For almost as long as PC gaming has existed, there have been mods—a boundless sea of ideas that highlight the creativity of indie programmers and fans all over the world, who turn their favorite games into something new. Some mods are simple additions to core gameplay, things like "Big Head mode" or funny hats, but at other times, mods can be so extensive that they create an entirely new game within another game's code.
That's how we get titles like Black Mesa, a completey rehauled Half-Life with the Source engine; DayZ, which began as a mod for ARMA 2; Dota, a mod of Warcraft III; and Killing Floor, a mod of Unreal Tournament 2004. As has often been the case, these mods have become as popular as their original code source (if not more) and been turned into their own games.
While the mods mentioned above are certainly very popular today, there are a few others that we really enjoy. Here are some of our favorites:
Watch Dogs in Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most impressive technical achievements in gaming history. Watch Dogs is about hacking technology to make things explode more entertainingly. JulioNIB's Watch Dogs mod combines both, and it's a match struck in high-explosive heaven. The code imports Aiden Pierce into the world of Los Santos, so we've already got a cyber-Matrix storyline before we've even started playing.
The mod adds Watch Dog's hacking functions with a capital FUN. You can trigger traffic disasters from the safety of the sidewalk, reorder traffic lights and barriers to build a river of car-nage, remote control more cars to collide with anything left over, and there's nothing quite like turning off police helicopters when they're still in the air. Switching ATMs to dispense free crowd-attracting money before exploding isn't just entertaining, it's an entire artwork about the violence of capitalist consumer society.
NOTE: being art doesn't make this simulation even a bit less fun.
Video games have always been about having fun by pushing a few buttons. Who knew playing as a character doing the exact same thing would add another layer of awesome? JulioNIB, that's who. Especially when one of those buttons is "CAUSE ALL CARS TO ACCELERATE AT THE SAME TIME."
Borderland-style Fallout 4
Reddit user reddit_is_wrong isn't a fan of Fallout 4, but made it more beautiful anyway. If only more internet posters could be like that.
And several are! YouTube poster hodilton artistically combined a palette of mods to show us a searingly vibrant wasteland where the primary colors are brighter than the original nuclear detonations. The land may be mostly dead, but the colors are bursting with life.
What we'd love next is a Borderlands-style weapons modification to add some much-needed variety to your arsenal. Sure, Fallout 4 is fitted with crafting (just like every other AAA game these days), but the results are sadly samey, variations on a theme instead of the technicolor orchestra of destruction available to Vault-hunters.
Infinite Grapple in Just Cause 3
Qub1 didn't mod a new game into Just Cause 3, they modded out the game that should always have been there. Developers Avalanche Studios went to all the work of rendering a billion square meters of Medici, then filling it with gasoline and things that start fires, only to render their own best idea impotent by giving you the grappling range of an arthritic grandpa with a bit of dental floss. Grappling hooks should help you awesomely escape from any situation, not impotently spurt against walls, leaving you explaining to a dozen disgusted enemy soldiers that this doesn't normally happen to you.
The new mod lets you double the range if you still want a vague idea of limitations, or add infinite range and strength if you like having fun. If you can see it, you can grapple it, and if you can't see it, you've still got an awesome chance of flying across the world. It's like Spider-Man was Superman and more fun than both.
More Gwent in Witcher 3
Gwent is already a game within a game, and DickDangerJustice's "Heart of Card" mod unlocks its full potential. No longer is it an optional and incredibly long subquest. Now you're the bold fantasy hero of an entirely card-based universe where all combat encounters are now card-based. Finally, you might end up playing enough to complete the Collect 'Em All quest.
The mod is still in the early stages, but it's one of the most entertaining ideas we've seen. DickDangerJustice hopes to add future features converting the entire world to a new card-based economy, with booster packs available for sale in shops or dropped as rewards for defeating bosses.
Enemy deck difficulty already scales crudely with their level, and the mod can (usually) be installed and uninstalled without affecting your progress. Which could create a whole new player world, doubly-rewarding fans of CD Projekt's already fantastic game.
Tetris in Game Boy in Oculus Rift
Shane O'Brien has built the retro-future, which according to our calculations should cancel out and be available right now in the present. Hey—it is! And instead of a virtual Nobel Prize, we get a playable Game Boy. Which, honestly, is much more fun.
He took an open-source Game Boy emulator, wrapped it in a virtual object, and uploaded it into an Oculus Rift. It's fully playable in a world that doesn’t have any other people. If the Oculus could render a comfy seat and a fridge, it would render the holodeck obsolete.
Even better, the virtual game boy is open source and can be included in any other Oculus environment. This could be the greatest quality control device of all time. If we make it compulsory, it could be the new Nintendo Seal of Quality. Imagine: in every Oculus game, the developer has to give their character a Game Boy loaded with Tetris. So the developer knows that at any time, the player could stop to play Tetris! No more filler levels! Never again will a game have a boring bit! Never again will there be an unskippable cutscene, because they know we'll have stopped watching! This could revolutionize gaming.
