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  • Is Modding Useful?

    - Alistair Wallis

  • iMod

    "I definitely think the best way to start a career in game development is by starting out as a modder," enthuses Ali Bordbar, art lead and level designer with mod team Lotus.Arts. The group's first game, Path of Vengeance, won Best Unreal Tournament 2004 Mod at the 2006 Independent Games Festival, changing the first-person shooter game into a third-person action RPG set in ancient China.

    "It shows how far you are willing to go," Bordbar continues, "how hard you can work and what areas of design you really excel at. It's also a great way to learn how to collaborate with a group and work within a timeframe toward specific deadlines and goals. Modding is ... the first step for many gamers out there who want to move toward a career in the industry."

    Bordbar believes that modding is important because it offers "a taste of the experience of being a game developer," and that experience helps potential developers figure out what they hope to get out of working in the game business. As with van Oortmerssen and Skinner, Bordbar also advises aspiring developers to keep one eye on how responsible and committed the rest of the development team is.

    "A mod is only as good as the people who make it. And if it has flaws ... it can detract from an individual's contribution and end up putting their work in a bad light." Conversely, if the project goes well and attracts positive attention -- as with Path of Vengeance -- the outcome can be lucrative for everyone on the team.

    Lotus.Arts' game, for example, received press coverage on web sites and in magazines across the globe. And while the exposure did result in some new opportunities, Bordbar believes that the modding scene still doesn't receive the level of attention it deserves.

    "Mods that receive a lot of exposure do get recognition from major companies. However, I think the industry really needs to take a closer look at modding and modders and try to take advantage of them," he says. "There are a lot of talented individuals who have worked on great mods but who end up not getting into the industry simply because there is no one there to open a door for them."

    Accommodate the Player

    Charlie Cleveland is the game director for Unknown Worlds Entertainment and was responsible for the design of Natural Selection, a Half-Life mod that mixed the first-person shooter genre with realtime strategy play. The game proved extremely popular following its release in 2002, and the company is currently working on a sequel, which will be released commercially through Valve's Steam digital distribution network.

    Natural Selection

    Cleveland used to work as a programmer for Stainless Steel Studios (Empire Earth) but left to get his own game idea "out to as many people as possible," he says.

    Due to the success of Natural Selection, six of the team members moved on to positions in the game industry at studios such as Raven Software, Gearbox Software, and Taldren.

    "Being able to show that you have a finished game with an audience is a huge asset when applying to a game company," Cleveland says. "Demos of any kind are nice, but I think it's especially impressive to have a finished product and know that the candidate has seen all aspects of game development, like hiring, making a web site, Q/A, etcetera. It's very close to making a real game, with the main difference being that there's less access to source code, and generally working with a distributed team instead of a team in one office," Cleveland says. "Making a successful or good game while working with these constraints is a great help for learning game development in general. You always have constraints. The trick is making the most of what you have."

    While Cleveland notes that the number of modders who are making their way into the industry is "promising," he's quick to add that he feels the majority of people in the modding community are still "perceived as a somewhat wild and mixed bunch."

    "I don't think anyone disputes the relevance of mods when you see the success of Desert Combat, Counter-Strike, and [Warcraft III mod] Defense of the Ancients. However, I think the average mod is still of fairly cruddy quality and wouldn't be taken too seriously."

    Natural Selection, on the other hand, has done wonders for Unknown Worlds. Cleveland happily mentions that he can "get meetings with many more people and companies" than ever before.


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