Mod of the Year might seem like a monumental achievement for any normal mod team. Yet when it is taken in the context of the steamrolling popularity of Garry's Mod, it seems almost a given. What else could have won? No other mod has inspired so many and no other mod has thrown the rulebook out with quite so much force. Garry's Mod has the grassroots support of an enormous player base, and for that matter the support (albeit sometimes indirectly) of leading industry figures too. And yet it has all been achieved by one man, Garry Newman, who should have been working on something else anyway.
If there is one thing talking to Garry tells you, it is that he doesn't have any grand plan that will corner the market. He didn't sit down and think about design theory, risk/reward schedules or any of the usual development fluff; he sat down and made what he thought would be a laugh. In the end, a heck of a lot of people got the joke. Garry's Mod began as a simple tool of curiosity, to rope two objects together - a Manhack and a bed frame at first - and has since snowballed into an all-purpose physics, and to some extent shader toolkit.
For the greater part of its history Garry's Mod has stayed true to this toolkit philosophy. Players, if you could call them that, had a collection of devices with which to make their own fun. Weld objects together, create and pose rag doll characters, spawn various types and sizes of wheels at whim, add thrusters and send objects skittering across the map...far too many options to list. It wasn't until version nine that the mod evolved past its original design with the groundbreaking addition of Lua, the impact of which can hardly be understated. The snowball is still rolling, but now it is gathering not the C++ of the Source engine but the lightweight scripts of Lua, written by anyone who cares to sit down for long enough to learn a few keywords.
Actually, that isn't quite true. "There's [still] a ton of stuff to add", Garry says of game-level coding. "The current Lua implementation is pretty dumb...ideally I'd start from scratch with a focused plan of how everything would work together". That there is this level of organization is one indication of just how deeply Lua has changed the Garry's work. Another is that most of version nine's post-release patches focused on opening up new areas to Lua scripters as they exceeded the implementation's design. When you are adding physics tools you've got to make sure that the floor is high enough - when you are adding scripting tools you've got to make sure that the ceiling isn't too low. Thus client-side Lua is the next major project, enabling spectacular particle effects and offering scripters increased control over the VGUI interface present in Source games.
Indeed Lua seems now to be Garry's sole focus. When pressed for some actual end-user features for coming versions of the mod the answer is that they will be there, but aside from Morphing (right, itself a product of Lua) he doesn't know what they will be yet^. Still the same impulsive rogue at heart, it seems. And not without reason. The community is taking over, their imaginations far surpassing those of any single team, let along person. Isn't there a danger, though, that this offloading of work to the community will stagnate core development? "No, it has the opposite effect...you can join any GMod server randomly and you find something new. Insane weapons, role-playing games, chess...the HL1 community survived long enough on a single SDK". It's all down to the extensibility of Lua and the game modes, weapons and tools it has allowed players, which surely they are now, to produce. GMod nine shipped with sixteen game modes and a set of stock Lua weapons ('SWEPs') emulating Counter-Strike: Source's collection. The communal library has exploded since, as can be seen on www.garrysmod.org, Garry's dedicated user content site currently in development, and the official forums, straining at the seams, it is being made to replace.
The community hasn't always been so helpful. "I think any mod gets its fair share of negativity", Garry positively sighs. "As a modder it just makes you want to grab people and shout IT'S FREE SHUT YOUR FACE. But I guess I focus on the negative comments - to find out what people want...[because] the people who are kissing your ass won't tell you". Have the bitchy comments of trolls and haters, traditionally treated with contempt from the self-respecting forum population, really had that much affect on development? Oh yes. "If people hadn't been so negative about GMod I doubt it would have got as far as it has", Garry reveals, explaining how their comments made him ever more determined to have the last laugh.
A part of the problem such people have is surely down to the unusual nature of the mod; if nothing else, Counter-Strike clone #342 is easier for the kids to understand. Garry agrees. "People would play and have no idea what to do, weld a couple of boxes together and then get bored...most of the time you need to give people a point, something to do. That's why I added the Lua game modes". Lua again. The conversation keeps looping back to it, and little wonder.
One of the biggest effects Lua game modes have had is the opening up of the game to a wider audience, one that might not have the drive to make something entirely of its own and can now bask in the creativity of others. Garry's Mod doesn't exist in a vacuum: the user-generated content model it champions is being taken seriously by the games industry as it moves into the next generation, most notably with Will Wright's fantastic Spore. Garry's opinion on playing with the big boys (there can be no doubt that the success of his efforts has at least been noted) is predictably nonchalant however. "It's easier than making it yourself", he quips. "I suppose I always saw GMod as a tool for people to make stuff with rather than something to play".
But user-generated content, the pure toolbox, isn't enough to get a game on shelves. The titles Garry reels off when I ask him if there is a market for sandboxes, Theme Park, The Sims and various Tycoons, all have a "game wrapped around them", as he puts it, even if he ended up ignoring it when playing. "I just like building stuff in games...[having] 1000s of little people running around enjoying what you have done for them". This, as I point out, is exactly what he's got with his mod.
Building the game Garry has wanted to play has worked so well so far, but there is never any guarantee that a community will grow to match your desires. Lua game modes were added because of incessant complaints, not any childhood dream. It's the perfect example of where an awful lot of imaginative people, even if they do tend to whine a lot, can lead a mod. Having a community, having a mod, change in such a way introduces problems of its own, but to me at least seems preferable to working for another group of gibbering Counter-Strike players.