There is no spoon
- 1 RegX Rants
- 1.1 Rant 1: When a release is a release...
- 1.2 Rant 2: It's modification not MOD...
- 1.3 Rant 3: Seriously. Stop with the MOD crap.
- 1.4 Rant 4: One long night of surgery
- 1.5 Rant 5: So, what is mod's value?
- 1.6 Rant 6: An Ode to 2D
- 1.7 Rant 7: A Mod By Any Other Name
- 1.8 Rant 8: Small solutions to Critical Mass
- 1.9 Comment Box
Rant 1: When a release is a release...
Yeah, this is a common rant - I'm ranting on it again. Not just strictly on beta vs alpha vs production, but what people actually put out when they say "this mod is released!" - because frequently, it's really not. And at this point I don't really care if it's got "alpha" or "beta" or "gamma" next to it - unless you specifically state that you are only sending your work out for playtesting purposes - I'm considering it playworthy code. The mod community has pretty much killed all such terms as anything informational.
In no particular order, here are my big pet peeves when I finally try to play someone's release:
- No umod version. I like umods. Not everyone likes them. A lot of people do. I don't really want to care about trying to decipher your zipped folder structure. I like pressing three buttons and being done with it.
- Evil umod version. I don't want any of your mod's installation to be present when I play normal UT other than selecting gametypes and options like I normally would.
- No zipped version. Yeah. You should do both. What? It's a pain? Tough.
- Evil zipped version. Once I extract the zip, I should be done. Yes, it's a bit more work to setup a folder structure that will easily extract to say, the UT2003 directory. Guess what? Tough. It's a bit more work for you upfront rather than more work everytime someone downloads your files.
- Unrelated files. If it doesn't have anything to do with your work, installing your work and playing your work, then it doesn't belong in the archive. You might think that UberTool2003 works great with your mod and want everyone to have it. Fab. Except for this thing called version control. Unless you plan on updating all the possible archives that hold your version, UberTool2003's version will be static. That means if I had a new UberTool2003 on my drive when I installed your mod, I just unwittingly reverted or broke my version. Thanks. Don't do that.
- Lack of related files. I can't count the number of times I've downloaded something, installed it, and have absolutely no clue as to what's going on. Maybe something needs to be bound, or maybe I need to update an ini - but I won't know if you won't tell me. Make sure all the information someone needs to play your work is included when they download it. If I don't RTFM, that's my fault. If you don't ITFM, that's yours.
- Known bug. This is a pretty minor pet peeve, and I'm pretty certain I've been guilty of it - but known bugs should be included in the above, particularly if they are serious (like ... bots don't work at all...)
- Whoops! Here's the new version!! Whoops! You should have playtested it! Yes I know this is in part because the number of people really willing to help test things can be generally counted on one paw. I know some things are just unforseen. Stuff happens. Here's what else - if I just downloaded 50MB of data only to see that it's been replaced two days later by another 50MB of "fixed" data - I'm not only unlikely to download the new version, I'm unlikely to ever trust downloading that data again. And finally, to be completely recursive...
- It's just a beta. As stated. If you wanted me to test your work, you should have asked.
Half of these could be fixed just by using Umod Wizard, the other half are just courtesy.
Rant 2: It's modification not MOD...
I think it's seriously time for mods to get back to their roots - and by that I mean the root of the word "mod". Lately I've seen more up and coming modsters and even a few trade rags start referring mods as "MODS" as if they've suddenly become too large for lowercasing.
Look, mods are "modifications" that's where the word comes from - it's where it's always come from. Lately people, and the Unreal community especially, have grown to think that mods aren't really a hobby or a past-time, aren't really fun additions that they get for free and should take with a grain of salt, and aren't really modifications. Many people seem to expect that all mods are going to be Counter-Strike or Tactical Ops.
Let's get this straight. Counter-Strike took years of development. It's current form has been modified by teams of professionals. In it's initial form, it was messy. it was hacky. It had exactly one model for all the players and two skins. It had maybe a fifth of the weapons it does today. Defusion hadn't even been thought of yet and half the time the scientist seem to hate you for rescuing them.
People liked it because it was sufficiently different from what they had been playing. The community started poking at it, playing it, forming opinons about it, offering suggestions, etc. CS's desire to "stay in beta" was a reflection of this ongoing discussion about the game itself.
