How modding revolutionized game development

For some PC gamers, game modifications are a decisive advantage over console gamers. Although developers – such as Capcom – sometimes view modding as an issue that can negatively affect the reputation of games.

Previously, we did not think about this and even created our own mods. However, the issue is debatable. What do fashions bring more: benefit or harm? Let’s figure it out.

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Modding is evil: Capcom presentation

In a CAPCOM R&D presentation on measures to combat fraud and piracy in computer games, they say about modding: “Players can not only create, but also distribute pirated copies.”

CAPCOM R&D presentation.

Simply put, Capcom doesn’t want to lose money due to pirated copies and modifications, and admits that the extent of the financial damage is “unknown.” There is no control case to compare to.

At first glance, modding may indeed seem like a scam. Essentially, players take the developer’s intellectual property and modify it to their liking. But some major developers support them and encourage fan ingenuity. After all, mods also have a positive effect: they make them more exciting and increase the life cycle.

Thanks to modding, some of the most popular and successful games in the industry have emerged: Counter-Strike, DotA, and the now popular Battle Royale genre. And these are just a few examples – the creativity of modders extends beyond games. A striking example is Machinima, with which you can turn a game into a series.

We tend to think that modding is great. But where did it all start?

Why did mods start with the Smurfs?


Mod culture has been around as long as the gaming community, and continues to struggle to coexist with the mainstream gaming industry.

Video game modding can be seen as part of the remix culture described by Lawrence Lessig. Or as a successor to the “playful” hacker culture that gave birth to the first video games.

Modding began back in the 60s and 70s. Hardcore programmers cracked the codes of Apple II and Commodore 64 games, changing gameplay, story elements and sounds. However, hacking was a fairly niche activity that was unlikely to bother the mainstream.

Therefore, it is generally accepted that PC game modding originates with a bunch of miniature blue characters in white hats, the Smurfs.

First Wolfensein and Smurfenstein

As the 1980s rolled around, Muse Software’s Castle Wolfenstein became a video game hit, thanks in large part to its military setting, stealth mechanics, and unique ranking system that was way ahead of its time in 1981. Additionally, Castle Wolfenstein was the first game to feature digitized speech.

Wolfenstein.

The experience of developing Castle Wolfenstein gave Silas Warner, one of the first developers hired by Muse Software, the confidence to begin modifying the game. He decided to add the Smurfs to Castle Wolfenstein because he always hated them. This is how Castle Smurfenstein was born.

Smurfenstein.

According to Silas, the modification was quite simple. A basic redesign of the original game was done: the title and ending screens and the opening theme were changed, all the soldiers were remade into pixelated cartoons, and the German exclamations turned into angry “Smurfs.”

It’s not much of a change, but it introduced an incredibly new concept back then. To complete the mod, Warner used a paint program, a sector editor, and The Voice (a specialized audio package used by Muse Software). Completion of the entire project also did not take long: in the summer of 1983, Warner completely “smurfed” the game.

Silas Warner’s computer.

Castle Smurfenstein proved that modding is entirely possible with the right skill, and has the potential to attract more gamers if it’s in line with trends and pop culture. The Smurfs attached to the popular video game were a powerful combination.

Mods of Pac-Man and Space Invaders (two of the original cult games) were quite common and even eventually led to the rise of “hacked” consoles on which to play illegal copies of the games in the 1990s.

Thus, the 80s turned out to be the decade when modding began to develop. But for the subculture to really take off, it needed a megahit.

WAD – a breath of freshness for modders


Over the decades, mods proliferated and hackers added updated or completely redesigned intros as a hallmark of the rapidly growing subculture. Geeks have modified existing game assets to create everything from new demos to short film-style presentations.

While the 80s saw the birth of modding, it was the 90s that modding really came onto the scene with Doom becoming a gaming milestone. Full of blood-splattered cyberdemons, the corridor shooter has caused controversy in mainstream media due to the abundance of violence. The game proved that success doesn’t always require mustachioed plumbers or fast blue hedgehogs.

Doom became extremely popular, and as a result, modders emerged who wanted to hack the game’s source code. Id Software founders Tom Hall and John Carmack, unlike most studios and publishers, supported the modding community. Hall and Carmack realized that modifications were just one of the ways gamers showed their passion for the games they loved. They have released a WAD file containing all the textures, sprites and map designs for Doom. This is what will later be called a software development kit, SDK.

WAD that displays maps in Doom.

The WAD file, Where’s All the Data, changed the world of modding. Enthusiasts no longer needed to hack games; everything they needed was in one “place.” This led to more ambitious mods that added new monsters and changed the core gameplay.

