The Complicated History of Prop Hunt

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Out of all the games played by SeaNanners, Prop Hunt has got to be one of the weirdest. You know the drill by now – a group of players must transform into an object (or prop as they’re known) within a stage and hide from a team of hunters until the round ends.

The fact that you’re reading this means you’ve probably seen hours and hours of Adam playing Prop Hunt, often borderline cheating his way to victory by hiding outside the map. Of course, he sometimes wins through legitimate means, be it becoming a coffee cup and hiding in pot plant, or gunning down a friend who accidentally became a bookshelf and couldn’t escape being noticed.

If you’re like me, when you think of Prop Hunt you immediately associate it with Garry’s Mod. But to get to that point Prop Hunt had to take a long and complicated journey that involves numerous modders, different games, and thousands of hours of work.

THE HUNTERS HAVE BEEN RELEASED

It all started with Counter-Strike: Source, the 2004 remake of the original Counter-Strike, which was one of the first games by Valve to take advantage of their new Source engine. Superseding their first engine (the Quake engine derivative GoldSrc), Valve’s newest engine wasn’t designed specifically with modding in mind, but none-the-less did garner a strong following in the burgeoning mod scene. Soon after the release of Counter-Strike: Source a relatively self-explanatory mod called simply Hide’n’Seek began to rise in popularity.

In Northern Ireland in 2009, a gamer called Darkimmortal, also known as Luke Foreman in the real world, often found himself watching his brother play the Hide’n’Seek mod, which inspired him to try and recreate it in another Source engine game, Team Fortress 2.

“I had been working on other Team Fortress 2 server-side mods before,” said Luke, “but none of them ever really took off – they just weren’t ‘fun’ in the same way. The experience of knowing what didn’t work helped me to see the potential in Prop Hunt from early in the development process.”

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Originally working alone, Luke eventually got help from a fellow modder named Geit (real name Rory King) to get Prop Hunt up and running. “[While maintaining the mod] a change to Team Fortress 2 … blocked the method I had been using to change player models. Following that, Geit and I managed to get a direct line of contact with Valve, who implemented official functionality for servers to change player models that allowed it to continue working, and in a more seamless way than before.”

After it’s release, other modders came in and began iterating Prop Hunt; a move that’s fairly common in the modding community. One of the first was a modder known as Powerlord (Ross Bemrose), who built his own offshoot called Prop Hunt Redux around 2013. Luke refers to this version as “the defacto build” of the mod in Team Fortress 2.

LIVING WITH GARRY

After the success Prop Hunt in Team Fortress 2 a version of the mod was ported back to Counter-Strike: Source, which caught the eye of Southern California native Andrew Theis. Known online as AMT, Andrew was big into PC gaming in his high school and college days, which eventually kickstarted his journey into the mod scene.

“[Prop Hunt] was pretty limited by what you could and couldn’t do with Counter-Strike: Source since there wasn’t an official way to mod the game,” explained Andrew. “I had experience creating games for Garry’s Mod, like my Half-Life 2 co-op mod, which allowed players to [play cooperatively], so I decided to try porting Prop Hunt over [to Garry’s Mod].”

Getting the Garry’s Mod version of Prop Hunt up and running took more effort than Andrew anticipated. He was still learning how to program at the time and had to deal with every update to Garry’s Mod breaking Prop Hunt in new ways.

“At some point, I got [Garrys’s Mod creator Garry Newman] on my Steam friends list and would bother him with issues after these big Garry’s Mod [patches]. He was always really responsive and helpful, and I remember working with him to patch a few things on the Garry’s Mod client to fix issues I was having with my mods.”

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Eventually, Andrew moved on from Prop Hunt, and in time a new Garry’s Mod update made the mod unplayable. But as is the case with so many mods, a new steward stepped in to keep home fires burning. His name was Kenneth Petersen, a Danish programmer who is also known as Leleudk.

“I missed being able to play it,” said Kenneth, “so I looked up what changed in Garry’s Mod and tried to learn the script used. I then just fixed the places where the errors occurred and made it work in the new version.”

After Kenneth’s revival of Prop Hunt new versions began rolling out from various sources, but once again a big update to Garry’s Mod made Prop Hunt unplayable leaving it was all but abandoned once more. Around this time an even bigger change was on the horizon, and it was one that would drastically change how the majority of PC gamers made and managed mods.

GETTING BACK TO WORK

Intended to be a centralized mod distribution platform within the Steam, the Steam Workshop by Valve was designed from the ground up to let gamers search and play up-to-date mods in a more streamlined fashion. It was big news for mod makers everywhere.

