Most mods fail. The reason why & what lead up to this is ignored, instead we move on to a new mod only to have it make the same mistakes. Today we look back at one mod, and try to make sense of Cato the Elder's famous quote: "wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise."

Posted by Wraiyth on Dec 12th, 2007
Basic Management.

Writing about a failed product is hard; an unreleased one even harder. An important aspect of modding and game development is learning from the mistakes of others so you don't make them yourself. That's why after being approached by ModCenter and Mod DB, I decided to write a post mortem on NightFall, in the hope that the knowledge and experience I can impart helps others with their game development project. After all it's no secret most mods (even games) don't make it, and despite all of the discussion about abandoned projects, no one has taken the time to understand what went right and what went wrong from the eyes of the developers involved.

The following chronicles the development of NightFall, from its humble beginnings as a single map to a full blown total conversion which was inevitably abandoned. I would like to take this opportunity to share as much as I can about NightFall - from early days, to major decisions and incidents that affected the mod, things we would have done differently and what we feel went right for the mod. I've also included some exclusive unseen content here - old concept art, maps, design information - that can show you, the reader, the evolution of NightFall. Bear with me if reading gets tough, I've tried to keep this story as raw and uncut as possible.

Dream Map
The original Dream map

NightFall was originally designed to be ‘a small, humble HL2 SP mod' - a simple one man project. The mod first appeared on Interlopers in February of 2005, with a post by Taychin ‘Kremator' Dunnvatanachit of some early map screenshots. Not long after this was posted, Craig Sutherland partnered with Tay to turn NightFall into a serious yet small project. At this time, NightFall was never planned to be a large-scale project. A small design doc was soon written up, and with the back-story that was developed, Taychin saw the potential for a large modification. As such, NightFall became a single player total conversion, totaling 54 maps - a mammoth and ambitious task.

It was around April of 2005 that I joined NightFall. Game development was never a dream of mine, and modding was never something I was seriously considering. In fact, I joined the mod mainly as a challenge and out of sheer boredom. I'd never really worked with any other language aside from Visual Basic and a little bit of C, so for me I was jumping into the deep end and trying as hard as I can to float. While ultimately I don't regret that decision for my own personal development, my inexperience to judge the work that was needed to implement a number of features for NightFall, forced us to invite a second programmer and later a third and forth. This shot our productivity for a long period of time, because assigning features to multiple programmers requires clear leadership, communication and collaboration along with an easy way to share code, all areas which we were not yet proficient in. Combine this with our large planned feature list (drawing on ideas from games such as Silent Hill and Thief/Splinter Cell) which employed a full inventory system, a stealth system (with player visibility dependent on how much light they were in) we certainly had a challenge on our hands. These features never ended up being prototyped due to programmer inactivity - and likely for the best. It wasn't until the start of 2006 when we had about half a dozen functional maps that we realized we really hadn't designed with these features in mind, and they were promptly cut - along with 2 of the programmers.

Despite how much you might think you need it, don't hire excessive amounts of people for what should be small tasks. Most big mods have made it with a few mappers, a few modelers/animators and one or two core programmers. You don't need a commercial size team in order to make something commercial quality - be smart about who you hire, and make sure you are thorough.

Ant Lion King
A piece of concept art for the Antlion King

When I joined the team, we had 4 or 5 mappers and a couple of modelers. The design doc was simply a few threads in the forum with a story devised by Craig and Taychin and a list of weapons and features they wanted implemented. It felt very much like ‘their mod' with a fairly inflexible design in a format that wasn't very modification friendly. The weapon list was large and probably unrealistic, given the style of the mod. There was a large list of NPCs with a distinct lack of background information, personality and exactly how the character would fit into the world. Map events, dialog, and general gameplay flow wasn't fleshed out. We didn't have guidelines in place for how maps should be prototyped and never had regular ‘team meeting' sessions or playtests. Mappers tended to be left to do their own thing, only constrained by the overall design objectives rather than descriptions and concept art to lead and influence their design. Without a doubt we were suffering from mis-management from the word go, something that tends to be pretty common with mods run by people fairly new to the scene. The team was also fairly excited and nearly flooded the forums with what now seem fairly minor things. Our internal forum layout wasn't anything to write home about, and minor content additions always got their own threads. Things such as ‘Rustle sounds uploaded' or ‘new truck model' overshadowed and buried the more important discussions of ‘Plot' and ‘Gameplay issues'. At this stage our method of distribution was via FTP, which is why we were listing every file update - to prevent people from downloading things multiple times. No one was given the job of organizing and packaging the latest mod content which turned out to be a mistake, but only because of the inexperience we all shared and the fact that none of us knew any better. Later on we moved to subversion for updating and distributing the mod - but that was too little too late.

The idea of posting everything that was being done did have a positive side, however. It was constant communication between all team members - in fact we would have around 30 posts a day on the internal forums from all members, giving each other opinions and suggestions, discussing minor features etc. This level of communication was one of our strongest points early on in development, but I believe it was done in the wrong way. Communication is always good, but rather than flooding a forum, team meetings or development logs, progress reports from each member would have been a better strategy for us to follow.

