When A Modder Tries To Make His Own Game

When A Modder Tries To Make His Own Game

Nick Thomadis, aka Darthmod, used to be one of the most celebrated modders in PC gaming. That was until he walked away to go and make his own game. From scratch.

For some people, modding is just a hobby. A way to tinker with their favourite games. For others, though, it's a pathway to a career in the video game industry. The experience they pick up working with a particular game, or a particular engine, can see them snapped up by the company that actually owns it.

Thomadis' story is a little different. For years, he'd been a leader in the Total War modding community, his Darthmod upgrades offering sweeping changes and improvements to Creative Assembly's ambitious, but often broken strategy games. While these extensive packs included visual and sound mods from other contributors, it was Thomadis' own work on the game's AI and gameplay that made the biggest difference.

When A Modder Tries To Make His Own Game

Given the popularity of his mods, and the positive feedback they so often received, Thomadis had hoped the developers of the Total War series, Creative Assembly, would recognise his work and allow him to work more closely with them.

"I passionately loved Creative Assembly products, and dedicated huge amount of time to help make Total War games even better", he tells Kotaku. "Due to Darthmod's popularity I hoped for a closer collaboration with Creative Assembly (as for example Valve closely had cooperated with modders and content creators). This chance never came, my requests for cooperation were officially rejected and CA denied my participation in a modding summit."

Frustrated, he very publicly walked away from the Total War modding community entirely, a move which upset some given the way in which it was handled.

When A Modder Tries To Make His Own Game

"I felt very disappointed at that time", he says. "I wish though I could return to the past and change my overreaction, because honestly I had great time modding the fantastic Total War games."

Creative Assembly's loss might be PC gaming's gain, though, because Thomadis is taking his experience with the Total War series (and a love of military history) and applying it to a brand new game of his own. It's called Ultimate General: Gettysburg.

An upcoming strategy game set during the famous 1863 battle, it's nothing if not ambitious, given this is Thomadis' first title and he's working with a small team. He's promising an accurate recreation of the actual map, a detailed and authentic order of battle for both armies and "innovative control mechanics".

I'm most interested in the game's AI, though, since that's where the Darthmod packs really excelled. Perhaps put off by Creative Assembly's subtle reliance on the strategy gaming stalwart of "rock paper scissors" (cavalry beats archers, spearmen beats cavalry, infantry beats spearmen, etc) vulnerability, Thomadis is instead programming nine distinct "personalities" that AI generals can assume. Whichever one you're facing will behave according to that personality's preferences, and it's hoped stuff like elevation, morale and fatigue will be the deciding factors in a battle, not unit type.

When A Modder Tries To Make His Own Game

All of which will be amazing if he can pull it off, but promising things before release and actually delivering them in a working game aren't the same thing, something Thomadis is having to come to grips with.

"There is one major difficulty in professional game development that does not exist in modding", he says. "In modding you have the freedom to make everything as you want with no ultra-strict deadlines and specific commercial goals. In professional design you have limitations in time, resources, and the major responsibility to satisfy the team's and producer's vision for the project's success and sales expectations."

Not that he's particularly worried. "My modding experience helped me to literally learn all the basics about game design and internal game processes", he says. Modding has taught him how to get everything working together in sync without bugs, how to balance gameplay, how to track and fix errors and how to find what players want from their game.

We'll see if he's right when Ultimate General: Gettysburg is released, hopefully later this year. It's currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight.


    He'll have my vote.
    And let's hope a large gaming company picks him up.

    Uhhh.... I smell a lawsuit. Seems to pretty much be the old Sid Miere's Gettysburg in most senses...


      if you had bothered to google more than one result you would find Gettysburg has been a staple of war gaming for decades.

        Not what I am talking about. But I have played this old game (it was very hyped at the time), even the way the text is overlayed on the battlefield, and the directional arrows are nearly entirely ripped from the game. (also @zimmy)

      Forgive me I'm not familiar with that game, but since it's based off of the same historical battle wouldn't you expect to see a lot of similarities?

      It's good there are no games set in space after space invaders.

        There's a difference between being 'inspired' by something - and straight up jacking art. Though it's a thin line in many cases, that doesn't mean we should as consumers just accept it.

          Art? WTF? This is an actual battle that happened in real life.

      If the common features are the (non copyrightable) historical setting, then what basis would there be for a lawsuit? There's not really enough in the article to indicate any more similarities, so why would you assume there are?

        Clearly you didn't read my comment above re the art and conceptual stylings.

          you do know overlaying arrows and place names is also a long standing way of displaying historical battles right? Literally nothing in the screenshots of Gettysburg are an example of a first use. Heck those arrows over maps have been used DURING actual combat planning.

          Go and watch a documentary on a historical battle, there are plenty out there to choose from, and some of the older public domain ones will even prove that the display method used by Sid Meier's Gettysburg were not invented by it.

      Hahah! This is sarcasm, right? You're parodying the recent debacle that was Flappy Bird.

      In case that you are not...

      Just because something looks like something else doesn't immediately mean that one plagarised the other. And the screenshots presented in your Google search doesn't look anything like the screenshots in the article.

      Just because there are little men running around a birds-eye view campaign map with user-interface arrows overlayed in both games, doesn't mean that Ultimate General is copy of Sid Meier's Gettysburg.

      If you think like you do that, then you'll have to point out every game (or other media) that was plagarised from another that came before it. And if you do that, you'll be doing that to every single movie, TV show, game, comic book theme that is in existence now.

