How to make a boring single player mod

24th October 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

It’s become clear that modders are getting very good and are becoming too ambitious. It’s time for me to remind them of the basics.

In this article I am going to cover the essentials of making a boring mod. Hopefully, it will be read by thousands of modders and in just a few short months we will all reap the benefits!

Don’t bother with a story

Who cares why players are in the situation they are in? Who cares what the motivation for their actions is. Nobody, that’s who. As single player mod players all we want is to not play against those foul-mouthed, whiny teenagers. Single player mods that have stories and tell those stories through level design, NPC actions and other thoughtful devices are two-a-penny. You can’t turn around without bumping into one.

Let’s go back to the “YOU ARE HERE AND YOU MUST GET TO THERE AND KILL EVERYTHING IN YOUR WAY” kinda mods. In fact, I propose that the gaming community adopts that as a new sub-genre.

Make it as bright or as dark as possible

Let’s be honest, great lighting is easy – anybody can do it. Just open the editor and place a few light sources here and there and you are done. What we really need are levels that are way too dark to see anything. That’s where the fun is. Oh! and don’t forget to leave out the flashlight. It’s clear that creating dark levels automatcially creates scary or atmospheric situations.

Of course, the opposite is true too. Super bright lights or over done HDR is the way to go for everything else besides fear. In fact, why not save yourself the trouble and just have a Combine scanner fixed in front of the player at all times and set to take a photo every 5 seconds. Don’t forget to give it a starting health of 10000 and each hit should be worth 3 points max. One last thing, make sure it’s just out of range of the crowbar.

Insert your own favourite music

We have all played those great mods that use Valve’s in-game music or have some custom written for just the right mood. BAH! What we really need is some bad-ass hip-hop-punk-rap-dance tracks to really bring the mood down. Or if you don’t like the sound of that, what not just opt for the heavy metal soundtrack. Nothing is better than walking around a futuristic setting than some crazy-ass weirdo screeming obscenities in your ear.

Basic level design

BOXY IS GOOD. See how I used capitals there? I did that to make sure you heard me. If a level or room is simply one huge box, you have almost reached the pinnacle of your chosen hobby. Why go to all the trouble of designing an interesting layout, with views to areas you’ll reach soon and other fun ideas, when you can just as easily make the huge box? Okay, it takes a little more work to make the huge box, but come on! We all agree it’s worth it.


There’s nothing more fun than getting to a door and finding it’s locked, with a message that reads something like “It’s locked – you need a key” My God, if it was cool in 1999 you can be damn sure it’s still cool now.

Another good rule is that if your 10-year old sister can solve it, then most other players will struggle. Heck, she’s practically the smartest kid in her house so that must be okay?

If you do decide to break the mold (and I highly recommend NOT doing that) make sure that the solution is not based on what is generally accepted as reality. We all know that the more obscure the solution the smarter you are if you find it. I mean, geez, everybody knows you need to hit each wall in the room with the Fibonacci sequence up to the number of millimetres the door is in height to make the door unlock itself. Even your lil’ sister could have work that out if you had given her the chance.

What I am trying to say is either go super simple or go super-freaking unguessable. ANYTHING, yes ANYTHING in the middle is a waste of your supreme talents.

Beta Testing

Hold your horses there pardner. If it works on your PC it will damn sure work on every other computer on the whole planet. Time wasted on beta testing could be better spent on making another huge box for the player to delight in.
Just drop that idea and get back to work.

Let’s talk about health.

I have no hesitation in reminding you to go with the “All or nothing” philosophy of level design. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not giving the player any health to find. Geez, how crappy are some players? I know it’s hard to believe but some people actually needed health to finish Half-Life 2 on HARD. HAHA, suckers. Now, it’s just as insulting to provide as much health as is physically possible. I’d love to see whole levels built out of health packs, just like Lego. No more complaining from those butterfly (Spanish joke) players again. Drown in the damn things, won’t you.


So, there you have Part 1 of a 217 part series on “How to make a boring Mod”

Remember reader, work on those skills and I am sure that soon you will be making boring mods.

