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NYT on Game Mods 172

Bansuki writes "The New York Times has an article about the role of the modding communities in the games industry. It's a decent overview of the current state of modding though it focuses heavily on Epic Games and the Unreal engine. They spotlight the Unreal University program (an Unreal sponsored event giving classes to potential modders) and Red Orchestra (a highly ambitious mod of the Unreal Warfare engine). The article also mentions machinima as a type of mod with artistic potential and gives due credit to Id Software and Bioware for their work in making engines available to the community. But here's a glaring omission: Half-life and its wildly successful mods. Odd."
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NYT on Game Mods

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  • by wrinkledshirt ( 228541 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:39AM (#7628236) Homepage
    It's not really all that odd. The mainstream press isn't exactly tech savvy. Heck, mainstream press isn't exactly savvy in ANY field, and often relies upon press releases from outside bodies to figure out if something is worth pursuing as a story.

    The Unreal guys probably got proactive about getting this story out there.
    • Excellent analysis wrinkledshirt, I found it odd that the NYT article would be featured on the front page when there are so many excellent game review, game mod, demo download sites out there. I am sure that a more comprehensive look at the mod community is out there anybody have a link?
    • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:47AM (#7628321) Homepage Journal
      The point of the article isn't to list every significant modding community out there - heck, you could toss sports games into the mix as well. The story is that the relationship between game developers and players has changed significantly over the last few years. Whether one game is used as the example over another is trivial...
    • by Torinaga-Sama ( 189890 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:05AM (#7628505) Homepage
      "The Unreal guys probably got proactive about getting this story out there."

      Hey, it worked for Valve, it can work for us.

      I know Half-Life was the only game I ever bought more than once, as sick an fanboyish as that sounds to me now.

      • I waited until they released the "Ultimate Platinum Collection Super Pack from Hell." Then I waited till the price on that hit about $25, and then picked it up. I was too much of a fanboy of Quake 3 and Unreal, so I hated HL (There were people who would flame back and forth about which was better, yada... ick).

        It's come to the point where ID releases a "Quake," and it's only a demo of the technology for others to license. I'm glad they put effort into RTCW , but I wonder what the depth of Doom 3 is goi

    • The Unreal guys probably got proactive about getting this story out there.

      No, that's not how you get articles in the press. The journalist wanting to write the article most likely contacted them, and used them as the primary source for the article.
      • No, that's not how you get articles in the press.

        Heh. Go work for a newspaper and then come back again in six months.
        • Heh. Go work for a newspaper and then come back again in six months.

          Trust me, I know how this works. Sure, you have some companies trying to railroad stories through, but it's usually some editor who tells a peon "I keep hearing about game mods--write a story!" Then the peon pokes around, contacts people at what Google turns up, then leans hard on whoever is first to reply. I've been through this enough to know the drill.
    • The Unreal guys probably got proactive about getting this story out there.

      Yeah, I used to get interviewed by the AJC [ajc.com] on technology issues. Seriously, I could have told them Linux is more popular than Windows and they probably would have published it.

      Most reporters have a few pals in several industries. For instance, a doctor they call on medical issues, an IT guy for tech stuff, etc.

      Reporters do one thing: Report :-)
  • ...is great and all, but it'd be nifty if a level could be built using a script. Like this:
    map = Map.new
    level = Level.new(10,10)
    level .set_spawn_point(2,2)
    Or something to that effect.

    I've poked around a bit trying to find a way to generate DOOM PWADs using a script... but I can't see a way to build a map outside a level editor. It seems like there are two components necessary - a sector layout thingy and a binary space partition calculator.

    At any rate, I've started a little project to generate DOOM levels [rubyforge.org] via a Ruby script. And if it turns out this is already possible via other means, I'll shut the project down :-)
    • by Mohammed Al-Sahaf ( 665285 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:52AM (#7628389)
      Take a look at WadC [fov120.com], a scripting language for building Doom levels, you filthy infidel.
    • by wideBlueSkies ( 618979 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:52AM (#7628394) Journal
      3D realms, provided a random level generator for Rise Of The Triad [3drealms.com].