However, if a mod in CS's initial state were released this weekend, I'm guessing most current players would download it, play it for a few hours, find some things they don't like about it, complain, and stop playing it within a week. I'm guessing this because it seems to have happened several times after Phase 1 of the MSUC.
Now we have people offering promotion services for mod teams, mod teams contacting lawyers - and NOT because they got a cease and desist letter, mods worrying about trade secrets, etc. etc. There's virtually no beta testing or playtesting undercurrent among Unreal players - they pretty much expect a beta to be a complete version (partially because many mod teams "release" their beta versions). Where does all of this seem to be leading us? Mod teams trying to be more like professional dev teams isn't precisely a bad thing - except...
Mods were once part of the cutting edge of game development. CTF, Bombing Run, Inventory control, money based systems, class based systems - all of these have footholds in mod developments. With mod teams worrying about how "commercially" viable their "product" is to a player base that is starting to expect "professional" content - it seems to be dying away. And it's turning into a lose-lose situation. Mod teams will have to expend more time and money to make better content while players are going to less content and less innovation.
So what can be done about it? We have to get back to the grass roots of it all - a shared community when it comes to developing, testing, playing, forming opinions. Public interest in mods has to go beyond just expecting CS2. Mod interest has to go beyond trying to make CS2.
Rant 3: Seriously. Stop with the MOD crap.
People keep asking me why spelling mod in all caps bothers me so. Here's why:
- It's not an acronym for anything, unles you are building a new Ministry of Defense. If so, good luck but stop yapping and get to work.
- It's ANNOYING to read WORDS that are CAPITALIZED for no good REASON.
- And no, you don't put in caps because it's short for modification. Unless you cap FRANK when you call him on the PHONE, eh?
- It's not, despite what you make think, l33t. Even if it was, l33t got annoying about 2 years ago.
- It makes the person typing it look juvenile and instantly makes me uncaring about anything they have to say after. I prefer to not care about something for better reasons, but I've decided that this one will do as well.
- Finally, it makes mods in general look juvenile and silly. I have a hard enough time convincing people that this hobby isn't just for 15 year olds without this nonsense. If you can't bring attention to your project without using caps lock, then just don't bother the rest of us with it. The only game in the history of gaming to get a reprieve from this is DOOM, so if you don't work for id - just let it go.
Rant 4: One long night of surgery
Sit down, kiddies, lemme tell ya a story.
New hardware arrived yesterday. My plan, as some of you know, was to have the basics of a new box built for me - mboard, vid card, hard drive and OS. Then I was going to slowly put the pieces of my old computer back in.
Step 1 - get the new computer onto the internet, this way I could access tech help and drivers as I needed it. Step 1 worked fine. Put in some stuff for net connections, bam - there was google.com.
Step 2 - put the old HD in. This was the big one, it had all my old work/code on it. I had to swap it to be the secondary and had an awful scare when I found an empty UT2003 folder, but then I realized where there right partition was and bam, data saved.
Step 3 - install old CDRom drive, so that I could get software on the beast. No problem. Bing bam, CDROM.
Step 4 - install Radeon 9700. This would complete the box and turn it into one hell of a rig. No problems. The card I had them put in was also an ATI, so the drivers just woke up to the new card.
Seemingly victorious, I danced around for a bit and then proceeded to download various programs like Mozilla and Winamp, etc.
Hard Drive failed. Disk Read Error.
Computer gone. For well over an hour I swapped drives, fumbled cables, tried one tiny change or another - but I seemed trapped between the new HD having a disk read error, my old hard drive being lost in the new board and throwing a blue screen, and the CDROM refusing to be boot.
Feeling defeated, I emailed the guys who put it together and almost went to bed (about 1AM now). Just for kicks, I poked around a bit on google to see what others had done.
Took me a bit, but I got the BIOS to boot the CDROM first, put my old HD in as primary (the new one wasn't even seen by the BIOS now) and put the XP install disk. Repair, repair, install, install. Thank GOD Sony decided to partition that old computer, because I could do all this knowing my lovely code was relatively safe on the second half.
Over an hour later, Windows XP booted up. Then I had to teach my old OS (after having to call Microsoft to explain to them why I was now re-activating the same XP CD again ... I had forgot they added this - it really, really sucks) to see the motherboard's ethernet card and the new sound card (an SB Audigy - dang, I'll never go back to onboard sound again).
