Mod News: Dear Me

The mod community can be interesting at times. When a mod goes commercial, snapped up by a major digital distributer for a full release, you’d think its original fans would be delighted. This, it would seem, is not necessarily the case. To what extent should mods be anti-commercial? Should they be designed with no aims to ‘go pro’ should the opportunity arise? They’re interesting questions. While you think about your answers, have a read of the last week’s most interesting in mod-related gumph.


The big news promised last week ended up being revealed a few days early, so you already know about it, but yeah: Dear Esther, huh? It’s going indie. here’s a big interview I did with Dan Pinchbeck, Robert Briscoe and Jessica Curry, a.k.a. the Esther team. It reveals some things.

What’s been equally revealing this week, though, is the reaction over at I’m plugging my own work again, but I wrote a little bit about that here. Essentially: a lot of people, even those who adored the original mod, are passionately angry at the team’s decision to go commercial. Analysing why is fascinating.

Moving on, though, here’s a wonderful little project: a Half-Life 2 mod called 1Week. That name refers to the development time. The idea was to rope in an online community to all contribute a little bit to the creation of a semi-class-based capture-the-flag mod, to be finished within seven days. You can read daily updates on ModDB, though they didn’t start until day four. And unfortunately, I can’t lob a release link in here, as there’s no download yet, even though the mod has been finished. Next week.

I feel like we’ve gone back to a bit of Half-Life 2 obsession this week, and I don’t like to get too excited about mods too early in development. However, I’m already looking forward to Scintilla, which was revealed the other day. It’s the new project from the developers of Flesh, an exceptional stealth-based survival horror mod that came out a while ago now. This time, say the devs, it’s a more straight-up horror adventure, it’s in the first-person perspective, and there’ll be some combat. But the focus will still be on story, atmosphere and puzzle-solving. Have some more info and a trailer, why don’t you? And some concept art, while we’re at it.

Meanwhile, more news from the Butterfly Prelude, which is the first part of an ambitious-looking Crysis mod. It’s a video of an enemy! But it’s no ordinary enemy. Instead, it’s a particle system, representing something to do with magnetic fields and oh my goodness it sounds a bit like LOST. Hopefully, when it comes out, we won’t be. Here’s the vid.

And finally, here’s some news about Freelancer mod Freeworlds: Tides of War. This is a huge total conversion based in the Star Wars universe, and which – as this week’s update reveals – adds some swanky new effects to the Freelancer engine. Have a read to find out more.


Freespace: Evolution‘s first public version has been released. The idea here, it would seem, is to take Freespace’s action focus and add a layer of calmer, more intricate real-time strategy. It’s a work-in-progress, meaning there are still balancing issues as well as a bunch of incomplete elements, but it is playable, and so far the response has been excellent. Grab it from ModDB.

There’s also a Half-Life 2 single-player mod called CALL IN (their typographical choice – I like to imagine the name is being shouted in my face). And yeah, more Half-Life 2, but I hear this is fairly good, if short. Grab it on ModDB, if you hadn’t already worked that out.


Left 4 Dead 2 mod Dead Before Dawn now has a Director’s Cut. The original mod had a level cut out of it, in order to tighten things up for its final release. This version sees that level thrown back in, polished up, an integrated into the mod proper. There’s some more information and a trailer beyond this link.

There’s also been an update to the Vampire: Bloodlines Clan Quest Mod. This is a lovely little piece of work that not only adds several new quests, but also incorporates a collection of other mods. This new version adds an achievement system, new voice acting and a whole new quest, as well as some bug-fixing. Grab the latest version here.


Once again, Robert Yang’s blog is worth reading, this time for a nice little analysis of Half-Life 2 mod Comatose. Yang knows his stuff, and it’s interesting to see him pick apart what is an interesting mod in such a detailed yet succinct way. Have a read.

‘Til next week, my pretties.


