Successful Mod Team Tips

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This page talks about mod teams—what they are, how they are formed, and how they can be run. Though there is no foolproof formula on just how to make a mod team, this page should give you some ideas about what works and what doesn’t.

What is a mod team?

In the simplest sense, a mod team is one or more developers who create a mod. But a better way to look at it is that a mod team is a collection of skills that come together to create a mod. Coding, mapping, modeling, and of course ideas and vision. Though one person rarely creates a MOD on his or her own, it can and is done. Why doesn’t it happen that often? Simply put, making a mod is a lot of work that takes a variety of skills. Usually a team of developers contributes their skills towards the final project.

What makes a mod team?

A mod team is made up of a small group of people, each with their own specialty, to fit one of the four distinct modding roles: code, sound, modeling, and mapping. The best teams are the smallest teams. Too many members on a modding team can lead to bad communication, and incompatible parts of the game. The best type of team is a productive, smart group of three to five people, that get along well.

Communication and work flow

War Stories
Before the Day of Defeat mod "went official" with Valve, the team of 8 people involved worked exclusively with instant messaging and IRC for communications. In fact the team developed like this for over a year before finally meeting face to face. —Tim Holt

Good communication is the key to success in any venture. This is especially true for projects such as modding, as one miscommunication could send your whole project into freefall. The best method is to simply be open. Everyone should know what everyone else is doing at all times. All activities should be going through one person, who is then responsible for relaying that to the rest of the team. The Shipping Leader is a good choice for this position, because they're responsible for overseeing work being done on the mod. Try to hold regular meetings and get as many members of the team together as possible. These meetings are not only an effective way to keep people up to date, but also help your team get to know each other, which is important for any group.

Meetings are best done using some sort of VoIP program such as Skype, or IM system such as an IRC. One thing that is always handy to do is to keep notes on what happens during the meetings. Go into the meeting with an outline of what you need to discuss, and tackle the most important topics right away. Once you have this outline stick to it as much as possible. This will help ensure you use the limited time you have for the meeting effectively, it's very easy to get sidetracked. Once the meeting is over, post the notes in such a manner that the whole mod team can access it. This is useful as a record in case someone forgot what they were supposed to do, or if someone missed the meeting they can catch up on what transpired. One handy tool for doing just this is Writeboard. It is a free tool that will let you keep your notes online for easy access. The tool can also export notes in different formats, and has an RSS feed that members can subscribe to.

Another option is to use some form of message board, or forum. NEVER resort to using email when dealing with the whole group at once. Emails are too easily lost and ignored amongst a group of people. Try to only use it when communicating with specific members.

However you do it, just make sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure everyone knows exactly what is happening, with no ambiguity. It's not the easiest thing to do, but the effort is worth it in the end.


Success, collaboration and teamwork

Good mods don’t usually happen by accident or from the work of mediocre and uninspired people. Before we get into what goes wrong with mods and mod teams, let’s talk about what goes right. What’s worked and what’s been successful.

Teamwork > talent

"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships."
Michael Jordan

It’s hard to make a good mod without talent. But it’s about impossible without teamwork.

You're far better off working with people who can work as part of a team than people who have skills, but horrible teamwork skills.

Passion, commitment, creativity and drive

War Stories
When the group creating Day of Defeat was still an amateur mod team in its early stages, who was on it was a bit amorphous and ill-defined. But it soon began to gel into a true team as the development got more intense. If it was midnight and the call went out to test something new, it was the same dedicated handful of people who were there every time. —Tim Holt
Your team must be passionately committed to the cause of creating your mod. They must be passionate about what they do and the mod they are creating. Passion doesn't mean fanaticism, but it does mean being there when the mod and the team needs the help. It also can mean a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to explore new things.

You might ask why commitment and passion are hallmarks of a successful team. Mainly because modding is a job that has long hours, probably no monetary reward, and few perks – and you’re not getting paid a thing. In fact you probably have to use your own money to buy software tools, upgrade your computer, and so on. So something has to drive you to keep going.

Problems, team personality, ego and other challenges

The hard and sad fact about mods and mod teams is that most mods fail. They never get beyond the idea stage, or the pre-alpha. There are a number of common themes to what has caused the demise of a lot of mods over the years.

Ego

"A lot of my work has to do with not allowing my characters to have an ego in a way that the stomach doesn't have an ego when it's wanting to throw up. It just does it."
Matthew Barney

Besides apathy and loss of interest, ego and team quarrels are some other things that can destroy mod teams. Some great ideas have vanished because the team members didn't work well together.

