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Game Mods on Consoles

Do you think console games should be able to support mods? Todd Howard thinks so, and so do some other people. So why exactly hasn't this concept been embraced?

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim on the PC lately. I tend to have a love-hate relationship with Bethesda’s RPGs: on one hand, I enjoy the fact that they create vast worlds with many things to do. On the other hand, they have lots of bugs of all kinds, from the graphics glitches to the scripting errors all the way to crashes from using up too much RAM. However, what really makes them special to me is that they are extremely mod-friendly. There’s a lot of wide-open space in the realm of Tamriel and the post-apocalyptic United States, which provides an ample canvas to create new houses, dungeons, landmarks or even a new city. In fact, it doesn’t even stop there: some more ambitious modders have even tried to create the whole realm of Tamriel based on previous lore.

I’ve also recently read an interesting article on Kotaku that made me wonder why console gamers don’t have mods. Bethesda’s Todd Howard had told a man at e3 that if he had the video game industry his way, that consoles would function like PCs, including the inclusion of mods. Right now, the only console game I can think of that supports modding is Unreal Tournament 3 for the PS3. With the success companies like Valve and Bethesda have had due to their modding communities, it is a surprise that console developers aren’t embracing this potential opportunities.

The Asteria Mod for Skyrim  
Wouldn't you like to enjoy this on your Xbox360 or Playstation 3? I sure would!

Sure, there are some examples of modability on console games. Many games have a mapmaker function that allows making custom maps. Timesplitters is a wonderful example of this, as not only can you make multiplayer maps but can even create custom single player maps as well. However, even these tools had their limits and you could only create using the pieces the developer provides you. There’s no importing of custom models you make in your 3D software of choice, any scripting is only done by premade functions and sound design is much of the same. Don’t get me wrong, limits are a great way to test one’s creativity and these tools are great for the budding game designer. But for creating something more than that, this simply won’t cut it.

One of the great things about modding communities for games is that they serve as a great way for developers to find talent. For example Oscuro, creator of the popular overhaul mod “Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul”, had landed a job at Obsidian Entertainment as a result. Not only that, but it’s also an excellent way for aspiring game developers to be able to show off their skills and give a good first impression to the developers themselves, since you’ve already proven your qualifications. I believe that a lot of developers that primarily work on consoles can benefit from this as well.

Mods also provide a ton of value to already existing games. Originally, I had bought Oblivion for the Xbox 360, but after discovering the many mods that existed for the game and made it a whole new experience, I bought the game for the PC as well, and ran through several custom quests using custom armor and playing as a whole difference race. With the amount of hours I’ve sunken into games with active modding communities like these, I can safely say that I’ve gotten my money’s worth from each of them. Even if I’ve exhausted much of the main game’s content, I still have a bunch more waiting to be downloaded.

There are several criticisms to modding though. One is that the real game can get lost in the mix and it does not make for the “pure” experience that the developers intended. Instead, it looks like a crappy fan game. For one, if the developers intended for the player to play the game only one way, they would not have included tools that allowed an enterprising modder to easily create his/her own maps/game modes/games.

Another criticism I’ve seen is the fact that it will allow malicious hackers to cause trouble due to mods being allowed. After all, if people can add new maps and game modes, what’s to stop people from making cheats and mods that practically brick a console. This argument does have some merit. There are people out there that delight in being asshats and ruining things for everyone else. One particular case was a homebrew mod for the DS that bricks it, while being disguised as either a hentai slideshow or a uploader for commercial roms. However, the thing about this is that it relied on the user downloading and executing the file rather than forcing it into the player’s DS. Modding is not an idiot proof process, and I believe that it should at least be communicated that it is a function for advanced users only, if only to prevent liability charges.

DS Dun Brick'd
Yeah, I think it's time to get a new DS... 

There’s also the possibility of running afoul of copyright laws. Lots of fan created content is based off of content from other media, including multiplayer maps from other shooters, character models based off of video game and movie characters and even entire fan games. Granted, these mods are not made for profit, but even then, it can still be removed, as countless Youtube videos have been. With the amount of legal troubles Google faces over Youtube copyright infringement, it makes sense that console makers do not want to be in the same situation. It’s much easier to just only allow the content personally approved by the console makers to be downloaded rather than having to wade through a sea of mods to find the ones that break the rules.

Finally, there are people that just plain firmly believe that mods belong on the PC only. Besides being an elitist point of view, I find that if such a mindset were adopted, the video game industry would never have grown to the level it exists at today. Games belong in arcades! Allowing that kind of experience to be enjoyed in your own home is HERESY! Grills belong outdoors! Making a grill that can cook food indoors during a period of bad weather is HERESY! Cars must run on gas! Making a car that runs on an alternative fuel source is HERESY! Just because a certain feature works for one thing doesn’t mean it cannot be made to work for another thing.

The heart of the issue really comes down to freedom vs security. Should we allow people to upload and enjoy their own homebrew content, yet risk messing up your console or invoking the combined wrath of the RIAA, the MPAA and Viacom? Or should we keep the system closed and safe, yet limit creativity. Personally, my vote goes towards giving gamers and developers the freedom to create mods for consoles. True, some people will use it to mess with others, though the many positive aspects that can come of this means that console developers should at least investigate a way to allow user created mods to appear.

So, where do you stand? Should game mods branch out to consoles? Or are they more hassle than they are worth

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