After pushing the Far Cry demo around for a bit, I set up the UT2004 demo to download and went to bed. Time of now seeming victory: 4AM.
In the morning, the computer had restarted itself.
I tried to redownload the demo, it told me the RPC service had died and it was going to restart itself anyway.
Yup that's right.
After all that. I have a virus. A little research and my guess is that I've had this virus since about November, but my firewall kept it from doing any harm. When the OS repaired, Tiny reset it's setup, I accidentally permitted some bizarre request and it awoke.
So after many hours of labor - I have a new computer, an old virus and an 80GB paperweight.
Thankfully Microsoft has reissued an update, and I can teach Tiny how to kill Blaster again while I fix it. Should be OK by this weekend. The paperweight's fate is unknown.
Rant 5: So, what is mod's value?
Riftwar got a respectable third in the MSUC Phase 2. Lower than I hoped, but I'm glad to be in good company with mods like Seismic and Flag Dom, not to mention Rocketeer. There's a real old school feel to the gametype contenders which I'm glad to be nudged into.
What I think is curious is Steve (o' Epic) Polge's response for feedback on old RW. Now, I conditionalize this by saying I don't totally disagree with Steve and am glad to get any feedback from the pro crowd.
"Riftwar: Cool ideas, but really deserves to become a TC [total conversion]. Too grand a scope for a gametype with no custom art to make it feel more different. Scoreboard needs to be improved."
This pokes into the heart of why Riftwar isn't a TC. And probably never will be. Riftwar was developed while I was working on a TC (the now defunct Freehold NG) as a prototype of a specific gametype. To test some of the mechanics of three team gameplay, it was a pretty conscious decision not to make rely on the code or design of the TC. I wanted a clean box to play with the concepts and that meant working off of Epic's assets. The class based system was essentially another prototype slapped onto that one in order to work around some of the issues of selecting teams and team skins. As Riftwar started to get a life of it's own, the idea to try adding persistence to it was more or less another expirement to the pile, but it was also to try and elevate the gameplay so that players actually felt like they were in a war, not just chasing glowy things. And so, I can see a bit of Steve's point - Riftwar's notion of classes and persistence seem more like a seperate game, not just a gametype.
Or do they? Should they? At what point should a gametype be considered too large for it's shoes? Onslaught is pretty grand for a gametype - large, expansive maps, completely new vehicle code, new weapons, new conventions. If someone made a mutator to add persistent campaigns to ONS, would that mean that ONS should instantly also get new player pawns and a different HUD?
Now, I'll admit that lack of custom art definately hurts Riftwar - reusing models for alternate weapons isn't ideal for the game or the player (another point to hopefully be addressed ... or worked around ... in the next version), but once again using the ONS analogy - I don't think a few new weapon models should instantly mean that it needs to try and be a whole new game.
The problem is, I think, that this minutia is getting lost in the glorification of total conversions as the only real goal for mods. This is evident in Epic's scaling of the MSUC prize money. Large purse money makes sense for TC projects - they're large, have lots of people and consume enormous resources to get playable versions up and running. More mysterious is why the vehicle category is rewarded over 3 times that of the gametype category. Does a truck add three times more value to playing Unreal than say, a completely new way to play Unreal? It's hard to see that. Yes, yes, many of us are glad that the gametype category got added at all - but then it's a head scratcher as to why a (also added later) single phase of Assault Maps is worth more than all the phases of gametypes combined.
If Onslaught had been entered as an entry into the Make Something Unreal Contest, the HellBender would have been worth more than the game itself.
Perhaps it goes back to why gametypes simply got voiceovers in the MSUC Phase 1 video review - they're hard to visualize. Without custom art and assets, there's not much in the way of eye candy screenshots to show off. While the MSUC is an amazing gift to the mod and player community - it's also a promotional device. Gametype style mods generally go for gameplay first, look and feel second. It really is an old school tradition - one that is more Threewave CTF than Counter-Strike in terms of developing mods. While nobody can argue the value that the latter has given companies like Valve, perhaps it's not a good idea to forget the value that the former gave to companies like id and Epic. Where would Unreal Tournament have been without a good game of CTF-Face?
