S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mod Roundup 2011

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mod Roundup 2011
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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mods: Valuable Artifacts in the Garbage

Though GSC Game World has provided PC gamers with a precious treasure through S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, the nature of the platform always makes players yearn for even more than what a developer provides. In the years since Shadow of Chernobyl’s release, enterprising players with graphical and programming know-how have turned this title inside-out with innumerable modifications ranging from minor tweaks to full-blown conversions. As is the nature of - well, everything - the quality of these modifications runs from superb and trailblazing to absolute filth and newcomers to the Shadow of Chernobyl mod scene may find themselves utterly confused on separating the treasure from the trash. With a bit of investigation and some advice from a veteran of the Zone, however, players unfamiliar with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mods should soon find the mods that suit their preferences and expand their S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience.

While there exists a nigh-innumerable quantity of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mods spread across countless web sites, the quality and focus of the extremely vast majority of these mods oftentimes makes them unfit for consumption and mention. As such, this article will focus on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mods which are either still actively in development or which have made a profound impact upon the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mod scene. Many entries seen will thus be families to long-term Shadow of Chernobyl modders and Bright Hub readers, but as successful mods of note are a rarity regardless of title, such repetition is oftentimes unavoidable.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mods: Oblivion Lost

A military raid of the Cordon Stalker camp is just one of many possible encounters in Oblivion Lost.

Oblivion Lost is where serious S.T.A.L.K.E.R. modding all began - quite literally, in many regards. Named after the original title under which Shadow of Chernobyl was developed, Oblivion Lost is first and foremost a restoration of much of the material GSC Game World cut from Shadow of Chernobyl before release. The removal of AI restrictions placed by GSC Game World before release allows mutants and Stalkers alike to explore the Zone with extraordinary freedom, and the result is a living, breathing world where anything can happen anywhere in the game. Besides restoration, Oblivion Lost also makes numerous additions and overhauls to existing Shadow of Chernobyl assets. New real-world weapons give players plenty of variety and flexibility in the matter of self-defense and tweaks to weather activity and graphics produce a world that’s visually startling and capable of ranging from beautiful tranquility to nightmarish rain and lightning.

Unfortunately, as one of the oldest mods for Shadow of Chernobyl - officially discontinued in late 2008 at version 2.2 - Oblivion Lost has suffered the worst from age of all the reputable S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mods, lacking many improvements that more recent mods have introduced and ported from later games in the series. Given Oblivion Lost’s considerable impact on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mod community, however, an investigation is well worth the effort if only to see what might have been had GSC Game World left certain assets of Shadow of Chernobyl intact prior to release.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mods: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Complete 2009

The ghost city of Pripyat gains new life with Complete 2009’s graphical overhauls.

Many game modifications are concerned with tweaking gameplay aspects, adding new features and items or optimizing performance, and what mods do focus on graphics tend to be simple high-resolution texture affairs. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Complete 2009 takes just the opposite approach, and combined with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s inherent graphical style the result is a visual presentation that borders on the unbelievable. Overhauls to weather and environmental effects replicate the Ukrainian wilderness with perfection and advanced graphics systems such as depth of field, motion blur, water shading and dynamic fire lighting pushes the X-Ray engine to its graphical limits. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Complete 2009’s fixation on graphics hasn’t completely overshadowed improvements to performance and gameplay, however. A flew of bug fixes from both the community and the Complete 2009 team has greatly diminished Shadow of Chernobyl’s infamous crash rate and many mod staples such as repair services and sleeping bags are included to help ease certain Shadow of Chernobyl oversights and irritations.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mods: L.U.R.K.

Though idyllic at first glance, L.U.R.K.’s rendition of the Zone is as deadly as ever.

