How modders are removing enemies from games to create stress-free experiences

Mods for games are usually additive. New features, forgotten content… mods are usually about putting more into a game. Yet in recent years we’ve seen the rise of a particular kind of mod that takes things away. Specifically, taking away a game’s enemies or threats. We previously covered a mod which removed all danger from first-person sci-fi horror Soma—it later become an official game mode—but there are plenty more games out there getting mods that do the same and they’re equally fascinating. 

The nerve-shredding Alien: Isolation seems like an obvious candidate for the no-enemy treatment and Paul Huwe, senior scientific software developer at NASA, took it upon himself to create that experience. “I did find a ‘no alien’ mod, it didn’t remove the alien, but rather spawned it as an inert NPC,” he explains. 

“In addition to being very jarring, it prevented the alien from performing scripted events which I found both insufficient and experience-destroying. Given all this, I decided to try to make my own mod which would have the alien act like normal, except that it would ignore Amanda. In that way I could explore the station in a far more enjoyable fashion.” 

It was a task which didn’t prove too tricky for Paul. “I started with another modder’s (MattFiler) Alien: Isolation modding guide and scripting tools,” he says. “After using these tools to extract the configuration files, the mod simply required editing long XML files.”

Editing those files and testing the mod was tedious and required careful attention to detail, but after 40-60 hours the mod was ready. At the time of writing it has had 1,392 downloads. That’s not a huge amount but it shows that there’s definitely an audience for this kind of experience. 

If it seems outrageous to remove the threat from Alien: Isolation, it might seem downright sacrilegious to remove enemies from Dark Souls. But that’s exactly what modder Jgwman did with Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.

Making peace

“There’s certainly a tangent discussion to be had here about whether the main appeal of the Dark Souls games is their difficulty—I was simply drawn in by its weighty melee combat, monster designs and darker atmosphere,” they explain. “Though I created the level editor with the goal of allowing other players to create surprising new encounters, I knew that it could potentially be used to remove challenge from the game, and that didn’t bother me. I’m personally of the opinion that if you’re not harming anyone else’s experience, you should be able to experience the game in any way you like. If someone wants to explore the world of Dark Souls II as an empty sandbox, I’m glad I can help them to enjoy the game.” 

Creating the mod was not the most straightforward task, however. “Given that From Software does not support community content (quite the opposite, in fact), creating mods for the Dark Souls games tends be complicated,” says Jgwman. “For this mod in particular, I had to essentially discover how many of the game’s filetypes worked on my own, with help from others knowledgeable about Dark Souls II.” Fellow modders Benzoin-Gum and Atvaark proved particularly helpful. 

Removing the enemies and threats of Dark Souls might seem blasphemous but the situation was completely different for the cult classic Mirror’s Edge. Fans were clamouring for a way to remove the danger from the game and just enjoy its wonderful free running. Modder Saverio Ruggieri, known as S1y, would eventually create an option for this with his No Enemies mod but started with a very different aim: taking on the role of a pursuit cop and chasing runners instead.

Up and running

"Thanks to the help of some collaborators, we were able to integrate a complete character in first and third-person but a whole part of the AI was missing: NPC runners fleeing from the player,” Ruggieri says. “Unfortunately, not having complete support of modding tools from the producer, the initial idea was finally abandoned because there was no framework that would allow me to interface with the game code.” 

Leaving that project behind, Ruggieri turned his attention to a no-enemy mod. 

“The problem with the standard maps, however, is that they are basically thought of as linear paths, with some variations of the route but which inevitably lead from point A to point B.” 

Ruggieri wanted instead to offer a space with multiple routes, and allow players to make better use of the maps. “Hence the idea of creating a new map, which is more or less a faithful reconstruction of the one viewed in the original game. I took care to also include many buildings that were originally inaccessible, elements of the game present among the assets but eliminated from the final product, and many additional graphic effects. All this to offer a free-roaming experience that the basic game did not have.” 

None of these mods are hugely popular but they do still have an audience. With Frictional now offering a no-danger experience as an official part of Soma it’s perhaps time to ask whether more games could offer similar ways to explore their worlds. Not everyone has nerves of steel after all. But, even if ‘no-enemy’ or ‘no-threat’ modes stay out of the official experience, there are many modders out there that are willing to step in and provide that experience for everyone.