This message was brought to you by the National Sarcasm Foundation.

Stay tuned until next week.


  1. Shadowmancer471

    Great advice!
    Learning from this article, I have now transformed my mod into a short maze filled with zombies, with all the walls and floors the generic brick texture, whilst also playing carameldansen in the player’s ear.
    And in order to win the game, you have to hit all the individual bricks in the game
    In the correct sequence

    I’m sure they’ll love it.
    Thanks Phillip!

    1. It sounds impossible to improve upon your creation, but might I suggest removing any lights you may have planned. I have one question…why make it a short maze? Can’t you copy and paste the whole thing hundreds of times over? That would surely triple the pleasure. Anyway, glad to hear you are working hard and I look forward to playing your map.

  2. Soylent Bacon

    Ambitious boring modders should also spawn nothing but combine in obvious locations, and make sure that the player and combine only have SMG’s. Haven’t played a HL2 mod in a while, to be honest, so I don’t remember how many mods did something like this, but that’s the first image that comes to mind when I think “boring mod.”

    1. They should not only spawn them in obvious locations but also right in front of the player.

  3. Rog


    I’ll get right on this. =)

  4. Alright picture this: Large room, hundreds of Combine, scremo really loud, Combine have AR2s and you have a crowbar. And whats more, it’s pitch black, and you have to kill all the Combine within 5 seconds. And when they finish with that room, I’ve got 10 more exactly like it for them to play through! Does that not sound like perfection or what? Without this fantastic guide, this would never have been possible. Thanks Phillip!

    1. OMG, that’s sounds like Mod OF The Year. I can’t wait for my five seconds of glory.

  5. I made this a while ago but I think it fits into this category quite well

    1. ikar

      some words about mod distribution – for making REALLY a boring single player mod:

      1 keep all source files, templates, screenshots, savefiles, compilation.cmd, empty New Text.txt, files with zero size in mod, also put your favorite programs, players, wallpapers and so.. but don’t forget remove some important files from distributive – fonts, model, texture, and .vcd
      2 switch to Thumbnails mode and look in each folders – for generating a thousands thumbs.db, desktop.ini
      3 put your mod in single volume archive without compression – loosers, who not have 10-20Mbit unlimited internet – not will play in your Best from the Best mod!
      4 or use stupid installer, that install mod in incorrect directory, or deleted .gcf when gamer uninstall your mod – if he dislike your mod – he don’t will play in other steam games anymore
      5 host your mod on filehosting which ask registration, steam login, pass, e-mail, etc. show advertising and so.. and, it is wery important! not support download resuming

  6. Hec

    Who cares why players are in the situation they are in? Who cares what the motivation for their actions is. Nobody, that’s who. As single player mod players all we want is to not play against those foul-mouthed, whiny teenagers

    I disagree, sorry Phillip but i’m 22 Yo, and let me tell you that as a player I love storys(and probably I will keep on love them until I die), I find as part of a good mod that it have something to say, just by than going there the whole maps killing everything.

    Even if you’re doing a simple mod, well if you put a basic story is great, the mod is telling you something at least into the HL universe or just from the imagiination of his creator, and that’s worth it.

    Imagine if terrific mods such as Dangerous World, Human Error or Minerva doesn’t have anything to say, well then those mods would be lost, the story and well design are their basis, on the other hand i’m noot saying that mods that doesn’t have storys are bad, for example Half Life Old School Mod, is so great and it’s basis are the keys and pulzzes to solve all the way, some others are so well built that are good, but i’m just saying that I like that those has something even a little to say, that way it opens the futures possibilities of keep on working with the concept of the mod.

    Finally: I agree on the other points you submit those are great and essencial advices of doing a good mod, but i’m just saying that in my opinion story is important to make trascendental mods, I just disagree in keep it totally away of the moding projects, it would be ok that those non storys mod has their own gender and state that from the begining, so in that way I support your proposal of create a kill everything mod non-story as a mod gender.

