Today we’re going to discuss game mods, and more specifically, the greatest ones that come to mind in gaming as a whole. Our goal here is to bring light to the most enthusiastic people in gaming who create expansive user-generated content that extends the livelihood of their favorite games.
What are “mods?”
Mods, short for “modifications,” are user-created custom content for pre-existing games. Mods can be anything from a simple texture replacement (making a brown cube blue, for instance) to a full-blown standalone game based on the original title’s engine.
The game mods we are highlighting here are either greatly influential on the industry as a whole or innovate so much upon the original game that the effort deserves to be recognized. We’ll be focusing particularly on mods that add custom campaigns, stages and game mechanics, as opposed to purely cosmetic mods that may be typical of other lists.
1. Falskaar (Skyrim)
Falskaar is one of the most popular Skyrim mods out there, likely thanks to being one of the most ambitious. Falskaar is a mod developed by one person who added an entire new world for Skyrim players to explore. This world, Falskaar, is jam-packed with new content, including new quests, new dungeons, new NPCs, new voicelines for those NPCs, and over sixty minutes of new music.
It’s pretty impressive. The developer, Alexander Velicky, made the mod as an application to work with Bethesda. While Bethesda did not hire him for his work on Falskaar, Bungie (developers of Halo and Destiny) stepped in to pick up his talent instead, ensuring that his talents would not go to waste.
2. Day-Z (ARMA Series)
Day-Z is one of the most influential game mods on this list. Day-Z as a mod was so popular that it encouraged people to buy ARMA, a previously-unrecognized military simulator with a very niche audience. The success of the Day-Z mod skyrocketed ARMA 2 and its sequel ARMA 3 into popularity because of their brutal, realistic gameplay systems and the mod itself.
Day-Z and other ARMA mods are responsible for the emergence of games like H1Z1 and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, standalone titles that dominate the top rankings of Steam today. Day-Z also released a standalone, but unfortunately this one hasn’t been nearly as well-received due to developer decisions and pricing.
3. Midnight Animal: A Story Of Love and Forgetting (Hotline Miami)
Midnight Animal: A Story Of Love and Forgetting is an interesting mod to discuss. What started as a standalone Hotline Miami mod that didn’t make many deviations from the original besides great graphical improvements and new stages became a brand new game in its own right, offering a story inspired by the developer’s own experience with grief and Persona-inspired supernatural elements.
Midnight Animal has been in development for a fairly long time, with a development process that has been fraught with delays and critical backlash, thanks to the conservative, sometimes demanding, behavior of the larger Hotline Miami community. While Midnight Animal is currently on the backburner, it displays quite a lot of potential and has many fans waiting in the wings for it to return.
4. The Stanley Parable (Half-Life 2)
The Stanley Parable is a standalone Half-Life 2 game mod which later grew into a full retail game. While there are a lot of changes and improvements in the retail version of The Stanley Parable, the mod version establishes a lot of what made the original popular.
Well, spoiling too much would basically ruin the experience. The Stanley Parable is one of those games where the less you know the better. What we can say, however, is that it’s a first-person game focused on exploration and branching story paths – quite a few branching story paths, at that. An omnipotent narrator presides over the experience, giving background information and instructions that can be followed, subverted or ignored.
Stanley Parable does a lot to explore the narrative in video games and does so in a brilliantly clever, funny, sometimes ominous way. I highly recommend both the HL2 game mod and retail version for anyone looking for a good way to spend a few afternoons, trying out all the different possibilities of one very flexible narrative.
5. The Nameless Mod (Deus Ex)
The Nameless Mod is one of the most obscure on this list, but what it does is still seriously pretty impressive. The Nameless Mod takes the base gameplay of Deus Ex, a game released in 2000, and applies it to a mod released in 2009. The Nameless Mod takes place in what’s called “Forum City” which is basically a physical manifestation of Internet forums and bulletin boards. Because of this setting, there’s a lot of in-jokes and references to a community that many people may not get, but the sheer effort required for such an endeavor should not be overlooked.
And honestly, Deus Ex’s cyberpunk-getting meshes quite well with the frantic, often chaotic nature of the Internet and all the people within. The Nameless Mod will remind many of both the Internet they dwell on and futuristic literature like Snow Crash, and that isn’t bad company to keep.
Honorable Mentions and Closing Notes
Mods are wildly influential and innovative. There’s a reason why modding communities exist for so many games out there and why these communities are so fervently defended from the potential of corruption, commercialization or outright removal: because game mods make everything better.
Gaming mods are a way for budding, independent game developers to get recognition or express themselves artistically.
Game mods can be responsible for the creation of entire new genres of game – Counter-Strike started as a mod, and was pretty much the first major military FPS on the market. The original Quake Team Fortress mod helped establish the base of the class-based shooter genre which lives on today in the form of Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch.
The value of mods and the communities that make mods cannot be overstated. For that reason I hope you support the modding communities of your favorite games and try out some of the ones I’ve recommended here.