What is a mod?
Mod, short for modification is a term generally applied to a customised (or altered) computer game made by the general public. A mod can range from a total conversion with new gameplay, look and feel through to minor alterations which could include new models, weapons, maps etc. There are plenty of types and tons of styles, a mod can be anything the creators want it to be.
The purpose of a mod is to change the game and add an extra dimension of replay ability and excitement. Mods have even being known to outshine the original game, and playing such a mod may become even more common than playing the unmodded original. They increase the lifecycle and sales of games, benefiting both the players and the publishers who both get more bang for their buck!
Every mod is different, that's what is great about them. If you cannot find something you like, you are not looking hard enough.
Mods can be single player, multiplayer, first person shooters, real time strategies, comical, fun, realistic or serious - they can even combine all of these elements and more. Each has its own flavour, there are plenty to choose from and it is up too you, to find the mix you like.
Are they free?
Anyone who complains "nothing good in life is free" needs to be shown a few mods. In-general they are free, in-fact all are free, so get gaming and give as many as you can a shot. Of course a ton of effort goes into making a mod, all done for our benefit and entertainment, so show your support for the mod teams. Little things like participating in their forums, emailing feedback, becoming a developer and doing some work goes a long way. Get involved and who knows, you may even see some of your ideas make there way into a game!
Until recently, the majority of mods were made for First Person Shooters (such as Quake, Halflife, UT, Doom) since these games actively supported the modding scene, providing SDKs (software development kits) and development tools. Following the phenomenal success of mods such as Counter-Strike and Red Orchestra (which have since become standalone games), publishers have realised the value of mods and more and more games are opening up.
You can now find mods for Real Time Strategies such as Starcraft and C&C: Generals, mods for sport games such as Need For Speed and NBA Live. Even games such as Grand Theft Auto
which don't actively support mods, have been modded as crafty developers find a way around the restrictions, to change and improve the original game (but this is not encouraged!)
The mod friendliness still varies on a game-by-game basis, with games in the UT
line-up providing a scripting engine, which with very little work allows the game to be customized extremely efficiently. Others such as The Sims allow limited modifications such as changing a characters clothes and attributes but nothing else. Civilisation
is yet another game, which allows settings to be changed to manage the speed of units but very little else. Rest assured that all games listed on Mod DB are moddable in some form, so if you are interested - read on and get developing!
Mod DB has everything and anything related to mods covered. Whether you are interested in reading, discussing, developing or playing mods, we are a one stop site. So if you have not done so already sign up, join the community - and get involved. Oh, and if it is mods you are after, a great feature to get you started is our unique ModWatch (mw). Simply find mods which capture your attention, click the 'Watch' button, and let Mod DB do the hard work - notifying you each time they update!
The best part of modding is playing them and it could not be easier with 99% of released mods only a short download away. Still, for those unsure what this all means, the following guide explains how to find, download, install and fire-up the mods you want to play.
With over 3,800 mods (1,831 released and counting) from 508 games it should not be too much of a struggle to find a mod. The best place to start is over at the mod listing where you can choose what you are after (i.e. multiplayer, fun, first person shooter) and let the site do the work for you. It is also good to keep up to date with the latest news and features which are bound to cover the best and most active mods out there! If you are still not satisfied head to our games list, choose your favourite and you'll be shown the released and most popular mods for it, it's that easy!
Before you begin downloading, remember you must have the original game installed to be able to play a mod based off it. A simple requirement but an essential one, so don't run off and download 100 mods thinking they are just going to work!
So you have found a mod you like, what now? Well the obvious check is making sure it is released to the public! This can at times be a frustrating 'cross your fingers' ordeal with so many mods in development (and supposedly near completion) versus mods which are finished and there to play. To compound the confusion - mods can be released as an internal alpha or private beta where only a select number of people have access to it! To help you out we've got our download center and the ability to search for released mods only. To make things easier we'll assume you have downloaded a mod you're dying to play.
You are now ready to install. Unfortunately to put it bluntly - this can sometimes be a real tough process with plenty of interaction and manual configuration required. This is especially the case with non-mod friendly games where files must be shifted about and occasionally even overwritten. If this is the situation consult any readme you can find and the mods homepage / forum which is bound to help you out. If all else fails, post a question on the mods profile in Mod DB, someone is bound to have had and solved a similar issue. Fortunately however, especially now that developers and game companies are becoming increasingly more professional in dealing with and creating mods, this is generally not what happens. All you need to know is how to click 'next twice' and you're done!
