Poll Question 100 – What should be the maximum length of a mod without voice acting or story telling?

28th September 2008

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

Just a quick warning; I’m going to ramble a bit before I get to the point…..

I have had this idea in the back of my mind for a long time and I have never been able to articulate it properly. I was wondering what made a good mod. Now I don’t profess to have the secret ingredient and this point may not be very important to you.

I have been playing Offshore recently which is a very long time since its release but I started the final demo but stopped quite early because I didn’t want to spoil playing the complete version. I forgot about it until a week ago and thought I better play it. I’ve been playing since and have mixed feelings about it. I actually believe it’s too long and I kept thinking why. How can a mod be too long? Of course if it was a bad mod then 5 minutes is too long, but it isn’t a bad mod, it’s a very good mod.

It’s definitely too repetitive and it’s clear the author has used sections in more than one place. Although that in itself isn’t a bad thing but in this case it’s happened too much already and I’m only on Chapter Three.

So, there must be something else that makes me think it’s too long. And then I had an epiphany. There’s no story here. Let’s be clear, and I am not just talking about this mod, creating a starting scenario and some background information doesn’t mean you have a story. Things need to happen to the player, details revealed, characters introduced etc.

That’s why mods like Rock 24 and Union get a lot of attention because they are well balanced. They have great level design, visuals, puzzles, action, story telling (Some more than others) and endings.

I now realize why I like the shorter mods because unless they have a story that is actual told via the mod I get bored easily.

Now, for you this might seem very obvious and you had the same thought, maybe 10 years ago, but It has only just occurred to me. What this mod needs to turn it from a good mod to a great mod is story telling, preferably in the form of voice acting.

So, we finally reach this week’s Poll question:

What should be the maximum length of a mod without voice acting or story telling?

You see, playing shorter mods with no story is fine because you play for a short time and then stop and move onto something else but playing a long mod with no story starts to get stale, at least that’s what I now believe.

Story telling in video games consists of many elements, but voice acting has to be the best known. Minerva did it with text on the screen, other mods use cuscenes and messages from notes and PDAs. The point is that great mods give you a reason for doing what you are doing and constantly add more details and the best mods have plots which is more than just a story.

The Poll

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12 Comments

  1. Kasperg

    I voted under one hour. The mechanics of shooting enemies and blowing up things in the HL2 universe is pretty much the same in most mods and is not what thrills me about the game 4 years after release.
    To be honest, I’d include more conditions besides voice acting and storytelling, such as brand new gameplay mechanics and more or less new and interesing locales. If there’s no acted story but those things are present, I’m willing to spend more time playing just to see anything I haven’t seen before.

  2. MikeS

    I voted ‘there isn’t one…” because if we’re taking Offshore as a case in point, I thought that was a terrific mod through and through. Any sense of repetition fades away after the first few chapters, with outdoor sections, good puzzles and frantic fights.

    I’m currently playing Doom 3, which has a clear cut story and targets for each section, but that doesn’t save it from being a very average FPS. Little variation in the enemies, layouts, textures all add up to an average gaming experience. No amount of story and voice-acting can elevate it to the level of your average HL2 mod.

  3. AlexCrafter

    Seems like people are split between “It doesn’t have a limit” and “No story line isn’t fun for long”. I personally had to go for under one hour, but there are varying degrees of storyline in mods.

  4. IvanHoeHo

    It really depends. If the mod is the average FPS with the usual set pieces; then yes, I am going to need a pretty decent story to keep me glued to the thing.

    On the other hand, I find that the environment/mapping has a strangely strong hold on me sometimes. For example, I bought guild war and some of its expansions when it was $20 or so not really to play the game, but to look at the sometimes stunningly beautiful environment. For a more mod related example, I often revisit mods like Roomette and Jeux d’ombres (probably, since map factory is going all anal on me and won’t let me finish a download) for far cry for the same purpose.

    I am, however, usually against voice acting, as it is quite difficult/expensive to recruit decent voice actors, and terriblt voice acting just detracts from the experience. There was more than one case of me stopping playing a mod/game because every line spoken makes me want to throw up in my mouth.

  5. Kyouryuu

    There isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the amount of story should be roughly proportional to how long the mod is. For example, if your mod is three maps long, but the first map is a “story map,” that’s silly.

    Not only that, but people have to remember that the way HL2 tells a story is through events, not cutscenes. There are a number of mods that walk you through boring, non-interactive cutscenes and force you to sit through them. These erode replayability. No one wants to sit through that nonsense every time they play.

    To that end, the key is to make the story present, but optional. Minerva did a good job of balancing this. PDAs and communications fill in the backstory, but still allow the player to move around. They are also really cheap and easy to do, especially if you don’t have voices. Your unseen guide through Minerva reminds me a lot of Atlus in BioShock.

    That said, if you decide to go the whole nine yards with Faceposer and monitors, you’re already doing something I’ve seen very few mods do. Though not an example of this, part of what made Union so refreshing was the interaction between the player and the Vortigaunt. We don’t often see the camaraderie or the sense of a “greater purpose” in mods. We’re not doing things for Dr. Kliener, we’re not fighting alongside Barney or Alyx. At most, we get a bunch of faceless resistance members who are killed around the corner anyway.