      The utility came on the CD version of the game. It would work as advertised and generate random levels. Every now and then you'd get a good deathmatch level out of it.

      So I would imagine that one could write an engine to generate a random level for any game. This would be a bit simpler probably for older 2 1/2 D games like Doom, ROTT and Descent, compared to full 3D engine games like the Quake and Unreal series. But definitely do-able I think.

      • by Mohammed Al-Sahaf ( 665285 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:55AM (#7628421)
        Its been done for Doom at least. SLIGE [doomworld.com] is a tool of the Zionist American pigs for generating random levels.
      • Rather than doing it completely randomly, it might be a good application for a genetic algorithm. You could evolve the (near-)perfect level.
        • > it might be a good application for a
          > genetic algorithm. You could evolve
          > the (near-)perfect level.

          The difficult part might be coming up with a good fitness algorithm. I mean, a perfect level for one person may be a lousy level for another.

          I'm hoping to come up with something that could be used to generate a level from, say, a building floor plan, or a Visio diagram of something - stuff like that. It would be nifty to run around inside of a Cougaar [cougaar.org] agent community, for example.
          • It could be really easy to do with SVG / EPS / PS type diagram/image formats. They already use vertexes and chords (paths) and all that good stuff.

            That would be an interesting thing... Use groups of paths of different colors to define different elevations, super-impose them on top of eachother, and generate the map file that way. I remember the old WAD editors for Doom, and how much cut&paste would have saved the day.

            Too bad you need heavy duty 3-D tools like 3DSMax (or yeah, notepad and a lot of s

      • This would be a bit simpler probably for older 2 1/2 D games like Doom, ROTT and Descent, compared to full 3D engine games like the Quake and Unreal series. But definitely do-able I think.

        Just FYI, Descent was a full 3D game in every sense of the word.
    • Soldier of Fortune (which I believe is on the same Engine as Quake 3) had an option to Randomly Generate Maps.

      They were ony any good for CTF in my opinion though, but that migh be another road to look down.
    • I know you're talking about the original Doom, but...

      The Bobtoolz plugin packaged with GtkRadiant has C++ code that generates brushes, the windings that they consist of, entities and patch meshes, and sends that data to GTKRadiant, as a plugin.

      The new Doom opens up opportunities for random map generation, as there should be no lengthy map compilation step. You could send a random seed or a series of parameters over a network and have a map be built for all clients.

      I was toying around with a random lev

  • by Mukaikubo ( 724906 ) <gtg430bNO@SPAMprism.gatech.edu> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:40AM (#7628249) Journal
    The games with wildly successful modification scenes are games that are commercially wildly successful, in general. The positive correlation is real.

    It mystifies me that a game these days can possibly be shipped without a comprehensive editing tool. They're artificially limiting their games' lives and shooting their sales in the foot.
    • by dolo666 ( 195584 ) * on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:57AM (#7628433) Journal
      When I was interviewed by the New York Times about the mod I'm doing, I was shocked at how much of the interview was left out. So I'm doing a feature with MTV magazine about it, and forgive me if I'm having some faith. :)

      My point is that the NYT doesn't know much about modding. They only know what they can see, and that's a wall of information. They don't have good resources for tapping into something like modding. Part of that is our fault, because there isn't a central information base for modding anymore, and there hasn't been since Slipgate Central was shut down. NYT wouldn't know what Allstar CTF was, and they would likely think that Zoid was a little toy.

      But patiently, with time, maybe the rest of the world will get it, when it comes to mods. Until then, we have to make do and we have to try and keep working towards that connection.
      • Well, zoids [amazon.com] are anyhow, apparently also an anime.

        I used to have some when I was younger, brought down from Japan. Iron Kong [amazon.com] was a cool gadget

        Not to throw your point, but the reality is that you could have the zoids makers argueing that "For all slashdot knows, Zoids might be a game mod or something" :-)
    • The games with wildly successful modification scenes are games that are commercially wildly successful, in general. The positive correlation is real.

