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A Case For MODern Times: Why Mods Should Be Embraced.

On 03/05/2013 at 09:24 PM by Justin Matkowski

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If you asked a 10-year-old version of myself “Would you like to play a totally re-imagined A Link To The Past?”, I probably would have shat myself with excitement on the spot. Of course, you would also get the same exact response from the 28-year-old sitting here writing this blog. This kind of enthusiasm to re-experience a favorite game in a new light transcends nostalgia; as an intriguing mix of a classic title with new sprites, overworlds, and story elements, mods allow you to re-discover and discover at the same time. It’s an exciting notion not only for gamers, but also for the owners of the original Intellectual Property itself; in an industry obsessed with the tech of tomorrow, the fact that a game can be decades old, yet still so lauded, loved, and relevant that a new generation of programmers and artists create their own take on it is inspirational indeed. The question is: who the hell would be crazy (and stupid) enough to try to astrocize and dismantle this growing and thriving culture of the gaming community? The answer is, sadly, the very people who should be embracing and nurturing them.

 Some of you may have heard of something called "The Middle Earth Roleplaying Project" or MERP for short. This incredibly ambitious venture was set to be a complete overhaul of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (before evolving its engine to remain current with Skyrim) into a behemoth full of quests, locations, and characters straight from the tomes of Tolkien. The Mod had quite a buzz about it online, until its creators were issued a Cease and Desist from Warner Bros. The creators even tried working with WB, offering rounds of revisions to remove such key elements as "The Ringbearer" questline, but the intellectual giants (mark my sarcasm) at Warner Bros still had them stop all progress on the Mod. Maybe WB was jealous that none of their licensed LOTR gaming ventures could have hoped to ever be as good as MERP? You decide.

       Oh What could have been....

The fact that an impassioned and dedicated team (or person) could spend YEARS lovingly crafting a mod, from creating character models (or sprites) and worlds to explore, to overall testing and debugging, could be swiftly silenced with a Cease and Desist is disheartening to say the very least. When considering the fact that NONE of these artists and programmers pretend to pass off the IP as their own (by their very nature mods are a celebration of the original work) and that they receive no actual financial reimbursement for the eventual release of the mod (if it makes it to that point), it seems absurd that any corporate entity would feel threatened enough to issue a Cease and Desist order. Sadly however, it happens, and it happens often. It begs the question: couldn’t there be a better way going forward that would be beneficial for everyone involved?

Bethesda Game Studios has shown what can happen when you embrace a passionate, creative, and dedicated modding community. By releasing The Creation Kit and utlitizing the Steam Workshop, Bethesda placed the creative reigns in the hands of the people who steadfastly (and financially) support The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This creates a situation that is not only beneficial to the fans by giving them more value with a possibly infinite amount of new content for their investment, it also greatly benefits Bethesa. New ideas for patches and DLC come pouring in from Skyrim devotees, giving the game studio invaluable insight into what their fans want out of the game going forward; not only that, but they show Bethesda how it can work within the confines of a mathmateical structure that Bethesda built. The minds behind Skyrim and Fallout 3 certainly aren't stupid, and they see the immense benefits of embracing the modding community and culture. Who else could prosper from embracing a similar mindset? Well, I’m glad you asked!


Nintendo could potentially have the most to benefit from by embracing the game-modding community. A simple Google search will show you that the internet is brimming with mods of Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, Super Metroid, Castlevania, etc. The Wii U is still in its infancy, and the new console gives Nintendo a bevy of opportunities to introduce new ideas and philosophies going forward; what if Nintendo gave modders a voice on the revamped Virtual Console, making it not only a place to purchase classic titles but also a venue to unveil fresh takes on them? Nintendo could scout out the best mods, approach the people who created them, and give them the opportunity to see some financial compensation for their hard work. If Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island costs $8 on V.C., Nintendo could charge that for a Yoshi's Island mod with a patched rom, and kick half the profits back to the creators and Nintendo can pocket the rest. Not only is Nintendo making a fiscal profit, they are creating an ever-expanding online community of tech-savvy fans. In today’s ever-evolving, retro-Renaissance gaming environment, an investment like that is priceless.

Corporate entities need to learn how to wade the grey waters of discerning what is a potentially harmful infringement of their intellectual property from what could potentially be a lucrative creative endeavor. Attacking individuals for their creative homages with corporate-shark lawyers not only hurts your relationship with fans (and to borrow a line from The Social Network, “makes you look like you’re chasing the Karate Kid through the high school gym”) it prevents you from seeing beyond the horizon to an ever-brighter future. Mods aren’t going away, and under no circumstances should they. They embody a shining example of creative collaboration; a “family patch-work quilt” if you will, with generations of fans adding new ideas to established legacies. When a corporate boot comes along and stomps on a mod, it’s not only the mod’s creators that should be lamenting, but everyone who cherishes video games as a medium.