  1. MuscleHorse says:

    Don’t be so apologetic for the amount of Source mods; they’re in the majority so you report on them.

    I’ll be happily buying Dear Esther. It’s a fine piece of work and I’m glad to support something that’s outside the norm.

    • Turin Turambar says:

      Oh, but there are lots of mods in other games. Arma 2 have hundreds of them, Civ 4 is also a prolific community, M&B have two dozens of full blown mods. Etc etc.

    • MuscleHorse says:

      This is true – I’m quite into the still thriving Doom and Thief mod community. I suppose I meant that Source appears to have the most active community around it, with news and releases practicaly every week.

      Speaking of which, do a Doom – Aeons of Death feature! It’s Super Smash bros for the PC!

  2. daphne says:

    Freespace: Evolution looks quite interesting, and there’s no way I’d have found out about it myself, as I don’t really keep up with the modding scene very well. Thanks!

  3. Cael says:

    I’m a little shocked by the reaction to the Dear Esther remake going commercial myself. I loved the original and I will happily plop down $5 or $10 for the remake, and I wish them all the best. If it helps him fund new game projects and new mods then so much the better.

    I love mods, I think it’s the best part of PC gaming, but there’s nothing wrong with a good mod being redone professionally and released as a commercial game.

    • triple omega says:

      Without having anything to do with the DE community, I can say this:

      I don’t really think the problem is with betrayal or has that much to do with money.(Although £5 is a lot if the “game” is really 30mins long as mentioned below.) I think it is more like waving food in front of an animal for a while and then telling it to do a trick before you’ll give it up. That doesn’t work too well with humans if they realize what it is you’re doing.

      People were probably expecting it to be released as a free mod for so long that a change in that just didn’t mix with their expectations.

  4. airtekh says:

    For me, this Dear Esther thing is weird. I’ve never played the mod, but I’ve always been interested in playing it; but due to the sheer size of my games backlog, I’ve kinda relegated mods to the bottom of the pile.

    Now that it’s getting an official release, I’m interested in buying it and because it’s a ‘game’ rather than a ‘mod’ (in my head of course) It’ll rocket back up my list of playing priorities. My mind is strange.

    • MuscleHorse says:

      DE is exceedingly short though – you could complete it in about half an hour and isn’t so much a game as a short story.

  5. qrter says:

    I can see how it may seem slightly curious to make a commercial version of Dear Esther – how long has that mod been out now, a couple of years? It has been widely discussed (and played) since then, so it would seem more logical to focus on a new project and ask money for that, maybe.

    On the other hand, if there are enough people who are prepared to pay for a spruced up Esther.. why not, is what I say.

  6. Kid_A says:

    I can understand why a large amount of people are annoyed – having to pay for something that looked like being free, and being kept in the dark right up until it was a certainty – but I probably would have donated something to the makers simply because of the amount of time and effort that’s gone into it, so… buying it isn’t a huge problem for me.

    • Ghost of Grey Cap says:

      Interesting. I’d feel a lot more positive about donating rather than buying. Or else, a ‘pay what you like’ deal. Even though I’d likely end up paying roughly the same amount either way, since asking price will supposedly be low.

  7. Bodminzer says:

    The reaction of the ‘Mod Community’ to this proves that there is no community, only creators, and those who feel that it is their right as entitled, angry manchildren who have created nothing, to dictate the terms that others share their creations. Nothing was promised to them, only their own expectations led to them feeling ‘betrayed’.

    • Schmung says:

      This times a thousand really. Back in the days of yore (Doom through Half Life) it seemed like there was a more genuine community of people actually interested in mods and their development and who were willing to stick with them through the inevitable hiccups. People to seem to be a good deal less understanding now – if things aren’t perfect on day one then you’re going to have a really hard time and keeping any sort of playerbase going seems to be really difficult.

