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On Modding Tips

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Original Lecture.

So I decided to help out a prospective moderator-to-be and deliver some general modding advice. This is nothing groundbreaking, not in the least. Basically every veteran mod knows these instinctively. However, for the sake of players who have never moderated an game and are unfamiliar with it, I decided I might as well give a few pointers. Some advice to use as "research", if you will.

The road to modding on is achieved one of two ways: Opens, or Normals. Normals, you get practice designing games to meet standards yet go through a review group (that I am, loosely, a member of); Opens you get to see games that have already been designed and how they work, to give you a better idea for the mechanics of games on The net result is in both cases, theoretically, a moderator who has knowledge of how games work on here, so that when they run their "bigger" ideas, they end up working. (This is, incidentally, the reason we have the requirement of on-site experience for newbies before they're allowed to mod: the idea is that they'll have played a few games and seen their balance, so that when they design their own game, they have a much better feeling for what works and what doesn't, and what is standard and what isn't.)

This is all common knowledge, which probably any upcoming moderator quickly becomes aware of. As are some of the modding guides that I recommend reading. (In particular, Vi has made one or two that I strongly recommend moderators read. It might be a little old by now, but if you read the guide in its entirety, it is no less valid than when it was originally written. Heck, a fair amount of what I'm saying is in there.) What might not be so common are tips beyond that, so some general tips that will help you on the road to moderation:

  • Research games you enjoyed playing in, and see their setups. What made their roles/mechanics/etc. work? Really analyze it, and don't blindly try to recreate it. (This is especially true if meta has shifted since the original game. A game I loved playing in 2009 I later made a homage to. The game had to go through EXTENSIVE review before it was passed by contemporary site meta as balanced in spite of the similar setup because of the different times, and even though it passed the review, it still left people slightly unhappy because the balance wasn't perfect.) What made the game particularly memorable, what make it truly magnificent. Take good notes; this is often just as much a result of the moderator and players as it is the setup and the mechanics. The idea behind research is to figure out what makes the best setups that you can make, while still retaining your own touches to it.

  • Keep things short, sweet, and simple. Succinctness as a mod is greatly appreciated to all parties involved (with the exception of flavor), and the better organized and clear things are, the less work you'll have. (This is especially true when you ask for reviewers, or are in a queue mandating them. The better prepared you are, the easier and faster it will be to get your setup greenlit.)

  • This applies to mechanics and roles, too! Generally, it's better to have a streamlined simple setup that doesn't have a ton of ideas in it rather than a complex mess of a setup that has a ton of ideas in it. (You can always save those other ideas for a different game!) This is particularly true of Normals, since the review group takes unkindly to a PR-heavy setup in a Normal. (Obviously, people don't really care nearly as much about it in themes.)

  • I'd strongly advise doing some MD reading on roles that you're planning to use, and wiki searches as well. (Note that you want to avoid MAKING an MD thread about a role you're planning on using, since if you make said thread, people are quite likely to put two and two together.)
  • Speaking of MD, a decent place to look at getting some quick insight into games is to look at the review group for Opens. There are a TON of very creative, unique opens designed on the site, and some of them are quite complex with some incredibly-customized mechanics/roles. Hanging around and browsing through there can not only give you inspiration, but via reading their responses, general ideas about how balanced/imbalanced said ideas are.

  • One of the things you'll find makes the most successful games is being invested in the game, yet not being bossy. This is the reason why mods like bork are legends: they gave a "relaxed" feeling to their game, and yet they were always there, never apathetic. So when you run your own game, always be there. Give a votecount every page you can. Check in at least once if not twice every day at minimum. Keep players active, yet keep them entertained. Amusing bumps for top-of-page votecounts, for instance, are a good way to get people laughing in a good way. If you keep up on prods/replacements, and if you keep your players liking you, you're going to have a successful game more often than not. It can, quite literally, be THE very defining feature determining the difference between your game going down as a success and it going down as a failure.

So a basic summary of some tips that will work for modding in general are:

  • Keep things as simple as they can be.
  • ALWAYS be as fully prepared as possible.
  • Research in advance as much as you can.
  • Always be there, and if all else fails...entertain people.

Will these tips guarantee what you design won't be horribly unbalanced and a terrible idea to run? Heck no. But by following them, you'll get a much firmer grasp on how to stop that from happening.

Additional reading: Vi's (3-year-old, still valid) article on making enjoyable games;

Mastin's Modding Ruleset, a succinct set of rules to be modified as necessary.