Developing successful mods
From Nexus Wiki
Developing Successful Mods (An Introduction)
How to make successful mods and mods successful
In this page, I'll try to help with how to make mods more successful, playable, and hopefully get to completion. Just a short heads up; I'm not going to tolerate or answer flamers, or people who decide that this makes me big-headed or arrogant. I'm making this so we can see more mods of a better quality, and the completion of bigger projects. This isn't intended for it to look like I'm parading around, trying to convince people I'm a good modder; that's your decision to make, and whilst I may not have any recognized mods released, I do feel at home enough with the CS, NifSkope, Mod content and have played limitless mods to be able to determine what makes a mod a success.
Ideas and Drafting
If you're planning to make a mod, then don't dive straight for your Construction Kit; especially if you're planning a mod of a larger scale. Get some thoughts and ideas down, and plan your mod! Write down things like names, places, quests, and sketches of maps or new model content. If you don't plan your mod, then things can lead astray, and end up of a poor quality.
One of the most important things you should ask yourself before you even consider starting to make a mod, is "How will my Mod benefit the game?", but more importantly "Why should someone play on my mod?". If you can't answer that truthfully, then people generally won't be interested in your mod, and you'll waste a lot of your time. Good mods usually include different content to what has been produced before it; but think why. If there's a niche that hasn't yet been filled, be suspicious of the reasons why someone wouldn't make a mod that you're planning on making, and would you play it yourself? Make sure that you're confident in this, or your new idea will most likely be mocked and laughed at.
Sometimes different isn't always better, all it takes is a mod that beats all other mods, or that changes the way you see a particular style of mod. If you're aiming your mod at a certain group of people, such as a "Gothic clothing" mod, then make sure that it fits the style. Look at other mods that are similar, and take careful note to the download ratings. If you see something that is popular, or a specific theme, then try to enhance it in your mod. Be original, but not overboard; After all, you're aiming to raise the standard.
Make sure you put detail in everything you plan, or it could end up looking ugly. You should want your mod to be aesthetic and practical in one bundle, but focus more on the latter: People won't play a mod if it's detailed, but has no content, but some people will play a highly undetailed mod with barrels of practical content. If you're making a mesh, or texturing landscape; be aware of colours that would suit the need by implementing a colour scheme (Wikipedia: Colour Scheme, Wikipedia: Colour Theory, or Valve: Colour Theory), and try to match the colours with the mood of the piece. Such detail can make a mod look visually stunning, and enhance a mod endlessly.
Now you have most of your ideas briefly finalized, it's time to implement them! It's important that you don't try to loose faith in your mod now; you've got an idea that should shake up the way people see and play Oblivion, and you can't let it go (Read more in 4: Motivation). At this point, it's important to stick religiously to your plan, and it'll soon be time to draft additional bonus content, and to spice up weaker areas of your plan.
Don't compromise any aspect of your mod, and tell yourself that you'll overcome that hurdle later; or you'll have so many problems to finish towards the end of your mod, which is the point at which most people seem to send their mod to an early grave. Overcome problems as you face them! You should be able to overcome any problem if you set your mind on it.
This section, which did not feature in the original thread, has been added at a later date, so excuse any in-fluidity between the other sections and this one. Here's a short list of utilities you might want to learn to use, even to a basic level. The importance of each utility is described also. Please excuse any missing programs - if any needs including that I don't use, or haven't heard of but is a boon to other modders, just PM me on the forums.
3D Modeling Program - These are one of the basic things you should learn to use, even if just to a premature standard. Using them, you can create your own structures to import into the CS, which for many modders, proves their mods to be above the usual standard of mods around. You can use basically any 3D modeling program for this; Blender (Advised), 3DS Max, Maya, Wings3D... Ect. I personally use Wings3D as it's pretty intuitive to use, but with that comes it's basic functions. Maybe first time users should dive straight into the deep end with Blender. I can't seem to work Blender since it's so different to Wings, but maybe someday I'll find it easier to use than Wings. It's completely up to preference.
