Community heroes: Garry Newman, for Garry's Mod

Tom Francis

Garry's Mod

This week on the site, we want to celebrate some of the heroes of the PC gaming community. People who've devoted huge amounts of their free time to making something awesome for the rest of us to enjoy. Some of them, like today's hero, were so successful that they've been able to go professional. But all of them started by doing something for nothing, and this us doffing our journalist caps to that. Today we're talking to Garry Newman, the creator of the amazing physics and face-posing playground Garry's Mod.

It started as a way to mess around with the physics of Half-Life 2 shortly after that game was released, but Garry just hasn't stopped adding features. Now it's an extraordinary creation tool that lets people construct spectacular machines, design ridiculous new games, and pose every face muscle of Valve's characters to create their own comics and scenes. Valve offered to let Garry sell future versions of the mod through Steam , budget-priced, and it took off. To this day, it's among the ten most-played Steam games in the world .

Image courtesy of the murky mind of Chris Livingston.

PC Gamer: I remember the old days when we were all gawping at what you could do with Half-Life 2's physics in a thing called JBMod, and we weren't really sure what Garry's Mod was. What happened with that old rivalry, and how did Garry's Mod - frankly - crush it?

Garry Newman: Ah yeah, simpler times. The short version of this story is that 'JB' started playing WOW and never worked on it again. The slightly longer version is that after stagnating for a while, JBMod started losing to GMod in terms of popularity, then some other guys picked it up and started developing for it. They never actually released anything, but their constant teases that it was going to be big made me so paranoid that I worked extra hard to make sure that wouldn't happen. They did actually release it about a year back, but it was a load of shit.

There were a lot of rumours back then, that I stole JBMod's source code, or that GMod was built off their code. I suppose as a casual observer it's easy to think that, they did look very similar at the start. But really, in terms of coding, I don't think JBMod had done anything more than change a couple of variables. All the other stuff was built into the Source engine and shipped with the SDK as standard.

PC Gamer: Today, the range of tools and tricks Garry's Mod gives you is so huge it's hard to classify. Was there any one feature you added that really seemed to change what the mod was about and what people used it for?

Garry Newman: There were a few development epochs that stick out in my mind.

The early spawn menu was one (which was just a load of buttons with names written on them). Before that we'd have to press buttons built into the map to spawn stuff. So if you wanted to spawn a barrel you'd have to run over to the other side of the map, press a button on the wall, then carry it back to wherever you were building. It got tedious.

Ragdoll posing was another. Why didn't anyone do this before GMod? It's so simple, so fun. I'm sure Valve must have done something similar when they were making the engine, they must have.

And finally, Lua . Without Lua Garry's Mod would look completely different today. It went from everyone relying on me to do stuff, to everyone being able to satisfy each others needs. Everyone became the Garry.

PC Gamer: What's the most surprising thing you've seen people use Garry's Mod for? And what's your favourite?

Garry Newman: About a year back I was watching TV, it was the local news. It was on in the background. They were talking about how some local kids were designing some public space using a computer game. I assumed it was The Sims or something. Then it showed them playing GMod at about 10fps on this old laptop. It was only for a few seconds, and I started to doubt that I'd seen it - I thought they were probably making it in Hammer and I'd just seen HL2. But later on someone emailed me with a YouTube link. It was totally random because they were only a few miles away from where I live.

There's so much good stuff created in GMod, but my absolute favourite stuff is by FancyPantz . Grigori's Funhouse, love it. Appox 's melon movies make me laugh too - I think we have the same warped sense of humor.

PC Gamer: When it went from a free mod to a Valve-endorsed commercial product, it sold better than I think most people expected. Like, now you have a jacuzzi with glowing lights and a built-in radio. Was there a 'holy shit' moment for you? And are you any closer to understanding why it's so popular today?

Garry Newman: I really don't think anyone expected it to sell as well as it has. I thought it'd sell lots the first day, then drop to nothing. As it turned out it's selling more now than it ever has. As of today we've sold 674,793 copies. Which is INSANE.