      Being "commercially successful" means just that. That is sells many copies, it does not mean that people are actually playing the game out of the box .. Take Half Life for example and look at how many people are playing Un-MODed HalfLife today .. Not many .. The ONLY reason Valve is still selling HalfLife, is because of the MODs..

      Therefore talking about

    • to a point. The super old Quake III has the absolutely best "mod" out there even making Counter strike look like a joke.

      Urban terror. Free mod, works on all quake 3 platforms and is an absolute blast. Commercial games are only just now getting up to where they were 2 years ago with gameplay and ideas.
  • by theMerovingian ( 722983 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:40AM (#7628260) Journal

    are a great addition to commercial games...

    so long as there is a moderating system to sort the wheat from the chaff (to use a biblical metaphor)

  • by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:41AM (#7628266) Journal
    has a clone under SDL... See the SDL home page [libsdl.org] for a link :-)

  • by celerityfm ( 181760 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:41AM (#7628268) Journal
    This link will let you in without the registration:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/04/technology/circu its/04modd.html?ex=1071118800&en=579e6cf0a57082db& ei=5062&partner=GOOGLE [nytimes.com]

    Thanks google :)
  • Mods... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Predathar ( 658076 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:41AM (#7628273)
    I played lots of Quake2 mods, Action Quake2 being my favorite. Personally I didn't like the Half-Life net code when the game first came out but I heard that it got much better, but by that time I had dropped the game and moved on to something else.

    Games with mods do seem to have a much longer life than non-mod games, look at Tribes, Unreal Tournament, Battlefield 1942, Neverwinter Nights (which LIVES off of the mod concept), heck, even games not designed to be modded (Silent Hunter 2) have had mods done by very creative and dedicated fans.

    Allowing people to make their own maps is not enough, let them play with the engine, the graphics, the models, the scripting, it pleases the fans and makes them come back for a sequel. Its been proven lots of times, heck, people still play QUAKE1 because of the mods!
  • by Walkiry ( 698192 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:42AM (#7628277) Homepage
    And NOT trying to start a PC vs. Console war, game mods are one of the most important features that keep the PC gamers coming for more and paying big bucks for hardware (well, compared to consoles that are sold at a loss).

    On the other hand, mods (and in general, user-created content) are responsible for the metamorphosis of the computer games industry since the early 8-bit era to what it is today. No longer can you sell a hit game every 6 months , due to this extra content the average life of a good game has increased immensely, and thus, game companies now have to think carefully about their plans and development programs.
    • Very true. I own every major console system at this point and even though I often prefer the console version there is no chance that I'm going to get Morrowind or Half-Life 2 for the X-Box, I'd be missing out on all the mods and add-ons that keep the games interesting.

      And using a subscription service to distribute some additional content is not really an option. Content management systems on consoles are still so clumsy as to barely qualify as usable - I'd rather just use my pc and know I can do what I l

    • But consoles are the future for game clients. The simple, common, stable platform provided by a console is far preferable to a PC from a development and support standpoint.

      I see the future of PCs in gaming to be content creation platforms and persistent servers, with consoles as the clients, aka Client/Server gaming.
    • There's no technological barrier to mods on consoles, at least in some form:

      1. For the time being, console games are signed and distributed on physical media, so mods will have to be as well. The costs of publishing result in only the very best mods being available. (eg: CounterStrike on XBox)
      2. The next step is to provide amature developers with the ability to produce signed media, so that mods can be published on a small-press basis.
      3. Finally, once console games are distributed online (as is certainly Micr
  • The Darkest Day (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:45AM (#7628300) Journal
    ... for BG2 has to be the best unofficial mod I've ever played - a huge effort by the team. It unbalanced the game somewhat, but it certainly made it different to run into an area you knew well only to be completely ambushed. Oh sh...

