So, any of you readers run your own blog? Maybe you’re also writers of some sort? Doesn’t have to be any high minded pretentious publication like my own. Could be that you just write fan fiction. Have you ever noticed that the second after you post an entry you spot a glaring hole in your logic or a bunch of typos that Autocorrect didn’t catch? Yeah, that happened to me last week. I’m not going to tell you where I found all of those issues because I want you guys looking for my mistakes and calling me on them. I also wont fix them because I want you to see that I am not perfect. In this world, just like in video games, there are no final authorities and there are no ultimate arbiters. What does that mean? Clearly the systems put in place by the developers are pretty iron clad. Everyone who has ever played Mario knows that no number of attempts will result in that first pitfall leading to anything but a game over.
So, where am I going here? Well, this week I wanted to talk about tutorials. I wanted to display a few good ones, a few bad ones, and give some advice on how to do it right. I then posted last week’s entry to the site and immediately noticed a Giga-Bowser sized hole in one of my points. I immediately went to fix it and was immediately blindsided by an epiphany: we make mistakes. Devs make mistakes all the sodding time. I haven’t played a single game that didn’t have some glaring issue with it. Last night I was hit with two potential choices. I could take down the essay and make you guys wait a whole extra week while I plugged that hole, or I could put it up and see if the collective consciousness could patch my work and find a solution. I weighed the two choices, and decided that the community would be better served if they could make their own truths concerning my statements.
Instead of tutorials we will talk about the importance of modding. Yes, I decided to give myself another easy one but I haven’t been doing great in the last few weeks so I need a few easy essays. I plan on discussing what a “mod” is, why they’re important and threats they currently face.
First, what is a mod? This question is a bit rough seeing as most definitions include things that are quite clearly not mods (I really have to get around to DLC). Let us start with this; the term ‘mod’ is short for ‘modification’ and is a term that can extend to anything from texture packs (like the Terraria mod for Minecraft) to total conversions (like Team Fortress and Counterstrike). Okay, simple enough, but wait. If total conversions are mods, then Farcry 3 : Blood Dragon is a mod. Hold the phone. Nobody who’s done the slightest bit of research would call Blood Dragon a mod because it was made by the original designer. Okay, so, a mod is a modification to a game but only if it isn’t released by the original company. Yet, most tech savvies whom have played GTA 4 have complained about how the game is unplayable without modifying some of the XMLs. Do these count as mods? I mean, none of the original programming has been changed, none of the math is different, just the values plugged into the calculator. So, a mod is a set of programs that fundamentally change the mechanics of a game. Now we run head long into the thousands of mods for WoW that do nothing but change sounds used for various events (a close friend of SWG once had a mod that changed the sound played when he caught a fish to Ollie Williams from Family Guy). That doesn’t sound like a fundamental change to how WoW works, at least not on the same level as Clique or ElvUI, yet they’re both mods. So, a mod is a batch of programs that changes the function of a game in a noticeable way that isn’t developed by the original designer. What does “noticeable way” even mean? I hate ill-defined terms and yet I can’t find a way to explain a mod without using some sort of vague, nondescript term. We are starting to get dangerously close to the “what is a game” debate and I find that discussion to be as useful as a wrench made of silly putty. So let us make like the word “the” and try to define mods by what they do.
Please, hold back your laughs, we all know what mods can do, I’m merely defining my terms. Mods can do anything. Those of you whom have ever gotten into the modding scene for Minecraft have no doubt found that first-person Legend of Zelda mod somewhere. For those who haven’t looked in that direction, Minecraft, a game who’s primary goal goes along the lines of “break stuff into smaller stuff and build bigger stuff from the smaller stuff” was transformed into a highly scripted, story-driven adventure where you cant break stuff, cant jump, and cant even build your own gear. This is what’s known as a Total Conversion. These mods typically create an entirely new experience using only the physics and graphical assets of the base experience.
There’s also graphical/audio tweaks, like the infamous Bloom mod for Half-Life that got George Weidman banned from half of the multiplayer games supported by Valve (more on that later) which do little else but make some things look a little different. I know, this slams directly into the “must change the mechanics in a noticeable way” definition, but that’s kind of the point in my earlier argument. These “mods” don’t really do anything but make a game more palatable to aesthetics snobs. These mods can swing anywhere from the aforementioned bloom mod to the jungle mod for Skyrim (which transformed the cold mountainous environment of Skyrim to a tropical rainforest). Another example of this would be the Randy Savage mod for Skyrim (seriously, check this thing out, funniest mod ever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi17PUqz3nQ&feature=kp).
Just to make things even more confusing, there are also UI mods like ElvUI that change the HUD (Heads Up Display) in a way that makes the game easier to manage. Any WoW fans have seen plenty of these. Million button MMOs are notoriously difficult to nail down when it comes to mods. Simply put, there’s no hit all way to make a UI for a million button MMO like WoW. I was about to say that MMO user interfaces are impossible to do in a fashion that makes the game immediately playable, quoting examples like Rift and Runes of Magic, but then I realized it was really just WoW and it’s clones. Seriously, my monk can not function without easy access to at least 15 keybinds, that doesn’t even count the fact that I’m blind as a bat and never get out of the fire without someone screaming in my ear, hence the GTFO mod.
