Hello Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Moddb modding community! My name is Jesus F.G., or JamyzGenius as some of you know me from the past years around the JKA modding community. I had been mapping and modding Star Wars: Jedi Knight Jedi Academy for a while. Probably since before 2010.
Today I make this article to share with you something that I wanted to show everybody in the past. But I never had the right moment to show. Now, with the one year anniversary of the mod I did “Star Wars Jedi Knight: Knights of the Old Republic II Duels” I show you what it takes to develop a mod like this one. Before start anything, I apologize for my English. It is not my first language and I may have huge grammar mistakes on the article. If you have any questions or you didn’t understood anything, feel free to contact me at JamyzGenius@hotmail.com or comment anywhere on the mod pages. I usually don’t have the time like I used to do in the past, so if I don’t get back to you, or I don’t reply any soon. Please forgive me, but I will do my best to get back to you.
I hope you like the content, and it may came in handy for those that are new to the modding community or plan to take into a huge project. As years has been pass, and the people I meet. Most mods and ideas never got developed, or die in the process. I believe that this content will help those people out to see what it takes to develop a single player mod for Star Wars: Jedi Knight Jedi Academy like this one.
I. What is a mod, planning and organization
II. Software/Editors needed.
What is a mod?
A mod is a modification made to a video-game. Examples can be to modify textures. To add custom content such as levels or player models. To modify audio, effects or any kind of file that has a potential change on the game. Some people go beyond the small barriers and create entire conversions which makes the game look almost totally different. Some of those amazing, famous and successful modding conversions among the community for this game are: Star Wars Movie Battles II and Star Wars Movie Duels.
Modding can be fun, and it can be almost applied to any game. Even to those games that don’t have the tools to do so. There are workaround that may be done to modify the game if allowed in a positive way. But fact is, that some games cannot and should be not modified. Fortunately Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is not one of those, and allows their users to mod almost everything on the game.
Planning is fundamental when you are starting a project. Even a small modification such as a texture modification or a really huge modification. In planning I follow this steps.
I. Brainstorm of ideas
II. Stick with the most important ones
III. Remove the ideas that are unsuccessful or unrealistic
IV. Getting that ideas remaining together
V. Painting a real panorama with realistic expectations
VI. Create a main goal
It may sound easy, but in the process you need to be careful. Especially with the step I to V, because several mod developers fail to deliver due that the expectation are way too high, and sometimes they lack the knowledge or the skill to success on the final product. This is one of the reasons that leads mods to die. In step V, you may consider to find a team. There needs to be a panorama of the assets you may need. Sometimes like in my case, I am lucky enough to discover that many people already contributed the assets I needed, so that saved me a ton of time in the development process. But never forget to credit the authors and sub-authors! If you can, preferable, ask for permission before doing anything. If you cannot contact them for any reason, use a credit section, but be prepared to do your research to get things right. The last thing you want as a mod developer is to get in troubles with an author and probably your mod removed regarding that.
Organization is vital in mod development. Even in your life. You as the creator, or leader has the responsibility to maintain a proper organization between your work and your goals. Set deadlines if you can, it’s optional, but it may help you to develop a discipline for your work. It may make you a better person and you may work harder. I would recommend you to set deadlines if you plan to take your modding to a higher level and go to school to learn video-game design or art-design. Or probably build your own professional portfolio to work with someone getting paid. Deadlines are optional for mod developers because mod developers don’t get paid, but it is a good thing to implement to your projects and do if you can. That will make you push harder to get things done.
That is the first part of the mod development process that I followed to get my mod done on April 11th on 2015. I believe that many people may have their ways to do so, but if you never thought about it. I hope that this part has help you to learn and visualize more about the process.
For software or editors, I am referring to the tools you need to build the mod. It also may depend what you want to do. When you reach this point, you already had to go through the Part I process, because if you didn’t, you may have troubles in this area. Some people jump straight into this area, and that is a problem, because they start inspired and jump straight into the software and editors, but the inspiration may die without proper planning. This is also another reason for which many mods die.
As an example of what I needed to do for the KotOR 2 Duels:
GTK Radiant: This software is part of the Jedi Academy SDK. Level design, half of the work for scripting scenes.
Sony Vegas and Movie Maker: Used to edit voices properly to fit into the cinematics and get music converted to the proper format to play into Jedi Academy.