NifSkope - What are you going to do with your new model without NifSkope? NifSkope acts as the conduit to allow new material into the CS, from lighting to particle effects. It can seem pretty complex to use at first, and I'm still no expert, but learning can be fun - especially with particle effects. Certainly a tool you'll want to learn to use fairly well, unless you enjoy frequent crashes and dirty models.
Visual Art Program - You'll probably want to learn how to make your own textures to suit your own models at some point, and these programs will let you! I'm not talking Microsoft paint, I'm talking Adobe Photoshop (If you can afford it, or get it elsewhere...) and GIMP. Another program that has recently gained popularity is Paint.Net (not to be confused for window's default paint program, which is essentially useless,) due to it's ease of use, and free cost. Learning to use these won't just benefit you in modding, but probably for more daily tasks as well. Having said this, it's a real pain to learn to use to an amazing standard, and can be pretty thought-intensive at times (Well I feel it is!), but I guess some people are born creative, and others not. Not necessary, as you can use the perfectly allowable and proven to work textures that come with Oblivion or Morrowind, and you're entitled to these, as long as you keep them with in the game respectively (Apparently there can be some trouble to be had if you mix Morrowind textures with meshes for Oblivion and visa versa... I don't see why, but it's been reported).
BSA Unpacker - This utility can be used for, apparently, quite a lot of things, but I've never used it for more than getting the textures, sounds, meshes and other data out of the Oblivion compressed files. This is... pretty useful when you want to make your own meshes and textures, and especially with NifSkope - They're key examples of how to make things tick, and what good examples of models and textures are. I'd search the Wiki for this BSA contraption though, I'm no expert, even though it's a really useful gizmo.
Oblivion: Shivering Isles - Okay, fine, it's not a utility. At all. But! It is a really good example of how Oblivion should and can look! If you haven't got it, I'd recommend borrowing it or buying it, it's not that expensive anyhow. The textures are pretty amazing, NifSkope files use some more advanced techniques, and with this and vanilla paired, you can find a file with just about anything you may want your own mesh to do. It's a good example of a well made, well thought game with rewards and motivation to continue play, immersive quests (to an extent), room for expansion via mods and some quality material! Don't be scared to use it, Bethsoft allowed you to the minute they included the content in the CS. And when they said you could...
Audio-Altering Program - These things don't really help too much, but can make your mod a mile apart from others. With these you can make your own music, edit and alter other sounds to fit your purpose, and basically play with all the audio that comes with Oblivion. Even though they're not so great for making your own music, it's fine for altering existing ones. There's some really neat universal functions, so they can be fun to tinker in! I'd suggest Audacity. It's the only free one that I've found to be effective with what I want to do, and I haven't heard of any other good ones - Maybe ask around if you grow tired of Audacity, or need it for something more.
If you're planning a large mod, it's generally NOT a good idea to try to involve a team. You'll find yourself spending more time managing your team than producing your mod. If you have to make a team to work on an incredibly large project, make sure you publish who's areas are who's, what each member of the team should be working on, and to keep track of progress. The last thing you want is for work to slow down because one member isn't devoted; try to ensure all goals are met.
When gathering a group to work for you, ensure that you have samples their work, and make sure they're aware of the time that your mod will take, and the complexity before you even invite them. If their mods are of a low quality, but they ask to join your ranks, turn them back to where they came from, and make excuses. Poor quality modders can quickly ruin a mod, and ruin your aims. Make sure they're comfortable with the project, and persuade them to devote as much time to it as they can; You need your team on your side! If you can implement a few rules, such as for your team members not to change any content implemented until you are finalizing the mod. This can save you time without cutting corners.
Having said this, you cannot overwork your team. Let them take breaks from hardcore sessions of producing or updating content, and stay in regular contact with them. If team members walk out of the project, their work can look mismatched if the member is replaced; Everyone has their own style and likes to bring their own personality into the project (That's something you can't object to. If your modders feel like slaves to you, then the job could go horribly wrong...).
