Mods—What is it Good For?

Image result for steamFor many years, PC gamers have had the ability to mod their games. It’s easier on PC because a PC is a much more agreeable machine than a gaming console where code isn’t easily accessed. Steam, the primary online source of games for the PC, has the Steam Workshop. This is an easy-to-use place for Steam users to post mods and for users to find mods for their favorite games. With the most recent generation of consoles and with the permission of the game developer, mods can be brought easily to the PS4 and Xbox One.

When we talk about mods we mean modifications to a game. This is typically done by adding code. Sometimes a game will have an editor program which makes producing mods easier. When that is not available, code must be inserted directly into the game. This is usually done by modifying a file already in the the game’s data. This can be the simplest method of modding a game. It can also be done by adding code that the game will recognize without modifying a file directly. But why would gamers want to mod a game? Some modders just want to change little things like items and game textures. Others want to add entire buildings or quests to the game, or they want to fix bugs or change aspects they find annoying. These changes can be a positive feature of gaming.

Sometimes, you get a gamer who is too nitpicky about realism in games. While this is silly, as I described in the past, mods allow for more control over certain parts of realism. Does a sword weigh too little? Do the ivy leaves not look real enough? Are the giants knocking you into the stratosphere a bit unrealistic? This kind of gamer will find solace in mods.

monaclecrabAnother kind of gamer enjoys the outlandish. Dragons would be much more fun as My Little Ponies. Crabs would be better if only they had a top hat and monocle. A specific set of armor would be much better if it made me look like Buzz Lightyear. The modding communities provide a variety of hilarious mods.

The most helpful mods are the ones that fix bugs. Most games have a large fix-all-sorts-of-bugs mod that fixes little bugs some developers won’t. Developers won’t fix bugs for a variety of reasons. It could be that fixing it will cause more bugs, but the most common reason is that they don’t need to. Developers are required to fix critical game breaking bugs, but are not required to fix smaller bugs that are more annoying than anything. So they won’t because it’s not worth the manpower. Fortunately, we have modders who can solve those bugs for us. The first Dark Souls game has a PC port that is generally considered to be poorly made. A modder by the name of Durante created the DSfix mod which allows people to set their resolution, unlocks the frame rate, modifies keyboard controls, and fixes some bugs among other things.

My personal favorite kind of mod are the ones that fix annoying aspects of games. It’s a sad truth, developers don’t always get everything right. It’s usually little things but they can be exceedingly irksome. For example, in Fallout 4 the player has the ability to create in-game settlements. A feature of this is to “scrap” objects for base components. Scrap a car frame for steel, a tree for wood, or an old toilet for ceramic. However, there are several things that can’t be scrapped that just look awful and get in the way. There are piles of trash and ancient skeletons from 2077 that never disappear. Not to mention how frustrating it is for an architect to be forced to build a house in the perfect spot but with a bush growing through the floor. There are many mods that allow for these places to be free of such debris but my favorite is the “Scrap that Settlement” (StS) series of mods. It allows for the player to scrap more objects for components. Scrap a pile of leaves for fertilizer, an old skeleton for bones, or an annoying bush for wood. scrapthatsettlementNot only does it allow for a way to get rid of the maddening extra objects on the settlements, it does it in a flavorful way by expanding a mechanic that already exists in the game. That’s not to say the mod is perfect. Some of those objects weren’t meant to be removed and create visual bugs or even open holes through the world. To use the mod to the best of its ability you need to be careful and save often.

Some developers allow modding to be done very easily. Fallout 4 and Skyrim’s developer, Bethesda, make it very easy. Bethesda releases a creation kit for its games that allow modders easy access to the game’s internal workings. Other games have modding as an integral feature, like RimWorld, where the developer made the base mechanics but left it open for anyone to build upon. One of the most impressive modding stories is that of DotA (Defense of the Ancients). DotA is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) that is a mod of the game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. In fact, it was one of the first MOBA’s made. It became quite popular, to the point where it received high-profile tournaments worldwide. DotA’s creation can be credited to many Warcraft modders, one of which is Steve “Guinsoo” Feak who went to work for Riot Games as game designer for League of Legends.

Other developers are less kind, giving no support to modders or even doing their best to remove mods. Producing these kits for modding is generally a poor business decision. It takes time and money to develop creation kits and the mods add content that can extend the playability of a game for years which means players won’t buy the sequel. Not to mention that modding online games is quite often a method of cheating. Ultimately it’s the developer’s choice to support modding or not, and should be respected either way.

