So I decided to play TES:Oblivion

I bought Oblivion: Game of the year edition from steam, as part of a very cheap bundle which had Fallout 3 which I wanted to replay. Good offer. So lately, so that I stop myself from pre-ordering Civilization 5 (Note: I failed) I decided to give oblivion a ride.

I knew from experience that mods for Bethesda games make them around 100% better, fixing and improving all the gameplay elements that the developers didn’t get right. I also had a lot of practice with modding Fallout 3 so I wasn’t going to play Oblivion without first getting some of the better mods included, as in fact, no-one should ever do1

I thus decided to first find out some nice mods for the game and then start playing to get the best experience. Without going too much into it, what followed could pretty accurately be surmised in the following pic

Modding is more addicting that playing

Modding Oblivion: It's pretty much like this.

Since I decided to start Oblivion on last Sunday’s lazy afternoon, I’ve spent around 12 hours gathering, reading on, installing and debugging mods and 6 hours of actually playing the game. It’s not that it’s particularly hard to do it (the tools that the community had created to make modding easier are just insane) but I would be gaming for half an hour and then find something that annoyed me (eg: why are there only 8 hotkeys?) and then I would stop and spend half an hour finding  a mod to scratch my itch. Reading the mods description, they would mention other cool mods to go with it, and I would check those out as well, perhaps choosing one or two to install alongside it. Spend about 0.5 – 1 hour getting the mods installed (doing it properly and depending on the size) and then get back into the game to check the results.Then perhaps half an hour more in case some unexpected bug started cropping up.

Then, then next day, after having played a bit, I would make a reddit thread on it to ask for some opinions, and about 8 more mods would be suggested, 4 of which just sound impossible to resist, and once I returned from work, spend more hours installing them than playing again.

I just can’t resist. The stuff that the community has come up with, for free mind you, are just incredible. I’m talking about gigabytes over gigabytes of cool new stuff. From completely new texturing to brand new quest chains to completely reworked combat and race systems which make the game truly overcome its limitations. Not to mention the modding utilities which are more impressive than many commercial applications.

This kind of thing really drives home the point of how doing things without the profit motive provides a far better motivation and thus better quality.  Consider that all these incredible work is being provided for free and because the modders weren’t feeling any monetary pressure, they created something that improves the vanilla game manifold. Was it difficult for the original developers to implement such things such as physics based archery or realistic combat with special moves? Not really but the need to put the game out there and then move on to the next project necessitated that many things needed to just be left as they were. The end result was a magic system that was considered underwhelming and an archery system that was underpowered,  not to mention the whole lotta bugs that were left open and required 3 community patches to fix.

Lucky for me, the PC gaming ecosystem allows modding which just makes things so much better when you’re getting into a game a year or two down the line (not to mention 4 years as in the case of Oblivion). Not only have the most egregious bugs been squashed by the community but there’s so much extra content  to choose from, that your first experience with the game is going to be miles better than if your played the game when it came out (not to mention better graphics quality since your PC should be able to handle it better).

It also goes to show that a game’s life cycle cannot be only until a few months after its release, as most companies treat their AAA titles, solely based on the monetary concerns. A well maintained and updated game can continue to provide wealth on the long tail long after it’s glory days are over. In fact, an actively maintained game can continue increasing its value based on how much the updates increase the word-of-mouth advertising and community. The immense success of the TF2 model is ample proof of that. And there, the updates are so awesome because, again, they’re not made with the profit motive in mind.

Now compare that to the DLC mediocricy and unmoddable nature of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and you can easily see which game is going to outlive the other.  But of course, for the bottom line in the short-term it’s better to have the old game die and sell the sequel rather than continue improving the old model to perfection. Unfortunately, this only leads to mediocricy which is sold mostly on hype and marketing, rather than quality.

Fortunately for those like me who like polish, moddable games like Oblivion and Civilization or supported ones like TF2, provide it and at a far more sensible price tag in the long term.

PS: This is my bookmark group for the mods I’m using, including some handy guides. Just in case you’re interested.

  1. Seriously, Bethesda could make a nice amount if they repackaged some of those games with a collection of the best mods build-in and thus with improved stability, and then sold the game again as a special edition or something []

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