What makes a great Modder?

Over the years I have probably been approached by mod recruiters a hundred times, promising me things like fame and fortune as long as I work on their projects. Most have failed miserably to spark any sort of interest in their projects and more often than not, they fail to get out of the gate with much of anyone, leaving much to be desired for them to actually put a team together and get serious about their ideas. The few that I have had the pleasure of working with have gained my interest through many of the same processes that the lesser known mods have, but with a twist. They have put thought into their project.

There is much to be said about the mod community, but one cliché that seems to rear itself around often is: web developers don’t make good mod developers. If you are a web developer I don’t mean to say that you can’t make games, to the contrary, many do. This is brought about by the seemingly endless stream of emails that my colleagues and I have received over the last two years in regards to joining teams of web developers. Just because you were taught that PHP is a programming language for web sites or that you have gained an understanding of the lasso tool in Photoshop does not make your game idea important to me or anyone else for that matter. It may sound harsh coming from a programmer turned web designer turned programmer to be saying this, but the reality of the situation is that your idea is probably not as cutting edge or amazing as it seems to you. Contra was a great game back on Nintendo, but if it played the same way now it won’t fly and ill tell you why, another time.

The process of converting your mind from developing a web application or skinning a blog interface over to developing a game and skinning a weapon or character is monstrous. You will not be able to do it without the drive of a mad man. Strictly focusing on the programming aspect, when you go from a website that may be around fifty files that you “coded yourself” to coding for the Source Engine where you start out with more than two thousand that you don’t have a clue how they work or whatever you cannot expect to hit the ground running at a very fast pace. There is a lot of reading and experimenting that you have to deal with long before you actually start modding the game, and it is in your interest to think before you leap, because it will not happen overnight.

It may confuse you a bit, but I have a hypothesis that I want to share, and It’s a doozy. Making a mod will not get you noticed. There I said it, It’s out there. You can send all your hate mail to me at will. The truth is what I said above; your ideas aren’t as golden as your mother thinks. You can define the game idea down to the smallest pixel of grass on a hillside and you will never be noticed if you don’t pay homage to the other two options.

Those being
a) Cutting edge XYZ or
b) Process.

Cutting edge development is difficult, mainly because it requires time and time requires money, but that aside, you have to come up with the idea that drives that time and money into your pocket… The issue being – ideas that shape the future are few and far between, and combining two super cool games that you love is not development, no matter what you may think.

It only seems natural to me that b is the only other choice, so focus on that. The process involved in modding a game is simple:

a) Choose a topic
b) Consider the necessities of this topic
c) Make the topic happen
d) Repeat

If you are able to understand that topic means anything from create an MP5 to change the way that rounds refresh than you are able to understand my standing on why you need to focus here rather than trying to come up with a cutting edge idea.

I have gone into many interviews already loaded up on information for the questions, and it never ceases to amaze me how focused people become when I say I have worked on games, and say I work with the HL2 Source Engine. Questions come up in so many genres that It’s not even valid for me to list any of them here. They can never get enough of my experiences with games and how that has affected my programming as a whole. Do I prefer a certain source control and why, what kind of experience I had with coding XYZ system and how I would go about it if I could do it again. It is usually the information regarding the processes that I used that sticks with them after the interview, and it comes up time and again. You can only hear about Perl so many times before your ears will bleed. Perl is a great language and you can do some absolutely amazing things with it, but if I had a choice between worrying about scalars and worrying about the normal direction of my trace line vector… ill give you one choice at what I would choose.