Confederates in my Hard Drive

by on August 4, 2008 · 8 comments

Early one morning, the Civil War crashed into my bedroom. A loud popping noise crackled just outside our window . . . I went to the window and saw men in gray uniforms firing muskets on the road in front of our house.

These men in grey uniforms weren’t soldiers, not even actors playing soldiers—these men were reenactors. They had found their way into the front yard of writer Tony Horwitz, inspiring him to write the bestselling Confederates in Attic.

For a new generation of civil war buffs there’s a way to reenact without the smell of bacon grease, gunpowder, and coffee grounds hanging in the air. Buffs old and young have many things in common—namely, abundant free time and obsessive attention to detail—but the younger breed prefers keyboards to Colt revolvers.

Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, released in 1997, marked a significant step toward satisfying generation X reenactors, but it still didn’t quite scratch the itch. More recent releases, like the History Channel’s cleverly named History Channel: Civil War was decried by gamers as boring while buffs were annoyed at its inaccuracy.

Because of all of this, a new community was born—or at least a sub-community.

Since the early days of video games, hobbyists have modified commercial video games—creating their own specialized versions with unique attributes and themes. “Modding,” as it’s often called, naturally appeals to the meticulous nature of the reenactor. Obsessions with detail and historical accuracy can now be expressed not only in recreating clothing and weaponry, but entire battlefield landscapes.

Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 1942 has been reworked to produce Battlefield 1861. Microsoft’s Rise of Nations as well as its Age of Empires series have also been re-worked to produce incredibly detailed Civil War games. Some of these efforts are the result of one lonely man’s hobby, but more often they are the result of a team of a dozen or more developers coordinating their efforts using online forums and email lists.

This kind of community of obsessive hobbyists is part of the reason why I don’t believe the PC gaming industry is anywhere near its death.  There is such a huge amount of dark data out there—data that exists, but that hasn’t been aggregated into a useful form just yet. Much of the PC gaming community is non-commercial, unmeasured, but likely terrifically huge.

I’ve been research modding communities recently and made some interesting discoveries. For example, Quake Live, a new service of id Software, is very popular—odd thing is, it supports a game that’s nine years old.

ID’s Marty Stratton recently spoke about Quake Live, noting:

I was very happy to find over 100,000 people signed up for our beta with no promotion, no advertising.

This sort of thing is unique to PCs—though it may develop with console communities given more time. However, I think the fact that PC games are played on the same machines that we also use to email, participate in online forums, mod software, and all variety of other activities, creates a greater opportunities for PC games to develop dynamic communities that attain cult-like status.

I’d appreciate any solid numbers on the size of modding communities or even vanilla games are somewhat old. I find it incredibly interesting. Thanks in advance for any help.

  • ultra

    Sort of in line with this is the relatively recent rise of the PC-based fighting game community. While fighting games like Street Fighter still nurture arcade scenes in some places, for most of the past decade the definite trend has been towards consoles. Unfortunately, some of the most popular games never received faithful translations to home systems (ie Super Street Fighter II Turbo never got a good port despite half a dozen ties), others received faithful translations to now-dead systems (ie Marvel vs Capcom 2 was ported well to the Dreamcast but nowhere else), or received faithful translations with crappy online play (like Street Fighter III: Third Strike), and less popular games have never received a faithful port. The result has been that the scenes for lots of games have really had to struggle to stay alive.

    Enter useful and accurate emulation and viable online play with excellent netcode. Emulated games have been around a long time and the ability to play them online against people is some years old as well, but only in the last year have really excellent programs come out. For example, nFBA is a great emulator that supports virtually all of the popular 2D fighting games, and GGPO.net and 2DF Freeplay are both extremely well done p2p netcode programs that allow for very faithful and near-perfect online play.

    The result of this is a huge increase in access to good fighting game players and a correspondingly large increase in both the popularity of the games and the levels of play that’ve grown up around them. And the benefit hasn’t just gone to the popular games; older, more niche games like Street Fighter II: Championship Edition and World Heroes Perfect have developed loyal fanbases and very high levels of play, an impossibility until just this last year.

    As for the raw numbers? 2DF currently has 8730 registered users and GGPO currently has over 60500 registered users, and both have several hundred players from every continent online at any given time.

    This isn’t really an example of modding, but it is an example of the creation (or continuation, really) of a dynamic community thanks to the PC’s ability to create ways to work with older games. And yeah, it’s one reason I can’t see PC gaming dying either.

    There’s no real way to know whether any of this has had any impact on game developers, but it’s interesting to note that since nFBA, GGPO, and 2DF were created, fighting game developers have announced the creation of five major 2D titles to be released in just the next year, and some of them, most prominently Street Fighter 4, will be released on PC.

  • ultra

    Sort of in line with this is the relatively recent rise of the PC-based fighting game community. While fighting games like Street Fighter still nurture arcade scenes in some places, for most of the past decade the definite trend has been towards consoles. Unfortunately, some of the most popular games never received faithful translations to home systems (ie Super Street Fighter II Turbo never got a good port despite half a dozen ties), others received faithful translations to now-dead systems (ie Marvel vs Capcom 2 was ported well to the Dreamcast but nowhere else), or received faithful translations with crappy online play (like Street Fighter III: Third Strike), and less popular games have never received a faithful port. The result has been that the scenes for lots of games have really had to struggle to stay alive.

    Enter useful and accurate emulation and viable online play with excellent netcode. Emulated games have been around a long time and the ability to play them online against people is some years old as well, but only in the last year have really excellent programs come out. For example, nFBA is a great emulator that supports virtually all of the popular 2D fighting games, and GGPO.net and 2DF Freeplay are both extremely well done p2p netcode programs that allow for very faithful and near-perfect online play.

    The result of this is a huge increase in access to good fighting game players and a correspondingly large increase in both the popularity of the games and the levels of play that’ve grown up around them. And the benefit hasn’t just gone to the popular games; older, more niche games like Street Fighter II: Championship Edition and World Heroes Perfect have developed loyal fanbases and very high levels of play, an impossibility until just this last year.

    As for the raw numbers? 2DF currently has 8730 registered users and GGPO currently has over 60500 registered users, and both have several hundred players from every continent online at any given time.

    This isn’t really an example of modding, but it is an example of the creation (or continuation, really) of a dynamic community thanks to the PC’s ability to create ways to work with older games. And yeah, it’s one reason I can’t see PC gaming dying either.

    There’s no real way to know whether any of this has had any impact on game developers, but it’s interesting to note that since nFBA, GGPO, and 2DF were created, fighting game developers have announced the creation of five major 2D titles to be released in just the next year, and some of them, most prominently Street Fighter 4, will be released on PC.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Good post. I like the turn-based strategy games. It seems that the good niche games are now distributed (more-or-less) solely on-line.

    Afrika Korps
    Chickamauga

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Good post. I like the turn-based strategy games. It seems that the good niche games are now distributed (more-or-less) solely on-line.

    Afrika Korps
    Chickamauga

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