Gamer and GoldSourcerer. Level designer at 3DRealms. Lead developer on The Core for Half-Life.
“I have an idea, but I need a team.”
This is a rewrite of an article I posted almost eight years ago now.
While I still think the message I was trying to convey is solid, the writing leaves a lot to be desired. When I wrote that article I had been working on my own mod for a mere five years. A long time for sure, but that same mod has now been in development for almost triple that. What can I say? Life has a habit of getting in the way of personal projects.
However, onto the main topic. Back in 2013 I said, “If you need a team, prove you are a capable leader.” This is not exactly the right message that needs to be put out there. In reality, the message should be, “If you need a team, prove you are a capable developer.” Or, to put it in a way that’s a little more blunt, “Don’t start a project that you could not complete on your own.”
The start of any project is always the most exciting part; The moment you start putting pen to paper, placing brushes in an empty level editor or bashing out your first line of code is the same point in time that you will be the most passionate about your project. It is unfortunate that this is also the time when you want to start telling people about it, in spite of having nothing to show for it yet. I am guilty of starting countless mods and maps over the years, spending up to a month on an idea and then giving up. I would then grab a new idea that had been rattling around in my brain and repeat the same cycle. A lot of the time, these were ridiculously vast ideas; I had it in my head that I could create a total conversion for Half-Life with my limited experience in a matter of months if I just got a team behind me.
Now, here’s the thing. I did not have an account on ModDB at the time so I wasn’t setting up new mod pages left and right. However, I was a member of a mapping community and the forums there were littered with posts regarding my big ideas. I would make the mistake of saying something like, “I want to do X, Y and Z but I’m going to need some help.” Aside from the occasional “best of luck,” no help was offered. That’s not to say the community wasn’t helpful, but nobody with even the slightest bit of experience wanted to jump in and help with my “idea.”
That’s ultimately where I am going with this. If all you have is an idea, nobody is going to take notice.
Everyone has ideas.
Let’s take an enormous leap here and look at the games industry. The same rule applies, albeit on a much grander scale. Before a game gets funding, investors want to see a working example. It might be rough around the edges, but having a playable snippet of what you are trying to achieve can work wonders. This has become more obvious in recent years with crowdfunding sites. The projects that get off the ground are the ones that come out of the gate swinging, showing off their idea with a working prototype. This is what is going to grab people’s attention.
So, jump back to modding. ModDB has some very loose rules regarding what is needed to set up a mod page. If memory serves, this is a minimum character value for the description and about five images. This is not a toll that you need to pay in order to pass; This is your proof of concept. If you are filling these boxes with random text and meaningless images then you do not have a mod to show off. You do not need a mod page.
So, what do you need to do if you have an idea and cannot make a start on it because you think you’ll need a team? Well, you’re just going to have to knuckle down and start learning the tools yourself. This is what I mean by, “Don’t start a project that you could not complete on your own.”
If I were to start a new Half-Life mod right now, at the time I am writing this article, I would NOT plan out a total conversion. I am not a coder, nor do I have the time to learn to become one. I DO have a couple of decades experience in level design, a few years in texture creation and I’m fairly handy when it comes to editing models, but not creating them from scratch.
I would immediately start work on a level, creating textures and adjusting models to fit the theme if necessary. I would not create a mod page until at least one level was fully playable and the theme was nailed down. A working example of what the mod would look like when it was done, were I to complete it all on my own. Also, to clarify, this is not something I would bang out in an afternoon. This would take days or even weeks if I was taking things seriously.
To put it another way, The Core was in development for three years before somebody contacted me and offered to help. Up to that point, The Core was a basic Half-Life map pack with some new textures here and there and some models downloaded from community sites and slightly edited. This person also happened to be a friend of mine already, so that offer to help came much sooner than a stranger might have. However, a couple of years later, we had a coder and numerous offers from voice actors, composers, other level designers and so on. The team came to us because they liked what we were producing already.
This article is not intended to crush your hopes of working on some grand total conversion mod or even a simple map pack. It’s simply to make you think about things more realistically. Don’t expect people to do your work for you. Get your head down, learn how to do what needs doing and above all else, don’t lose that passion. As soon as you start showing off the project that you are passionate about, people will take notice. With any luck, some of those people will have talents of their own that could take your project to the next level and they will get in touch.
Above all else, have fun with it.
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