In the modding community, games without mods or that are pre-mods are given the term “vanilla”. Essentially this is used to describe the pre-mod version of the game as boring, lackluster, or default. (Which is silly because vanilla is an amazing flavor.) Some gamers won’t play a game unless it can be modded. While it’s obviously fine to have your own criteria for what games you play, this one is objectively ridiculous. It puts mods and modders on a higher pedestal than the game and its developers. Games and mods do not have a symmetric relationship—without the games, mods wouldn’t exist. Yes, overhaul mods are impressive and entirely unique games have been made from modded games. In spite of this, even those games wouldn’t exist without the base game. The developers made the characters and quests, the world and the lore. They made the models, hired the voice actors, and designed the gameplay. It’s because of the developers that the game is even available on PC, PS4, or Xbox One where it can be modded. The game is the entire flavor—mint, moose tracks, or butterbeer—and everything that comes in it—marshmallow, cookie dough, or strawberries. The game is also whether it’s soft serve or scoop and if it comes in a dish or a cone. Mods are just sprinkles or a chocolate coating put on later.

Another method of modding is typically introduced with another name: ROM hacking. ROM stands for Read-only Memory and is where data is stored that is not easily modified. ROM hacking is the modifying of ROM files. Pretty straightforward, right? Well it requires a lot to be able to do it successfully including tools for hex editing, graphics editing, palette editing, level editing, data editing, and a variety of other areas. The majority of the games that get these mods are from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super Nintendo (SNES) era and some of the most notable are from the Game Boy. Since all of these systems are Nintendo, most ROM hacked games are Nintendo properties: Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, Fire Emblem series, EarthBound, Super Metroid, and many others.

The core ethos of modding is to improve on something that doesn’t necessarily need it. The product stands well on its own, but mods allow for players to have extra customizability for one reason or another. If a person wants to mod a game, it typically requires a proficient knowledge of programming. However, there is one kind of mod that anyone can try.

You can mod board games, and you know what? You wouldn’t be the first. Have you ever played Monopoly where Free Parking stored money and if you landed on it you got to keep it? That is a homebrew rule, never originally part of the official rule book—essentially a mod. This mod is so popular it even shows up in video game versions. Monopoly also comes with new “for quick games” rules, which include each player starting with property. Clue (Cluedo) also has mods, the most noteable mod is the offical “Bonus Cards” deck. This is a series of cards that provide players with special abilities, like asking more than one question. Even Checkers (also known as Draughts) has a variety of rules to play with. The standard that most of you grew up with is probably “Straight Checkers” with an 8×8 board and 12 pieces that can only move forward unless it’s a king. However, there are other rules:

By User:Stephane8888 (Stephane8888 Wiktionnaire) - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main Page, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1237863

A game in international draughts, featuring a flying king (from Wikipedia)

  • Boards can range from 10×8, to 10×10, or even 12×12.
  • Games can have 8, 12, 20, or even 30 pieces.
  • Pieces can move backward even if it isn’t a king.
  • King’s can “fly,” where they can move any distance along unblocked diagonals, and may capture an opposing man any distance away by jumping to any of the unoccupied squares immediately beyond it

Mix and match these rules and you will likely get a defined
variation of Checkers. Now, how about this mod for Checkers that I invented:

Play just like Straight Checkers but place a unique word on the bottom of each red/white piece, then put those same words on the bottom of each black piece. Place the pieces randomly on the board so neither player knows what word is where. Whenever a player takes a piece, if the opponent already has that word on a piece they previously took, the player give the newly taken piece to opponent. The game ends like usual, when a player is out of pieces, or cannot move due to being blocked. However, the winner is the person who has the most pieces. What does this mod do? In normal cases, Checkers is a game that is 100% skill. There is no randomness and no hidden information which makes it so the better player is likely to win 100% of the time. This mod makes it so that the less skilled player might win. Granted, it’s not going to happen often, but it’s enough hidden information to provide a handicap for the unskilled player.

Maybe you can come up with a mod that makes a classic board game more fun? It’s okay to make a mod of any game. When it comes to Settlers of Catan, I only play if I can play with my bandit mod. (Moving the bandit doesn’t steal a random resource from a player, instead you get a resource from the location you place it on. It blocks resources like normal.)  If Monopoly is a soul-sucking game, make it more fun. Make a rule and test it. If it isn’t fun don’t play with it anymore and make a new one. That’s what makes game design so great. You might make a game better than what you are modding. Just remember to be thankful for the game itself, otherwise you wouldn’t have the opportunity to mod in the first place.

 

 

 

Checkers gif attribute to the author: 

By User:Stephane8888 (Stephane8888 Wiktionnaire) - 
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main Page, CC BY-SA 2.5, 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1237863
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