Fraps: To capture the scenes in KotOR II for reference and editing
GIMP: Used as a texture editor when needed, screenshots and levelshots, etc.
Photoshop: Same as gimp, but I didn’t used it for modding, because at the time I didn’t had the proper skill to do many things, but I used it to get several levelshots placed correctly.
Script tweaking, text editors, etc.
BehavED: Used to tweak many npcs.
Notepad++: Three used in different situations to tweak npcs, included the player. Modify menus. Make the right connections between levels and menus.
Fortunately like I said. When I started the mod. There were assets that saved me a huge amount of time. This ones were the ported player models that Mr. Ambrom did. That was a lifesaver in my opinion. There were skins, light-saber hilts, animations and other modifications done by modders from Jedi Academy in the past that made everything fit together. I really want to thank everyone that is on the credit listing, and you as the player and viewer too, for make this possible. I cannot be happier that KotOR 2 duels was successfully developed to its core end.
Those are things to consider when Step I is already done. Software/editor planning will help you to paint what you want to do, and if it’s possible to do it. If you don’t know how to use a software, you have two options. To work and learn the software to the point in which you can make possible what you want, or to find an individual or a team that wants to help you with the assignment, and probably follow you to the end of the project.
The next step is to see what actually needs to be done. I call this process by myself a pre-development phase. This is super important because it allows you to see the areas in which you need to work in. It allows you to see strengths and weaknesses. You may need to do assets from scratch, or port the ones you need if the game allows it. Always remember to give proper credit! The last thing you want to do is to have a problem associated with any kind of copyright violation.
So, a breakdown of what I am saying is to see the areas your mod will need work in. As for example in my mod. I needed to plan a pre-development phase looking at what areas I needed to work in general to get things done, and to visualize the development before start.
.Level Design. [Mapping – Around 20 maps]
.Scripting. [Creation of missions, audio placement, timing, menus, npc stats, and scenes]
.Audio editing. [Voices, Effects and other audio elements that need to be fitted to the scene of every level]
.Music editing. [Converting music to proper format and frequency]
.Asset packaging. [Putting Npcs, models, hilts, animations, credits, etc. together – Usually this is the easiest part of the entire development process and planning.]
Note 1: Asset packaging may be way different depending the situation of your mod. In this case I found assets already created, ported or published matching the content and goal of the mod. I arranged that pieces of data and put them together, but crediting every author. Please, do not forget to credit any author if you grab pieces that you didn’t made. If you made everything from scratch, usually asset packaging may be different due that the time for the development will increase and you need to see what it’s the most convenient way to package first, second, third and so on.
.Mod page looking. [Description, design, explanation, presentation, etc.]
.Skin editing [Tweaking actual textures to fit the character. I remember that I only did this once, not sure if I had to do it more than two times.]
Note 2: In this case I jumped several areas of the development process due that the assets were already there. I want to thank again to the amazing and talented people that contributed to the game with their modifications. That helped big time to make this mod possible. The areas that I jumped or skip were modelling, rigging, skinning and porting to Jedi Academy. Some models were ported from KotOR 2 while others were skins from models from Jedi Academy or KotOR 2 itself. This note means that you mod may require more time if you need to go through those areas. Especially modelling and rigging, because those areas can be tedious and huge time killers as it may be with huge maps or levels.
When you have this two steps done correctly. You are all set, and I believe that you have a realistic picture of what needs to be done at this point. The development process is the one that comes next, and that’s the one where the pressure and the real thing starts. This two steps are just to make you visualize what needs to be done, and what are your goals. An important thing to know is where to put an end to your project, because in the past, I had worked in projects that had no end, and that’s suicide. It is suicide because you may disappoint your followers when you get tired of it, and the spark of creativity dies, or you may end in a no way end street confused and not moving forward with your skills. Getting stuck is the right word.
This part is where you may be all set for the project. When the spark is burning in its full form. This is the point where everything starts. The real thing needs to be done, and at this point you probably are strongly passionate and encouraged to finish what you have in your mind. At this point you have your ideas set together, your plans, goals and probably deadlines and a general picture of what you want to achieve. At this point you also, probably may have a list of credits if you plan to use assets from anybody else, or contacted people that asked for permission to use their assets in your mod.