Try not to get a huge number of people involved. You see an endless list of people on games such as Super Mario Galaxy, Half Life, and even Oblivion, but don't forget that they had to make the engines, all existing content and large scale plans. Try to minimize your group, or you'll find people attempting to usurp your position as leader. Smaller groups tend to project better quality work, and lots of it. Tetris was designed and made by 1 person, as was the case for Counter Strike: Source; and these games are great hits. Besides; you can claim more of the rights to the work in smaller groups!
Don't loose sight! You're mod can, and hopefully will, make Oblivion a better game. Stay organized, keep an eye on the result and take regular, short breaks; or you'll feel that you've been working so hard on the mod, and spending so much of your time on it, that it won't ever get finished. Keep a poll open, or a thread on these forums, telling people about your mod (But don't forget to claim rights to it). The feedback from these forums can boost your morale, and also raise attention on your mod.
Try to join a group to talk with about modding to keep you eye on your goals. I, personally, have joined an IRC channel (TES Modders Den: contact XMarksTheSpot if interested) to ask for help if any of my projects get too tough, and they always seem to have an answer for any question I could fire at them (And with a smile, too!). This not only makes modding easier, but a lot more casual and fun.
Get excited about your mod! It IS going to be a success, and you ARE going to complete it! Hopefully this thread should help you realize just how great you and your mod are, so get to work; then reap the rewards! ^_^
Now you should be drawing a close to your mod. Try not to carry on adding more content, or it'll never get released! Try to get the core, but perfectly functioning and detailed, version of your mod out. Anything else you wish to add can come in an update or Additional Mod (Like an expansion pack, but for a mod). Things should be drawing a close, and playtests should be becoming a lot more frequent. Iron out any bugs you find, replace anything of inferior quality and generally polish your mod. You want it to be perfect for the big day! Any Beta tests should now be closed, but feedback should still be taken into account. Beta Tests are an amazing way to gain feedback from the people you should be releasing it to, whilst raising the public awareness of your mod.
Aim to secure a team of play testers, as play testing your own mod can be boring, as you know what will happen and when. make sure they explore every nook and cranny that seams reasonable, and just hope they find any major (and plenty of minor) bugs in the mod. You cannot ignore playtesting, even if you are to be the one doing it, or you can release a mod that will damage the game, thus giving your mod a bad image. It's like if McDonnalds started out serving food with Salmonella, then people would be discouraged from buying from them ever again, thus ruining their future domination of the fast-food market. Make sure your public relations and public image stays positive and happy, like a thriving plant.
Try not to add any new content if available. The closer you draw to the release date, the more of the mod you should essentially "lock" from any changes. Changes can bring bugs, or bring out non-existent errors from scripts and other new content. Try to alter your team, if you have one, to playtest and fix problems, not add anything.
By now, Publicity should be at an all time high and people should be messaging you with excitement for the release date (Maybe they won't be, but don't be disheartened!) Make a final push on advertising, and keep the thread alive and healthy. The last thing you want to happen is for the mod to become obsolete even before it's been released.
Depending on the size and audience of the final mod, you might want to think about giving your mod a good clean. This will vastly reduce compatibility issues: in layman's terms, people with more mods will be able to play it, so increasing your potential users and reducing the bugs. There's an excellent tutorial for cleaning Mods that I've used successfully. Cleaning Mods using TES4Edit A few small notes; Depending on your operating system, you should call the shortcut "D:\Games\Oblivion\TES4Edit.exe" -FixupPGRD. Most changes will not be noticeable in the CS or Ingame. First time around to using this program, it may look fairly threatening, but don't worry. It's all safe and tested.
So now it's ready; Or maybe you're just reading this in preparation to start a new mod. Either way, the thread should still help... But read this again when you ARE about to release. Kudos to you! You've taken on a big mod and won; something even the best of modders can falter against. Upload your Mod for download (I suggest (TESNexus or Google's Page Creator), then add several links to several mirrors for download. Make the info and pictures on the places where you can download the mod, such as TESNexus, as flashy and exciting as you can; people will look at this in months coming, and still want it.
All you have to do now is update the thread, open the gates and let 'em in!
