Page last updated at 08:19 GMT, Tuesday, 2 August 2005 09:19 UK

Fans hit back in GTA sex storm

As the furore over the Hot Coffee modification to GTA: San Andreas rumbles on, a fan of the game and a committed modder known as Illspirit takes on industry calls for games to be made impervious to fan-made modifications.

Screengrab from mod for GTA:2, Illspirit
Game fan Illspirit started out making mods for GTA2

Modding isn't a new thing at all.

I've been involved in modding the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series since early 1998, and even back then there was a rather large community of people making mods for the games.

This was my first real entry into modding, but before this, modding had been quite popular dating back to the early 90's.

I'm not quite sure when it started, as the earliest thing in memory is the original Doom game way back in 1993.

iD software gave its fans programs to edit and create graphics and maps for Doom, which quickly resulted in a massive amount of user-made content.

Mod madness

As the internet became more and more common, it allowed fans to meet up and share their content more easily.

The mod phenomenon initially focused on multi-player shooter titles, but quickly spread to other types of games as fans began getting together to make fan sites and message boards.

GTA: San Andreas being removed from shelf. AP
Most of us ran out to buy the console versions to play the games as soon as they came out, and later bought them again for PC just for the mods

GTA scandal hits Australia
It's hard to tell how many people actively create mods, but as far as PC gaming goes, a vast number of gamers use them quite extensively.

Series such as Doom, Unreal, and Half-Life provide active support for user-made content, and it's not uncommon to find multi-player servers which only contain user-made levels.

The sheer number of levels out there, and the varying complexity of design, would seem to indicate there are countless people who create mods - either as a regular hobby, or just to have a quick go at making a simple map to see how it works.

As far as mods extending the life of games, well, that would be an understatement. The original Half-Life came out in 1997, and a number of mods for it continued to be among the most popular online games up until (and past) the release of Half-Life 2 last year.

The Counter-Strike mod, for instance, steadily stayed at the top of the list for the number of people playing it online on's servers. It was only bumped from the top spot by the release of the mod for the updated Half-Life 2 engine.

Also, the Counter-Strike mod was so popular, that Valve software bought the rights to it, released it as a retail title and hired some of the modders involved with it.

Code cracking

Modding the 3D GTA titles has been a mixed bag.

Sarin MMX2, Illspirit
Modders have made new vehicles and territories for GTA
Portions of the game use simple text files to control various aspects of the game, which are easily editable in any text editor.

Things like the 3D models, textures, and other binary files required lots of research, testing, and creation of custom tools to edit. Even now with most aspects of GTA being moddable, it is still quite challenging due to the complex nature of the game's environments.

It's also worth mentioning that nearly everyone in the GTA3/Vice City/San Andreas mod scene have purchased each title twice.

Each of those three games was released in the month of October for the PlayStation 2, with the PC version following in May or June of the year after.

Most of us ran out to buy the console versions to play the games as soon as they came out, and later bought them again for PC just for the mods.

So for Rockstar, the ESRB, or the US Congress to prevent us from modding games would have a devastating impact on sales.

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