Bit Slap: Why mods (and Nic Cage) are important

day z

Every week in Bit Slap, Joe Anderson brings you the latest in gaming news and bon mots.

I don’t really know how to introduce this, so I’m just going to say it: someone modded Majora’s Mask for the Nintendo 64 and filled it with Nicolas Cage. The mod takes the Cageless world of Hyrule and infuses it with the many faces of Nicolas Cage. I suggest you bask in this; the world will likely never see a Face-Off video game and this is as close as we’re going to get.

Check out the video below to experience This Real Important Shit.

I am regularly impressed by modders. Although mods can add the face of certain celebrities to games where they don’t belong, it is only one of the many things they can do. Mods that overhaul games completely—typically referred to as total conversions—are home to serious innovation in game development.  PC gaming is home to countless active modding communities, and what makes the platform so exciting. Don’t get me wrong here: there is great work being done to mod console games, usually through ROM hacking via hex editors. I assure you, the above Cage mod is only the tip of the iceberg. But whenever someone asks me what’s so great about PC gaming, I inform them that stuff like this Doom and Half-Life mashup is being made constantly. Or how about a Megaman FPS?

In this way, consoles can’t compare.

On the PC, mods are win-win situations for game developers; modding communities extend the lifespans of games by continuously breathing life into a game’s community. For those fuzzy on the details, the difference between a mod and, y’know, just a game is that a mod requires assets from an existing game in order to run. Especially popular mods can also boost sales for the base game. For instance, military shooter Arma II saw a bump in sales thanks to the popularity of Day Z, a zombie survival mod. Furthermore, concepts that start as mods sometimes develop into standalone games. As I write this, there is a standalone version of Day Z in the works. The immensely popular Counter-Strike started as a mod for the original Half-Life before Valve hired the development team.

Sometimes, though, really ambitious projects are abandoned out of necessity—mods are usually developed for free, and dedication has its limits. One of my favorite mods for the Half-Life was Science and Industry. In S&I, players played as security guards for competing tech companies. The game was a race to generate more corporate worth and to develop new weapons and bionic upgrades to protect company assets. The way you furthered your research and edged out the competition was through a fantastic, three-step process:

1) Gain access to competitor’s R&D department.
2) Hit scientists over the head with your briefcase.
3) Drag scientists back to your company and put them to work.

I’m not a history expert, but I’m pretty sure this is how the US won the Space Race. Sadly, the creators wanted to update the game for Half-Life 2, but the project has since been abandoned.

If nothing else, mods are also oddly representative of the human landscape. On one hand, you have people who just want to improve Fallout: New Vegas for everyone through tireless bug fixing and balance tweaks. And on the other, you have people who aspire to triple the breast size for all females in the game and add jiggle physics. I’m not going to link you to this. Google will show you the way.

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