The concept of modding games is no new phenomenon, gamers have been hacking, breaking and remaking games in their own image since the early 80s, with the first total conversion coming in the shape of 'Castle Smurfenstein', a brilliant parody of Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II.
Three decades later the modding community has flourished and is going stronger than ever with various mods making news across gaming journalism and beyond, for a multitude of crazy, awesome and slightly sultry reasons.
But what is this fascination with modding? Why do people spend so much time building incredible amendments for video games? Why not leave that to the devs and their plans for DLC?
For a start, modding adds value to long-existing titles. Titles that devs have already moved on from and left for dead. Take The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for example. The game, 5 years into its lifespan, is still going strong atop the Steam leaderboards of top 15 most played games on the distribution platform.
And that is mainly down to the numerous and wide variety of mods that exist for Bethesda's fantasy epic. Besides imbuing the game with the most famous, or obscure, characters from the pop culture universe, modders have taken Bethesda's engine and molded it to their whim, creating totally new worlds and experiences out of the already impressive, yet bug addled, open world.
That's what sends shivers up my spine when discussing the Skyrim modding community - the sheer creativity on display is outrageous. From Laast's Pure Waters mod (a mod that makes realistic changes to the behavior and textures of... water, obviously)...
...To collections of all fan-made quests to complement the already packed storyline, every mod dramatically changes your in-game experience in ways more intimate than a AAA dev has the time to create. They're pretty busy people!
Skyrim has been picked apart and something better built out of the clutter. Whether that be world textures, weapons, the way a cave sounds, realistic fire textures, birds, the multitude of realistic, sexy, muscular body packs available and of course graphics and hairstyles, modders have created an infinitely malleable gaming experience that is tied to you.
Your Skyrim could be a horror epic thanks to mods like Grey-Wolf Jack's 'The Stretch', or an absurdly comedic offering where all dragons are Thomas The Tank Engine, and your Dragonborn wields a friggin' lightsaber and the Master Sword from Zelda lore, and indulges in a light spot of Pokémon hunting. What ever you want, you can have. Within reason of course.
The Grand Theft Auto franchise is a series that already offers bountiful freedom and entertainment, but since 'Multi Theft Auto: SA' was released for San Andreas back in 2009, the games have seen a dramatic increase in modded elements.
Though not as easy as modding a Bethesda game (Bethesda usually release a creation kit alongside title launches on PC), Rockstar have had quite the turgid time with modders.
In 2005, scandal was to erupt after an eyebrow raising mini-game was discovered within the code of San Andreas. Hot Coffee, as it was called, allowed the player to simulate sexual intercourse between CJ, the game's protagonist, and a lady whom he had successfully wooed on a date.
After entering said girlfriend's apartment, the sprites would indulge in some of the most libido quashing coital action, whilst the player controlled this with the same controls as dancing and questioned their existence after witnessing one of the most terrifying O-faces in entertainment history:
After much chastizing by shocked parents and dignitaries looking for quick publicity, Rockstar stopped producing the game sullied by Coffee stains and dutifully paid their fines of over $20m.
Though burned, the devs didn't decide to shut up shop and lock the back door to deter modders from messing about with code, despite rumors of exactly that. The ages of GTA VI & V saw tinkerers take the titles in brilliant and totally bonkers directions. Like the mods of the now legendary JulioNIB for example.
JulioNIB has managed to slip a multitude of pop culture phenoms into Los Santos and Liberty City, ranging from superheroes to RoboCop's least favored adversaries.
Fancy taking to the rooftops of Liberty City with Spider-Man?
Or zoom about San Andreas with the immense grappling hook from Just Cause 2?
And how can we forget the best Hulk ever committed to game:
That's the beauty of these particular sandboxes; they have the power to become the locales of the MCU, or Metropolis, or wherever you like. So long as you have the drive, the imagination and, of course, the rig to handle the build.
Building New Ground
But the end game isn't always building great ties within the communities of your favorite game, or painstakingly creating a mod that has been downloaded over a million times. Sometimes modders get hired by the devs that made the vanilla release.
Take Long War Studios as example, who created the most downloaded XCOM: Enemy Unknown mod there is, The Long War.
The tough to beat mod was so popular and widely downloaded that earlier this year XCOM & Civilization devs Firaxis hired the creators of the mod to create mods exclusively for XCOM 2. Long War Studios managed to add more value and longevity to an already immaculate game, and reaped the benefits of that.
But money and mods don't always go hand in hand as Valve & Bethesda were to famously learn. For a very short time last year, Steam toyed with the idea of paid mods via Steam Workshop, where users would have to pay up front for a new pack. Which makes sense, mods take a lot of time and effort to create.
But the plan failed miserably with Valve CEO Gabe Newell pissing off the internet and modders and users alike arguing that Steam Workshop "is a place for people to share content with each other they made so all can enjoy it for free," and even coming together to sign a petition against paid modding, that was over 130k signatures strong.
Modders even received death threats. Take that in for a moment.
It's true that both sides of the coin hold valid points, but eventually the community won out and the entertainment giants moved away from paid mods and refunded anyone who purchased them.
But Valve and Bethesda did have noble intentions, it seems, as in they believed that modders could become pro and earn a living from crafting mods. Which is the life, right?
Pulling Wings Off Flies
When I was younger I used to love taking old bits of tech apart and having a look at their mechanical hearts. I get a tiny rush reading specs and learning about improvements in technology, and I can imagine that to be the same for modders.
Who wouldn't want to look at a masterpiece of world building and learn how to carve an image of yourself in the hills? Maybe literally.
We're creators, aren't we? Whether it be a joke, or dinner, or lies, or children or a hit album; we create everyday like the little deities we are. And mods are our (gamers) masterpiece, if you're into that sort of thing obviously.