All we're waiting for now is for someone to use the Oculus Rift to emulate a Virtual Boy. You wouldn't even need any software: just break two-thirds of the color feeds, shatter most of the sound system, and de-sync the two screens so that it gives the user a splitting headache faster than fitting the Rift with a power drill.
Mario Kart in Defense of the Ancients 2
Defense of the Ancients doesn't just have alternative game modes, it is an alternative game mode, a modification made by people who were bored of playing Warcraft III but were no longer capable of doing anything but play Warcraft III, and was based on a custom map made for Starcraft. Two of the most addictive games in history got together to have a baby—and now someone wants to add Mario Kart to the orgy and end human productivity forever.
D2modd.in created DotA DASH, a MOBA-map race complete with powers and greevil shells. It was a real time strategy game, upgraded for multiplayer battle arena combat, and now it has racing. At the rate this Katamari of computer gaming is absorbing new styles, it'll have everything ever by the end of the decade. At which point the machines won't need to put us into the matrix, because we'll climb into the pods voluntarily just to keep playing. And to stop needing bathroom breaks between levels.
Gone Home in Counter-Strike
When Gone Home came out, some people complained that it wasn't a "real game." These are the sort of people who told Rock Band players that they weren't really playing music: missing the point, missing the fun, and no longer invited to parties.
This is no such point-missing mockery of the game. In fact, we strongly advise against missing anything while you're here because everyone else has guns and wants to kill you. This map could only be more faithful to the original if you learned something about your own voyage to maturity while playing it. But the only thing you learn is whether you're faster at twitch-aiming than other people. Which might be the last lesson you ever learn.
It's one of the most beautiful murder-plazas we've ever massacred across. And the term "psycho house" becomes much more accurate. Besides, that place was lying empty for a while. There's no reason to think this didn't happen in canon while Kaitlin Greenbriar was on her way.
"If you don't like it make your own!" is the most ridiculous response to video game complaints. If your food arrives cold, the standard response is to complain, not to found your own restaurant to spend years mastering continental cuisine. But when Robert Prest got annoyed with DayZ—which was fair enough, since the original mod was made on the Arma 2 engine and is famously about as stable as actual society several weeks after a zombie apocalypse—he decided to go old school. He turned DayZ into Doom. It couldn't be more stable if he converted the game into hieroglyphs and carved it into a pyramid.
DoomZ is more retro-death based on DayZ than the HAL9000 singing itself to sleep. It's a glorious combination of opposites. The wide open spaces and lack of direction are the exact opposite of Doom's design. But the mod is pitched at the exact right level of retro—go any further back and you'd be hitting people with real axes.
GoldenEye in Half-Life 2
We landed a probe on a comet, so now GoldenEye is only the second most amazing thing based on precisely aimed technology. This N64 game came out like something built by Q branch: ridiculously advanced compared to everything else on the market, fun to use, and based entirely on killing things.
GoldenEye: Source rebuilt 007's greatest gaming moment in Half-Life 2. That's more important fusion than nuclear. Because if the sun went out, we're fairly sure we could still play those games on batteries. This shouldn't just be a fan project, this should be a state-funded initiative, a rite of passage for every new generation: take the latest gaming technology and build us a new GoldenEye. There must always be GoldenEye.
Morrowind and Oblivion in Skyrim
Skyrim wasn't so much a "good video game" as an "only slightly imperfect life replacement system." And it's not Bethesda's fault consoles don't come with food tubes. Yet. (That idea is free, Microsoft, if you want to win this console war). If we could render the real world through the Skyrim system, we'd all be Level 100 accountants and fry chefs, dual-wielding pens and spatulas to make a million burgers and dollars an hour, grinding our own occupations for the pure pleasure of making every number bigger.
The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project isn't about putting the real world into Elder Scrolls V. But only because they've got something better instead: The Elder Scrolls III and IV. Just as ancient monks would copy and re-illuminate manuscripts, preserving priceless relics that might be enjoyed by future generations, so these dedicated souls are porting Morrowind and Oblivion into the Skyrim engine.
The Elder Scrolls have always been incredible, but it's a fact that player interfaces have gotten a lot friendlier. And so have players now that we're not expected to pick through tedious grids of sub-menus every time we want to turn around. A certain species of gamer looks down on easy controls and streamlined objectives, but a certain species of lizard used to look down on furry mammals, mocking our ability to do things quickly while they flailed away with their little arms.
The old games have equally immersive stories and game worlds, and would give us the pure pleasure that is leveling up almost everything all over again. Plus clean controls and a fresh coat of paint. In fact, we're wondering why Bethesda doesn't have a team doing this officially.
Luke McKinney is a freelance contributor.