Arguably the best thing about being a PC gamer is you can guarantee a game is never really finished. While a console game may get a few bits of DLC or occasionally the odd do-up patch the content released after a game is “finished” is positively paltry compared to PC games. This is due to the huge power and sub culture of the mod.
There’s literally a bevy of clever folk tweaking and reprogramming their favourite games to offer up new content. This is more than a simple boon for less technological minded gamers like myself. Want to see that character naked? Done. Want your rocket launcher to shoot fireworks? You got it. Want to fly a ship from Battlestar Galactica in a game that has nothing to do with Battlestar Galactica? No problem. But the real power of gaming modification is when it can change a loved game so completely that it resembles a whole new product. In this way gamers can play sequels that the developers never dreamed of, or work through whole new surreal campaigns that make Alice in Wonderland look like a respected science journal.
So it is with the soon to be released Half-Life 2 mod ICE. Now the Half-Life games have a long history of modification (see below) something about their gameplay and popularity seems to just draw creative minds. However, ICE looks like it may be the best in some time. Marketed by its developers as an unofficial sequel to Half-Life 2, it is set sometime after the original games story with the action taking place in the Arctic. Yep. Penguins and all baby. To celebrate the coming of a new, frankly bizarre mod, it seemed as good a time as any to count down some of our very favourites. From the dark underbelly of gaming here are some of the best modifications in PC history.
You can’t talk about modern gaming modification without mentioning the award-winning, innovative force that is DayZ. Now developed into a fully fledged stand alone game, it began life as a revolutionary mod of army simulator ARMA 2. Creator Dean Hall was originally inspired by his own New Zealand Army training. Training that involved stress tests and emotional reactions. Well there’s not much more stressful than a zombie invasion right? What separates DayZ from other zombie games and its original ARMA 2 framework is the depth of playability in it.
Based in a fictional post-Soviet state, this is a first person survival horror that involves players scouring the environment for supplies like food, water and medicine. While doing that you’ve also got to avoid the zombie horde and all the other players. That last feature is the games most talked about dynamic because at its heart this is really about human interactions. Characters can work together to survive, but it rarely works out that way. That makes a stroll through DayZ a nerve-shredding experience. Arguably one of the biggest games in the last few years, making it the most important mod ever. No doubt the stand alone game is impressive, but this is where it started.
Just Cause 2 Multiplayer
It may not make for easy strategising but one consistently impressive, but constantly overlooked, quality in multiplayer games is chaos. It’s even better with a capital C. You can think of Super Smash Bros. Or even Mario Kart but none come close to the mayhem, the unbridled nonsense that is the Just Cause 2 Multiplayer. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest and when a third party developer decided to open up the world of Just Cause 2 to up to one thousand players at a time, it was a stroke of genius. Though its development has been sporadic and recent versions seem to have limited the fun, rather than expanded it, this mod is still a miniature masterpiece.
The Just Cause games have always been a case of unused potential but in this modification all the funniest elements in the main game bear unbelievable fruit. The chaos of a wave of gamers all encroaching on one spot. A world beset almost unendingly with explosions. Vehicles inexplicably falling from the air. This is the island of Panau at full war but with every man for himself. New player modes are still being created at this very moment, including free vehicle spawns and motor derby, but the consensus seems to be that the old ways were the best; open world, limited servers and out and out carnage.
Skyrim My Little Pony Mod(s)
An essential part of modding culture’s charm is its quirky sense of humour. Some light relief is necessary in some games and usual the more at odds the new content is with the games original setting the better. So what could be more humorous than adding My Little Pony content into the very serious world that is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
This is actually a series of mods rather than one package. Some options involve turning all the dragons into fire breathing My Little Ponies or replacing all the Khajiit races features with those of the loveable little horses. Another highlight is turning your faithful stead into a My Little Pony character. It’s surprising what a different slant this puts on the game, being a lone rider on a neon pink pony. The applications are helped by the developers little details such as hair highlights and an amazing set of sounds. Yet the best options are of course transforming your main character into a pony.
This is good for many self evident reasons, but the best part is, playing the game in this manner is still do able. The transformation bares similarities to the games original werewolf mechanics. Certain skills become available while others are blocked. The funny thing is that the transformation is actually stronger than the werewolf and, if downloaded early enough, players may find themselves utilising it to get through the game. Bet that’s a feature Bethesda never even discussed in their development meetings.
The Stanley Parable
There’s a real argument that Half Life and Half Life 2 spawned the whole modification culture. Nearly every early mod of note around the two game’s releases used them as a framework. For that reason there is many to choose from, which is difficult because lots of them are very very good. Black Mesa is basically a stand alone game and stupidly good. Counter Strike exposed the world to the very concept of mod built games. Neo Tokyo was too cool for words and the infamous Garry’s mod created its own bizarre subculture that is still going strong today.
However for the most creative Half Life 2 venture you’ll have to look hard to find anything better than The Stanley Parable. A narrative-driven game it’s actually barely playable, in a good way. It’s about choices, life, video games and a lot else. Created by Dave Wreden when he was just 22 years old it was his dialogue with the industry about how thought provoking games should work. It’s nearly impossible to talk about this project spoiler free, but safe to say any gamer interested in a bit of brain expansion should give this a look.
The Sith Lords Restored
This may not be the most revolutionary mod on this page but for certain gamers it will be the most important. While those listed above may have created something new what this essential mod did is reconstruct an original shoddy product.
Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic 2 – Sith Lords was a disappointment to nearly everyone who played it. The reason was that developers Obsidian felt rushed into putting the game out and much of the important elements which would have made the game feel more coherent had to be dropped. The result was a game reminiscent of the fantastic original but really a sloppy mess.
Two gamers known as Stoney and Zbyl2 weren’t satisfied to complain with the masses. They delved into the games data and found the submerged information and skilfully drew out whole new dialogue trees and cut scenes. They fixed all the games bugs and, in short, they saved it. The project began in 2009 and got its final update in 2012. More than just a labour of love this was a flat refusal by two gamers still in college to let a series fade out because of financial and time restrictions.
Their game may only be what the original developers intended, but it is their hard work that made it possible. Play the two games (and they really are two separate games) side by side and you’ll see the amazing effort that must have gone into it.
Game modification is a strange practice. Praised by those who know and under appreciated by nearly everyone else. It may be frowned upon by some of the establishments but there is no doubt that it has become a legitimate, creative and playful part of the gaming communities language. Long may it last!