Before you do anything, write a VERY thorough design doc. Make sure your team is clear with what needs to be done, and keep in constant contact with everyone to get updates. If a developer has to ask you things about the mod other than your opinion of work, you haven't done your job as a designer. A design doc should outline EVERYTHING a person needs to know when joining the team. Don't constantly be on everyone's backs - we all have real lives too. But don't slack off enough that someone can be lazy for a month and get away with it. It's a delicate balance, and one that you can learn through experience and getting feedback from your team. Prototype your gameplay in simple blocked-out maps until its fun to play. If it's not fun with no detail, then it won't be any more fun with it. Don't waste your time making stuff that looks great but plays badly.

Redneck Redneck Redneck
Redneck concepts to populate the town

The mod was planned to be around the same length as Half Life 2 - a game which took a commercial team 5 years to develop. We gave ourselves 2 years. Every piece of promo material - posters, wallpapers - had the slogan ‘The Night Falls 2006'. So we had ourselves not so much a deadline, but a goal for release. Despite that goal, we didn't do anything internally to ensure that we'd try to meet that to the best of our ability. We decided against setting deadlines, preferring to give the mappers freedom to work of their own pace. The rationale was that if you didn't pressure someone, they would likely produce something better. While this is a good idea in theory, in practice it didn't work at all. We had mappers come and go as they pleased and not keeping their work up to date on the central server. Because of this there was also a lack of communication both ways. Mappers failed to tell us if they were going to be inactive, and the changes in design or critical feedback failed to make it down to them properly, or in a timely manner.

It's alright to be ambitious, but be realistic in your timeframe. Set deadlines or milestones, and work towards them as best you can. Most games/mods are played in a linear fashion; therefore, you should develop your mod in the same way. Prototype and implement the important features, make sure they work and they are fun.

Surface Map Surface Map
Old screenshots from the Surface maps

Around 6 months into development we had a fair bit of positive momentum, and had a lot of things to look forward to. I demonstrated the mod at the Independent Game Developers Conference in Melbourne, Victoria - an exercise that generated a fair bit of interest from a few companies who were flirting with the idea of publishing us. Public opinion was very positive, but watching them play the game revealed a lot of issues that we needed to look at. Players could not find crucial items or the exit to a level without our direction. This was due to our ‘make everything look pretty and add functionality later approach', and in turn this did reflect a bit badly on us. It didn't help that the build we took there was rushed and missing a few textures and models.

If you're ever going to show your mod somewhere, be prepared a lot earlier than the day before. This might seem obvious, but when you're in a position where you're trying to keep the visual fidelity up, you'll want to wait until it's the best you can make it before showing it.

Despite all this we had what a lot of mod teams wanted - a decent sized team with a lot of talented people and a core team of dedicated developers who had produced some great media. Given that we had a long term project planned and we all wished to work together in the future, we decided to work under a studio name as many other teams do. Thus, Nigredo Studios was formed. Unfortunately, it was also around this time that our co-leader, Craig, disappeared. With him went the website hosting information, the leadership, the public relations and the organization of a vast majority of the mod. I personally feel that this was the first big blow to the development of NightFall. His departure left us in a bit of a limbo at first. Development continued, but lacking direction. We started to slow and waited around a month until we made a decision to continue without him. In hindsight, it was a few weeks too long, and all the great momentum we had built up died fairly quickly. Given that Craig was the ‘go to' man for the mod, it was fairly hard for us to adjust to the new circumstances. Leadership was juggled around a bit between several people, and no one really knew what was going on. No one knew the entire back-story of the mod, or the development plans. We can attribute this to a serious lack of a design doc - if we had something far better at this stage of development, a lot of problems we had as a result of Craig's disappearance could have been easily avoided.

Our next blow to development was allegations that one of the team members was using the team's assets for his own project. Not only that, but he was requesting that the artists make models that were for his personal use. Talking to other people, this happens more often than one would expect. It did shatter a few of us, especially the people that hired him. What we once felt was an honest, open and close knit team became that bit more distant and protective.

This issue is actually a lot more common than people think. I've heard several other cases where coders joined teams to simply get access to the source code and use it for their own purposes. While there is no easy way to protect yourself against that - it's easy to lie about your identity on the internet, so known scammers can get away with things - you should do whatever you can to protect yourself in the situation that a copyright dispute can arise. It may sound silly, but regularly mail yourself copies of the mod, your assets and code. Seal them in an envelope, mail it to yourself - postmarks contain dates - and don't open them. Archive them in a filing cabinet, so if a situation ever arises where you need proof of ownership, you'll have dated proof.

