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The Best, 'Must Have' OpenTTD Mods!

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'Why OpenTTD doesn't actually need mods, and for Pete's sake, stop calling them mods!'
One of the most often-made posts that a new player to OpenTTD will make is a request for 'best' or 'must-have' mods. Much digital bits has been spilled time and again explaining several facts that new players are not aware. This is a guide that will spill even more digital bits, but will attempt to be both detailed and easy to read, and hopefully become a cherished guide for future generations of OpenTTD users to reference, and perhaps put an end to this oft-repeated question.
Why OpenTTD doesn't actually need mods
OpenTTD originally started as an open-source clone to the popular PC game Transport Tycoon Deluxe. It was never meant to exist as a pure clone, however, as it also endeavored to fix the various bugs, quirks and other not-quite-liked features of the original game, much like OpenTTD's progenitor project, TTDPatch. OpenTTD, like Transport Tycoon Deluxe, is popular because its one of the few games in the 'tycoon' genre that successfully balances fun game play and skilled challenge. Because OpenTTD is also an open source software project, it is not difficult for any individual to look at the source code and provide modifications.
The official OpenTTD support forums at hosts an OpenTTD Suggestions forum where players and fans can submit new ideas. Developers do read this forum, and if they see an idea that they believe has merit and will bring an improvement to the game, one or more of them will start work and begin testing. If the idea proves to be sound in both ideology and technical capability, they will eventually add it to the game. Some suggestions may be extremely simple, or extremely complicated. The developers are constantly accepting feedback to improve the game and suggestions for these new ideas, and thus the game is constantly being worked on and improved weekly, if not daily or hourly.
The site also hosts an OpenTTD Development forum, where users who are familiar with the coding side of the game can openly work on projects which they feel improve the game. The developers are also active in this forum, as projects expand and feedback from the developers are requested. If these projects meet the strenuous coding standards of OpenTTD, and are deemed to be an improvement to the game that does not inhibit any previous features, the developers will review the code and possibly implement it. This also plays into the constant improvement of the game.
Because of these constant improvements, OpenTTD is no longer a mere clone to a long-gone game of the 1990s, but is a fun, diverse game in its own right. Players can now choose to compete against themselves or each other to become the most dominant and profitable transport company, they can compete against a variety of computer-controlled opponents, they can also choose to work together to accomplish predefined goals. Or, they can completely ignore all of this and treat the game as their own sandbox to create worlds that reflect any fantasy or reality that they choose.
... and for Pete's sake, stop calling them mods!
It's not unusual for a more senior member of tt-forums to chaff whenever a new player asks about 'mods', as the term doesn't quite apply to OpenTTD as it does in other games. Many see it as as sign that the player is quite new to OpenTTD and is not familiar with the terminology, and doesn't quite understand what they're asking for. In the world of OpenTTD, there are a few different ways that one can change their gaming experience, which I will explain.

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NewGRFs, or New Game Resource Files, are files which users can independently download and instantly configure and use from within the main menu of OpenTTD. These files do not require any significant know-how or effort to set up, and most popular and up-to-date NewGRFs are typically made available through the in-game content downloading system (BaNaNaS). NewGRFs are the preferred way to make individual, unique changes to the OpenTTD experience and do not require the involvement or support of the OpenTTD developers. Anybody willing to put in the work to learn how to create them can freely do so and upload them to the BaNaNaS system, or use any method that they choose to distribute them and are installed manually. NewGRFs can make any number of changes, such as:
  • simple 'eyecandy' that improves the visual aspects of the game;
  • introduction of new trains, aircraft, ships and road vehicles to complement or replace the default vehicles;
  • introduction of new industries to complement or replace the default industries, including entire economic chains;
  • new infrastructure such as bridges, houses, roads, rails, and landscape;
  • modification of the OpenTTD economy, including the ability to make changes in profitability of delivering products and services, increasing or decreasing the costs of purchasing, maintaining and selling company-owned property.
Typically, most NewGRFs can be loaded with any other NewGRF. However, there is no guarantee that any NewGRF will work as intended with any other. As NewGRFs can change the economy and costs of things, they may inadvertently modify the behavior of other NewGRFs in unintended ways that could possibly corrupt or crash your entire game. Please take care to fully educate yourself on what each NewGRF does. NewGRF authors typically take time to document what their modification does, as well as highlight any potential conflicts with other NewGRFs. Occasionally authors may even program their NewGRFs to modify their behavior (or, disable itself partially or entirely) in the presence of other NewGRF. Any such changes are typically documented, either in files distributed with the NewGRF, or on tt-forums or another portal from which they distribute their files and support.
As mentioned, most NewGRFs are typically distributed via the in-game content downloading system, but not all files are distributed there. Many are distributed exclusively from tt-forums' Graphics Releases forum, and there are some other repositories and sources for NewGRFs as well. The OpenTTD wiki has a NewGRF list which has links to many of these files, as well as the major repositories, which you may wish to browse to learn more.
AIs, or Artificial Intelligence, are computer-controlled competitors which may be used in single player and multiplayer games. Unlike Transport Tycoon Deluxe, AIs are not distributed directly with the game, but are made available in the same methods as NewGRFs, either from the in-game content download system, or distributed in other ways and manually installed. AIs can be as friendly, unfriendly or competitive as its author intends. While they may be aggressive, and may be able to build fast, they do not have access to any controls, or hidden and undocumented features than a human player, so on-the-whole they are fair. As with NewGRFs, you can install more than one AI, but there is no guarantee that they will work together with each other, or with any NewGRF or other modification to the game, and again one should fully learn about what an AI is capable of before installing and activating it in a game.
Game Scripts

