Garry’s Mod expert review: game development 101

Garry’s Mod expert review: game development 101
Juliet Childers

Juliet Childers

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The meme-worthy and chuckle-inducing title Garry’s Mod is almost irrevocably tied with Valve and, by proxy, the Steam shop. However, the funny little sandbox game came from a single designer and programmer: Garry Newman. Hence the name Garry’s Mod.

Since it is a sandbox game, users can do a great deal with it. You can just play games created by others, create addons or maps for games, or create your own unique title within Garry’s Mod. Though out for about 15 years, the game finally hit 20 million units sold in 2021. But the sustained interest in Garry’s Mod has helped the studio commit to new titles like Rust.

So what is it about this game that keeps players coming back? Let’s review all of the features in Garry’s Mod and see how it stacks up to similar sandbox games.

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Garry's Mod

The beginning of Garry’s Mod and beyond

Released in 2006, Garry’s Mod base game mode featured no objectives and just allowed players to manipulate objects in space. Players can spawn as NPCs, props, and other interactive items then manipulate them with the “physics gun”. Other modes such as Prop Hunt came from mods from other developers as found in the Steam Workshop.

But user-created content really made Garry’s Mod shine with popular mods that came to be known as “addons”. Roleplay became a popular option, as well, with people creating custom in-universe characters then interacting in that universe. Half-Life and Star Wars remain two of the most popular roleplay servers.

Garry’s Mod machinima

The term “machinima” or “machinema” is a bit of a portmanteau on “machine” and “cinema”. It’s where users take game universes and assets then use those to create animated “films”. These can be sweeping tales or something as silly as this Team Fortress 2 universe “Wonderwall” parody by Neil Cicierega.

Garry’s Mod remains a popular option for machinima thanks to how easily users can craft scenes and manipulate environments and characters.

Half-Life and Team Fortress 2 connections

Since Valve published the sandbox game and it uses the Source engine, it makes sense that Valve titles are found in it. The game also uses a “physics gun” not unlike Gordon Freeman’s Gravity Gun in Half-Life.

But Half-Life and Team Fortress 2 both have such large cult followings and have been out for about the same amount of time as Garry’s Mod. Since these fans have the most experience, demand for assets from those games remains popular.

image of Garry's Mod gameplay in Among Us

Physics engine and gameplay

At its core, Garry’s Mod is a sandbox game and physics playground. You can spawn in any number of items from a fan boat to a hamburger or a hot air balloon. Moreover, you can pose individual limbs of whatever creatures or people you decide to put into your game.

When considering the creative freedoms users have when using Garry’s Mod, there is hardly something equal. Players can construct worlds from the ground up to craft something truly unique from Harry Potter roleplay servers to 3D Among Us or Attack on Titan games.

The “gameplay” is the construction and the experience of whatever you create. In essence, your experience is only limited by your imagination and your knowledge of how the controls work in Garry’s Mod.

Game modes

Garry’s Mod features single-player and multiplayer experiences. While the base game mode had no objectives, others had simple goals which made customizing and augmenting those modes so much fun.

The base game modes along with popular addons in Garry’s Mod are:

  • Sandbox – the base game mode where players can fiddle with physics and game assets.
  • Flood – players fight each other in a “last man standing” competition in dangerous waters.
  • Trouble in Terrorist Town (TTT) – though the name has not aged well, this game mode emulates the game mafia with Innocents, Traitors, and Detectives.
  • GMod Tower – this network of servers functioned as a social media outlet for socializing and minigames. It has since been replaced with Tower Unite.
  • Prop Hunt – as seen in many AAA games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, one player or team disguises themselves as various props while the other player or team hunts them.
  • DarkRP – described as a “non-serious” roleplay mode, players adopt various identities from firefighter to black-market dealer on servers.
  • Spacebuild – this addon lets players construct spaceships to travel to distant planets, found settlements, build space stations, and more.
  • Elevator: Source – co-op narrative experience with 28 randomized floors. Players choose when to get off (if at all).
  • Half-Life 2 Roleplay – HL2:RP became popular since it let players create custom characters, join factions, and otherwise interact within that game universe.
images of Garry's Mod maps

Garry’s Mod games

Frequently known as mods or addons, user-created games in Garry’s Mod across all genres and polish levels. While some games look like they could have been made by a studio, others feel more home-grown and “just for fun”. This is entirely the point of Garry’s Mod, so it pays to see what everyone makes.

Though a popular home for horror game mods for titles like Five Nights at Freddy’s, players create riffs on other sandbox games like Minecraft, along with narrative experiences, too.

Maps – variety is everywhere

There are so many maps in GMod that it can be a bit overwhelming for new players. Some maps feature stories while others are just for exploration. Some are intricately tied to their game modes such as TTT or zombie survival.

The trick is to see what the game mode is for the map and if it’s what you want. After all, you might not want to play a scary, Slenderman-themed horror map if you’re alone in the house on a Saturday night.

image of Garry's Mod character models

Characters – you might find some of your favorites

Since the game relies on user-generated content, you can find tons of new characters every time you pop into the game. For instance, in 2017, Steam user Kuma added character 2B from NieR: Automata as you can see in the bottom right corner of the above photo. The addon includes her player model, ragdoll, and NPC.

