As someone who was involved in the HL1 and HL2 modding scene back in the day, this is really interesting. I hadn’t thought about how connected the various modding teams were, with resulting cross-pollination. Of my projects, the one that ended up taking off the most was Battleground 2 (ModDB), which racked up hundreds of thousands of downloads due to being one of the first HL2 mods released. In true modding fashion, development of that mod has recently been taken over by an entirely new team under the name Battleground 3.
It might interest people reading this to know that The Wastes has been ported to id Tech 3 (Q3) and re-released on Steam.
Whole lot of nostalgia this week. I was more into the Unreal Tournament mod scene, but it was the same process of discovery and a wide variety of tools. I’ve mentioned time and again that I learned Ruby in order to understand UnrealScript coroutines, which lead to a professional Rails job years later.
I’d also concur that keeping a project silent “until it’s done” is the quickest way to ensure it never gets released(he says, while quietly looking at recently unearthed HDD archives).
I think that UT, Quake 3, and Half-Life were, at least for a looong time, the epitome of modding.
Later game engines and their accompanying art pipelines just seem to really discourage casual tinkering, and then finally most of them got locked down entirely. I kinda wonder what the long-term effect of this is, though we obviously still have some games like Minecraft, Factorio, and so on that are trying to encourage modding again.
All of them seemed a bit weak in comparison to Quake 1. The original install of Quake was about 50 MiB and my Quake directory was about 500 MiB at the height of the game’s popularity. The original Team Fortress was by far the most popular, but there were bunch of great ones (as well as the less-popular ones). My favourites were:
There was a big shift after Quake 1 though. Quake 1 had a bytecode interpreter for the game logic and came with its own C dialect that compiled to this bytecode. All of the mods were written in this explicit framework. this was great for portability: the same mods worked on a PowerPC Mac, an IRIX MIPS box and a DOS / Windows PC. Half Life and subsequent games just had a DLL that you compiled with a standard toolchain. This made them a lot less like modding and a lot more like just developing a game with an off-the-shelf game engine and a reference implementation of some mechanics. At that point, the only thing you’re getting from doing a mod, rather than a complete game, is the ability to reuse art and most mods really wanted to be visually distinctive and so did this as little as possible. Game engine developers saw this market and started targeting small developers with things like Unity and gave a better outlet: Why develop a mod for a $60 game that you can’t sell and that requires your players to give someone else $60 to play, when you could develop a game that you can either charge money for or, if you want to give it away, let anyone play without needing them to give $60 to someone else?
I think accessible engines like Unity, Love, Godot, and even Unreal have made modding less popular for curious newcomers anyways. Before that, Flash.