A month ago I got on my horse, and took to the wilderness. Looking up at the sky for one of the airships that hung idly in the sky. Seeing one, I dismounted my horse and dropped down some dust. Throwing my sword into the pattern of blue dust, I used my tome to activate the symbol, infusing the weapon with extreme power. Taking a running jump from a nearby tree, I grabbed onto the wing, pulling myself onto it. Smashing one of the windows, I crawled into the ship, the fragile but mighty sword in hand. I did battle with the armor-clad sky pirates, the sheer power of the sword striking them down until it shattered, their own swords and arrows crushed my armor and my health. Welp, time to abandon ship.
Smashing the wall open, I ran out onto the wing of the airship, and dived into the shark-filled waters below, seeing a mossed-over tower in the depths. I swam to it, and descending this small tower, it opened up into a cavern filled with similar towers in a massive and beautiful underground city. Full of traps, hazards, and monsters. More importantly: Treasure.
What game am I playing? Minecraft.
“But Rian!” I hear you say, “There are no sky pirates, underground cities, sharks, alchemy shenanigans, or climbing and crawling in Minecraft!” there isn’t, not in vanilla anyway.
For perhaps two decades, maybe longer, programmers all over the globe have put their own spin on games by adding user-created content called mods. A degree of The Elder Scrolls’ popularity can be attributed to such mods, which rebalance (or unbalance) the game, add new areas, new quests, and so on. There are entire teams, communities, forums, and sites dedicated to modding games that have long since been out of print, fallen out of popularity, and people who have played it vanilla have gotten bored of it after the umpteenth time.
The mods I mentioned above for Minecraft are actual mods. Namely, Better Dungeons, Mo Creatures (Not yet updated), Walled City Generator (Not updated yet), Smart Moving (Not updated and the #1 reason I’ve not updated Minecraft), and The Dust Mod (Still not updated, argh… I love this one). Minecraft on its own is actually a rather repetitive game that gets stale after a few weeks unless you greatly enjoy toying with redstone. Those mods I mentioned add greatly to the game, and they’re just a few I use for customizing my experience, adding to both the gameplay and my enjoyment. I grew bored of hunting Enderdragons ages ago.
The modding community of any game can be absolutely fantastic once they get some momentum, with experienced coders collaborating with others to root out compatibility problems, rewrite core systems to allow for mods, and so on. What do these mods do? They add to the game.
Last night, I was playing Baldur’s Gate Trilogy, not 1, 2, or Throne of Bhaal, Trilogy. What is that? Baldur’s Gate 1 ported into the BG2 engine with a seamless transition between 1 and 2, theoretically allowing for someone to play from fetching books in Candlekeep to reaching the epic final battle with the extremely powerful Priestess of Bhaal who wished to ascend to Godhood herself in one sitting. The sheer amount of mods available for Baldur’s Gate border on ridiculousness. One even sharply increasing the difficulty to where the actual storyline fights become utterly laughable, due to you either being more skilled, or hitting level 13 by the time you need to stick some people with a sword during your return to Candlekeep.
Some games are extremely easy to mod because of how their file organization works, while others can have people screaming until they cough blood just to change the GUI or the textures of the game. The fact that mod-friendly games can remain popular for a decade or more after their debut in defiance of much superior games in gameplay, story, and aesthetics based purely on user content is a testament to this.
There are only a few companies I can name that actively embrace modding and even give the tools to do it. The tools might be watered-down versions of what made the game, or the full shebang with all the bells and whistles.
The quality of mods can vary to extreme levels, but ones good enough to be mentioned are often worth a download. Developers who encourage modding have major advantages at little loss. The first being that their game will likely have fresh content for years to come, which will keep players interested (and people buying it years later). It also gives them new ideas for their next project and lets them scout out the most creative and skilled programmers, so they can say “You completely overhauled what was already a good system into something awesome, we want you on your team”.
I can’t think of a greater honor for a mod programmer than a compliment or job offer from the original developers of the game.