Every few days / weeks / months we aim to bring you a new installment of development Banter, a podcast we run which is entirely dedicated to discussing the development of the mods and indie games. Our aim is to line up cool developers from interesting upcoming and complete projects, and grill them about their work, ask them the tough questions and hopefully entertain you in the process.

So tune in (watch this group and join this group) if you have always wanted to listen to a show about Developers doing what they do best, making the Mods and Games that we all love to play. Consider development banter a laid back chat entertaining advice line for the ModDB community.

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An Unreal Decision

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One of the hardest choices a developer has to make is what engine is best for their game.
Will they select to create their own engine or use one of the many middle ware solutions, like Unity or Unreal.

The Team behind the upcoming, Republic Sniper thought they made the right choice with Unity, However this soon became a problem and opting to ensure a better end product, made the hard choice to swap engines mid development.

Changing engines once development has started is hard enough, but to throw away months of work is a costly venture that many rather not undertake, along with having to learn new systems it can make or break development teams rather than resolve the issues they were looking at fixing.

If your not happy with the way your tool-set is supporting you, this article from Jeff LaMarche may just help you take that one small step to a possible bigger and brighter future.

Read on...

In-engine WIP shot from Unity

"We could have pushed through our frustrations and delivered a respectable game.
Only… nobody on the team would’ve been happy making a respectable game."

In-Engine WIP Shot from UE4

"Our team just wasn’t finding it easy to collaborate. We weren’t gelling as a cohesive team and we often felt like the tools were working against us."

Level used to test new movement mechanics.

"Epic’s decision to go after Unity’s market also means increased competition. That competition will push both companies to make better tools. That’s a good thing for game developers and ultimately for people who play games."

Have you been forced to switch engines or done so for other reasons? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

People who don't know MERP are missing out on something massive. MERP is a mod for Oblivion in which they are recreating Middle-Earth. That's right you heard me, all of middle earth, free to explore.
Its quite the massive project these people are working on, you can tell by the team, 14 people on ModDB alone, and not all team members are registered here. So lets bug em with some questions shall we?

ModDB: How did you got the idea to recreate the world of Lord of the Rings? Its a massive world and project that one does not simply starts without thinking it over.
Our goal is all in the title, we want to make a Role-playing game set in the world of Middle-earth. The whole world of Middle-earth fully explorable and playable is something that is unavailable to gamers currently, we hope to change that. We hope to give people a dynamic, interactive look at Middle Earth; a kind of experience that only a game like Oblivion can bring. With movies you get great visuals and books paint images in you minds, but in a game you can explore and experience this world in a new way and see things you have never seen before. We finally want to create a LOTR game that really respects the lore and tries to re-create Middle Earth as it is written in the books.

This is a perfect example of how immersive MERP really is, play it while readin!

ModDB: Where you planning on making just the world at first? Or implement special quests and events?

Captain Iglo: No, we wanted to create Tolkien's world and give the people the ability to live the events of the War of the Ring, from the beginning. In fact, MERP started as a mod for Morrowind, but moved to Oblivion later and has seen many important changes. The last and most important one was when we decided to use Lumpypats beautiful heightmap about one and a half years ago. With that last change, our progress picked up and now we are even more determined to finish our mod.

ModDB: We all know how hard finding a team is, even for a small project. It was probably hard to find a good team for a project of this size.
alasdairhurst: We try to advertise the mod as much as possible, and we use lots of websites to help us (including this interview). Because The Lord of the Rings is so widely known and loved by millions of people, and there isn't any games available which let you explore the whole of Middle-Earth, fans from all over the world eagerly await and try to help with this one. We get team members through advertising that there are jobs available on the site, and that is all that we need to get people interested. We get 2-3 applications a week, which means we can get all this work done just a little bit faster.

Some impressive scenery in this mod

ModDB: How do you handle the daily communication with the rest of the team?
alasdairhurst: Daily communication with the team is handled through our developer forums over here: Createforum.com The site is easy to navigate and we have different forum categories to easily find where we are at different parts of the mod, so it is easy for people to claim new areas without having to search the whole forum. We have personal messaging which helps a lot with communicating, and at least 100 posts a day, which makes sure that the mod doesn't die out.

ModDB: We all know the quick travel and the big green arrow ruined the immersion in Oblivion a bit, how are you going to handle it in MERP? Because walking everywhere in this giant world can get boring sometimes.
Captain Iglo:
This must be one of the most-asked questions we get! Well, there will be no fast-travel. Instead, we might implement caravans or some sort of thing that will take you from one big town to another. We might, however, give the fast-travel function as a plug-in for those lazy guys who want it! About the green arrow, we'll probably take it away and let the player mark any spot he wants in his own equippable maps. Maybe they will even be able to take notes on it.

ModDB: Speaking of big worlds, do you have any numbers on the actual size of the world?
Captain Iglo: Middle-Earth, as we create it, is 4 times bigger than the whole map of Oblivion and 7 times bigger than the playable area. But bear in mind that the world also contains sea and that there is no way to create the massive world of Tolkien as it is described in the books. We have reached the limits of the engine, concerning the size of the worldmap but the distances are of course shorter than in the books. But still, the landscape is huge and it will take the player a lot of days, if not months, to explore every inch of it.

