Wednesday, November 02, 2005

modding Halo considered harmful?

note: this article was cross-posted to the o'reilly blog and has been stirring up some fierce emotions.

my latest book, Halo 2 Hacks, hit the shelves recently. in this book, Halo 2 players can learn all about gameplay tricks, Halo 2 Easter eggs, glitches, and more. but what's caught the attention of some is a commonly misunderstood aspect of gaming: modding.

modding is the act of altering a game so it behaves differently from the way its developers intended. it can be as simple as altering the sprites in an Atari 2600 game or it can be as complicated as creating a whole new level for Halo 2.

with the help of game makers such as id Software and Valve, mods have been created for numerous PC games. for example, Counterstrike began its life as a mod of Half-Life. Half-Life is an easy game to mod because all of the modding tools you need are provided for you. some games, such as Halo 2, don't make it as easy. a big part of this is the fact that Halo 2 runs on the Xbox. for a variety of reasons, Microsoft does not condone modifications to the console or the games that run on it. however, their primary reason for this stance is that mod chips have been used for game piracy.

unfortunately, altering the Xbox to enable mods was used to open the door to a huge problem: online cheating. I share the animosity people feel toward cheaters on Xbox Live. just like every other Halo 2 fan, I was annoyed when my online rank was wiped out by people who cheated with standby, spoofing, and mods.

however, modding is not the same as cheating. many folks from the modding community contributed to this book and the modding community certainly does not support cheaters. for example, anyone who posts a question about cheating to is instantly banned.

in addition to misunderstandings about the difference between a modder and a cheater, some of the negative comments about Halo 2 Hacks stem from confusion regarding the title of the book. o'reilly is aware that the term hacking has a bad reputation. the press use it to refer to someone who breaks into systems or wreaks havoc with computers as their weapon. among people who write code, the term "hack" refers to a "quick-and-dirty" solution to a problem, or a clever way to get something done. the term "hacker" is taken as a compliment, referring to someone as being creative, having the technical chops to get things done. the Hacks series is an attempt to reclaim the word, document the good ways people are hacking, and pass the hacker ethic of creative participation on to the uninitiated.

look inside Halo 2 Hacks, and you'll see plenty of cool things you can do with Halo 2 that don't involve mods: Easter eggs, vehicle stunts, glitches and much more. we also spent a lot of the book discussing the impressive user-created maps such as Zentation and All H#ll Breaks Loose. these maps can only be experienced with a modded Xbox. what you won't find are ways to cheat on Xbox Live!

the long and positive history of modding is based on the fact that many game developers openly support the practice of developing creative adaptations of their games. while Bungie may not publicly support Halo mods, they did support mods for their Marathon games. the reason for this is that many people understand that modding is a creative outlet for hardcore fans and future game developers.

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