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How PC Game Modders Are Evolving 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the longer-beaks-for-breaking-shells dept.
Lanxon writes "Wired has a lengthy investigation into the state of PC game mods, and the amateurs keeping the scene exciting in the wake of draconian DRM placed on many PC titles by major studios. It highlights a number of creative modders, such as Scott Reismanis, founder and editor of Mod DB, and his community-driven alternative to Valve's Steam — Desura — which is 'a distribution system, and, like Steam, will sell games and champion indie titles. But the way it handles mods makes it even more exciting.'"
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How PC Game Modders Are Evolving

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  • Evolving? (Score:5, Funny)

    by the_humeister (922869) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @10:31PM (#32260372)

    I thought they were intelligently designed?

  • by Zakabog (603757) <john@nosPAm.jmaug.com> on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @10:31PM (#32260374)

    I'm just trying to figure out, what exactly stops malicious content? Does it rely on the community to say "Woah this mod does some bad stuff to your PC!" or is there some other way to catch it? What if someone is the editor on a hugely popular mod, get's his account hacked (or just has a malicious roomate) and starts uploading some content that does harm to users computers? Or is that not possible due to the mods being sandboxed? The article is quite lacking in what exactly this system does or is capable of doing...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Aliotroph (1297659)

      Lack of exposure. Even a popular mod for a popular game has so little exposure -- especially among non-technical users -- that it's not worth exploiting as a vector. It's easier to go with the familiar vectors discussed here all the time.

      Malware still shows up in packages claiming to be pirate copies. My bro tried to grab a copy of Worms Armageddon. What he got was Worms Armageddon with the installer replaced by a trojan neatly disguised as the installer. I had a good laugh while I removed that. I've ne

      • by Mashiki (184564)

        That's because it's hard to create mods that are malicious when they have no executable code, and run in a sandbox.

        • by canajin56 (660655)
          I don't know about ALL games, but I modded for Half-Life and for Quake II. You make a DLL in C++ and build it with their GCC makefiles or with Visual Studio. You can add any code you want in there, as far as I know.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by k8to (9046)

            Sounds like an unsolvable problem.

            How do you safely download and run executable code without risk of an exploit vector? You can't.

            Linux distributions deal with a slightly less difficult version of this, in terms of packaging and shipping public source code. Given that a lot of what they do (in order to package, resolve bugs etc) is inspect the source, there's some level of overview, and necessary precautions built into the blessing of packages before they are made availble, but still exploits are possible

          • Those two are actually a bit more unique in nature. The Quake engine is especially known for people re-hacking it together for their new game idea, just as a starting point. And Valve basically lets you build your own game using their engine, source or original, they are pretty lax with it.

            Other games have not had that luxury. The only things you could reliably add were sounds, textures, and if you were lucky, models. Than it was up to you to edit various resource files to achieve whatever effect you were h

        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It also requires planning from the developers. I can say from experience that, for example, Westwood Studios (C&C) didn't plan that far ahead and their mod-support code features great things like user controlled sprintf formats and unsized strcpy.

          (Semi-related: I lead an unofficial patch for C&C:RA2 at http://ares.strategy-x.com/ [strategy-x.com] , we developed a way to write new features into the game using C++ and ASM. How's that for evolution?)

      • Given just how much work can go into creating a mod, doing so in order to distribute a virus or trojan to a relatively small market seems a very unlikely waste of time. Most mods are created out of love after all.

        On a side note in mentioning pirate software as a means to distrubute these infections. Apparently a lot of free Virus checkers deliberately give false positives on pirated software, particularly keygens. I wonder if companies pay free virus checkers to falsely mark as positive keygens that pir

        • On a side note in mentioning pirate software as a means to distrubute these infections. Apparently a lot of free Virus checkers deliberately give false positives on pirated software, particularly keygens. I wonder if companies pay free virus checkers to falsely mark as positive keygens that pirate their software

          I'm not saying you are wrong, but this seems highly improbable to me. Can you post a link to some documented proof that this is true?

          • I very possibly am wrong, it is just something I had heard a lot on the ethers and seen myself a number of times in my misspent youth. As far as I am aware there has been no formal documented proof and as such I tried to keep my post in a purely speculative tone.

            I posted this partly hoping someone who was far wiser than I could point out something much closer to the truth of the matter.

    • In at least some cases, malicious content is handled by making the mods open source (i.e., released as code), many of the others by the mods using a proprietary format that is only read by the game engine.

