BLOG The joy of game mods

Blogger John Cooper blames Sir Terry Pratchett for getting him back into mods - presuming he can get them to work...

I'm blaming my recent lack of productivity on Sir Terry Pratchett. In particular his guest column in the back of SFX 196 praising the joys of the Oblivion modding community. I'm a committed gamer, time being so precious that I always feel a dull gnawing of guilt when I play games knowing that somewhere something more productive isn't happening. The choice to play needs commitment.

Sir Terry put it far more elegantly, but if you missed it let me explain. A gaming "mod" is piece of additional content that can added into an existing game, often created by some genius 14-year-old just because they can. Not to be confused with new fangled term "DLC" which is downloadable add-on content created by games developers themselves, unless you're an air traffic controller in which case it's a Chinese Airport.

I'll hold my hand up, as I think I have before, and say I'm a proud PC gamer. Not for me is the ease of sitting on a sofa, pressing the "on" button on my console and simply playing. Oh no. I much prefer the marathon tweaking session of control configurations, mouse sensitivity, screen resolution, and deeply geeky moving of horizontal sliders for mad, mad things like "anti-aliasing" and "anisotropic filtering" that provide me with the unnecessary level of control I so crave.

I recall the first bit of modding I did when someone pointed which file in GTA 3 let you change the look of your nameless character. Basically, a flat image that wrapped around the model in the game which you could whack into your image editor of choice and mess about with. I did. It looked rubbish.

Two games I've recently played with mods are Fallout 3 and STALKER: Clear Sky. Both post apocalyptic role playing with guns in a wasteland full of mutants, and rather good mods for each extend their lifespans. Fallout 3 has similar mods to Oblivion (unsurprising, as it's created by the same chaps). One of the more pleasant being Fellout which removes the green tinted hue of radioactivity in the environment, in favour of nice blue skies. Very handy after 30 plus hours of playing when I did start feeling genuinely ill. There's some Batman armour, and a mod that lets you buy a mannequin to put it on when you're not wearing it for that authentic wasteland Batcave, er, look. There's also the much-downloaded mod which makes all the woman naked, but you're on your own on that one.

STALKER: Clear Sky . A much bleaker looking game, not quite based on a bleak looking film, based on a book I've not read called Roadside Picnic. It's incredibly immersive, sucking you into its radioactive, run-down, industrial swampland where a lot of time is spent walking through fields in the rain being attacked by mutants, dying in ditches or being thrown into the sky and crushed by gravitational anomalies. After dying loads and nearly giving up on it, I came across the sublime "Stalker Complete" modification, which not only totally redecorates but re-balances the games features with higher resolution textures, a mighty impressive achievement by a chap called Pavel.

For a tweaker like me, mods are like a virtual shed at the bottom of the garden, beckoning to be messed about with. I'm not smart enough to create one myself, but like a mad uncle poking a screwdriver into the blades of his upturned lawnmower to clean it while it's still plugged in, I'll happily open files with scary names like Fallout3.ini and add lines of code because someone called HellKnight2000 has instructed me too in a text file. Getting some mods working can be a massive pain, as with one Fallout mod where I installed into the wrong location then had to go in and remove the files manually like needles in big pixelated haystack.

But for all the hassle when they work they really are tremendous fun, and free at that.

This is a personal article by John Cooper, one of our 12 volunteer site contributors. To find out more about Terry Pratchett 's recommended Oblivion mods, visit the CraftyBits site on TESnexus .