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Friday, December 28, 2007

I've got to agree with Tycho On Epic, Modding, and PS3

Penny Arcade has responded to Mark Rein's response to their disdain for the current setup of PS3 mods for Unreal Tournament III.

Look, nobody could be a bigger supporter of this idea in theory. In theory, I think it's the only way to go. PC and console convergence is happening. Some might say it's pretty much happened. To be able to create user content for my console from my PC isn't just smart - I'd say it's becoming inevitable.

Just because it's a good idea, though, doesn't mean we should applaud any old implementation of it. Epic's mod framework has given me hours of indulgence. I've written mutators, mods, code tutorials, etc. It is still my favorite mod setup. That doesn't mean they don't drop the ball on the big picture though.

Take the code change from UT2003 to UT2004 ... which drastically altered some classes, especially weapon classes, in the middle of Make Something Unreal. It disrupted the contest and made several online tutorials completely useless. And there was essentially no warning for this. Then for UT2004 Epic decides to overhaul the actual ingame mod framework. In some ways, this was an excellent idea - it was to standardize the interface for organizing and launching mods within the game. It was also to help organize the file structure so that mods were less likely to clutter the normal system folder.

Problem was ... it was insanely total conversion centric. Without starting off with basically your own branch of code you couldn't get anything properly compiled and running. If you wanted to just make a new gametype for the original game, you were sort of left out in no man's land between the "old way", which Epic was making clear was frowned on, and the "new way" which was not only time prohibitive in simply getting setup but also clumsy for players to use. I played with the new way simply for the contest ... but then everything else I just went back to the old method.

So now they bring mods to the PS3. But you have to find some kind of media to download the mod to which you can plug into the console, which pretty much means a memory card - which some models don't have, or a flash drive - which not everyone has. This is after users spent a good year just bitching about how installations were working on the PC and how they wanted a better ingame browser for installing, organizing and removing both mods and mutators.

And I haven't seen the code, but other modders have told me that the Unreal Tournament III codebase sets a new record for native code references. This is code written in the native C++ and not exposed via UnrealScript. For instance, all of the homing code for the rockets.

However for me, the killer in all this is that the Unreal Editor won't currently compile for the PlayStation 3. This is awful. This means Epic must hand select mods and compile them for the PS3. It's the worst possible atmosphere for modmakers, when they have to suck up to the mother company for favors. Now modders are going to worry about what Epic wants, what will make Epic happy and what will get them noticed. It's the same kind of market pressure that smothered mods in Yet Another Realism Mod clones for the longest time. It's the inverse of a healthy mod community.

All of this lumps into a mod framework which is less friendly for modders and less friendly for players. Yes, I'm glad that some people can play mods on their PS3. But until Epic fixes this mess - I don't really want to be a part of it.


jvm said...

Growing pains for a new era, nothing more. Does it deserve the high dudgeon that Tycho conjures up? No. It deserves a tap on the wrist, a stern glare, and a "I know you'll do better...and soon!"

I don't get the USB drive hangup. My mom of all people has three of the damned things. They're free-with-rebate items now. Honestly, this is considered a serious barrier?

The editor should be fixed ASAP and if Sony's the hangup there, then they should be castigated until it is fixed.

Quick thoughts from a reader on the run...

Josh said...

Actually I think Tycho lets them off easy.

Look, the USB drive doesn't seem like a big deal until you compare it to anything else. They've taken what should be a seamless experience and transmorgified it into a floppynet. We're not in the 90's anymore. This isn't homebrew here. And once the novelty of moving a few mods here and there wears off - it will help kill them off for UT3. It will go from people trying anything just to see it to seriously wondering if that mutator is worth erasing all those pics so they have room to move the files.

It's amatuerish. It's bush league. And mods are dying as it is. There are essentially no UT2004 mods being actively played right now. There are more people playing Team Fortress *Classic* than basically any mod out there at the moment.

And no, Counter-Strike isn't a mod. Hasn't been for nigh a decade.

The editor is a dealbreaker for sure, but the USB thing is just an example of one of the reasons mods are where they are today. Companies get all worked up about using the angles to sell their original product and drop the ball on the actual mod implementation. End result? No mods.

jvm said...

When I read you writing this:

Look, the USB drive doesn't seem like a big deal until you compare it to anything else...

I can't help but think there is an implied:

...on a home computer

at the end. Yes, if we were talking a home computer where clicking a link in game could launch your browser which then loads an appropriate plugin, then ok you can expect a lot of things to happen automatically.

But we're not talking a home computer. We're talking a console. Sony has been out in front on putting things like recognizable web browsers in their systems, and giving games/applications access to that browser for limited use. This is clearly what Epic and Sony should be using, and hopefully will be using, but it hasn't happened yet. The infrastructure simply isn't there yet, and there had to be a first game that did it (again...on a console!) to build up that infrastructure.

Expecting the first mod-capable game on any console to have all the pieces in place out of the gate is just unrealistic to me. They're lucky the PS3 has a built-in browser and standard hard drive storage, because you can't expect that on any other console, you know.

jvm said...

I should say I'm very, very tired. I hope that was coherent.

Josh said...

I'm not sure why your expectations would be set so low. For one thing, a browser isn't even required for downloading mods just as it's not for finding online games (and is a far simpler problem than matchmaking as well). The real hard stuff would have been getting UnrealScript compiling for the PS3 and getting an alternate form of DLC viable. The second part is what is keeping mods off of the 360 - not Microsoft's lack of a browser. Microsoft doesn't want to abandon their certification process just for mods.

But if Sony is "out in front" of this - then why isn't it working? Nintendo will release Smash Bros early next year and it will allow people to make new levels, share new levels and easily find new levels to download. While that's obviously not mods - it is far closer to delivering on Sony's own "Game 3.0" than Sony will be doing until, from the sounds of it, late 2008 at the earliest.

I just don't see how Epic delivering a mod framework in which modders can't compile, can't control the distribution and users need to worry about what hardware they have in order to run the software is even remotely close to acceptable. I'm actually struggling to think of how it could have been handled worse - maybe random software conflicts?

I know the next question would be - would I rather not have it all? Well, honestly there's very little difference between the two right now. What Epic has delivered here is little more than an example of how not to handle the situation.

Not to mention Rein's normal "problem? What problem?" attitude is insanely annoying here. He's had a history of talking big and delivering small ... and this is no different. Whether it is game features or demo downloads, sometimes Rein's public words get far ahead of the actual technology.

If Microsoft were to create a new certification channel for modmakers, I'm guessing we'd see a whole different ball game.