Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mods vs. Design, what is the Intent?

The recent discussions about WAR’s intended policies towards UI Mods have sparked a few conversations with my friends and got me thinking. If you are not familiar with the overall discussions, check out Keen and Graev’s posts (1,2), along with Tobold’s.

The importance of user-created content is finally being embraced by game producers, be it the inclusion of real cities in Monopoly or the ability of PotBS players to create in-game content. Mods are also user-created content. They allow their creators to care more about the game by allowing them to have a personal investment, and offer good Modders to gain respect and attention from the players who use their Mods. Even without going into how bad the original WoW UI was, Mods also can allow non-programming Mod-using players to personalize their interface, once again increasing the personal investment towards the game.

What I would like to clarify, without retreading the discussions already at the above sites, is the difference between Visual Mods (those that affect your HUD or Visual Interface) and Mechanics Mods (those that allow for game actions or processes to be manipulated). Keen attempted to state this difference a few times, but it seems that his delineation was lost amid the clamor of people attempting to fight for or against the inclusion of all Mods in any game. The importance of this delineation can not be overstated.

I encourage and support most efforts to Communitfy games. Where I begin to get nervous is when we discuss the Mechanics Mods. As both Keen and Tobold stated, there is a fine line between ‘cheating’ and advantage when we talk about Mechanics Mods. If a Mechanics Mod becomes necessary for a player to compete, then it is clear that the developer needs to incorporate that Mod into the actual game or remove it, anything else is intellectually lazy on the part of the developer. Incorporating it is not akin to admitting an oversight happened during development, but rather it is embracing the idea that player-feedback can help a game evolve in positive ways. Removing it is not akin to admitting the Modder was trying to cheat, but rather it protects the integrity of the game’s core mechanics and balance. Both developers and Modders need to check their egos, and ask “How does this Mod affect the intent of the game’s core mechanics and balance?”

Another interesting question emerges from this discussion. What happens when a developer limits Mechanics Mods, in an effort to retain their intended balance (see Tobold’s example of DoT in paragraph four). While I would agree that they should be limited, some of the Mechanics Mods that have been incorporated into WoW officially by Blizzard are fantastic. How should a game allow Mechanics Mods to be created, in order to incorporate new ones into the game itself, while protecting the actual game from the ‘broken’ or ‘unintended’ ones?


Anonymous said...

Good point. There are two examples that come to my mind, and tend to help focus my thoughts on it.

1. The Battlefield series. Specifically the '1942' one. It had a great many mods, ranging from one that gave the game deeper historical depth and accuracy (tweaked vehicles, different weapon setups, altered levels), to ones that were just plain silly, to ones that sought to change the face of the game entirely by making Star Wars or Gulf War mods.

2. An excellent game studio, Paradox Entertainment, creates historical grand strategy games ranging from the 1400's to the Second World War. However, the way it is built is that the engine utilizes a great many text files to create the AI of each individual nation. (For example, Nazi Germany would have a higher emphasis on building infantry than would say the UK) This leaves the finer details completely tweakable. Needless to say, there is a thriving modding community. Ranging from simply polishing the game to changing it's setting entirely.

This seems to take away alot of the relevance of the developer. What do they provide other than the platform from which others entertain themselves? What does that mean for pricing, for post-release support?

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