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Gamers can be a real drag. I know, because I am one. We want the best game possible and have a tendency to be ungrateful if everything was not done exactly how we’d like.
This often results in pointless moaning but there are times when it births something real and new. It’s hard to tell when this will happen – popular games have more fans who may eventually decide to transform the game while unpopular games may have more problems that need to be fixed.
Either way, this is a bit of a dying art form. The increased complexity of modern games and the use of digital rights management are making it harder and harder for players to spin off their own incarnations. This snapshot of today’s best alternatives may also be a snapshot of modding before its demise.
Total Annihilation was easily one of the best strategy games of the 1990s and also my personal favorite. Unlike other titles, which focused on tight game-building, tactics and fast-paced play, Total Annihilation offered expansive strategy with huge bases and armies. It also offered a user interface that seemed like a revelation.
But it’s also old, and looks it when played on modern computers. When it became apparent that a proper sequel was not going to be released (this was before the announcement of Supreme Commander) the community started work on a 3D engine that could update the game. It eventually became so mature that it is now an open-source game engine available for anyone who is interested in starting a project.
Balanced Annihilation is the most direct successor to the original Total Annihilation. It retains the core concepts while enhancing the graphics and improving unit balance. It is at this point considered a fully mature game in need of no major updates.
You can download Balanced Annihilation for free. You do not need the original Total Annihilation to play it.
Fall From Heaven 2
Have you ever wondered what Civilization would be like if it was a fantasy game? Now you don’t have to.
Fall From Heaven 2 is probably one of the most illustrious game conversions ever produced. Technically, this game remains a mod because it uses the Civilization IV engine, but the game mechanics are heavily changed, graphic resources have been modified or replaced, and the finished product ends up being a tribute to both the fantasy-strategy genre and Civilization at the same time.
There was an effort to make this a stand-alone game but the project did not receive the financial support it needed (if only Kickstarter had been around then!)
This game requires Civilization IV with the Beyond The Sword expansion. You can buy Civilization IV: Gold Edition and Beyond The Sword for about $18 on Amazon.
GoldenEye 007 was easily one of the most important shooter games ever released on the console. Its excellent campaign and fun multi-player proved that it was possible to develop a successful first person shooter exclusively for a console.
Unfortunately, Nintendo 64 games aren’t exactly a looker these days and you may have trouble finding a few friends who want to play it. The GoldenEye: Source re-make fixes this by placing the multi-player portion of the game on PC.
It’s an incredibly faithful remake which manages to re-capture the feel of the original. Everything from the controls to the graphics style is very similar to the original game. Active development continues – the next version will include bots and a graphical revision of several maps.
You’ll need Steam and the SourceSDK to play this game. Both are free, as is GoldenEye: Source.
Mechwarrior: Living Legends
The MechWarrior franchise, after a period of intense popularity in the late 90s, started to fade away at the turn of the century as the trickle of new titles slowed and eventually stopped. Fans were left without a new game to play. After a six-year hiatus a group of mod developers decided to fix this by making a new, free game using the engine from a popular first-person shooter, Crysis.
You’ll find that this is not just a rip-off of Mechwarrior, however. Living Legends is multi-player only and heavily focused on both team play and individual accomplishments over time. There is a complex “Trial Of Annhilation” mode in which players start at the rank of private, which provides only a small number of C-Bills, the game’s currency. This restricts players to the weaker Mechs and vehicles, though eventually players will earn the ability to pilot heavier equipment.
Everything that you expect from a Mechwarrior game is here including all the classic weapons, faithfully reproduced Mechs, tanks, aerospace fighters and more. Anyone who is a fan of the franchise should give this one a try.
The Bard’s Tale
Developer inXile Entertainment has had an interesting history. The company started by developing a spiritual successor of classic game The Bard’s Tale. The studio’s founder, Brian Fargo, was writer for the original game and worked on several of sequels in various capacities. Many other employees, fans and veterans of other RPG titles, were eager to work on the project.
There was only one hitch – the company did not have the rights from Electronic Arts. So while the remake ended up being a dungeon crawler like the original, and they even bundled the original game in with the PC release, the new game only made references to the setting of the original and did not reuse the characters or plot. Indeed, he new title ended up being something of a parody.
The new game received mixed reviews when it was originally released. Some praised its humorous dialogue and solid dungeon-crawl combat but others thought it spent too much time lampooning the RPG genre and not enough improving it.
InExile recently ported the game to iOS and it has aged well. The revamped touch controls are robust (with the exception of some too-tiny buttons on iPhone) and the game’s graphics are solid for a mobile title.
There are a lot of fan made alternatives available. We’ve already mentioned some, such as FreeCiv, in previous articles. Others, like the remake of Chrono Trigger, have been banished due to cease-and-desist orders despite the fact they have no commercial intent. Companies are fiercely protective of their intellectual properly and often nix fan-made options when they’re announced.
What is your favorite fan-made game? There are hundreds if not thousands available, so I’m sure that I’ve missed some loved by readers. Let us know your preference in the comments.