Half-Life, Quake and Doom mods were my jam, and in a lot of ways, still are my jam.
I remember losing hours to ReaperBots in Quake 1, which were so good it got the creator a job writing the bot AI for Unreal Tournament 2004. Back when games still cared about that kind of stuff.
I also remember spending a lot of time in a mod called Unreal Tournament Forever, which more than tripled the number of guns, maps, and modes for UT99. I loved it for the absolute insanity it bore; you were never sure what was happening, what function guns had, and it was customizable to the max. You could restrict certain weapons from spawning, you could make killed players spawn zombies, just absolutely nuts all around.
I cannot tell you how long I played The Specialists for Half-Life. It turned the deathmatch in to an action scene out of a John Woo movie, or The Matrix. Long before the multiplayer mode in Max Payne 3, The Specialists solved the problem of how to do bullet time in multiplayer. My friends and I played it for years.
We held out for ages hoping for a Source Engine port or something that never materialized. Eventually some of The Specialists crew put out Double Action Boogaloo for Source, but by then we’d moved on.
On the other end of the coin, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my circle of friends to enjoy a Half-Life mod by the name of Zombie Panic. I tried to get my friends in to it, but most bounced off, due to the nature of the game. It was an early zombie mod, where one player is picked to be the zombie and must slowly kill and convert the survivor team. It could be incredibly frustrating, as getting that first kill was never easy, but it had a campy mood and the feeling of being in the zombie team as you rushed down the last surviving human was always fun. It transitioned to Source, but didn’t have the same magic, and eventually even graduated to becoming a retail game called Contagion (that apparently has a bad history behind it). I’ve heard Zombie Panic Source is under new management now and apparently got a huge content update a few months ago.
On the subject of under-played zombie mods, also shoutouts to Zombie Master for Source. Instead of the zombies being a team of players, Zombie Master gave one player an overhead RTS view of the action, with the ability to spawn zombies and control map events, all in service of making sure the human team did not finish the objective. It was a FANTASTICALLY good idea let down by a simple lack of content and polish. As I recall, midway through development, Zombie Master lost some of its artists and the mod suffered as a result. It never had enough maps, and a lot of the maps it did have were ugly as hell. But when it was good, MAN, it was incredible! Ubisoft quietly borrowed this concept for the multiplayer mode in Zombi U, but it failed to take off there, too.
The state of Doom modding continues to shock me. There are so many weird, wacky, wild things going on in that community right now.
Pirate Doom is a fantastic total conversion that pulls in elements from games like Monkey Island. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all and has great level design.
Unloved almost sort of turns Doom in to a Metroidvania, blended with elements of Silent Hill 4: The Room. Essentially, different objects in your house teleport you to different “worlds,” but everything is subtly interconnected and a puzzle you solve in one world could effect something in another. The developer “remade” it as a stand-alone game to sell in Steam, but in the process it was turned in to a procedurally generated co-op roguelike, completely changing basically everything interesting about the original. I’ve never actually played the Steam version, but I looked at a lot of video not long after it first released and was not impressed.
Simon’s Destiny turns Doom in to a flippin’ first-person classic Castlevania game, both for better and for worse. The gameplay is mostly left intact, and you really have to stop and reconsider your new perspective on the action. I’d say it’s more interesting than it is fun, though; I made it up to the boss fight with Death, and not being able to see what’s behind you turned in to quite the handicap.
I guess I can’t mention Doom mods without bringing up Sonic Robo-Blast 2, a Doom Legacy Total Conversion that turns it in to a 3D platformer, and a fairly decent one at that. I was a texture artist on this game for a little bit. It’s been in development for over 20 years at this point, and the current team is teasing a new update that will finally add proper sloped surfaces to the game (as well as completely overhaul all of the visuals). The SRB2 community is insanely active, running multiplayer games (deathmatch and race) and even being so active as to give SRB2 its own modding scene.
Most recently released is a mod called SRB2 Kart, which is a total conversion of a total conversion that turns SRB2 in to a Mario-Kart-style kart racer. That, in itself, is starting to build its own modding community of people making custom racers and tracks. The same team that is responsible for SRB2 Kart also made something called SRB2 Top Down, which takes inspiration from games like Super Mario 3D World and Sonic 3D Blast.
And then, with regards to Doom modding, something I’ve started to have fun with are the idea of mods that don’t necessarily add new levels, but can be placed over the top of other mods. Such is the case of “High Noon Drifter.” This mod adds a completely new set of weapons and game mechanics that can be used in tons and tons of existing Doom, Heretic and Hexen maps. I played through all of Heretic with High Noon Drifter and it was a strange but memorable experience. And thanks to having tons of customizable toggles, I also played through the tough-as-nails Ancient Aliens map pack with High Noon Drifter as well, with the settings tweaked to soften the challenge a bit.
Another fun one is MetaDoom, which takes the existing set of Doom weapons and monsters and blows them out to include every variation of everything ever made for this franchise. It’s a very fun idea, and adds a whole heck of a lot of variety to a game you might have played a dozen or so times already over the last 25 years.
I could keep going, but I’ll stop here for now.