I wrote a few months ago about how the modding world enables creativity and growth and how the power of freedom could develop gaming and eSports. I wrote how developers should allow indefinite moddability. I still firmly believe that developers should provide development packs and support for modifications. We’ve seen one of the largest eSports scenes develop over the last few years due to the ability to modify games. Obviously I talk about the ARTS/MOBA scene, DotA and LoL.
As time has progressed, it has become much harder for modders to casually design a game on the side. Graphics, expectations and features have developed to a standard far from the mods we’ve seen in the past. In addition to this, now budding programmers and designers are faced with limitations imposed on them by the publishers. DRM, restrictions and the screams of piracy fuel the lockdown on freedom and the modding world. What is a programmer to do in a world where every hurdle is barbed and seemingly everything - bar the fans - is a restriction?
FTL - Indie Game
While indie is defined as “an Independent video game developer who is in the process of creating video games without the financial support of a video game publisher” it’s developed far from that. Certain Indie games hold a spirit, they share a flame and quirky common ground in graphics, engines and gameplay feel. Perhaps it’s due to the real freedom to spend hours chasing that tiny feature that may otherwise be axed from the budget of a publisher. Maybe it is because games follow a trend and they all come out with similar graphics and a focus on smooth aesthetically pleasing animation at a simple level. Could these graphics based on the games of the past encourage nostalgia?
Whatever it may be, it cannot be denied that Indie games, like modded games, can grow into a giant. Of course nearly all gaming companies started as “an indie game”. Indeed our entire industry is based on indie games. The requirement of a definition and separation has come about due to the publishing giants churning out game after game with support of hype, history and publicity.
Instead the indie word is a new world, a world born out of necessity, and far from the pure definition. In the new Indie world we’ve still seen developers rise to global powerhouses in the gaming world: Minecraft, Mojang, Notch. Of course the indie world has not given success to everyone and many studios remain “indie” with no support from the giants in the current publishing world. But I’m not talking about Independent developers like Firefly Studios, a company who are relatively stable and produce numerous games over time (Stronghold). Rather I’m looking at the small indie developers. A few guys every night or weekend sharing pizza, soda and programming all night to develop a game for the community rather than to pay the bills. I am talking about the unproven developers offering us a new idea, a new game.
Is Indie becoming the new “modding”?
In the RTS world Indie games seem to dominate, focusing on the gameplay they can provide us with simple graphics or stylised effects. The goal to release a game that is sought after due to the playability and not the latest bloom effects. Faster than Light, Project Zomboid and Prison Architect easily hold the crown high for the gaming world.
You cannot argue that graphics are one of the driving factors in the RTS world. Look at Hearts of Iron, a game focusing on depth and immersion via complexity and detail offering little to no graphics bar a static map and still images. However on the other side of the camp we see Starcraft II, the game in RTS with both gameplay and beautiful graphics. What do both of these games have in common?
Gameplay has been provided with straight up mods (CS) to map making (DotA). I remember even playing horse racing games in Age of Empires, maps programmed with triggers and events. Simple, but it worked.
The modding community and games are dealt with in three main directions.
Is it odd with such choices than many will take an open source engine and start developing their own? Take Natural Selection, originally a mod on the Half Life engine which developed so the team wanted their own engine for NS2. They even accredit their choices to providing other small teams an engine to make immersive games. They gained true freedom, direction and now have goals to provide an engine not only to themselves but to other teams for true modification.
Is the modding community a generation thing? Or is the reduction of modding a byproduct of piracy? Or rather a mad dash to earn the most money? Or a "workshop" a system to enable players to design a piece of clothing for both developers and player to earn from? Either way, while the modding community struggles, I do believe Indie games and those old modders coming to age now are providing a light at the end of the tunnel