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Originality in mods


KoKo5oVaR
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Regarding where mods go wrong:

The main lessons I learned from FF were fairly simple. We/I made a lot of mistakes along the way and, in hindsight, a lot of things look really obvious. Given that the vast majority of us never made a mod before and the sheer amount of stuff we had to make, I think we did well to release at all. Anyway, here we go:

Keep your team as small as possible for as long as possible

There are numerous reasons for this. Firstly, keeping the team small keeps expectations low. Things remain friendly and it tends to foster an attitude of "we're in this together". If you're working on something with a handful of friends or dedicated workers (who will likely wecome good friends!) then you feel inclined to pull for the team that little bit more. When FF was just starting, I felt guilty if I let the side down because there were maybe 5-10 people tops who were depending on me, nearly all of whom were working very hard themselves. I'd say we made much more progress (at least in terms of productivity per person) in the early days when our team was a tight unit. There wasn't much in the way of politics at that time, and things were much simpler to manage.

The more people you have working on a mod, the more people you have to manage. As more and more people join, you tend to have to add further levels of indirection. Most leaders cannot hope to keep tabs on 40 people or understand the ins and outs of every discipline. Furthermore, if someone joins and finds that they're 1/40th of an unpaid mod team, they may be less inclined to go all out. This is especially the case if that person can look around and see that 20 people out of those 40 don't seem to be doing anything. Unless a modder is a very self-driven and conscientious worker, they will feel demotivated by being a cog in a huge, messy machine. Creating something is meant to be gratifying, not galling. This is particularly important if a person's work has dependencies. If Jim works 15 hours a week on the mod and finishes all of his work, but requires Iain and Bill to put in a combined 10 hours to complete the feature they're all working on, Jim is going to be severely fucking demotivated if Iain and Bill consistently fail to hold up their end of the bargain. Like I said, if it's a small team then this is less likely to happen. If it's a big team, then Iain and Bill might just not give a shit. After all, Henry and Mike aren't doing anything, either!

Don't recruit just to recruit, and always know what a new guy is to be doing

This one follows on from the previous point. If some guy asks to join and he's good but not outstanding, but you don't need to recruit because everything is going great, then don't recruit! It can be hard to pass up a good modder, but you should be very selective if you have something good going on. If you're just starting out then fine, grab anyone you can! Once you're moving and things are going well, don't disrupt things unless you have to.

Also, before you bring on a new person, you should always know how to get them moving immediately. By this I mean they should feel included and know what they have to do from the first moment. This could simply mean that they join the mod and immediately have IRC/forum/vent/source code/bug tracker access and some suggestions on what they ought to be doing. If you leave a new guy dangling for days or weeks, then it looks bad and makes them think you're a bunch of clowns!

Don't expect too much, but DO remove slackers

Modding is unpaid, so you cannot and should not expect to be able to slave-drive people. It's also carried out during people's free time -- don't expect the earth. Give people a bit of slack for getting their work done. If someone drops off for a few weeks or a month due to RL commitments and they're up front about it, that's OK. Be straight with people and expect the same in return. However, once it becomes clear that someone is unreliable and/or lazy, just remove them. DO NOT recruit someone else to take their place while keeping them on board. It just bloats the mod team and complicates things when that person tries to return to being active. In three years, I think I saw a single instance where a person came back and made a telling contribution. The rest of the time the person just did the exact same thing -- worked a little for a few weeks and then flaked out. You will obviously have to make exceptions here or there, but in general you ought to have an idea of what you're willing to tolerate and stick to it. Once someone fails to hold up their end of the bargain, just remove them. It's easier for all concerned.

An aside: The major thing that pissed me off is people who commit to reasonable goals but then stall, lie and ultimately disappear without having the good grace to simply admit that they haven't got anything done. I never had a problem if someone came to me and said "I'm sorry but I just haven't got anything done in the last few weeks" or simply quit the mod due to time constraints. Numerous people basically fucked me around, including some people from mapcore who I had thought to be dependable, responsible adults! If FF wasn't for them and they didn't want to stay for whatever reason, that's cool. Just tell someone and then leave! It's not hard.

