2013 Mod of the Year Picks
by Ryan Kerns
What is so great about pumpkin spice? Over the last two years it seems as soon as the weather gets chilly, that stuff finds its way into practically every warm beverage and baked goods. As I sat down to scribble out a game of the year list, I found myself thinking it over with a cup of pumpkin spice coffee. So screw the coffee, I've decided to talk about the pumpkin spice... here are my favorite mods from 2013.
So what merits a good mod? I look at mods in really two main categories: cosmetic and gameplay. Either way, a good mod should add something unexpected; something that the developers themselves had not considered or couldn't make due to copyright restrictions. This will be the criteria by which I judge my top five mods of 2013.
Without a doubt, Skyrim has one of the most active and creative modding communities ever. I could have done this entire list on that game easily, so whittling things down to just one Skyrim mod was quite a task. Falskaar stands out from the crowd on two points: the amount of production value put into it, and the story of how it was created. While we've seen cool new additions like airships and trains, the scope of this mod stands above the rest.
- An entirely new land independent of Tamriel, roughly the size of 2-3 Skyrim holds.
- 20-30+ hours of gameplay.
- 26 quests, including a 9-quest long main story, and 17 side quests (along with some unmarked content)!
- New items including new books, recipes, weapons and armors (a mix of brand new, and retextured).
- Two new spells and a new shout.
- A bard with several unique new songs.
- A soundtrack containing 14 brand new tracks composed by Adamm Khuevrr just for Falskaar, adding more than 40 minutes of new music!
- A fully voiced experience, featuring almost 30 semi-professional and professional voice actors and actresses.
Oh, and did I mention the creator of this mod was only 19 years old? Alexander Velicky made this mod in hopes of catching Bethesda's attention and possibly landing a job. The quality speaks for itself, and while Bethesda did not hire Velicky... Bungie did. He is living proof that with hard work and talent, going from modder to professional can be in anyone's Destiny.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Okay, I know what you're saying-- “but Ryan, that's not a mod." You would be right in saying that, but this is my list, so you can piss off. Blood Dragon is what I see as an internally sanctioned mod by Ubisoft. Rather than just tacking on an extra chunk of hours to the existing Far Cry 3 campaign, they gave the game a full mod treatment.
Mods are almost always passion projects, and that definitely comes across in Blood Dragon. As you can see by the portrait of Dean Evans, the creative director of the game, he has quite a bit of love for the 80's action movie genre. He even plucked the main character right out of The Terminator and Aliens, by getting Michael Biehn to serve as both the voice and basis for Sergeant Rex Power Colt. The parody of 80's video games, and just video games in general, is also incredibly hilarious and on point.
If I were to pick a GOTY, this would be one of my top contenders. Everything about the game is absurd, and it is absurdly fun running on the solid foundation already built by Far Cry 3. I sure hope Ubisoft gives Dean Evans a chance at building a full original title in the future.
I had considered giving this spot to The Stanley Parable, which also had a retail release that would not be classified as a mod. The Stanley Parable did start as a Half-Life 2 mod, however, and is definitely a must play title next to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
Duke Nuken Forever
No, I'm not referring to the 2011 train wreck of a game. I actually have fond memories of the original Duke Nukem 3D and I think that might have even been my first experience with a game mod (I'm lying, it was actually Nude Raider). The original Duke Nukem 3D had a mod based on the anime Bubblegum Crisis, and while being pretty crude compared to today's mods, I remember it totally blowing my mind.
The troubled 15 year development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever is one I'd rather not elaborate on too much... let's just agree the game really sucked. Duke Nukem Forever, the Duke Nukem 3D mod, is a fan rendition of how the game was originally intended over a decade ago. The mod is so much better than the retail game, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Gearbox is a pretty well-respected studio with a lot of resources, and some guy builds a superior version of their game on a 15-year-old game engine. Much like how Blood Dragon plays on 80's clichés, the makers of the Duke Nukem Forever mod fully understand that Duke Nukem is just a play on 90's clichés.
Gearbox forgot that Duken Nukem is a joke character, not some well-respected video game icon. Since they are without a doubt developing another Duke Nukem title, I hope they take a good hard look at this mod to see how to properly kick ass and chew bubblegum.
Project M 3.0
Super Smash Bros Melee has an incredibly close, competitive community with a lot of exceptionally talented players. Super Smash Bros Brawl has however been largely shunned by that exact same community. To fully appreciate the competitive aspect of Melee, I suggest watching this amazing 9 part documentary series. If you don't have a couple of hours to spare, I'll just summarize.
Super Smash Bros Melee was never designed as a serious fighting game; the series has always been designed as a fun party game. Through an accidental discovery (that the second analog stick could cancel out certain animations), gamers uncovered a high level play style. While I play more traditional fighting games, I have an incredible amount of respect for the Melee community and the skill it takes to play the game like that. They even raised close to $95,000 for breast cancer research to get the game featured on stage at last year's EVO tournament.
So why hasn't Brawl seen this kind of love? To put things nicely, the game is slow and clunky. Being the passionate fans that they are, some devoted Melee fans have spent years modifying the game. The latest release of Project M is nothing short of miraculous.
The game is not only faster, with new moves and mechanics, it also features new characters and stages. It is safe to say that Project M is a total overhaul of Super Smash Bros Brawl from the perspective of competitive Melee players. Even for casual players that just missed Roy and Mewtwo or wanted to see some cool alt costumes, this mod can be enjoyed by everyone.
So with Super Smash Bros 4 right around the corner, the worries of which characters are going to get cut and if the gameplay will have any depth don't seem quite as troubling. Based off of what Sakurai has said so far, Smash 4 isn't taking tournament play into consideration at all.
I mean, after all, a community that spent years modding the last game and raised nearly $100,000 for charity, wouldn't go out and buy up the floundering WiiU console in record numbers to play a game they clearly love so much.
Street Fighter x Tekken
Street Fighter IV has had a pretty healthy modding life, most recently adding in the balance changes from the upcoming Ultra Street Fighter IV as a preview of things to come. Street Fighter x Tekken runs on the same engine, so not only was it easy to uncover the on disc DLC in record time, it was also pretty far ahead of the curve for mods.
The mods are of the cosmetic variety, but rather than just changing textures, entire character models can be swapped out. SFxT didn't really find an audience in the fighting game community, so it is the perfect game to just pimp out and play for fun.
I didn't pick a single mod because there are just too many great ones to choose from. There are the obvious mods that add in known Tekken/Street Fighter costumes and characters, but the real fun comes from outside games. Nintendo characters, Dead or Alive, Mortal Kombat, Marvel, DC, Metal Gear, Mass Effect, Bioshock... they're all fair game and very well represented by mods.
It really feels in the spirit of M.U.G.E.N., which was an open source 2D fighting game engine released back in 1999. Despite not having any official support from the engine creators for many years, the fans kept it going until practically any fighting game character you can imagine was converted. I was even surprised to see the character I made with Andre Lopez many years ago is still alive and kicking ass out there in MUGEN land. A new MUGEN-esque 3D fighting engine called Project EF-12 was just released for free a little over a month ago, many hope it will be the next evolution for creating your own fighting games.
Project M and the SFIV/SFxT mods have shown there are quite a few passionate and skilled fans out there with the skills for 3D graphics. At the very least we are no longer at the mercy of developers who are leashed by big publishers--the pumpkin spice is in our hands now.
The Mod of Year is an unscientific list fueled by pumpkin spice and slow news days. Links to each mod are available below.