Of course, not all Id Software management was happy about the appearance of WAD. This is because modified versions of games like D!ZONE were more profitable than the original. However, Carmack was adamant and continued making tools for modders.

Carmack and company even included two of the fan’s most popular missions in the retail version of Final Doom in 1996. However, the problem still remained: the free versions of Doom were selling too well, and the retail version was not making any money. Therefore, Id Software asked the community to create content only for registered versions of the game. Modders supported the idea, and soon mods for the official version became the norm. This collaboration and understanding, which benefited both parties, laid the foundation for the future of modding.

Final Doom

By the mid-90s, modding had become commonplace in computer games, and by the early 2000s, the number of games with modifications had overtaken the original versions. Maxis released modding tools for The Sims (2000) prior to the game itself, with a series of fan-made mods made available at launch.

The NeverWinter Nights advertising campaign focused on the included Aurora toolkit. The Warcraft III (2002) world editor allowed for the creation of many custom scenarios and maps for the game, including numerous tower defense maps and online multiplayer battle arena maps. The world of modding grew steadily in the 2000s, but it wasn’t until the release of Half-Life that modding truly became popular.

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Half-Life

Half-Life was Valve’s first game and, like Doom, became a gaming milestone thanks to its in-game physics and stellar GoldSrc game engine. Users and developers simply called it Half-Engine until Valve released the Source engine.

GoldSrc was a hybrid engine that used the original and core code from the first Quake games. The studio constantly updated the engine and added creation tools – for example, WorldCraft, popular among Quake modders.

Half-Life.

Half-Life mod.

The emergence of Counter-Strike

The modding community has created several games with the help of GoldSrc, such as Sven Co-Op, Cry of Fear and others. However, none of them were as popular as Counter-Strike. The mod was such a huge success that Valve went ahead and hired Jess Cliff and Ming Li – the people who developed the mod – and acquired the intellectual rights to Counter-Strike. Now we have Global Offensive (CS:GO), Valve’s hugely successful version of the game. Whether CS2 will surpass it – time will tell.

Counter-Strike.

The mod proved popular, so other modders began accessing it for partial or complete conversions. Valve Software has even changed its development and distribution business model to include modding as part of the gameplay experience available to HL family players.

Since then, Valve has released several CS variants on the market, which have sold over 10 million copies as of 2017. This is one of the most successful game conversion mods today, as well as the most profitable game mod.

Half-Life 2 mod.



Minecraft and ARMA – an unplowed field for modders


In 2009, Minecraft came out and modding changed again. Everything from simple texture mapping packs to complete lighting overhauls have turned Minecraft into a vibrant ecosystem of users.

Players build entire worlds with photorealistic textures, lighting, and atmospheric particle effects. Some of the largest and most popular texture packs have been adopted by developer Mojang and filtered for other less moddable platforms.

Modding ARMA

Around the same time, ARMA 2, which many know about thanks to DayZ, was gaining momentum. The apocalypse game took the basic physics of a shooter and combined it with the world of zombies. Now it is a standalone game, a tactical zombie shooter that has grown into the independent game DayZ Standalone.

It was the popularity of the mod that made the original game successful. She boosted ARMA 2 sales through the roof. At the same time, DayZ was not so much a shooter as a social experiment that tested how aggressive or caring players would be in a survival situation.

ARMA 2.

DayZ.

DayZ Standalone.

Rust is a sequel to DayZ

After a while, Rust appeared, a sandbox game in the survival genre. Facepunch Studios, the developer of this game, first created it as a clone of DayZ, and only after that it found its audience.

Additionally, Rust is a sequel to Garry’s Mod, which was released for free back in 2006. And that, in turn, began its life as a Half Life 2 mod.

Rust.

Garry’s Mod.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the most modified game yet


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most modded game yet – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In 2011, she faced a difficult task. Not only did the game need to be a sequel to Morrowind, but Bethesda had to create a product that would appeal to modders and gamers.

As a result, Skyrim mods have become an entire subculture, which is not bad for a game that is over 12 years old. Many of them became so popular that they became memes countless times. There are already nearly 8,000 mods on Nexusmods.com, which is one of the big reasons why Skyrim sales remain so strong.

Skyrim mod.

Skyrim has also become a platform for modifying the entire Tamriel. While ZeniMax Online released its own Morrowind expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online, modders have been turning every region of the TES world into a giant open world for years. The TESRenewal project includes the expansive and exciting Skywind, which combines Skyrim and Morrowind, and Skyblivion, which combines Skyrim and Oblivion.

Morrowind mod.

We haven’t covered the entire history of mod development. If you are interested in this topic, write in the comments and suggest what you can talk about in more detail.

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