I don't normally blog, nor do I have a very good place to put such content up, so I figure my mod profiles are as good of a place as any to put some of my assorted thoughts on modding. Oh, and before anyone complains about this post not directly being about my mods, do not worry, expect a small to medium sized update to the Enhanced 4X Mod and Interregnum this month! More details to follow.
Now to the real business, occasionally on forum posts or in discussions about Sins mods, I notice people struggling to find the right vocabulary to describe and categorize mods. That's not surprising, there are an incredible variety of them and you really cannot fully understand what a mod really does without spending some time playing it. We do hear the term "Total Conversion" thrown around a lot here on moddb, but several times I've noticed it is not used correctly, and many popular and large mods do not in fact fall under this category.
To try and help frame the conversation, I would suggest the following classification system that can give useful information about any Sins mod with just three options. These options are listed in order from least to most "modded", or how different a mod is from the game it applies to. It is however important to note that the category a mod falls into has no bearing on how much new content it has, and that great mods are found in all three categories.
1. Enhancement Mods (I love this game, I just which I could change that)
Enhancement mods are mods that focus on trying to improve or add a specific feature into the original game. They might only address one area of the game, like Bailknight's Graphic Mod for visual improvements or Infinite Space for new planets. Or they might combine a whole host of changes, improvements, and unofficial bug fixes to be an all in one overhaul pack, such as the Enhanced 4X Mod. For the purpose of Sins mods, I'd argue the one thing these mods cannot do is add new factions. At the end of the day you're still leading the TEC, Advent, and Vasari into battle if you're using Enhancement mod(s)*, but the battle is much better.
*It is worth noting that for Sins, Enhancement mods are the only ones where you might have a chance of combining them with other, unrelated mods. Sins has several files where every large mod MUST change them, which in turn causes them to break each other. This may be a topic for a later blog post.
2. Expansion Mods (new content without breaking what you already loved)
Back in the old days before DLC, most successfully RTS games could expect to have at least 1 "Expansion pack" to give you more content for your favorite game. Since those packs had to be physically shipped, they were always fairly large expansions that would certainly have at least one new faction. However, while you then got some exciting new content to play, you were definitely still playing the same basic game you loved before.
In Sins this type of model has been emulated by several successful mods, such as Star Wars: Interregnum, Sins of the Fallen/Fall of Kobol, and Maelstrom. While these mods retain the vanilla factions in some form, they also add exciting new factions for you to add to your interstellar war. Want to see a Kol battleship fight a Star Destroyer, a Battlestar, or some never before seen replicator horror? These mods let you do just that.
Expansion mods will often include their own host of enhancements to the original game too, and can touch just as many parts of the game as any total conversion. However, while some of these mods are even set in completely different universes than Sins of a Solar Empire, because they retain the original races, some might argue they are not as authentic as replicating their favorite intellectual properties (IPs). Further, because they maintain the original factions, these mods might be more bound to some Sins conventions than the next category. Of course, if you already like Sins of a Solar Empire, this is likely not a problem for you.
3. Total Conversion Mods (It's like a whole new game)
In its purest form, a Total Conversion mod is a project that sweeps away all the existing content in a game and replaces it with original work, essentially hijacking the game engine to be used for a completely new game. That's a pretty ambitious undertaking few mods ever fully achieve, but a number of Sins mods like Star Trek Armada 3 or Sins of the Prophets get pretty close. You'll find no traces of the decades long war between the TEC, Advent, and Vasari in these mods. Instead everything you see and find is based on some other universe or IP.
Removing the base game content means these mods have a lot of ground to make up to give you equivalent content, but the best of them can certainly deliver. With the original factions and balance no longer a factor, some Total Conversions have used this freedom to radically change game mechanics (multiple titans), game pacing (massive fleets destroyed in 1-2 minutes), and even UI (strange symbols everywhere!) to better fit in with their subject matter or theme. This can be a blessing or a curse, since if you like Sins by itself, these mods are much more likely to make some decisions you don't like. On the other hand, if you only got Sins for space battles in your favorite universe or you want something more novel, perhaps a Total Conversion is well worth the trade offs.
So there you have it, three categories to help you simply describe any Sins mod in one sentence. Perhaps if this catches on, you can say things like mod X is a "Planet enhancement mod", "A quirky expansion mod with zombie ships", or "A promising Warhammer 40K Total Conversion that was sadly never completed", and people will have a much better idea of what you mean. Or you can just link them to this post. I'll take the free views!