Incidentally, we also had FMPONE on the team for a few weeks, but I have nothing against the guy because he actually told me he was going to leave. He was there for less than a month and did very little, said "I'm leaving" and then left. He may have been useless to us, but at least he didn't give me false hope and spend months lying to me about how much work he had put in before silently quitting. Simple communication + goodbye = best for all concerned because I then knew we needed another level designer.

Kick problem people in double quick time

Sometimes you ought to kick someone out. It's tough to do, but you have to (or you should). I kicked a few people out of FF and God knows a few others deserved it. I wish I had been more ruthless when I had the capacity to kick.

You ought to kick people who:

... have constant personality clashes with numerous people. If someone cannot get on with their team, they are actively hurting the mod. It doesn't matter if it's work or personal issues, just remove the problem and the others will thank you for the improved atmosphere.

... are always acting like a drama queen. If every little problem turns into a huge deal and a 40 page flame-fest which takes hours of people's time to clean up, only for it to happen again and again then just cut your losses and remove them.

... are unable to work with people (by work, I'm talking about technical or artistic collaboration), whether it be through obtuseness, stubbornness or arrogance. If near enough any criticism of piece of design, art, sound, code implementation etc. leads to a slanging match with that person, then they are failures. It's OK for people to get heated now and then -- it's natural that people feel strongly about their work, but it's for the mod. If they don't want to collaborate with others, then that person ought to go make their own personal project where they are free to do so. Likewise, if someone cannot give constructive criticism, that person is a failure. Nobody likes working hard on something only for some jackass to trash their efforts. "It's shit" / "It's not what I wanted" (no elaboration) / "I don't like it" / "the last guy was much better" etc. are all totally pointless criticisms. If you have to criticise something, give the person some pointers. You can always point out some of the parts you liked, too. I ran into quite a few people who just didn't understand how to work with other people. These people included some tremendously talented folk. You're better off without them.

In short, clashes are almost inevitable, but you ought to know when certain individuals are frequently instigating and causing problems. Remember that modding is meant to be enjoyable. When it becomes a chore to do (in your spare time, no less!) I'm sure you can think of numerous more appealing things you'd like to do instead. For instance: Playing games or joining another mod with a better atmosphere.

The mod leader must be one of the most active people

If you have a leader (or even the leads that so many people detest!), then those people have to be amongst the most active on the mod. Who wants to work hard if their leader(s) aren't doing the same? This is also a fundamental problem in a lot of mods -- leaders don't do anything but try to manage people. In some situations this is OK, but I personally feel that on a mod, you want to see your leaders getting their sleeves rolled up and doing something more tangible, otherwise it is always a danger that people will look upon them as "hay guyz I had an idea and you are going to do all the work! P.s. I don't know anything about anything but I am good at re-arranging chairs and writing PR emails!"

Also, if a leader has technical know-how, then they will also have a much better idea of what is and is not possible when pitching / designing features, or just discussing progress with the team. It doesn't have to be a scary level of expertise -- just a coarse understanding of a few development areas will be beneficial.

Show progress often

This doesn't necessarily mean public progress, it just means showing off what has been achieved ASAP. Progress motivates! When someone sees what persons x, y and z have done in a month, they will feel good and try to work harder in my experience. Make sure that everyone -- from top to bottom -- regularly jumps in and plays the mod so that everyone is on the same page. Checking a forum for screenshots is a poor indicator of progress. Interacting with the mod itself is a much better barometer for progress.

Forget going public until you have something to show

FF had a slight problem in this respect as numerous TFC source mods were trying to form from a small-ish community, so we wanted to put the word out that we were up and running. Running the website, maintaining forums and feeling like we had to justify ourselves was a time sink we didn't need. It was always motivating when we put out a big media release, but they're just pretty pictures, really. I personally think mods should avoid going public and playing the PR/fan game until they've got something much more concrete than we did. If you need to put up some images or a blurb to aid in recruitment, that's certainly understandable, though. Just resist temptation to make a fully fledged website and do PR stuff because it's a distraction you do not need. We didn't lose a lot of time by doing this because we had a website guy who did near enough everything for it, but the forums were a big distraction. If you put up forums and then make big claims about this that and the other, you are making a rod for your own back IMO (and yes, we did this!)

