Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Of Mods and Men: Kung Fu Edition

I could easily write about Max Payne. It is one of my favorite games and it can be picked up for dirt cheap these days, but that's not what I'm here for.  Max Payne is wonderful, and you should play it if you haven't, but I would like to dig into the topic of mods, and specifically Max Payne: Kung Fu Edition. Mods are definitely poverty, not only because they are free, but because they are used to extend the life of games that are already owned, preventing the need to buy new games. The quality of mods may not always be great, but there are certainly some gems out there.

The purpose of Max Payne: Kung Fu Edition is quite obvious, add badass kung fu abilities to Max Payne. It may have been a simple goal, but it added more to the game any other mod before it. In the standard version of the game your melee abilities were a choice between wildly swing a pipe or wildly swinging a bat. In Kung Fu Edition, you are rich with options. You can attack unarmed, with a stick, and with the aforementioned pipe and bat. The regular shoot button will do quick strikes, while stronger special attacks are controlled with the shootdodge button.

The combat system is really interesting, but it takes a bit to get used to. The regular attack button does quick strikes that combo into each other, but don't do much damage, so they are generally used to set up for the special strikes. The special strikes are performed by pressing, or holding, the shootdodge button and pressing one of the eight directions using the movement keys. Up/right, up, and up/left are different special attacks, left and right are rolls, and down/left, down, and down/right are quick evasive maneuvers. Holding down a direction for a bit then hitting the shootdodge button nets you a lunging attack or a fancier dodge. With the stick Max gets a whole different set of attacks that are more useful in dealing with a crowd.

All of this, plus the new shootdodge abilities with guns and the ability to run along and flip backward off of walls, and enemies, makes for a really fun experience that adds a great deal of freshness to the original game. The mod was so good, and popular, that the mod's creator, Kenneth Yeung, Remedy gave an honorable place on a wall in Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. It may have been the most ambitious mod for Max Payne, that honor goes to Katana which built upon Kung Fu Edition with the addition of a well developed story and, obviously, a katana, but it is remembered because it worked so well. My only complaint about Kung Fu Edition is that Max Payne was not designed around melee combat, so there isn't as much opportunity for using the kung fu as I'd like.

When most people complain about the “consolization” of PC games, they complain about the simplification of controls and mechanics to suite the strengths of a controller rather than a mouse and keyboard. While I won't deny this is a problem, my main complain about “consolization” is the negative effects it has on the creativity of the community that surrounds them. It is a sad side-effect of the way most PC games are handled these days. Without private servers and modding tools, the community around a game can't take action on their weird ideas that might eventually lead to interesting new games. In today's environment, we won't see things like Counter Strike, which started life as a Half-Life mod.

Very few companies openly support the modding community anymore. Basically it is just Bethesda with the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, and Blizzard to an insane degree in Starcraft II. Blizzard is smart to do so, as they know that a Defense of the Ancients, a map from Warcraft III has spawned a bunch of full games based on its core concepts. But they are the exception to the rule. Most games don't allow for any form of customization, or leave the modding completely up to the community to figure out. I think this is partly because it is something the don't have to think about at all with the console versions, and in the world of consoles you aren't allowed to dick around anymore. Hell, most games don't even have cheats anymore because they would invalidate Achievements and Trophies, and god forbid something completely arbitrary and pointless be revealed as such.

Pictured:  Complete. Global. Saturation.
It has always been my belief that if a game isn't providing fun for you in its current state, then fuck it, I'll go crazy and do whatever I want with it. This is what I did with damn near every Grand Theft Auto game since I played the first one on Playstation all those years ago, and it provided me with possibly hundreds more hours of entertainment than they would have otherwise. It's not like it completely removed the tension in the game, as it still took some doing to input a health cheat while driving through a city of angry cops. Some of the most fun I had was trying to jump across the broken bridge with an ambulance using the perfect car handling cheat, or trying to properly fly a tank using the cars can fly cheat and the barrel turned backwards.

If I don't like the fact that the kids in Fallout 3 can be assholes to me and the game doesn't allow me to murder and devour them, then I'm going to go out and get the killable kids mod. Children should be seen, not heard, lest they wish to get demolished with a pneumatic sledgehammer. If I'm tired of a playing the regular modes in Counter Strike, then I'll go to a server that plays glass maps which add an interesting new wrinkle to the strategy of the game, or maybe I'll just go surfing. Maybe Resident Evil 5 is too racist, so I'll replace the town Manjini with a bunch of Weskers.

Who's the mungo now!
I'm afraid that the mods are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The complexity of games and the movement away from an open policy towards mods has made it increasingly difficult to put your weird ideas into a game. Who knows when the next The Specialists or The Battle Grounds will be made. It's sad that if you were ask a younger person about mods they would probably think you were talking about those things that change the UI in World of Warcraft, or those assholes that hack their Xbox so that they can cheat online. Maybe it isn't all bad. Maybe the mods community has turned to the indie game scene to create games that are far more creative and pretentious than a simple mod could have ever allowed. Oh well, at least I got a version of Max Payne where I could karate chop people.

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