It's A Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World

It's A Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World


Moddability could be the greatest boon to video gaming since the invention of the graphics card, but, unfortunately, it is yet to reach its potential.

Ever since Neverwinter Nights, I’ve thought that modding was potentially the greatest boon to video gaming since the invention of the graphics card. It seems obvious at first glance: Developers are no longer limited to ONLY the creativity of their own staff writers and scripters. Once the game, along with the modding tools and editors are released to the consumers, suddenly everybody and his cousin is throwing together gaming modules that drop seamlessly into the basic game framework. Just look at what happened with Neverwinter Nights itself: Can you think of another game that cranked out sooooo many quality expansions in such a relatively short amount of time? Kingmaker, Shadowguard, Witch’s Wake, Hordes of the Underdark, and Shadows of Undrentide, all within a two-year span. When NWN2 appeared, the deluge continued with Mask of the Betrayer, Storm of Zehir, and Mysteries of Westgate, again all within a two-year span. I attribute much of this to what I call the “TSR Module Creation Phenomena”.

Back in the late ‘70s, TSR was struggling to keep abreast of the enormous demand for all things AD&D. Someone in upper Management came up with the brilliant idea of running AD&D module contests in the house organ, “The Dragon Magazine”. The key element of the recurring contest was “All submissions become property of TSR”. From the tsunami of thousands of entries, ONE winner got to see his creation published as an official AD&D module with his name on it! (And for which I believe he received about a 1% royalty.) What became of the thousands of loser entries? They were systematically “farmed” for useful ideas that were then mixed and mingled with other useful ideas from other entries, and then handed off to a TSR staffer to create many, many, many other “official” and “original” TSR-created AD&D modules. The amount of time and brain sweat that went into these was next to nothing compared to other TSR game modules that were created from scratch. TSR went from having a scarcity of product to an embarrassment of riches, mostly from the creativity of their consumers.

So with the outstanding production of NWN games and expansions, I figured that henceforth computer RPGs would be in the position to keep the gaming goodness train on track and barreling down the line at breakneck speed. All that was necessary was for the developers to include modding tools and editors and – voilà! – instant product line for each and every major CRPG that came along. Unfortunately, that trend never developed the way that I had hoped.

About the only game series that had consumer-created mods as a constant fringe product has been Civilization. In particular, the folks at CivFanatics have been providing quality mods for the Civ series of games every since the year 2000 (nine years after the original Civilization debuted in 1991). Mainly because of the genius and creativity of the CivFanatics, the Civ series is still guaranteed Best Seller whenever the next iteration in the series appears. Ideas that first appeared in the CivFanatic forums get refined there, and then miraculously appear in the next installment of the game. Expansion packs such as Warlords and Beyond The Sword are almost entirely derivative from consumer-created mods that actually premiered at CivFanatics.

To my mind, this is the way the system should work.

Recently, I was reacquainted with modding via the Steam Workshop. With the disappointing presentation of Civilization V, I had hopes that the Civ5 expansion, Gods & Kings would rekindle my interest in the game. It did, somewhat, but it seemed significantly less than “stellar” in that regard. But then I saw that there was a whole river of Civ5 mods on the Steam Workshop that offered a very broad spectrum of tweaks and additions that made the game MUCH more appealing. Like a kid salivating in a candy store, I perused mod after mod, contemplating just what each would add to the game. Finally, unable to restrain myself any longer, I let the Inner Child run wild. Twenty-eight mod subscriptions later, I fired up the game one more time. It was great! It was awesome! Things were working just the way they were sup... Wait a minute. What caused the game to freeze? Alt-Ctrl-Del to Task Manager. Yeah, it’s not responding; tell me something I didn’t already know! Shut it down and fire up the game again, and pick it up from the last Save. Got past that point, but five minutes later another freeze. Followed by a Crash To Display. Then another CTD. The basic game had been actually quite stable, so it must be one of the mods bollixing everything. But which one?

So I went back and took a closer look at the 28 mods. Closer inspection revealed the user recommendation system. I deduced that the likely culprit was one of the 2-star recommended mods, so I gave it the ax. Back into the game with just 27 mods, and that seemed to alleviate the problem. Until I got further into the game. Once I had reduced the number of mods to just fifteen 5-star recommended mods, I was still experiencing problems, so I gave up in disgust.

Which took me back to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game which I had already invested over a thousand hours of gameplay. Now that I was better aware of how the Steam Workshops worked, I looked at what was available there to add some new zest to what had become a VERY familiar game. Again, I was at risk of drowning from my own saliva. This time, I was up to 71 mods, all highly rated, before I reined in my horses. [Horses? Didn’t I see something about horses somewhere in the mod listing? Hmm.] Start a new character and let’s see how this unfolds!

Again, the freezes and CTDs were coming fast and furious, but I was mentally prepared for them this time. I was averaging crashes every five minutes or so, so I took to Saving every four minutes. I endured the crashes all the way up to Level 50, but then I started to be locked out from completing several quests because some item or another could not be picked up. [“What do you mean the powdered mammoth tusk that I already have isn’t acceptable? Why does it have to be that one? The one that I can’t seem to pick up for some reason?”]

That’s when a good friend and Samaritan suggested that I switch over to the Nexus Mod Manager. So I dumped all 71 Steam Workshop mods, registered at the Nexus, and then downloaded the same 71 mods. (Well, 78, actually. Nexus had a few more tantalizing items that I couldn’t resist.) Started yet another character and set off on the adventure. Now, 12 Levels later, I can safely say that using the Nexus Mod Manager hasn’t stopped the CTDs, or the freezes, or the occasional “memory leaks” that cause the graphics to behave like they’re being dragged through molasses. But, damn! Those mods were making the gameplay sooooooo much better!

I’m no closer to a solution to my woes, but it seems that I am developing at least a little bit of patience late in my life. But at this rate, I can be fairly certain that I may well be dead long before my character is.