gamemodding definitions

The wall went down last month. From now on in computer gaming, there were to be no real barriers between creator and audience, or producer and consumer. They would be collaborators in the same imaginative space, and working as equals, they’d create a new medium, together. (↵Au 2002)

“Day of Defeat” is a mod—a fan-made modification to a pre-existing game. Or, in modder jargon, it’s a “total conversion,” the most ambitious form of mod, in which all the graphics and gameplay of the original title have been reshaped by fans to create an entirely new experience. (↵Au 2002)

The community I am talking about initially condensated around the shared interest in, and practice of modifying commercial computergame-software. That means making playable additions to existing games, up to making completely new games out of them, plus a vast range of secondary and derivative artefacts. (↵Knorr 2006b)

The difference between games and movies, of course, is that PC games are code worlds, hackable. By cracking and changing the code, players can alter weapons, characters, and, sometimes, entire worlds. They have, famously, inserted Barney into a Nazi shoot-em-up, then gleefully distributed the hacked version on the Internet. They have recreated a scene from The Matrix and inserted it into a hit 2001 adventure game called Max Payne, an action-shooter set in noir-ish New York. More ambitiously, one bunch of hackers is currently busy remaking the entirety of Max Payne into a flighty fantasy-world homage to a novel by cult author Terry Pratchett. (↑The Mod Squad (2002) by David Kushner)

Alterations of a PC game are called “mods.” (↑The Mod Squad (2002) by David Kushner)

The culture of mod making grew out of what author Steven Levy famously described as the hacker ethic, which predated the explosion of Internet culture and emphasized “sharing, openness, decentralization, and getting your hands on machines at any cost.” When it came to software, games were ideal hacking material: creative objects whose DNA was ripe for sharing and mutation. (↑The Mod Squad (2002) by David Kushner)

Independent level, scenario and mod designers take over from there, creating “mods” (modifications), ranging from cosmetic changes (new “skins” for avatars, models, textures, etc.) and add-ons to “total conversions” (essentially wholly new games). (↵Lowood 2006)

Manovich contrasts modifiable games to the characteristics of a more customarily authored game like Myst, which he describes as “more similar to a traditional artwork than to a piece of software: something to behold and admire, rather than take apart and modify.” [↑Navigable space] (↵Lowood 2006)

Just as after Quake the modification of games progressed from scenario to level design to full-scale total conversion mods, machinima makers likewise grew bolder as they learned more about the graphics and programming resources Quake provided. (↵Lowood 2006)

With the increasing popularity of mods, game developers routinely put impressive editing and cinematic tools in the hands of the player community, encouraging everything from the creation of new graphics to initiation into game development as a career. The contemporary game scene pulses with the energy of player communities that use game engines to create something new. (↵Lowood 2006)

For the experienced gamer undaunted by computing learning curves, gameplay can also include the creation of deep modifications to games and gaming environments using development tools made freely available by game developers. In other words, computer gameplay involves a spectrum of creative practices. (↑Abstract of “Mods, Gods, and Creative Computer Gameplay” (2002) by Andrew Mactavish)

[…] the creation of mods (game and level modifications), skins (new game characters), and total conversions (new games based upon a game’s original design engine). (↑Abstract of “Mods, Gods, and Creative Computer Gameplay” (2002) by Andrew Mactavish)

In particular, I look as a set of cultural practices surrounding digital gaming known collectively as game modding. Short for “game modification,” game modding is a catchall term covering the production of any player-created derivative game content that can be imported into the original game or that can be played as an entirely new game on top of a game’s underlying architecture or engine. Some examples of game mod types include new levels or maps, new character skins or avatars, or new sets of rules imported into games. Importantly, game mods can be distributed and downloaded freely over the Internet. Frequently, game manufacturers ship games with the necessary tools for mod creation and actively support mod communities surrounding their games. In other words, game modding is a form of player-creative practice that, in being cultivated by developers, immediately distinguishes it from other user-based distribution practices surrounding popular media such as music. Yet, while the gaming industry may be developing a model that supports and encourages consumer participation in the systems of cultural exchange, the field is certainly not unified, consistent, or uncontested. There is an ongoing negotiation between developers and players, and one that is not always collegial as each side works towards defining legitimate game-production practices. (↑Abstract of “Playing with Cultural Exchange: Digital Games and Player-Created Content” (2004) by Andrew Mactavish)

Online access to open-source game development tools, the provision of venues for distribution and publicity of player-generated game content and modifications, the use of the online community in game testing, and increased communication between game development companies and players are currently shifting the boundaries between the traditional roles of media producers and consumers and changing the ways in which these games are made. (↵Morris 2003)

Doom was revolutionary and culturally significant in that it was multiplayer (up to four players could play via LAN, serial connection or telephone lines) and the id developers made the unprecedented move of releasing the game’s source code to the public. This allowed gamers to make modified versions of the game, customising landscapes and game models, and creating new levels and even ‘total conversions’—entirely new game scenarios, such as Barney Doom or Star Trek Doom. (↵Morris 2003)

