This post will discuss a possible method for amateur content delivery using Steam that would that improve the replayability of Half-Life 2 and other similar games.
There have been a few mods that have modified the gameplay and other elements (SMOD and Substance) and they are very good but I would like to offer a developer-led project idea.
The concept of Steam is a wonderful thing; digital content delivery, security, immediate purchase and play etc but it seems that the amateur developer has almost been forgotten.
Valve didn’t spend all that money and effort developing their system and then not make any money out of it! Of course they are going to try and get other developers to use the system. In fact I recently read that Valve would get 50% of the profits from the sale of SiN Emergence.
If you read carefully you will have noticed I said Concept of Steam because the question I keep asking myself is: “What is the benefit to me?” Not people in general but me specifically. And to be honest I’m not sure there is one. You could spend a long time listing the features and their benefits but I could argue each point with you.
However with the release of Vapour I can finally see digital content delivery that actually makes my life easier. When I first heard about Vapour I was both excited and worried. Excited because of the possibilities and worried because if it reaches its potential it could make many websites obsolete! However, I am not going to discuss that here. Let’s have a quick look at the benefits of Vapour to me.
Some of the above features may not currently (or ever) be available; I’m just mentioning some of the possibilities. I joked in my post about Vapour that if moddb.com and Steam had a baby then Vapour would be the result.
I’ve always felt that Valve hasn’t done enough for amateur content delivery because if they did there would have been no need for Vapour.
I’ve already mentioned Smod and Substance and there may be others I don’t know about. Remember, I am only talking about gameplay/weapons mods, not maps etc. Personally I found Smod interesting but too invasive. I wrote recently that Single Player games are a serious pastime for me, not fun like Unreal Tournament or TrackMania. I don’t want to replay Half-Life 2 with a Sony PSP shooting discs at enemies or exploding bananas! I applaud the development teams’ creativity and skill it’s just I want something more serious. If I remember correctly I found the menu system in SMOD to be very difficult to use but perhaps extended use would reduce the feeling of clumsiness.
In general I believe that developers are not doing enough, remember I’m not talking about content creation I.E. the SDK but content distribution.
I propose that Valve create a system where users can select and download, via Steam, new weapons, models and other items. These resources can be used selectively to replace existing models within Half-Life 2. For example somebody creates an iron pipe. I can choose which existing weapon it replaces, but in this case it would probably be the standard crowbar.
Another example would be an amateur modeller creates a new model for one specific Combine enemy. Any number of things could be different about this model including the skin, the weapon, the voice or even the AI. During the game whenever this class of Combine soldier appears they would be replaced by the custom version.
From within the Options menu of Half-Life 2 users would be able to select a Custom Content tab that allows them to preview, download and replace existing content. (From this point forward I will refer to the individuals or teams who create new content as Content Providers. (Different from the term Valve uses.))
The content would be made available directly from Valve and would therefore require careful testing and evaluation. Clear guidelines would need to be in place to streamline this process as much as possible.
Content providers would submit their creations and wait for Valve to either accept or decline the content for distribution. There would need to be a dedicated team that could consist mainly of volunteers who would receive some benefit from Valve (free games etc). I doubt that they would have any trouble finding volunteers!
There could be varying levels of content. The list below is a quick draft and is open for discussion.
The level would help users decide which content they wanted to either create or download.
When a user selects the Custom Content tab they are presented with a number of options. Firstly the system will update the list of content available. This list could be filtered in a few different ways (file Size, number of Downloads, type etc).
By selecting an item the user would be able to see a preview of it. Perhaps the model would rotate, it would be great if a working preview were available. For example if a weapon has new sounds and actions then the user can see them in action. I don’t know if this is possible but I think it would be pretty cool.
The preview would also contain other details including file size, author/team’s details (Website etc), number of downloads, user comments or simply a rating system.
Once the user chooses the item, they then have the choice of which standard item they want to replace, or use in addition to. The system would then download the content and it would be available to use immediately, depending on how long the download takes!
The user can make as many changes to the standard content as they wish; they would then be able to save that particular configuration for a later date. This would mean that users could have many different content configurations available. This would allow them to make detailed changes without having to repeat the process every time they play.
These configurations would be shareable, again via Steam, for users to swap and comment on. Of course individuals would require that certain content be downloaded and available of the PC in question.
Of course all these changes would be available for use in custom-made maps and mods. Indeed some maps or mods may require that certain models are available.
No Content Provider would be obligated to distribute their work through this system, although I see little reason not to. There may be good technical reasons for Content Providers not submitting their work; it is linked to certain code etc.
All the content will be clearly attributed to the correct author and nobody will be able to claim other work as his or her own. In the unlikely event of dual claim a process will need to be created to resolve the issue.
Some readers may find this section a little strange but I thought it should be mentioned. One possible use for this proposal could be for localisation. Imagine being able to download Asian or African versions of the characters. “Why would you want to do that?” I hear you ask. Well, too many games are occidental-centric and some users may prefer their characters based on their own culture. Of course this may cause some problems with the storyline or setting but isn’t it just a little annoying that nearly all the main game characters are Caucasian?
It would be very simple for Valve to run regular competitions regarding new content. Perhaps each month would have a different theme, weapon, vehicle, skin etc with an end of year winner. Prizes would be easy to organise with perhaps the winner receiving inclusion of their content in Half-Life 3.
There’s no reason why textures could not be replaced in exactly the same way. This would allow users to constantly change the game without getting under the hood.
Once a model has been accepted then a thread on a dedicated Steam Forum would be started to allow users to comment on it, make suggestions and improvements.
It would also act as a point for support, which Valve would NOT be involved with.
I think the concept is a simple one:
Make it very easy for the non-technical user to replace models within the game, allowing them to get more out of their initial purchase.
This should give the following benefits:
Some readers may be thinking that it’s not too hard to add a new weapon or model at the moment but I question how many users who bought Half-life have actually done it. I have little doubt that if the system were introduced by Valve then the number of custom content users would increase enormously and perhaps the number of custom content creators.
I believe things should be made a simple as necessary to encourage use of the incredible creations that are available.
There were other things I wanted to mention about the proposal, including other ideas and possible drawbacks but I want to give you the opportunity to respond first, so as always I’m interested to hear your thoughts and comments.