The latest rising star of the Shadow of Chernobyl mod scene, L.U.R.K. is an endeavor by residents of 4Chan’s /v/ and /k/ image board to create “the definitive S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience”. A compilation mod that takes from the most popular and acclaimed independent S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mods, L.U.R.K. differs from much of its compilation bretheren in goes far beyond the mere comparability tweaks and ensures that what elements are included are of the utmost quality. Texture revamps and custom animations for every single weapon and a ballistics overhaul that balances the fine line between optimal realism and optimal gameplay gives L.U.R.K.’s gunplay a unique and satisfying feel. Graphics have also received an extraordinary boost through the addition of new textures and rendering processes, and lighting and the AI’s perception of such has been tweaked to make combat at night - now a terrifying pitch-black - an extremely tense and satisfying affair with players now having the ability to effectively flank and sneak up on enemies to dispatch them covertly. Combined with innumerable additional tweaks and overhauls and an active development cycle, L.U.R.K. looks to be like the new go-to mod for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. enthusiasts. Be warned, however, that L.U.R.K. is designed from the ground up as a hardcore mod with a heavy emphasis on realism, so those who prefer action and accessibility over accuracy may wish to look elsewhere for their S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mod fix.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mods: Minor Mods

The more focused and compact a mod, the less likely it is to be packed with unwanted crap.

While stupendously-large mega mods are nice, much can also be said of the more focused small-scale operations by modders to improve various aspects of Shadow of Chernobyl, and in some cases a handful of carefully-selected minor mods can be more effective than a single mega mod. Sites such as ModDB and FileFront carry large archives of mods that run the gambit from simple tweaks to full conversions. A stroll through the archives of both the most recent and most popular submissions provides plenty of options to players seeking to enhance their S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience, and though Sturgeon’s Law still applies in full force in regards to quality, some cross-referencing through Google to find reviews can reveal what’s worthwhile and what to avoid. Best of all, given the more focused nature of these small-scale mods it’s possible for players to find and develop their own roster of modifications that suit their preferences or needs, something larger compilations often fail to accomplish given their typical focus on quantity versus quality.

Though technically a mega mod by virtue of the number of issues addressed, the Zone Reclamation Project (ZRP from this point) is one of the most popular entry-level S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl mods. Designed for ease of installation and use, the ZRP focuses on addressing technical issues and making minor tweaks to performance while maintaining Shadow of Chernobyl’s original design paradigms as closely as possible. In addition to a slew of bugfixes and translation adjustments, the ZRP also allows the player to customize many Shadow of Chernobyl configuration factors such as movement speed and jumping height, quest recycle time, weight capacity and headbob degree. The ZRP is also compilation-friendly and many mod compilations use the ZRP as a base when development begins.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Mods: Mod Tweaking

An example of a typical S.T.A.L.K.E.R. data file as viewed with Notepad++.

Needless to say, the beauty of game modifications is the ability of players to fine-tune the changes they enact in order to accomplish a specific goal, and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is one of the more tweak-friendly game franchises available. The unpacked .ltx data files that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. uses for many assets are coded in a basic text format, so the only tool necessary is Notepad - preferably Notepad++, which is more specialized for code manipulation. Gameplay-oriented files are stored in the \Config subfolder of the main Gamedata folder used for modding, and the subfolders within \Config sort files based on their functionality: weapons, outfits, artifacts, creatures, text, user interface and more.

Tweaking the properties of creatures, weapons and other objects is literally as simple as changing a number and no coding or programming knowledge is necessary. Changing the value of “Spawn_Inventory_Item_Probability” in many creature files can affect the recovery rate of various mutant parts to provide a reliable stream of income for players specializing in mutant hunting, while tinkering with the Protection and Immunity values in outfit files can change damage resistance and degradation rates for armored suits. Artifact values can be altered to improve their benefit to the player through use or sale, and many miscellaneous factors such as trading rates and amounts, items looted from corpses and the properties of minor items like food and medicine can be adjusted by accessing the relevant files in the \Misc subdirectory.


Image Credit: FileFront/Kanyhalos

Image Credit: Flickr/artistpavel

Image Credit: ModDB/L.U.R.K. Team