garrys mod

So the guy who created Garry’s Mod for Half-Life is apparently working on a new game, currently in a closed alpha stage. This got me thinking on the modding community in general, and how amateur developers have made things in their garage that captured the attention of millions, created new genres and spawned decade-old franchises.

I also realised it’s been a bit too soapboxy around here on Wednesdays, and you all deserve an easily digestible list. So here then, for my PC-gaming brethren, are the best mods ever created, in loosely arranged order of awesomeness (with links to where you can get them).

5. Counter-Strike (Half-Life)

Honestly, this should probably be at the top of the list, but I’ve never been much of a fan. This is arguably the most popular game modification of all-time, and didn’t take Valve long to recognise the potential and snap it up as a stand-alone title.

There’s still a major competitive following today, and the latest iteration in the series, Global Offensive, was released late last year. That’s not bad for a mod that’s nearly 15 years old.

Get it here.

And I still suck at it.

And I still suck at it.

4. Team Fortress (Quake)

Speaking of mods that were snapped up by Valve, Team Fortress has become a global phenomenon, managing to be highly competitive while also not taking itself too seriously.

What interests me about this mod is the general belief that this was another Half-Life modification – it actually has its roots in Quake. Born a ridiculous 17 years ago, Team Fortress was a 1996 modification for the original Quake which divided players into red and blue teams. Much like the modern-day version, players could select one of a number of classes, each with unique weapons and abilities.

Valve certainly has an eye for these things.

Get it here.

Quake 1 was the game that really launched FPS Multiplayer. You can still play it today through mods like GLQuake.

Quake 1 was the game that really launched FPS Multiplayer. You can still play it today through mods like GLQuake.

3. GZ Doom (Doom II)

GZ Doom isn’t a single mod in itself, but rather the application which allows you to play literally thousands of mods. This is something I only discovered recently, but out there, right now, is a sizable gaming community playing the original Doom.

GZ Doom allows for better graphics through 3D acceleration, as well as all the hallmarks of a modern FPS such as mouselook and more control over movement.

Custom Doom modifications and maps, known as “wads” (for the .wad file type), are being produced every week for public consumption.  Some of these are single levels, others entire campaigns and some of them are even total conversions.

As you would expect these are good, bad and downright amazing, but if you spend a bit of time reading up on it you’ll quickly discover there are minor map-making celebrities within the community. The flagship site for these mods, DoomWorld, even has an annual awards ceremony for the best wads of the year, complete with reviews.

I spent a few weeks tumbling down this rabbit hole – some of the highlights include a street-brawling total conversion complete with cell-shaded graphics (think Borderlands) and an heroic attempt to make a Contra conversion with slow-moving projectiles and one-shot kills.

Find out more here.

Yup, this is a Doom 2 mod. Seriously.

Yup, this is a Doom 2 mod. Seriously.

2. Defense of the Ancients (Warcraft III)

While some of the mods on this list gave birth to an entire franchise, DotA is the only one that can claim it invented a genre – the MOBA (or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena).

Starting life as a hilariously imbalanced Warcraft III custom map, DotA quickly evolved under a man who styled himself as Guinsoo into the highly-competitive game it is today. After Guinsoo moved on to other things, one of his “assistants”, IceFrog, took over development (and continues to work on it to this day).

As is the consistent theme in this list, Valve saw the potential for a standalone game and offered IceFrog a permanent position. I’m talking, of course, about DotA 2, a game I’m 800 hours into and it’s still in the damn beta.

Of course Valve didn’t get there first – the wildly popular League of Legends is based off the original Warcraft III map, as is the less successful Heroes of Newerth. There’ve even been third-person adaptations such as Demi-God and newcomer Smite.

The “DotA-clones” came thick and fast, forcing someone to come up with that ridiculous genre name, which for reasons unknown everyone decided that actually sounded good. So now we’re stuck with it.

Get it here.

The original is a little long in the tooth now, if you've never played you should try the free-to-play DotA 2.

The original is a little long in the tooth now, if you’ve never played you should try the free-to-play DotA 2.

1. Black Mesa Source (Half-Life)

This isn’t the first time I’ve plugged this, and it certainly won’t be the last. I might just start linking it in the middle of my paragraphs like subliminal advertising. No one can resist the green text. No one.

This is easily my favourite mod of all time; and this is coming from someone who spent two weeks playing random Doom levels.  It took an insane eight years to make, and it’s not even finished yet.

If you’ve heard people (like me) prattling on about how awesome the original Half-Life is but you’ve never actually gotten around to playing it, or felt immediately alienated by the dated graphics, consider that no longer an excuse.

Black Mesa Source is a complete remake of the original game – new models, maps, textures, physics, soundtrack; even the voice acting has been redone. It’s absolutely insane how much of an improvement it is, which is saying a lot since what it’s improving on is one of the greatest games ever made.

If you’ve never played the original or you’d like to experience it again, you really owe it to yourself to try this out – you absolutely will not regret it.

Get it here.

There are tons of amazing mods that deserve mention, this could be a Top 100 and there’d be some notable exclusions. What’s your number 1? Share it below in the comments.