From Modder to Valve Employee; the MINERVA Story

Foster’s Advice to Modders

Being picked up by a major developer is a modder’s dream. As one of modding’s great success stories, Foster’s insights to aspiring modders is invaluable, and his advice to them is simple: “Learn to release stuff.” At the end of the day, nothing really matters unless your audience can try out your creation. “Pretty screenshots are nice,” said Foster, “but the hard work is in getting something out there for people to play.”

Foster believes that the biggest mistake new modders make is thinking too big — thinking they can make vast, total conversions of existing games as their first modding projects. They underestimate the amount of work involved.

“As an example,” Foster said, “creating a completely new character in a game like Half-Life 2 can require concept art, modelling, texturing, rigging, animating, voice-work and writing — lose any of those pieces and it can all come crashing down. Finding people to do all that work for free is more than a little difficult.”

In order to get around a lack of manpower or resources, modders must learn to work within their limitations. “The trick is to work around your weaknesses,” said Foster. His own oeuvre exemplifies this piece of advice.

“In MINERVA, for example, the off-screen main character has no model — thus no textures, rigging or animation — she’s just the chapter titles system displaying text on the screen, so she doesn’t even need a voice. Yes, some excellent voice acting could have dramatically improved things, but no voice whatsoever is better than bad voice acting — the player’s imagination will fill in the gaps.”

For modders looking to eventually become developers, the modding scene allows them to learn an important lesson that still applies in game development: know when to cut back. “Understand what you can do, and what you can’t do — learn new skills where necessary, but understand how to fall back to simpler versions of your idea if your mod recruiting doesn’t work out. Even in full-scale game development, you won’t be able to implement half the ideas you have — with modding, you need to know when to cut back even further.”

Nowadays, modders have access to great tools and communities to help them along their way. Foster points to the Steam Workshop as a great resource for new modders. “The Steam Workshop has lots of ways to start with really small mods.” It’s a venue that allows modders to learn to walk before they start running. “Learn the fundamentals of level design with Portal 2,” Foster recommends. “Build multiplayer maps for Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Model items for TF2 or Dota 2 — and there’s an ever-increasing selection of Valve and non-Valve games to choose from.”

The core piece of advice Foster keeps circling back to, however, is the simplest: release your mod. “Get in the habit of releasing stuff. Start small, build up the skills and experience needed to make something huge, be it in an existing game engine or something more abstract like Unity – but build something you can still finish.”

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