Join us as we go through the basics, tools and skills you need to get into the world of modding
Modding involves a lot of things. Coding, model making, creating maps, sounds, there’s a lot you can do when it comes to modding. For that very reason, it can be quite a daunting task if someone wants to actually get into making their own mods. Downloading and using mods created by others is easy enough, but creating and using your mods, now that’s next level.
In this workshop, we’ll cover the basics of what you’ll need to get started on building on your mods. We’ll tell you about the tools you’ll need and have available to help you on your mod making journey. Remember though, this is just to get you started, if you (like us) are hearing about some of the tools mentioned here for the first time, it’s going to take a while to learn to use them.
But first things first, let’s get some basics out of the way!
Erm… what’s a Mod?
The word mod is short for modification. It’s a term generally applied to something that’s been altered or customised. In this case, video games. You could completely revamp gameplay, or just make a few tweaks and adjustments here and there. You could add objects, models, maps, etc., into the game. There’s a LOT you can do.
But why Mod at all?
Good question. Like we mentioned above, mods are capable of a lot. Including completely reimagining, revamping and reinventing a game. Now if you could completely revamp your favourite game and play it again as though you were playing it for the first time, would you do it? Mods add another layer of replayability to a game. In fact, there have been many cases where mods have outshone the original game they were made on. TL;DR: They increase a game’s lifecycle. But the best thing is; they’re free!
A lot of work goes into modding, so it would still be nice to show some support to dedicated modders. But it can pay off, a lot of the good modders get noticed and picked up by game companies. You need only look at the success of DotA and Counter Strike to get what we mean. Both of them started out as mods to popular games and eventually surpassed the popularity of the original. Now they’ve both got their own standalone games.
Most games today are mod friendly. Developers have realised the perks of making a game mod friendly – i.e. easy to make mods for. These days it’s not surprising to see modders releasing unofficial patches for games which fix bugs and errors in the original game! Just take Skyrim for example, the unofficial patches for the game pretty much gets rid of most of the major and game-breaking bugs in the game. There’s a running joke that Bethesda intentionally releases incomplete and buggy games because they know modders will take care of the rest.
You’ve heard of the proverb, “The right tool for the right job”? Most mod friendly games usually come with their own SDKs or Software Development Kits. In order to use a game’s SDK, you first have to own the game, obviously. Most developers will allow you to use the game’s SDK for free once you’ve purchased the game.
Inside an SDK you will find all the tools you’ll need to get started with modding for that particular game. SDKs are meant to make the whole process of mod-making a lot easier, especially for beginners. However, SDKs will usually only let you alter and play around with elements that are already in the game. Making and adding your own elements is a whole other ball game.
Some of the common and more popular game SDKs include: Half Life, Quake, Unreal Tournament, The Elder Scrolls, Mount and Blade Warband, Command & Conquer, etc. The list can be pretty long. But these are great places to start with your mod-making dream.
Modding starts getting a lot complicated from this point forward. In essence, modding can be almost as hard as developing a whole game, depending on the scale and type of the mod you have planned, and of course, your skill set.
Some of the skills required in order to get into building mods includes graphic designing, coding, writing, mapping, etc. Of course, you don’t need all of that for every mod; smaller mods might need just a coder and designer, or could be a one-man job.
It’s easy to think you can do without a 2D artist when making a mod. You can’t. They make or break a game or mod. They’re the ones responsible for the tiles, textures and skins in a game. All those custom skin mods you’ve seen? All thanks to hard work done by 2D artists.
The go to tool for 2D art is good old Adobe Photoshop, but of course there’s always alternatives such as Paintshop Pro, Gimp, etc.
3D artists are the guys who make the in-game models, be it for players, NPCs, or objects. It used to be much harder to do this in the past, because you were limited by the engine you were working on, but nowadays engines will let you do pretty much anything.
The standard tool 3D artists in the industry use is 3D Studio Max or 3DS Max. Unfortunately, it costs a bomb! There are other alternatives, including Maya, Blender3D, MilkShape3D etc. It’s up to you to find the one that works best for you.