Also, if your mod goes public and you make a big song and dance about it, it makes you much more vulnerable if someone jumps ship and decides to fuck you. If it's a small project and nobody has heard of it, there's limited value in releasing source code or bitching to the masses about the mod. However, it's viewed as a 'big' mod with high coverage on community sites, you're a much more satisfying target for a disgruntled modder ;) As far as I know it didn't happen to us, but I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had thought about it.

I have more stuff to say but A: I can't remember it B: this post is overblown already!

I think both Hourences & the INS guys have valid points, but I largely agree with Hourences.

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Excellent post and a great read Defrag, running a mod team doesn't sound like a dream job to me.

Personally I think you did a great job with FF, having good quality content and actually releasing. While most

mods have no quality and no release :D

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I wasn't really the leader, but I did a lot of the day to day running (resolving disputes, recruitment, discussing direction etc.) along with a few other people. As a result, I had to constantly deal with / chase up pretty much every facet of the mod. It was a pain in the arse at times, but it was worth it. I learned so much during those three years. I made mistakes that I can learn from (and hopefully not repeat in my job!) plus it is awesome creating something with other like-minded folk.

I think the single most important thing I learned was about interactions on a team. I saw quite a few talented folk who just couldn't work as part of a team. I also learned that, from a naive perspective, the last 20% takes 80% of the time. It's a hell of a tough task to grind out the last (totally NOT fun) part of development before releasing something. I think that will stand me in good stead for when I'm in a team that is limbering up to ship a commercial game.

Btw if anyone is reading this stuff and thinking it sounds rather negative: I also learned that some people on mods are superstars who are very nice, dedicated and very talented! They are the people who make it all worthwhile :) I made numerous long term friends while working on FF.

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Damn, that's outrageous. Reminds me of when players found a way to get an early Hall of Mirrors build out of our FTP and release it by themselves. All you can do is step back and watch assholes ruin your work for their pleasure. :|

During this period, Zerk consulted with the DICE legal team and learned that, despite having signed a contract, no legal action could be taken against the theft of intellectual property online.

I find that surprising. I'm not saying they should have, but it's weird that they couldn't. I thought any personal work was more or less copyrighted if you could prove you were the author. Am I leaving in a dream? :shock:

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Okay, a post from a guy who is a perfect example of how NOT to run a mod: me.

Some points I'm about to mention just prove how right they are in this topic.

I initially started a personal project called Remember September for Call of Duty 2. There was no Operation Market Garden themed modification at the time, so I figured this had to change. Like I said, it was personal. Started out without a real plan, basically just creating levels. But I'm quite the open person, so I quickly showed first screenshots to friends on MSN. Some of them also have experienced with modding, so became interested in the project.

Soon after I was leading my first project, with 3-4 developers working on the project. 'Production' went fast and the first results started rolling out. Not long after we set up a website and forums, for possible fans to discuss the project. Completely normal responses from the community such as: "When is it released?", "When is the next update?", "Can't wait to play" etc. etc. were posted on the forums and were much appreciated.

And that is where it went wrong;. we started working to each update to 'please' the community. Instead of being busy with our hobby - something fun - we forced ourselves to release SOME kind of media. Since there was no plan to begin with, overview got lost rapidly. Also more and more developers joined the team, of who I sometimes had the impression that they just joined 'to see backstage progress'.

More and more developers left. Sometimes because of RL issues, sometimes because they didn't do anything. Progress became worse and worse.

I turned myself towards the less experienced modders, often being a lot younger than me (Although I'm quite young). They did do some work in the beginning, but a major issue - which I think is the issue for a lot of mods - was school / college. Sure, college is more important than modding. But in our team 75% was often not productive because of it. Since this was such a big amount of inactive devs, the progress almost stopped (I continued working of course, but that is not enough). Also they saw that it was not a succesful project, and soon after left the team.

