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Some mod guidelines

polycounter lvl 14
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Rick Stirling polycounter lvl 14
I was approached to help with a mod - I did decline, these days my life is too precious to spend my free time making game art. However, the request was well written, and rather than a simple refusal, I explained my reasons for not joining and gave what I considered to be some useful advice.

Since I thought it was useful, I thought it might be worth sharing, and perhaps expanded on. It could make a good sticky for the requests forum.


I also have to be careful with *any* mods - technically ANY artwork that I create, even outside work does belong to the company. Website and photography etc. is fine, but any game work can be considered to be in competition.

I am sure many game artist have the same contractual obligations.


I've worked on mods in the past, I've been in the industry for several years. I've worked on the best and worst selling/rated games, and have an idea why projects succeed and fail. Please forgive if at any point I sound critical, you will understand that I don't know you or any members of your team, or any working practices. Much of this may be obvious to you, but there would be less abandoned mods if more of these were adhered to.

Have you got a concept? A general 2 paragraph concise description

Have you got a design? A design is NOT a story. A design document is fluid, but must be comprehensive. Document EVERYTHING - models, textures, naming conventions, control systems, gameplay elements, stats, progression. You have to describe everything so that no-one can misunderstand.

Have you got a timetable? You must have specific dates for completion of assets and milestones

Does each member of the team know their job roles? Do they know exaclty what is expected of them, and what quality level of work they are expected to deliver? Do they know what everyone else role is?

Is there a project manager? In the old days people thought the project managers were the dreamers who could not contribute. This is not the case, and a good project manager will work as hard as asset creators to ensure that every team member has everything they need. They will make sure all assets are delivered on time.

You must release little and often. Waiting months for a stable release is pointless. You don't need all the animations, all the characters, all the levels. If you are modding an existing game, get something working, get people playing and testing. Then add more content and gameplay, and repeat.


  • Daz
    Good thoughts Rick. A well thought out standard reply to mod requests seems like a good idea, since I (like many of us) spend way too much time politely declining requests of working for free.
  • MoP
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    MoP polycounter lvl 16
    [ QUOTE ]
    ...these days my life is too precious to spend time anywhere but down the pub.

    [/ QUOTE ]

    Fixed that one for you, Rick laugh.gif

    Seriously though, those are good points.

    Also a valuable resource is this list in particular Chris Taylor's design doc template.
  • bearkub
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    bearkub polycounter lvl 13
    Stickied for posture AND will push out to some other places later.
  • CrazyButcher
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    CrazyButcher polycounter lvl 16
    While I agree on the points, when it comes to ask professionals for help, and when it comes to actually producing something worthy. Is the time of the "small mods" where a small group just wants to hack something together, call it quake3 with wodden planks, completely over ?

    I mean do we need that kind of professionalism from the ground up ? Yes the project, if there is no dedicated people or a mix of persons who have no clue what the main idea is, will fail. But a design doc with all assets ? many of those mods just evolve as ideas come and as skills improve. Often the type of knowledge what a gamedoc and asset list is good for comes with experiencing the chaos if you don't.

    I totally agree on your points for any bigger projects, but I also think that the "playing" and "toying" that mods started out with are still important and valid. However it seems like everyone wants to start with a full blown game these days and in general many mods are just run like companies, and eventually dream of becoming one...

    Though I am ranting away here, as I miss the days were the expectations werent as high, were it was cool enough to get your model exported and running, and not need to make the next company bought mod or whatever.
  • MoP
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    MoP polycounter lvl 16
    Hmm, very true CrazyButcher - I had some ideas for just small, simple gameplay mods for HL2 multiplayer, that would hardly need any new graphics, just a simple map or two and some coding work... I think those kind of things are still important, for sure, but you're right - everyone wants to work on something "professional" ... there are up-sides and down-sides to both types of project...
  • KRakarth
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    KRakarth polycounter lvl 15
    great stuff. Im all for simple mods - a vehicle , a character. Even with these I think its beneficial to have some kind of design document, even if its just a few notes and a sketch.

    For Bigger Mods. A design document goes to show your prospective Modders that you a serious proposition and that you have at least some game design ability, as well as some organisational skills. Theres nothing I hate more than having a mod collapse beause the head doesnt know what they are doing.
  • CrazyButcher
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    CrazyButcher polycounter lvl 16
    yes but is that really already worth being titled as design document (I think of those as the more beefy versions, like rick mentioned). I mean its natural that when you meet with people and want to make such a small project, that you discuss things to find out what you do ?
    But its probably me thinking about design documents as huge papers and not a short list and some scribbles
  • Rick Stirling
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    Rick Stirling polycounter lvl 14
    This size of the mod and the sizeof the design are proportional. If there is less work, then the design will naturally be smaller.
  • Thermidor
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    Thermidor polycounter lvl 11
    Completely agree

    I’ve found that Mod leaders can be very enthusiastic about the project, but that enthusiasm wavers, up and down. So you might work on a model only to find no one really bothered when its done. Also what i think is a very big problem is mod leaders over recruit, or simply recruit people that can’t do the tasks they are asked to. So you might have what looks like a full team , a level guy a character guy 2 programmers, and such , but no one knows how to export into the engine the mod is based in, and only one guy has any knowledge of how to make game res art, and UV map ect. and both the programmers only know Java... but are doing c++ at uni. This is caused by the mod leader no knowing about the technical requirements of the engine/mod they are working on.
  • DoomSayer
    Great post, Rick. I've been leading a mod team, and have had to wear not just many hats, but every hat at one point in time or another.
  • Frankie V
    Just to add.

    Don’t request or post for help until you have reached a point where you need help in a particular area.

    If you can’t put an animator to work right away, for example, than hold off advertising for one until you do. Other wise you risk losing the help you lined up as they will probably lose interest just sitting around doing nothing.
  • Sandbag
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    Sandbag polycounter lvl 15
    I would have to argue against the "many small releases" statement, as it is not always appropriate. Constantly throwing out the latest .034 Alpha build with two new lines of code and an additional player model is something that a serious mod should leave inside the team.

    The main guidelines were catered towards teams that want to be very serious, and as a very serious team I think it's pointless-and potentially a handicap-to constantly release unstable and or barely updated builds.

    I think that on a large production the full scope of the game can not be fully understood and appreciated until a large quantity of the work has been completed. It seems very amatureish to just churn out little realeases to keep people around and downloading. I dont think it even makes a lot of sense to send any builds to a testing team until there has been considerable progress. The team should be capable of keeping track of and testing basic principals of gameplay and features that evolve slowly over the beginning course of development.
  • Rick Stirling
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    Rick Stirling polycounter lvl 14
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