In the back of all of our minds was the idea of formalizing Nigredo Studios. We had a logo and people knew the mod as being developed under that studio. Our plans included a Nigredo Studios website, where we could list our projects - both as a team and individuals - and really form a portfolio for ourselves. For the team members who planned on going into the industry, they would be able to say that they had been a part of a successful studio, with a high profile in the mod industry. At least, that was the plan. Delusions of grandeur, as they say. So it wasn't too unexpected when JohnX (name censored), decided to do exactly that. His plan included registering Nigredo Studios as an Australian business - a move which the founders of Nigredo (being myself, Taychin and a few other core team members) weren't too sure about at first. But after some discussion between us, we informally agreed to have equal control over the direction of studio, and any profits made in the future would be split. We weren't expecting this for a long time though, so it wasn't an issue we were thinking too much about. NightFall would operate under the ‘Mod Department' of Nigredo, while JohnX began development of a commercial title. It turned out to be another decision we regretted, but in the short term it was a solution that suited us, so we rolled with it.

Silhouette Citadel
Concepts for the Silhouette, another Combine Citadel.

Despite these issues, we went from strength to strength. We had hundreds of people watching us on Mod DB, and many members on our forum. Already, after just 10 months of development, NightFall had exceeded the expectations of all of the team members. That Christmas, Valve made a Steam update with a list of mods they were looking forward to. We were surprised to see NightFall on the list, among high profile mods such as Dystopia and Garrys Mod. We had a lot of momentum going into the new year. An updated website was revealed and soon after Christmas, our first major NPC was complete. AS-189 was showcased in our Anniversary update - an update that received a very positive reception.

And then came the ‘Sangster Incident'. Looking back, this was a pretty immature argument for the team to have, and something that was blown way out of proportion. One of our NPCs, David Sangster, had been modeled and skinned - except for the head. We had recently brought a new team member on board who was a fantastic artist and a great coder. Some of the great small features we had in store for NightFall - such as rats and cockroaches running around - were his ideas. Unfortunately, it got to a point where his work was too good. He was responsible for the face map for Sangster - done at a resolution of 2048x2048 with a body texture of 512x512. It looked out of place - too detailed for the rest of the world - and stuck out like a sore thumb. Rather than accept the scaling back of his texture to a lower res - 1024x1024 would have been appropriate - he wanted us to scale all of our work up to his quality. This was a fairly unrealistic request - we had a lot of custom textures and models that fitted perfectly with the Half Life style and quality, and we weren't willing to sacrifice development time to upscale to the quality of a face map. We'd set a bar to accommodate both the skill level of the artists, and reasonable a reasonable level of quality that would make us stand out amongst other mods.

David Sangster
Rough sketches for David Sangster

Three quarters of the team agreed. The other quarter wanted the high quality face texture. Having the team split over a decision like this isn't the worst thing in the world - not by any stretch of the imagination. But what was bad for us is that the two leaders -Taychin and I - were on opposite sides. It was the first and only time in our entire development that we didn't see eye to eye, and because of our frustration with different people disagreeing with us, we were unable to look at the issue with a level head and come to a reasonable conclusion that would satisfy all of us.

Despite how hard it is, you need to be level headed and reasonable as a leader. If something can't be dealt with democratically, then despite how much you might not want to, put your foot down. Some of your team may not like the decision, but in the long run, it's better to have a few disgruntled people than a team argument. The latter can be far more devastating.

Once again, our activity level plummeted, despite a largely successful few months. Due to the low activity level, we were really thinking about the amount of work we had to do. With so few active team members - and so few team members who were talented enough to match the quality we wanted - we started looking at alternative ways to release. Half Life 2 Episode 1 has just been announced, and we started seriously looking at an episodic development model. An internal poll amongst all team members showed a 50/50 split towards the idea. Some very good points were raised in this thread, including the topic of our development vs. the public playing the mod. Episodic is great for development because it gives us far more flexibility and allows us to focus far more on making one part of the mod the best we can before moving onto the next part, rather than spreading ourselves very thin across the whole thing. On the other hand, we couldn't decide whether previous episodes should be updated with our better work - after all, if people had already played it, what was the point in spending time to do it? And how would the players feel about only being fed small portions of the story and having to wait a long time to get the next part? We would also have to modify our design and story to ensure that all the episodes were left on a cliffhanger moment, and that each episode was roughly the same length. This discussion was held at length between several team members over the course of a few weeks, and in March of 2006 we took the plunge and starting episodic development. When we made the announcement to the team, they were 100% behind it. The team was trimmed to a manageable level, a few internal changes to the build were made... but unfortunately this did little to spur on activity. It wasn't too long until the domain name expired and the team was left with no major method of communication.

Really think about the best way to get critical feedback on your mod from a large audience. The important things are always gameplay mechanics and story. Playing the same game over and over warps your view on what is good and what it bad - so get your mod to a releasable state, and release it to get public opinion. Take the feedback, improve, and release again. The great strength of mods is an incremental release model. Utilize it to make sure your product is the best that it can be.

I think that the move to episodic was very important for us as a mod, even if perhaps the move wasn't done very well. It was a new way of thinking and a way to better focus our efforts on writing and development smaller portions of the mod to be fantastic, rather than have a large mod that's only good. Quality over quantity was what we were looking for with this change, and it opened our eyes to a new way of thinking for development and distribution.

