The future is collaborative, and that benefits everyone.
For as long as there have been video games, there have been mods. Back in the classical days of early PC gaming, modifying popular titles formed the grassroots foundations of what we now consider to be the independent scene. So it’s no wonder there’s a thriving modding scene surrounding some of our favourite indie games.
That’s not to say any two mods are created equal. While some make games easier or add funny touches, there are others that directly benefit the base game and developer. They’re the mods that demonstrate the power of a mod that has previously been fairly unrecognised.
Modders who interact with a game in such a way that adds to the base experience, or draws out an element of the base experience are creating not only a community to carry a game’s name, but also a method of highlighting an already excellent feature for further celebration. Rather than just decorating a space, they’re adding furniture.
Take Stardew Valley, for instance. The product of five years of passionate personal creativity, the world created by Eric Barone is so full of possibility and nuance, a growing community of players adding their own personal touches to the game was inevitable. The New Machines mod allows players to invest themselves more in the cooking aspect of the game. While previously simple dishes could be conjured up to increase Energy and Health levels throughout your day, Igorious’ addition adds flour, sugar, and vinegar machines to Pelican Town for players to cook directly from their produce.
While at face value the New Machines mod offers some nice new ways to interact with your farm, the way it encourages players to engage with an aspect of Stardew Valley that perhaps doesn’t receive much limelight makes it a perfect example of an indie developer’s best friend. A mod that adds new items and interactions to your game while making your existing work better for it. Rather than simply changing how the game works, it’s mods like these that create an ecosystem of development and community that can be integral to the success of a title.
Or, take the amazing Telemachus mod for Kerbal Space Program. Telemachus is a simple data link that starts out pretty redundant but once you realise the possibilities that come from hooking it up to other sources and outputs, you’ve got yourself an awesome space hub. Screen up and pull up a chair at your brand new flight deck console, with options to send basic commands to all your in-game vessels and chart atmospheric density, altitude and g-force charts and plenty of other flight dynamics.
Taking advantage of the rich data stored in all of KSP’s interactions, Telemachus not only adds new support to visualising this data (and making you feel damn cool while doing so) but also shows off the level of detail that has been poured into this experience by its original developers. Without such extensions, KSP would still be impressive, but the dynamic breadth of its under-the-hood complexity would never have seen the light of day – it’s a feature that still draws many to the game today.
Stardew Valley and Kerbal Space Program are exceedingly successful games. That’s by no means just down to the modding communities surrounding them, but there’s a reason so many in the independent industry are turning their attention to the power of mods in a game’s cycle. Mods are seeing a resurgence in relevance for today’s industry. Indies were built on mods, but saw a decrease in trust as games started bricking, and mods were mainly developed to add fun but ultimately redundant tweaks to a core structure of a game.
Now, though, companies like Modularity are bringing mods to the forefront of a game’s life cycle. ModDB’s brand new publishing label focusing only on games that offer a strong modding foundation or have been created from existing mods was announced in January. It’s industry moves like this that demonstrate how mods are the often unsung heroes of the entire indie scene, a creative collaboration under the inspiration of an experience built from similar passions can create amazing things.
Sure, they can change a character’s appearance or rebalance a game’s difficulty, but they can also nourish an experience with new interactions that bring out the best of a game’s foundations. It’s the mods that take successful (or often overlooked) aspects of the main game and add a finishing flourish that serves as a developer’s holy grail.
Tabs’ perfect afternoon consists of a cuppa, a biscuit tin, and a good RPG. When she’s not writing, commissioning and editing indie game features, she’s writing for her own blog, Musings Of A Mario Minion.