Poll Question 142 – Do you prefer executables or compressed folders for mods?

12th October 2009

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

Very few mods actually require an executable.

Most just need a properly packed SourceMods folder. Generally players seem to prefer the folders but some like the executables.

I worry that some mod teams make executables because they think it’s more professional.

If that were the case I believe Valve would have created a simple executable application to package mods.

I’d like to hear from players as to your choice and from mod teams as to why you chose executables.

The Poll


  1. andyb

    Folders.Most executibles put links in the start/all programs area and I hate that as you need to use add and remove to get rid of it rather than just deleting the mod folder.Plus I dont start games from there anyway

    1. Ouch! You are right (but you already knew that). I don’t use start/programs to launch either. I’ve just had a look at start/programs and it’s full of this stuff. Thanks andyb.
      Got to go now, I’ve a lot of cleaning up to do, better have a look at programmes in control panel while I’m at it; oh dear.

  2. Voted for compressed folders. Perhaps I’m over obsessed with internet security (but it is a part of my job). I like to unzip to a dummy folder and pass my security systems over the files.
    Then move them to the appropriate file/folder. In essence, my systems then get 3 goes at trying to find any nasties.
    That said, I have never had a nasty from downloading from PP although I canot say the same for Moddb – which seems cleaner nowadays for downloads (rather than the language used there). I have had, though not recently, downloads from FPSB denied by my security systems.
    The problem with EXEs is that you do not feel in control of what is going on. You are obliged to believe what the installer tells you and this from sources, often, that you do not know.

  3. vecima

    A definite vote for folders. Many mods put together installer packages that just plop things into the SourceMods folder anyway, and often times they forget (or don’t know how) to include an “uninstall” in the crap they leave behind (start menu, etc).

    skip the registry / Start menu crap. I have to run it from Steam anyway, so just let me put it in SourceMods and run it that way. it’s clean.

    if for some reason you compulsively HAVE to make an installer, at least make it just drop the folder, and not do any of the start menu stuff.

  4. Sortie

    I prefer Installers.

    First, Source and Steam’s file systems are not user-friendly. While players easily can follow instructions from the site they downloaded the mods from, or in a ReadMe.txt, some users end up confused and extract to the wrong location. Of course, it depends on the quality of the instructions, but some people are not natural with the English language, don’t pay attention, or are just, simply said, idiots.

    Second, distributing mods in compressed achieves might not work for all users. While WinXp and newer has built-in support for .zip files, a lot of people don’t have software to uncompress .rar or .gz.tar files. In the recent years support for these file formats have become more common, so this isn’t the largest problem.

    In contrast, a well-written installer can easily install a mod or a map pack into the proper locations with little effort. This avoids the issues with the user not knowing where to extract and issues with non-support file formats. This system will make sure that all users can install a mod properly.

    Of course, the installer has to be programmed and designed correctly:

    First of all, it should not require administrator access to the operative system. Some people have ridiculous security settings on their computers. Usually, a .exe file should not have administrator access to extract files to SourceMods/ though, so it shouldn’t be a problem unless the programmers messed up.

    Second, it should be able to properly detect where Steam is installer and present that as the default option to the user and rely on the user to correct the path if it’s incorrect. (To detect where Steam is installed, access the Windows Registry in Read-Only mode and access HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Valve\Steam\SteamPath. This will give you the path from where Steam was run last time.)

    Third, if the Installer does anything besides putting data in the SourceMods/ folder, it should come coupled with an uninstaller.

    Fourth, the installer must be trust-worthy. A lot of people are insecure about running an executable file they downloaded from the internet, and some people are even superstitious, thinking all downloaded files from the Internet is dangerous. Personally, I have had great success making my own installer open-source, seeing as open-source software seem more trustworthy.

    Fifth, the risk from running an executable file is just as great as running a mod. People seem to forget that mods utilize custom programming that is just as likely to contain viruses. Of course, people can easier counterfeit an installer than a mod’s server.dll and client.dll, but the risk is just as great.

    Sixth, an installer is able to do much more stuff than compressed achieves. Personally, I have designed an installer that is able to stream the mod’s content off a content server and registering the install online, giving the developers an idea of the amount of installs. Some people dislike this, but more and more software is doing this. It gives developers valuable information, but this is not a discussion of the advantages of digital distribution, so I won’t go into depth about this.