We ended up getting the website back up in May 2006 later using the host that JohnX had registered for Nigredo Studios. We came back online with a large, but lackluster, media update. Taychin and I - two of the main players in the mod from that point on had lost contact with a lot of the team during this one month downtime. But we got ourselves afloat again and continued development. However, a few things had changed. I was officially the second leader for the mod, and with that appointment came another way of thinking and a second point of contact. We still didn't really have a design doc - however we went one more step towards solving this problem with a Design forum, where we had individual threads for maps and NPCs and the overall story. This worked for a while, as it gave us a place to discuss more in-depth details, post concept art and be far more descriptive for each element of the mod rather than having it all lumped into one big thread. It wasn't the ideal solution, but at the time it was good enough for us.

Citizen and Strider
Concept art - the prototype strider and crazed citizen

Our old leader Craig suddenly arrived back on the scene, informing us that we need to change forum software after a formal letter from the vBulletin staff informing us that our license for their software was invalid. He then disappeared again. This really didn't help us, as it showed the entire team that the leader was there, and was still able to be in contact with us, but that he didn't seem to care about the mod. It wasn't the most positive thing in the world for us to see, but unfortunately we had to live with it. We ignored the letter, tried to forget the fact that Craig was still around and continued with development.

It was around this time, as well, that we decided to get serious with our design. We overhauled everything and turned it into a wiki, giving all team members the freedom to contribute to the mods design and story. This was the best move we made, as it allowed us to unify everything in a simple yet continually evolving design document.

Late 2006 and early 2007 really saw NightFall take shape. We had decided to scrap a lot of earlier maps in favor of some more friendly designs we had thought out, and the story had evolved a fair bit. We started to get new weapons in-game, some custom voiceovers and sounds. Minor things like visual effects were tweaked, and ‘Operation De-HL2ization' began - the process of creating our own generic content to replace HL2s's (artifacts such as debris, crates, barrels etc to give NightFall its own feel). These were all modeled, skinned and in-game fairly quickly with great results. Again, things were looking very good for us.

We made the decision to introduce another map into NightFall, conveying the story to the player. We realized that, up to this point, we didn't really have a map in place to convey to the player exactly why they were in this position, something to set the rest of the mod up, or even identify who the character that they were playing was. Map1a continued our surreal style of development, with a series of scripted events the player can observe at their own leisure with an accompanying voiceover. Where HL2 had characters like the G-Man to advance the story, we had nothing, so this was the best plan we could muster up at the time. However, it was a pretty untried style of storytelling, so we were unsure about how it would pan out.

Then for whatever reason, the Nigredo Studios hosting went down. This was right in the middle of a 4-part media update for us, so it was very inconvenient. We decided to split with Nigredo Studios, and develop independently with our own host. Within a week we had a new host, a proper domain name and were back in business, but like the other times where we had downtime, business was slow.

It was around this time that I was getting into university. One of my lecturers, Damian Scott (a developer with over 10 years modding experience) and I had a long chat about the development of NightFall, and imparted with me great insight, a lot of which has made its way into this post mortem. Two such points which I wanted to share are:

  • Stop pretending we were a commercial developer, because the expectation was killing us. What we had built and the way we promoted the mod - posters and wallpapers, high quality media releases and magazine previews - were all ways that commercial developers would, and it simply wasn't needed.
  • Package up a small release for the public. We were already pursuing this idea, with the hope that a private community would help us perfect the game. What we didn't take into consideration is that the people we would disclose the mod to were what are known in the industry as ‘fanboys'. As Damian said, you can't trust constructive criticism from people you know - you need cold, hard negativity from the most anonymous naysayers imaginable. Often decisions it's these people that confirm design decisions that you made. I went away from this conversation with a bit more confidence, and the knowledge that the mistakes I'd made were very common.

After this discussion, I went back to the team with the proposition that the private 3 map demo would form our first release. It was met with mixed reactions, but we decided that it would be the best thing for the team in the long run. It would give us every opportunity to get some feedback from sycophant and troll alike; give us the energy to finish later what we had started, and refine NightFall until our hearts content. We set a target to have this demo out by the middle of 2007.

But again, real life got in the way. Taychin, who was responsible for prettying up our maps, became inactive for personal reasons. This struck us down a fair bit, as it left us with no one to bring our maps up to the quality we needed and wanted them to be. Other mappers tried to chip in, but generally to no avail. Multiple mappers with vastly different styles working on the same map simply did not work - lighting was inconsistent, quality of scripting varied, texture work was different and the entire feel of the map changed from area to area. It wasn't what we wanted or needed.

Map after makeover
A map after a makeover

Our design for these three maps fluctuated a bit over the next few months. We really wanted to hammer the narrative home, so more lines were written, scenes added, lines re-written and scenes changed. It's the nature of game design that such things are iteratively developed, but the difficulty was in our habit of not prototyping before detailing. We were constantly waiting on someone to make sure that the next area of the map ‘worked', bouncing between the mapper, the voice actor and the scripter. We also constantly changed the order of three maps - Asylum, the Rebel Compounds and Map1a - because we couldn't decide which one would be able to capture the player the best. Our decision was eventually Asylum-Rebel Compounds-Map1a, but it meant that a few modifications had to be made to a map we thought was finished. Asylum was revised, which again took more manpower that we couldn't afford at the time. These are the sorts of changes that you can't afford to make at this stage in development - yet another mistake.

