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Monday, January 07, 2008

PS3 UT3 Modding Inches Forward

Gaming Today (and probably others) are reporting that the UT3 "cooker" has been leaked and the first working mod is out using them.

Quick thoughts.

The Good
Epic is now out of the business of handpicking mods and maps. This was critical because for as long as the mother company is acting as a middle man, you really can't have a viable mod community. Now the community can be responsible for the creation, the discussion and distribution of content.

The Bad
No direct online distribution for content and I'm not hearing much buzz that it will ever change towards it. This will hobble growth over the long term as the novelty of mods wears off. It's been hard enough to convince people to download content and give it an honest try, putting the sneakernet shuffle in between certainly won't help.

The good news is that it sounds like there might be a backdoor in that "code only" mods like mutators and gametypes can be loaded up when a user hits a server using it. I'm not sure if this is cached, temporary, data or if it is stored, however. The flipside here is that traditionally it can lead to people avoiding servers because they don't want to bother with the forced download.

It also looks like there are some restrictions with code working across packages. This isn't terrible, but it does restrict anyone from developing a core package and mixing that code into other gametypes. An annoyance, but a small point overall.

The (Could Be) Ugly
It seems the only way to custom assets (models essentially) is to create a custom map and use that as a starting point. Without being able to try it out, this sounds like a bit of a cluster when it comes to development. If your gametype, for instance, requires a new kind of map - you have to treat it as a total conversion.

What I'm trying to hunt down is what this means for packaging the code. Will mod code have to be distributed with every map? What does that do to version control, etc? It feels a bit like the inverse of how mod development typically works and it would definately hit more than just TC's ... out of five gametypes I'm working on now for UT2004 - two require custom maps. The vast majority of mutators that won during the last MSUC had custom assets ... so those are actually just impossible in this schema.

And I can't imagine a lot of TC mod teams will be happy with not being able to import custom sounds. Heck, I used custom sounds with a holiday mutator I co-wrote a while ago.

For mods like Jailbreak or Deathball which are essentially more partial conversion than total conversions, the setup will probably work (looks like Jailbreak UT3 is already in the works). Also, I can speak to the fact that (at least in UT2004) you can hack the stock maps to a great deal without require new assets and if you're creative about reshuffling and remixing models and textures - you have a lot more flexibility than it probably looks. For instance, my Freehold mod for the original UT altered Domination maps to be coop style play without any map alterations, and it had new monsters, etc.

Overall I can't say I'm thrilled. If we see some gametype mods gain some traction, I would be happy but a little surprised. They haven't had much success on UT2004 without all these limitations.

In short - what's ironic here is that the setup is probably sufficient for the kind of modding I've traditionally done with the Unreal Engine. The problem here is that I've always been in the tiny minority there and rarely got any real motion when it came to getting online play.

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