      Neverwinter Nights was released by Bioware in 2002, and still has a lot of active online servers and an active modding community.

      A lot of mods, content, and scripts for the Neverwinter Nights and other games are hosted on the Neverwinter Vault here: http://nwvault.ign.com/ [ign.com]

      I'm a DM and developer
    • by Shadukar (102027)

      I enjoy a very wide variety of PC games and almost always, after finishing the game in vanilla falvour, investigate a very wide variety of mods if the game allows modding. I have contributed heavily to a number of mods out there also.

      The reason you don't see much malware hidden inside mods is because it is very rare for mods to be in an executable form.

      Generally mods come in the form of graphics packages and scripts. It is very hard, if not impossible for graphics/sound/geometry to contain malware. The scri

      • by jonwil (467024)

        both Command and Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3 use LUA for a couple of things in the game. Its essentially undocumented by EA and (being LUA and being used for the things that its used for) would appear to the casual observer (assuming said observer even knew of its existence) to be safe.

        But I can produce a mod (a single .big file and matching .skudef file) which can use this LUA to do some bad things to the filesystem of the host. I wont say how for obvious reasons but it could be dangerous if someone actually

  • by shawn(at)fsu (447153) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @10:38PM (#32260438) Homepage

    My nephew wants to start doing game modding (He actually wanted to make maps for a halo title but it looks like you need one of the expensive 3d molders). What would be a good title to get him that has a good sdk? is source sdk still a popular path?

    • by Winckle (870180) <mark@@@winckle...co...uk> on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @10:59PM (#32260558) Homepage

      Source SDK absolutely. Get him a copy of TF2, which will come with Valve's Hammer software. Valve are quite supportive of their community and highlight the best new community maps on their tf2 blog. There are also DVDs in valve's shop on how to create maps.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        >>Get him a copy of TF2, which will come with Valve's Hammer software.

        Can you actually mod TF2, or just make maps for it?

        I'm not interested at all in just making maps.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by VGPowerlord (621254)

          There are things like Prop Hunt (already mentioned), Zombie Fortress [fpsbanana.com], etc... There are also frameworks for writing server mods for Source games, such as SourceMod [sourcemod.net] (which in turn uses MetaMod: Source [sourcemm.net] as a base). Zombie Fortress is built on top of Sourcemod.

          Honestly, though, if you really want to get into modding with the Source engine, consider getting Garry's Mod [garrysmod.com]. The catch is that Garry's Mod requires you to have another game on the list linked from its Steam Store page [steampowered.com] (which I can't access from work).

          • by ShakaUVM (157947)

            So if you have Garry's Mod and TF2 both, you'd be able to create mods, say, making new classes and such?

            My URL might give away my interest in the subject.

            • To be honest, I'm not sure. I know if you own TF2, you can access TF2's assets in Garry's Mod. This is how most Machina TF2 videos are created. Garry's Mod also has a dedicated server with which to host online games (this is how the Garry's Mod version of Prop Hunt works). Having said all that, if you use TF2 assets in a Garry's Mod online game, the players must have both TF2 and Garry's Mod in order to play it.

              Taking things you created in Garry's Mod into TF2 doesn't really work, though. TF2 itself is

            • I almost forgot. Team Fortress 2 is not the only Team Fortress game using Source. There's also [url=http://www.fortress-forever.com/]Fortress Forever[/url]. I've never played CustomTF, so I don't know how close FF is to it.

              • er... Fortress Forever [fortress-forever.com].

                Bah, I spotted that I used a url BBCode tag and still clicked Submit.

              • by ShakaUVM (157947)

                Yeah, not a real fan of FF.

                Basically, I'd like to mod TF2 to make a CustomTF2 that would be compatible with existing TF2 maps and game modes. AFAIK they've never released the source, but I'm curious if some combination of other tools would make it possible.

                • You might want to ask on the AlliedModders forum [alliedmods.net] if it's possible to create a new class in TF2. They're the people who make SourceMod, which is a pretty popular mod framework for Source games. I know the TF2 Zombie Fortress mod was written into it... as well as RMF Ability Pack [alliedmods.net], which gives new abilities to the various classes.

      • Better yet, wait for Valve's next major TF2 update, which is coming soon [teamfortress.com] (probably within a month) because TF2 tends to go on sale around major updates.