    In conclusion, compressed achieves are useful, but installers are much better, especially for new users not accustomed to installing source mods. There are some problems whether the installers are trustworthy, but these problems are just as great as with source mods. People should only be worried about from where they download mods, and who uploaded them, not the installers. Therefore, I prefer installers.

    1. Ol" Scratch


      And well-stated. I rarely play a mod that requires me to load a map thru the console–just too big a pain in the ass.

      Plus, most of us are using some form of antivirus/antimalware, that scans the files of the executables, and blocks them when something bad is detected–I know, I know, not perfect, but one of the front lines of defense.

      So: exectuables, for the win. πŸ˜‰

  5. WizardExt

    Without a doubt compressed folders. Installing a Source modification is such an easy process, so having an installer is not needed. A folder feels much cleaner.

    So I fully agree with vecima, andyb and Jasper.

  6. Stef

    I vote for compressed like most I prefer something I do my own than to get the exe file putting the stuff where it wasn’t need… How much time this happens to me with Half-Life 1 exe

    Also I like to check the file in for release date readme and so on. An exe you need to install it to know what’s in…

  7. AnonEntity

    I prefer compressed folders for mods. It’s the best way, to copy & paste, eazy to “delete/uninstall”.
    A walk in the park for newbees too.

  8. J. P. Fernandes

    Compressed folders. You have control and the installer can mess things up. I had problems with some installers regarding the detection of the main program. (usualy because I messed up the registry by myself, but regadless top that I prefer compressed folders)

  9. dougjp

    Folders for sure for the reasons already mentioned. However the absolute key is (and my rant), there must be a readme and that must include install instructions! In English!

    1. Having an executable doesn’t mean you won’t have a readme and the install instructions should be part of the executable anyway.

  10. J. P. Fernandes

    Could this be gaming generation related? I mean, I’m a FPS gamer since Quake 1. And in those times one had to use folders,we had to put the .pak files in a folder and then use command line and the console to run the mods. Newer gamers that didn’t experienced these gaming generation could be used to executables.

    1. andyb

      Nope,not a quake thing.I never played it.As Sortie said there are benefits to an exe but not many.His exe thing is down also(last I checked since before august) and I’m still waiting :).I just want stuff I don’t have to trust or not.Just gimmie the folder.No extra’s.

      1. Sortie

        Yeah, my Maxsi Distribution installer service is currently down, but it’ll be up ‘soon” (Valve Time).

    2. I know anydyb disagrees but age or experience may have something to do with it. I would like to know whether the readers who voted for executables are mostly modders themselves.

    3. Aniline

      I remember all that .pak business too (thanks for the flashback). And that’s why I go for executables mostly. About 99% of the time I spend on a mod is actually playing it. There is a risk of course but after six or seven years I didn’t experience any major crashes due to badly placed or substitute files, so I’ll stick with it.

  11. I too picked compressed folders. You can’t go wrong.

    Aren’t you all forgetting about the 3rd option. The one where you have to Open the console and type map…..

    I myself refuse to play mods that use the 3rd option. I know it’s my lost but you can’t save your games like you do with folders. You have to remember what to type to get the game started, not to mention all the clutter.

    Just my 2 cents. πŸ™
    I wonder how many people pass on the console thingy games.

    1. We are not forgetting the 3rd option because the poll is about mods not maps. Copying the map is really the same as copying the folder, so for the purposes of the poll a compressed map is the same as a compressed folder.

  12. Ade

    Huh, Ima have to agree with everyone who voted for folders.. You can see the darn content and scan it, can’t do that with an executable, plus most installers leave so mush rubbish behind, pardon me if it’s been said before, but that’s what’s annoying about all applications, not just mods. Running it from within the game, or from Steam is easy. Unzipping it in the right folder can be problematic at first, but after 2 such “installations” and “runs” you’ll get the hang of it. Plus, that is why we’re here, to provide newcommers with such info, I think even Phillip’s posts contain this info, when the mod has no readme in English, so I don’t understand where do all the votes for Installers come from, don’t see many ppl defending it πŸ˜€

  13. Bolx

    I voted Compressed Folders as over the years .exe installers have often screwed up. On more than one occasion an installer has put files in the wrong folder and at least one has created a separate Steam folder in program files.

    When an .exe gets it wrong you then have to cut/copy and paste to the correct location thereby defeating the reason for the automation.

    Also as Jasper and Ade mentioned you can scan folders.

    1. Sortie

      If an installer does something wrong, it’s because the developers messed up. I mentioned in my first post how to properly detect where Steam is installed.

