movie, as well as attempting to reproduce real-life areas inside a game with no regard for gameplay value. See artistic computer game modification, machinima and demoscene.


[edit] Total conversion

A total conversion is a mod of an existing game that (usually) replaces almost all of the artistic assets in the original game, and sometimes core aspects of gameplay, in some cases creating a game in a completely different genre from the original.

In some cases, the goal of a group that sets out to create a total conversion is to sell their end product, which necessitates the need to replace the original content to avoid copyright infringement.

A few total conversions have managed to become stand-alone games. Since most total conversions only share the engine in common with the original game, if the engine becomes Free Software, the total conversion can be playable without having to own the original game. A few examples of these include the Tremulous mod for Quake III Arena, a trio of mods for Command & Conquer Renegade, Red Alert: Apocalypse Rising, Red Alert: A Path Beyond, and C&C Reborn, Battle For Dune; the D-Day: Normandy mod for Quake II, and Counter-Strike for Half-Life. Counter-Strike is notable as it has far exceeded the popularity of the original game. Team Fortress, one of the most popular mods ever, was originally a Quake total conversion. It has been so popular that a sequel, Team Fortress 2, has been developed.

Similarly, Trauma Studios, which developed the popular Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat, was bought by Digital Illusions CE to work on Battlefield 2. Both Desert Combat and Battlefield 2 are in modern settings.

[edit] Unofficial patch

An unofficial patch can be a mod of an existing game that fixes bugs not fixed by an official patch or that unlocks content present in the released game's files but inaccessible in official gameplay. Such patches are usually created by members of the game's fan base when the original developer is unwilling or unable to officially supply this functionality.

[edit] Development

A great many mods do not progress very far and are abandoned without ever having a public release. One of the most famous vaporware mods was Star Wars Quake, which was never released despite six years of development. Some are very limited and just include some gameplay changes or even a different loading screen, while others are total conversions and can modify content and gameplay extensively. A few mods become very popular and convert themselves into distinct games, with the rights getting bought and turning into an official modification.

A group of mod developers may join together to form a mod team. An example is Team Reaction, one of the most prolific mod teams to date, most notably known for QPong and Jailbreak.

Mods are made for many first person shooters and Real-Time-Strategies, most notably the series based on Quake, Doom, Chaos, Total Annihilation, Rise of Nations and the Command & Conquer series also have many mods.

Among popular mods, none is more well known than the Half-Life multiplayer mod Counter-Strike, which was released shortly after the original game, and upwards of 1 million games per day are hosted on dedicated servers. Counter-Strike is probably the best example of a modification that turns into a retail game.

Mods in general are required to be non-commercial (free) when they include any parts from another mod, or the main game, which by their nature they always do. Some mods become open source as well.

[edit] Tools

Mod making tools are a variety of construction sets for creating mods for a game. Early commercial mod-making tools were the Boulder Dash Construction Kit (1981) and the Bard's Tale Construction Set (1991), which allowed users to create game designs in those series. Much more successful among early mod making tools was the 1992 Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures from Strategic Simulations, Inc., which allowed users to construct games based on the game world that was launched with the Pool of Radiance game.

Later mod making tools include The Elder Scrolls Construction Set which shipped with Morrowind, the Aurora toolset which was included with Neverwinter Nights, FRED and FRED2, the Freespace and Freespace 2 mission editors, and the Obsidian tool set for Neverwinter Nights 2, and the Valve Hammer Editor which is used to create maps for Half-Life, its sequel, Half-Life 2, and various other games based on the Source engine.

There are also free content delivery tools available that make playing mods easier. They help manage downloads, updates and setting up the mods so that non-technical people can play. Steam for Half life 2 mods is an example.

[edit] Mod-Friendliness of Games

An example of game modification in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City: 2005 Audi A8L W12. Real-life makes and models are not included in the game but can be created and added by modders.

The potential for end-user change in game varies greatly, though it can have little correlation on the number and quality of mods made for a game.

In general the most modification-friendly games will define gameplay variables in text or other non proprietary format files (for instance in the Civilization series one could alter the movement rate along roads and many other factors), and have graphics of a standard format such as bitmaps. Civilization 4 is the most open of all, letting the user make entire scenarios and whole new sets of rules through Python.[citation needed] Publishers can also determine mod-friendliness in the way important source files are available (some programs collect their source material into large proprietary archives, while others make the files available in folders).

