There are two versions of Garry's Mod: the standard version that's been in the same shape for a while now, and the beta. The beta, aka GMod 13, is a relatively recent arrival, built to allow Garry to overhaul the whole game without breaking the one everyone's playing. It uncouples the development from the main fork, and that serves two purposes. Firstly, it gives Garry the opportunity to make big changes without constantly dealing with complaints that the game is broken, and secondly, it gives everyone a look at what's being done to prepare for when the release arrives. The base game will be better, but other things will break.
I asked Garry to walk me through the most important future updates.
"GMod 13 is kind of like pulling a plaster off fast, all in one go," he told me. "There are a hell of a lot of changes internally in GMod13. It's a huge change and stuff was going to break, so I've taken the opportunity to fix/upgrade a lot of things all in one go instead of breaking stuff further down the line. I am anticipating a lot of pain on the switch-over, but I'm confident that it'll leave us all stronger."
"I'm shipping my own customised engine now which allows me to break a few limits, like the entity limit. There's tons of small upgrades like that, which aren't really worth listing, but will open new doors for people creating addons."
The Steam Workshop
The biggest update is Steam Workshop integration. Valve's mod-delivery tech seems custom-built for Garry's community driven adventures. The current Workshop trend of just providing mods isn't enough for Garry or his community, especially when it takes the place of a functional, albeit expensive, alternative: "Toybox - Toybox is what we have in Gmod 12, and is being replaced by Workshop. It serves maps, models, entities, saves, weapons, NPCs. It's hugely used, and is probably a victim of its own success - since it costs that much money to keep running. Its database is 38GB, transfers 70TB a month and has served 1.4 million players in its lifetime. I need to work hard on making the workshop integration as worthy a replacement as I can. One of the problems in 12 was that the more addons you installed, the slower everything would get. I've worked hard on changing that - so hopefully people will feel that the loadtimes are faster. "
"I'm experimenting with what to serve from it. Right now any kind of addon works on it: maps, models, gamemodes, NPCs, etc. I'm working on letting people share their content ingame (demos, duplications, saves)."
It makes perfect sense, but there might be a troubling knock-on from going 'official': Garry's community enjoys using content lifted from other games, and Valve have unwittingly been caught out once with Dota 2 in allowing a copyrighted model from another series into their own. Having to be a bit more careful when the Steam Workshop is so tightly integrated is definitely worth it: It's a switch that'll save Garry $7000 a month in server costs.
The Server Browser
With so much going on in GMod, things can be lost in the shuffle. It's tough to find a way in to all the fun. Garry's new browser implementation does things a bit differently, presenting the gamemodes first before allowing the player's to choose the server to join: "This is to show people that sandbox isn't the only gamemode available in GMod, and to showcase better the available gamemodes. I'm working on adding options to install the gamemode from Workshop right in the server browser - because I hate joining a server and downloading 300 files."
The legacy browser is still there as well, so it's still possible to have it all together as one and I kind of prefer it that way, but the new browser really does make you aware of the volume of community contributions. No doubt there are still some people who've never strayed from the Sandbox, but my favourite time with Garry's Mod was always hopping between servers, peeking into the random off-shoots that people have made. Those are now front and centre.
The Spawn Menu
"The spawnmenu is going through the biggest change since GMod9. I'm trying to make things more customisable. I'm not completely happy with it yet."
It can be messy, but the new spawn menu's customisability is a step in the right direction. It enables players to group together objects in their own submenus, for easier access to the most used props. It has the potential to be hugely helpful for those with a pile off addons cluttering up the selection menu. If you regularly download item packs just for one or two pieces, it'll be invaluable. I can see why he's currently unhappy with it: you can create real cluster of a menu with it right now.
You'll have probably noted that none of the above list has anything to do with grabbing a character and making their bottom hilariously large. Fear not, Garry has been working on that too. It's just not been the priority: "There's a lot of internal system changes that allow for some cool things. Like the widget system - which Lua coders can use - enables the bone manipulation system"
If that wasn't terrifying enough, thanks to the unclamping of the Face Poser, mouths are now animated when players speak in multiplayer.
Building a base for a new wave of addons so late in a game's life is a bold decision, but Garry has always seemed antsy and unwilling to settle on a final state for GMod. He's been lucky that the Source engine he's used until now was built to be updated: Valve's base engine still being used, enabling Garry to keep his menagerie of characters up-to-date. But there are signs that Valve could be looking ahead to the Source engine 2. What then for GMod? "I haven't really been told anything about Source Engine 2, so I can't make any cold hard promises. But yeah - I'll do my best to strap GMod into any of Valve's latest technology."