Game On!

Mods and modding: How gamers beat developers at their own games


Sometimes the real development doesn’t start until after a game is released. That’s when the modders take over. These tech-savvy gamers modify and expand games far beyond their original designs.

Iron Man in GTA V? There’s a mod for that

Want to be Iron Man in GTA V, flying around on rocket boots and punching cars across the street? You got it. Fancy swapping Skyrim’s coldly realistic visuals for a warmer, cartoonier, almost Pixar-style look? If you’re playing the game on a PC, you can do that too. All you need to do is download the right mod.

The best mods can even become standalone games. For example, multiplayer first-person shooter Counter-Strike began as a mod for the story-heavy FPS Half-Life. While the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) craze that’s at the centre of the burgeoning e-sports industry started with a mod for Warcraft 3 called Defense of the Ancients (DOTA).

Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) is one of the most popular multiplayer games around and started as a mod for Warcraft 3.

And don’t forget Day-Z, the post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled online survival game that took the PC by storm in 2012. It was initially a mod for the hyper-realistic tactical military game Arma 3. Day-Z was so popular, it sparked new interest in Arma 3 (originally released in 2009), skyrocketing it to the top of the PC gaming charts.

Of course, mods that become successful games in their own right are the exception, rather than the rule. Most mods act more like an unofficial update or add extra content.

In Skyrim’s sprawling open world fantasy, mods are essential to having a good experience. Fan-made mods range from “hundreds of gameplay, quest, NPC, object, item, text and placement” bug fixes that developer Bethesda never got around to dealing with, to all manner of graphical and structural improvements — more interesting, colourful townsfolk; photorealistic graphics; even offbeat quirks like a minstrel bear that follows you around playing a lute.

Skyrim minstrel bear
Some Skyrim mods act as unofficial bug fixes or add new content, like this talented minstrel bear.

Surprise hit city-building game Cities: Skylines has a similarly vibrant modding scene. The modders here are so skilled and so fast that the lead designer on the game told Red Bull in May, that they get updates and new content out before the development team can push out official changes with the same stuff.

Mods don’t just add new content, they often squash game bugs

What kind of ‘stuff’? Think new buildings, vehicles, improved traffic simulation and better graphics. Modders have also created bolt-ons that add an old-school, SimCity-style isometric camera angle, at-a-glance monitoring of the many systems in the simulation, plus support for zooming — either all the way in to a first-person citizen view or all the way out, far enough to see your city in its entirety.

If a mod could make the game more engaging in some way, shape, or form, modders will try to create it.

Cities: Skylines zooming
Cities: Skylines has proved enormously popular with modders who have added zoom modes and extra vehicles.

Some enterprising modders aren’t content with changing game mechanics, graphics or adding new functionality. They’d rather create new stories, characters, and worlds.

One group of fans from all around the globe is attempting to essentially create a new Fallout game from the engine for Fallout: New Vegas. Their post-apocalyptic adventure, entitled Fallout: Lonestar, is set in the American south, where would-be rangers can explore the ruins of Texas and learn the fate of Mexico.

Another modder converted Skyrim into a high seas pirate adventure, while Medieval-themed role-playing wargame Mount & Blade: Warband has mods that take you to the Trojan War or into fantasy worlds such as the Star Wars universe or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

Mount & Blade Trojan war mod
This Trojan war mod for Mount & Blade: Warband transports players to historic battlefields such as Troy, Athens and Sparta.

As for what drives these modders to dedicate hundreds or thousands of hours to craft free-to-download improvements or modifications to their favourite games, most are driven purely by passion. Rather than wishing a game had a certain feature, they have the talent to build it themselves.

Some, however, pursue modding for far more serious reasons. It’s a proven path into professional games development, with the most talented modders routinely cherry picked by top game companies such as Valve, Gearbox, and Firaxis off the back of a strong portfolio of mods.

Whatever the reason for modifying games, though, mods are often breathtaking, always creative, and the modders who create them are the real stars of the PC and Mac gaming scene. — Richard Moss (@MossRC)

Share This Article

Related Topics


Read This Next

Read Full Story