Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting more from games

The problem with games is that they have this annoying tendency to end. So if gamers want more, they have limited options. One, of course, is to buy more games, but that can get pretty costly over time, especially at a $50-$75 price tag per. Piracy works, but not for the morally sound gamer. Besides, what’s the best way to extend the life of a good game? Mods, expansions, and downloadable content (DLC), that’s how.

Mods have been around for a long time, almost as long as games have existed on the PC. The earliest recorded game mod appeared in 1983, with a fan-made version of Wolfenstein replacing the Nazis, items, and areas with Smurf themes.

Ever since, devoted players, designers, and other sorts of geeks have been making new content to revive old games. Everything exists for games these days; new textures for walls, new weapons, new allies or monsters. Even new modes of gameplay entirely, like the Invasion mod for Unreal Tournament, which changes a deathmatch free-for-all into a co-op monster defense. Some mods are even official; companies like Bethesda releasing expansion packs for their popular games, such as Shivering Isles for Oblivion and the upcoming Operation: Anchorage for Fallout 3.

Then, game consoles found this new invention they could connect to and use: the internet. With the inclusion of hard drives in the new generation consoles, the ability to deliver patches and mods to console games was suddenly available. One of the worst possible things that could happen to a console game was the inclusion of a critical flaw that made the game easily broken, easily abused, or in the worst case, completely unplayable. But patches available over the internet made it possible to fix issues and, more importantly, add content to games already on the market.

While PC games have been doing this for years, consoles get the cream of the crop. Anyone can create mods for PC games, and this results in a flooded market of free downloads, the majority of which often suck. Some are poor quality graphically, and many are unbalanced and break the game. On the consoles, only the best mods are allowed on the market and sanctioned for distribution.

Of course, there’s always the issue of cost. Almost always, console expansions cost money. For instance, the upcoming Operation: Anchorage for Fallout 3 costs 800 Microsoft Points, which is $10. Similar expansions for the PC can cost as much as $30.

On the other hand, the majority of the PC mods available are free. This means it’s easy to trick out a game and add hours of content without paying a dime. Again, though, you have to be careful or else you end up with a bunch of conflicting mods, or terrible mods, or mods that break the balance of the game.

So what’s the benefit of console DLC? Games. Not just expansions and mods, but whole extra games can be bought and downloaded no other way. Games like Braid, which has yet to be released for the PC, and which WB will write about later. Meanwhile, DLC and mods are the Web2.0 of gaming: user-generated content distributed to everyone through the medium of the Internet.

Welcome, our new downloadable overlords.

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