In previous articles on gaming we’ve referred to the huge improvements in graphic fidelity in modern games, where an almost photo realistic scenario has been achieved, making the games incredibly immersive, not just to play but even just to gawp at.
Similarly, many older games have been given the treatment with reworked textures and other mods to take advantage of modern machines’ capabilities and one example is The Elder Scrolls series.
This game series started life back in 1994 as The Elder Scrolls: Arena and the latest in the series, Dragonborn, was released in 2012. These games have an enormous following of literally millions of passionate enthusiasts and the modding and add-ons to the series have spawned a small industry in itself, albeit a non fee paying one based on sharing and social networking, largely.
The Elder Scrolls V:Skyrim is not an old game of course; it was released in 2011, but the above screenshot gives an idea of the sort of improvements that can be made with the right tools and enthusiasm. This isn’t to say that the original games are lacking in quality or design; in many ways, the texture enhancements and mods created by enthusiastic volunteers, are testament to the enduring appeal of games which were always excellent in the first place.
A new coat of paint
The big question for many game modders is whether to slap a coat of paint on the game textures or totally remake the game. The latter is a very daunting undertaking and will usually require working with a modern game engine that can accommodate much higher texture resolutions.
I know of two such game remakes; Half Life (1997), which was lovingly remade by a small group of volunteers known as the Crowbar Collective and released as Black Mesa in September 2012, following eight years of development. The other being Tomb Raider (1996), which was remade as Tomb Raider Anniversary by Crystal Dynamics in 2007. The latter of course was a commercial undertaking, backed up by a multi-million dollar company and all the resources they had available.
Retaining the original game engine and structure is a much easier task and within that game engine’s limitations, textures can be reworked at higher resolutions and give the game an often much needed graphical boost.
Quake was the original FPS (first person shooter) and when Quake II was released in 1997, it paved the way for future games of that genre. Indeed, when mated up with a 3dfx graphics card, Quake II was splattered blood and gibs, wrapped up in pixelated loveliness.
The original game was not ugly in the least, but as with all things game related, it begged a little tweaking and it wasn’t long before gamers were creating mods, maps and new textures.
Playing older games on modern systems today is very easy, but at first sight the vanilla graphics will of course appear very outdated to many people. However some really cool texture packs are available, which take full advantage of HD monitors and modern graphics cards.
KMQuake II and Quake II Evolved are two mods that dramatically improve the Quake II experience, with improved graphics and user interface.
It could be said that Quake II is the most modded video game around and since John Carmack, founder of ID Software, released the source code to the Quake II engine (aka ID Tech 2) in 2001 under the terms of the GNU General Public License, numerous games and mods have been created around it.
So many video games from the 90’s and early 2000’s have benefited from modding in one form or another and an excellent source of all things modding can be found at ModDb, where you can search their enormous database of mods and find the ones that suit you and your machine.
Many games have been resurrected and patched up so that they can work flawlessly on modern machines and without doubt, the most popular source for such classic games is GOG.com, a game sale and distribution service, that takes all the hard work out of getting older games to run on your machine.
A step too far?
Possibly one of the more controversial game mods of recent years has been Fake Factory’s Half Life 2 Cinematic Mod.
The purpose of this mod is to replace the original game’s textures with high resolution graphics, character model changes and a Hollywood blockbuster music score.
Many Half Life enthusiasts and to some extent, the game purists, hold that the game has been ruined and cheapened by this mod and that the creator was simply living out his fantasies by recreating one of the game’s main protagonists Alyx Vance in the image of Adriana Lima, the famous Brazilian model and pin-up girl.
To some extent, the detractors have a valid point when you consider that the Adult Character Pimper (3rd party creation) allows you to replace many of the female characters with scantily dressed models in a variety of titillating costumes.
But then, isn’t that the whole point of modding in the first place? And, as the creator of this mod states, if you don’t like the changes, you can easily revert to vanilla Half Life 2 any time you wish.
The Cinematic Mod is now in its 13th incarnation and if you’re a Half Life fan, it’s definitely worth the huge 9Gb download (30Gb installed) and it’s worth remembering that it won’t in any way affect your existing Half Life installation as the two can run side by side.
For most modders, it’s become a passion and some of the luckier ones have been spotted and employed by top developers, such as Valve, the original creators of Half Life.
Whichever way you look at game modding, there’s no doubt that, as a labour of love, we all win.
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