After almost a year of 'production', we ended up with 3 devs, including me. I just got in the process of being hired at a game studio in Germany, so I wasn't able to support them either for a while. After a few weeks we officially called it a day. A personal project that grew to a known mod for Call of Duty 2..ended in the trashbin.

So what have I learned from this? First, I learned that you should plan ahead;

How much work is required? What is the rough estimation of development time? What positions are vital? What is the mod about?

If the rest of the team sees what you are talking about, they feel confident in working on the project.

Second thing, don't forget that modding is a hobby! It's not something 'to please the community' or keep them busy for a while.

Wait with releasing media until you actually have something. Then you will (also) avoid 'working to an update'.

Future

You might think; after these mistakes you would never start a mod again? WRONG.

I think if you experienced it at hand, that it's easier to learn from it. Everything that I did wrong, I will change for my upcoming project for Call of Duty 4.

No website, no public forums, a clear plan what is required, and not hiring 'just anyone'.

And I feel much more confident in starting / leading the project, more than ever.

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Hehe yes Kitty, Some day I will make a mod but it will be maybe 5 or 6 good friends that I can rely on. Rather than make something really big and epic; it will be smaller with a very minimal amount of code needed.

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Also an advice I'd like to give out to the modders; do not always work to the hype.

Do not switch your project to a new game constantly. Then it's likely it will never be finished.

Actually a friend / collegue of mine just finished his project for Half Life 1, and now starts a new one; for Half Life 2; a four year old game.

But he simply does not care if it's the latest technology or not. If you're familiar with the game / engine, why change?

So ignore community responses such as: "Why such an old game? The next one is almost about to come out."

If you have created quality work, people will play it anyway, no matter if the game is old or not.

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Fucking Hell, check this one out:

http://www.moddb.com/mods/firearms/news ... -21st-2006

Firearms team get bullied out of their own project? Something wrong with the community when this happens... words fail me.

It's a long story I'm too involved in. This thing has effectivly split the FA community leaving most of the old people from FA on FA:S but there is the occasional friction and slander between FA:S and FA2 two years on. Something that becomes quite apparent if you look through the FA2 forums. A bit of more info is that the community itself was a proper cess pool in the end, a lesson learnt about keeping the community in check so bits of it don't do this.

I'll leave it at that since whatever I say will just fly back in my direction and we try not to stir the mess any more than needed. Anyone more interested I'll answer pm questions but otherwise you can just check the pages.

http://www.firearms-source.com/

http://www.firearms2mod.com/

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Times have changed,

It takes alot of work to make a nice mod.

As the retail market proves, players want fun, good looking games, the original games usually have a hard time selling, the same goes for mods ...

Yeah a 5 man team of high expirienced modders is probebly better then a large team, but you have to know 5 expirienced modders and they must be willing to work on your project.

And that means that you must be expirienced to start with.

As for insurgency mistakes, I think the gameplay/objectives should have had priorty and do much more early testing, instead of when the maps are pretty much done :-P

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If you come up with a completely new refreshing idea people will still be afraid to play it or want to accept it as the next big thing. This happens in retail games as well.

People stick with what they know, zombies,CTF,DM,CS,TF,etc etc... And if you as a mod build something with those game play mechanics you are labeled as a copycat or not being original enough. So it's very hard to find a balance that works imHo. I think a lot of people have cool idea's and crazy things in their minds as to innovate the way a game works, or can come up with original game play designs, but at the end of the day usually that's what they end up being, idea's. The reason for that is that it takes a lot of time, energy and dedication to undertake something like this, and this is where a lot of mods die. It's good that Valve finally has Steamworks up and running, this will boost mods finally, and looks like they timed it pretty close with the amount of mods releasing the last year (and the coming year). And if you want original mods, there are still mods like that out there, they are just few (sourceforts and insect infestation comes to mind).

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