Monday, August 11, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things (to mod in)

Last year, my gaming preferences underwent a massive shift. Whatever the reason, it's nearly impossible for me to get excited about games these days. It doesn't matter the genre, the target audience, the technical specs - nothing interests me.

For a while, the only two games I would play at all were Skyrim and Kerbal. Now I find myself suddenly playing Space Engineers, even though I had tried it and stopped in boredom. Why did I want to play it again?

Mods. They just introduced mod support.

Ugh, it's kind of obvious in retrospect. Skyrim and Kerbal both have massive levels of mod support and swarms of mods. Space Engineers has started to join in the fray with a truly amazing mod management system, although the mods themselves are still primitive due to lack of scripting support.

So the first thing I did was download a bevy of mods to make me think harder. A ventilation mod, a wiring mod, and interior walls mod... none of them do anything, technically-speaking, but they let me build more complex, immersive stations. And I'm really enjoying it.


Why do I only like mods?

I think it boils down to authorship.

Games have a specific team or a specific person creating them. In some cases that authorship is really effective, such as in Papers, Please or Gone Home. But nearly all of the time, the game isn't an attempt to say something meaningful. It's just an attempt to build a cool game.

But I'm not impressed by cool games any more.

When I can twist and reshape a game as I see fit, the game becomes much more interesting to me. When I can take the twists and reshapings of other players, that's when the game really takes off.

Simple logic: if your game allows mods, it has hundreds or thousands of developers. I can pick and choose which ones I want to hear from, which ones seem to have the most interesting ideas. I can include their thoughts into my game at any level. If the system is particularly agile, I can put down my thoughts and then hear their responses.

This is not the same as playing together with people. I have no interest in massively multiplayer games, because those aren't about taking the works of those other players into my own game. We're all stuck in the same game that plays the same way - we're in a place together, instead of building a new place as we like.

On the other end of things, this isn't a sketch jam. Each of these games has a strong underlying scaffold we build on. A mod for Kerbal doesn't make any sense for Skyrim, and visa-versa. Even putting aside technical differences, the concept of the mods doesn't make any sense in the other game. The shared scaffold guides our discussion... but it also makes our discussions compatible.

See, the real strength of a moddable game is not any one mod. It's combining several compatible mods into an interesting result that is flavored just how you want it. I combine Universal Storage, Karbonite, and Spaceplane 1.3 - and all the sudden I have a space program none of them could have accomplished on their own.

Even just aesthetically, in Space Engineers I have a wiring mod, a ventilation mod, a grated-floor mod, and an interior walls mod. The four work together superbly, while each alone is visually incompatible with vanilla.

Because we are all "talking 'space station'", we each have our own ideas as to what space stations need. Combine the best and you get a very dense, deep discussion on the topic of space stations. In the form of digital LEGO bricks.

This is the secret of moddable games.

I have grown tired of what devs think. That's not their fault, but it does mean I have zero interest in their game. It's like listening to someone explain their dream: some people have amazingly interesting dreams, but 99% of people do not.

You will have more than 100 players. At least one of them will have an interesting take on your dream.

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