I don't know exactly why it's so popular. I think as a PC gamer it's just something you have to try, and it's at the right price, so why not? The constant updates to keep it fresh don't hurt either - GMod was a very different game when it first went on sale.

The money has come to me gradually (and been taken away gradually by the taxman), so I don't think there was a "Hey you've won the lottery" moment. I don't think I'm too flash with my new money though. The flashiest thing I bought myself was probably a house and a car. I bought my mom and dad a laptop each, and I bought my sisters a car each. Money can buy you happiness :)

PC Gamer: You've been adding to and improving it seemingly non-stop since then, nearly four years ago. Do more people buy it when you do that, or is it purely a service to existing players?

Garry Newman: A bit of both I think. I don't see a spike in sales when I update. But I think if you can keep improving and keep the players happy, they'll stick around. And ultimately the existing player base is what attracts new players to it.. either from word of mouth, or screenshots or movies.

I'm sure that if I hadn't have updated it after the first release it would be selling a lot less than it is today.

PC Gamer: Will Garry's Mod ever be finished? If you stop working on it, will Valve's future Source engine updates break it?

Garry Newman: I do go through periods where I think "I can't add anything more to this". But then after a couple of weeks I'll think of something and add that. It's gone on like that for a couple of years. Plus engine updates usually bring some nice new features.

I'm contractually obliged to fix any problems that software or hardware advances create.

PC Gamer: Do you ever play it other than to test, these days? What do you get up to?

Garry Newman: Yeah I do play quite a bit now. I like to dip in and have a look at what game modes are new, what's changed.

We've come up with a new thing in the Sandbox mode too. It's called Cloudscripts. Basically instead of downloading add-ons and installing them into GMod, the scripts are stored on a website, in the cloud. So it shows a web page with buttons you can press to spawn them. It makes it a lot easier for the casual user to explore 3rd party (4th party?) content. I've been spending quite a lot of time being amazed at what people are uploading to it.

It will fly. It must.

PC Gamer: You're known for being a little less, uh, diplomatic with some of your more deranged fans, in terms of banning people from your forums or mocking their e-mails on your blog. Have there ever been any negative repercussions from that - anyone caused you any trouble? Do you think you've ever lost any sales from it?

Garry Newman: Well yeah. I really didn't want to have a forum. People begged and begged, so eventually I said OKAY - I'll set one up - but I'm not going to have it filled with total illiterate kids. This is a privilege - not a right. So I wrote scripts that banned them automatically for bad spelling and grammar, or for using words like WTF, FFS, OMG, LOL.. The reaction was pretty funny. People claimed I was denying them the right to free speech, and that they'd file a class action lawsuit against me if they didn't get unbanned.

I don't think there were any negative repercussions with my attitude about this. It probably gave me publicity, maybe not good publicity, but it's better to be known for being an asshole than not be known at all. And being an asshole is so much easier than being nice and making an effort with people.

PC Gamer: Speaking of which, that seems to have died down over the years. Have you mellowed out, or is the community less nuts?

Garry Newman: Nowadays the community has a large amount of competent posters. If someone not so competent comes on all the regulars are jumping all over each other to make fun of them, which I think they learn from. In that way the community manages itself. Which is the right way to go about it I think, once order has been established.

Or maybe I'm just less surprised with the idiocy I see now.

PC Gamer: I know your company, Facepunch Studios, now has a proper office. What are you guys working on?

Garry Newman: Yeah we're doing a pretty good job at pretending we're proper grown ups! We've got a few projects going at the moment, just exploring different avenues really. I really want to try to avoid releasing something that's rushed, or shit, or the same as everything else. I want to make a contribution to the industry.

We're actually looking for in-house staff right now, and having a hard time finding anyone decent within the West Midlands. So if any of your readers are keen to work in the games industry and want to email their CV to us - we're all ears - all trades welcome: jobs@facepunchstudios.com

PC Gamer: Lastly, what's your favourite thing about PC gaming?

Garry Newman: The mouse and keyboard.

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