Autodesk’s 3DS Max and Maya are both really powerful tools, both for modelling and animating, and as such require a rather hefty PC and decent levels of PC know-how to operate.
These are the guys who bring everything created by the people above to life. Everything from running to breathing to sweating to shooting, you name it, these are the guys who make it happen.
As for the tools required, it’s pretty much the same as those used by 3D artists.
You can think of Animators as a step up from 3D artists/modellers. These guys need to know their 3D models, but also need to have a good idea of how a model (i.e skeleton) moves in order to be able to animate it realistically.
Even a great model can look terrible if it walks around like it’s constipated all the time. *cough* Mass Effect Andromeda*cough*.
Level designing involves making use of just about everything available to you from the game. A lot of games nowadays come with their own level editors and tools for building custom levels but this was much harder in the past. Also since editing tools vary from game-to-game, as do the games themselves, these skills may not necessarily transfer from game to game either.
You’ll most likely need an editor which can create the structures, models and textures from the game. The editor is usually also capable of handling scripts and populating the world with characters (NPCs/enemies).
- Map Editors
The Valve Hammer Editor for example, was the official map editor for the Goldensource engine. The same engine which ran games like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic and other pre-source games. Similarly, we have GTKRadiant for games like Doom 3, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty and Quake.
- Map Compilers
Once you’re done creating your level or map, the next step is usually to compile it. This is the process of converting the file from the level editors format to a format which the game will be able to read. Simply put, you’re putting your level into the game. While both GTK and Hammer can compile your maps/levels, it can be frustrating at times. As such there are software which can make the process easier.
Zoner’s Half-Life Tools is a compiling software that’s said to be more friendly and better than Hammer’s compiler.
MapFile Backup Compiler basically automatically backs your map up each time you compile. Definitely handy for newbies (like us).
Level designers are jacks of all trades and need to know a little bit of everything. If you want your level to be enjoyable you need to know what the player wants. Level architecture, scripts, art, structures, it all comes into play here. After all, you want to design a level players won’t mind playing more than once.
At the core of it all, it’s the programmers who make all the magic happen. SDKs and development kits make our lives easier by letting us mod while avoiding messing with the game’s code/script directly. Programming is not easy, so if you’ve got a knack for it, you’re already halfway there.
First off, you’ll need a good IDE or Integrated Development Environment. These usually contain all the basic tools you’ll need to write and test software. Next, you’ll need to have some knowledge in the programming language used by the game you want to mod. In most cases, you will find that it’s C++. But just knowing the language isn’t enough. The script is what ties every single element of the game together, so the programmer has to account for all of the stuff we’ve mentioned so far. If that sounds overwhelming, it’s because it is.
- IDEs (Integrated development Environments)
Microsoft Visual Studio and Eclipse IDE are good examples of IDEs with plenty of plugins and tools with support for various programming languages.
- Next, you’ll need a C++ Compiler
Again, there’s Microsoft’s Visual C++ which is pretty solid. Other alternatives include Borland C++ Builder and the MinGW C++ Compiler.
And finally, we come to sound designers. Sound plays an important role in the gaming experience. Background Music (BGM), sound effects, voice acting etc fall under this category.
If this is something you want to specialise in, consider investing in a good sound system of your own. Distorted noises and sounds can really ruin a game’s experience therefore it’s ideal to have top-grade equipment when creating and testing sounds.
Software like Sound Forge, Pro Tools and Cakewalk can help you with the sound making process.
If you have a good ear for music (or if you think you do), and think that you could create sounds that could gel well with a game, you could give this a go. This is a lot more complex than it looks though.
If after reading all of this, modding seems a tad overwhelming to you we don’t blame you. But if you’re brave enough to venture into the world of modding then all we have for you are a few pointers.
Be sure to specialise in at least one of the skills mentioned above and have the game and engine you want to mod/work on in mind when you finally decide. If you’ve played the game extensively yourself, that’s even better! The more familiar you are with the game you’re about to mod, the better it is for you.
Modding now is much more commonplace than it used to be a few years ago, just last year we were able to mod games on console for the first time. It won’t be easy but hard work can pay off – game developers always have an eye out for talented modders. Your mod could become the next Counter Strike!
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.