        Or just get the Orange Box, which includes HL2 and its two episodes in addition to TF2 and Portal (although Portal is free through next Monday).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fake_name (245088)

      Grab the source SDK and have him make up a few Portal levels; it's quick and easy to start because you can make a bunch of box-like rooms and ledges. You don't feel bad that your levels are all rectangular to start, because that is how most of the actual portal levels are designed.

      And it's really fun to use portals to fling yourself around a 3D world that you created yourself.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AHuxley (892839)
      If he likes Halo, try modding for Marathon, the older Bungie fps game. Or the Bungie Myth series.
      Both have free tools and active communities.
      The learning curve is interesting but fun can be had mapping and using textures in Marathon.
      freenode IRC network, #alephone for Marathon, http://projectmagma.net/ [projectmagma.net] for Myth.
      • If he likes Halo, try modding for Marathon, the older Bungie fps game.

        Noooo!!! I did that in high school and look where I am now: SLASHDOT!!!

        Kidding. Marathon really did seem like a good learning ground. I had more fun on the community maps than on the included levels. Plus, they're free now, no investment required. Don't spend money right away on what may be a passing interest. I made a three room map and didn't have the patience to do more.

    • Source's SDK is all fun.

      Just keep him away from UnrealEd.

    • Depends what he wants to do. It seems like he wants to map, in which case there are plenty of good options. Source is always good and fairly simple to pick up with the Hammer editor. UnrealEd is also pretty good, although it's drastically different from Hammer. Keep in mind there are two major ways for creating levels, additive and subtractive.

      If your nephew wants to try his hand at coding I'd definitely suggest an older game or maybe something like a Source engine game with the Eventscripts 2.0 addon whic
    • by jonwil (467024)

      You could go with the free Unreal UDK. Costs nothing and (AFAIK) does not require the purchase of expensive tools for its use.

    • by Jaysyn (203771)

      Neverwinter Nights is easy to get into, runs on Linux & older hardware, has a nice C like scripting language & has the capability to make simple or complex mods.

    • It comes w/ the full modeling, map making, and event system. It's easy to jump into, Lots of resources, and you can build a lot w/ it's scripting engine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UnrealEd [wikipedia.org] but it, like many dev platforms are mostly map editors.

      • Plagarised from Wiki:

        Unreal Development Kit (UDK)
        While the Unreal Engine 3 has been quite open for modders to tinker around with, the ability to publish and sell games made using UE3 was restricted to licensees of the engine. However, on November 2009, Epic released a free version of their engine, called the Unreal Developer Kit(UDK) that is available to the general public. According to the current EULA, game makers can sell their games by paying Epic a lump-sum of $99 at the outset, and 25% of all revenue

    • Source is the easiest, imo, of anything out there atm. If gives you a range too from HL-2 style games, CS style or humorous TF2 styles without having to create too many (if any) assets.
  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @10:58PM (#32260540)

    I never knew doubleclicking an icon and clicking "Next" a few times was a complicated and difficult install process.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @11:22PM (#32260668)

      To the console player, it's incomprehensible!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tlhIngan (30335)

        To the console player, it's incomprehensible!

        Not if the console's a PS3!

        After all, you download something from PSN. Then you click the little bubble to "install" it. Up pops an EULA you have to right-arrow through (easier than clicking next, but you still have to do it), then look at the pretty progress bar while it installs.

        If it's a system update, you click the update option (a la Windows Update), then it asks if you want to update with the new version, then it gives you a nice EULA. Press right again and

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A lot of games have no supported install method. The player must manually copy replacement or new folders and files over -- if they are lucky. Mods for these games are typically packaged in a custom installer.

      Naturally, in the coming decade, as more and more games converge onto the same 3 or 4 different underlying engines, the modding process will be made ever simpler. Source is probably the finest when it comes to this, in that mods reside in their own exclusive directory, and can be non-specifically loade

  • Woa No gmod mention! (Score:2, Informative)

    by BlackBloq (702158)
    This is a very lame shallow attempt at an article. They ask one guy who is a modder about a few things. No mention of Gmod for steam? What a joke! Gmod is way better than ANY system in place. My kid was modding to build a car out of parts of games he owns. Sliding box car doors, Giant looking people with small buildings! He got counterstrike for the new mods, buildt upon the parts of counterstrike. Last time he played G mod he made a sign , wrote "Fight Club" on it made a town square area for it and people
  • There isn't even a public beta, let alone source code. Sorry, but it's a lot easier to get excited about this stuff [wolfire.com] than a bunch of screenshots.

