Less is more
Ideas on the success and failure of modifications
by Eddie Cottongim(Niborevoli)
This is a two-part article on how we can improve the state of user made first person shooter mods
- why many don't succeed, and how we can fix this. The first part looks at how having less mods
is really better, sort of a macro-level. The second part looks at a smaller scale - how having less
weapons, skins, etc is better. Part one tries to help all mods, part two to help individual mods.
In the 90's everyone always wants more. This applies to having many more mods for first person
shooters, and having tons of stuff inside them. I've tried to show that this isn't a good idea. By limiting
the content released, it can be of higher quality, and get played more.
Less is more, Part One
So why does so much great user made stuff not get played a lot? My idea is that to get played,
stuff must hit critical mass. Many GREAT mods don't hit critical mass. Take a look around
CDROM.COM - there are literally thousands of little maps and mods lying around that no one
ever plays. Or take a look at your Gamespy server list - here and there are servers running
something weird you've never heard of.
For any new mod, map, skin, etc, there is a certain minimum number of players that makes it
viable. At this "critical mass," you can:
1. FIND servers with your mod/map/whatever - and there need to be enough of them that there is
one with a decent ping
Examples of things that hit critical mass: Q1 Deathmatch (of course!), Q1 CTF, Teamfortress.
Things that didn't: well almost everything - all those little mods you hear mentioned only once.
2. On this server, there are at least two or three players - just about all the time. There is always
someone to play with.
So how do we fix this?? Look at it number-wise. We need quite a few players per successful mod
to hit the critical mass. So there are two variables, players, and mods. Now, I guarantee that game
pages and game companies do their best to get all the players they can. So the easier variable to
modify is the number of mods. We need to make it SMALLER.
Weird, huh? Imagine that somehow, only 4-6 mods, of the highest quality, were released a year.
Most players could easily download and play them all. It would be guaranteed that all of these
could hit the critical mass. In 4-6 mods, you could cover a lot of different play styles.
Arguments against this:
"That's not enough! Make MORE MORE MORE!" - well, that's what
people do now, and most of it never gets played. 4-6 well designed mods would make almost
Obvious question: who makes these decisions? You got me. Maybe the game creator could. But
most of them have better things to do.
"I want to make my own mod! With changes blah blah!" - Go ahead! Probably no one will play it
though - just like it is now. Now, I'm not saying that we should STOP people from making their
own stuff - that's stupid and not in the Quake spirit. But some regulation could help us all.
[Note that doesn't fit anywhere else: mods tend to lose people over time (but they gain addicts
who will play the mod all the time for years). So if a mod doesn't hit critical mass within a few
weeks of its release, its probably not going to make it. Likewise with entire games (multiplayer
So to summarize, let's make less stuff, let's make that small amount really good, and then it will
get enjoyed - not left sitting around on CDROM.COM for eternity.
Less is more, Part Two
Here we're going to look within each mod, to see how including too much crap is bad. It is much
better to have a small amount of well designed stuff, than to smash everything conceivable into
I've played a few Q2 mods lately that tried to please everyone by including every weapon ever
included with every mod ever created. The result was naturally a mess. You have to have every
key on your keyboard bound to some weirdo weapon that only works in a few situations. This is
hard to learn and set up. Next, it makes gameplay a total mess. Strategy gives way to "run
around, grab weapon, hold the fire key down until you die, respawn, repeat." Since nobody even
knows what all the weapons are/do, they have no chance of using them strategically.
Another popular trend is for more powerful weapons. Whenever I ask people how they would like
the weapons to change, they always say "more powerful!" There is this misconception that "I'll
get the SUPER KILL EVERYTHING weapon, and then I'll win!" Well, maybe you'll get it, but
most likely you won't, and it'll stink for whoever doesn't have it. These one-shot-kill-everything
weapons just contribute to chaotic, nonstrategic gameplay. The most fun dogfights I have are
with weapons like the nailgun - it takes a while to die and you're running all over the place hoping
the other guy is FINALLY going to die. That's fun! Getting hit by a quad BFG, along with 20
other people, is not fun, and reflects little skill.
I hate to name names, but the Chaos Q2 mod has many of these traits. There are a BUNCH of
powerful weapons in there. You are impressive if you get all those binds actually working. I'm not
trying to dis these guys, I'm just looking for improvement.
Solution: Mod authors, design your weapons carefully, both in number and power. I'm
considering some mod designs, and to hold down the number, I might make it so you can only
have a few types of weapons - perhaps 2 or 3 in addition to the standard game's weapons. As for
power, one or two POWERFUL weapons are fun, but they should be quite rare and risky to get.
(goes for quad too).
Regular Deathmatch and Painkeep for Q1, had pretty good balance on this stuff. There are some
powerful weapons in each, but they are uncommon (OK well the rocket launcher is pretty strong
and common, nobody's perfect ;-) There are not too many weapons either, although I'd say
Painkeep is at the upper limit of weapons you should have.
Models & Skins
This one is pretty straightforward. We are all sick of downloading lame models and skins. In fact
we are sick of download good ones too!
Solution: Wouldn't it be great if there were a set number of skins/models, and after that no more?
I know people will always want more, and new ones, but that's the whole point of this article. If it
was a limited number, then everyone could/would have them, and everyone would enjoy them. If
no one has your skin, that stinks. If you can't see anyone else's, that's not good either. But if we all
share a common pool, then we can all enjoy them. Yes, we have to cut down on variety, but I
think its better overall.
Maps are big to download, especially if you do it during the game. I personally don't have the
patience to download a 2 meg map I'm only going to play once. They start to take a lot of hard
drive space too. I would do the download if I knew I was going to need it occasionally though.
Solution: Limit the number of maps. Package the ones that are produced into major map packs.
Perhaps each server would pick a map pack to run. That way, if you download pack #3, you
know you can play without worry on all the servers running pack #3.
This doesn't really fit in anywhere, but i think it should be said. Price kills mods. Try to find a
QuakeWorld server for the Quake mission packs. You probably won't, or there won't be anyone
on it. Those were GREAT mission packs, too. What killed 'um? There are some technical reasons
having to do with QuakeWorld, but mostly it was price. Also, packs with a price have to be
bought somewhere, and this limits their distribution possibilities. Take a look at Evolve's Zaero.
Its supposed to be pretty good, but I don't know, because I haven't seen it in stores, and I don't
know if I'd buy it anyway. The price and lack of availability kill its chances for critical mass, no
matter how good it is.
Summary, and How much?
Summary: Make less junk. Its confusing, no fun to download, and if its not well designed, its not
Here are my recommendations on how much content to put out. I'm not going to try to justify this
much - its just a guesstimate. You want to have a wide variety of content, while sustaining critical
mass for a long time. Again, its just a guesstimate!
For a given game:
MODS4 - 6 per year
Skins and models: As long as skins and models are kept as atomic (nondivisible) objects, the
number of skins doesn't matter much. If a game has only changeable skins (Q1), then I mean
20-30 skins per year.
MAPS30 - 45 per year
MODELS20 - 30 per year (5 - 6 skins each?)
I hope you've enjoyed the article. It is really designed to help everyone, not to exclude people or
make an "elite" group of content creators (that exits anyway though). Probably, nobody will read
this or listen to the ideas, but I think they could help. I'm sure there would be dissent over exactly
who's stuff got releases. Well, it should be the best stuff. The very best user-content deserves to
be played. Let's pick it out, download a couple files, and frag on!
-- Eddie Cottongim(Niborevoli)
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