The good and bad of personality

Team members will have personalities for better or worse - sometimes for worse. Hidden agendas, bullies, those that either can't give respect, drama queens and non-contributors are a few examples.

You do the work, I'm the leader/idea person

"I GOT A GREAT IDEA FOR A MOD BUT I JUST NEED LEIK MAPPERS N SKINNERS N CODERS N STUFF! OMG EMAIL ME!"
l33tmodderhax0rdude@hotmail.com

This kind of plea for help on a mod is laughable, but actually common. Someone with no actual technical talent in mod development has a "great" idea, and just needs to get basically the entire team to come help. Oh, and they will be the leader and the "idea person".

Who leads?

"It is very comforting to believe that leaders who do terrible things are, in fact, mad. That way, all we have to do is make sure we don't put psychotics in high places and we've got the problem solved."
Tom Wolfe

Who should lead a mod team, if anyone? How does a MOD team set goals, communicate publicly as one, and generally keep going?

What is leading anyway?

Leading is anything that keeps the mod moving forward in a semi-coordinated way towards a shared goal.

Everybody leads model

War Stories
IMO, ELM works least. Sapphire Scar for Doom 3 had this model: the team started off well, and a lot of work was done, but every time some one did not like something a new poll would pop up on the forums and create a massive 5 page talk. Only use this model if you live near each other, as ELM can kill a team, and a project. —Adam McKern
In this model, everyone on the team has an equal voice. It can be successful if everyone both contributes but also most importantly respects the opinions of their team mates. As soon as you begin to resent or dislike the work or opinion of a team mate, you will inevitably begin to see yourself as being superior to them.

Nobody leads or creative anarchy model

Here, the people with the most drive and creativity (those who crank out the most work) lead by default, simply because they are doing stuff. They are making the mod go forward by virtue of their own drive. If they slack off or take a break, others take up the challenge.

A leader leads

One person (or a subset of the team) calls the shots and leads the mod development.

Starting a project and building a team

A lot of mods will begin as ambitious projects but will most likely flop this way. For example, you might want a game where you fight with swords and magic, an overambitious mod leader will talk about it for a while and try and get someone to make the models and sounds required and never get the code finished. When this happens you have to start thinking smaller.

It helps to start small. If you want a big total conversion mod start by making a mod that has some of the features you want in it. For example, if you want to make a HL1 MOD that rips off Perfect Dark, start by changing HLDM to have some of the features of that game. Add a 'radar', change the weapon behavior a little and people will see that things are being done. When a potential team member sees your site or moddb profile and sees progress despite the lack of art they will be more impressed.

The above example of the PD ripoff was a real mod that gained many members a month after a small (barely) playable demo of some features was released and went on to be somewhat successful. But you don't have to release every little thing to the public, post some screenshots or other media that shows off your progress.

Niche mods

Wally!
The amount of crap that is posted in the ModDB forums is nothing short of depressing. Make a mod because you have a neat idea, not because you want to recreate your favorite anime series! C&Ds aside, your mod will likely have weak gameplay and be a complete chore to build once you're done importing the sounds and textures. —Tom Edwards
A common problem with modifications is having the potential for only a small fanbase. These are the old game remake mods, the Dragon Ball Z mods, the mods based on some obscure movie or show. Recently a mod tribute to Trigun went under due to lack of support and although there were plenty of fans of Trigun who wanted to play, few were actually able to help.

By narrowing your fan base, you narrow your potential team members. People will only work on a mod they will play. Be prepared to fight tooth and nail for the few modders you find in your community as they will be hard to come by.

When not to start a project

"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious."
Sun Tzu

Don't start a mod when:

You have an incomplete plan
Make sure you have at least a high-level overview of how everything will fit together before you start publicising and getting a team together.
You have no idea how your design will play
Always build a prototype of some sort. Garry's Mod offers Lua scripting, which makes producing one far easier than it has been in the past. You may even be able to crowbar some of your features into an existing game without any code. Anything to get the mechanics working. Plus, a prototype will make you appear far more convincing when organising a team. If building a playable prototype is too difficult, then building a mod will be far worse!
You aren't 100% confident you can do it
Don't be afraid to keep ideas to yourself for months, even years, if they don't seem feasible. Write them down, come back to them every now and again when you think of something, and keep an eye out for others solving the problems you got hung up on. Never ditch an idea outright!
You are waiting for more powerful hardware/software
You might end up waiting too long and find you and your team losing interest.
You are about to become very busy
Be patient, and wait!
You have only just finished assembling a team
Get to know them, do concept work, test the waters and cut the dead wood BEFORE committing.
Everyone else is doing the same thing
Observing other people's efforts will strengthen your own. This isn't a race!

See also

External links