Valve liked Team Fortress so much that it offered Cook and Walker a business deal: The company will release Team Fortress 2 as a full-fledged retail product. Long delays in the release of TF2 have generated Web sites filled with feverish speculation about what the game will look like, and when it will arrive (the company now says it will be sometime next year). Not surprisingly, the commercial aspect of the TF2 mod has also ignited controversy within the hacker community over whether or not it constitutes a sellout, and whether Valve, which aggressively markets mods of its games, hurts or helps the culture. "The whole point of making a mod is to be free and not have some company telling you what to do," says Chris Rogiss, a programmer who worked on the popular Quake mod, Urban Terror. On the contrary, says Tom Mustaine, a mod maker whose work led to a full-time job at Ritual Entertainment, a game company: "The secret desire of every mod creator is to get recognition from the companies who are making the games."
Jordan Edelson, aka Master X, would agree. A 17-year-old junior at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, he's directing 21 people-artists, animators, sound engineers, game testers, and programmers fluent in the C++ computer language-in the creation of a Half-Life variation called Xmod. Edelson wrote the story line (human mutants created as supersoldiers by the U.S. military escape their compound; all hell breaks loose) but what's truly original about his mod are its add-on features: an in-game virtual PDA that offers advice and helps locate teammates, an 18-song original soundtrack, the ability to mix and match attributes to create your own character. Edelson and his all-volunteer team have been toiling for more than a year now, and by sharing early, unfinished versions have already gained a sizeable following on the Internet. "You can pretty much go anywhere you want with it," he says. "I like working with other people and trying to create something that has the possibility of being bought out by Valve or another company."
Not all game companies are open-minded about mods. Console manufacturers like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, which rely on game-disc sales and fear knockoffs, have yet to create a means for gamers to get under the hood of their titles, though that doesn't stop them from trying. Microsoft's PC-code-based Xbox, in particular, has the hackers salivating.
No matter the barriers, the advantage probably lies with the modifiers in the long run. They are persistent and they are creative. "With what we make," Cook says, "the story never ends. They're living products."