Part 2: Modding 101: So, you play-tested this before release, right?
Two Topics, One Lesson
So… I’m going to cover a lot of ground in a little space here. I’ve got two important things to talk about, but neither of them are big enough topics for their own articles. The two things I want to talk about are Fixpacks (mods that fix bugs) and finding mods. Now, I could probably talk at length about both of these topics.
As a matter of fact, anyone who has read any of my previous work would probably bet on that… but I recently re-read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the sentence “Omit needless words” is stuck in my head. I can’t promise I’ll actually follow that sage wisdom, but I am going to try. Well, give lip service to trying, at any rate.
These two particular topics are near and dear to me. Searching for ways to fix problems with games is how I got into mods in the first place – specifically, I wanted to play Baldur’s Gate on a computer with a wide screen. The game itself – dating from the late 90s – was formatted for a regulation 4:3 screen. You know, like your… parent’s TV? (Holy crap on a Triscuit – I’m getting old!).
Despite being formatted for a 4:3 screen, though, there was clearly enough information in the game for a 16:10 resolution, which is what my lap top had. I wondered if there was a way to get the game to play at my computer’s native resolution. I would have been fine with the image being stretched, but it turns out that someone much more skilled with coding than me had made a better fix. But just doing that search opened my eyes to oh, so much more.
Although not technically a fixpack (more of a “modernization”), that little attempt to get my game to run better on my hardware opened me up to… well, eventually writing these articles. So, yeah. Personal investment and stuff. #PersonalGrowth, or something.
Errr… let’s get away from my development as a gamer and back into the stuff you came here for, yeah?
So… Dragons are Flying Backwards, and Goats are Terrifying
We’ve all been there. You get a new game (or an old one), and play for a while and then BAM! Bugs!
In modern gaming, the company responsible for the game (and therefore the bugs) will often offer patches that fix bugs. Well, a lot of bugs. Okay, most of the bugs. Some of the bugs. Okay, game-breaking bugs, at least. Well, some game-breaking bugs, anyway.
And that’s why I love companies that support their modding communities.
Fixpacks: What the frak are they?
Fixpacks (sometimes called Unofficial Patches) are community made mods that address bugs, incomplete content, and stability issues. These come in a few different forms, but the important part is that they address bugs in the associated games. To cite a famous example, the Unofficial Skyrim Patch fixed backward flying dragons and citizens of the frozen north walking from the clouds into the ground (or worse) before Bethesda did. Of course, Bethesda eventually fixed… well, some of these bugs, so we still love them.
Still, Skyrim (and a lot of other Bethesda games) can be pretty buggy. That can happen when you’re trying to forge an entire world from nothing. Let’s not bag on the creators for imperfection – they did a fantastic job once you consider the scope of their job. Let’s take a look at what the community can do to help.
When Game Designers put faith in their players, wonderful things can occur – which is the overriding theme of these articles, incidentally. By releasing modding tools of their own, and encouraging the existence of a modding community, a lot of bugs can get fixed pretty quickly by the community. Some technically inclined gamers will see the problems and look at them as challenges to overcome. In the same way that I look at an old computer and say “Can I put Linux on that and make it useful?”, they look at Skyrim and say “Can I get those dragons to not fly backwards?”
The answer in both cases is usually “yes!”, and thus I get a new Media Server for my house, and the gaming community gets a new Fixpack.
The best Fixpacks can be found on the official community forums for the games they are meant to fix. Other times, they’re found in completely different places. If you’re looking for a fixpack, your best friend is definitely Google. A few good searches to try are:
And other variations on that theme, where [GAMENAME] is the name of the game you want the patch for.
There are a few important things to note, though. First of all, if the game in question does not support its modding community, then you’re either not going to find much. 2.) If the game features online multiplayer, there’s a good chance any fixpack you find will also prevent you from logging onto official servers. C.) Any existing saves you have will probably be rendered useless by installing a community fixpack.
In the notes above, the first is because games that do not support their mod communities also like to pretend that their communities are too dumb to fix anything, and so actively work to prevent them from trying. 2.) is the result of anti-cheating software, which is probably a good thing, even if it ignores the possibility of community fixes. C.) is because the changes made in fixpacks are often extensive, and can even alter the original .exe for the game (let me refer you back to lesson 1…).
Does the Writer Use Them? Yes He Does…
Now, you might be wondering if I use fixpacks myself, and if I do, which ones. Fair questions, to be sure. The answer? Yes. Whenever I can.
It’s not a lack of faith in the original publisher that drives me to this. Not even close – I love game creators for being able to do something I’m just not capable of doing. It’s that I believe in the power of a community of hundereds to pull off what a dozen can’t. Not surprising, really. The Empire State Building is amazing, and it might have been designed by a small team – but it was built by hundreds.
This is one of the (many) reasons why I don’t get why more companies don’t support modding communities. Yeah, you as a game creator are going to stomp as many bugs as you possibly can before you let a game out into the wild. Yeah, if you’re a good game creator, you’re going to continue to offer support, even after the game is released, and continue to fix bugs as they come up to the best of your ability. But… doesn’t it make sense to get as much help from people who love your game as much as you do as possible?
Finding Mods, or The Shortest Tutorial Ever if I Didn’t Suffer from Diarrhea of the Fingers
So, if you clicked on all the links I posted above, you’ve read a couple reviews, and, more importantly, been introduced to the most passive-agressive site on the internet: lmgtfy.com, which cheerfully (if dickishly) Googles something for you. Congrats! You can now, officially, skip to the end of the lesson to hear my blab about the next article in the series.
If you didn’t click on them… well, get ready. This is some complicated stuff…
When I started up on the internet, Search Engines and Web Crawlers were primitive things. I mean, they existed, sorta… but they weren’t… you know, good at stuff. What’s more, the web was a heck of a lot smaller. There was Encarta, Yahoo, AOL, and… well, I’m sure there was other stuff, but that was, like, the late 90s, man. Can you dig the nostalgia trip?
Nostalgia isn’t always good, though. Those early days were… well, not good. The Internet used to be more trouble than it was worth. And no, I’m not exaggerating or trying to use hyperbole for irony. Back then, you used the Internet because you saw what it could be, and managed to ignore what it mostly was.
Today is very different. Today, search engines are awesome. So, the real lesson here is this: whether you’re a fan of Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, or any other search engine out there, use it. And then, after you’re disappointed with the others, use Google. Type in the name of the game followed by the word “Mods”.
are professionally run, very organized, and host many, many mods for a variety of games. Both also have their own mod managers, which is a nice perk.
More To Come!
In honor of Retrouary, my next post to this series concerns older games. Specifically, I’m going to talk about patching ROMs for Emulators, and, more importantly, the wonder that is an UNDUB. See you then!
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