Games have varying support from their publishers for modifications, but often require expensive professional software to make. One such example is Homeworld 2, which requires the industrial-strength program Maya to build new in-game objects. However, there is a free version available of Maya and other advanced modeling software. There are also free and even open source modeling programs that can be used as well.

For advanced mods such as Desert Combat, that are total conversions, complicated modeling and texturing software is required to make original content. Advanced mods can rival the complexity and work of making the original game content (short of the engine itself), rendering the differences in ease of modding small in comparison to the total amount of work required. Having an engine that is for example easy to import models to, is of little help when doing research, modeling, and making a photo-realistic texture for a game item. As a result, other game characteristics such as its popularity and capabilities have a dominating effect on if mods are created for the game by users.

A game that allows 'modding' can also be called 'moddable'. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as well as its predecessor The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind are highly moddable, because the editor is available to download off the internet. Daggerfall was much less moddable, but some people released their own modifications nevertheless.

Supreme Commander set out to be the 'most customisable game ever' and as such included a mod manager which allowed for 'modular modding' - having several mods on at once.[citation needed]

The games industries are currently facing the choices on how much they should embrace the players' contribution in creating new material for the game or mod-communities as part of their structure within the game. Some have openly accepted and even encourages of such communities. Others though have chosen to enclose their games in heavily policed copyright or Intellectual Property regimes(IPR) and close down sites that they see as infringing their ownership of a game. [1]

[edit] Portability issues

For cross-platform games, mods written for the Windows version have not always been compatible with the Mac OS X and/or Linux ports of the game. In large part, this is due to the publisher's concern with prioritizing the porting of the primary game itself, when allocating resources for fixing the porting of mod-specific functions may not be cost-effective for the relatively smaller market share of alternate platforms. For example Battlefield 1942, ported by Aspyr for Mac OS X had file access issues specific to mods until the 1.61D patch. Unreal Tournament 2004 does not have a working community mods menu for the Mac OS X version, and until the 3369 patch had graphics incompatibilities with several mods such as Red Orchestra and Metaball. In addition, mods which are compiled into platform-specific libraries, such as those of Doom 3, are often only built for the Windows platform, leading to a lack of cross-platform compatibility even when the underlying game is highly portable. In the same line of reasoning, mod development tools are often available only on the Windows platform -id Software's Doom 3 Radiant tool and Epic Games' UnrealEd being the most notable examples.

Mod teams which lack either the resources or know-how to develop their mods for alternate platforms sometimes outsource their code and art assets to individuals or groups who are able to port the mod. Some mod teams such as the ones for Forgotten Hope and Red Orchestra have hired Mac-specific coders and have even purchased Mac hardware for testing purposes. The mod team which developed Last Man Standing Coop performed an in-house port of their mod, but encouraged someone else to create a Mac installation/launching utility.

The mod specialist site for Macs, Macologist, has created GUI launchers and installers for many UT2004 mods, as well as solving cross-platform conversion issues for mods for other games.

[edit] Unexpected consequences of modding

In January 2005, it was reported that in The Sims 2 modifications that changed item and game behaviour were unexpectedly being transferred to other players through the official website's exchange feature, leading to changed game behaviour without advance warning.[2]

[edit] Foxed

Some total conversions and mods based on copyrighted franchises, like Star Wars or Alien, caused their owners to take a harsh stance towards modders. Some strictly non-commercial mods appear to be tolerated, for example the Star Wars mods Galactic Conquest for Battlefield 1942, Warlords for Homeworld 2, and Troopers for Unreal Tournament 2004 (Troopers was later given the rights to continue production of their mod). It appears to be dependent both on the direction of the modification (does it use official characters in a story or cause conflicts with canon information, rather than merely taking place in a pre-established universe) and on the company that owns the title. Fox's notoriety for a zero-tolerance policy against modifications and other possibly questionable infringements has spurred the term "foxed", for fan websites that have received takedown notices from the owner of the material the website is about.[3]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Flew, Terry and Humphreys, Sal (2005) "Games: Technology, Industry, Culture" in Terry Flew, New Media: an introduction (second edition), Oxford University Press, South Melbourne 101-114.
  2. ^ Supernatural powers become contagious in PC game by Will Knight, NewScientist, 2005-01-07
  3. ^ foxed - definition on
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