This is a teachable moment.
I’ve never made a mod before and I never had any plans to. I see my role in the gaming ecosystem as a consumer, rather than a creator, yet the reality is that I have embarked on making a mod for the greatest game of all time, Crusader Kings 2. My goal is simple: make a new religion with gods that have a real impact on the game world. Whereas the existing game focuses on the political and personal realities of gods, I want to make gods that destroy kingdoms, cast spells, and generally wreck the world. I’ve had a lot of fun so far, but there are definitely a few things I’ve learned about game development along the way. Here are some of the biggest.
Planning is key
To start my modding career, I poked around the game files and tried to create smaller mods. As I gained knowledge, I worked on elements that I figured would be in my religion mod. It didn’t take long to realize how vital planning was to the whole endeavor. A mod of any complexity will have interlocking parts that will effect each other and the broader game state. It’s easy enough to deconflict any couple of elements, but creating a set of interlocking pieces is extremely difficult without a plan. This became very apparent to me as I was trying to create the levels of status within the religion. I created a mockup of each status and even wrote the events and leveling conditions that worked the player through each level. As I considered the leveling scheme, I immediately thought of what it would take to go through as an acolyte of one of the gods. When I started on the next god, my leveling scheme conflicted with the first. Inevitably, the leveling scheme of the third god conflicted with the first time. Planning is definitely needed.
You can’t power through
My work habits largely derive from my academic career. Like many, I became a master of plowing through complex lines of thought in large chunks of time, usually at the last possible moment. That doesn’t work anymore. It’s not that I’ve changed, my brain is still the delightful caffeine addled machine it’s always been, but the type of thinking required benefits from space. Coding the mod requires intricate work where even a single incorrect line will derail the whole operation. Detailed thinking, not broader lines of thought, are what is needed. I’ve literally spent hours staring at the screen looking for an errant line of code and been totaling unable to identify it. Alternatively, if I walk away for a day and come back, the answer is obvious. This takes time.
Fantasy names are hard
Like, super hard. It’s frighteningly easy to come up with extremely stupid names and incredibly difficult to come up with smart ones. I’ve elected to work off of Latin terminology, but, even then, I’ve discarded a ton of names that make me embarrassed of my own creation. I can see the temptation to create nonsense works or just use the English word. I ultimately had to change my goal from creating fun and memorable god names to not terrible god names. The goal is to avoid breaking the player’s immersion rather than to elevate my game in any meaningful way. That being said, Furya and the Elemental races is still dumb. Sorry, Vin Diesel.