You know, if you would have asked me a few years ago if there were a program where modders would be paid monthly for their contributions, I would have laughed. But we live in a fascinating age now. Now, more than ever, hobbyists are finding ways to make supplemental income while doing things they love. I'm no different than any other modder in the program. My roots embed deeply in the modding culture that is becoming much more prevalent in the gaming industry. Who hasn't thought to themselves, "What would I do differently"? Who knew that a little desire or a small thought could turn into something much bigger; it has for the members of our modding program.
What is a modder? Very much like the gaming industry, there are lots of misconceptions about what modding is. Sure, it could be as easy as tweaking a couple values but it can also be a much more involved process. Take, for instance, some of the new additions to Survival Plus. Tao has been working on several visual improvements to the market stalls and adding additional building tiers.
More often than not, several people work on updates like these. Modeling an asset and texturing it can often be two entirely different roles on a development team. Implementing these textured models as structures that perform within the game can also be a separate position. These tasks could be managed by a one-man team when you're dealing with a couple of assets, but Tao clearly has bigger plans.
Our first step was to remove our existing low-level thatch houses and instead add Celtic long houses and primitive wooden huts with thatch roofs. Previously our medieval buildings made from plaster, wood, and stone started at level 30. The new ones are level 45, 60 and higher, and instead introduced an entirely new building style
When you're dealing with mods of large of scope like Survival Plus, in many cases, it warrants extra help. I remember making Primitive+ and desiring to accomplish things that were way outside of my skillset. I had two options: invest the time, or invest money and buy it from a marketplace. It's always a tough decision whether you are a modder or someone who works professionally in the game industry. It's evident that DavidBC and the Ark: Moon Survival team wants unique content - even going as far as putting the final touches on their custom character model. DavidBC made it clear in many conversations that he and his team are approaching this as you would developing a brand new game. He's even spoken of doing some custom motion captures for the animations!
In many ways, these modders are completing fairly complicated game development tasks. Even when it comes to making modifications to existing structures and content, like Structures Plus, there's quite a bit of work that goes into developing that content. You would know this if you've ever taken a dive into the ARK development kit and seen the snap point system . When I chatted with David over the phone about some of the most challenging things he has to look forward to, he stressed how challenging it would be to work with the TEK Tier assets because of their complexity. Rounded walls, for example, will involve modifying an existing mesh with very specific size requirements. Accomplishing that and making it look good at the same time is no easy feat. While focusing on underwater bases for Structures Plus, David reminded me of how creative and complex these modifications can get:
I also added ability to selectively drain or flood individual cubes which allow for a lot of flexibility in base setup but has a really cool side effect: For multi-level underwater bases you can create a column of water to swim between levels with(instead of using ladders or stairs).
Mods that bring QOL (quality of life) improvements can be overlooked when determining the "best" mods. At times it's because of it's perceived they lack originality or skill to complete. It's great to see mods like Structures Plus break that perception.
There are times when mods don't add additional functionality at all. Eco is proving that functionality doesn't necessarily make a great mod. Continuing the trend of providing you decorations for your homes, eco has been hard at work at RP Decore, Shoppe Decor, and Eco in Wonderland. Based on the sheer number of downloads alone, it's clear that there is a demand for this type of content. Eco runs into the same challenges many game developers and artists do. When asked how she deals with some of the challenges like getting stuck on a certain feature:
I tend to work 2 months in advance and with multiple mods so that I don't get overwhelmed or bored doing something. It also helps when I get stuck. I can figure it out and I don't feel rushed.
At other times, functionality is a compelling reason to use a mod. iSpezz, the author of ARK Steampunk, likes to add functionality to content he adds to updates. Take for example the new tannery and blast force. Providing alterations to existing functionality can prove to be extremely challenging. I've talked with iSpezz many times on just how complex reworking existing functionality can be.
What is a modder? A modder can be a character artist, a creature artist, an animator, an environment artist, a designer, a level designer, or many other things. Or a modder can be all of those people. There are lots of questions on how the workflow and tasks of a modder differ from traditional game development. In many ways, it doesn't. Modders are game developers because, after all, modding IS game development.
Next time, we'll take a look at the level making process and check in with some of our favorite level designers in the mod program. How is it differ from traditional level design? I'll be asking our Environment Director, @damien_bull to find out if it does. In the meantime, be sure to give these modders a subscription on Steam and follow them on Twitter for their latest updates.
Until next time!
Wildcard Cedric @ComplexMinded
Development Kit Update
A recent update (256.3) is on the Epic Games Launcher. Be sure to check out any additional information in the Unreal Forums.
So you want to try your hand at modding? To get started, download the Epic Games Launcher, and click on the modding tab at the top of the application. Be prepared for a hearty download!
After you've gotten the development kit installed, be sure to check out the modding discord that's run by some of the more seasoned modders in the community or the ARK development wiki on some quick tips for getting started. Arkmodding.net is also a great resource!
Modders Social Media Contact Info
ARK Steampunk Mod: @iSpeZz
Survival Plus: @ArkSurvivalPlus
eco (Various Mods): @ecoModsGames
ARK Moon Survival: @ArkMoonSurvival