I've recently been playing Egosoft's X3: Terran Conflict. I got it a long time ago, but didn't really take the time to figure it out until Steam's Summer Camp introduced a curious bit of bonus content that ended up really hooking me on the game. And I was having plenty of fun traipsing about the galaxy, battling pirates and xenons, setting up a little trade complex, and building up my own personal empire, until I captured a corvette who's pilot bailed out under the ruthless barrage of my Phased Repeater Guns... and had to repair it.
In X3:TC, you eject from your ship to claim an abandoned ship. While in your space suit, you have a small repair laser for patching up hull damage. For the smaller ships you start the game with, it's all fine and dandy, but it takes 10 minutes to fully repair a Centaur corvette. TEN MINUTES. That's TEN MINUTES of sitting there, holding the right mouse button, waiting. Granted, you can follow the advice on the forums and jam something on the button and go afk while you wait for your ship to patch up... and go watch a movie because it can take over 80 minutes to repair some of the larger ships.
Or you could be like me, and exclaim "this sucks! I wish I could fix it!"
So what did I do? I fixed it. Thankfully, X3 has extended support for modifications, both in terms of an in-game scripting tool and external database editing. The latter proved to be the simplest solution: I simply had to open up the “Bullets” file, find the repair bullet, increase its effectiveness from 20 to 500, and then save it as a mod. Voila! Repairs now only take 3 minutes for those big capital ships!
This isn’t the first time I’ve turned to mods to fix a game. I found Civilization 5 nearly unplayable due to units taking longer to produce than buildings, wonders building faster than buildings, and research occurring so quickly your unit would be obsolete by the time you moved it from your city to your enemy’s borders. A number of XML and SQL edits later and, voila! Playable and fun.
In both games I found that a small frustration led me to fixing a small piece of the game, which in turn revealed more design flaws and provoked more fixing, which eventually led to a snowballing redesign campaign that would come to a crashing halt when I realized something I wanted to fix was beyond my power to do so. In Civ 5, this was the unit maintenance cost scaling, which seems to be hard-coded into the game as an increase based on the number of turns that have transpired. This prevented me from causing unit maintenance to scale based on the number of units in the field. In X3, I was foiled by a hard-coded calculation for factory production which prevented me from making certain factories more economically viable by increasing their output.
Still, both of these games have given me more opportunities to flex my designer muscle than most others. More importantly though, I’ve had a lot more fun and invested a lot more hours playing these games than many others. Instead of just saying “yeah this game sucks” and tossing it aside, now I can say “this game sucks… BUT!” and try to fix it. I tend to spend about 30 hours playing a game that feels well designed before moving on; in comparison, I’ve already burned 80 hours in X3 and nearly 200 hours in Civ 5… and that doesn’t include the time I’ve spend in the mod tools, staring at tables of numbers and wondering how best to tweak them!
Whenever I buy a game now, I look to see what kind of mod support it has. Just in case I buy a game that sucks, I want to make sure I can fix it. Developers of the world: release more mod tools!
I often wonder what other developers feel about modding, though. When you release a game and your players accuse it of sucking and start over-ruling your design decisions in order to make the game appeal to them, do you feel that they’re somehow trampling on your hard work? Would you rather not release any mod tools and force people to play your game your way, or are you happy to see the creative input of your passionate fans focused on improving your masterpiece?
If you have any interesting stories of modding a game or having your game modded, please share in the comments section below!