Lebennin 3
Seems like a nice place for a holiday!

ModDB: How do you handle the environments that where described in the books but not in the movie? Must have been hard to recreate them with just a text to follow.
noirdesir: Actually, there are a lot of environments that have never been mentioned in the lore of Middle-Earth, but personally for me I prefer creating unknown landscapes more than the obvious known areas from the movies. It's easier and much more fun to do. The lore is always our first source of inspiration, then our own imagination. The available resources and possibilities of the engine play are important factor as well. The landscapes of Middle-Earth are similar to those on our Earth and I always have landscape pictures in my mind, when I'm working on new landscapes for Middle-Earth ... Arthedain should be similar to a Tundra landscape in northern Europe, a picture of southern Italy was my inspiration for Lebennin and medieval cities in Morocco will be what I'm striving for with a little city in Harondor.

ModDB: Are you going to have the Ringbearer storyline as well as any memorial battles included in the game?
Sir Eoran: Yes, we have couple of great and experienced quest designers working on the Ringbearer quest. We've all seen the movie and read the books so if you did, you know that this quest-line will be absolute fantastic. And we also are going to have epic battle events (e.g. Battle for Helms Deep, Ride of the Rohirrim etc. etc.) which will blow your heads off. Besides that we are also working on an alternative main questline where you will help Elrond and the White Council.

Lebennin 7
You should have noticed by now, MERP is beatifull!

ModDB: Where they hard to create? Oblivion can't handle lots of AI hordes all to well (speaking from personal experience).
pkyrkos7: Yes, big battles are really hard to create, since the Oblivion engine can't handle a lot of NPCs at one place. However we are trying to find ways to make big battles possible or at least give the player the feeling that he is in a big battle.

ModDB: Will we be able to freely explore/fight our way around Mordor? Will we be able to craft our own ring of power in mount doom?
alasdairhurst: Yes it is possible to freely explore all of Mordor, though it will be extremely dangerous and likely to get you killed! There will be quests there too, and lots and lots of enemies. However there will be no rings of power crafting as this would break lore entirely.

Big world is big..and beautiful

ModDB: Big projects, big tips, do you have some to offer?
Aoikani: Every large modding project needs leadership, talented modders and enthusiastic creativity to produce a quality mod. LoTR fans from all around the world are modding together in MERP, I can't see how this project won't be a total success. The members of the team here stay organized and communicate well which makes it easier to progress. I suppose the ultimate reason for our continued successful progress is that each of the members really wants MERP to be the ultimate "uber" LoTR version.

ModDB: 1 Line of free speech, GO!
MERP! Get it! You'll find yourself just as enthralled as Gollum, "My precious!"

In Dagorlad
Looks like one simply walks into Mordor (for now)

Merp looks like its going to be a awesome mod with a big, beautifully, hand crafted world. While the project is not done yet, you can try out a beta version of MERP. It is a bit more complicated to use then your average mod, so the MERP team has written some instructions on how to install and play it. You can find them here.

Today I am sitting here with Ackart, one of the developers for the Half-Life 2 mod Ragnarok Arena who recently released their first beta. Gonna talk a bit about the past and present, how they do stuff and how they don't do it.

ModDB : Say hello to our fellow readers Ackart.
Ackart: Hello, my name is Daniel "Ackart" Glenn, and on Tuesday I'll be 21. I've been in the Half-Life community since 2001 and spent most of my teenage years staying up until two in the morning playing Team Fortress Classic, Firearms and Action Half-Life.

ModDB : So, tell us how, why and when did you started developing mods?
Ackart: Oh man, my very fist modding experience? 1996, with a little game called Command & Conquer Red Alert. I was just getting into PC gaming at the time; but the fact that this game came with a map editor absolutely blew me away. Not that I was any good at the game - I sucked (I was also 7 at the time), but I'd make maps for hours on end. Later, I found an INI editor and started making Jeeps that shot lightning. Half-Life modding I didn't really start until about 2002. I was a mapper for a mod based in the '30s about Gangster warfare. I started my own mod about a year later, Biohazard 1.5, in the effort to recreate an unreleased Resident Evil game. Like most first mods, it died in a fiery crash.

Undeterred, I went and joined the Resident Evil: To Serve and Protect team in 2003. I think it released in 2004, but I was off the team by then, as the mod was going nowhere fast (And I wasn't exactly doing any work. Blame High School. :V). But that's around the time I met Minuit (James) on the Half-Life Improvement Team forums. After we both left RE:TSP, we started our own RE mod in the vein of the Outbreak games; so we started work on Resident Evil: Cold Blood, which actually saw a release in 2005. Of course, I was already working on Ragnarok Arena at this time...

