Making a Mod - Best Practices

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Note icon.png This article is long, but taking the time to read it might help you save a lot of time when making a mod.

This article is designed to give modders things to keep in mind while creating their project. Remember that these are just guidelines intended to help you – you don't have to follow them, but they may teach you something useful.

Starting Out

Scoping Out Your Project

In order to make sure your mod gets released, it is extremely important to make it under a manageable scope. This means that you must avoid being overly ambitious. Creating a project that is too massive will likely end up getting cancelled. Many modders may come up with interesting and big ideas that sound doable on paper, but later realize that it is a lot more work than first anticipated.

The best way to combat this is to create a limited scope from the start. It is much better to be conservative and create a project that is smaller than what you think you can do. A small project is better than a cancelled project.

If you would like to create a big project, it is best to first create a small one, which will give you an idea of how big you can go in the next project. Two small projects will teach you more than a single big one.

Icon tip.png Tip: Don't plan your project with play time or the number of levels in mind. This will end up in having a lot of content left to make and no ideas for it. Instead, gather your gameplay ideas and design around that. It is easier to add onto a complete project than fill an unfinished one.

And remember: quality over quantity. Players will enjoy a unique and well crafted mod even if it is short more than one that is artificially expanded just to be long. You will also have much more fun and satisfaction if you can finish a project before it bores you.

Collaboration

You will need to decide if you are going to work in a team or not. This will influence the scope of the project, so it is be done when starting a mod. A team can of course be brought on after working alone for some time, but that comes with additional challenges.

Working on a mod alone is entirely possible, but working in a team will make it much more bearable. That said, do not assume working in a team is always easier than working alone; there are upsides and downsides. Having a team requires managing it and making sure work is actually getting done, which is a considerable challenge.

Icon idea.png Idea: If you are going to work in a team, make sure to create the mod idea together. An unfortunately popular phenomenon is people joining a team, getting a sneak-peek at the mod and losing interest. Creating the mod premise together can help keep the members invested.

Remember, even having someone to only give you feedback is very helpful. Furthermore, participating in public discussions about modding can help you and others learn. This can be done in the modding channels on the Frictional Games Discord server. Share your work and ask questions!

Main article: Efficient Teamwork

Mod Design

Ask yourself "Why should someone play my mod?". It's a hard question, but if you can answer it well, your mod design has good potential. Think about what other mods are out there, and what they offer. Does your mod offer something new to the players? Is what you offer enough to interest players? Even if you cannot answer these questions, just thinking about it will probably help you come up with ideas.

Understand the Engine

You should really read the documentation of the game you want to mod.

By doing that, you will learn two important things:
What things you can do with the engine and how to do them so they work well. There will be multiple ways to achieve what you want, but sometimes only one will work without code problems, affecting the performance too much, and other risky stuff. Reading the documentation will also ensure you are not recreating something that is already in the engine and is much easier to use.

Compete With Gameplay and Story

Do not just focus on recreating what was done in the base game, try to be creative. Your mod doesn't even have to be same genre as the base game! Make mods with interesting story and gameplay rather than making them long.

Creativity is especially important when talking about horror games; the issue with them is that repetition ruins horror. It is hard to make something truly scary when reusing the assets and techniques which the players got accustomed to in the main game. This is why horror games usually introduce new enemies and settings after a few hours of playing.

That being said, it is perfectly okay to recreate what the base game did, and your first project will probably need to do that before you learn the engine. However, you can still craft a unique story, and as you learn, try to think of new things you can do with the engine and incorporate them into the mod. This especially applies to level design; Quite likely you will be mostly using the assets which come with the game, so try and use them in a creative way.

Remember that most mods cannot compete on a complexity and scale level with commercial products. They were made by teams of writers and developers with years of experience. It will be very hard to tell a story with lots of characters and developing them when making a mod. Instead, try to come up with a story that will be shorter but effective.

Managing development

When working on a mod, it is important to keep track of your and other's work, while making sure everyone knows what left to be done, what is already done and more. The following section provides tips, links to useful tools and guides which will help you to manage the project.

Keep in mind these are very important even for one-person projects! Keeping track of work always gets one far - it helps you plan and remember things.

Setting up a Scrum Board

In short, a scrum board is a group of lists used for keeping track of the team's development progress. It is used for:

  • Creating tasks
  • Assigning tasks
  • Tracking what is already done
  • Tracking what needs to be done
  • Tracking what is being worked on
  • Tracking bugs

One of the free tools which provide that is Trello.

Version control

There is nothing worse than not being able to track your work or recover older versions of your project.

Systems such as Git help to keep track of changes and back them up. Whenever you commit your work, a snapshot of the work is saved. In case something goes wrong, you will be able to go back to any older commit. Commits are stored inside a repository.

One of the most important feature of Git is collaboration. Working on all sorts of files with multiple people will get messy very fast if you just send them back and forth. Git allows multiple people to work on the same project simultaneously, and (after setting up) requires only a few clicks to upload your work and update the work of others. It also helps you resolve any conflicts when multiple people edit the same file.

Read more about Setting up an Online Repository.

Online Presence

You will most likely start sharing your creations before the mod is published. It is recommended to make sure you have something to show off before you create mod pages. Therefore, you should prepare a set of media to preview the mod, as well as coming up with an intriguing description to catch the eye. All of these should make you stay relevant for some amount of time at the very least.

You will receive feedback and criticism from other users or from your own team about your work. It's important to accept and learn from them, instead of denying, attacking or ignoring such feedback. You grow all the time during development, and your online presence will be affected by how you react to feedback and criticism.

Main article: Online Presence

Finishing

Before the mod gets released, it should undergo a series of procedures which will make sure the players have the best experience possible. Remember, first impressions matter - having something broken on release can impact the way your mod is received.

Playtesting

Make sure your mod was tested by other people just before release. It might be surprising, but sometimes things will break even if you can play the entire mod without bugs on your set-up. You can also install a clean version of the game and check if your mod behaves properly there before getting playtesters.

Playtests should be performed on the final versions of the mod. Don't let team members play from their personal versions of the mod! Many hours can be wasted on finding bugs caused by incompatible versions, or realizing the reported bug is already fixed and the playtester had an outdated version.

Icon tip.png Tip: Ask Playtesters to take notes. This will get you more bits of feedback.

Bugs and Changes

A complete list of all bugs and changes should be maintained along with their current status. Preferably this should be done in services like Trello. After each playtest, new bugs and necessary changes should be added, and assigned to team members. When a team member has fixed a bug or change, they should submit the new content to the team leader, who should verify that it is fixed and then update the status on the bug list.

Cut or Defer Broken Features

The hardest and unfortunately necessary part of publishing a mod is cutting features. Don't be scared to remove unfinished features - often it can be easier to do that and make sure it doesn't break anything than actually make the feature work.

Beware of feature creep. Make sure feature ideas actually add to the design of the mod and aren't there just because they are cool. It can be surprisingly easy to keep adding features to already existing work instead of actually pushing the development forward.

Cutting features will save you unnecessary time wastes and stress.

Post-Release

So you have released your mod, and soon enough rating and reviews started popping up. Your mod may or may not have been successful, but what comes next is up to you. The best approach is to learn from the feedback you get, see what worked and what didn't, and improve it for the next time. Talk with players, get involved in how they experienced your mod. Don't be afraid if it takes more time than usual to make your next big mod. Good ideas take time to brew, especially for horror games.

Knowing what to fix, what to change, and how to listen to your community is a continuous learning process.

Good luck!