It was during all this turmoil that Nigredo Studios - which was still recognized as being the parent company that NightFall was being developed under - received an offer from a company to publish NightFall as a part of an agreement for publishing its commercial title. JohnX, our ex-coder, approached me with this information and strongly urged the team to consider it. A post I made on the forum with the information was met with a resounding ‘no' from the rest of the team. With the team so adamantly against it, I relayed this back to JohnX, who felt it was his place to try and convince the rest of the team this was the right direction to go. While we had unofficially parted ways months ago, Nigredo Studios management - for reasons that I may never know - tried to pull NightFall from under the teams feet and accept the offer on behalf of us. This didn't impress myself and the rest of the team, to say the least. We ensured that the build was secure and prohibited any further communication with any member of Nigredo Studios while the issue was sorted out. After several days of discussion with Nigredo Management, I negotiated an agreement that JohnX would be properly credited for his work on the mod, and we would release a joint statement regarding the split, so all knowledge was in the public domain. Before we reached this agreement, Nigredo management wished for the mod to be released under their name - something we simply did not want to do given how this issue had transpired and how we were treated by them.

The lesson here is easy. I'll be honest - it was scary, don't get yourself in this position. If you decide to register a company, make sure that you see paperwork with a name on it. Seek legal advice to see exactly what is required, and as stated earlier, make sure you can prove ownership.

Eventually, activity waned enough that most of the team was inactive. Working on the mod for most of us felt like a drag, work wasn't getting done in a timely manner, and simply visiting the forums felt like a task. Call it fatigue, call it bad management. But it wasn't long until we decided the inevitable: NightFall was no longer to continue development. The fact that the decision was as simple as a 5 minute conversation between Taychin and I, and the rest of the team agreed is a testament to the bad shape the mod was in.

I've often been asked to single out a reason as to why NightFall failed. As you can see from our history of development, we had a lot of ups and downs - some was just sheer bad timing, many were as a result of mismanagement. It's hard to pick out a single reason. Fatigue, lack of communication, bad management - all these things contributed to our demise. Let this be a lesson to all modders. It's a tough business, and you should do everything in your power to make sure you can succeed. Aim high; try something new - that's what modding is about. But be realistic. Try to avoid common pitfalls, like the ones I have mentioned in this article. It's disappointing to see great mods fade away to nothing because they were plagued by problems that a little bit of experience would overcome. It's even worse to be in a position where you feel responsible for what happened. Despite the fact that NightFall was unsuccessful, the team can walk away happy with their heads held high knowing that we've formed new friendships and learned new skills. Developing NightFall has been a rewarding experience for us all and provided fantastic insight into the challenging but rewarding world of game development. I hope our story helps you prepare for the challenges that face all developers, and I look forward to playing your mod/game in the not too distant future.

Post comment Comments  (0 - 50 of 66)
Aeneas2020 Dec 12 2007 says:

What an awesome peice of work. I'm really sorry nightfall didn't work out looking at your mod i can see a lot of comparisons with my own. Luckily we managed to avoid some of the pitfalls you had, by pure chance. Including ditching one of our original mod leads because he no mod or interpersonal skills at all (his "YOU ARE MAKING THIS MOD FOR ME SPEECH" still sends shudderes down my spine) We now run a 4 man crew modeller, mapper/animator, programmer, texture artists/ PR (with occasional contributions from others).

To be honest and without sounding totarlitarian i think anyone considering starting a mod should read this article. Hopefully it would stop the "all the gear and no idea" mentality that so often comes with new mods these days.

When reality hits people realise that running a mod team is a lot like running a bussiness if people don't meet deadlines or perform as expected then they need to go. As mercenary as that sounds it's the truth.

I could go on for a lot longer but rather than making an over long and boring post i'll just say WELL DONE! and my comiserations again. Best of luck with your future projects you deserve it!

+12 votes     reply to comment
FaceJerk Dec 12 2007 says:

This article is a definite heads up to any mod development team, Nightfall was my most anticipated mod (more than BM due to knowing a team member personally) and the fact that they continued development against that kind of pressure, team members disappearing and all the other non-sense is a marvel.

Good luck to all the other teams out there and hopefully the lessons learned from NF help you as well.

+3 votes     reply to comment
TKAzA Staff
TKAzA Dec 12 2007 says:

Nice write matt and good work scotty on the edit :D turned out good, lessons to be learnt by all

+1 vote   reply to comment
ScarT- Dec 13 2007 says:

Great article! Like the lessons learned, since that probably isn't obvious to everyone ;)

I recognize loads of your points from my own modding experience, which seems to be quite general for most modding teams. Especially the one forming a "professional" studio - to be honest its just about the lamest thing ever (no offense!), since its only gonna cause you trouble, and it's just a name :)

Everybody that reads this article (everybody should, if they're involved with a mod) should also take these points serious. A detailed design document is NEEDED along with a proper way of communicating. This cannot be stressed enough!