    And now that Steam is being ported to Linux and OS X, will this project be portable? Will it be open source? Will it integrate with local package managers, or other distribution systems?

  • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @11:30PM (#32260716)

    A game I pulled off the shelf and played the other day when I redid the XP Bootcamp partition was Star Trek: Bridge Commander. Turns out after all these years, new models and patches are still being made and maintained. Well going through the documentation, the designers developed and distributed a SDK that was largely Python based scripting. With the added mods, the game is still interesting and even more fun that it was years ago when I bought it.

    Look at Falcon 4: Allied Force. I bought the original Falcon 4 in 1998 for $15. Graphics were cool for its day, but it is the definitive modern combat flight simulator however, it's dynamic campaign engine was so buggy it was broken. Well, the mod community stepped in, formed a company, got a license from Atari and produced Falcon 4: Allied Force which fixed the campaign bugs and turned it into a playable and really interesting combat simulator. (This was the last game I purchased)

    The mod community has kept those titles going strong.

    • Falcon 4 isn't a particularly good example of a developer getting it right. More it's the community managing to improve things despite the original design. Lead Pursuit managed to get a license and sold an updated version of F4 as Allied Force, but that was back in 2005 and the company has been silent for several years now. Apparently they're still working on something, but as far as I know that's in their spare time around their real jobs, so who knows... Meanwhile, the only happenings in the Falcon commun

      • by icebrain (944107)

        Meanwhile, the only happenings in the Falcon community have been from Open Falcon, which is based on an older exe and so is pretty unstable, and fails to run properly with most nVidia cards.

        So basically if you want a stable game that runs on modern systems, you're stuck with F4: Allied Force, which is around 5 years old now with the most recent patch being released in January 2008. Maybe the BMS people are up to something, but that rumour seems to have surfaced periodically for the last couple of years so it's hard to get excited about it.

        FreeFalcon is still making releases, too; I think there's another update with new theaters and code changes. I was a database editor and tester during the lead-up to FF5, and a short while after that. Eventually just got tired of dealing with a program that was then 11 years old, and all of its limitations. Suspension of disbelief ended, as I knew a lot about the internals of the sim and was playing to/working around those weaknesses instead of trying to simulate.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      ST:BC is a great game, with a great community. I'd add Freelancer to that list as well. It came out in 03 and still has some really huge worlds being created, plenty of online players, great game. This is one of the reasons I'll never go console-mods and dedicated servers. Thanks to mods I can pick up games in the bargain bin that were truly shitty and thanks to modders have a fun game, like the Delta Force series that NovaLogic always seems to fuck up the weapons on, or on a great game like Freelancer I ca
  • How we've fallen! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by syousef (465911) on Tuesday May 18, 2010 @11:40PM (#32260766) Journal

    If you want to see how heavily modded a game can get take a look at Microsoft's Flight Simulator series, especially the 2004 version. There are terrabytes of free and paid mods for EVERY aspect of the game. Aircraft models and artwork, instrumentation (including binary mods), weather, scenery, visual controls, sounds, special effects. Even hardware manufacturers that could sell you specialised consoles and panels to integrate You name it. The default simulator is very game like. With addons you can replicate fine details like the flight dynamics and starting sequences of aircraft so that you can follow real airliner manuals while flying over scenery based on satellite imagery. The simulator was built with extensibility in mind, but the modders really pushed the limits too. It's a pity this franchise died. Even though mods are still made for FS2004 and FSX, the team that build the simulator were disbaned a couple of years ago and in a lot of ways what we have now is a zombie mod community. A shadow of what it once was.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      It's a pity this franchise died.

      Maybe because it’s mind-numbingly boring?

  • No mac or Linux support, and no source code available.

    Yeah, it could still be a project trying to "serve the community" but as we've learned by difficult example, the only way to really "be the community" is to be open.

    The windows-only thing is possibly practical, but it means I'm not excited.

  • I'm a little confused, the article spends a lot of time talking about how modders scorn newer games for the Source engine. How is this evolving?
    • by mykos (1627575)
      The last paragraph of the article answers your question directly.
    • I'm a little confused, the article spends a lot of time talking about how modders scorn newer games for the Source engine. How is this evolving?

      I guess the author doesn't realize that the Source engine is continually evolving.

      Don't believe me? Ask the Sourcemod [sourcemod.net] people. There are apparently 6 versions of the Source engine currently in use in games. Here's the list of each one and which Valve games use them.

