AN INTRODUCTION TO VIDEO GAME MODDING

Today, modders are no longer seen as mere enthusiasts barely trying their hands at gamedev industry, but they are considered legitimate game designers by all means.

WHAT IS VIDEO GAME MODDING?

Many students who enroll in our online video game course at some point become interested in game modding. For this reason, we wanted to create a blog post about what modding is.

Before we will dig into the history of modding and explore its origin and how it became a groundwork for many popular games, let’s define the very term of “modding”. It has been known for the last 30 years, but only during the last decade it became popularised thanks to the thriving community of players and their boundless creativity. The term is an abbreviation for the word “modify” and it means exactly what you think – to change things.

In the gaming community, modding stands for altering the original game content for the purpose of enhancing the gaming experience and (or) bettering the game reception by the players. Modders, in other words the people who create game modifications, can change the standard game in a variety of ways, including altering graphics, sounds, mechanics and adding new features to the game. Is it difficult? To a certain degree, no. The majority of the regular players, unacquainted with working on the advanced engines, are still capable to make changes in the core elements of the game, including levels, items and NPCs. However, introducing new mechanics, models and visuals, especially in games based on Unity engine, will usually require professional software licences.

If you’re a gamer yourself, you surely must have disagreed with certain aspects of how your favourite games were made. The modding offers you a way to fill these holes in content by using toolkits and game assets provided by the official game developers. What is more, they often encourage players to expand their content the way they see fit. And since, all the modders are avid players, their knowledge in improving the original version of the game is crucial and valuable. Remember, however, that modding is maintained in a legally controlled area. What is more, modders do not get paid in any way for their work since they rely on the assets provided by the original team of developers.

CRUDE BEGINNINGS

Since you already have a glimpse of what’s the modding about, let’s delve into its origins. The story of modding began in 1983 when two gaming enthusiasts named Andrew Johnson and Preston Nevins came up with an idea of altering the story of Castle Wolfenstein, a stealth action-adventure shooter game released in 1981 by Muse Software on Apple II platform. The story of the original version of the game was set in the times of the World War II. The players step into the shoes of a secret agent of the Allies with the goal of traversing multiple levels within the said Castle Wolfenstein in order to find secret plans of the Nazis. Whereas the scope and the idea of the modded version of the game pretty much remained the same, it featured new sounds, themes and graphics which turned all the malicious Nazis into… Smurfs!

The next threshold in the history of modding was the year 1993, when Doom and its sequels by iD Software came out and gave birth to dozens of modifications of the game. Some of them were just overhauls of the original games, with improved visuals. Other featured new maps, enemies and themes, making an old game something more and unique. This is when the term Total Conversion (also known as TC), was first used to mark a complete change in every aspect of the modded game.

Beginning with Doom, iD Software openly supported the idea of modding and released a special toolkit in a form of a “wod” file which contained graphical elements, level information and other resources helping players to work on the original assets. It was the period when modding was actually first noticed by the audience and began carving its path into to the hearts of both enthusiasts and professionals alike.

THE PIVOTAL STAGE

The burst of the modded games appeared on the cusp of the 21st Century with the release of Half-Life by Valve. The game not only gained a wide recognition amongst the single-player games enthusiasts, due to its gripping story and charismatic NPCs, but also found the way into the hearts of competitive multiplayer fans. Amongst them were people who gave birth to a famous esport game everyone heard about – Counter-Strike (also called CS) released in 2000.

CS was not always a standalone game, but it was actually a mod for Half-Life. Due to its fast-paced gameplay and a high focus on team play, CS became one of the most popular games played by people in Internet cafes and during LAN parties at their homes. In response to the tremendous success of the mod, a year after the release of CS, Valve company acquired full rights to the modification what allowed the developers to come up with a series of official sequels, including the most popular today Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

From that moment, modders all over the world were no longer seen as mere enthusiasts barely trying their hands at gamedev industry without knowing much about it, but they were considered legitimate game designers by all means. The popularity of modding thrived and spread far and wide. FPSs, once being the only funnel of modding, found themselves a company of RTS games, such as Warcraft and StarCraft series, and turn-based strategy games, including Heroes of Might and Magic which offered free and easy to use map editors.

MORE THAN JUST A MOD

Aside of the multiple mods popping up like mushrooms, there was one scenario for Warcraft 3 that rose to popularity and prominence above all others. It was called Defense of the Ancients, also known as DotA. A cult-classic scenario map with heroes, nexuses and dozens of “creeps” moving down the lanes was designed and published by Kyle “Eul” Sommer in 2003 and constituted a backdrop for a completely new genre of games called MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena).

Because of its straightforward, yet at the same time competitive design, DotA quickly turned into one of the most famous mods in the history of gaming. Instead of treating it like any other player-made modification, the community tried its hands at improving it by increasing the balance and adding new heroes, skills, items and monsters. The potential first DotA had was huge and the players themselves could finally make an impact on the product that more or less came out from their very own hands.

There was a clear need of DotA-like games on the market, and the numbers did not lie. The problem was DotA just like any other mod to an original game could not reap benefits, so during the first few years since the release, it was treated more like a playground of budding game developers and the fans. Everything changed in 2009 when Valve decided to hire IceFrog, a lead game designer of DotA, who helped the studio develop an official game and a sequel to the mod named Dota 2 (introduced in 2010 and officially released in 2013). It was just about the same time that a budding gamedev studio Riot Games hired Steve “Guinsoo” Feak and Steve “Pendragon” Mesco, who had also worked on the first DotA, to develop yet another game which shared the same concept, known as League of Legends.

 

THE GREEN LIGHT AHEAD

As for now, the future of modding looks very bright. The mods not only provide the players with different scenarios and concepts of their favourite games, but they also prolong the lifespan of many “oldies”. Take for example two, timeless Bethesda games, Fallout 3 (2008) and The Elder Scrolls V (2011), which gave birth to thousands of different mods, ranging from complete overhauls, to humoristic addons which change dragons into characters from Thomas & Friends TV series. Despite the fact that both of these games were released more than 10 years ago, their popularity didn’t really drop and it is because of the number of mods that have been created to them and are being created as we speak.

While several years ago many gamedev studios were not eager to provide the players with their game assets, today the modding community is widely supported by various game developers which publish their toolkits and editors to help their game worlds thrive the way the players want them to. In one of his interviews, Todd Howard, the game director of Bethesda, clearly said that the modders can be also called “awesome developers”. There is of course a certain risk involved with the legal issues and this is why some of the gamedev studios do not decide to publish their assets. Before you will try your hand at altering the original game resources, it’s best to make sure that whatever you’re doing is completely legal.

Mods offer the players with a variety of content for the games they love, add different features, enhance gaming experience and provide amusement. With the help of easy to master editors and toolkits, everyone can try their hands at creating a game. In such a way we may agree that mods are perfect testing grounds for any budding game developers. A possibility of taking your first steps in gamedev is an important asset, but probably the paramount thing the mods did was setting the very foundations for the most popular esport games today, including Counter-Strike, DotA and League of Legends.

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