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are scripts that are activated from within OpenTTD and can provide a new way to compete in OpenTTD by providing goals and achievements. This is a fairly new feature for OpenTTD, and the capabilities of this system are only beginning to be tapped. Game scripts can monitor the state of the game while it is running, updating you on how close you are to accomplishing an achievement.
The latest information about AIs is available in the AIs and Game Scripts forum.
Patches, also called 'diffs', are another way that OpenTTD can be modified. Unlike NewGRFs, AIs and Game Scripts, which modify OpenTTD from within the running program, patches are bits of code that replace or modify the OpenTTD source code, and apply changes that affect the entire program. In order to use them, an end-user must apply the code against the OpenTTD source code, and then use a compiler to generate a new binary for their operating system. Patching and compiling the source code can appear to be daunting, even impossible, to an inexperienced individual. However, there are detailed, step-by-step instructions available that can walk you through the patching and compiling process. Patches are significant changes to how the OpenTTD program operates, and is the typical method of introducing new features to the game.
In almost every case, a patch file is not supported by the OpenTTD developers (even if an OpenTTD developer creates a patch of their own), and they cannot provide support if a patch inadvertently breaks the game, and they're never distributed with the game by the OpenTTD developers themselves. The patch authors, however, are free to distribute both the patch code (.diff files) as well as modified versions of OpenTTD themselves, provided that they obey the license that accompanies OpenTTD. Occasionally, a patch proves to be so popular, and is well-coded and significant enough that the developers will elect to adopt it for inclusion in the game. If this occurs, a patch author may choose to stop releasing new versions of the patch, and only provide support to the OpenTTD developers for future versions officially released by the OpenTTD developer team. As OpenTTD is a constantly developing game, it is not uncommon for a patch file no longer work when applied against newer revisions of the game, and it is also not uncommon for a patch developer to stop supporting their patches, or disappear from the community altogether. One should never blindly assume that any patch file will work against a future version of the OpenTTD source code.
Patch Packs are custom-compiled versions of OpenTTD that contain one or more patches in a distributed binary. Such custom versions of OpenTTD are created because an individual likes to play the game with various patches, and wishes to share that with others who cannot compile the patches themselves. Patch packs take specific versions of the various patches and applies them against a specific revision of the OpenTTD source code. Because of this, a patch pack may not actually contain the newest version of either those patches or OpenTTD. Patch packs, therefore, are entirely maintained and supported by the individuals who create them, and both the patch developer and OpenTTD developers may not be available or inclined to provide any support for them.
Whether it is a patch that you apply yourself, or a pre-compiled binary from either a patch author or patch pack, it must be noted that these customized versions of OpenTTD are typically not compatible with either the unmodified OpenTTD binaries nor other patched binaries or patch packs. If you distribute any scenarios or saved games that were created with a modified version of OpenTTD, you should make sure that others are aware of which specific version that you used, preferably with a link from where one can download that version.

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More information about patches and patch packs can be found in the OpenTTD Development forum.
In Summary
As you can see, while there are several ways to modify the OpenTTD experience, there is no technical reason why you should need to do so, and you now also know why we do not call them 'mods'. While all of these can provide a wonderful gaming experience, and many people have put in many hours of hard work to make it happen, it is simply not possible for anybody to say what is a 'must have' modification. There are literally thousands of different files available (if not tens of thousands by now) which can vary from very simple to extremely complicated, all of them appealing or not appealing to everybody or nobody, and is completely dependent on one's individual interests and skills.

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'But, wait!' you might say, 'You said that this was...
The Best, 'Must Have' OpenTTD Mods

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list! I want my money back!'
Okay, okay, I tell you what. I'm not going to make a recommendation of what one MUST have, or what I think is the BEST, but I will give my opinion on what I feel are some of the most popular, outstanding and quality modifications. But, I won't do that in this post, as my opinions on this may change over time. I will update this topic with those lists, and I will link to them at the bottom of this post, and update this post as needed. After all, if you bothered to read all the way through to the end of this, then there should be some sort of reward for your patience.
Thank you for taking the time to read. If you have any comments or suggestions, praises or criticisms, please send those to me personally via PM rather than cluttering up the topic. I appreciate all constructive feedback and may implement that feedback into subsequent updates on this topic. You may also wish to participate in separate discussions about favorite NewGRFs.
Kamnet's Guide to Most Popular NewGRFs

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updated November 1, 2013.

BaNaNaS is a content service, which offers Base graphics/sound And Newgrfs And Noais And Scenarios.

All this content is available via both this webpage, and the OpenTTD game client. BaNaNaS allows easy access to the latest versions of those files for everyone.

If you want to use BaNaNaS:

  • This is a volunteer project. Do not litter.
  • For downloading content, prefer using OpenTTD's build-in content downloader. But packages are also available for download on this page.
  • For uploading content:
    • Read our terms of service. This is no lawyer blah-blah. This is a volunteer project, please do not try to cheat the system.
    • Login via GitHub.
    • Upload updates or new content.
  • If you used BaNaNaS before 27 April 2020, see here how to migrate your user account.