Gameplay Journal #3 — Modding

The third entry in this series focuses on modding, and how mods can transform the experience of their original game. Though Schleiner takes a rather cynical view of the modding scene in Ludic Mutation, comparing at length the act of creating mods at times to “parasitic feeding off the largesse of a host […] without return to said host”, and only briefly as a process of “symbiosis, […] reciprocal, circular, cultural gift-giving” (Schleiner, p.37), there are several popular instances of games whose ‘lifespans’ have been extended long past they would normally be expected to fade into obscurity. One of the most well-known examples is Minecraft, released in 2011 and yet still highly popular, to the point that a support industry of Minecraft-specific server hosts and other services still exists, most unsupported by the game in any official capacity, and is profitable. Moreover, modding groups such as Feed the Beast aggregate the work of many modders into curated content packs, allowing individuals and groups to experience one of many curated gameplay experiences far different from the original ‘vanilla’ Minecraft. These groups are not parasitic — the player still must own Minecraft in order to play the mudpack, and the mod makers may ask for donations, but do not require the player to pay in order to download the mod. Rather they make use of the work of dozens of modders to create a wholly new experience using both vanilla mechanics, and entirely new ones, and then ensuring compatibility between the variety of systems.

Due to the variety of Feed the Beast packs, it is difficult to make a blanket statement as to the changes such a pack makes, so Sky Factory 3, one of FTBs more popular packs, will be used as an example. Sky Factory entirely replaces the normal game world of Minecraft with nothing — literally a void that contains only the player, and a small floating platform with a single tree on it. While this may seem lazy, it presents a unique challenge in that the players normal means of acquiring nearly any resource are now gone. Effectively infinite resources are now scarce and must be directly generated by the player who, using the Ex Nihilo mod most at first slowly generate resources using the one tree they start with to build out a platform to work on, make wooden tools that allow them to use their only resources — wood and leaves — in different ways, allowing them to gain access slowly to more and more resources — more dirt, to grow more trees, then string, to create a mesh to sift yet more new resources out of the dirt you create. Rather than give the player a bountiful yet finite world to plunder, the player is responsible for creating every resource they need — and thus is rewarded for expanding their world and filling it with more things so they can produce resources more quickly. The game present itself as a puzzle — every resource can eventually be accessed, in a known way, but the path to obtain every intermediate part may be long and winding. Entire sections of the ‘resource catalog’ may be locked behind a single item that the players must figure out how to obtain at all — and then later, in large quantities. The mod turns the base mechanics of the game on its head, and uses the player’s familiarity with the normal gameplay loop to challenge their way of thinking about the game and the resources in it.

Anyone interested in seeing Sky Factory for themselves can watch this video by LetsPlay:

All rights to the video and its content belong to LetsPlay, and I am not related to or endorsed by them, nor are they endorsed by me.

Works Cited:

Schleiner, A. (2018). Game Modding: Cross-Over Mutation and Unwelcome Gifts. In The player’s power to change the game: Ludic mutation. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.