        I wouldn't even say anything if I hadn't played the earlier game. I would personally say it looks very similar, except the men are large groups of smaller men rather than tokens representing many men. Other than that - it looks incredibly similar, and not even that much 'better'.

    Why is it whenever I hear about Creative Assembly they are either being bastards, talking rubbish or flat out lying..

      ... Not "collaborating" with a modder because he made some abstract request for for - as though that's something any big studio routinely gets involved with - who has seemingly no experience except in modding (not that useful to a company with actual devs) is a "backwards" move?

      Seems entirely normal and to be expected. I have no idea what he was expecting to happen.

        Yeah, barring the most popular and successful community modder from a modding summit seems like normal to me too.

          Seems quite likely to be far from the whole story. "I WAS JUST LIKE STANDING THERE MAN AND THEY JUST DENIED ME!!"

          I suspect it went something like..

          > Modder with no business experience goes to them 'yo dwags lets colab dis'
          > "No thanks. We don't really do that because we hire plenty of good people to make the games we make. We do hire people though, perhaps forward us your resume and we will let you know if any vacancies appear in the future".
          > "fuk u carnts u r da worst cumpeny I h8 u oh plz can I cum 2 ur sumet?"
          > "No thanks."

          End dramatization.

          @deathcake @namiwakiru

          Last edited 20/02/14 12:52 pm

            I was referring only to not being invited to the modding summit.. but don't let me interrupt you...

              ... That's what I'm talking about too?

                Well since we are just making up our own versions...

                OK sorry, I stopped reading your chosen ridiculous writing style for Darth
                You suspect it went your way so our thoughts are incorrect?
                And your suspicious are obviously more likely because.... ?
                And you do realise that most modders (certainly for the large 'overhaul' mods) have very good english and communication skills, partly due to working with precision coding, and partly having to explain/document their changes for change logs. For the vast majority they are not stupid 'h4x0r5', therefore I doubt VERY much that the exchange was anything remotely like that.

                Last edited 20/02/14 2:12 pm

                  lol.. When did I say you were incorrect.... Way to flip out as though i'm attacking you...

                  I just have been on the "other side" many, many times. Where you're in business, and someone experience does the equivalent of trolling you, and the media acts as though you're a bad guy just because you don't want to publically start a shit fight over the "why", in which nobody comes out looking good ("Oh yeah well he said this and then I said that and then they said this!!!").

                  My typing above was in reference to how often an upset person with no idea how to conduct such business relations often comes across to us in such a situation. I was trying to lighten the topic up somewhat, but I have seen the exact theme of my post played out many, many times.

                  Unless your belief is that successful companies do just act completely irrationally towards people.

                  Last edited 20/02/14 2:19 pm

                  Can I only reply so many comments deep? Can't reply to your last michael, but I can reply to mine. Weird.
                  It just seemed to me on reading your post that you were saying 'this is what I think so end of discussion'
                  It's cool man, no harm done, just a spirited discussion ;)
                  I am just curious as to why he would have been denied access to the mod summit is all, as I thought he did a good job with his mods and showed that he had a good understanding of the games he modded (being on the Warscape engine used for TW games since Empire), and to not allow him (one of the prime modders of the time) to attend the modding summit is just very odd in my opinion, and I am curious as to why.
                  It must also, I guess, be noted that my opinion of CA is not very high at the moment, given the R2TW debacle.

        While that may be a good point (you only hear about the modders that ARE picked up by gaming companies because it is a rare occurrence), I'm a little surprised by "... and CA denied my participation in a modding summit.”
        Wouldn't it be natural, if having a modding summit, to invite along one of the biggest and well known modders? Why would they have denied it I wonder?
        It sounds to me a bit like for example Valve denying IceFrog from participating in a DOTA modding summit.

        Turning down collaborative help is one thing, ignoring his contribution to modding is a kick in teeth for someone that is so well known in the community and spent a lot of time fixing little issues and bugs the devs outright ignored.

        And to elaborate, the last time I heard about CA was recently when it was found that their paid DLC's were made before the game released and contained many files on already on the disc.
        Before that they were moderating their forums after the terrible release of Rome II to hide any bad press. (They like dumping polite complaints in to the Rant and Rave subforum)
        Before that they were releasing Rome II as a completely unfinished pile of crap complete with dev videos singing their own praises for features that didn't even work in the game.
        (My fav was the dev behind the AI who made some pretty far out claims about how good his AI was........then you played the games and soldiers played like blind idiots)

    Aww man. I thought DarthMod was just taking a break from the Empire/Napoleon TW mods; Didn't know he actually 'quit'.

    Wow. I love the design of the visuals. I'll be keeping an eye on this.

      I think I remember reading a while back that if this one is a success that he would do others as well, based on other historically significant battles. I agree that it looks nice, good to see more news on this game, I saw it mentioned a while back and then it kinda fell out of view.

      For those interested, and since it didn't seem in the article, the official home page: http://www.ultimategeneral.com/

    mm I find the title for this article to be pretty misleading, its not like he has "tried" to make his own game he has and if the comments here are anything to go by it has already been greenlit which is quite awesome news for him.

    Darthmod was, apparently, a bit of a dickhead and so quit modding when he wasn't invited to a summit.
    I kinda like the look of this game, it's just that IMO it appears to be a bit of a ripoff and sort of like a Farmville version of Total War.

    More in the fact that CA cant program AI to save there lives as proven by the latest Rome 2 debacle you would think they would want to work with someone that has for years fixed and improved upon the complety back birthed AI that is rampant within vanilla total war games.
    Some of the ridiculous bald faced lies that came out of CA during rome 2 development are up there with bill clintons "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" magnatude

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