Mod: (also Patch) Short for modification: an alteration to a pre-existing digital game. Game mods usually replace or change elements such as media, maps, or behaviours, although changes to the game engine are increasingly common. (↵Poremba 2003a: xi)

Skin: A type of mod that involves changing the graphical appearance of a game object. (↵Poremba 2003a: xi)

Since the beginning of digital game production, hackers have reworked, reconstructed, and exchanged digital game code and ideas (Kushner). The close nature of early original and derivative works maks it difficult to define the first true game modification. If we’re looking at plyer production in the general sense, game modification can be seen to originate with basic scenarios for early computer board game adaptions (Suciu), and text-based games (Kushner). However, in terms of taking an exosting graphically-based game and completely reworking it, a mod called Castle Smurfenstein deserves recognition. Smurfenstein was a total conversion12 for Castle Wolfenstein (a Nazi-themed shooter) that replaced the game’s original cast and content with Smurf related materials (Au). However it wasn’t until Doom that modification was intentionally integrated at the level of game design. (↵Poremba 2003a: 17)

Over a short period of time, response to the events could be seen in a number of game modifications and other player created artifacts. (↵Poremba 2003b)

While a relative minority of players participate in game modification, their contribution to the overall game community ensures a constant, vibrant flow of new game modes, contexts, and content into the play arena. (↵Poremba 2003b)

Player production ranges from meta-gaming collectives to recombinant performances; from player-toplayer design tools to game modifications (mods). (↵Poremba 2003b)

Because of the openness of players to new creators, and also in part to the game demographics, there is a large base of technically simple game modifications, notably skins for characters and objects. Technical wizardry is less important than aesthetics: items that are attractive receive a great deal of social validation. There is a wider range of differentiation in terms of roles for the player-producer: one can skin walls, floors, and characters exclusively, recolour objects, create new objects, change behaviours, build tools etc., although the producer base thins dramatically as the artifacts increase in technical sophistication. (↵Poremba 2003b)

One of the more interesting and distinct aspects of the digital game genre is the proliferation of player-produced content and artifacts. The reworking of original game materials is an integral part of game culture that can not be ignored in the study of these games. This paper explores playerproduction as a mode of authorship reflecting the agency of the game player. (↵Poremba 2003c: Abstract)

This analysis concerns itself with PC video games and PC gaming, primarily because hobbyist game development is most prevalent for PC games. Modifications to elements of console games are generally geared toward the hardware and are not directly supported by the commercial developers of the games. By contrast, many PC games have a significant fan base that continually makes modifications to the games, and such actions are supported by commercial developers. (↵Postigo 2003: 594-595)

Hobbyist groups that develop modifications to commercial games are part of this support network and are generally known on the Internet as ‘modders’, and whose modifications are called ‘mods’. (↵Postigo 2003: 596)

Mods can range from relatively simple rearrangements of the physics of a given virtual environment to total conversions. Total conversions are the most ambitious of mods because they attempt to convert the gameplay of a given game totally. (↵Postigo 2003: 596)

Modders not only produce changes to the games but also post tutorials and how-to guides to encourage the novice hobbyist to contribute and learn the techniques of modding. Modders often make their mods available for free download on their websites and, while no revenue is directly generated for such transactions for the developers of a particular modded game, the mod contributes to keep games interesting by adding new dimensions to them. As such, these mods can play a role in the extending the sales of the original game or developing a devoted fan base. (↵Postigo 2003: 596)

The social and economic changes that have occurred since the early 1970s are important for understanding modders as an emerging form of video-game design, because these economic and social shifts generate the context in which social activities such as forming and supporting community, volunteering and pursuing hobbies can be harnessed as a source of revenue. (↵Postigo 2003: 597)

And today, I’m not talking about kids wearing smart suits and riding fancy scooters but gamer-made modifications of computer games that are celebrated as a new medium for artistic innovation and simultaneously successfully used as a marketing strategy for new retail titles. (↵Sotamaa 2003: 1)

In short, mods are gamermade custom contents for official game titles. (↵Sotamaa 2003: 1)

In the following the term modding refers to the act of developing mods. Likewise, modder is the active subject who performs an act of modding. (↵Sotamaa 2003: 1, fn 1)

At the same time a growing number of gamers is willing to create games of their own using the existing games software. These hobbyist developers, called ‘modders’ have been around for some time now, but only during the past few years the ‘mods’, the products of ‘modding’ culture, have attained the mainstream. This gamer-made content is normally distributed for free from players to players but lately gamer-made modifications have found their way to game industry marketing strategies. (↵Sotamaa 2005)

Counter-Strike was not the first mod. In fact one of the first true “mods” in terms of taking an existing game and changing the code was with the original Castle Wolfenstein title for the Apple II. Some crafty programmers took out the evil Nazis and replaced them with Smurfs thus creating Castle Smurfenstien, a game that lives on as a legendary mod. (↑It’s A Mod, Mod, Mod World (2005) by Peter Suciu)

Video game modding is the process of adapting an existing commercial video game product to create a nearly or completely different video game. Modding is often (but not always) achieved using software tools and programming languages that are included with the game product itself. (↵Yucel, Zupko & Seif El-Nasr 2006)
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