Comedy And Tragedy: I Read Readme Files
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl
Who reads readme files? Me. I do. I read a lot of readme files, from mods specifically. I've pored over hundreds, possibly even thousands, looking for weird and wonderful ideas, remnants of history, and fragments of human lives. I've kept a blog of interesting readmes for years and even talked about them at conferences, but somehow never really mentioned all this at RPS. Take my hand, dear reader, and soon I hope you'll stop ignoring these two little words: read me.
The important thing to realise is that the readme file and its mod are separate, and one can be enjoyed without the other. Like any text, we can read a readme file and draw out threads that interest us, ideas we enjoy, and things we find funny or weird. The readme is enjoyable and interesting in its own right. Look, let me show you a few snippets from readme files I've particularly enjoyed. You'll see they document ideas and, more than that, they reveal the humanity that runs through everything we create - the triumphs, struggles, and tragedies of our lives. And sometimes they're about fruit:
[FRuiTDooM for Doom. 2000.]
FRuiT invades DooM... See for yourself! Ever wonder what it would feel like to launch apples at your friends? Ever had the overwhelming urge to stuff pineapples in your rocket launcher? Now all this and more is possible with FRuiTDooM! Watch imps throw peaches and Cacos shoot oranges! Pick up strawberries to gain health! Don't miss this fruity experience!!
Wacky readme files are probably what got me started on this pursuit in the first place. I downloaded something goofy, read a short explanation of that goofy thing, and realised I didn't even need to play the mod because the idea was probably better than the reality. Of the squillion readmes I've read, I've only played perhaps a few dozen of their mods. Look, look at this sentence and tell me this idea isn't evocative and delightful in itself:
[CrateDM for Quake 2. 1998.]
CrateDM pits opponents against each other in a room full of crates, and the players are crates.
Or this, here's a rejection of the need to create pointless stories for every game:
[Catch the Chicken for Quake 2. 1998.]
Once there was a chicken. Some idiot picked up this chicken and discovered he received mysterious points for holding onto it. His friends became so jealous they killed him and took the chicken for them selves. Catch the Chicken had begun.
And here's a stupid joke that doesn't need to be seen to be laughed at:
[Thanks Obama for Dark Souls. 2013.]
Replaces the death screen "YOU DIED" with "THANKS OBAMA"
I'm especially interested in when modders try to change and fix other people's games. Mods add, remove, and change all sorts of things to better fit what the authors want or need. They're wonderful demonstrations of how we all enjoy and dislike different things in games, reminders that we don't all have the same experiences and reactions. Spiders are a popular target for removal, and I do enjoy how hard this modder tried to annihilate them:
[NoSpiders for System Shock 2. 2002.]
I have now set the spiders to be destroyed as soon as they are created. As a safeguard I've also set them to be invisible, completly silent, slower then your avarge dead slug, have one (1) hitpoint, have weapons that make no damage AND they are on the Good team so any other AI's around will slay them! That enough for ya? ;)
Some people want a game to be more violent (this is the best and most earnest description of a gore mod that I've ever read):
[Wolf3D Gory Graphics Disk #1 for Wolfenstein 3D. 1993.]
Gorier graphics than the original. Make guards heads explode when shooting them! Make dogs lose a gallon of blood from a massive head-wound. AWESOME!
Some want them to be less violent:
[Wolfenstein 3-D Kosher for Wolfenstein 3D. 1993.]
This archive contains a file that will make your Wolfenstein 3-D a more kosher game. Instead of shooting at people, you shoot at objects which, like the original guards, will shoot at you. (If they didn't shoot at you, then the game wouldn't be Wolfenstein.) I also changed the skeletons, bones, and blood into objects. However, in order to keep the original "spirit" of the game, I left the Nazi symbolism. Another thing I couldn't change was Mr. Blazkowics's bloody face when he get's wounded. In short, I changed the game from an "R-rated" game into a "PG-rated" game. However, the incredible action is still intact.
CHANGES FROM THE ORIGINAL WOLF 3-D
The guards have been changed into "marbles". The original brown guards are now brown marbles and the original SS blue officers are now blue marbles. The dogs are green marbles, and the big "boss" at the end is a gigantic blue marble. These marbles will shoot at you too, therefore, I recommend using the "God Mode" when you first play this version of the game. When you destroy a marble with your gun, the marble will fall apart and turn into a bunch of marble junk on the floor. When a blue marble is killed, it will turn into blue junk on the floor, when a brown marble is killed, it will turn into brown junk, and when a green marble is killed, it will turn into green junk.