      1. vecima

        sortie, I used to use steam from an external HDD, and I would use it on several computers each of which would assign a different letter to said drive.

        In that case, an installer very well may NOT know how to find steam. Should developers assume it will? I say at the very least developers should ALSO provide the folder method, and not assume their installer will work.

      2. Sortie

        vecima, I never thought about that situation. However, I never said you should assume the registry setting is correct. However, the installer SHOULD ask the user where Steam is installed and SHOULD use the registry setting as the default option, and let the user correct the path if it’s incorrect.

        Personally, I think that’s the most userfriendly approach: Letting the installer figure out as much as possible on its own, and then let the user confirm if it guessed correctly. In no context should the installer presume the information is correct without asking the user.

  14. Sortie

    Interesting. While, so far, 43% of all votes went to Installers, I’m the only one who left a comment favoring Installers. Does this mean that the people who prefer installers, also happens to be people who don’t comment?

    Also, on the topic of unnecessary things installed by installers. I also hate useless desktop shortcuts and start menu icons. However, it seems these useless things seem to be default options in the installation software used. Sometimes they can’t even be disabled, or the mod makers just don’t care.

    In any case, while they are annoying, they don’t really do anything. Things on the desktop takes a few clicks to permanently remove. Short cuts in the start menu takes just as little effort to remove, and often aren’t even noticed for a while.

    It seems that a lot of people in this discussion assert that most installers do things incorrectly and therefore prefer compressed archives. However, if we state that a given installer will do everything correctly, not install to the wrong location and not install useless things, would you still prefer a compressed achieve?

    1. Yes!
      Because I can scan during the download, I download to desktop – another scan, and the dummy file I unzip to.
      Not to worried about the other things as I clean up folders and files weekly. Grateful to andyb for pointing out the start/programs thing but now I know about it, problem solved.
      I have never had problems with downloads from PP, your site or developers who I know but I like to check the same.
      The odds are that my systems would detect and stop any nasties but there is no knowing with an EXE until the damage is done. Using the Internet in any way at all takes a leap of faith and it is up to us to minimise the risks.

      1. Sortie

        When you say scan, do you mean virus-scan or being-able-to-see-files-contents-scan? If you mean the last, would you find it useful if an installer allowed you to view the contents of whatever you are about to install, before installing it?

        1. When you say scan, do you mean virus-scan (yes)or being-able-to-see-files-contents-scan (yes)? If you mean the last, would you find it useful if an installer allowed you to view the contents of whatever you are about to install, before installing it? (yes)
          I’m probably more security conscious than most because I own half the shares in a relatively small, niche market, manufacturing company and run the website which has a shopping basket (not Ebay!).
          I run 3 security suites of which McAfee is the best. I keep the other 2 “just in case” – not counting Windows Defender which has caught nothing. Also the security suite from our issuer of our Web Site Security Certificate.

  15. Ritosito

    The only advantage exes have is that they do not require you to look at a readme and find out you are supposed to put it in the SourceMods folder —if you didn’t know that’s where you put it in the first place.

    Making it into an exe is just more work for developers. The exe does nothing you can’t easily do yourself.

  16. Grey Acumen

    I only don’t like Executables if they add crap to the start menu.

    The biggest gripe I have is with standalone maps. I hate having to load things up through the console. I seriously wish someone could make a mod for each of the episodes that could just load standalone maps and either run them as bonus maps or as individual chapters.

  17. foxholeboy

    When I first started I prefered executables, but doing it manually seems so much easier to me now i’d say I prefer it. I like having the control. I know this is off HL2 topic but for UT3 mods executables are a pain in the ass because my UT3.exe is on my E drive rather than where they want it to be causing some executables to fail making a shortcut or installing the mod at all. If your going to use an executable do it right like CSS SCI FI 3, best use of an executable i’v ever seen.

