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Modding 101

Modding 101

Modding 101

Written and compiled by: student_20

Preface or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mod

This series of articles will cover one of my favorite aspects of PC gaming: Modding and Mods. Due to personal expertise, I will only cover PC/Computer Gaming mods. Most of this advice applies to Mac gaming too, but I know absolutely nothing about Mac folder structure/tools/etc, so I can’t offer much help there. I’m told you can do similar things with PlayStation/Xbox games as well, but I’ve never done it. Most console mods also involve killing your EULA with your system and your Xbox Live/PSN Terms of Service (ToS) agreements, so I’m not going to touch them, or advise anyone to try them. The Darnified UI for Fallout 3 is awesome, but not worth a console ban for ToS violations.

Mods are full of wonder, amazement, frustration, and heartbreak. They aren’t for the faint of heart. If you’re willing to dive in headfirst and get yourself dirty, they can  extend the enjoyment of your games. By adding hours of content, improving visuals/audio effects, fixing bugs, and personalizing your game, Mods can be a lot of fun. They can also force you to completely wipe and re-install games, corrupt saves… Well, you take the bad with the good.

So... yeah. Castle Wolfenstein on the Commodore 64. Hello 1981! I don't miss you!

So… yeah. Castle Wolfenstein on the Commodore 64. Hello 1981! I don’t miss you!

A (very) Brief History and a Practical Definition

The time is 1981 when computers were computers and the Atari 2600 ruled the console gaming world. A company called Muse Software released a game for the Apple II computer called Castle Wolfenstein. This amusing title was a platform shooter wherein the player took on the role of an allied soldier killing Nazis during World War II. Created by Silas S. Warner, Castle Wolfenstein would one day have a famous sequel (Wolfenstein 3-D) that led to Doom and all modern first person shooters – but that’s a story for another article.

Fast forward to 1983. A few bored students (Andrew Johnson, Preston Nevins, and Rob Romanchuk) decided to play around with the Castle Wolfenstein code. Using a paint program, a sector editor, and Muse Software’s the Voice sound software, they transformed Castle Wolfenstein into Castle Smurfenstein. In this modded version of the game, the protagonist slaughtered Smurfs in Canada instead of Nazis in Germany. Other changes were made, and Modding was born.

I'm not making it up. This is a real thing that people spent many hours doing. Because... you know, 1983...

I’m not making it up. This is a real thing that people spent many hours doing. Because… you know, 1983…

Mods have come a long way since then. Some mods have even become famous and popular enough to spawn new games all on their own. Counterstrike, Team Fortress, Defense of the Ancients, Garry’s Mod, and Day Z are all famous examples of Mods. These all lead to full game releases, and all had the support of the creators of the original games.

Modding Defined

Modding is defined as the process of making changes to an existing game to create altered or completely new content as a member of the game playing community. When the original creators of a game do it, it’s called a Patch, DLC, Content Pack, etc. When players make it, it’s called a Mod.

Types of Mods

Mods come in many types. Roughly speaking, we can break mods down into five major types:

  • Bug Fixes
  • Texture and Animation Improvements
  • Audio Mods
  • Added Content
  • Total Conversion

Each type serves a specific purpose. Some mods defy easy categorization, but most will fall neatly into one of these groups.

Bug Fixes usually do just what it says on the tin. These mods address issues with the software that are unaddressed (or poorly addressed) by official patches. Bug fixes are a good entry point for using mods. They focus on a more stable game experience without changing the game itself. Unofficial Bug Fix Patches also tend to be easy to use.

Texture and Animation Improvements are often created to make an older game look more modern. They do this by using larger and more detailed textures, meshes, or both. On older systems, these can cause a major hit to frame rates. On the other hand, they make a ten year old game look like it came out last week if your computer is powerful enough. I’ll be talking about these later, but I don’t mess with them much. I’m more interested in fluid game play and stability than I am in pretty visuals (I love Super Meat Boy, Fate, and Terraria. Crysis 2, every Metal Gear Solid after the first, and every GTA after 3 are overrated. ‘Nuff said).

Did I say "texture improvements?" I meant "Texture Changes". Some of which are just creepy. Macho Dragon Randy Savage is a real thing. A real, creepy thing.

Did I say “texture improvements?” I meant “Texture Changes”. Some of which are just creepy. Macho Dragon Randy Savage is a real thing. A real, creepy thing.

Audio Mods make changes to the sounds of a game. Some overhaul the music system of the game. Others change sound effects, like the sound of a laser blast or the sheathing of a sword. Still others change ambient sounds, adding crickets, distant gunfire, and the like. Fallout 3 and New Vegas have several mods that add in-game radio stations, and I refuse to play at all without one or two of them. Whatever the purpose, even minor changes to the audio part of a game can yield huge changes to the feel of a game.

Added Content mods also do what it says on the tin: they add stuff to the game. Many added content mods are simple additions like a few weapons here and a piece of armor there. More ambitious ones are major weapon and armor overhauls and even changes to mechanics. Some can increase immersion, adding things like the need to eat, or improve animal AI. Added Content can also include player housing and a variety of other fun additions. In my experience, Added Content mods are by far the most common. They also tend to be relatively small and easy to work with.

The biggest Mods are called Total Conversions. A total conversion will change most aspects of a game. Story, mechanics, and setting can all change, for instance. Playing a TC is almost like playing a completely different game.

Ever heard of Garry's Mod? Yeah, that was a TC for Half Life 2 when it started. Nothing funny to say - just grateful.

Ever heard of Garry’s Mod? Yeah, that was a TC for Half Life 2 when it started. Nothing funny to say – just grateful.

This isn’t always the case, however. Some total conversions seek out very different goals.

Modernizing total conversion projects seek to adapt older games to newer systems. The Skywind project is attempting to update the 2002 classic game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind to the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim engine. Other projects combine two or more games into a single streamlined experience. Two excellent examples of this sort of mod are Tale of Two Wastelands and the Baldur’s Gate Trilogy. Total conversions are usually large packages, and often make massive changes to a game. Despite massive changes to a game, installing most completed total conversions is no more difficult than installing any other Mod.

Nerd Bacon’s Guide to Modding

By writer/contributor: student 20

It lets you play two of the best CRPGs ever made as a single game. Yeah, I'll say it: THIS IS BETTER THAN FALLOUT AND SKYRIM PUT TOGETHER.

It lets you play two of the best CRPGs ever made as a single game. Yeah, I’ll say it: THIS IS BETTER THAN FALLOUT AND SKYRIM PUT TOGETHER.

Over several articles, I plan to go over modding techniques. This will include finding and installing mods, making simple modifications yourself, and so on. I’m going to talk about Mod Managers (programs that install mods for you), modding tools, and some of my favorite mods. I’ll talk about tools of the modding trade and about my personal take on the ups and downs of modding.

As we go on this journey, I’m going to be exploring a lot of specifics using games whose creators support their modding communities. I’ll also recommend tools for your modding exploits, and go over a few tips to make your modding life easier.

Before we even get started, though, you should download and install 7zip. It’s the best tool for dealing with compressed files on Windows, and we’re going to be dealing with a lot of them. I recommend it without reservation, not just for use in modding, but for all your file compressing/decompressing needs.

I'm not paid to advertize for them or anything. The software's just that good.

I’m not paid to advertize for them or anything. The software’s just that good.

So hold on to your hat, buckle up, and get ready. It’s a fun ride, but it’s bumpy as hell.

Modding 101: Part 1: Back it Up

Part 1: Backitup, Backitup

Part 2: So, you play-tested this before release, right? COMING SOON


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