There are a lot of games that are damn near masterpieces when they are released but no game is ever absolutely perfect – there’s room for improvement. Beyond that, everybody’s taste is a little bit different, so a little bit of tinkering can elevate a game for a player. That is just one of the many reasons modding is such a healthy aspect of gaming, and I truly believe gaming owes a lot to the modding community.
It’s an easy enough case to make, I imagine, but let’s start with some of the big guns. Gaming has been heavily impacted by Defense of the Ancients and Team Fortress Classic. We’ve seen how Defense of the Ancients led to the huge MOBA phenomenon. And Team Fortress Classic led to Team Fortress 2 which demonstrated the value of microtransactions and also inspired a lot of other team-based shooters. Overwatch, for example, is very similar to this game. What Defense of the Ancients and Team Fortress Classic have in common is that they got their starts as mods for Warcraft 3 and Half-Life, respectively. This isn’t a wholly uncommon story.
There are lots of ways mods can improve games. ROM hacks are one example. A ROM Hack is an altered version of a ROM image for the purpose of changing the game’s graphics, audio, dialogue, and more. Final Fantasy VI can benefit from ROM hacks because, through emulation, a version can be made that takes aspects from different ports of the games and combines them into one ultimate experience. These hacks can also fix balance or translation issues with original games. Pokemon is a franchise that has especially benefited from ROM hacks. So much can be changed, and this is a fairly accessible way to get into modding. From a place of zero knowledge, I was able to rewrite a scene from my wife’s favorite video game to function as a proposal. Otherwise, the game was left unchanged. You may not want to do something so cheesy, but you can go tinker around with old games and maybe bring a bit more life to them.
And that’s really what a lot of this is about. Bringing new life to old games. One way this can be done is through randomizers. These are a style of mods that do exactly what they say they will – they randomize. This can heighten the entertainment value of a stream and also challenge a player who has otherwise mastered a game with new and unexpected twists.
Other mods can serve more as restoration or localization projects. Communities sometimes graphically overhaul old games, fix them after they’ve lost support, translate them for new audiences, or, potentially, make them more accessible.
Of course, mods are a bit of a gray area and not everybody is in love with them. It is nice, however, when companies support the community. The Steam Workshop helps modders distribute their mods to a wider community through the Steam Platform. It also helps players install these mods without requiring much technical knowledge. It’s mostly a matter of just clicking on the ones that interest you and it has really brought some novel elements to games like Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
What I love about mods is that they allow communities to experiment with assets. They usually arise from projects of passion. Modding is just another way for games to inspire new games and experiences. I can’t see how it can be anything but a net positive for the hobby.