I was about to dive directly into the subject of why mods are important to contemporary video games, but I realized I missed a category that fills up a good 80% of the non-WoW modding scene. Namely, the expansion mod category. These are the mods that swarm the market by the trillions, they add some sort of substantive addition to the core mechanics of the game. For example, George Weidman (Super Bunnyhop) once made a complaint about Elder Scrolls games. He complained that with all the food laying around the environment, it really pissed him off that his character was never hungry.
Quick aside. Dear mom, in Elder Scrolls, along with your standard health, mana, and stamina potions, there is a cornucopia of objects that I will call “miscelanious items”. They are mostly ingredients that can be used to make your own unique potions and poisons, ranging from apples to bat wings, with one binding common element: they are all edible and convey some bonus or penalty for eating them. The complaint levied by Bunnyhop (George Weidman) was that with all of the sweet rolls, apples, barley, liquor, animal flesh, etc just laying around the world it was a real pity that there was no mechanical incentive to rummage for food and it simply felt like wasted space and a massive category of items (seriously, 75% of the individual items you find in Skyrim is either food, ingredients, or money) with no use for most of them, as any health bonus conveyed by eating a sweet roll was easily overshadowed by the health bonus of chugging a potion that takes up 1/10th of the inventory space of aforementioned sweet roll.
Anyways, back on subject. Expansion-type mods typically exist to scratch that itch. The Survival mod for Skyrim was invented because someone said, “gee, the guys at Bethesda made sure to put 4 beds for every 10 humanoids in any given zone. Every cave that houses people has a bunch of beds just sitting around to look pretty. It’s a pity that I’m never exhausted”. Similarly the Tech World mod pack for Minecraft (or whatever it’s called, I’m not smart enough to manage mods in that game) came into existence because someone said “I make a lot of stuff, wouldn’t it be cool to automate the building process?”.
Quick aside, I love these mods. I don’t have much experience with them, seeing as I was mostly a console gamer until SWG made me go all correspondent (by the way, writing a review for Carson on Dust : An Elysian Tale, tune in on the youtube channel for news). I always loved watching people much smarter than I doing super modes of my favourite games. In fact, I would likely still be a console gamer if Ntac didn’t show me the wonderful world of Minecraft mods. Some week I might be so lazy as to list my favourite mods. Give myself a break from all this crunch time. Seriously, at least try out the Feed the Beast mod pack. It’s amazing.
So, why are mods important? Let me start with this. All I do is write essays, week in week out. I have never released an essay I’m completely happy with. Same with movies; my favourite movie is Frozen (Let it Go is one of my anthems). In fact, with every medium I’ve ever experienced I have never seen a piece of artwork that didn’t have some Persian flaw.
Okay, that might require some explanation. Way back in the day (I don’t know if it’s still a practice today) the Persians had this belief: no one short of God is perfect. They exercised this belief into every one of their works. Once again, I don’t know if this holds true today, but for a long time every single authentic Persian rug could be picked out by an intentionally placed error in the stitch work, as it was considered blasphemous to release a perfectly executed project because to release a perfect product was to claim oneself equal to God. Anyway, back to the point.
I’ve been around for 20-something years and I have yet to see a piece of art that was absolutely perfect in execution. This is where mods come in. No other medium (well, I suppose stageplays are the exception) allow for a piece to continue development well after the original developers are finished adding new elements. Mods allow us to take a game and rebuild it in our own image. Say you like the idea of minecraft but the high fantasy aesthetic that the game’s graphical assets lean ever so lightly towards aren’t really your bag (like Ntac, elves and orcs bore the life out of him) simple, re-texture the grass to look like cables, retexture the zombies to look like Borg, swap out the Ender Dragon’s frame to resemble a flying version of Icon of Sin from Doom and voila! Minecraft, the nature survival simulator is now Minecraft, the dystopic cyber-hell survival simulator (actually, that idea needs to happen… like now…).
Mods allow players to do a wide variety of things. With a little tech savvy you can advance the aesthetic of a game to it’s logical extreme (like a never ending stream of fan maps for Quake). You can regress a game to your favourite point in it’s development, for example, imagine being able to play through the pre-cataclysm map of World of Warcraft on your own private server. You could even take your favourite element of a game and isolate it into it’s purest form (I’ve always wanted to play a match of Chromehounds featuring only Scout and commander type mechs weilding pile drivers).
If you wanted bonus points you could use mods for education. There’s the obvious idea of using the geometrically ideal blocks of Minecraft to teach… well… geometry. There’s also the pixel art that Carson loves doing with Minecraft blocks. Imagine a mod for Halo that popped a graphic depicting the angle and force with which you’re about to lob a grenade. Now you’re teaching basic physics with the stuff your kids are playing with every day.
Sorry to cut it short this week, guys, health concerns are making it real hard to dedicate all the time I need for 10 pages a week. I will be back next week with more mod discussion. For now, thanks for watching, see you next week.