In my case, I wanted to do a KotOR 2 mod, but I had to remove a lot of the draft ideas because most were almost impossible to do with my skill, or because that was not what I wanted. So, I ended up with a dueling mod idea, and a goal that needed to be done covering all the main duels of the game that I felt the most important. When I had the idea or Step 1 done, I went to Step 2 and started to plan and get the right software and editors to get my ideas done and see what areas I needed to work in. When I set up everything in the first week. I got everything working perfectly, and then I remember that I moved forward with the level design as my first area of work. Note that this was a single person project. I did used assets from other authors, but the creation and development was carried by me only. I wanted a challenge and in some way to pay tribute to Star Wars Knight of the Old Republic II.
As for the development, you as a developer need to remember your Part 2 on the pre-development phase and see what you would like to start first with. I strongly recommend level design or mapping, because it will create the foundation for your mod, but do not be so happy when you finish your maps. There is a lot that needs to be done after that. A mod like this one is not only maps with npcs on them. Audio edition, video analysis, scene timing, scripting, packaging, testing, experimentation, etc is involved after the maps. But again, it may depend on what you are doing, but as for now. We are guiding ourselves in this article through the development of this mod.
I started with maps or level design. Re-creating the arenas or places in which the duels may take place. My goal in this area was to re-create around twenty maps, that’s what I planned to do with the mod. Twenty missions that needed twenty different re-created levels with their own script and audio to recreate the duels almost exactly as I had them on my mind, and saw on the videos or through gameplays of the game
So the first steps were to create the levels from scratch in GTK Radiant. I did as many levels as I could. I remember I started with the bigger ones, finished them and started to re-create the small ones. I remember I had around twelve levels at the time I decided that it was time to move into scripting.
For scripting the strategy changed completely. A thing that I would suggest to you is to not get in love or so deep into an area, because when you move into another area, it will change the environment totally. That is a thing that you may hate because it will not feel the same, and it sounds dumb when saying it like that, but once you start to feel it, you will know what I was talking about. When I started to get entities to get all set up for the scenes and scripting. The stress started to go up. This because I always was used to map. Scripting on BehavED [The editor to make scenes, missions and cinematics in JKA] never was part of my strengths, so this project was an interesting trip to discover more about the topic. I had to place cameras, npcs with specific names, different entities that needed to connect and other elements that made the script in BehavED connect and work properly. At that point I understood that levels or maps were not as important as I thought, because the scene and the scripting of those was harder than mapping. I had really bad days into the development of the script.
As examples. I will show you three pictures of the level or map + script or scene process. In this case is my favorite mission from all the mod. This is the “Nihilus Last Stand” mission.
In the first one, you can see the level or map finished in GTK Radiant.
In the second picture, you can see the entity placement. From this part you need to go to BehavED to start to do the script for the scene. At this point you may have everything linked to get things working in. [NOTE: This is not a tutorial on how to use GTK Radiant, BehavED or another software. Please have that in mind because that is not the purpose of this article.]
In the third picture, you can see how the finished script looks like in BehavED [part of it, the beginning to be more specific], and how each entity in the map needs to be named accordingly to match the script. In this case I selected the red box under GTK Radiant called Nihilus. This is a NPC entity that makes appear Darth Nihilus in-game under an entity placed in the map on GTK Radiant, and at the same time it is named Nihilus to be able to tell BehavED that the script needs to react or order a specific event under that entity. It is an interesting process, and everything counts towards the final scene. Everything. If you mess up with an extra letter, word or line. You will probably screw up the entire thing and you may need to look forward to find a fix for it. Do not be worried about experiment with errors, you will learn a lot from those. Do not be afraid, and be open to experimentation.
This is pretty much the process in which the missions were done. My process to get a mission done was the following.
I. Gather all the assets, pictures of reference to start the level. [Textures, effects or any other kind of element to get it done.]
II. Start the development of the level in GTK Radiant. Make a few renders when in the process and see if everything is working properly in-game.
III. When the level is finished, I need to start place entities, and name each of them to be able to tell BehavED where it needs to react with and what needs to connect with what. I usually place spawns for the npcs, the player, cameras, reference points and the connection that tells the game that the level needs to start reading a script. In this case, it is a link between the level and the script.
IV. After everything is done. I need to see the video or play the scene in KotOR II to be able to see what I will and need to do. I have the freedom to add extra touches too, but I usually keep the scenes identical as how I saw them.