The blood that was on the purple wall was turned into tar and the hanging skeleton was changed into a hanging potted plant. (To add a natural touch.) I replaced the skeletons in the prison with smiley faces in the cells and most of the skeletons and piles of bones on the floor were changed into smiley faces.
Beyond these changes, the game is the same. Have fun!
Some people want to make a game more balanced:
[Quake DeathMatch Enhancer for Quake. 1998.]
Although Quake, made by id Software, is a great game technology-wise, its basic gameplay (both single player and DeathMatch) comes up lacking. Most of this is due to its poor weapon balancing, where certain weapons were clearly more powerful than others, leaving DeathMatch as a simple game of find-the-good-weapon. However, id Software was wise enough to leave an open door for users to alter this weapon setup as they wished. This modification does just that. It keeps the same basic structure of Quake (no new weapons or completely new features) but enhances the gameplay for both MultiPlayer and SinglePlayer games, putting the emphasis more on skill and intense combat rather than searching for the win-all killer weapon. After having created this enhancement, I have not gone back to playing ordinary Quake.
Some people want to make a game more realistic:
[Realistic Weapons for Quake. 1996.]
This patch does the following:
* Makes the weapons unreliable - they can jam/explode if overused
* Recoil on grenade and rocket launcher
* Spikes, rockets & grenades slow down while in water
* Rockets leave a bubble trail in water
* Spikes, rockets, grenades and backpacks can travel through teleporters
* Rockets add weight and slow down the player
* Rockets can be dumped
* 200 Health increases speed slightly
In real life, weapons are not always reliable and can jam and sometimes, in the case of large projectile weapons, explode. In addition, water has more resistance than air and when large projectiles pass through it, can produce bubbles. There is also a large kickback from shoulder* mounted projectile weapons. Quake in its original form does not model these. This patch inserts those things.
Lots of people want to make games more realistic:
[Tollerton's Physics Mods for Quake. 1997.]
Imagine you are running to your right and you throw a rock directly in front of you. Which direction does the rock go? Well, down, of course, but also it moves *diagonally*: foreward and to the right. It's simple vector addition: If you are moving 5 m/s to the east and you throw the rock 5 m/s to the north relative to you, the rock moves [5<90] + [5<0], or 5m/s to the north and 5 m/s to the east, or 5*sqrt(2) to the northeast. (No, you don't have to know *any* of this.)
Quake is flawed in this respect. Instead of moving along with the player, as it should, rockets, grenades, and nails move straight ahead, totally ignoring the player's real velocity.
And that is precisely what this patch sets out to fix.
And some people really dislike one stupid lousy jerk who won't stop camping:
[AntiCamp for Quake. 1997.]
Credit : A player by the name of BosMan on Quake1.netspace.net.au for making me so pissed off at campers that I made this mod..
You'll notice that most of these are from Quake. That's partly because it's quick and easy to browse Quake readmes, scrolling through FTP mirrors rather than trawling the monolothic, sluggish forums and portals mods tend to be distributed on nowadays. It's also because Quake mods cemented my interest in games. Every month, the PC Gamer cover disc would bring me new weird things, things that people just like me had made. I also get a little nostalgic treating them as historical artefacts reflecting what people played and how. This is from possibly one of my favourite readme files:
[Quick Turn for Quake. 1997.]
Added 4 impulses to weapons.qc. These impulses allow the player to turn 90 or 180 degrees left or right much quicker than can normally be done by holding the run key and the left or right turning keys.
It comes at the point where FPSs are fast and complex enough that playing purely on keyboard wasn't good enough. However, making the jump to using a mouse as well was a huge step, and one that seemingly this author hadn't taken, or possibly didn't even know of. They couldn't turn fast enough, so they added more keyboard commands. That's great, that. I didn't start using the mouse until Quake II myself.
Readme files remember the culture around them, and the medium they're transmitted on. Check out the note at the bottom of this:
[Puke Launcher! for Doom. 1996.]
This is a graphix patch for either Doom or Doom II. It replaces the rockets that the rocket lancher shoots, to GOBS OF PUKE!!! YES!!!!!!! The puke that flys out of yer rckt launcher isn't any ordinary barf, it's acid puke! Aaaahhh!! So watch out! THIS PATCH IS GREAT FOR DEATHMATCH! I also replaced 4 of the sounds!! This patch is AWESOME MAN!
Anyone listen to death metal? If you do, email me!
In 1996, it would not have been easy to find a Doomy death metal pal online. You couldn't Google "death metal" and easily find websites, forums, and chat rooms devoted to it. They existed, but the Internet was a lot smaller and search engines barely even worked. Why not throw out a message in a bottle? Or tie one to a puke rocket.
