Nov 23, 2010

Source Modding: The Little Train That Couldn't Because It Had Two Broken Legs

Lately I've been spending a lot of time with mods for Valve's Source engine (or “The Half-Life 2 Engine,” if you prefer). Mostly the Source versions Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, but also Firearms: Source. In my memory, the peak years of the Half-Life mod community were something like the golden days of gaming.

Possibly because childhood-me super-glued a pair of these babies to my face...

That's probably why I find the state of the Source mod community a little depressing. Back in the good old days, I could fire up any of a dozen different Half-Life mods at peak time and find hundreds of players, including some of my fellow Australians, get into a game, and go. It's what made Half-Life so important in my life as a gamer, much more than the (still totally awesome) single-player. But with Source, only the very biggest mods can support more than one server with players at a given time, if that, and hardly any of them feature regular Aussie players. Half-Life one was a door to hundreds of other games, nearly unrecognisable as the original game. Many of these mods were of incredibly high quality, and plenty of them had strong player-bases. Half-Life 2 is a good game, but it's still just Half-Life 2.

 Why is this the case? It's not even that Half-Life 2 had a strong mod community that has died off in the five years since released – it just never got off the ground at all. The game had a very strong commercial release and helped establish Steam's massive user-base, as well as the precedent having been set by the first game. Source is probably harder to develop for than was the case with Half-Life 1, but I don't think that that alone adequately explains the difference in interest. Even mods with very high quality content, like Firearms, have a hard time building a good player-base.

Firearms: Source features solid, distinct game-play and near-professional quality graphics and sounds. It's really a lot of fun, IF you can find a game.

I actually think that this is symptomatic of a larger shift in the gaming community in general. But I'm not sure what this change might've been. People seem much more content to play the same game/games, and to have narrower tastes in terms of what they like. The result is that they're less open to new types of game-play, and mods have always been used as a great way to explore less mainstream gaming concepts.

Another factor is probably the rise of the console. In 1998, when Half-Life came out, the PC gaming community was much, much stronger relative to consoles (which don't really allow for modding games) than they are today, or were in 2005.

I've been thinking a lot about why this is. I think it has to do with the greater accessibility of consoles and the popularisation of gaming in general. But it's really hard to pinpoint where things went wrong. Maybe it's just that there are a whole lot more AAA titles getting released today, with the explosion of the industry in the past eight years or so, meaning that people don't try to eke out as much enjoyment from each game they buy, and move on to the next big thing instead of checking out the mod scene, or even trying to do some modding for the game they bought themselves.

Some of this stuff pretty clearly ties in with the proliferation of same-y sequels released in quick succession that I talked about in Clone Culture. I think it's all part of a swing away from what hard-core gaming culture used to be, into something that seems extremely casual and diluted from the perspective of an old-school 1337pro like me. I may only be 19, but I still see a clear distinction between myself and the 'console kiddies'. The fact that I got started gaming before I could walk unassisted probably has something to do with this. It's not that I'm older than these damn kids of today, but I've been involved in the scene for much longer, and have some kind of perspective of the development timeline of the whole thing.

Oh, the times, they are a-changing. And I'm scared and confused.

I really am getting old.

No comments:

Post a Comment