Around this time an Italian gamer known simply as Kowalski was introduced to Prop Hunt by a friend and figured now, with the advent of the Workshop, it was the perfect time to revive Prop Hunt. Nicknamed after one of the penguins from the animated Madagascar films, Kowlaski readily acknowledges those that have come before him in bringing Prop Hunt to life. And while their digital DNA remains in buried in Prop Hunt, chances are if you’ve played Prop Hunt in Garry’s Mod recently, you’ve been playing Kowalski’s version.

“I really liked Garry’s Mod for some years for [it’s] community of active plugin developers and the extendibility of the game,” said Kowlaski. “This allows the community to play various game modes, from the standard sandbox to a multiplayer horror story.”

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The next big step in the Source mod scene was the creation of the aptly named Sourcemod, which allowed gamers to run mods on the server side instead of relying on client side installations. This ultimately meant people could create servers for popular mods, like Trouble in Terrorist Town or Prop Hunt, and keep them up-to-date for all players.

The big advantage of Sourcemod was that instead of relying on gamers to install the latest patches or find the newest builds on their own, server side updates meant game modes could be added and updated for everyone. It’s why playing different game modes in Garry’s Mod is so easy, but for those working on the backend it was a bit of a nightmare to keep it all running smoothly.

“[Back in 2009] key functions [in Sourcemod] relied on extensions that were poorly maintained or unstable,” explained Luke. “Large parts had to be rewritten to keep up with updates from Valve, and in attempts to keep the server from spontaneously crashing.”

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

Building off his modding experience, Luke now lives in Cambridgeshire, England, and works as a programmer on a well-known MMORPG. He said he doesn’t have much time for playing Prop Hunt but does check in now and then to make sure the mode still runs with the latest Team Fortress 2 updates.

He’s still proud of what he and Geit were able to produce, saying that there’s now over 500,000 unique players on the official Prop Hunt stats. Looking back, Luke said he’s also glad “that Valve recognized [Prop Hunt’s] contribution to Team Fortress 2.”

Meanwhile, back in America, Andrew works as a Senior Software Engineer and credits porting Prop Hunt over to Garry’s Mod (along with his other modding work) as being “a key stepping stone to get me to where I am now.”

In fact, Andrew is a big advocate for learning how to program, any way you can. “There’s tons of great free resources online for every language and platform. Build a website for your other favorite hobby. Create an iOS app. Make a game in Unity. Mod Garry’s Mod. It will be an invaluable skill moving forward into the next decade.”

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Over in Italy, Kowalski, the current caretaker of Prop Hunt, said his personal life, new projects, and university mean he also doesn’t get much time to play Prop Hunt these days. He did, however, find time to manage a few Minecraft servers, but said it’s “a shame that server-side mods can’t add new elements to [Minecraft] like it happens on Garry’s Mod.”

When speaking about those new to modding, Kowalski said that “the easiest way to learn how to make mods is learning from other developer’s code. But it’s also important to read the documentation. This not applies only for Garry’s Mod, but for almost everything. And when you have doubts or something is not working, there are always forums [like] StackOverflow.”

THE POWER OF THE MOD

Prop Hunt remains a great example of how modding can work when a versatile game engine like Valve’s Source is introduced to eager bedroom programmers. It’s a testament to open source development how it can foster ideas that will grow organically inside of a community of like-minded gamers.

“I think this shows that some people have love for certain games and mods, and I think that is great,” said Kenneth. “I never thought people would use my version as the base for the future updates, and it made me very proud when I saw people beginning posting videos with Prop Hunt again, where I could see that it was the version I worked on.”

For those of us who play Prop Hunt, or spend time watching others enjoy it, it’s incredible to think about how much joy has come about from one simple (and weird) mod. One ridiculous game that has helped people kickstart their careers, fostered a creative community of programmers, and entertained thousands, or even millions, of people over the years. “I really like how Prop Hunt can entertain [so many] people,” said Kowalski. “Just open YouTube to see how many people enjoy playing together.”

Andrew Whitehead

Andrew Whitehead

Andrew Whitehead is a journalist and writer with over thirteen years of experience in the media. He has written for Game Informer, Hyper Magazine, PC & Tech Authority, PC PowerPlay and worked for over a decade at APN News & Media, one of Australia’s largest media outlets. He moved from Australia to Los Angeles in 2015 and is currently the Content & Community Manager at SeaNanners Gaming Channel.

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