There's probably sitting someone out there thinking "yeah right, not gonna happen to our mod" but I still recommend showing his article. I was looking through ModDB yesterday for some Half-Life 2 mod, and man there were many dead mods amonst!

Seems way to classic that mods start out with extreme expectations, like e.g. Nuclear Dawn which got skyhigh expections (from the community).

Also a high level of quality shouldn't be top priority, but that certainly doesn't mean releasing stuff that looks awful!

Think that's about it, overall great read :D!

+6 votes     reply to comment
SgtJman Dec 13 2007 says:

Sage advice,

A must read for any mod leader/management

+1 vote     reply to comment
smurfbizkit Dec 13 2007 says:

This, and the "modular" articles are among the best I've read at this site. Great stuff :) Hopefully we'll be seeing more informative pieces like this.

I do have to strongly echo what was said at the start of it, having a large team can be more of a hindrance than a help. Every major mod I've been a part of (although yes, definitely a smaller scale than this) has only had a core team of 3-5 active members ever.

+3 votes     reply to comment
KickBackRock Dec 13 2007 says:

The irony and hypocritical presentation of this, is hilarious.

+12 votes     reply to comment
MrtwovideoCards Dec 13 2007 says:

What really sucks, is Adam is too blame, geez poor mod, I knew most of the guys, and sadly as I mentioned, Adam McKern corrupted it.

-3 votes     reply to comment
konradbeerbaum Dec 13 2007 says:

Excellent article, I learned a lot from it.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Ennui Dec 13 2007 says:

good read!

+1 vote     reply to comment
ChopperDave Dec 13 2007 says:

Wow. A lot of that stuff happened to our mod already. Too bad we had to learn about all these things the hard way. But at least it wasn't destroyed beyond repair.

Definitely read this people. This is why you see bazillions of mods (in particular HL2) and most of them never see the light of day. Over-ambition and unrealistic goals coupled with unreliable team members is a recipe for disaster. It doesn't matter how good of an idea you have, you still have to do the work. It's that realization alone that scares off most mod team members.

Too bad about the mod. Hopefully you devs got some good experience out of it.

Quote:What really sucks, is Adam is too blame, geez poor mod, I knew most of the guys, and sadly as I mentioned, Adam McKern corrupted it.

Way to not single people out, very mature. He might be partially to blame, but it's definitely not solely his fault the mod got to where it did.

+2 votes     reply to comment
MrtwovideoCards Dec 13 2007 replied:

AH yeah, it sort of is....

+1 vote     reply to comment
Varsity Dec 13 2007 replied:

No it is not.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Wraiyth Author
Wraiyth Dec 13 2007 replied:

Yeah, ChopperDave is right. There was a combination of factors that contributed to where the mod ended up, its really really unfair to blame a single person or event, and in the end he contributed less to what happened than, well, myself and alot of other team members.

+4 votes   reply to comment
MrtwovideoCards Dec 14 2007 replied:

Yeah sorry to single out the guy. I just feel pretty bad that this mod will never see the light.

+1 vote     reply to comment
AJ_Quick Dec 13 2007 says:

Cool article.

I really must agree about the big teams thing.

Big teams != increased productivity;

the more n00blets you hire to do tasks, the more n00blets you have to manage, and collect assets from and pray they dont sabatoge you (a scary thought, as the article says!)

Best bet? Only start a mod if you're willing to fill most of the important roles YOURSELF. you can hire on other people who you know and trust to flesh your team out later, but in my experience i have found it very successful to go (as someone described me as when it comes to modding)


+1 vote     reply to comment
Dragonlord Dec 13 2007 replied:

Double the part with self-made-man. If you don't know how to do all the parts of a game then you get nowhere. Team members are like flies. As soon as somebody waves his hand they stir up flying and 50% of them is gone once all sit down again.

A very good article. Having a mod leader vanishing is most probably the worst that can happen. A project needs at least somebody with the dire will to bring this to an end no matter what happens. I see though more than not cases where a project leader has a good idea and starts and some month later he looses interest altogether. Crappy for those already on the bandwagon when this happens.

+3 votes     reply to comment
stroggoff Dec 13 2007 replied:

" A project needs at least somebody with the dire will to bring this to an end no matter what happens".
I very much agree with this. From my personal experience in our mod, it became really hard to keep up the spirit and continue our eager work during the 3rd and last year of development. For me, working on the mod started to become a dragging experience, and the general slowness in things along with some other realizations was really badly affecting my psycology and my communication with the fellow team members (and we ere only 3 people).

True enough we made many mistakes also -perhaps I should write an article as well- and in my opinion if the mod was not released by the time it was (ideally some months earlier), it would have died out. Luckily enough we made it to the release, and I have participated to some smaller scale mods since, trying to avoid the mistakes I made in the first one.