Matt Snee Staff Writer

03/06/2013 at 04:19 AM

I totally agree with you. the stranglehold on cultural ideas in this country is insane.  I believe people should be able to own their intellectual property, but it gets in the way of cultural innovation if it's too tight.  There has to be a middle ground.  

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

03/06/2013 at 01:47 PM

Thanks Matt! I agree; Intellectual Property should be protected, but a lot of time more time and a whole lot of money gets wasted over legal dispuits when instead there could be some seriously fantastic collaboration happening. Also the laws protecting IP seem to be in dire need of re-evaluating; it seems like a lot of bullying on the part of the big companies, who attack people who are creating a labor of love.

Super Step Contributing Writer

03/06/2013 at 05:24 AM

I'm just glad things like Street Fighter X Mega Man exist to keep old ideas fresh. Very good blog.

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

03/06/2013 at 01:53 PM

Thanks Joe! Seeing games like Street Fighter X Mega Man reach the light of day is refreshing, and hopefully a sign of things to come. I truly believe community contribution, and gamer/studio collaborations are the future of the industry - it supports a strong, thriving fan base and is far more financially stable than the AAA blockbuster title model.


03/06/2013 at 07:19 AM

Great blog Justin. MERP sounds like it would have been incredible. Why isn't there an open world rpg based off of Tolkien's work anyway? There is so much potential there. I wish gaming companies would allow for these kinds of mods to exist. I know there's some really awesome stuff in the Doom community, but then again ID had released their source code a long time ago.

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

03/06/2013 at 01:59 PM

Thank you my friend! MERP was shaping up to be a groundbreaking project; should WB, Bethesda, and MERP's creators have joined forces, they could have had a MASSIVE success on their hands. I agree whole-heartedly, an open world game in the Tolkien universe makes so much sense, and the pure spectacle of it would have made exploring Middle Earth an incredible experience.

Doom is a perfect example of what can be achieved when the publisher and studio have a foward-thinking attitude towards modding; the fact that people still play DOOM II online is a huge testament to ID Software's ingenuity in embracing it's fanbase, and it's awesome that a classic still gets its due so long after its release. And in the end, it is beneficial not only for the fans, but for ID as well to have their IP still thriving and evolving with technology.


03/06/2013 at 08:43 AM

Joe mentioned Street Fighter X Mega Man above, which is an example of a company embracing a mod. It didn't end up being that great, but it's the gesture that counts.

There was a big Chrono Trigger 2 fan project a few years ago that looked really promising, but Square Enix put the corporate boot to that one. If they aren't going to make a sequel, why not let the fans!?

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

03/06/2013 at 02:06 PM

Very much agreed, and in my opinion it is a huge feather in the cap of Capcom to have embraced that attitude and used their pull as a vehicle to get Street Fighter X Mega Man to as many people as possible. Could it have used more polish? Sure, but this idea of community and studio collaboration is still in its infancy in the broad sense.

I remember reading about that Chrono Trigger sequel, and was really disheartened when Square Enix crushed it. It was harmful to the project, and also to Square - given there recent gaming ventures, a very solid title in a much beloved franchise could have really helped them. There was a fan-made HD remake of CT in the works as well, but it looks like that is in legal trouble as well. Big gaming needs to stop acting like a child hoarding their toys and embrace a more forward-thinking, creative mentality towards these kinds of ideas.


03/06/2013 at 10:04 AM

I feel MODs need to be embraced more as well. Since I do not have many games on the computer such as Skyrim and have those games for my console instead I don't get to experience the awesomeness my brother gets to experience. He tells me about all these great MODs and I am stuck with not having any awesome great MODs.

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

03/06/2013 at 02:09 PM

If you are into emulation, there is a truly astounding number of MODs for classic titles from the 8 and 16 bit eras. There are dozens and dozens of great MODs for Super Mario World alone! Go forth, discover them, and most importantly, have fun! :)


03/06/2013 at 08:24 PM

Portal was a mod, wasn't it? But you're right, stuff like that is the exception, not the rule. That said, I've never really been engaged with Mods per sé. But for those that like them, why harsh on a good vibe?

Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

03/07/2013 at 01:22 AM

Exactly - I could never understand why big gaming/entertainment corporations would shut down mods that are going to be distrubuted for free. Why infringe on that kind of creativity, especially when it can lead to really interesting and innovative things. Some of the Super Mario World mods out there are downright ingenious in their level designs and overworld maps. 

I'm convinced most of the suits who make the call to squash mods are clinically brain-dead, only being jolted back to life with a cattle prod long enough to give a 'thumbs up' to signal the lawyers to attack.


03/18/2013 at 01:19 PM

Generally, companies don't like mods because they're not controlled by them. Specifically, they can't control every aspect of its development to ensure that the code is clean and doesn't contain any outside agenda. I think they should have a department that buys and collaborates on these projects, but that's not the case right now.


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