Poll Question 133 – Does the history of a mod affect your review?

26th July 2009

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

I know a lot of people will say that that you should just review a mod on what you play but I don’t think that’s possible.

Research and Development was released last week and was made by one person in around 6 months. I honestly believe that makes the mod even more impressive.

If it was made by a team of 10 and took 2 years, we would still love it, but I am sure we would view it differently than we do now.

There have been lots of great mods and I couldn’t mention them all but the ones that come to mind are Minerva: Metastasis, Offshore and Leon’s Coastline to Atmosphere (with Baltic Forever).

So, the question stands; Does the history of a mod affect your review?

I can’t see how it wouldn’t.

What do you think?

The Poll


  1. MikeS

    I can see what you’re getting at, Phillip. There is definitely a case for modders to beaver away quietly then unleash their work on an unsuspecting public.
    One of the pleasures of playing Research & Development was how it just ‘suddenly appeared’. There was no hype. I played it not knowing what to expect. The same was true with Offshore. Both mods provided huge surprises.

    In the other corner we have Leon’s C2A, which was, I think, overhyped and suffered as a result. It’s big but only average in terms of gameplay. I expected something incredible.

    That said, a great mod is going to be enjoyed no matter how much or little we hear about it beforehand.

    1. I was thinking more about how many people made it and how long it took, but I suppose that how much we know about it before we play it also has an effect.

      In fact a few weeks back we discussed something very similar in Poll Question 126: Do you prefer regular updates or surprises from mods?.

  2. Surprises.
    Interestingly, the larger mods made by a single operson, perhaps assisted in some small measure, are better than most team efforts.
    Eg Minerva, Research and Development and Offshore are my favourite mods of all time. SM might chage this – we shall see.
    Less bickering, maybe?

    1. I forgot to answer the question “Does the history of a mod affect your review?”
      No, but I admire a solo effort above a team effort.

      1. “No, but I admire a solo effort above a team effort.”
        Isn’t that a contradiction? Maybe not, if you don’t change your review based on team or solo effort.

        1. No contradiction. My comments are about the games not the authors. It would be wrong to rate a game by how long it took to make and how many authors were involved.

    2. Yes, I tend to agree with that. As you say “less bickering” but I feel it’s more about following a vision not affected by other people’s visions.

      1. Absolutely. When gaming in a good game you become immersed inside someone elses mind and imagination (or a teams).

  3. Kasperg

    It’s an interesting question but you take things for granted if you think the time it takes to make a mod relies on something similar to what a game studio has with a steady schedule and a forceful minimum hours of work per day/week.
    You could say that Mapper X took 2 months to make a map and Mapper Y took 3 months to make his, but maybe Mapper X actually spent twice the amount of hours on his. I think that makes dimensions of years and months be less meaningful than they appear.
    The merit in this case is not being able to do something in “this amount of time” but being able to find or have “these amount of hours” available in “this amount of time”.

    Regarding teams with multiple people, I can’t see why having more than one person contributing could be something negative or take away merit. Whether they add maps, custom models, music or voice acting, it’s always a plus that is often missing from those one-person mods.
    Besides, mod teams don’t always detail how the work has been divided between members, and thinking that 4 people working on a mod should actually be producing 4 times the amount of content than one person (or the same amount in a quarter of the same time) is outright ridiculous. It doesn’t work like that because it’s not a competitive business and people work at their own rythm and with their own horizons. One single person can spend 10 times working on a map than three people on another map before releasing it. Still surprised that one person could do better than 2? I’m not.

    Does the history of a mod affect my review? I’d say yes, but more related to the actual premise and intentions than the smaller things. The history of a mod lets you things more clearly. If I was reviewing Strider Mountain, I’d take into account that a lot of the time spent on it has become quantity work. If paired up against Eye of the Storm (different App ID though), I wouldn’t hesitate to say that EotS has managed to reach more quality at the expense of being much shorter in length. Can the EotS team create something as big as the SM team in the same time and keep that level of quality? I seriously doubt it.

  4. firba1

    Honestly, I don’t pay attention to the history of most mods before I play it, so no, it usually doesn’t affect me. Honestly, though, once Black Mesa comes out, I feel everyone will have some sort of bias for or against it, just because of how high profile it is.

    1. Kasperg

      Black Mesa has sadly defeated its own purpose of having a game from 1998 in a new game engine. Almost 5 years after the release of Half-life 2, they might as well wait for a brand new engine from Valve with real dynamic lighting to release it, if they do 🙁

  5. Zockopa

    I dont pay attention on how long it took to puzzle it together. What counts is if its “good” or not.

    But on the other side I look a bit mistrusting at those high ambitioned projects by design that release a screen of a model here and an game shot there.