  18. If I was asked this question one year ago, I would have voted for executables, why? , simple, I just didn’t know what to do with the folders (and was “afraid” to ask for a long time)
    I did not “grew up” with PC’s , i-pods & mobile phones like young kids nowadays (I’m 44 years old)
    I play games on consoles for quite a long time, but bought my first PC just 3 years ago, the first game I bought (because I read so many good things about it) was half-life 1 (with the official expansions) , half life 2 followed quickly and then the episode’s.
    Searching the internet I found out about mod’s and the first one I downloaded was Riot Act (with an installer)
    Many mods followed, untill I found out that I wasn’t able to play/install some of them (the folders)
    I didn’t know the difference! (no one ever told me)
    Thera are a lot of exe.files I could play so there was no real problem for me.
    In the mean time I found PlanetPhillip on the net and did a lot of reading , and reading the comments made me very anxious to play some mod’s I was not able to play before because I just did not know how to extract folders.
    Reading the instructions on the site, my thoughts where, “It can’t be that hard” , but I was just afraid to do something wrong and mess up my PC
    One day I just mailed Phillip and asked , Phillip replied the same day with a short and clear answer how to use winrar and how to extract the files ………………. If I knew it was thÑt simple …
    So now, I vote for compressed folders (the reasons are all mentioned above)
    Computers are in a way a bit like cars,
    Allmost everyone owns one.
    Allmost everyone knows how to surf the net or how to play a game (when it’s allready installed) , when it gets a little more “difficult” and you don’t know exactly what to do, you don’t do it, because you’re afraid to do it wrong.
    With cars it’s the same for a lot of people , Everyone knows how to drive their car, but when there’s a minor “problem” most people are not able to fix it themselves , even when it’s very simple (In my country (netherlands) 35% of the drivers is not able to change a tire for example) , only because they are not sure how to do it the right way .
    Sorry for the long explanation.

  19. KingDaniel

    Compressed folders. I *hate* EXE’s filling my syatem with icons and unistallers when all I need to do is delete a single folder.

    That said all mods should come with proper install instructions. I downloaded a Portal map the other day and didn’t have a clue what to do (it wasn’t a BMZ). And I’m an experienced mapper!

    (i figured it out eventually. The map was rubbish)

  20. Hypnotek

    Possibly add a “Doesn’t make a difference” option?

    1. Too late now. In fact I think it always makes a difference. If you were presented with three download options; exe, folder and “Don’t care” then it might have been a valid addition to the poll but that’s never an option.

  21. I don’t care pretty much if it’s now an executable or an installer, but I voted installer as I guess it makes the mod looking more professionell.

  22. Mabilis

    Im not sure.. I like EXE’s because they are simple to use but on the other hand, they can be dangerous so you have to be extra carful by not downloading them from some dodgy site.

    I can deal with folders and zips but its just anoyying having to locate your program files/steam/sourcemods etc etc…

  23. I’ll take the compressed,hands down.

  24. TaRgEt*TuRkEy

    I don’t think it’s a question of being more “professional” but more user-friendly. Is the typical gamer that’s never played a source modification going to know about the SourceMods folder in all of its obscurity? It’s not like WinZIP/WinRar tells them where to put the files or folders, they have to Google it or hope there’s a Readme.txt. But those are already a couple steps that are skipped when using an installer executable. Each have their own merits and bad points. I do hate when:

    Archives/compressed folders have unnecessary things such as files hanging out loosely and have confusing folder structures (this happens more in Half-Life 1 modifications).

    Installers/.exe’s install random files in places inside the steam folder such as uninstaller .exes or read-me files that don’t get removed when uninstalling.

  25. DuckSauce

    I prefer executables, the simplest kind, next next next, install, done, restart steam, play.

    I don’t mind compressed folders either though, only those that put all the files into it directly, without an extra folder. As in, I unpack the folder on my desktop, then suddenly I’ve got a lot of folders and files on my desktop(this isn’t bad with Sourcemods nor do I think I had that issue with any mods I downloaded, but once had a simply indie game that had like 100 or more files not even packed in folders, all dumped onto my desktop, cleaning that up was a pain!)

    I’d like to add that making a simple installer, takes less than 1 minute if you right the application and have used it a couple of times.
    As there’s programs that makes this extremely simple. Making that installer looks fancy with added gimmicks would take longer, but I find those pointless, just gimme a straight next, next, next, install, play installer and I’m happy!

    I’d do the same for my own mods for the installer, besides that I’d make sure to have a zipped file available for anyone who doesn’t want an installer or has issues running them.

  26. I’ll go with compressed 90% of the time simply because I find it easier to extract them to an exact location myself. Unless I know the source of an exe. is trustworthy, I generally don’t use them. I’ve had too many instances of the installer(s) being set up with with an incorrect pathway. This can easily ( for example ) happen with some HL(2) mods given a ” Valve ” pathway and not the proper ” Steam “.

    It always pays to look at the installation pathway while using an exe. just to be sure. Other than that, I love em too.

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