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Mods And Ends: Radiator And THAT

Welcome to the picturehouse

Something old for you today, which you may well have seen before, but I think it’s worth reminding people of. It's Radiator. I’ve included something new for good measure, but nothing blue because this isn’t a wedding, it’s a little article about mods. Sorry if that’s disappointing. You’re going to be even more disappointed if you don’t like pretentious artsy mods. I’m talking the kind that have trailers with sombre piano music playing and try to evoke a sense of loss while definitely never having guns anywhere in them at all. Imagine you’ve walked into a small cinema in Paris. Instead of popcorn and nachos, the butler (for there is a butler) provides you with a glass of port and invites you to take a seat. He places a keyboard on your lap and a mouse in your hand.

One of the things I want to do when writing about mods is to cover different games. It’s no fun for the people who don’t like Civilization V if I only ever cover that game, but it’s no fun for the people who do like it if I never cover it at all. So as well as exploring different genres and different types of modding, I want to make sure I cover lots of different base games as well.

It’s a well known fact that 99% of all mods in our present day and age run on the Source engine. Look it up. I certainly didn’t but I made a pretty broad assumption. This week, then, I’m going to talk about just a smattering of those Source mods. Two actually. Does that count as a smattering? Probably not. It’s a couple. A couple of Source mods.

The first, as foretold, is Radiator.

Notice how they quoted RPS twice there? We’re the guys to come to if you want delicate appraisal of mood-laden art mods, that’s for sure.

The two episodes do connect but it's not necessary to play the first if you want to jump straight into the more expansive second. But it would seem silly to skip part one when it's so short, beautiful and unlike anything else you've ever played, unless you've already played it.

I'm afraid I can't give you the third episode. It's still not out. But it is being worked on. There may even be an elaborate joke at play there. As it stands, Radiator is a double header of experimental Source goodness. I’m not going to tell you too much about why I love it because it’s the kind of thing a lot of people will find intolerable, dull or pointless. And by that I mean me raving about it as much as the mod itself. I don’t mind disagreeing with those people but I also don’t think they’re wrong. This is the kind of thing that either works for you, maybe with you, or it doesn’t. Fair enough. I’m sure we can all appreciate the piano version of Where Is My Mind? in the video above though. If you don’t like that, I’m afraid you are wrong.

Portraits hung in empty halls, frameless head on nameless walls

Even if you don’t expect to like Radiator, I reckon it’s worth giving it a shot. It’s free, it won’t take you long to play through and you might find yourself thinking about it a few days down the line. I’m not saying it will grow on you but it might linger for a while. Hopefully not like a bad smell or a potentially psychotic mad-eyed stranger in a bar.

There’s a reason I returned to Radiator after so long though. I still don’t think it’s been bettered. I wanted to write about what I’m calling art mods, for want of a better term, and I realised I hadn’t seen much to compare favourably. Then I thought I might have missed the third episode coming out and had a mild panic, as if I’d let myself down somehow. I hadn’t missed it, of course. But I did find a new picture from it.

it's more than we've seen of the other episode three

It’s Emily Dickinson’s lamp, modelled off a photograph of Emily Dickinson’s actual lamp. The third episode of Radiator will include Emily Dickinson’s ghost. I wish more games had poet’s ghosts in them. Like Dante’s Inferno. That was a very misunderstood art game.

My next treat is THAT. It doesn’t have the polish or thematic weight of Radiator but I found it quite engaging for the short time I ran around inside it. And its readme file is titled READ_THE_SHIT_OUT_OF_ME, which ensured it had my attention.

Imagine trying to hang someone on a palm tree. Impossible.

Part of its charm for me stemmed from the fact that it reminds me of the 3D Construction Kit I had on my trusty Amiga way back when. That doesn’t say much for the way THAT pushes the limits of the Source engine but it does give the mod a fairly unusual vibe in these modern times.

I was primarily interested in this because it’s an exploration mod, with no combat and nine varied environments to wander around in. The problem is, the environments are all very small so there’s not a very strong sense of exploration at all. It’s more like walking through a series of small rooms.

There’s a Philip Glass score (from the excellent Koyaanisqatsi), which provides as much atmosphere as anything, and some of the scenes are interesting enough. I like that there’s an optional challenge, which is simple and does nothing more than beautify the starting area slightly.

This is what Ravenholm used to look like

I hope THAT is a prototype for something larger though. I’d quite like to wander around a more fully realised version of the City area right now. It really would be like going back in time to those 3D Construction Kit days when, if you’d shown my boyhood self Minecraft, I would have thought you were a sorcerer and reported you to the police.

Why do I like art mods? Because they allow their creators to design something personal or experimental on a small budget and (potentially) in a short space of time. And because they the architecture of a professional release behind them, they make a nice change from dour indie retro-styled pixel-gazers. Not that I don’t like them too, you understand.

So, any favourite arty mods, for Source or otherwise? And, yes, I know Dear Esther exists. Anything else? Or Source mods in general? We’ll be going somewhere else completely next week, so feel free to share all that stuff right here, right now.

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About the Author

Adam Smith

Former Deputy Editor

Adam wrote for Rock Paper Shotgun between 2011-2018, rising through the ranks to become its Deputy Editor. He now works at Larian Studios on Baldur's Gate 3.