One thing I should say, it's not easy to avoid these mistakes even when you have made them in the past and know which ones they were. There are so many factors in team work and especially leisure time unpaid team work, that many times you find yourself driving directly into the same mistakes with little chance to avoid them :/

+1 vote     reply to comment
Dragonlord Dec 13 2007 replied:

Biggest problem are the team members themselves. It's hard to find people with enough butt to sit things through 'til the end. Most of the time you don't even know what kind of people to get in touch with as over the internet people tend to act like they know what they do and suddenly you see that they are not even remotely as skilled as mentioned. As mentioned in the article make sure people can't steal their own work.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Wraiyth Author
Wraiyth Dec 13 2007 replied:

'One thing I should say, it's not easy to avoid these mistakes even when you have made them in the past and know which ones they were. There are so many factors in team work and especially leisure time unpaid team work, that many times you find yourself driving directly into the same mistakes with little chance to avoid them :/'

Very true, but there are a few basic things that could have totally changed the outcome of NF that I talked about there. For us, a solid design doc from the start would have been a godsend, because we ended up scrapping so many maps (something like 10) because they didn't end up fitting the general theme. It would have saved on alot of man-hours. Sorting out our hosting much much earlier would have prevented the downtime issues, and never forming a studio wouldn't have caused our focus to be slightly shifted. Those three things could have majorly affected us, and I know that there would have been alot of things done differently if we all had the knowledge that we do know :)

+2 votes   reply to comment
stenchy Dec 13 2007 says:

Thanks for posting this; Mod DB needs more of this kind of content to drill mod developers on what to expect and to avoid.

+2 votes     reply to comment
formerlyknownasMrCP Dec 13 2007 says:

Yes we need **** loads more of these essays :D

+2 votes     reply to comment
Varsity Dec 13 2007 says:

Fantastic job Wraiyth. :-) The only thing I might add is that turning citizens and rebels into the fully-fledged characters we needed was a particular difficulty for me (scripter/choreographer). Valve designed those guys to be throwaway, and their largely generic set of arm-waving animations in particular reflect that.

It was also going to be difficult to set up recurring minor characters with so few faces to play with, but in the end we never got that far!

(BTW & FYI: this article isn't linked to NF's profile.)

+1 vote     reply to comment
Wraiyth Author
Wraiyth Dec 13 2007 replied:

I don't think you can link articles to archived mods.
Yeah, I can imagine how hard it was trying to give the Rebels the 'life' that we really needed. For the record Clarky and Dogger were planning to make some new Rebel faces that were going to be 'unique' and recognisable, as well as some new uniforms and the like, which would have really helped. Unfortunately all this kind of stuff was coming too late.

+2 votes   reply to comment
INtense! Staff
INtense! Dec 13 2007 replied:

You can link to NF actually but then that would mark this article as a "Half-Life" one which I dont think is entirely correct since it is relevant for all modders.

+2 votes   reply to comment
Crispy Dec 15 2007 replied:

Best solution would be to announce the tutorial from a newspost (unless you can't make newsposts for archived mods).

+1 vote     reply to comment
nervousquirrel Dec 13 2007 says:

Wow, this is really great. Thanks for writing this.

+1 vote     reply to comment
OOmiz Dec 13 2007 says:

Nice article. First Crispys article about the modular release model and now this. Hopefully loads of mod developers end up reading them. They should!

+2 votes     reply to comment
zombieOnion Dec 13 2007 says:

Very good article.
I was never aware of the death of NightFall. Makes me sad, was really interested in it, and then it just disappeared. Too bad you guys.

+1 vote     reply to comment
DeadMan88 Dec 13 2007 says:

I was very active within the NF community, and this is a great incite to see why the mod met its demise. I wish all who were involved with the mod the best of luck. However, I still hope you reconsider either getting back together if you think you can reorganize or release a small privet unfinished build to the forum members (or everyone). Best of luck to all in the future.


+1 vote     reply to comment
Alex_51 Dec 13 2007 says:

It's a really great work you've done having written this post mortem.
Would you mind if i translate it into russian so more people can make use of it?

+1 vote     reply to comment
INtense! Staff
INtense! Dec 13 2007 replied:

Go for it, we welcome an international community

+2 votes   reply to comment
Jyffeh Dec 13 2007 says:

Told you it would be a hit. :D

+1 vote     reply to comment
Lucífer Dec 13 2007 says:

R.I.P :[
Maybe some sort of priest will come by and revive it some day?
(some gay my change priest to a paladin because they are a ******)

0 votes     reply to comment
Trestkon Dec 13 2007 says:

That was an simultaneously fantastic and depressing article. The entire story of NightFall mirrors almost exactly the first year of so of my own mod's development. Fortunately, we didn't run into quite as many unfortunate events as NightFall, but if we had we would have certainly suffered the same fate.

As you've said, though, it's the experience and friends gained that really make it worth it :-)

+1 vote     reply to comment
8472 Dec 13 2007 says:

Great read and a lot of truths about modding in there. Thanks for a great article! :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
Ging Dec 13 2007 says:

Hurray, I got to read the bits inside the asterixes!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Hanzie Dec 13 2007 says:

Nice write up. Great work!
More mods should do this, not only mods that "fail", but also those who have (some) succes.
People can learn a lot here.

