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Confessions of a Mod Addict

I think I have a problem. That problem is modahol.

Sweet nectar

Iíve become that guy, the guy who took chemistry in high school, and then thought he could make meth after watching Breaking Bad, and ended up getting in way too deep.

I previously had been partial to putting some simple mods in games. You couldnít even call them mods, really, the were mostly fan-made patches and bug fixes that the designers had made very easy to install, even including executables to make it as though the game developer had officially released them.

My first experience with a real mod that actually changed something in the game was in Dragon Age: Origins. My favourite game ever (I will accept no challenges to this) is Baldurs Gate II, so I had been following Dragon Age closely and had seen every trailer. I found some characters depicted in FMV trailers looked nothing like their in-game counterparts. Some modders apparantly felt the same and made ďface morphsĒ for those characters to resemble their original perception of how they should look. Carefully following readme files to the letter, I successfully installed these simple changes, and let me tell you, my friend, it was like opening my eyes for the first time, and seeing that I too could as unto a God! Well, not quite, but it certainly made me aware that there was more to by favourite hobby than I had previously thought. I ended up installing a couple of other very simple cosmetic mods, and even one that restored some cut dialogue. And so was lit the proverbial fire, although it lay dormant for some time since I was at the time mostly unaware of the sheer possibilities.

Oh yeah, look at that smug face. Pretty much sums up ol' Morrigan's character.

At the relevant time, I had a fairly decrepit computer, but whenever I came into a bit of cash I liked to look for deals on hardware and upgrade the old girl a bit. By the middle of 2010, it had gotten so useless I didnít buy many PC games for some time, fearing I couldnít run them. As such, games like New Vegas and Skyrim all came to my console. I found out soon after, though, that the PC experience with these games was much better thanks to modding, so when I finally upgraded my PC again in June 2012, I got my hands on digital copies of each of these games, via our trusty buddies at Steam. And so it began in earnest.

I got New Vegas, the ultimate edition with all the DLC included, first., Even in its vanilla state, with no mods at all, it is among my favourite few games of this generation thanks to having a focus on survival, how it handles factions, and how it allows for multiple outcomes in various scenarios, among other reasons. Nonetheless, I set about trying to install some mods.

If you go down this path, you should start where I did with the help of people like Gopher (http://www.youtube.com/user/GophersVids?feature=watch), a prolific modder and video maker who has made numerous user friendly guides on modding. In fact, the folks at Nexus and their attached forums are generally very friendly, helpful, and accommodating to newcomers, so I'd urge anyone with an interest to head over there at http://nexusmods.com/.

Following Gopherís advice, I installed about 20 mods that made the game more realistic, added a new fully voiced companion more in-depth than what Obsidian had made, added back-packs for immersion, put in about 10 times the amount of original creatures, snuck in a bunch of dungeons, and made it possible to be a bounty hunter in the style of Clint Eastwood in a series of fully fleshed out quests.

I really should have stopped there. I lost control and ended up with almost 200 mods. I didnít even need some of them, or even though about how I intended to use them- I just thought they sounded cool so Iíd stick it on. I had also become somewhat literate, or so I though, in modding terminology, and knew about things like ďload orderĒ and the difference between an esp and esm.

Then the crashes started. Oh man, the crashes. This is the real problem. After the crashes start, unless youíve been totally meticulous, it can be hard to tell why they are happening. It turns out my knowledge was very rudimentary, and was enough to get by and get the game working at first, but this is only because the mod community has made so many good tools, like Mod Manager, that does all the hard stuff for you. When compatibility and code changes come into things, you realize youíve been drowning and hadnít even noticed. I tried everything to fix them, but no dice. I uninstalled all the mods, but found I couldnít go back to just a few mods, let alone vanilla. It just wasnít the same, having seen the possibilities.

Here in lies my problem, I think. Once you have tried the game modded, it's almost impossible to look at the un-modded "vanilla" version ever again without feeling apathetic, but at the same time, playing the game in the state I had it meant that crashes to desktop- the letters CTD are forever burned into my retinas- were an ever constant threat that could strike any time, for seemingly no reason, and usually happened at least every 15 minutes. It was like having a friend who is super fun but randomly punches you in the face every so often, or eating a meal that explodes in your mouth after an undetermined number of bites- whatever enjoyment you might be having is overshadowed by that looming threat.

The aftermath of a CTD

I eventually got so fed up trying to get thing working, I have up on New Vegas, and moved on to Skyrim, which had gone on sale.

I told myself it would be different this time, that I would control myself and take notes of what I was doing. I had intentions to read more into the technicalities behind mods to get to grips with what was going on. However, the enticement to get things moving won out, and I started installing things. It was tentative at first, but once more, the mods on offer were of such high, game changing quality that I couldn't stop. They changed Skyrim from a game I found a bit disappointing out of the box to a somehow incredibly immersive, deep, and complete experience, particularly mods that introduced survival elements, deeper and more storied companions, realistic wildlife behaviours, and more complex combat and magic. It was like if Morrowind and New Vegas had a baby.

Gyah! Well, maybe not exactly like that.

Of course, the crashes came again. It turns out Skyrim is not an ideal platform for heavy modding due to some engine and memory related limitations. Once again, though, I assumed my improved mod literacy would see me through, but it made things even worse this time around! I was messing about with things like mod-combining progams, cleaning dirty edits off of files, and messing with lines of code and error logs. In the end, I ended up more or less destroying my install, with no idea what I had changed or what was causing issues. I even had to re-install windows, as in my desperation I had started messing about with some core files. It sounds silly, but the desire to end the tyranny of CTDs can drive a man mad, MAD!

Now Iíve become a hermit in terms of modding. Iím back to only using the lightest mods, and for older titles, such as graphical overhauls for the original Deus Ex and fan made patches for the first two Thief games. They donít offer the glorious possibilities of the Bethesda engine game mods, but after all the frustration, at least they work gosh darnit!

It's hard livin', but good livin'.

So, heed this warning, aspiring modder, from someone who thought they knew what they were doing. If you are going to heavily mod one of the games Iíve mentioned, you really need to know your stuff in advance and back things up, or youíll end up a gibbering wreck like me. I wonít offer any actual advice, as I think Iíve proven I donít have a clue about what is going on under the hood, but rest assured a lot of chaps and chapettes out there know their stuff. As mentioned, Nexus is a great place to start, and it was recently voted as one of the best community sites! Perhaps one day, my good friend, you could even become the next great mod author and finally combine New Vegas with Morrowind more convincingly than I could with MS Paint, and perhaps you'll recall this cautionary tale as having helped you watch your footing on the road ahead.
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About CommanderCCone of us since 1:36 PM on 11.04.2012

I am free to disclose that I very much like games. It apparantly follows that this makes me (and YOU, fellow game liker friends) an insane murderer-in-the-making, but so far my IRL body count is pretty low - I believe I'm on roughly the same score as Rolf Harris.