    • aerozol says:

      You really haven’t been reading the replies on ModDB, have you?
      There are some genuine reasons why people on there who have been following it a long time, feel like this is a ‘betrayal’. Of course, since they get the free mod (with not much missing compared to the later ”full version’? We’ll see…) to play, it might make their outcry a little weird in connection with this game in particular, but –

      For the people on there, the concern is that ModDB could easily be used to generate a LOT of free coverage in the gaming/indie/mod community, being passed off as a free game/mod, and then suddenly be released for money instead- if Dear Esther had been planning this (I doubt they were, and I’m just using this as an example), then it worked amazingly well for them, and would work equally well for other devs trying to gain a following. The concern is valid.

    • Schmung says:

      I spend far too much time reading moddb – hence my statement. I don’t really see that the people moaning have a legitimate point.

  8. DainIronfoot says:

    People who hang around the mod communities who aren’t modders themselves are often deeply self entitled people often with no concept of how much work goes into these things, looking forward to getting stuff for free. Deny them their free stuff and they’ll throw a tantrum.
    If a modder can step up and say they wouldn’t jump at the chance to release their work as a standalone project which will reach more people and that would earn them money, I shall call than modder a liar.

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      @DainIronFoot I’m glad there are level headed people like you in the RPS community that don’t tar everyone with the same brush or make sweeping statements of condemnation on the flimsiest evidence.

    • DainIronfoot says:

      Switch the word “always” for “often” then if it pleases your heart. It was a comment written in a hurry as I’d been wanting to say something about this situation for a while.

      Sorry, but I’d been following the ModDB comments for a while and they depressed me. This is a story of “modder done good” and the community threw a hissy fit because they’re not getting their free stuff. It very much bought out the worst in a community.

      Of course, we could ignore the main element of my comment and leap on the use of the word “always”, ‘cos that’d let us make sarcastic comments which show off our prodigious wit and demonstrate how the commenter is clearly a terrible small minded person :P No worries.. I imagine I’d do the same in a debate, but this… isn’t?

      Not sure about flimsy evidence though. I’ve been involved in various modding communities for.. quite a while now. I’ll quite cheerfully make the statement again based purely on my personal experience. There was all the fun we had when Paradox suggested commercialising certain M&B mods for example..

    • BobsLawnService says:

      Sadly a significant percentage of gamers are your stereotypical, basement dwelling manchildren who feel entitled to everything for free. Just look at how many of them downloaded the Crysis 2 leak, or how many of them pop up in piracy threads on RPS with ridiculous justifications for denying developers the chance to make a living.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      Hijack; but oh well ;P


      “denying developers the chance to make a living.” – Wish this was true for property developers.

  9. DeepSleeper says:

    What it reminds me of is back in 1995, when Team TnT announced with great pride on Usenet that ID Software was going to publish their wad pack for Doom as “Final Doom”. And fans blew up, calling them sellouts, calling them liars, calling them a great number of things not repeatable. Because they were going to charge money for a wad pack! Who would do that? They’re FREE.

    It’s hard to believe that in 16 years we haven’t come very far from “Charge money for a mod? They’re FREE!”

    • Urael says:

      Mods ARE free. Perhaps the terminology of the project needs to change to reflect it’s new for-cash status. Or is Gears of War a ‘Mod’ of Unreal Tournament?

  10. Deano2099 says:

    I think much of the problem with Dear Esther, as Lewis says, is the type of game. It’s a story, an art piece. But also, it’s a story we’ve already played. The power of the game/mod is in the story, anyone that has played the original mod already knows the story.

    What we don’t know yet is how much the new version will add. I’d always seen it as just a huge graphical upgrade, which is lovely and I’d have probably taken the chance to play it again were the new version free. But if there is no substantial new story content then it’s not really worth it. Because there’s very little ‘game’ in it.

    • qrter says:

      You could also see it as a way to retrospectively pay the modders for work you enjoyed a while back.