Of course, fan-favorite characters like the Heavy from TF2 feature in all varieties, but so do nostalgic options like Banjo Kazooie. You’ll even find Warhammer-themed inclusions, too. You will want to check back regularly to see if you find new characters.

Mods – think outside the sandbox

Mods for this game aren’t usually things like “prettier grass” or adding a jukebox to gameplay. It’s more like tools to enhance building capabilities or make certain features more intuitive.

Some popular examples include “Improved Weight” which makes weight-based objects feel more natural or “Wiremod” which adds a catalog of entities players can connect using data wires.

There is just as much variety for mods as there is for maps, so it could take a while to pin down what variables add up to your ideal Garry’s Mod formula.

image of visual glitch in Garry's Mod

Known issues

Every game has its bugs and challenges — including a game like this that has no inherent storyline. The user-focused nature of the game can lead to great things…or not-so-great things. Here are a few of the issues with Garry’s Mod.


Not all gamers will be able to get into Garry’s Mod. After all, it’s a physics sandbox vs. a game with overt objectives like Rocket League, Counter-Strike, or even Minecraft — another sandbox title. Reddit user BestServerNA put it best with the question “So Garry’s Mod just changes/modifies things in a certain game? not actually a game itself?”

Trolls and “Minges”

All multiplayer games will have their fair share of toxic players and problematic people. But Garry’s Mod has a unique term for this in the words “minges” and “minging”. This relates to users who break server rules which can sometimes be very strict.

Crashes, ads, and visual bugs — oh my!

Although Valve published the game, support for bug reports is mostly user-operated. There’s even a common list of bugs pinned to the Community tab of the game on Steam.

Everything from crashes to missing UIs to ads appearing in people’s games is on this list. Not connecting to servers is another big issue that is a huge problem given that many games on Garry’s Mod are multiplayer.

image of Garry's Mod competitors Minecraft, Roblox, etc

Sandbox game competitors

The beautiful thing about sandbox games is their endless nature. Players can consistently revisit them for wildly unique experiences each time. But not all of them offer quality experiences. Moreover, some offer more “sand” in the box i.e. more features for users to create with.

Minecraft vs. Garry’s Mod

Everyone who is even a little bit into video games (or has kids who are) knows about Minecraft. The sandbox game lets users craft incredible worlds or just play along with the in-game story and explore. It also has a free-to-play mode, unlike Garry’s Mod.

However, more robust or persistent realms require monetary transactions. But don’t let that deter you; Minecraft is a fantastic game to play with friends or share with younger siblings or your kids. The game also benefits from a ton of user-generated content from in-game items to guides and Let’s Plays on YouTube.

Roblox vs. Garry’s Mod

Some refer to Roblox as “Garry’s Mod 2.0” and it is in some ways. Both games provide users with tools to create their own digital experiences. You can build maps, characters, story narratives, and more. However, Garry’s Mod does not feature the same kind of money-making aspect that Roblox does.

Roblox is also much more targeted toward a younger audience than Garry’s Mod is. In fact, some mods and games available are adult in nature — a direct departure from Roblox despite some bad actors. If you want something more kid-friendly than Garry’s Mod, Roblox is a wonderful alternative.

Kerbal Space Program vs. Garry’s Mod

Although Kerbal Space Program focuses on aeronautics and space, it is just as much of a sandbox as Garry’s Mod. On top of that, it has the adorable, if totally doomed Kerbals, who carry out experiments.

The game also teaches players similarly to Garry’s Mod. It’s a solid game to pick up if you want something more focused vs. the extremely open-ended experience of Garry’s Mod.

image of Garry's Mod gameplay

Review verdict

If you’re looking for a produced game with a firm narrative, Garry’s Mod is not for you. It is an open-ended, objective-less physics sandbox and user-powered community. In that vein, if you want to learn the very basics of game development or roleplay in Half-Life, Garry’s Mod is the game for you.


  • Open sandbox to create your own experiences
  • Great for Valve game fans
  • Solid introduction to game development
  • Niche communities offering immersive roleplay experiences
  • Affordable price point
  • No focus on monetization as with Roblox
  • No end to what you can create with in-game and user-generated content


  • Can be a bit non-user-friendly for those unfamiliar with game development or lacking in tech-savvy
  • Game development tools are not as modern or streamlined as those found in Roblox
  • Still runs on Source engine
  • Experiences generally feature older style graphics
  • Lackluster user support

Developer: Facepunch Studios

Publisher: Valve

Game Modes: Singleplayer and multiplayer

Game Engine: Source Engine

Juliet Childers

Juliet Childers

Juliet Childers is an avid reader, writer, editor, and gamer based in Texas. She attended the University of Houston where she majored in Creative Writing with a business minor. She works mainly as a freelance writer, editor, SEO specialist, and proofreader. Her beat: video games, tech, and pop culture.

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