Every mod is different, there are no established standards therefore that is all we can say to help you out. If in doubt RTM (read the manual)... annoying aren't they!?
Get Playing! Load. Select. Configure. Game. Repeat!
- Load the game
- Select your mod
- Configure any settings
- Start gaming!
- Stop for food, school, sleep
If you have made it this far, why are you still reading... get playing! Just don't forget to contact the mod team, provide feedback and let them know you have given their mod a shot! The majority of developers do it for the fans, so speak up and show your support. Who said nothing good in life is free?
Why make mods?
This is a question you should be asking yourself and should already have an answer too. I can tell you right now if your reason is fame and fortune, own an island that sort-of thing then forget it, you are barking up the wrong tree - go read the prvious "play mods page" instead. Sure making a mod will help you build a loyal band of fans who are in awe of your work and it may lead to great opportunities in the games industry, but just ask any other modder, it is a long hard road and if you aren't doing it for the love of what you do then you may as well attempt to build a house with straws - just ask the 3rd little piggy, it won't work out!
I'd like to write stories here about all the brilliant mods that have had a huge impact on the game scene, because there are plenty, but reality is that for every successful mod, there are 50 others that did not make it. You have to be driven, determined, organised, able to manage people and above all else talented. So if you believe you have what it takes, read on Mod DB and the mod community are here to get you started and support your team through out the development lifecycle.
Types of Jobs / Roles
Depending on the complexity and type of mod, there are generally plenty of roles to fill. A total conversion will require graphic designers, coders, writers, webmasters, leaders, mappers and more whereas smaller mods may only require a designer and coder. None of these roles are easy so it is best to focus on one or two, but if you can, knowing a little about each will certainly help. Work hard, skill up and you'll soon know the basics. Kenn Hoekstra, a former Ravensoft employee has put togethor a great overview of game development jobs available and the skills required. We've provided a quick summary below.
2D artists make tiles, textures and skins for game mods. Skins are largely what make or break the appearance of something, any warping or poor quality will really stand out so you cannot skimp or take shortcuts in this area. In the early stages of the development cycle 2D artists may find themselves sketching concept art, skies, backdrops etc.
Tools of the Trade:
Industry standard is Adobe Photoshop, but applications such as Paintshop Pro, Gimp, Adobe Illustrator all achieve largely the same results if you know how to use them.
You have to be born an artist to become one. By that I mean, if you don't have natural ability well this isn't really something you can learn. You should also be equally good at old skool paper based art / sketching as well as digital design. Oh and creativity certainly goes a great distance in the gaming world.
3D artists make all the in-game players / weapons / vehicles and inanimate props. This is something you can learn (to an extent) as many have done - what is key is knowing the limitations of the engine you are building for. Older ones don't support much, new ones pretty much allow anything. So if working with blocks is your kinda thing - this is the task for you.
Tools of the Trade:
Industry standard is 3D Studio Max. But for those that don't have thousands stashed away to buy this complicated product, there are many other applications available including Maya, Lightwave, SoftImage and MilkShape 3D.
Like 2D artists having creativity and natural ability is important. 3D modeling is predominately a PC based activity so solid PC skills are required.
Mod DB - 3D Art Help Wanted
Mod DB - 3D Art Tutorials
Various tutorials in 3D art and animation
Various 3D Tutorials for 3D Studio Max
Great bunch of tutorials for PhotoShop, Paint Shop Pro, 3DSMax, Maya and a host of other art programs
Animators make the 3D artists creations come alive. They add in the effects such as breathing, running, reloading, scratching yourself - that sort of thing (lets not forget the spectacular death animations either).
Tools of the Trade:
The same tools 3D artists use to make the models are used to animate them (i.e. 3D Studio Max, Maya, Lightwave, SoftImage and MilkShape 3D)
Animators have to know as much as the modeler and more. You have to know how the model moves (its skeleton) and be able to translate this into a believable (realistic) motion. Nothing looks worse than a great model which looks like it has a firecracker wedged where it shouldn't be when it is trying to run.
Game Designer (think tank)
No such job, closest you'll get is being a writer. Everyone has ideas, thinking is what humans are good at so don't believe you are alone in having a great concept. Chances are 10 people have thought about it before you. (see: website / pr job)
Mappers make the world that gamers play within. They pull together the game idea and textures to create a world in a 2D/3D level editor. Most games have different map formats and their own custom built tool to make a level, therefore skills don't necessarily transfer from game-to-game.
