Some of the best games I've ever played aren't games at all. That is to say: some of my fondest gaming memories have come courtesy of total conversion mods—modifications which take some of the best and most well-known classics and radically transform them into new and exciting things. I imagine most of you will have played at least one total conversion at some point in your gaming careers, but Chris' list of the best total conversion mods ever gathers a large number of my own favourites and may point some of you towards mods you haven't yet played.
The benefits of total conversion mods are probably pretty obvious. First and foremost, they extend the time spent wandering our favourite game worlds; and quite often offer players the chance to visit new realms and arenas tied to the games in question. These scenarios tend to be dreamt up by hobbyist modders—people who, like you, are fans of the relevant series. The best total conversions therefore portray likely circumstances and credible characters which complement their source material.
What I love most about total conversion mods is tied to that last part. As hobbyists, the folk behind these projects create them for free—at times designing worlds similar in scope and size to big budget games, fitting development time around full-time employment among other real life distractions. Many have went on to earn cash from their endeavours eventually, but the vast majority of developers start out driven by passion alone. Over the years I've chatted to a few of the devs responsible for some of my favourite total conversions and it's their stories which have been among the most interesting I've ever heard.
Minh Le is a name some of you will know well. Le, who otherwise goes by the pseudonym Gooseman, is a freelance programmer, modeller and designer for Facepunch Studios' open-world survival game Rust—however also co-founded the one-time Half-Life mod Counter-Strike with Jesse Cliffe in 1999.
As I'm sure most of you are aware, Counter-Strike has gone onto become pretty popular, however it wasn't until last year that I discovered Le and Cliffe spent the first three years of their respective Valve careers without actually meeting in person. When Valve approached the duo about acquiring the mod they'd crafted using the original Half-Life GoldSource engine, Le moved from Canada to Valve's Seattle HQ while Cliffe spent the next few years finishing school. It was only after this time that Le and Cliffe were ever in the same room together.
Valve's GoldSource engine and its Half-Life 2 Source engine have been responsible for a number of other total conversion success stories. Garry's Mod celebrates ten years on Steam this year and has seen its community grow exponentially—not to mention its multitude of user-made game modes—in that time. Unlike Counter-Strike's more focused beginnings, Garry Newman designed the sandbox game which would eventually allow him to take up game development full-time as a result of messing around with the Source engine and a desire to see how far he could push it.
Newman learned coding on the job and in a chat earlier this year told me that without Source Control pre-release, GMod game crashes meant he was forced to bin all previous work and start the entire game from scratch every time he encountered bug-related problems. Further crashes meant repeating this process and then hoping for the best in the next run.
Other total conversion stories of intrigue include Sven Co-op, another Half-Life mod which, although created in 1999, was continually developed and iterated on before finding its way onto Steam for free earlier this year. The prolific and super efficient work of Elder Scrolls enthusiasts and hobbyist modders SureAI has seen the likes of Nehrim and Enderal come to be—both hugely impressive Oblivion and Skyrim mods which are arguably as good, or at least equally as ambitious, as their source material.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown's ultra-challenging Long War total conversion mod is another of my own personal favourites about which creator John Lumpkin told me back in July: “Last September, I went to the Firaxis offices when they were in the fairly late stages of polishing XCOM 2. I met Jake Solomon there and showed him what XCOM: Enemy Unknown modding looked like. He wondered aloud if I had closets full of chains and leather.”
He doesn't, it turns out, but Lumpkin's story—not to mention those touched upon above—is but one of thousands of interesting anecdotes behind some of the most outstanding mods-cum-games I've ever played. Furthermore, the dedicated communities these mods have inspired make the mods themselves even more inspiring in my book. Again, Chris' 'best of' list is well worth checking out, and I'd love for you to share your own favourite total conversion stories in the comments below.