    My experience shows such projects often disappoint if they ever reach the light of day at all. I guess Black Mesa is such a project because it is way over time like Kasperg wrote in his post.

    I remember a high profile project for HL1 which was in the making for years, just to be cancelled in the end.

    What I do respect highly are successfull efforts which emerge out of the dark. Like Hour-Glass or Invasion for HL1 for example.

  6. Forget about the promotion of a mod and concentrate on how many people and how long it took to make.

    1. Kasperg

      “concentrate on how many people and how long it took to make.”

      I insist on what I wrote in my first post.
      How do you know “how long” it took to make? You might know when it was begun and when it was finished, but you’ll never know how much of that time span was dedicated to it because as I said you can’t assume non-proffesional level designers all have a standard schedule or can mold this hobby into their free time in the same fashion.
      For example, besides some tweaking in the first “Random Quest” map, I basically haven’t been able to dedicate my time to mapping from January to July this year. The screenshots I release for TC2 are all from maps that looked pretty much that way last summer 🙁

      And same thing about the people. What difference does it make if 10 people work on a mod if the time they dedicate to it or their combined skills don’t measure up to what another team of 1, 2 or 3 people manages to do?
      In my opinion you are presenting this debate under the premise that mod teams are anything like real game developer studios running against the clock and competing fiercefully for the market (this is backed up by the importance you give to playstesting too), when in reality there are incountable shades of grey on how much time, skill, dedication, imagination, motiviation etc take part in a given mod. The combination of what a team or person can do (skill) combined with the time they are willing to spend to do it (work) is what defines the results.

      1. I’m not disputing your points, I am just telling people to concentrate on those aspects rather than the promotion and publcity of a mod.

    2. The Hermit

      Find a couple of mods that give the breakdown of the amount of hours spent of textures, sounds, layout, story, gameplay, testing, etc., and you can do a proper comparision, otherwise pointless question.

      1. Yes, that would be perfect but we are dealing with guess work. As Kasperg points out it’s a combination of quality and hours spent.

        These poll questions are posted to encourage discussion not simply to dismiss as pointless.

        1. Kasperg

          I’d say real time spent (doesn’t go hand in hand with our real calendar), skill and relevance are the three main pillars that will ultimately dictate how good a mod will be, regardless of the composition of that team.

          -Not enough skill and not enough time usually makes for short and uninteresting maps and mods.
          -A lot of skill but not enough time spent might make a great mod that is over when things start getting really interesting.
          -A lot of time spent but not enough skill might provide a long mod that isn’t really relevant or good looking and could actually become a chore to play.
          -A lot of time and a lot of skill will provide the best results. Enough length and quality overall.
          (The “relevance” factor is down to personal taste. A very polished and very long mod might not be pleasing to me if offers no new themes, gameplay situations or interesting story premise.)

          Something I was going to mention early but I forgot is that when you’re reviewing a map, you might find some wrong aspects about it that might not be related to the time spent making it. I’m talking of the pre-design decisions, the basic choice of themes, layouts etc. Even with a big team and spending a lot of time to add detail, you might end up with something that is beyond repair in many senses. Think of it as a tree. It doesn’t matter how many branches it has, how tall it can potentially grow if the trunk is severely bent or the roots are infected 🙁

          1. This comment was held in the moderation queue – just letting you know why it didn’t appear immediately.

  7. Kyouryuu

    I agree with Kasperg, it depends on what you do in those six months. Can the designer spend every waking hour on it, or do they have a normal job to worry about too?

    One challenge I run into with my next mod is the ongoing realization that Powerstation was mostly constructed while I was between jobs. The lion’s share of the work came in the summer months after the first studio closed, motivated in part by developing a portfolio piece.

    Now I have to juggle mod development in the 2-3 hours I have after my job ends, and try to go for marathon progress on the weekends.

    It’s much slower going overall, but there are certain benefits to it. It forces you to step back and consider scope and gameplay decisions. Sometimes when you’re too enveloped in something, you lose sight of its potential issues.

    I do consider a mod’s history in my score to some extent. Do I find that R&D’s 6 month development time is impressive? Sure. The inverse is also true as Kasperg pointed out in Eye of the Storm – for something that took two years to kick out, yeah, it had better be good. But in the end, no one is paying for this additional content. We’re mostly talking about people volunteering their time to make them; not some professional development studio. So I would find it hard to criticize a mod that “took too long” if the end product is satisfying.

  8. This is really a former question posed a different way. I still write my little reviews for potential players, not mod developers.

    Players don’t care if a mod was created by one crazed visionary or a gaggle of specialized wizards. They just want to know if they’ll like the mod!

    If you feel different, I suspect you’ll weigh the development process much more heavily when writing your review.

      1. Jeff

        “Should reviews always help the author?” or, perhaps “Who are you writing your review for?”