V. After the level and the entities are done, and I watch the video, or play the scene in KotOR II. I go to BehavED and I start to do the script. As you can see in the small window of picture 3 from the process. It shows how I start with my scripts. Note that I need to be able to keep timing properly. This is to make sure every character speaks in time and don’t miss any line. I start to count in the video the seconds in which each character talks, stops talking, and events that happen after and before. Also counting towards when the next character starts to talk.
VI. When the script is finished and the timing is revised to fit with the video. [Timing refers to segments or spaces of time made in BehavED to tell the script when to stop, or wait for an event to happen.] In this case the character that is talking needs as for example a wait command after or before his line to let know the game to wait and focus on that character while he’s talking. Cameras also need to be named and placed in order to focus on that character or place.
VII. When this is done, I go to edit the audio and get the voices from the clips. Then, I export the voice clips in a format and frequency that the game allows to play. I test them in-game and then I continue to insert those in the script on BehavED.
VIII. When the voice is correctly in fit, timing is correctly and the script is working flawlessly. One, I continue doing a second part of the script if needed, or two, I move on to put music to the scene. I usually put a cue into GTK Radiant, and then I put another cue into BehavED. In that way the music plays superb when I want, and do not mix depending any situation.
IX. When the level, mission and script is done. I take a levelshot to the level and do the proper editing to the menus and make connections/links to allow the player to get into that level.
X. I play the mission a few times. I usually, almost always see something that bugs me. It can be a map error, a texture problem or the script behaving weird. So, after usually a couple of tests. I get the mission working properly and everything in shape to move to the next mission.
XI. I compile and package everything when done into a .pk3 file on the modding folder.
XII. Finally, I take screenshots, edit them and upload them to Moddb.
This was the process I followed to get missions done, and pretty much all the mod. A mod like this takes time, and more if you do it without a team. It can be a mess if you don’t go through the steps I told before, and you can give up and let the mod die, because in the end, it’s you and only you the only that can make the mod die.
The mod development lasted for nine months I believe. August 2014th to April 2015th. But I was not working in the mod for all that time. I had times in which I just wanted to throw everything to the trash because the amount of tasks and pressure was enormous at the time. I did this like every other modder with my free time and I also needed to go full time to College at the same time plus other duties, projects and tasks, just like anybody else. But I never gave up, and you should not too. I continued moving towards the end with help and support of family and friends. I just cannot imagine the pressure and stress that an indie game developer with a team of two or three people may put themselves into. This is a mod, and projects like this make you feel like when you do too much exercise and your body starts to burn. I cannot imagine what it must feel like working in a video-game. This also knowing that Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords was rushed and still delivered a huge amount of content. I just cannot imagine how these guys managed to get everything done under that kind of tight deadlines. I learned a lot while doing this mod, it was a challenge, and I love challenges. I believe that’s why I also delivered the mod to its entire core version. It was a time of huge exploration regarding mods and two of my favorite games. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.
I had a great time while working in this mod, and I consider it finished in many aspects. The core mod as it is today is what I saw on my mind the day I started to think about everything. What you played and saw in this mod is everything I saw on my mind since the beginning. It has flaws, and several glitches as-well. Things that work weird in several areas. I acknowledge that as-well, but I feel really satisfied with what it is as now.
I was also really impressed that to this day, the mod still is downloaded by people over the world, and that is amazing in my opinion for a game that is that old. When I made this mod, I honestly didn’t expected more than 500 downloads, and today it has reached 4K downloads, which makes me happy because people is still discovering the mod even today. I also acknowledge that the golden age for modding on this game is not around anymore. I remember the old days in JK3Files when people were super active and inspired in huge masses. But there are many houses in which you can still get inspiration by the community, which may be smaller, but still active. JKHub and Moddb are those kind of places that are still showing that the game is alive and the mod community is not dead. Mods like Movie Battles II also keep the game alive, and by well worth achievement, they won their fame by the quality and content they developed for Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy.
It has been a pleasure to share this information with you, and I hope it may be helpful to anyone. If you read everything, I thank you so much for that. I believe that the information you saw in here and the process you witnessed in this mod may be worthy for someone. It was a pleasure to release this mod, and to be part of the community for years. Thanks a lot fellas.
I hope you enjoyed the mod! Throw me a review someday. I want to hear from you.
Just to finish. Mapping or Level Design had been my passion and my favorite area in the development process of both. Video-game and Mod-development areas.