  • by Terragen ( 727874 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:48AM (#7628340)
    Mods like Counter-Strike are a boon to developers. Its like having people who work for free. I know that valve has taken CS under their wing now but there are many mods that keep games playable - with no work on the part of the developers. Imagine all the people who bought half-life so they could play counter-strike on the internet (or DoD or TF)? Originally CS was just a couple of nerds with some free time on their hands.. Not to mention that you can't make everyone happy.. mods let people take a great engine and make a game that is "boring" to them fun. Some people like CS, others prefer TF, some are into DoD.. I'm pretty sure that many of those people never bother to play multiplayer HL.
    • You are talking about TFC, not TF. TF is a mod for the original Quake, and it is to this day the most popular Quake mod. Valve bought the TF mod team and had them make TFC for HalfLife.
    • I don't think they owe anything to us. After all, they spent development time on making Half-Life mod friendly, and they have actively supported the mod community with tips and help, and have responded to its needs.

      We, on the other hand, owe Valve a big thank you for making a mod friendly game, and for supporting it for so long, thereby allowing us to play quality mods for free. And we owe the mod makers big thanks for taking the time to create cool mods.

      One which should be mentioned more often, by the

  • Glaring Oversight (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sage Gaspar ( 688563 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:51AM (#7628375)
    I find it a glaring oversight to see an article on PC game mods not even mention Half-Life, a game which has had a ridiculous shelf life powered almost solely by the bevy of mods released for it.

    And no discussion of Half-Life would be complete without a discussion of Natural-Selection [natural-selection.org], a mod that turns HL into an FPRTS with marines fighting aliens and a focus on resource control (and now, with a level-based team FPS that's leagues beyond other mods dedicated solely to team FPS).

    • The only thing that pisses me off about NS is the fact that I was sketching out the exact same concepts on paper and fishing for some feedback in my newsgroups when I first heard about it. Dammit! A day late and dollar short, as they say.

      Although my version was intended mainly to fill the large gap in the genre of 'games for multi-monitor systems.' I figure a commander could have a full-screen map on one and use the other(s) for nifty things like status monitoring and live feed from units and security
      • The only thing that pisses me off about NS is the fact that I was sketching out the exact same concepts on paper and fishing for some feedback in my newsgroups when I first heard about it. Dammit! A day late and dollar short, as they say.

        You may be late, but like many things in life, this is your opportunity to do something better, since you already have a reference to go by.
  • Speaking of Mods (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JSkills ( 69686 ) <jskills.goofball@com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:53AM (#7628397) Homepage Journal
    Did anyone ever play the "TW Creeper" mod for the original Quake? As nice as the 1st person shooters have gotten - Counterstrike is so much more realistic and several orders of magnitude more impressive in terms of rendering graphics - I still haven't found more enjoyment in a multiplayer 1st person shooter than that old modded version of Quake. Sounds silly I guess ...
  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @10:57AM (#7628427)
    ... is that the classic Quake/QuakeWorld engine really started the ball rolling for mods, and is/was responsible for some of the things we take for granted in these games, like CTF (Thanks Zoid and Threewave for helping me waste sooo much time playing - had a blast) and the original TeamFortress.
    • Actually it was Doom that started the ball rolling for mods. Heck there were probably even Wolfenstein mods. Search around for Alien Doom or Starwar Doom, there were some really really creative mods out for Doom, for an engine that wasn't really meant to be modded. Actually, Doom has the capability of loading external pwads which replaced levels, sprites, and sound effects, but you couldn't change any of the programming side of it, until DeHacked (I think that's what it was called) came out, which allowe
      • Yeah, but Doom mods lack many things that modern mods, while Quake mods such as TeamFortress were the begining of mods as we know them today. Doom mods were often just new textures, sprites, and levels. Quake mods were new original games in and of themselves.

        What I am saying is similar to how to refer to the first "modern man", who shared all of the major traits with current day humans.