Tools of the Trade:
A 2D/3D level editor is used to create world architecture that the designer textures and populates with models, enemies and scripts. Editors vary from game to game.
Mappers really have to know a bit of everything. You have to be solid at art, understand architecture / structures, know a bit about scripting and most importantly know what works from a players perspective. The best levels are really balanced and complicated enough that people don't mind (even want) to play them again-and-again.
Even with great SDKs and tutorials available on the web, programming is a tough job that takes serious time and concentration. The coders really are who make the magic happen.
Tools of the Trade:
A good IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is really important. More so is knowledge of the programming language used by the game. Some games have hybrid scripting languages available but generally all game programming is done in C++. Knowing programming concepts / best practice is however more important than knowing a languages specific syntax. Oh and what makes this job even harder is the fact that programmers tie EVERYTHING together. From the maps, to the models, to the animations, ai, to the action sequences etc.. so you really have to be involved of every aspect of the mods creation.
Besides an extensive knowledge of a games inner workings, programming, various programming languages and mathematics here is a list of key traits (for a detailed breakdown read this page):
- Planning & Preparation Skills
- Working in a Group
- Algorithms and Data Structures
- Initiative and Drive to Learn
- Can finish what one starts
- Love of games and creative programming
Mod DB - Programming Help Wanted
Mod DB - Programming Tutorials
Like it says...a programmer's heaven
Tons of free stuff from engines to source code
Want programming tutorials? You got 'em.
Tutorials from Jake Simpson.
Having a BFG sounding like a pea shooter just does not do it justice. Original sounds can really enhance a gaming experience, and that is where sound designers come in. They do the voice work, the sound effects... all that.
Tools of the Trade:
A good sound system really helps because you can scale a sound quality down, but you cannot scale it up and at a loud volume level - distortion / noise can really wreak the immersive experience a game provides. Therefore to test out your work, top-notch headphones / recorders is a must. The programs which can be used to make sounds include Sound Forge, Cakewalk, egas, Awave Studio and Protools.
Hearing is important, well at least an ear for music is. The sounds created have to suit a game, you don't want a massive grunt of a man sounding like he has just copped a punch where the sun doesn't shine. Nor should a lady sound like she has more hair on her chest than king kong. Knowing different music instruments, how they sound and how they can be used is important.
Webmaster (PR - Public Relations)
If you read on, you will see I place much emphasis on this pivotal job. For the majority of mods, it is through there website that they establish their fan base / community. That's why it is important to ensure it is constantly fresh and themed appropriate. People won't visit and join your mod if the site looks like you gave a four year old a texture and told it to go wild.
Tools of the Trade:
You need graphics programs to make your logos (perhaps seek 2D artists assistance) and HTML programs to do the code. HTML editors such as Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft Frontpage make it easy to just drag and drop a webpage together. FTP programs will also be required to get your page online.
A general art background is very useful for creating your own site graphics. HTML coding ability is handy, despite the various GUI programs on the market today. Writing skills are essential for professional updates, stories and website content.
Choose your game / engine
Chances are you have already made this decision and chosen your current favourite game. Great idea - you know the game, know how it works, know what is required and know you like it! Still it is important to think about the mod friendliness of this game engine and whether it will support the mod you wish to create. There is no point spending 2 months building a mod only to discover it just won't work. Other considerations:
- Are there other modders to help you out?
- What tools / tutorials are there to help you along the way?
- Is your idea suited to the game (no point making 'Barbies Big Day Out' for Doom)
- Can you reuse or take advantage of the game (hopefully 99% of the work is done for you, i.e. reuse the shotgun model, textures, sounds etc...)
- Is there a big community of mod-gamers out there to play your idea?
- Is there demand for a mod of this type - no point making Instagib for Quake 3 when it is already done!
Create a mod or join a team
If you have never been apart of a mod team before, forget trying to start your own. A common misconception is that either it is easy to make a mod, or easy to get a team together. It really needs to be said, that this could not be further from the truth. Instead join a mod, learn what they do, learn from their mistakes; get to know people in this scene. Any time spent here will be made up 10 times over if you set out to make your own. Mod DB help wanted is a great place to find what jobs are available, otherwise contact a mod team, tell them what you can do, send them some samples and ask if they have a job for you - simple!
Finally, if you have been apart of a few mod teams - seen how hard it is and are still keen, lets get your mod started!
