Mods are the lifeblood of longevity in the video game industry, the yardstick by which replay value is often measured. So it’s not surprising then that a well-coded engine might still be relevant for indie developers long after the company that built it has ceased turning a profit. And while there are, of course, several great mods of older games out there that provide fun tweaks to the core experience (Brutal Doom, for example), this is a list exclusively of total conversion mods. Games that have so many new resources added as to be essentially new experiences… but built on tech that’s often more than a decade old.
1. Total Chaos (Doom II)
Okay, so this one’s not technically out yet but even just as a tech demo it’s pretty impressive. Using an updated version of the Doom II engine (that’s from 1993, if you want to do the math) that introduces nifty features like OpenGL and mouselook, Total Chaos looks to be totally intense. Another entry in the growing niche of independent survival-horror games, Total Chaos eschews gunplay and demands that you interact with the environment and set traps to take care of the stalking zombie hordes that crave your flesh. Sure, it’s not the most original idea here in 2014 but with enough craft and enthusiasm it could really be something special.
If nothing else, it will at least be a solid showcase for WadaHolic, its mad genius inventor, who looks to be a promising talent in the scene. You can judge for yourself below:
2. Gravity Bone/Thirty Flights of Loving (id Tech 2)
Blendo Games is quirky as heck. They make those sorts of games wherein the stories are glorious messes; the type that place thematic precision well ahead of the cohesiveness of their narratives. And I must admit that I have a soft spot for that kind of thing. But if you don’t, then you’d do well to avoid this series of interactive art pieces built from the old id Tech 2 engine. I hear they’re making another one actually, so as to have a proper trilogy. And they might even be upgrading to, gasp, id Tech 4! We’ll see if their indie gaming credibility survives such a leap forward in technology but in the meantime you can check out a trailer for their old stuff here:
You know, from back before they sold out.
3. The Nameless Mod (Unreal Engine 1)
Released in 2009 and in development for a whopping seven years, this unofficial sequel to the original Deus Ex wasn’t just using an older engine for kicks. In fact, when the team started out, the game that they were making their tribute to was only two years old. So this one’s impressive not just for the novelty but also for the commitment involved in its production. Still, from the Clinton years to the Obama years, these graphics are definitely showing their age. Although if you’re under eighteen and reading this then I’d like to assure you that, yes, we all actually were blocky, barely humanoid meat puppets back in the year 2000. They were darker times, as evidenced by this frankly embarrassing trailer which manages to capture exactly what was so blissfully lame about the turn of our century:
4. Diaspora (Freespace II)
Sticking with the year 2000, that’s also when Volition was bought up by now-defunct publisher THQ. But at the time, Interplay still owned the rights to the Freespace series which meant that the developer could no longer generate sequels to their own work. Rather than letting it fade into total obscurity, they released the source code for everyone to enjoy and since then a dedicated group of programmers has been maintaining and updating it and the engine has become a great resource for people looking to make their own first-person space shooters. That also includes a few unlicensed projects based on entertainment properties like Babylon 5 or, for the game that we’ll be turning our attention to in this article, Battlestar Galactica.
Diaspora heads all the way back in the timeline to the original miniseries and chronicles the events of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies from the perspective of someone who has the ability to shoot at a whole lot of stuff along the way. Specifically, a Viper pilot in engagements with the Cylon fleet. It’s pretty neat, all told, and if you’re looking to scratch an itch for either nostalgia properties like BSG or just fast-paced space combat games in general then you could do a whole lot worse than grabbing a copy and trying it out. You can check out the trailer here:
And then maybe spend some time going through the rest of the games enabled by the Freespace 2 Source Code Project. I hear somebody even made one based on Wing Commander! Here’s hoping that they were able to snag a voice-over cameo by Freddie Prinze Jr. Although I doubt most indie developers could afford his steep asking price these days of a free lunch and a warm blanket.