    Keep in mind that Half-Life 2 goes for incredibly long stretches with little to no actual story. From the moment Dr. Kliener’s teleport screws up, your goal for the next 2-3 hours is “Get to Eli Vance.” Every segment of Route Canal and Water Hazard has implicit, unspoken stories. There’s the recurring helicopter, for example. But we don’t reengage the main storyline until we reach Black Mesa East. After Black Mesa East, we’re out of the loop until late in Nova Prospekt. It’s only in retrospect, also, that you realize how futile this part is. I don’t care how many Combine were pounding on Dr. Kliener’s front door… killing all of them would have to be easier than the hundreds I’m going to encounter in the next several hours! XD

  6. Sortie

    Whether Voice Acting is required or not all depends on what the modder is trying to do. If the modder is making a gameplay driven story-less mod, then of course, there should be little need for voice acting. On the other hand, is the modder making a story-driven Single Player mod, voice acting is most likely mandatory.

    Usually Voice acting is used for two purposes:

    1) Gameplay, helping players advance by providing them with valuable information
    2) Story, making the game more interesting by providing story-critical information

    As I said, non-story projects only need the gameplay required voice acting, if at all, and story-driven mods need them both. However, a game in its final stage must never lack voice acting where required.

    Comment 4 said that proper voice acting was expensive/rare to find. While I’m yet to hire some myself, my research has shown free and proper voice actors are out there, hell you can even get your friends to do it themselves if everything else fails. But please, do ensure the acting is done well. I’m sick and tired of bad voice acting done by a Level Designer because he was too lazy to do it properly. As I said, getting decent actors for free isn’t that hard, it only takes a bit of effort.

    Once again, I don’t believe there should be a maximum lenght for a non-voice acting mod, but only one clear rule: Include voice acting if it is required ro do what you are trying to do.

    Also, congratulations on your 100th poll question!

  7. fragmaster

    Frankly I wanna play a game any game for atleast 3 hours a day I dont wanna find im playing something to short.
    I enjoyed Offshore very much it might have had a paper-thin storyline but when I played each build from Beta to Full I defend this mod only because the the Mod author didnt have the talents to create cutscenes.
    If level design is not repeative & the gameplay is balance without being overboard & supplies not overboard either
    Now how will the storylines of Strider Mountain & Combine Destiny hold up in future thats the question

  8. Mman

    You pretty much described my exact issues while going through Offshore, and I had to take a prolonged break part-way through (which happens very rarely with me) before I could finish up. I also came to the conclusion it was the lack of story that took away from my drive to finish intially (then again, the lack of story made me regard it more as a series of Nova Propekt combat encounters rather than a contigious experience, so I didn’t neccessarily consider taking a break too much of a blow against it, as I regarded it as more a mod to take at my own pace).

    With no plot whatsoever, I voted under three hours as that seems to be where I start getting burned out if there’s nothing driving me beyond the basic gameplay in HL2 (unless the design is really REALLY good). “HL2” is actually an important part of that, as I can play 5+ hour mods for less story focused games without getting burnt out at all, but in HL2 it just feels… Wrong.

  9. Ade

    First of all, congrats for the 100th poll question. Let’s drink for the next hundred 😉

    On the other hand, I find that the environment/mapping has a strangely strong hold on me sometimes.

    I agree with IvanHoeHo and I’ve voted for 5 hours and it could be even longer, but there’s certainly a limit on that. Some mods can be of small and even medium size and not be boring due to many other factors besides story line.
    As for ways of story telling, I would like for a mod to have all of them (at least a little bit of everything), for extreme realism, even if it’s a sci-fi universe: events, cut scenes, written info, voice acting (only if done well), music and special effects, atmosphere, npc interacting and what not.

  10. Berrie

    I voted three hours, though it really depends on what is presented otherwise in the mod. If it’s got a new gameplay gimmick or variety of environments it can survive past an hour.
    Story telling also helps the replayability of a story. I frequently return to games like Max Payne, Deus Ex and Half-Life because I like the story and mods like Minerva or Rock 24 as well.

  11. Robspace 1

    I voted for unlimited amount of time. It’s all up to the writer. I think most people prefer at least 10mb maps. I played through all the orginal Half Life games with no walkthrough or cheating and it took me weeks to finish them all but it was great! It was like a project or a good book I couln’t put down. The story is so important that too many mod makers forget to include one or if there is one, it makes little sense. A good game needs a good story and alot of action and for me the longer it goes on the better. I don’t understand why anyone would bother making a 2 oe 3 mb mod. I played one mod last week that required me to shoot a defensless female clerk. I couldn’t go ahead until she was shot. That stuff bothers as it’s just pointless killing for no reason. Bad story.

  12. yeah, I’d have to say unlimited. It’s not storytelling, but pacing in general that makes a game hard to put down. I can get tired of a mod with a story just as fast as one without. usually about 3 hours, unless the pacing of the thing manages to lead me directly from one encounter to the next, but also balances out the combat with decent puzzles and some more relaxing scenery hikes in order to cool down.

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