This is one task which should be easy to do well and yet rarely is. "I have l33t idea 4 mod - DragonBall:Z, we shoot light at each other, it cool, be the big mod eva" Does not consitute a good idea! It is probably pointless writing this here because chances are anyone who comes up with an idea like this (and believes it is original) does not care and won't listen to reason.
Back on topic, the first thing I do when checking out a mod is analyse the idea behind it. If it does not capture my attention quickly, then there is more than likely to be a good reason. Here are some key do's and don'ts:
- Be original
- Be creative
- Be realistic
- Copy another mod / game / movie (If I want to play Quake, I'll play Quake - not HL: Quake) Consider the legal ramifications!
- Don't share your idea until it is complete - all bases covered
- Don't say you are going to make New York at New Years with 4 million people in game to talk with!
As you can see the do's are easier to follow than the don'ts. Remember the storyline provides the foundation your mod is built upon, so take the time to get it right. Don't worry about nutting out every little detail initially however. Instead focus on the specifications, describe the mods style / feel / type / atmosphere / objectives - and get someone experienced to capture your vision in words.
Starting out often proves a difficult hurdle, but it doesn't have to be! If you have followed the directions above and worked on other mods you should:
- Have a job/role you specialise in
- Have chosen the game engine to mod
- Have come up with a great idea
- Know lots of other modders
Now you only have to pull all this together and get your mod known so that the real work can begin. How? Well get your idea online and looking good. At this point in an ideal world your idea should sell itself but unfortunately it just does not work like this. People need fancy graphics and a slick web page to respond to, so try and make this your focus to begin with. This can prove extremely frustrating - believe me I have seen plenty of mods with great sites yet a poor idea bursting with people wanting to get involved, while other mods with a great idea though poor site with no-one paying attention.
This is why I share the uncommon opinion that the single most important aspect while developing a mod is creating a website which captures peoples attention and imagination. Why? Well while you are busy developing your mod, this website is all your fans see. It is through this website that you reach new fans and find new staff members, so keep it updated and looking good and they will keep coming back, and bringing others with them. Whatever you do, try and avoid using common website host such as MySpace and Geocities. Mods should be unique, different and creative - the website should be no exception!
So you have now got your idea online, it is time to launch your mod. At this point make the most of Mod DB and get your mod listed! Take some time to put together a news post which introduces your mod, and send it around along with any images to relevant news sites. If all is executed correctly your news will be shown - and if you created a solid website expect fans and modders to begin visiting and getting in touch.
Assemble a strong team
Just ask the guys behind Dystopia how easy hard it is to assemble a strong mod team. Last I checked they have been through 60 members, with the majority promising a lot but delivering little - if anything. In fact the majority of people lied about their skills, in an attempt to get their hands on a beta copy of the mod. This will happen and this is why they have setup a trial period for new staff, assigning them simple tasks initially to sort out the real from the fakes. Luckily there are a load of extremely talented and dedicated mod makers out there, so be patient (remember that you are competing with 3000 or so other mods) and with time you will build up a core unit of dependable staff.
An ideally sized total conversion mod team requires:
- Leader / Manager (you!)
- A coder
- 2D artists (2+)
- 3D artists / animators (3+)
- Mappers (2+)
- A sound designer
- A webmaster
- A writer / PR manager
In the case of putting together a team, big is not always better. Most people somehow believe that chasing up a team of 200 workers and assigning each specific tasks will mean things just get done. Instead managing such a team becomes damn near impossible - conflicts of interest spring up and different ideas are continually thrown against each other. To make matters worse, when it comes to 'gluing' all the work together you will discover half the members have not even done their job. The point here is you cannot make a puzzle by handing everyone a piece and then expect it all to fit into place. Keep your mod team as small as possible, remember the first mod version doesn't need to have 40 guns, 20 maps and an entire symphony orchestra soundtrack; it only has to work! Focus on doing the little things right and the rest will come with time, effort and subsequent releases.
How do you get all these people? Well hopefully you already know a few modders from your days working on other mods. Mod DB Help Wanted is another great place to throw out requests, but your best bet is posting news on your website stating what you are looking for. Drive visitors to your site by getting visually appealing updates on external news sites, and people are bound to get in touch to see how they can help out. Be patient, work with what you have, keep updating and the pieces will fall into place.
Your idea is written, your mod is launched and you have a team of people ready-to-work - now is the time to get building! Start with the basics, write up design documents outlining what you want to see, throw together some quick concept sketches so your team can visualise what they should be making. Find out the strength of each team member and get them doing what they are good at (there is no point getting someone great at making 3D gun models working on a car - just like you wouldn't get a plumber to fix your PC!)