Thanks Wraiyth

+1 vote     reply to comment
SafetyFirst Dec 14 2007 says:

Great work man! came here to say exactly what Hanzie said, a lot more mods should have some sort of write up, be it after a success or failure its interesting and informative to anyone who wants to get involved in modding . Again, good stuff!

+1 vote     reply to comment
Crispy Dec 14 2007 says:

A sad and not entirely unfamiliar story, but nonetheless a generous offering from Wraiyth (and those NF members who supported his decision to talk about it openly). I think it's incredibly important for modders to move back towards the 'care-and-share' attitude instead of the aggressive-competitive one. Sharing successes and failures, tutorials and tips, even content (providing it is accredited to its makers) is the sort of altruism that will boost the general knowledge, experience and ability of the modding community as a whole.

Let's not forget that today's modders are the people that will be making the games of tomorrow. The more we help eachother out now, the better the games of the future! :)

Thanks again, Wraiyth, for enlightening a generation of modders.

+1 vote     reply to comment
ninjadave Dec 14 2007 says:

Lesson Learned!

+1 vote     reply to comment
zombielife Dec 15 2007 says:


+1 vote     reply to comment
SiriusSam_TwL Dec 15 2007 says:

Thanks for the tutorial. It really help since my mod team is falling apart as well. :/

+1 vote     reply to comment
rgkimball Dec 16 2007 says:

A fantastic article! This encouraged me to set up a SVN repository for my own team and realizing my faults as a leader of a team working on a rather large-scale mod after having released several smaller ones. I realized that FTP isn't good enough for file transfer. The thing that stopped me dead in my tracks was the bit about a forum in which each item received its own thread. Similarly, our forum was organized for each bit of the project to be worthy of its own thread: individual units, buildings, props, and even GUI threads still exist in the forum, and we posted in the respective thread when something was updated. With Subversion, all of the hassle is elminated, and while the thread-per-item theory is still valid and noteworthy, it isn't good for file management.

So I thank you for this.

+1 vote     reply to comment
srry Dec 16 2007 says:

A while ago I wrote up a little design guide for myself to follow on my own one-person mod, and it gives me a bit of confidence to see that the rules I established for myself are almost exactly like the ones you suggested. Thanks for sharing the experience!

+1 vote     reply to comment
hekar Dec 16 2007 says:

I think many mods that don't plan on going commercial should consider open sourcing their modification's code or even media. I read a link a while ago.
There have been many mods that I've seen and thought it'd be cool to contribute, but have had no chance of seeing the code without making a commitment. Just look at the open source game "Sauerbraten". It's honestly not the most fun I've had in a game, though the dm is the best experience I've had being beat only by Unreal Tournament, it's development is blazing ahead with random users contributing media and the developers placing them in the cvs. The person that creates the media holds the rights on them, but many of the artists are generous enough to even allow free distribution of their media with the inclusion of their credit.
Why not open source if you're not gonna sell the "game"(with a license) one day? What do you have to lose?

+1 vote     reply to comment
Zeratul114 Dec 16 2007 says:

I believe I know what caused the mod to fall. Someone 'hired' me, a then 14 year-old high-voiced monkey, to do the voice for AS-189. I am male. AS-189 is female.

Mismanagement indeed... :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
Crispy Dec 18 2007 replied:

Not necessarily. Women with high voices are often chosen in radio broadcasting to play young children (since kids are tough to work with). There's nothing to say it can't work the other way, especially if your voice hadn't broken yet (no offense).

+1 vote     reply to comment
Wraiyth Author
Wraiyth Dec 16 2007 says:

I think we actually still have some of those voice samples floating around, they came out pretty well with a bit of playing around from one of our sound editors. I can say that I wasn't involved with the decision though :P

In regards to open sourcing the code/media... Frankly theres nothing overly spectacular in the codebase for NightFall that I think would be useful to anyone. Aside from that it is a mess, and I disagree with the notion in that article that 'no one cares if your code is a mess'. I know that I for one learned to code using other peoples code, and learning from messy/technically incorrect source code (which is what I did) ends up being detrimental.
Assets are a different case, and in the end the decision isn't mine. For one, its very hard for us to get all of our source assets together because they were never on our SubVersion repo because, well, no one needed them. We only had a few modellers and they tended to work in isolation and only uploading fully working and compiled props and characters. The only other situation where source assets mattered (weapons for things like attachments and positioning), it was pretty useless because I couldn't tweak those things myself.
Secondly there are plans to re-use many of our assets in other projects. One of the things we discussed when deciding to stop the project was whether we should release or what, because it did seem like a waste of work. But we can express our work through other things that we do, so not everything is going to go to waste. We have alot of textures that I'm sure our mappers will re-use in their own work, alot of custom props that our modelers will use in their projects (we're happy for our lead modeler to use all his props in Half Life Short Stories, for instance). So the work isn't really going to waste.

+3 votes   reply to comment
masterguns124 Dec 17 2007 says:

This was my favorite mod, I followed it for a year, and it died =(, too bad you couldent give it to someone else to work on it, or take a crack at it again, or mabee you will? But These models,map,characters,and everything was great. Its sad to see such a good mod die.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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