Whether you are coding, making models, maps, sounds etc a variety of tools are available to help you out. The following provides an introduction to such tools and points you in the direction of where they may be found. If you are new to addons, we suggest you read our getting started page. If you are looking for help making mods we encourage you read on and check out our tutorial listing. If you have a tool you have made or know of one we are missing - please contact us.
Software Development Kit
Before you can begin any mod project - there is always one tool a modder must have and that happens to be the... 'Software Development Kit' (or SDK for short). The SDK contains a set of development tools to help you create the mod you have been dreaming of. This is what you need in order to modify the source code of the game itself in order to get your custom weapons/models/effects/etc. working. It also usually contains the mapping tools required to create a playable level.
At the moment several of the more popular SDK's are available to download. Here is a list for you:
- Quake & Quake III Arena
- Unreal Tournament
- Far Cry
- Battlefield 2
- Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
- Doom 3
- Command & Conquer: Generals
- Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
There are plenty of games which require you to purchase the game in order to use their respective SDK. These include Half-Life 2, Unreal Tournament 2004, and Homeworld.
Quake and Quake III Arena remain popular today, simply for the fact that they have recently been made open-source. This means that, unlike typical mods, you can make your creations into commercial products that can be sold at a fee for people to play. Those that are not open-source are illegal to sell for a profit.
Tools used by indie-developers and professionals
The following list of tools comprises of a mix of commercial and open source software packages. Many of these are the tools used by the professional game development teams. Of course for those without a big budget and money to burn, we have tried to include a free alternative
2D Art (Skinning)
2D artists make tiles, textures, GUIs, HUDs and skins for game addons. Skins are largely what make or break the appearance of something, any warping or poor quality will really stand out so you
cannot skimp or take shortcuts in this area.
Tools of the Trade:
Industry standard is Adobe Photoshop, but applications such as Paintshop Pro, Gimp, Adobe Illustrator all achieve largely the same results if you know how to use them.
You have to be born an artist to become one. By that I mean, if you don't have natural ability well this isn't really something you can learn. You should also be equally good at old skool paper based art / sketching as well as digital design. Oh and don't underestimate the importance of creativity.
Photoshop - Adobe.com
The industry-standard used by all the pros. A very powerful program used by Web designers, photographers, and video editors.
Paint Shop Pro - Corel.com
An easy to use program that allows you to create professional digital art.
Macromedia Fireworks - Macromedia.com
A popular alternative to Photoshop.
Xara Xtreme - Xara.com
GIMP (free) - Gimp.org
This program has many diehard artists who absolutely swear by it. Commonly compared with Photoshop.
Inkscape (free) - Inkscape.org
A free vector graphics image program.
3D Art & Animation
3D artists make in-game players / weapons / vehicles and inanimate props. Animators make the 3D artists creations come alive. This is something you can learn (to an extent) as many have done - the key is knowing the limitations of the engine you are building for. Older ones don't support much, new ones pretty much allow anything. So if working with blocks is your kinda thing - this is the task for you.
Tools of the Trade:
Industry standard is 3D Studio Max. But for those that don't have thousands stashed away to buy this complicated product, there are many other applications available including Maya, Lightwave, SoftImage and MilkShape 3D.
Like 2D artists having creativity and natural ability is important. 3D modeling is predominately a PC based activity so solid PC skills are required. Animators have to know as much as the modeler and more. You have to know how the model moves (its skeleton) and be able to translate this into a believable (realistic) motion. Nothing looks worse than a great model which looks like it has a firecracker wedged where it shouldn't be when it is trying to run.
3DS Max - Autodesk.com
Used by most industry professionals, 3DS MAX is a powerful tool for any of your modeling, animating, and rendering needs.
Maya 3D - Alias.com
Another powerful program used by industry professionals, and is rated by even most modders to be equally, if not more powerful than 3DS Max. The choice really rests with you regarding which you feel most comfortable with. Both programs are highly recommended.
MilkShape 3D Editing Software - Chumbalum.swissquake.ch
This software is used to edit the characters in the games Half-Life, Quake I, II, and III, and Unreal Tournament.
Autodesk Motionbuilder - Autodesk.com
A very intuitive and complex animation program that is used by many industry professionals, especially for FMV sequences. Motionbuilder is the defacto standard for creating real-time 3D character animations.
Lightwave - Newtek.com
Bryce - Bryce.daz3d.com
Turbo Squid GMAX (free) - Turbosquid.com
The free version of 3dsmax that is missing much of the paid versions features, but is one of the more-preferred modeling programs. This version of Gmax, Turbo Squid, is specifically tiered towards modifying game content.
Maya PLE (free)- Usa.autodesk.com
More great free software from Maya. The only criticism is that it pastes "Maya PLE" over the background of your model.
Blender 3D (free) - Blender3d.com
Moray (free) - Stmuc.com
Softimage|XSI Mod Tool (free) - Softimage.com
The mod tool provides modders with much power when it comes to crafting content for their game (it can even be used for standalone products).