This is the part of the final few stages that you should focus on. Aim to get your mod known by most people on forums, IRCs and methods, through a signature, website, and so on. Tell people how good your mod is, then make it seem better (Without lying, or you could get blamed for false advertisement). Show people how good it is with screenshots and video captures, and make sure they know exactly what the mod is about, what it should change, known bugs and compatibility. Enhance the positive points, and mask the negative ones, then make those bad parts positive! Just make sure the public loves you and your mod.
One of the best ways to capture interest is through open playtests for a given time, or Betas. All you have to do is clear up loose ends, block points that you haven't finished yet, and make sure you keep the player interested. You need the mod to look as clean and dramatic as it possibly can, so focus most of your attention onto the areas which will be available for testing. Remember; You don't have to start at the start for a Beta test, start at a point that could keep the plot mainly concealed, but don't make it overly confusing. It's hard to do perfectly, but just aim to find the best spot, with the most interest (But don't give them any or much bonus content).
Release a calender of events, including the release date, beta tests and news updates. Anything else you wish to add to the calender will be welcome, but sometimes not needed. Make sure you update this calender and the thread regularly, or question will be answered but ignored.
Answer feedback and questions directly, and open an FAQ on the main thread if questions repeat too often. Giving response to such questions shows your mod is still alive and being produced; and thus keeps the interest of the eager viewer. Just be polite and hospitable, but don't reveal too much. One of the greatest mechanisms to keep the crowd with baited breath is to build suspense. If you do that well, it can make a mod seem so much more interesting.
Now the main excitement is over, but the mod certainly isn't. Make sure you can receive feedback from downloaders. Releasing further content, such as updates and patches will attract more attention, as people who have never heard of the mod will be able to through the forums, or media for conversation.
Creating and releasing AddOn Mods (Think Expansion Packs again) can make your mod yet more popular, known about and thus successful; even though you have to go through the whole process once more. This can make a mod turn from popular to a legend, that people recommend to others, and respect highly (Such as OOO). Just keep the crowd happy, give them more and bonus content, and settle rants to keep your mod in the spot light. Well done on the release, and I wish you luck on the coming project!
This section, instead of containing information about interviews, contains some on this topic. At this current moment, I have only interviewed WillieSea, but if you're interested in being interviews, or have points that you wish to raise, please message me and I shall consider it. Enjoy:
"On average, how long does it take for you to complete a Mod?"
Small mods, usually around 3 to 4 weeks at around 30-50 hours a week. Its pretty much a full time job from my other full time job. Larger mods, like Clocks of Cyrodiil, took around 4 months. I place a lot of importance on the artistic 'look' of the mod, such as clutter, objects, retextures, and lighting. I then have to severely play-test the mod looking for anything that I might want to change.
"Are there any points in the thread you strongly agree or disagree with?"
This is my favorite quote, "If you're planning to make a mod, then don't dive straight for your Construction Kit". So many new modders want to change the world and have no idea how to do it, or if the CS and game can even accomplish what they want. When I have an idea for a mod, I put it in perspective of 'what can I do' in the CS and 'can the CS even do that'? I then go from there on making my mods.
I would have to disagree with this quote, "Enhance the positive points, and mask the negative ones, then make those bad parts positive! Just make sure the public loves you and your mod." Any negative points should be specified in the readme description. If its a bug you have not encountered in testing, then you should try to fix it, instead of hide it. If its something that cannot be fixed, then you can add it to the 'bugs and problems' section of your readme. Its better to get these out in the open so anybody downloading it knows about it, then them hating you later for not telling them. They would then not download any of your future mods because there would be no trust in you.
"Is there any advice you would give to a modder who is about to start developing a large Mod?"
If you are going to try and create a large mod, you should be very familiar with the CS and how objects in the game work. If you have to ask how to link doors, or how to make a merchant chest, then you should not start with a large mod. When I started modding for the Elder Scrolls several years ago, I made small mods that I could use in my game. From there, I built up knowledge on how to do other things, and I added them to my mods. When I saw something in the game I liked, I looked at scripts and how things worked in the vanilla game. Reading All of the posts in the CS forum can help you learn new stuff as well. And use the WIKI. You can get an idea of what the CS can do by looking at each and every one of the functions that are available in scripts. Here is a link to the first of four pages of: Functions When you are looking at these, pay attention to whether the function is an OBSE function, or a vanilla function. I personally do not use OBSE mods or functions in my mods, simply because I want my mods to be usable by the majority of people. If I need OBSE to do something, then I probably do not need that functionality in my mod. In reading these functions, you can get ideas on things you can do in your mods.
