Welcome back to our ongoing series in which we shine a light on different aspects of the video game history and the impacts they had on game hosting services, as thoroughly explained in our last article. This time we’re speaking about modifications. This topic is rather big and needs some background information but we’ll focus on the most relevant facts.
Why talk about mods in the first place? At GPortal, we’re convinced that games which allow mods to be part of their ecosystem, will always have a greater chance for long term success. The following claims may sound bold but we’re going to put some written weight behind them.
We already spoke about the increase of long term sales but what does that mean? For example, the realistic military shooter Arma 2, released in 2009, had an active community and steady sales but nobody foresaw what would happen after a mod called DayZ was released in alpha stage. It basically turned Arma into a zombie infested, unforgiving post-apocalyptic survival horror experience in which protagonists not only had to deal with undead hordes but also other survivors, diseases, hunger, thirst and cold.
Players were instantly hooked and Arma sold over 300.000 new copies in a very short time frame, 3 years after the official release of the main game. DayZ pushed Arma into Steam’s most played games and even topped the charts for a couple of weeks, which is nothing short of a small miracle if you consider the mods’ development stage. We’ll be having a look at DayZ again later but it serves as great proof for our statement about longevity.
The modding community is fueled by a shared passion and willingness to go the extra mile. Oftentimes modders had to come up with specific solutions for problems or game changing ideas the dev team could not have anticipated. To do so, they learned programming languages, crawled through chunks of code or data and invested their private time to make something unique. Even if the game provides an assortment of tools, it still requires a lot of creativity to produce a map, an arena or just a new kind of furniture.
It comes to no surprise that our next claim would be that modding brings in new talents for game companies and publishers. Many of them might still be amateurs but come with ambitions, passion and, most importantly, visions outside of what has already been established in the development cycle. These can lead to great success – just take a look at Dota 2. Originally a modification for Warcraft 3, Dota is now one of the biggest names in ESports.
Aside from turning games upside down, mods can enhance the gameplay and increase the overall variety in-game. They can often be seen as free updates for players who in turn get more value out of the same product. This strengthens the bond between a gaming company and its community, as the game in question is played on a regular basis due to new content added over time. Just look at Terraria and the sheer amount of mods it offers for veteran players and newbies alike. It came out in 2011 and is still going strong. Aside from recent updates, this is often explained with the great community that cares about their game.
To conclude our introduction, we might add that it is by no means a small task to include the necessary structures needed for a game to be fully moddable. If it is planned from the get-go, development has to follow even tighter rules regarding softcoding, modularity and overall readability of files. This can cause overhead and begs the question if the target audience is willing to pick up your tools, modding and producing creative content that is worth the effort, or, put in other words, increases the lifespan of your game far beyond the initial sales impact.
However, looking at Steam Charts, it is impressive to see games like Terraria and Fallout 4 still ranking in the Top 20 to Top 50 regularly, which comes down to the massive amount of user created content. GTA V was released in 2013 and is a regular guest in the Top 10 of games with the highest user peaks, even in front of recent hits like Valheim.
Now, let’s take a dive into video game history, briefly exploring the roots of many modern video games which were not only responsible for some of the most popular mods of all times but also games that made network gameplay, global and private servers a necessity. Ultimately, hosters like us were born out of the idea to connect and play together and paved the way for even bigger playgrounds to fiddle around with mods.
When Doom was released in 1993, it was already built from the ground up to be fully moddable, at least by the 90s standards. Compared with the accessibility of modern day titles, Doom should be regarded as rather difficult to modify. However, the initial spark for id Software to include these capabilities were observations they made on their previous title, infamously known as Wolfenstein 3D. Fans already found ways to mod different aspects of the original first person shooter and made clear that modding will not only increase the lifespan of a title but actually garner more interest over time.