    1. Hec

      Sorry! is not a gender, is a SUB-GENERE, I suport this that phillip says:

      “YOU ARE HERE AND YOU MUST GET TO THERE AND KILL EVERYTHING IN YOUR WAY” kinda mods. In fact, I propose that the gaming community adopts that as a new sub-genre.

    2. I disagree, sorry Phillip but I’m 22 Yo, and let me tell you that as a player I love story

      You have misunderstood the point of my article. It’s to say the exact opposite of what I think modders should do.

      1. Hec

        Ohh sorry, so the storys are important??, I mean yeah I get confused then, well anyway im a great fan of storys in mods I conssider them, as a importnatnt part of the developing process of a mod.

        1. No offense intended, but are you seriously twenty-two?

          1. Hec

            yep, why I get stupidly confused sometimes my english is not good, thats why I got confused

  7. Gradius

    For a second there I could have sworn you were being sarcastic there, Phillip.
    My mind must be playing tricks on me.

  8. Excellent article Phillip. Once your into the article you have to stop and remind yourself “Wait…is he being serious??….what the….OHH this is what NOT to do….AAHHAAA!”

    Anyways good advice.

  9. Tony

    You forgot the other new fun mod idea ,remove the noclip & godmode commands & have the flashlight only work with certain weapons as in the 1187 mod

    1. No, I think that was a great idea. Gotta stop the cheaters.

      1. You could still use the “Buddha” cheat command.

  10. You wake up in a cell and look around to see guards beyond the bars, after exploring the cell and finding there is no obvious way out you go back to sleep. After you have waited long enough to believe the game has crashed and just about as you are going to exit the game and get a beer from the fridge, a cut scene shows a mighty battle. The battle involves every type of enemy and ally in the Half life universe kicking seven barrels (including exploding ones) out of each other. It is important that the location of the fracas is not one you’ll ever get to visit (even with no-clip). Not surprisingly you drift of to sleep again only to wake to find the door of the cell open/hanging off.

    Upon venturing out of the cell, there are a few dead guards with their weapons lying close by, but you can’t pick them up. There are a number of doors, which you try to open but they won’t and then you notice one is slightly open, so you try that with no joy and as you turn around two guards are running at you with pain sticks/batons from a door that was previously locked. Still without a weapon you dodge around them, taking a few hits and go through door into a stair well of which both directions are blocked. You try to jumping over some of the debris but to no avail and so go back the way you came, to find the guards have disappeared and a pallet that was not there before is leaning against the wall; you move the pallet to find an open ventilation shaft. The path through the ventilation shaft seems to have been designed by M C Escher.

    Eventually you arrive in a room with the HEV suit and enough arms and ammunition to start a medium size war. Of course one of the weapons will be a Spas 12 shotgun, which despite only having one barrel has the magical ability to fire two shots at once (I know the Spas 12 can operate in both pump action or semi-automatic mode, but it still only has one barrel!!).

    The room you have just dropped into has only one door but needs to be unlocked by the finding five watermelons (cough, cough Migga), the first four melons are easy to find but the fifth is cunningly located in a room that requires you to stack things to reach yet another until now unforeseen ventilation shaft. Okay, so you’ve retrieved the last melon and the doors unlocked.


    The door opens to reveal a large chamber which you find is filled with all sorts of zombies and headcrabs and some exploding barrels, NO PROBLEM. You clear the whole chamber and some walls open and out come at least three Antlion guards. Finally you have finished off the guards and think this is more like it, a previously locked door at the end of the chamber opens and you look around to find all the dead bodies have vanished. With excitement you head for the door anticipating what is come, you take one last look before saving, ready for the next battle. You pass through the door.

    FADE TO BLACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Armageddon

    Sorry, but to me this is the complete opposite of what modders strive for. We are supposed to be innovative, do think triple A game companies can’t, and single-player mods are by far my favorite way of doing this.

  12. 23-down

    Well I don’t know… there are more than enough crappy maps for both games hl1 & hl2 why wanna having more of that ?