Keep checking up and encouraging your team, instant messages and IRC is great here for team-chats. Be agile, maintain a 'to-do' list, check off things as they are done and keep assigning jobs to team members whenever they are free. Remember these people are volunteers, so working on the mod should be fun and rewarding - try and keep it this way (whilst keeping them busy of course)!
Help along the way / Tools
There are tons of tips, tools and tutorials scattered all across the web. Instead of making you go out and spend hours searching, we've gathered up all the information we can - and put it on this site for you.
- Tutorials - covering all aspects of mod making, and all games, this is a great place to learn and share your knowledge
- Resource Center - provides links, files, tips and miscellaneous information which should help you out
- Help Wanted - require a coder? Request it here
- Related Links - websites / articles which are similar to this page
- Forums - got a question, want to share an idea or just talk mods? Get on the forums!
Promotion / Distribution Help
- News - post news directly onto Mod DB and instantly get your mod in front of thousands of people!
- Files - have only 10megs of web space and made a 500meg mod? No problem, we have the system to help you out!
- Topsites - get your mod listed on the topsites, a great way to generate interest
Finally, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Everyone involved in Mod DB knows a thing or two about modding, so we will try and help you out in anyway we can providing you show a bit of common sense (So no "OMG MAEK ME A MOD KTHX" allowed).
Finishing your mod
If you have made it this far and have a working modification then great job, you are among a small elusive crowd. Releasing a mod should be an extremely rewarding experience, and something which should be done with the utmost care.
Ideally, the only remaining tasks to complete at this point should be thrashing your mod to death and eliminating as many bugs as you can. No major changes or enhancements should be required, and therefore it is important to centralize ownership and bring together all the work you have completed.
Valve have put together a fantastic guide - so instead of reinventing the wheel, I suggest you go and have a read. Here is a quick summary:
Five Weeks Out
- Centralize ownership
- Establish a build process
- Feature locking
- Bugs / Changes
- Cut / Defer broken features
- Work smart, not hard
Three Weeks Out
- Content locked
- Shutting down
One Week Out
- No last minute changes
Two day safe period
- Playtest like crazy and get ready for release!
Congratulations, although the mod making process does not end here - this is only the beginning! Gamers are extremely critical people, and will quickly discover any bugs you missed and be damn vocal about what they like/dislike about your mod. Make sure you listen and note every bit of information you can get your hands on. Don't get defensive, offended or angry - accept criticism as a learning tool and use it as motivation to improve your creation. Don't expect your mod to be explosively popular from day one, even the best mods out started in the same position. The key is listening to your players and continually improving with each new version. If you can do this, you can count on winning over a new band of loyal fans each time.
You've got a great idea, you've got a great team you've made a truly impressive modification and now you have game companies wanting to meet and greet you. You are certainly not the first to be put in this position, and most likely not the first who is unsure how to best handle the situation. At this point the key is knowing you have something they want, and therefore in a way you have the power. The games industry was an 8 billion dollar giant in 2004 and growing, so don't sell yourself or your creation short. Be smart, question everything that is said and read between the lines. In the world of business it is free for all, you will be told they are doing you a favour, you will be told you are getting a great deal and unless you sign up now it is off. Negotiation 101 - know what you want and keep your cards close to your chest, get them to talk about what they want, what they envision. Do not rush into any decision, expect such a process to take time and even if you deny their first or subsequent offers - remember you can always turn around and accept it later.
Making mods is a great platform from which to enter the games industry. Sure it may not end up like this, however nothing looks better on your resume than showing off something you have made. Publishers know the amount of work and talent required to make a mod, so sell yourself and you are well on your way to joining plenty of others in the industry who began their careers as modders.
There is no doubt mod making may open doors which can lead to exciting yet complicated opportunities. For help and advice we are always happy to assist anyway we can.
- Valve Developer Community - Making a Mod
- Kenn Hoekstra (Ravensoft) - Getting a job in the game development industry
- Wikipedia - Mod (Computer Gaming
At last count this word was used plenty of times. Why? Well because mod making is an art - and an abstract one at that. There is no definitive way to do anything, and a lot of the time you will find yourself forging new ground. There is no right and wrong, just good and bad ways to do things - so go for it and hopefully this guide has served its purpose and answered a few of the questions you will face along the way!