I shrug. This isn't really a complaint or rant, just a reflection. It seems like there are more games out there that aren't pushing the envelope of gameplay - what is Doom 3 shipping with for the PC? Deathmatch? Team Deathmatch? Half-Life 2? CTF? It's all stuff we've seen before, and it will be left up to the mod communities to try and change that. That, however, won't happen if everyone is busy developing a Counter-Strike, not a CTF.
And yes. The scoreboard for Riftwar does, indeed, suck.
Rant 6: An Ode to 2D
I've been thinking a lot about alternate game development lately. The MSUC has had many of my friends push me as to why I don't try to do this professionally, but to be honest I don't have to go far on the gaming news sites to remember why - cancelled games, canned dev teams, innovation gone unnoticed. I'm OK with all that as long I don't rely on it for like, bread and stuff.
I digress. I'm looking to shore up my UT2004 projects once I get DSL running again and/or I'm doing moving the heavy stuff around the new apartment. Riftwar and Grind still have a lot of work to do, and I want to rexamine Unreal XL completely (core code good, implementation bad). DFO is in pre-production, which means I'm mostly tinkering with old projects. This usually leaves me looking for something new.
I came to realize that FPS modding as a game development base has a few detractions. One - you get really stuck thinking in 3D. I even had someone send me a link to a java game, some simple 2D block thing and I instantly thought "this would be really cool in 3D with 4 people!"
That's just wrong.
Clearly I had forgotten how elegant a good 2D game can be. Sure, we all like a slick polygonal figure, but look at some of the 2D fighting games which survive - some are just slick, fast and fun. I don't think there's any standard in which someone can say that 3D is simply better. 2D can be more distinct, faster and colorful than 3D.
There's another angle to it, though, that I've started to find attractive. Getting an asset into Unreal can take up to 3 people. A concept artist to design it, a 3D artist to model it, and a 2D artist to texture it. And that's naturally not including an animator, sound guy and coder. 2D could much more easily be handled just by one, or maybe two people. As the FPS engines get more and more sophisticated, this production cost is only going to be increasing (see The Curse of Static Meshes ).
If there was a really sophisticated 2D game engine, on the order of the Unreal or Quake engine, an entire game could be done with about 3 people. Artist, Coder, Musician. Compare to the what, 30 people that inhabit mod teams these days?
Maybe as people are converting the UE into a side-scrolling or topview engine with 3D assets, we should also look at a framework for sprite control which could re-introduce 2D into the mainstream.
Maybe. But for now I have a porch covered in boxen.
Rant 7: A Mod By Any Other Name
Short one that was originally on my blog.
So, I'm reading EGM last night and they have this interview with one of the guys responsible for Halo 2. Now I've got nothing against Halo 2, liked Halo 1, plan on playing the sequel sometime somehow and I've got respect for anyone responsible for that series (not to mention Marathon). I've complained in the past about Bungie hyping the hell out of Halo before it was really even a game, and then selling it off to Microsoft, but I'm willing to let bygones be bygones.
But this guy, and I'm sorry that I don't have the article in front of me, but this guy was talking about a "lost" gametype - Headhunter. In Headhunter, when you kill someone, you get a skull. You can take this skull to a dropoff to get frags. People can kill you and steal your skulls.
Sound familiar? It should. It was an old Quake mod, relatively shortly after the days of Zoid CTF. Sadly, this guy attributes the gametype to some XBox game called Fuzion Frenzy. XBox game? Are you serious?
Look, if you're going to go rip off someone else's gameplay - at least have the decency to know their name. This really annoys me because the role mods have played in enhanced and innovating first person shooters have become more and more obscured over the years. Now, they can't even get credit when credit is due?
Rant 8: Small solutions to Critical Mass
The whole version of this rant is on my blog here ... but I thought I would drop it here for prosperity & discussion. Plus it looks nice alongside some other rants:
Focus on the offline experience One of Red Orchestra's most noted flaws was an utter lack of bot support (somthing they are just recently addressing). With a strong AI presence, people might be able to at least get the taste of an offline game to whet their appetite to find a server.
Or, of course, just design a single player game completely and forego the multiplayer. Personally, I think coop is the new black. Design a game as a single player with a coop component (which is actually what I'm doing now) ... get a bit of both worlds and see what happens.
Focus on smaller groups Battlefield 1942 has apexed, I think, the "big server" concept of shooters. There's definately a draw to having more than thirty people playing in the same small space. It's also much harder to get a decent game going. On the other hand - if you focused on say, only six people being online ... maybe a 3v3 match, especially with decent bot support ... that's a lot smaller critical mass required.