    A good mod takes it’s time. However some nice looking sp maps are always welcome as long as it’s not just a box with few monsters in it.

    @Phillip: Instead of insisting for more mods & maps why don’t you get rid of your filefront direct unsorted maps list?? There are still many great mods in this list… And even more are already up on your site which means you’re wasting your traffic on horting those duplicate files.

    Talking by such simpler mods there is one in your list I just played.. Called Gate2 it was simple but a lot of fun playing it and has like 6 maps or so playtime about 20 minutes. Check it out upload it to your page. I would give it a 3 points for creativity but only 2 points for map design.

    Other great mods & in high quality in the list are Last_life & Space Prisoner. I believe you had both of them many – many years ago hosted on your website. Check em out as well. Love em.

    1. @Phillip: Instead of insisting for more mods & maps why don’t you get rid of your filefront direct unsorted maps list??

      I am working towards that.

  13. CovertChaos

    Wow! Great advice, I can’t wait for the other 216 atricles!

    1. I’m working on them right now. Should be posting them soon. Please hold you breath until you see them.

      1. CovertChaos

        Oh, don’t worry, I will!

  14. Major Banter

    Don’t forget kids.

    It’s all about the backstory.

    All fifteen pages of that godawfu- I mean, epic writing.

    That nobody will ever read.

  15. Halo

    Phil I think you got the story part wrong. A good mod doesn’t need story, what it needs is direction as in a well defined objective. An overly complicated story can be incredibly boring.

  16. andyb

    Nice article Phillip but I think your idea of the perfect mod is a little boring.It needs something else.I suggest lots of helicopters that need 20 or 30 rockets to take down.Just to add to the game play time.

  17. Grey Acumen

    I actually DID get confused by the first part of this article, mainly due to the “get rid of story” etc. I thought Phillip was actually hoping to drub up some short simple average rated mods that didn’t put huge efforts into storyline and such. Playing Single Player to avoid the whiny foul-mouthed teenagers sounds like a legitimate reason to me.
    It wasn’t until the next section on brightness or darkness that I started to realize something was up.

  18. Got it!
    Blacked out underground car park, Endlessly spawning headcrabs.
    The crowbar and the sputtering HL2 torch are your only friends.
    No reason to be there, No escape.
    Whoa. Hold it. That’s already been done. Bother.
    Back to the drawing board.

    How about:
    Blacked out room. Surrounded by 20 Combine soldiers armed with SMGs and shotguns. Your dead in 4 seconds.
    Cripes, that’s been done as well.

    Another try:
    3 Gunships. You have the RPG and the RPG ammo” box.
    You have the targets. You have the weaponry but the skies are so bright that the gunships are all but invisible.
    Oh crikey, that’s been done beforel. Bum

    Some original thinking needed…………..

    ……………..Some time later. Eureka! 🙂
    You get extracted into an abattoir full of Combine soldiers and Elite.
    You’re armed to the teeth with the RPGs and grenades and more ammo than you can use.
    The Combine have no weaponry! Nothing, zilch.
    Not even harsh language.
    Slaughterhouse fantastic.
    Watch those Combine ragdoll through the air. 😀

  19. Miigga

    I agree with everything else except the one about storyline.

    When I play a full game, I expect it to have a good storyline. However, a storyline is not something I expect from a mod. The storylines in mods tend to be mediocre and frankly, no story at all is better than a half-assed storyline. At least in my opinion.

    1. Miigga

      To add to that, I chuckled at the “find a key to open this door” puzzle. That’s exactly the kind of a puzzle I make in my maps when I am completely out of ideas.

  20. Wesp5

    Very funny article, but I agree with anyone else here that a detailed story isn’t absolutely needed, but motivation and direction is. One great example would be the Mission Improbable mod which is one of the best mods that I remember. Also I would like to use this opportunity to mention that lately Phillip and others here rate mods as “Play it now” or more when in fact I felt they were rather mediocre. A sign of the HL2 mod scene slowly dying?

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