"Any tips or hints, WillieSea?"
- Play the game. While you are playing, and you see something you would like changed, or be able to do, pause the game and write your idea down.
- Keep a full pad of paper with you and write your ideas down in it. While reading posts in the forum, write those ideas down that you like, or may help your mod. Always read every thread in the CS forum, or at least skim them. You can get ideas from these, and learn how to do things as well.
- Make mods that are to your abilities. If you do not know how to implement an idea, ask if its possible in the CS forum. You should think of ideas that are capable by the limited CS and game. If you try to make a mod that is outside the scope of the CS and game, you will become frustrated. A beginner should not try to tackle a huge mod. You should start small, do some of the tutorials, and when you gain experience and know what the CS is capable of, then start modding.
- When you have some of your mod done, create a [WIP] thread in the MODS forum. Include a description of what your mod does and add some screen shots. Acknowledge compliments and complaints with the same 'un-flaming' attitude. Thank them and say why you are doing it a certain way. Don't let the complaints depress you to much, as everyone has an opinion and is more than ready to express it. This will be your first test of how thick your skin is to mean people. Write down any good ideas that you like on your notepad. You can get inspiration from the WIP thread on making your mod better.
- You are the best Playtester for your mod. Make a save game where you can easily test your mod. The save game should be clean of your mod (a save game without your mod active). It should be fun for you each time you play it. If its not, then it may not be very much fun for others either. Look for visual defects and things that do not work. Write all issues down on that pad of paper as you encounter them. (Pause your game) When you edit your mod again, look at these notes and line out the ones you think you have fixed. Put question marks in front of the ones you need to check again during your next playtesting session.
- Do not give a release date for your mod. Real life usually gets in the way of a deadline. You also need to take breaks from the mod, and just play the game. This can help you relax and think of other ideas. (Use that notepad.) Creating a mod should be fun and relaxing. You should not put a wild guess deadline over your head making it a stressful project. You are not being paid, its a labor of love. The mod will be done when you feel it is done, and not a day sooner. Don't release a sub-par mod, just to meet a deadline.
- When you have completed your mod and uploaded it to a mod sharing service, create a [RELz] thread in the MODS forum. Include a description of the mod, several screen shots, and a link to the download site. This thread will be used to notify everybody that your mod is ready, and it will also serve as a question and answer thread for your mod. Additional bugs can be reported (with the possibility of you creating a new download to fix the bugs) and compliments or complaints issues. Like in the WIP thread, take it all with a grain of salt.
- When you make a WIP or RELz thread, make sure you 'bookmark' or 'favorite' the page in your web browser. You should check the page several times a day. For a RELz thread, bump it if there is no activity in a day. I bump it for about 2-3 days of no activity, or up to a week after it was released. Keep the bookmark of the RELz thread, and check it at least every other day to see if there are any new posts in it. Check the site that you uploaded your mod to at least once a day when possible and look at the comments people have left.
Thank you for reading the page, and I hope you appreciated all I had to offer, and learn a thing or two wherever possible. Again, I shall say I will not tolerate flaming, or any other breech of the wiki rules on this page or in the forums. Anything to mock my ability or any mods I have made should be seen as immature and needless, as this isn't a page to show off that I'm well known or highly rated; because I don't generally think that. All this was for is to give guidance and to advise all those who will be willing to accept it. Anything that is flaming or spam, and also abuse to the page or me, shall be reported and deleted. If you have any problem with this, message me, or talk to yourself about it... And that's not small minded, I can take abuse and criticism, I'm just aware that people will misunderstand the page's purpose, or take abuse from it, so I'm trying to avoid confusion and possible arguments. Thanks for reading once more! ^_^