Since time immemorial, players have looked at the games they’ve played and decided that they could do one better. It’s the classic scenario which begins with a humble “what if?” and eventually turns into a vast community-driven spectacular of custom content, innovative ideas and foul-tempered 13-year-olds trying to blast each other with AKs.
According to some, modding traces its humble beginnings to a rework of Castle Wolfenstein (note: this isn’t Wolfenstein 3D) known as Castle Smurfenstein, built way back in 1983 by a programmer with a penchant for design and an uncanny hatred of little blue men. It was a basic reskinning of the original game – the title screen was changed, all of the pixelated Nazi soldiers were replaced with pixelated blue muck, and German exclamations were turned into angry smurfisms. It wasn’t much, but back in the day it was an incredibly novel concept.
Nearly a decade passed, however, before modding received a real kick to get it going. Enter id Software and their hip new FPS, Doom. Although it was a great game in itself, Doom‘s lifespan was greatly extended by a community which thrust itself into generating new content and tools like an army of fornicating rabbits. People who owned the game were now exposed to a stream of content generated by an enormous fanbase of amateur developers. id Software even went as far as releasing a retail package known as Final Doom which contained two community-generated mission packs.
Eventually, the original developers caught on to the potential and started releasing their own mod tools. One early success was UnrealEd made by Tim Sweeney and the crew at Epic for their FPS title, Unreal. “Mod” and “mutator” tabs soon started springing up in mainstream titles. The line gradually became more blurred between gaming consumers and developers, especially once popular offerings became integrated as standards in subsequent game releases – think of the original Invasion mod for Unreal Tournament. Think of Tower Defence. Think of Team Fortress. Think of Battlefield 1942, which is so hopelessly lost under a deluge of mods that some poor souls probably don’t even remember what the original game actually looks like.
Modding may or may not be the thing for you, but one thing is certain: modders have a great deal of weight behind them nowadays. A lot of contemporary multiplayer mayhem is a result of user-generated content. Bigwigs such as Valve and Epic Games have absorbed reputable modders and level designers into their ranks. Mods have even outgrown their “host game” on occasion, rising to levels of popularity that were unheard of in the vanilla title.
Give modding a shot if you want. It’s fun, accessible and can produce results – even if all you want to do is screw around and make something interesting.