RA_LineWars for Ragnarok Arena (HL1)

ModDB : Where did you get the idea from in the first place? It's not a common thing to turn a FPS game into a side-scrolling multiplayer game.
Ackart: Ragnarok Arena was a complete and honest accident in it's truest form. I had made a very simple map and was using it to test camera settings for Biohazard 1.5 (For a proper over-the-shoulder camera). Yaw 90, go! It was a setting that I just... took a liking to. So I made a quick test map that consisted of a few platforms and got a play test going with James and a bunch of other HIT forum members. And the rest? History.

ModDB : Did all your ideas made the final cut? Or were some ideas too difficult to implement and/or cut?
Ackart: The beauty of RA was that it started out small. We didn't really develop any ambitions that we couldn't come up with. Admittedly, I'd like to see achievements and an in-game stats system one day, but that's the future.

ModDB: We all know getting a good (sometimes any) team is hard. How did you find yours?
Ackart: I was lucky - the HIT forums were very active at the time, and I already knew James. Not to mention we had a released mod under our belts. I'd say the hardest part was how scatterbrained I was back then and... introverted. I just never went out and tried to recruit a team larger than a couple of people.

Ragnarok Arena Release Media
Pew! Pew! Pew!

ModDB : How do you handle the daily communication with your team? Because we all know good communication is the guide to success.
Ackart: Instant Messengers, MSN mostly. I talk with James almost every day. There's nothing better than instant communication, in my own opinion.

ModDB : How important is communicating with the community for you?
Ackart: I'd say it's my main obstacle. You can never, ever have enough publicity and the Source community is bifurcated in some of the worst ways. Say, a CSS player may never, ever go to the same site that a TF2 player might, and both people are perfect candidates as players for your mod.

ModDB : The side-scrolling perspective is not a conventional choice if you base your MOD of a FPS game, was there a special reason for doing this?
Ackart: It's a blast to play and it's different enough to make the mod stand out. If anything, I wanna see more original mods coming out. Less Space Marines, more Gravity-impaired racing and fighting, if you catch my drift. I've also never seen Ragnarok Arena as a "Half-Life 2" mod, but as a "Source" mod.

ModDB : How was the mapping? You must have taken quite allot into account because of the side-scrolling perspective. Or not?
Ackart: You know, this is a very interesting subject. In many areas, it's easier to make a map for Ragnarok Arena - you only have to deal with a 2D plane for gameplay, graphics can be simpler because you're not up close and personal with it. Of course, it's also harder because your standard FPS map layout won't work for a side-scroller. I'd say my hardest issue is coming up with layouts that work in a 2D space.

Ragnarok Arena Release Media
Haha you missed... Aww, crap!

ModDB : I've seen a lot of different styles in the maps, do you try to follow a specific theme with your maps and weapons? Or does anything go?
Ackart: Not really. With the release of Ragnarok Arena (3), we finally settled on a somewhat "post apocalyptic-world-is-cold" theme, but that just means things are kinda snowy and icy. It's always been kind of in the air since... well, it doesn't really matter all that much.

ModDB : Got some tips for people starting out?
Ackart: Join a mod team! You'll gain some valuable experience while working up your own skills. Don't try to start your own team, you'll only end up pulling hairs out in frustration.

ModDB : One line of free speech. GO!
Ackart: I never want to hear the words "Modding is dying" again in my life. It's not dying, it's changing form. Little Big Planet, ModNation Racers, and even MMO's now allow you to create your own missions and quests. If anything, modding is coming out of the basements and dorm rooms and into the limelight.

And there you have it, modding is still alive and kicking, just a bit morphed so its easier to start. Ragnarok Arena has quite the history, but it turned out as a great side-scrolling shooter that i highly recommend.

Check again next time where i interview yet another mod team. If you want to see your favorite mod team interviewed, hit me up with a PM and I might make it happen. See you all next week!

Developer Banter, the only show you need for an insight into mods and indie game development. This time in the hot seat is the Crankshaft crew, talking about their always popular mod Eternal Silence for Half-Life 2. So join Dan, Sam, Michael, Daniel and the ModDB Staff as we discuss the highs and lows of developing Eternal Silence.

Battle of Cerbera Battle of Cerbera Battle of Cerbera

Want your Mod or Indie game to be on Developer Banter? It's really quite easy to do. Just send an email to dave@moddb.com and give all the goss on your current project! Don't forget to watch this group so you can receive updates when a new show is out!

Developer Banter, the only show you need for an insight into mods and indie game development. This time in the hot seat is Offtopic Productions, talking about there highly anticipated, recently released mod for Deus Ex called The Nameless Mod. So join Lawrence, Jonas, Shane and the ModDB Staff as we discuss the development of TNM.

Just so everyone knows, the show was recorded before the release, not after.

The Nameless Mod New Screen The Nameless Mod New Screen
The Nameless Mod New Screen The Nameless Mod New Screen

Want your Mod or Indie game to be on Developer Banter? It's really quite easy to do. Just send an email to dave@moddb.com and give all the goss on your current project! Don't forget to watch this group so you can receive updates when a new show is out!