Lead developer on the "Killing Floor" mod, for Unreal tournament 2004. Team Lead on "Depth" - UDK indie.
Posted by AJ_Quick on Nov 10th, 2011
I started modding when I was around 16 years old. Warcraft 3 : Reign of chaos had just come out and I thought it'd be cool to change the colour of the Orc Blademaster's armour.
At the time, Warcraft assets were compressed into a single, enormous file from which individual textures could only be extracted or even viewed with the aid of a third party browser. But being able to see the contents of the package was just the start as I then had to chase down exactly which file belonged to the Blademaster - the textures all had random alphanumeric names.
Some time later I eventually found what I was looking for and exported it to Photoshop to begin work. I masked off the areas of the texture belonging to the Blademaster's armor, and changed the brightness/ saturation to make it look darker. Pleased with my work, I saved it out to a bitmap and attempted to import it back into the game. That didn't work.
I noticed that all the textures in the Wc3 asset library were saved as format 'DDS' , which was something foreign to me at the time. After digging around on the web, I learned that DDS stands for 'Direct draw surface' and is a format for compressing textures for use in windows applications. Great, OK. But how do I make one ? More digging ensued. I finally came across an Nvidia plugin for Photoshop which allowed me to export my new Blademaster texture in the correct format.
From there, I was able to import it back into the content package, save it out, and preview my work in-game for the first time. It looked awful. The entire process had taken several days of work and it looked awful. I decided I would keep it to myself rather than release it on the public.
This was the first lesson I ever learned about modding :
" It takes a lot of work, and it's hard to make anything impressive. "
While this was a harsh lesson to learn, I saw it as a challenge. I grew more active in the modding scene as the years went on and continued to make fairly shitty little models maps and textures for a variety of games. (Deus ex, Battlefield 1942, Unreal tournament).
It was only when I started work on Killing Floor (at the time, a Battlefield : Vietnam modification) that I started to get this weird feeling. It was a realization that dawned on me when I started reading the critical comments people would post about mod news updates on a site called 'AmpedNews' (now defunct). It went something like this :
"We are giving people free content for their games. " "Shouldn't they love everything we do?"
This was my first taste of what I will call the 'Social' side of mod development. Previously, I had released very little of my work to the public. It had been a learning experience, or for my own enjoyment. Suddenly here I was showing WIP shots of models or maps to the public and wouldn't you know it, some folks didn't like what they were seeing! And they were vocal about it! This really got under my skin and if memory serves it led me to post some pretty caustic replies, which led to lengthy arguments about whether the butt of a shotgun would look better gunmetal, or polished wood.
But fan feedback was just the tip of the iceberg , there was also the issue of competition with other mods. There was this underlying feeling that all of us who were publicly making a mod for Battlefield were in direct competition with one another for the hearts and minds of mod players. Desert combat, one of the most popular mods for Battlefield at the time, had a huge fan base and seemingly could do no wrong. I found myself comparing everything I did to them and trying to raise the bar for my own work well past a level that I was comfortable with . Modding had started to feel kinda stressful.. and that stress inevitably showed whenever someone made the mistake of posting a negative comment about my work on a news site.
This trend continued as Killing Floor changed over to the UT2k4(UE2.5) engine. The UT modding community was pretty active at the time but was largely overshadowed by Source. The exact reason for this wasn't something I could put my finger on. But it was incredibly aggravating to watch obscure Source mods with next to no content to show skyrocket in popularity based on hype for the engine, while Killing Floor went relatively ignored. There were times when I would lash out at source mods for no reason at all, or belittle other developers with more fans than me who I felt weren't working as hard as I was.
It was around this time that I came to my second realization about modding ( though it wouldn't sink in until much later) :
"Modding for the wrong reasons can turn talented amateur developers into jerks with an ego complex."
This second point is a real killer . At best, you begin to assume that the world owes you something, and that criticism of your work is taboo. At worst, you will slam other talented developers for next to no reason, bash your fans, and generate a really bad reputation that stains your mod's name. In a community where content is being released free of charge and people are often fitting mod work in between school / jobs, everything tends to rest on attitude. Popularity, rather than money, is the currency modders deal in .
Ultimately, it leads to hypocrisy.
If you aren't willing to accept critiques or feedback from the public, why are you releasing your work to them at all? Why do you obsess over the number of downloads your mod has got, or the fan rating it has on moddb, while simultaneously slamming fans who suggest a new feature you don't agree with, or telling them to RTFM when they can't get it to work. Are you really making it for the fans to enjoy or are you making it because you enjoy the ego stroke that accompanies a mass influx of downloads and positive comments?
This bizarre relationship between fans and developers only really exists in the world of modding, where everything is done on faith. In the cold, hard, cash-oriented world of commercial game development, the customer is always right. Telling someone off who has just given you their hard earned money is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Only the most foolish or inexperienced (or those with enough money they don't have to care) of developers would risk doing it.
Many people (especially those around this site) seem to believe that money is the root of all evil, and that as soon as a mod 'goes commercial' it has sold its soul to Satan. That may be so, or it may not. But one thing I can say for sure is that modders have their own form of greed which is just as unattractive. If you want to release your work for free to the public, fine. But think very hard about why you are doing it first. If the answer is : "Because I want to be more popular than X mod" , or " Because I want a 10/10 mod rating " , you should probably reconsider.
protip : The answer should be - "Because I made something fun and with feedback from players, It can become even better "