Thursday, July 8, 2010

Support Your Local Modder

I'd like to issue a little call-to-arms for players to support modders. Specifically, I'd like players to support the modders who are trying to produce "content" based mods rather than "customisations". By "content", I mean mods that provide "real" additions to the game, (wow, that got your attention, didn't it?) new quests, adventures, areas, fully developed party members, etc. Customisation mods are improved textures, improved appearance of faces, a new item, sex mods (which covers anything and everything from sex cutscenes, the ability to sleep with more NPCs, naked bodies, etc), changing mechanics and so on.  Yes, I'm coming at this from a biased perspective, given I have a vested interest in it as I create "content" mods, but there are plenty of other modders who I want to see supported as well. But vote number 1 for me. Yes, it is all about me. Really. So why my rallying cry to bring the gaming masses in force to blow the proverbial trumpets of war? (And if you blow a vuvuzela, I'm kicking you out of the army and feeding you to the darkspawn)

For starters, none of the top ten projects on BioWare's site are quest mods. This is despite that the "Featured Projects" section on the social site has for several past months had four modules with additional playable content; actual quests and adventures for players to experience. The information that BioWare provided on the toolset and the wiki in general was also heavily biased towards the production of quest/adventure modules, suggesting this is what they expected the community to invest their time in. However, at this point in time, I'd have to argue that all the modules that actually offer that type of content are being neglected by both the social site (for not promoting them) and its patrons (for not popularising them).

Now, some might argue it's possible that some of these issues could be fixed or mitigated on the BioWare social site. But it's not entirely the website's fault.  If you check out Dragon Age Nexus, the story is the same. The first mod that's not a cosmetic mod is Ser Gilmore, sitting down at 37. Fragments of Ferelden (61), Castle Cousland (84), Temple of Vulak (85) and King Calenhad's Tomb (96) appear to be the only other mods with actual quests in them in the top 100. Note that I hadn't even heard of the last three before I scrolled through the list today to look at them. The majority of the mods in the top 100 either involve sex/naked bodies or new (and generally horrendously overpowered) items.

DA:O, the breast RPG game since... wait, that's not right...

I'm not trying to dismiss the work of other mod authors, but I don't need or want another Morrigan appearance mod, or bigger breast mod, romance mod or more cosmetic changes to my PC or NPCs. Now, I'm no prude, but having softcore pornography in a computer game is neither titillating nor mature. I don't want a wand of "sleep-with-me-magic" to cast on a whole bunch of NPCs in the game. If that's what you're looking for, have you searched the Internet lately? I suppose Avenue Q did tell us "The Internet is for Porn". (If you don't know what I'm talking about, google it and watch the youtube video of your choice)

I'd also say that the quest mods out there are in general viewed with much harsher eyes than cosmetic mods. I've seen complaints posted about Alley of Murders and other people's quest mods complaining (in some cases with a fair amount of vitriol) about the quality of the mod, "plot holes", fights/enemy selection, a lack of voice acting, bad voice acting, too many homosexual romances, loot being "not phat enuf", too much blood spatter, lighting too purple, "hey, where are my ride-able horses?". Let's not forget there are mods dedicated to providing (usually overpowered) loot, homosexual romances, tougher combat, romanceable crates, etc, and they have varying quality too. For example, let's take one of the highly popular hairstyle mods. There are styles of varying quality, with some good ones, others suffering graphical issues from transparency to model clipping, and there are some which are just... well, a little "Heavenly Sword."

She's angry because someone stole her last bottle of hair dye.

My point is that if players download a customisation mod, they don't judge the models or content by the same yardstick as those produced by the developer themselves. This has been true of every modding community I've seen. Don't get me wrong, I know how hard making good 3D models is, or rewriting a combat system. In some cases, certain talented individuals are able to produce work of near-professional quality, and they are rightfully lauded praise. Unfortunately, when you're dealing with mods with playable content, the same leeway isn't given. As soon as the quality falls short of that provided by the game's developer, players are quick to criticise. Let's not forget that the content of the game itself is provided through years of work by a team of individuals who do this for a living. Modders don't have that time, and many have jobs that occupy a significant portion of their day.

Don't get me wrong, I support and popularise customisation mods which I've download and believe are well done, and there have been quite a few of them. I'm all for supporting mod authors in general, be they producing customisation or content.  However, I'm somewhat disillusioned that the player community still seems to be primarily supporting mods that are effectively cosmetic in nature. To draw a parallel, I never experimented too much with mods in Oblivion because when I looked, all I could find were mods of overpowered items, different textures, levelling systems or game mechanics. I left it and never went back. Apparently I might be a horrible person who should be punished for doing that, but I guess those are the breaks.

I don't want that to happen with Dragon Age.  It has the potential for some amazing story-telling with the ridiculously powerful toolset. However, doing that presents some significant issues that quest modders have to deal with other modders don't. Trust me on this one. The nightmare quotient from the occasionally recalcitrant toolset can be quite high at times. Even the "simple" process of creating a custom world map has only recently been "solved" (for varying values of "solved").

Modder: 0 vs Toolset/Lighting: 2

However, the story telling capability is not currently being recognised or supported by the player community at large. I know there are a number of projects in the pipeline from a number of mod authors and groups which I am certain will be quite impressive. I just hope the community is willing to support them when they come out. (Heck, if you're particularly awesome, support them now!) Unfortunately, based on the current situation, I'm not terribly optimistic that they will receive the recognition they deserve.  Please, players, modders, countrymen/women lend us your votes! Tell your friends, enemies, neighbours, random people on the street to download, vote for, popularise and comment on quest mods. Mod authors might even give out free hugs or cookies to kindly players.

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