Learn from Microsoft Ewww, that stung to write. But let's face it - Halo 2's matchmaking concepts are still the talk of the town, the belle of the ball, the ... OK - I'm out of phrases. At any rate, if you can't rely on people to find each other to play your game ... find some way to bring them together. And here's a tip - a simple chat lobby isn't going to cut it. It never really did.
El Muerte TDS: Gamers always suck, it's never good enough no matter what you do. Specially with sequels, they want exactly the same as the original, but with better graphics, better this, better that, diffirent this and diffirent that. Result: a sequel that is not completely the same and the original.
It would be nice to see mod projects follow the same development plan as most open source projects. But ofcourse you would need a nice infrastructure for that. Any people in here that have a lot of spare money and want to host a source forge like system specially for Unreal engine based mods ?
Dante: What's wrong with getting hosted by sourceforge itself ?
El Muerte TDS: nothing, but the question is, will they host game mods, also it would be nice to have a compile farm for weekly? builds.
RegularX: SourceForge would be nice. My big beef though is the "sit and wait" philosophy. Mods should be evolutionary things, but that's almost impossible with "customers" waiting for the big "release". So instead of stepped, but very playable, releases, we get rushed releases with any features as they can pack into an email. Everyone wants to be CS2 out of the gate, completely skipping the discussion side of things that used to be commonplace.
My only other suggestion is that maybe developers start trying to make a habit of testing each other's work and giving feedback. But everyone is taking such a blackbox approach (can you get more blackbox than a NDA?), it's not forthcoming.
Tarquin: Rant 1 is great! Please could you consider working with Mychaeel & combine both your rants on mod releases into a "main" page.
RegularX: Mych and I have very similar rants, but since I don't really know what #3 will entail - not sure about combining them. If we did though, we should probably title it "dont get us started". I'll a specific link though.
Tarquin: Mych has made similar points about use of the terms "alpha" and "beta" and things people should look out for when releasing a mod. How about making a page called Releasing a Mod to put all this on?
RegularX: We have a section Thoughts on mod making on the Making Mods page, that already has a link to Mych's thoughts. Maybe add it there?
El Muerte: about rant #6: 2D requires much more effort of the 2D artist, every little thing has to be drawn by hand (afaik there's no such thing as 2D models), I do agree that complete 2D games requires less people. But anyway, it's very well possible to create a 2D-ish game using 3D. For example Duke Nukem: Manhatten Project is a 2D game, altough there are a couple of 3D elements but most game is in 2D. The problem is that when people start on something in 3D they always want to use as many dimensions as possible. Here's a nice example: GTA2 or Death Rally, both are 2D games but use 3D to add depth to the top-down view. Alien Swarm is in fact a 2D game, but uses a 3D engine. I think it's very well possible to create a complete 2D game in the UnrealEnigne, with one exception, map creation isn't as easy as for most 2D games (e.g. not tile based).
Here's a thougt, so far I've seen top-down and side-scroller games in 3D engines. But are there also isometric games that use a real 3D engine?
RegularX: Yeah, you can use 3D engines for a 2D effect - which involves it's own level of artistic/production freedom as mods like Alien Swarm can prove. Still about the same amound of production costs, though. I agree - the 3 man tiger team is probably a bit niave for a totally 2D game - it's asking a lot from the 2D artists. Like saying that the Simpsons could be done with one person, instead of a team of artists, animators, colorists, etc.
However, I think mods are disappearing - in the traditional sense. UT2003 has already introduced more "professional" mod teams which are capable of keeping up with the new demands of asset production. I was just reading an Unreal Engine 3 preview and just wondered - how the hell would a small team be able to keep up with these demands? The fact that total conversions are becoming not just the norm, but the expectation, combined with the increased demands are pushing the original idea of a couple of guys tweaking a game out.
I don't know if there is another solution than to examine these game engines in more consumable chunks. Epic might want everyone to be working on the next CS - but some of us might have to look at the next Out of this World or Capcom V Marvel.
And yeah - there are isometric games that use 3D assets. Several, though I can only think of an Dreamcast RPG (name escapes me), the upcoming Silent Storm sequel, and a version of Ultima Online IIRC.
I wonder what, instead of cel-shaded 3D models, an FPS with really stylized and well done 2D assets might look like these days...