Customisation in games isn’t rare now-a-days, with every moba style game having a variety of skins for each of their characters, CSGO and COD having skins for every gun under the sun, but to me, it feels like customisation in modern games has tanked significantly since the “old days”. I went to explore where customisation has gone throughout the years and where it could go in the future.
Let’s start off with a classic game that still holds up well today, the original DOOM. This serves as a good foothold for where modern games could begin as this was the game that revolutionised the FPS genre, where a lot of games exist today. DOOM allowed pretty much every aspect of its design to be changed, you could make DOOM into frog fractions if you really wanted to. This was due to the ability to mod any part of the game, which although it takes effort to make a fully moddable game, I’d say it is well worth it considering the DOOM community is still alive and well today. We are of course talking about the MSDOS release of DOOM and not any of the console releases as consoles were still fully locked off for any mods at this time. DOOM also awoke during the first steps of the internet which allowed the community to easily be able to spread their creations and discuss projects.
This cycle of things continued on various PC games for a while but overtime games started locking down their code and assets for various reasons. As an example, GTA 4 on PC had everything moddable, but Saints Row 3 and 4 were pretty restricted in what you could do. This is most likely due to the rise of Microtransactions (MT) and smaller DLC packs which had a lot of the same content you’d get from mods, the difference being that the devs got direct money from DLC and MT, but mods had the potential to tarnish the game with the common disregard for copyright laws and general lack of quality control. However, GTA 4 had a lot more benefits to modding than downsides, with no MT to speak of and all the DLC being more like expansion packs than anything else. GTA 4’s modding scene thrived and to some people NEEDED to exist to make the game bearable, as the overall direction of the game’s development hasn’t held up as well as it could have. Not many games with the moddability of GTA 4 have come out since apart from the obvious few like anything Bethesda has made and GTA 4’s sequel, but modding isn’t dead, far from it.
Bethesda has been a valiant pioneer for the modding community, they have pushed to get modding onto consoles (although in a limited form for obvious reasons) and even tried to get creators some monetary gain from their creations. Unfortunately, Bethesda’s plan wasn’t the most well thought out as 3 days into getting the system setup for the aforementioned monetary system, it was filled with stolen content, broken products and community outcry, the system was promptly shut down. Despite these failures the modding community has still grown, thanks to one of the biggest games of all time; Minecraft. Minecraft, a game based on creativity and player expression is unsurprisingly the harborer of many, many mods. There are so many mods that most popular mods are often distributed in “mod packs”, where a vast collection of mods that work well together are piled into a completely unique experience to the original game. Minecraft also brought a lot of simpler modding concepts to the spotlight, “resource packs” allowed for the default textures and sound files of the game to be shifted aside and for a user’s own textures and sounds to be used instead. This wasn’t a new thing to do but not many games with this feature were as popular as Minecraft was. Since making images and sounds was a lot more accessible than coding it allowed pretty much anyone to dive in and try it out if they pleased. Minecraft did a ton to push modding into a more accessible and friendly form, but what about a more “competitive” game like the “Overwatch”’s and “CSGO”’s of today?
“Team Fortress 2” (TF2), although quickly approaching its 10 year anniversary is still very active today and has a unique competitive scene that has been going for years. But how do you make a multiplayer only game moddable? “Custom maps”, and “HUD’s”. starting with the former, “Custom maps” are both a great way to allow for new game modes and for more silly affairs to occur, and for the more competitively inclined to create their own maps for competitive use. This allowed for many popular custom game modes to be created, as server owners had complete control over the command console of the game, and mappers could have specific commands be inputted automatically when their map was loaded. There’s a mode about killing a hunky Australian brute, there’s a mode about running through an obstacle course and there’s a mode which is literally just Smash Bros, but in TF2. But there is also a slew of maps that were made for the game’s core competitive mode, some of which have been thrown into the official game.
Now, to talk about “HUD’s”. HUD’s are how you will generally see your ammo and your health in a game if you see a bar or a number that represents your health, ammo, or how objective progress is going on your screen as you try and run through the game, that is most likely part of a HUD. TF2 allows for custom HUD’s which can alter how the HUD elements on your screen look. Many of these HUD’s make the frankly outdated default HUD a lot more clean and clear. These custom HUD’s are still competitively legal and are encouraged by members of the community in most cases. TF2 tackles the task of “Multiplayer-only game mods” and succeeds without tarnishing either element of the equation.
2007 was a pretty good year for games, and unsurprisingly another one of my examples is from this year. This game is still pretty popular to this day but is very different in gameplay and in its approach to customisation in a competitive game. “Osu!” is a rhythm game about clicking circles on the screen to the beat of a song. With fully functional online leaderboards as well as a proper ranking system, Osu! needs to be able to keep its system from being exploited while still allowing for some level of customisation other than a profile picture. The devs of Osu! made a wise choice and decided to allow for the textures and sounds to be overridden with custom files. These files are still limited to size constraints but you can pretty much make the game look exactly how you’d like it, even if you wanna make each circle a minesweeper window from Windows XP. Certain configurations are impractical like the one I just mentioned but you can do an awful lot of things with the game. Certain objects become more fancy dressing after a while and with the help of a skin they can be removed. The opposite is also true, some objects can be obscured by lack of visual emphasis and with a skin, these elements can be brought to the forefront.
Just like with TF2, the Osu! community generally recommends getting a custom skin as the default skin is just not as good for gameplay as it could be. Unlike TF2 Osu is almost purely community driven with beatmaps being made and approved by community members, while still being full of quality and care. These levels of customisation in even the most competitive of games would be a welcome edition to the market. Imagine the possibilities, being able to make whatever map you want for whatever your competitive game of choice is, or being able to make the HUD look however you want, the possibilities are essentially endless. But these features would be welcome in most games, maybe not your military simulator but any game where customisation is already an option, cause if you’re gonna make your gun look like it’s from someone’s art gallery then you should be able to make the health metre look the same.
How could this be realistically be implemented in today’s modern games? An Idea I had for Overwatch case was that maybe depending on the skin you have equipped your hud would fit the themes of that skin, there would be an option to turn this off if you prefer it to look the same with every character but this could add a lot more character to the game and allow for more of an incentive for getting skins, not only does your gun look slightly different now but the health bar has things around it too. Considering quite a few of the HUD elements in Overwatch are animated in some way maybe the skinned versions could be too, to add that extra flare and polish to it. CSGO could easily have an abridged version of this concept go along with it, where depending on the weapon skin you have equipped, the hud could switch colour or have more artistically inspired things littered around the HUD elements.
What about the games of the future? Where can they go? They can try and establish what direction their game is heading into, are they gonna have cheap microtransactions that would fill the role of mods? Maybe try and add more to it than just a decal on a gun. If you are making a more mod friendly game, try and think of ways of making it easier to mod your game, how can you make modding as accessible as possible? Either way, customisation in games has come from being fully accessible on PC to being less accessible than before, but now it exists on consoles as well.
Customisation can only improve from here on.