    • Mistabashi says:

      It seems odd to me that a lot of people seem to be ignoring the possibility that there’s maybe some people out there who haven’t played Dear Esther yet, and that maybe the remake is also aimed at those people and not just the fans of the original mod. There’s no doubt that a commercial game available on Steam will attract a much larger audience than a mod.

    • Berzee says:

      Me, for example — like someone mentioned above, I don’t install lots of mods even when they sound interesting. I don’t know why…I just never got the momentum built up for it.

      Aside from Stalker and Oblivion mods, I guess the last one I played was Pirates Vikings and Knights.

      I like to read this column, but I have a weird sort of lazyness about installing mods (and many of them are for games that I don’t have on my current steam account anyway, i.e. HL2 ).

  11. Songbearer says:

    The new Dear Esther is beautiful. The amount of care and work going into it is well worth $10 and personally I can’t wait for it.

    If crap like The Path can sell then there’s no reason why an actually moving game can’t.

  12. Zunt says:

    Yeah, poor Modders. Far as I see it, those people been given the shortest end of the stick ever been offered a human soul in this crap-hill ‘verse….But they took that end… well, they took it. And that’s… well, I guess that’s something.

  13. Alexander Norris says:

    This sudden resurgence of single-player Source mods is seriously quite possibly the best thing to happen to Source modding and maybe even modding in general in quite some time. For the first time in easily half a decade, I’m a little optimistic.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      If Crytek release a UDK style CryEngine 2 package that’ll petty much kill it along with UDK itself and arguably Unity… until episode 3/half life 3 that is…

    • Alexander Norris says:

      JohnnyMaverik: I wasn’t aware CryEngine 3 was intended to run well on five year old PCs or run in browsers or had a pretty huge community of people familiar with it and its tools floating around.

      (Source modding won’t die for a while because of this, and certainly won’t die to Crysis 2.)

  14. Sarlix says:

    Obligatory Black Mesa comment, etc etc.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Obligatory reply to obligatory Black Mesa comment:
      Duke Nukem forever will probably be out before black mesa

    • Sarlix says:

      Obligatory rebuff to obligatory reply of obligatory Black Mesa comment.

      Headcrabs make good shower caps.

    • applecup says:

      Obligatory slagging off of Black Mesa and/or its team without any actual attempt to provide evidence, backup, or indeed coherence.

    • shoptroll says:

      Good to see there’s something to fill the Duke shaped hole in Wired’s Vaporware awards this year ;)

    • malkav11 says:

      Probably, but then Black Mesa’s been in development for a far shorter period of time.

  15. BobsLawnService says:

    I say that if a good mod team manages to break into the industry through hard work and creativity then all the more power to them. Why should we begrudge them success and an opportunity to begin a real career in an industry they have a true passion for? (Let’s face it – to see a complete mod through to a state in which a publisher will buy it you need true passion and a great deal of stamina.)

  16. Resin says:

    Well the upside is I won’t have to buy HL2 to play it, although I might have to buy it anyway for the other mods.

    I wonder if the Dear Esther game will be modable. The environment looks great but it sounds like it could use some para-demons, a few cliff-racers, and lots of ninjas. maybe a kitten as well.

    • Resin says:

      oh yeah and whinny man children overreact to not getting free stuff. Boo Hoo – they’re really just trying to justify the fact that they’ll probably torrent it instead because they’re cheap.
      I think Briscoe and crew would do well with a pay what you want model like the humble bundle – but in the end its their work and they can do what they want with it.

  17. Matzerath says:

    I highly recommend the Clan Quest Mod – besides itself, it has a dynamic installer that includes all the major mods for Bloodlines (including Wesp’s Unofficial Patch, The Arsenal Mod, sound and graphics and music mods), all conflict cleaned and optional. I’m currently using it for my latest playthrough, and it’s lots-o-fun — a little harder to maintain your humanity, and blood is a bit more of a regular need. I also went for the character texture/music changes, but if you’re a purist, be warned they change some characters drastically. I wanted something new, but you might not want to include them for your first playthrough.