Mappers make the world that gamers play within. They pull together the game idea and textures to create a world in a 2D/3D level editor. Most games have different map formats and their own custom built tool to make a level, therefore skills don't necessarily transfer from
Tools of the Trade:
A 2D/3D level editor is
used to create world architecture that the designer textures and populates with models, enemies and scripts. Editors vary from game to game. Please note that mapping tools are generally not released to the public and can only be used after purchasing the game itself (such as Unreal Tournament 2004's "UnrealED"). However here are a number of programs that can help you in your level design ambitions.
Mappers really have to know a bit of everything.You have to be solid at art, understand architecture / structures, know a bit about scripting and most importantly know what works from a players perspective. The best levels are really balanced and complicated enough that people don't mind (even want) to play them again-and-again.
Valve Hammer Editor 3.4 - Collective.valve-erc.com
The map editor that Valve supplies with Half-Life 1. It is incredibly popular and should be the only used for Half-Life.
GTK Radiant - Qeradiant.com
One of the most popular and most-used mapping tools is GTKRadiant, which is a descendant from the older Q3Radiant. This free-to-download program can be used to mod for several different games, which include Doom 3, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Half-Life, and of course, the Quake series.
Epic's UnrealED - Udn.epicgames.com
Used to create maps for all games running on the 'Unreal Engine' (Unreal Tournament)
QuArK - Quark.planetquake.gamespy.com
Software (map compilers):
You can usually use Hammer or Radiant for your compiling needs, but if you are frustrated with it and want an easier way to open a map, here are a few recommended compilers:
Zoner's Half-Life Tools - Collective.valve-erc.com
Friendly and intuitive compiling software that is a lot better than Hammer's own. Definitely worth the download if you don't want to worry about crashing or face errors or anything like that.
MapFile Backup Compiler - Collective.valve-erc.com
A long running request by the community was that automatic map backups be supported. Although not time based, this is the next best thing as it will create a backup of your map files each time you compile. This tool is highly recommended.
Q3Map2 - Shaderlab.com
This is a popular command-line-utility BSP compiler for games based on the Quake III Arena engine. These include (the obvious) Quake III Arena, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Enemy Territory, the Star Wars: Jedi Knight franchise, and Nexuiz. This program was known to be a
replacement for map compilers such as QERadiant and GtkRadiant.
3D World Studio - Leadwerks.com
A map/level editor that can be used with the Torque Game Engine (a popular standalone engine), DarkBasic Pro, and Blitz3D.
Even with great SDKs and tutorials available on the web, programming is a tough job that takes serious time and concentration. The coders really are who make the magic happen.
Tools of the Trade:
A good IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is really important. More so is knowledge of the programming language used by the game. Some games have hybrid scripting languages available but generally all game programming is done in C++. Knowing programming concepts / best practice is however more important than knowing a languages specific syntax. Oh and what makes this job even harder is the fact that programmers tie EVERYTHING together. From the maps, to the models, to the animations, ai, to the action sequences etc.. so you really have to be involved of every aspect of the addons creation.
Besides an extensive knowledge of a games inner workings, being familiar with various programming languages and mathematics is key (for a detailed breakdown read this page):
- Planning & Preparation Skills
- Working in a Group
- Algorithms and Data Structures
- Initiative and Drive to Learn
- Can finish what one starts
- Love of games and creative programming
Microsoft Visual Studio - Msdn.microsoft.com
A fantastic IDE which provides plenty of debug / visualization tools
Eclipse IDE (free) - Eclipse.org
A great alternative to Microsoft Visual Studio which has tons of plugins for almost every language imaginable.
WOTgreal (free) - Wotgreal.com
For the UnrealScript coders - WOTgreal is designed specifically for you and is an invaluable tool.
Software (C++ Compiler):
The SDK requires a C++ computer language compiler to convert your creation into a file that can be executed by the video game. Officially most games use Microsoft's Visual C++, but there are alternatives.
Microsoft Visual C++ - Msdn.microsoft.com
Borland C++ Builder - Borland.com
MinGW C++ Compiler (free) - Mingw.org
In order to use this, it is recommended you download the Code::Blocks IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and Dev-C++ IDE. These applications will make it a lot easier for those new to compiling with MingW.
Having a BFG sounding like a pea shooter just does not do it justice. Original sounds can really enhance a gaming experience, and that is where sound designers come in. They do the voice work, the sound effects... all that.
Tools of the Trade:
A good sound system really helps because you can scale a sound quality down, but you cannot scale it up and at a loud volume level - distortion / noise can really wreak the immersive experience a game provides. Therefore to test out your work, top-notch headphones / recorders is a must. The programs which can be used to make sounds include Sound Forge, Cakewalk, egas, Awave Studio and Protools.
Hearing is important, well at least an ear for music is. The sounds created have to suit a game, you don't want a massive grunt of a man sounding like he has just copped a punch where the sun doesn't shine. Nor should a lady sound like she has more hair on her chest than king kong. Knowing different music instruments, how they sound and how they can be used is important.
Sound Forge - Sonymediasoftware.com
Pro Tools - Digidesign.com
Cakewalk - Cakewalk.com
If you want to know what mod making is all about, the challenges that lay ahead and how to overcome them - we encourage everyone to read our getting-started guide.