      HL2 engine:
      Half-Life 2
      Half-Life 2: Deathmatch
      Counter-Strike: Source*
      Half-Life: Source

      Episode 1 Engin

  • Not mentioned is that Stardock promotes modding. In fact, it's CEO/founder Brad Wardell, who often hangs out on forums and chat (how many other CEOs do that?), went on a modding sabbatical recently.
  • Doom (Score:3, Informative)

    by Windwraith (932426) on Wednesday May 19, 2010 @02:09AM (#32261524)

    I am amused no one mentioned Doom here, it is definitely a stepstone in game modding.
    True that most of that modding came after source ports were made, but making a Doom mod is a process that takes relatively little time, and has potentially good results with not much effort.
    There are mods that, using ACS scripting (a few kilobytes of human-readable code), change Doom gameplay radically. There are bigger mods such as ZDoom Wars (combining FPS + strategy) or All Out War 2: The Second Coming (a team based mod heavily inspired by C&C:Renegade) that put the fun levels up enough to make them "games on their own right" while running on the Doom engine.

    Current games never feel as easy to mod as Doom was, even games fully designed to be modded. Just the requirement of 3D modeling limits the possibilities for many potential modders. You can literally make fully featured and beautiful maps/mods in 24 hours.
    (And, despite kids in general being annoying in games, at times... give an annoying kid a very easy to mod game, and you might be surprised with the results. I only saw such a thing in Doom...and perhaps Dwarf Fortress)

    • Or Duke Nukem 3D for that matter. I think that's the first game to ship with all the developer tools. It even allowed you to write completely new game logic.

    • by Syberz (1170343)

      DOOM modding, that brought back some memories. Back in the day I had bought the book Tricks of the DOOM Gurus which was THE bible for making your own maps (it even came with a CD containing multiple editing utilities).

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0672307170 [amazon.com]

      This book was awesome, it was a step by step guide to build a map. Each chapter focused on a specific feature (elevators, doors, etc) and explained how to add those.

      Quake 2 was fairly popular for modding as well, multiple utilities are available onlin

    • I think the Quake series takes the cake. Everything from (Defrag) trick jumping and speed running to racing games was and is available. The drop-down console was iconic. There still are new engines, including a very very high quality graphics one (XreaL) coming out. TEN YEARS after the original Quake 3 Arena. (Oh, and I still think the game looks good.)

  • Should we care what Reismanis thinks about modding? ModDB is also the site that botched an opportunity to host the entire fileset from a cumulative decade of devoted modding of Total Annihilation. You remember Total Annihilation, right? The game that has spawned at least one spinoff and three sequels, with a fourth anticipated?

    When the last sites that were host to what remained of the TA modding community, tauniverse.com and fileuniverse.com, were under imminent threat of disappearing for good last year,

  • If all of these "modders" would contribute to creating an open source game instead of nipping at the scraps left by commercial games we would have even better open source games in the control of the community instead of unrewarding idea mills for the corps. Not to say that commercial games should not exist. Just that it would be nice if these very talented people would be more farsighted in their efforts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by VGPowerlord (621254)

      f all of these "modders" would contribute to creating an open source game instead of nipping at the scraps left by commercial games we would have even better open source games in the control of the community instead of unrewarding idea mills for the corps. Not to say that commercial games should not exist. Just that it would be nice if these very talented people would be more farsighted in their efforts.

      Well, that's just it: Mods are usually not completely new games. Specifically, they rely on an existing

      • by frikazoyd (845667)
        There are actually some pretty good open source engines out there these days. That said, this is yet another case of the "vicious cycle". Modders make mods mostly to catch a break. Every modder hopes to be part of the next team that makes it big. The best way to do that is to go where the players are. And sadly, the players aren't really playing on Linux. I hold high hopes that when Source hits linux, that a whole slew of HL2 mods will become linux native, and people will get used to the idea of progr
  • I hear that civ 5 will have a very open modding system.

  • by drkim (1559875)

    I've always enjoyed the Unreal franchise mods and TCs. Having started with modding "Duke" (limited to 2.5-D/sprites) it was great to have real 3-D in UT to mess with.

    Epic has always supported modding on UT - and even has their "Make something Unreal" contest. [makesomethingunreal.com] A lot of great and creative mods came out of this like: "Red Orchestra" (WWII); "Tactical Operations," "Neotokyo," "Frag Ops," & "Strike Force" (contemporary weapons); and "AirBuccaneers" (a steam-punk, hot-air balloons and cannons mod!)

    However, I

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