Ever since I was young I always picked up on small visual details. They bugged me like a plague. Even going as far back as The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past (one of if not my favorite game of all time), it has always bothered me that Link’s hair was pink.
I’ve stated in more than one post that I’m very aesthetic based and how a game looks can either hinder or enhance and directly influene my enjoyment and opinions of a game. Remember Me and The Technomancer are good examples of this, two games that I enjoyed probably more than most because, despite their clunky gameplay mechanics, length, and other shortcomings, I found both very visually appealing.
So what is modding/what are mods? It’s short for “modification,” which is literally what it sounds like: modifying some factor within a game to change the gameplay or visuals. In some cases these are massive gameplay changes that can completely change your experience of the game, and in others small differences like slightly altering your character’s run speed. These are primarily only seen in PC Games, due to the nature of how consoles work. Effectively hacking an Xbox or Playstation isn’t so simple. I’ve looked into it and wouldn’t be able to relay back in translation the information I’ve seen. However when you download a PC game, you’re downloading the entire game and all its internal assets onto your computer, allowing you to look through all of it, assuming you know what to look for. While I’ve definitely looked at and used some gameplay mods, where my experiences lie are in the mods that alter visuals.
It started with Fallout: New Vegas (or maybe it was The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion…). I was googling a guide for something and kept coming across pages like “top mods to fix Fallout New Vegas,” and things like that. It’s no secret that FONV (I’m going to refer to Fallout: New Vegas like that from this point forward) was released with issues and glitches all over the place; in some cases it suffered debilitating crashes and bugs that prevented you from finishing mandatory main storyline driven quests. What modders had effectively done was created “bug fixes and patches” to try to alleviate these issues and others you may not have known existed. I give these types of modders extreme respect because I simply don’t have those skills.
It was then that I stumbled across nexusmods. This was a hub of sharing mods of all kinds, and there was tons upon tons of content. This changed everything for me. I went a little nuts.
What piqued my interest above anything else was that there were endless amounts of mods that changed the aesthetics of the game. There were mods that added clothing, mods that made small changes to pre-existing in game clothing, mods that re-textured weapons, mods that altered backdrops and landscapes, the list goes on and the possibilities were endless.
I went a touch overboard for a while trying things out, until I made a realization that became key and crucially important to my use of mods from that point forward. Fallout may be a fictional series, but it’s rooted in our reality. So I wanted to keep the mods I used to things that felt seemed realistic in terms of possible within our reality and the games. I am huge on character creation so I combed around for something I felt could fit well into the Fallout universe – a tattoo mod. I found a few, but none of them were designs I liked. See, when it comes to tattoos in real life, I have very set rules and opinions. None of the tattoo mods (and there weren’t many) I felt worked for me, so I decided I was going to make my own.
I didn’t have a program like photoshop, and even then I didn’t have any experience in it anyway, so I went to multiple forums to find alternatives. I found a guide to using a program called GIMP, a free and essentially low end/limited version of Photoshop, but it could do what I needed it to do to create what I wanted.
Remember what I said earlier about downloading games and art assets? FONV’s developer may have been Obsidian Entertainment, but the game itself was considered a spin off from the regular Fallout series, developed by Bethesda Game Studios – a company that fully acknowledges game modding as an existing and functioning artistic community. Companies like these make it easy to dive into the game folders and place things where they needed to be to override settings, be them gameplay or visual changes.
Getting back on track, someone had extracted the main characters actual skin file, made a brand new one with more detail and definition, then hosted it on nexusmods for people to use and gave us details on how to apply it. That was already half the challenge of creating a tattoo skin, the other half was making it.
I scoured the Internet for different tattoo designs. I didn’t have specific ones in mind, but I had a general gauge on shapes and sizes to fit the skin itself. Once I had accumulated a fairly large folder, it became trial and error of placing them, rotating them, and resizing them to fit the character’s skin file. What made this (and this holds for a lot of the modding process) complicated is that I had to boot into the game everytime to see how it all lined up. I didn’t count the time it took me to the do this, but I can tell you that it took me a few days – primarily because I’m a perfectionist when its comes to that kind of work; if any tiny part of it looked off, I had to fix it. When I finally finished it, I had something I was truly proud of.
What this whole experience taught me was to respect the work that modders do. They are not getting paid to make your game experience better, they function very much like traditional artists – they do their work because they have the skills to create something that they hope others will enjoy on multiple levels, and may not even get paid for it. It was then that I fully cemented my own opinion of looking at games as more of a form of art as opposed to entertainment.
The release of Skyrim though…that changed literally everything. With such a massive, sprawling world already loaded with tons of content that included factions, tons of different ways to play (archery. ALWAYS level your archery), lots of locations, game mechanics, effects, and dragons, the possibilities for modding was literally endless. Even now, 5 years after its release people are still creating new mods for Skyrim.
But of course, my main concern came with aesthetic mods, primarily relating to my character. In my post about gender, I spoke about my love of being able to create characters, which is amplified if you give me a ridiculous toolbox to do so. I found a mod called Racemenu, which pretty much was all I ever needed in life. Racemenu gave you sliders not available in normal character creation to literally mold a character to your liking. Later things like freckles, tattoos, skin blemishes, pre-existing hair mods, texture mods, and even more were integrated into Racemenu, giving you almost unlimited options.
So I spent A LOT of time in Racemenu. And ended up with this
Bethesda Game Studios, the folks behind Skyrim/the Elder Scrolls series as I stated earlier have acknlowdged the modding community as a benefit to their games. With Skyrim (remember, I’m talking about these games from a very exclusively PC gaming viewpoint) came something called the Creation Kit. This tool proved to be invaluable for creating, using the existing assets contained within Skyrim.
It’s my wish that more companies made their games with moddability in mind. I understand why companies close off that idea, however for someone like myself – who uses mods not for personal gain (inside or outside of the game), but for edits to and enhancing aesthetics – its a nice thing to have. I guess it boils down to something I keep referencing in my WoW articles: having that freedom of choice in any capacity. Is it that Studios think their work should not be touched because of the fantastic job their own art/design team and animators did on the game? Maybe. Is it that studios choose to forego certain potential details and ideas for the sake of keeping a deadline potentially influenced by Holiday release dates and in some cases pressure from financial backers? Maybe. Maybe it’s both of these things, maybe it’s neither.
Here’s why I really love mods: they give me the ability to create in a world I want to invest my time into. When I can seriously sit and design something to my liking, then I’m more likely to get attached to that character, because I invested time and energy into giving them life. I appreciate having the freedom to choose and especially love having the ability to create.
I also really love the sense of community. Sure there are bad eggs and trolls and elitists, but that’s going to be present no matter what. I love that you can create something, share it with others, and receive constructive feedback and honest opinions on your work. Or just have someone say it’s awesome (which is always, from a mildly selfish point of view, very satisfying). The sites that exist are places for modders, artists, and coders to display their handiwork, share it others, a find like minded people to communicate with, or even help them. There have definitely been mods that were born out of collaborative efforts between modders who have all met on a website/forum.
I guess I think like an artist in that regards to how things are made. I’m like that with almost all forms of entertainment – when I watch movies, cinematography, lightnings and effects, even sound editing and costume design are what I watch for, plot and script come second. When I listen to music I always listen to how it was recorded first; I’m listening for recording methods, gear, effects, how many tracks with overdubs, etc; the lyrics sometimes I even completely ignore.
Sure I’m a gamer and I analyze plot, dialog, and gameplay mechanics, but I’m always looking at how a game looks first.