For some, a game is only as good as its mods.
Modding has always been a central aspect of the indie game community. Original independently published games are often derived from mods of the biggest PC titles out there and that ethos of experimentation and creation continues to drive the modding community today. Indie games that support their modders have reaped the benefits ever since Steam Workshop opened its blueprint doors, and players looking to get a little more from their gaming hobby have found great inspiration, and even fame in the collaborative, passionate space. Here, we’re celebrating the best indie game modding communities.
7. IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover – Blitz Edition
What happens when your modding community is so strong that you make their creations into an official release? You get IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover – Blitz Edition. The WW2 flight combat game takes the original IL-2 Sturmovik forumla of flight simulation and historic accuracy and adds a little community spirit after the development of this particular title stalled.
The original version of Cliffs of Dover launched in 2011, and quickly tailspinned. The code was buggy and there was little in the way of fresh perspective for the latest instalment in the series. Serious developmental problems had taken their toll on the final product, and the result was an incredibly low performing game. What happened next, though, changed the entire title.
The IL-2 Sturmovik series had previously built a considerable community of devoted fans, which soon took to naming themselves Team Fusion. This collection of modders and flight-sim pros took it upon themselves to create a patched version of the game that squashed bugs and significantly enhanced the game experience. Developers quickly cottoned on and granted the community access to the full source code and partnered up to work on future releases, including the Blitz Edition of Cliffs of Dover.
6. Mount & Blade
Since its first iteration, the Mount & Blade series has been ripe pickings for modders. The rich fantasy universe offers endless options to mix things up and a massive community of modders has grown around the franchise over the years. There are mods that transport players to the realm of Middle-earth to the galaxy of Star Wars and into the grim, war-torn land of Westeros to name but a few. Some of the most significant mods though in this flourishing scene aren’t based in fiction but, instead, firmly rooted in history.
In many ways, Mount & Blade offers a blank canvas for modders to work with. The medieval setting blends naturally with many other popular fantasy universes out there, but, as the Star Wars mods prove, the realms of science fiction are not beyond its reach. It’s the more historically accurate, or inaccurate in some cases, that have proved the most popular, though. One of the most well received, Brytenwalda, is a mod set in Dark Ages Britain, for instance. There’s even a mod for the American Civil War.
Mount & Blade’s passionate fanbase continue to deliver diverse and creative content. From the historic battles of the past to the fantasy universes of popular culture, Mount & Blade has one of the best modding communities behind it.
5. Garry’s Mod
A game called Garry’s Mod is always going to have a strong modding scene and indeed, we’ve all heard of the sandbox phenomenon that fuels numerous GIFs and bizarre videos from the depths of YouTube. Garry’s Mod is a tool for creating just about anything, giving users the space to experiment with ragdoll physics and props, all with the help of the ultra-realistic Havok engine’s physics simulation.
Itself a mod for Half-Life 2, GMod runs on its user content, with players uploading hundreds of new creations and custom games a day. On top of the actual content provided by the community, these modders are also creating extra tools and scripts that enable further development within the sandbox.
Modders in their droves flock to Garry’s Mod, using the space as an experimental playground for new ideas and prototyping, or simply as a creative retreat for personal projects. With few boundaries for development and a simple starting premise – create whatever you want, however you want – GMod’s community takes its passion for pushing ideas to their limits and shares the results for everyone to build on.
4. Kerbal Space Program
It was only natural that in a game about cobbling things together and seeing what happens, modders would be keen to get in on the action. Mods released over the years have included the old favourite, multiplayer support; mods like Kerbal Engineer Redux that double down on the scientific elements of KSP with extra stats; graphics boosters like Environmental Visual Enhancements, which adds higher resolution textures and soups up the visuals of planetary atmospheres; and the daft and counterproductive, such as Chatterer that adds radio chatter or Dang It! that causes your rocket parts to degrade and break.
The B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organisation centered on tracking asteroids, even worked together with developers Squad to create an Asteroid Day mod, allowing players to keep an eye on potentially hazardous asteroids in the atmosphere. This proved so popular that it was later rolled into the game by default.
More recently, Squad has fully embraced the desire for people to make custom content for Kerbal Space Program with the Making History expansion. This includes an official mission editor to let players make their own scenarios with whatever requirements, restrictions and available parts they choose.
What can you really say about Minecraft’s modding community that hasn’t already been said? Over the decade since its initial release, Minecraft has gone on to become one of the most modded games of all time. Starting out with simple texture swaps, there are now mods that are larger than the base game itself, adding new weapons, creatures and biomes.
In fact, the Minecraft modding scene was, at one time, a highly competitive environment as modders and server owners grappled to cash in on the hit sensation. Everything and anything, from Hunger Games-style survival mods to zombie infestations, has topped the modding charts for Minecraft at one time.
If you want a modding scene that offers endless possibilities then this might just be the community for you. There are mods for literally everything boiled down to the most granular detail. At this point, users have taken their content far beyond the scope of the original experience itself, a testament to the opportunity afforded by the blank canvas of the base game. If you’re looking to get started with mods then Minecraft is the perfect opportunity.
2. Cities Skylines
Cities Skylines has slowly been taking the simulation world by storm since its release in 2015. The city-builder puts players in a God-like perspective over a square plot of land and has them construct a metropolis, managing everything from taxes to toll roads, healthcare to bus routes. Beyond the gameplay though, there’s a dedicated community of creators working to develop new maps, buildings, and tweaks for the Cities Skylines experience.
Paradox Interactive released a workshop space where users can design their own buildings and save and export their own road layouts and maps to make the process as streamlined as possible, and it’s paid off for the creative juices of their players. The Steam Workshop page for the game is full of brand new territories to build your cities in, each with their own challenges and unique inspirations. New features and alterations add extra difficulty, or allow you to play in freedom with unlimited money and all buildings unlocked.
With such a creatively free starting point, the modding community that has grown around Cities Skylines was always going to be a strong one. This is an example of a game that is not only supported and improved by mods, but actually only demonstrates its full potential through the content created by its users.
1. Stardew Valley
While Steam Workshop has paved the way for easy modding on many PC games, Stardew Valley has never benefited from such a convenience. But that hasn’t stopped the fervour of both those wanting to create and install mods for what is arguably the best farming sim out there.
There are mods that add a themed aesthetic to your town, from Seasonal Victorian Buildings to the picturesque fantasy of Ali’s Overgrown Fairy Buildings (pictured above). And, as you’d hope, a slew of options to improve your farm, from Farm Extended which gives you a farm with all land types to the time-saving Automate and the exciting new crop type afforded by Cannabis Kit.
Animals are the lifeblood of many Stardew Valley farms, and there’s no shortage of creative and outright bizarre livestock modifications. There’s the self-explanatory Cuter Fatter Cows for if the default bovine ain’t plump enough for you, Elle’s Cat/Dog Replacements to give you the exact breed you’re looking for, or Horse Boys to turn your horse into a galloping… boy. Weird.
Finally, relationships are an essential part of the Stardew Valley experience for many, and the modding community has them covered too. Romanceable Rasmodius lets the player get closer to Stardew’s mysterious wizard, and Polygamy is the perfect choice for those who have too much love to give and can’t settle on a single spouse.
If you’re looking to get started in game development, or simply just want to go deeper with your favourite games, modding is the perfect pursuit for you. Thankfully, many games have thriving modding communities just waiting to see your next project.