The actual first Wolfenstein from 1983, called Wolfenstein 2D, is often referred to as one of the very first games to have ever been modded. Back then, a full conversion mod, which means a full change or overhaul of music, graphics and possibly gameplay elements, turned Castle Wolfenstein into Castle Smurfenstein, tasking the players with the questionable mission of taking out lots of annoying smurfs. Needless to say that this kind of mod made its way into the 3D version as well.
Seeing the potential of user created maps, sprites and other content, Doom was basically a planned modding playground, which eventually led to the biggest modding community of its time. People created basically everything you can ever imagine and even now, by the time of writing this article, the game is played, modded and talked about all over the world due to its sheer amount of user created content.
By default, Doom came with the ability to play multiplayer in a network. The internet was still in its infancy in the early 90s and many households didn’t even own a PC, so for the brief time of four years, a service called DWANGO entered the market. The Dial-Up Wide-Area-Network Game Operation was basically nothing more than the usage of Dial-Up modems, entering a client and connecting with players around the globe on DWANGOs servers. This proved to be very successful as players were eager to compete against each other.
Players used custom maps, custom avatars and custom modes aside from Deathmatch. The 1996 released game called Doom Final was a testament to the sheer vortex of customizations players were able to choose. Many of the actual levels weren’t created by id Software but by modders instead. However, the year 1996 was also marked with a major release that would influence generations of games to come. A game that was fully moddable and would kickstart a whole new level of playing online.
We’re of course talking about Quake, the game that marked the beginning of the internet multiplayer real-time action game scene. Adding TCP/IP on top of a fully 3d-modelled shooter that literally played like something out of this world, prepared Quake to be a better online experience than Doom ever has been. However, what made it really stand out was the fact that the thriving modding community behind Doom was now eager to get creative with every tool Quake had to offer.
Ben Morris, creator of the Doom Construction Kit, which is basically a level editor, published Worldcraft for Quake. Creating multiplayer maps became easier than ever and led to huge successful game mod(e)s like Capture the Flag or Team Fortress, which either became staples of future multiplayer shooters or even full standalone titles on their own. Based on the huge success Quake’s multiplayer had, John Carmack, the programming genius behind Doom’s Raycasting techniques and a passionate speaker for open source code and technological improvements, went on to create Quake World.
This was basically a streamlined yet redefined version of Quake, with improved netcode that made playing online even for high-ping players possible. This new era of online multiplayer also spawned middle ware like GameSpy and websites as PlanetQuake. Being a hub for news and the ever increasing amount of mods for the successful first person shooter, PlanetQuake was the place to be.
GameSpy, on the other hand, tried to collect every server worldwide, making it easier for players to connect. Back then, it wasn’t as easy as navigating to G-Portal where you can pick your server and get going. Apart from knowing ip-addresses you oftentimes had to come up with certain command line controls. However, the modding scene became bigger, multiplying the amount of Quake servers.
Quake was turned into multiple different games with the help of full modifications, even skateboarding was possible. However, a mod called Team Fortress should garner the most interest, eventually getting a full release for another company that heavily used, inspired and ultimately simplified the creation, distribution and usage of mods: Valve. However, they will be part of our next modding chapter.
For now, let’s just emphasise how important games like Doom and Quake are, even in 2023. They live on, albeit with a smaller but not less dedicated fanbase. Modding was a term that stood for creativity and passion, without many of the negative aspects people sometimes associate with them. It was never about creating content that inspires piracy but rather respecting the source material.
Seeing Thomas the Locomotive in countless games today might look silly in the eyes of many but in the end, it does create interest and social interaction. Now, imagine a world without private servers in this wild west of game content creation. What would otherwise have turned into a desolate and barren land became a flourishing online oasis of creativity.
The next episode covers one of the most successful mods of our modern age: Counter-Strike. It was a full conversion of Half-Life, by itself a one of a kind game, that single handedly created a new eSports scene. Its importance for the video game industry and server hosting are equally important, hence we’re going in-depth, looking at iterations, hardships and possible offsprings.