And here's a vision of the days when the stereotypical hardcore internaut's drink of choice was Jolt Cola. Before Mountain Dew jokes, before chugging Bawls, Jolt was the marker of taking fragging seriously:
[Jolt Doom for Doom. 1994.]
The people of Earth are ADDICTED TO JOLT! In fact, Earth has been plagued with Jolt for hundreds of years. Among the general populace, Jolt has caused mutations, cancers, and worse...
Jolt mutated EVERYONE who drank it. Most of the mutants died from their own hideous deformities. Still others perished in the perpetual maelstrom of caffeine-induced violence. But some survived.
You, a rare person who never drank Jolt, are about to meet these awful, Jolt-addicted mutants face-to-face...
The scientists of Earth (otherwise known as Nerds) strove valiantly to save the people from Jolt. In the end, however, the Nerds became more addicted to Jolt than anyone else!
The corrosive cola ate through their stomach walls. In fact, it ate their WHOLE BODIES away! Now, all that is left of the Nerds is their skulls. And the Nerds are still as addicted to Jolt as ever! Their never-ending withdrawal symptoms include flames coming out of their skulls. Oh yes, and their Jolt-induced mutations have resulted in telekinetic flying abilities. They go around flaming, flying, screaming, flaming, flying... You get the idea.
Be forewarned: So great is the fury of the Nerds at not being able to satiate their Jolt addiction that they devote all of their energies to the task of slaughtering those who can still drink Jolt! The brain-damaged Nerd Skulls have one overriding philosophy: "If we can't drink Jolt, no one else can either!"
All of these weird and funny and interesting things were made because people wanted to see them in games they loved. Mods let people make a game more personal. Even installing a mod is customising a game, making it be more the way you want, but creating them is something special. I realise it may seem I'm mocking (it's my accent, isn't it), but I'm genuinely excited that people are creating things and sharing themselves. Here, look at this:
[Kew's Cowbell Mod for Minecraft. 2012.]
Hello, I am Kew. I am 10 years old. I have created a mod that enables you to create cowbells in minecraft.
My dad helped me. I want to learn how to mod, so he is teaching me. We have started small with a simple block that can do things when the user clicks on them like playsounds and spawn mobs.
We are going to make more mods in the future. Next one is a block that spawns a huge pirate ship or maybe an airplane or a t-rex or.. :) .. to do that we need to learn how to make our own mobs with 3D models.
That's lovely, isn't it? And modding communities, like any community, can be territorial, but because they're creative they're often believe in sharing and helping each other. People create tutorials and share their source code, as this notes:
[The X-Mod for Quake II. 2000.]
Sorry, but we copied code from everyone, everywhere.
So, we do NOT have a real credit list!
- eraser bot code
- ID Q2 ctf code
- ID Q2 dm code
- many Q2 mods & tutorials
They wanted people to learn, to make more things, to make almost whatever they wanted:
[Spooge for Quake. 1997.]
Keep in mind, my brain wanders. While wandering, I thought, "HEY! Wouldn't it be rather unique if I could just piss on on things / people? So I tried producing this. This being my first attempt at QuakeC, I got close. It behaved more like, um, well.... JIZZ! So i just gave it the proper .MDLs and .WAVs, and there you have it, one of the most twisted addons. A small one, but it's an addon. I think I did pretty good considering I didn't know the first thing about QuakeC or even C++ when I started.
The world has many, many mods about sexy things, of course. I enjoy those a lot too, but have chosen not to go into them here because it seems a bit weird and questionable to drag things people made 20 years ago out into the limelight. Oh, go on, I'll show you a harmless one:
[Villager Breeding for Minecraft. 2011.]
Basically, you find two villagers, give them some wheat, and they make another villager.
Anyway, as I was saying, normally I don't talk about the actual person who made the mod at all. I prefer to let the text stand on its own and not draw new Google connections to someone's name. Everything I'm saying about them here is my imagination. Mostly. There is one mod where I can't help but say who made it. I find it hilarious and inspiring that this is from the earliest mod I've found by Minh Le - the chap who'd later create Counter-Strike:
[M-16A3 Dual Mode Assault Rifle for Quake. 1997.]
While the technological improvements of most other warfare equipment has gone on at a feverish pace, the real of small arms fire has remained stagnant for the past 3 decades. The M16 remained the staple assault rifle for the western civilization. Going through few modifications it was considered by many in the world to be THE assault rifle of choice. In the late stages of the year 2010 the US Army was issued a new breed of assault rifle.. The M-16A3 !!!! Fa la la la ll al Da ad adad ad l a lala (que dramatic music)
The M-16A3 not only surpasses it's predecessor in terms of accuracy and fire rate, it has a new firing mode, the EM Gauss fire. Using electro-magnetic force the M16A3 is able to direct a normal bullet from it's chamber at near light speeds. The resulting impact has the capabilities of piercing upto 6 inches of armour. With this new weapon the US Army plans to establish itself itself as one of the predominant military forces in the world (second to the Candian Armed Forces.)