        Doom mods are like chimps that walk upright and can use tools, while Quake mods are like cavemen.
  • TF a Halflife mod? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:01AM (#7628475) Journal
    I seem to remember playing TF on Quake 1's engine. As a matter of fact, me and my college buddies worked with the people making TF. We exerimented on our own selves (being in a college dorm, we had a perfect environment) trying out weapns like the gib gun, and *I* even prototypes the sniper dot. It was an 'x' originally.

    So there might be a TF for HL, but TF is and always shall be a Quake mod. After all, Quake was the first engine that was open to modding by average Joe.
    • Valve hired the developers of TF to make TF2, and eventually we ended up with a TF2 dev cycle that is nearing DNF, but they also developed TF Classic for Half-Life, which is somewhat similar to the original Quake mod (Valve also eventually released a DM Classic mod which is similar to Quake DM). TFC was released around the same time as the first SDK for Half-Life, basically as a way of showing off what could be done with the SDK and the HL engine. TFC itself has also been updated several times during it's l
      • I remember TFC and how horrid it was. The physics between the two engines made Q:TF die hards complain constantly. Hardly anything worked the same, though it all worked. The matchups between classes turned out impossible to duplicate, and forced re-learning (for those that did) of how to play the game.

        Lets not forget that Quake, driven by TF also started the Clan Wars. Now you can't go anywhere without having some kind of Clan for a multiplayer game.
  • Future of modding... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hookedup ( 630460 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:08AM (#7628542)

    I'm a big fan of Desert Combat [desertcombat.com] mod for Battlefield 1942, seems as though the designers/coders have formed their own company [traumastudios.com] headed by founder Frank Delise. This seems like a great way for mods to break into the gaming scene, release an amazing mod for free, then start a company, then PROFIT! (sorry..). I'm really looking forward to see what these guys are comming up with next.
  • Consoles? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mukaikubo ( 724906 )
    The real question, though is when (if ever!) net access by consoles are going to allow widespread modding of console titles. I look forward to it, if it's even possible.
    • Re:Consoles? (Score:3, Informative)

      by easyfrag ( 210329 )
      I've played Quake2 on a modded Xbox via this port. [netfirms.com] I was able to add the CTF files to it and it worked perfectly, well except for the fact that I was using the xbox controller and found it useless for a fps, I was playing guys on PC's and couldn't turn and aim nearly as fast. I'm not sure if the Q2 CTF files counts as a mod or not, I believe id put them out but I could be wrong.
  • glaring omission (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ehvoy ( 696364 ) *
    But here's a glaring omission: Half-life...

    Simple, no linux support.
  • There have been lots of articles in the mainstream media about mods, but usually they end up talking almost exclusively about Half Life and Counterstrike. For once, I'm glad to see them not get mentioned. It is time for the online FPS gaming community to move on from those 5 year old games and mods. There is much better stuff out there to play now than Half Life & Counterstrike. I think the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 has a chance of becoming the "new" Counterstrike.
  • Competitive Gaming (Score:5, Informative)

    by Marsala ( 4168 ) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:18AM (#7628623) Homepage
    I've recently been sucked into the competitive gameplay world (where teams organize into divisions, leagues, etc, tournaments are held periodically for cash and prizes, and all that good stuff). As much as I used to chuckle at the thought of "pro gamers", it turns out that there can be just as much nuance to strategy and execution to appreciate in watching a multiplayer video game as there is in watching say a football game. At least to my mind.

    One cool thing about mods is that they can be used to improve games to a point where they're suitable for competition. The ETpro [anime.net] mod by bani for the game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory [activision.com] alters some aspects of gameplay to make it more suitable stopwatch competitions.

    The other thing mods can do, and this is kinda neat, is actually add in features to accomodate game spectators. Again, using ETpro as an example, bani included some small changes to help shoutcasters quickly identify players and get stats during the match. A multiview feature was also added so that a spectator could watch the game from several different points of view with a Picture-in-Picture style setup.