        If you’re addressing the author directly, or are speaking to other authors then you’ll be much more likely to address or consider the way in which the mod was developed.

        If (like me) you’re writing the review to encourage or warn potential players, the only thing that matters is the experience of playing the mod… not how it was created.

        Okay, so it’s not exactly the same question, but it still speaks to the audience(s) that the reviewer has in mind.

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  10. enablerbr

    why should history of a mod / game have any place in a review. as gamer I only care about gameplay. you shouldn’t be using history as some sort of get out of jail free card excuse to rationalise over poor game play or looks etc. it doesn’t matter if it took a week or a few years to make the mod / game. if the game play sucks. then it sucks.

    1. Agreed if a mod sucks, it sucks. But what if a mod you thought was okay until you learned it was made by a 10 year-old child. Would that make any difference? Imagine two mods of equal quality, both made in the same amount of man hour, but one was made by one person, the other by a team of ten. Would that make a difference?

      1. Kasperg

        I think knowing the history of the mod would help write a better review aimed at the authors.
        If it’s one person, you can suggest teaming with other people in the future to make up for what you thought was lacking (maybe adding custom materials and props, music, voice actors etc).
        In the opposite case, you might want to suggest to that team of several people ways in which they could work more efficiently to make the best of each person’s skills.

        Either way, affecting a review is not the same as affecting the actual enjoyment of playing. We have to keep in mind that a lot of mods are released exactly when the author(s) thinks he’s happy with the standard of quality he was aiming for or when he thought the amount of free time he was willing to spend working on that was enough.
        If you take those sort of facts into account, you’ll likely produce a better review that won’t fall into a bottomless pit in what concerns tips and feedback.

  11. enablerbr

    PP funny you bring that up about if a kid had made it. when I play online games. I don’t care what the age of the player is i’m playing against or with. I just care that they not acting like idiots. same goes for a mod or game i’m playing. I just care that it’s good.

    as for team against one person making a mod. that still doesn’t change the fact that the final product is what it is. I have enjoyed playing the likes of R&D for example not knowing in advance of the fact that a single person was responible for it. finding out afterwards it was made by 1 person didn’t change my experience of playing the mod.

    sure i’m impressed by the level of skill shown to create the mod. yet it’s still not going to change my game experience of the mod.

    the Nameless Mod took 6+ years to make with a large team. yet it still came down to whether it would have good gameplay/story. if you use history. you can say that the reason the mod was so good was because it was made by a large team over a large period of time. yet the size of the team or the length of time it took to make. means nothing compared to the creative skills of the team members.

  12. reaper47

    Hmm I think this question, especially the way it is asked, really just encapsulates the “do you prefer surprise mods or 3-year long developer journals?” issue.

    There is NO way Marcello Bortolino (creator of R&D) didn’t have extensive, previous knowledge of 3D design in some form or another. What looks so effortless is the result of years of extensive training. Even though he learned Hammer from scratch (which IS impressive, that guy is amazing!) he didn’t start at zero. The 13-year old prodigy releasing a top mod to the internets from his parent’s living room, is a myth, IMO.

    Nearly all good mods/maps I have seen so far, though, have a very tight and efficient development process. “Getting things done” is an important part of making something great, and efficiency is part of that.

    It is also hard to “fix” mistakes you made in the early development process. So if you’re learning the tools while using them, even though you might end up an expert, the very early mistakes are still there. The only way to have quality of a certain level is starting with good experience from scratch, avoiding common mistakes before making them, which also means that you’re more efficient and faster, which leads to more “impressive” development histories. Also mod teams usually revolve around the talent and motivation of a single person, so 1-man teams aren’t all that mind boggling.

    This is also the reason Valve turned this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL8RaSJml94
    into the Half-Life we know today, over the course of an extra-year of development. Looking at this earlier, less sophisticated build makes the evolution of Half-Life easier to grasp, but not a less impressive achievement.

    That’s why I voted no. All that counts is the result.

  13. Anonymous

    But of course it does, unless its way too easy, the history serves as a role and a plot is essential for understanding what is supposed to be done in the mod, and great mods as R&D and “Half-Life: Before” had a story and are very memorable mods.

    1. Kasperg

      By history, the matter of discussion is the process behind the creation of the mod: People involved, resources needed, time taken etc.
      The history of the mod is the external set of events needed to complete the making of it, and the story you mention is the internal set of events that the player will live through.

  14. No. I don’t care about history. I care about enjoying a mod, period. It either has elements I enjoy, or it doesn’t.

  15. Sorry, I wont even test this one. Just puzzels aint gonna do it for me, I’ll get bored so fast it’ll make your head spin. Then I’ll give it a not so good rating. If I know it isnt my cup, it’s better not to play it at all.

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