Unfortunately, General Quake has been quick to stock his personal gun collection with these new M16's. Fortunately for you, he has conviently layed these M16's next to his existing array of nailguns. Now it's time to make the big bad boy bleed, It's time to severe some heads!! it's time to bust some limbs!! It's time to shower the people in a hail of gibs!! .. and when you're done that maybe you can try out my new patch.
Tada! nice story eh?! I know, I know.. I've already got Steven Spielberg knocking down my door for the script..let him in! I'll bust his face for screwing up Lost World!! what a crap movie!!
Mods are made by people, people who sometimes do weird things. Readme files tell us about those people, their creations and passions, in their own words. Focusing on readme files is like visiting a gallery but only reading the artist statements next to works. Quite what we imagine based on them is up to us, of course, but some people are quite open about talking about themselves. Some are a little odd about that too:
[RealQuake for Quake. 1997.]
Other Stuff To Know!
I Didnt Make All Of The Stuff By My Self
So I Dont Take Credit For It!!..
I Dont Care What You Do With This Modification!!
I Am Swedish
I Dont Dance Disco!!
I Dont Give A ?uck!!
Have A Nice Life!!
Some readmes offer adorable little sad glimpses that we can't help but spin out into stories inside our heads:
[YAD for Quake, 1997]
I named this mod YAD because at the time of it's creation, I was in a Quake clan called YAD (Young and Dangerous). I'm not in the clan anymore, but I can't think of hat to call it.
Some of these stories are cute:
[Posessed Pickups! for Quake II. 1998.]
An interesting unexpected way to keep campers at bay! Imagine you are playing against your ruthless girlfreind that has a bad habit of sitting on that rocket launcher spawn area as if it were Fort Knox. You slip her this patch, and fire up a deathmatch game. There she goes, running off to get her rocket launcher… but… it isn’t there… (?) She turns around just in time to see it hobble toward a window and bounce through into the courtyard outside. It takes her a full 5 minutes to catch up to it as it wanders away from her, during which time you have sighted your trusty railgun on her back.
Once picked up, ALL pickups respawn as MOVETYPE_INFIBOUNCE, causing them to bounce and wander aimlessly about the level. If at that point the item is picked up, it will respawn where you picked it up, thus providing an endlessly random pattern to item placement, and a new challenge: chasing items around the rooms
And some are heart-breaking:
[Fishing in Skyrim for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. 2012.]
DEDICATION - and a warning to gamers...
This mod is dedicated to my fiance, Kiersten, who passed away in April, one week before her 22nd birthday. She loved Skyrim and sushi, so what began as a birthday present evolved into a memorial to her life. The new species of fish this mod adds are named after things she loved, and I am in the process of adding a small fishing camp populated by her Skyrim toons, so she can live on in the fantasy world she loved. A book will be added in a future version explaining all the symbolism added in the module, for those who care about the backstory.
Kiersten died from something called Deep-Vein Thrombosis (DVT), which is a blood clot you get from sitting in one position for too long. Gamers are at high risk for DVT - she died after playing MW3 for 11 hours. The only warning sign she had was a cramp in her leg. Two hours later, she was dead.
The best way to avoid DVT is simple: Save your game, stand up, and walk around for 2-3 minutes every 3 or 4 hours. Go to the fridge, pee, look out the window, play with your pet...anything, just MOVE. That simple action would have saved her life: it could save yours.
When deep vein thrombosis symptoms occur, they can include:
• Swelling in the affected leg, including swelling in your ankle and foot.
• Pain in your leg; this can include pain in your ankle and foot. The pain often starts in your calf and can feel like cramping or a charley horse.
• Warmth over the affected area.
• Changes in your skin color, such as turning pale, red or blue.
When to see a doctor
If you develop signs or symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, contact your doctor for guidance.
If you develop signs or symptoms of a pulmonary embolism — a life-threatening complication of deep vein thrombosis — seek medical attention immediately.
The warning signs of a pulmonary embolism include:
• Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
• Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or when you cough
• Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or fainting
•Coughing up blood
•A sense of anxiety or nervousness
Should you encounter a Khajit named Lillani in your travels, know you just met the spirit of a truly good person. She will be missed.
A readme might save your life.
This article was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS supporter program.