    In the future, I see mods stepping up to fill in the roles that the original game developers either couldn't think of or didn't want to address because the competition world wasn't their target audience. I can see a mod coming out that can not only handle broadcasting video of the match, but offers optional commentary via an mp3/ogg stream from a caster and presents information kind of in the same way FOX does for football games (current scores, tickers for other matches, league stats for players, etc).

    Yeah. Mods are crucial if you want to let your users take your software places you'd never even thought of before.
  • Urban Terror (Score:2, Interesting)

    I've played several mods from the Quake series of games but can't seem to walk away from Urban Terror (now at beta 3.1). I haven't seen any mention of this one on the comments posted thus far. IMHO, I think this mod nails the perfect combination of realism and gameplay. I think CS is cool and very realistic but I think it's a little too real for gameplay. I play UrT almost every day but only for 30 minutes to an hour (except for the weekends when I log several hours every Saturday and Sunday). I've pla
    • Yeah, I'm with you on this one. Urban Terror is an awesome q3 mod ... it's practically the only thing I've been playing for the last few weeks. Big plus is that it runs on Q3Linux too.

    • If you guys like Urban Terror, you might also enjoy TrueCombat,www.truecombat.com
      It is similar but superior to Urban Terror(imho), as it focuses more tightly on realism. It is of course a Quake 3 mod, and so runs under linux.

  • Here's a thought; I'm a huge fan of BF1942 (it's a bit slower-paced than most FPS, and I like the "real" weapons.) EA Games have brought out a number of pretty cool add-ons for it (Secret Weapons, Road to Rome, etc.) as well as a number of really neat maps with new weapons and whatnot.

    Does this count, or are people religiously opposed to something being called a "mod" if it comes out of the same shop that brought out the game in the first place?
  • I can't believe the old page for TeamFortress [planetfortress.com] is still around. Must be for nostalgia's sake. Still, it's good to look back at my one short fleeting moment of fame [planetfortress.com], heading up and releasing the last version of that mod many years ago. Then again, it makes me realize just how old I am now.

    I've lost so many contacts from those days, but I still email Robin every so often to see what he's up to. I'm afraid to ask what the atmosphere around the Valve office is in the aftermath of the recent security breach [slashdot.org]

    • Holy shit, has it been that long? CS was great and all, but nothing compared to playing TF on Quake 1 back in the day. Best game ever. Somehow TF on HL just never seeemed the same and I just couldn't get into it and switched to CS... :( Of course now I haven't touched a game on a PC since about 2000...

      That said, I like how that news page says that the developers started work full-time on TF2 in 98. I guess it'll come out the same time as Duke Nukem Forever.
  • What about Barney... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    A big ommission is the barney Doom mod. The first mod I can remember seeing. It was for the original doom and changed the "small" demon at the end of the demo or first level into the vile purple fiend.

    The story ignores the real base mods from the DOS era when the tools/source were not released and had t obe reverse engineered by users.

    The Alens total conversion for Doom is still the best mod I've played.
    • There was an earlier Wolfenstein hack that included Santa, I think.

      The funniest mods I remember were the fartman and pr0nDoom mods. Seeing a monster with a big ass that farts fireballs is childishly hilarious, and picking up a nekkid low-res chick while hearing "Pizza Pizza" is right up there.

      I think the first full mod was Alien-Doom though. It was the coolest thing around for quite a while.

  • Knowing some friends who have modded games and after speaking with some game developers and reading some interviews, it's pretty clear that if you are really serious about being a game programmer, modding is the way to go.

    If you work on something in your spare time, alone or with some friends, you're not going to come up with anything too amazing if you start from scratch. Just look at the best open source games written from scratch. Their either clones meant to be compatible with a commercial game, or i
  • Anyone remember Unlimited Adventures from SSI? It allowed you to create your own AD&D goldbox games. People modded the hell out of the game EXE to enable more monsters, character races, and all sorts of stuff. And I believe the modding community for Unlimited Adentures still exists (game came out in 1993).

IN MY OPINION anyone interested in improving himself should not rule out becoming pure energy. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.