Monday Tip-Off: Reviving the Retro Modding Scene

Monday Tip-Off: Reviving the Retro Modding Scene

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off with some thoughts on reviving the retro modding scene, and how we could best accomplish that.

Given that my dissatisfaction with the most recent releases in the NBA 2K series has pushed me towards retro basketball gaming – however you want to define that – I’m obviously intrigued by the prospect of reviving the retro modding scene. To reiterate a point I made when I discussed the definition of retro gaming, retro modding means different things to different people, but broadly speaking, I’d suggest that it refers to nostalgic favourites that the community has largely moved on from, but a dedicated contingent of people still revisit and have interest in modding and using mods for.

As far as the specific titles, we can name some popular examples here. NBA 2K13 and NBA 2K14 are two of the most modded games of their generation, and they hold up well. There’s a ton of nostalgia for the later NBA Live releases on PC, especially NBA Live 2005 and NBA Live 06, with NBA Live 2003 and NBA Live 2004 being up there as well. NBA 2K11 has some untapped potential, and is a game I’ve seen gamers cite as one they’d like to see benefit from more retro modding. NBA 2K17 and NBA 2K19 are two recent classics that gamers want to keep alive. I love the idea and support the initiative, but to make it happen, we must keep a few things in mind.

First of all, the most important thing to remember is that this is a niche interest, and that much of the basketball gaming community has moved on from these classics. I don’t say that to discourage retro modding, but it’s vital to keep that in mind and be realistic when drumming up support for the endeavour. Short of a full-on renaissance for a particular title, the enthusiasm isn’t going to be there like it was when it was new. It’s going to be a smaller audience, as well as a smaller group of people who are willing and able to lend a hand with big projects. There’s nothing wrong with it being a niche interest, but it means we must temper our expectations for output accordingly.

Abandoned NBA 2K11 Roster Update

As such, it means being realistic about the detail of big projects, at least as far as the initial release. This is something that I’ve talked about before, but since I have seen a burgeoning interest in reviving the modding scene for selected old favourites, it bears repeating. Ideally, projects such as current roster updates and retro season mods will be comprehensive, complete with all of the necessary artwork and as much detail as we can possibly accomplish. That’s always going to be the goal. However, when there are fewer people actively working on those projects, that’s not always going to be feasible; at least not for the initial release, and potentially not in a timely manner.

Between the workload being shared by just a few people, the project being supported by a niche contingent of gamers, and the possibility that it may never see the light of day, it’s all too easy for modders working on an old game to grow discouraged. At that point, predictions that the mod will never be done often become a self-fulfilling prophecy! We’ve seen it time and time again: a project is started with enthusiasm, a snag is hit, and progress slows down, leading to silence. Someone asks if there are any updates, assurances are made that it’s still happening, and the cycle repeats until the mod is canned. I know this all too well, because it’s happened with my own projects!

So, how do we avoid these pitfalls and succeed in reviving the retro modding scene? Again, acceptance of niche interest and enthusiasm is essential. Expecting a return to the heyday of a title’s modding scene many years later is simply unrealistic, so you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed if that’s what you’re hoping for. Instead, we need to determine the games that people are still keenest to play and mod. This has to be a cooperative effort between modders and gamers, creating a shortlist of the old favourites that retain the most appeal, and are the most viable to create new mods for. These are naturally the games that the retro modding community should focus on.

The Last Dance in NBA Live 08

Obviously there are many techniques to remain motivated and make steady progress with a modding project, which is its own topic entirely. Generally speaking though, if we’re picked the right game and the right project, then that goes a long way in staying on track and making a great mod. Once again however, reviving the modding scene for a now-retro basketball game requires mod creators and mod users alike to make some allowances. This brings me back to the completeness of major projects, such as a current roster or retro season mod. Although the goal should remain to be as detailed as possible, we must adopt an approach that will avoid projects remaining unreleased.

This means that a V1.0 doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect and 100% complete. We can also build up to V1.0 with public betas, demos, and preliminary versions. They may not have every single face for every single bench player, and might use courts and jerseys that are a year or two off and thus have minor inaccuracies, but are from the same era and thus close to accurate at a glance. At a certain point, roster projects are close enough to completion to be released in a playable state, and then updated as new assets are available. Releasing a major roster mod that’s “only” 90-95% complete with viable placeholders is still far preferable to letting it sit on the virtual workbench!

Reviving the retro modding scene hinges on us being comfortable with this, whether we’re the ones creating or using the mods. A perfect example is the suggestion of a new WNBA mod. As RICH72601 astutely noted, the jersey and court updates are quite feasible, but creating a full league of player faces is a more daunting task. As I said however, the project becomes more viable if you can utilise a selection of generic placeholder faces for the initial release, and replace them as soon as you can. It’s not as detailed out of the gate as we’d like, but it sure beats not having the mod at all due to an overwhelming workload! It’s not as though it can’t become an ongoing project.

1996 Jerseys in NBA Live 2004

Indeed, this is a very sensible way to handle any large modding project, but even more so when we’re dealing with a retro title. Because large projects can very easily fall through before a public release, modders aren’t always keen to jump on board with work that may ultimately go to waste; especially if they’re one of only a few people contributing those assets. However, if a mod has a public release that’s clearly an ongoing project, and new work can immediately be added to it to make it better, than that’s going to encourage modders to help out. There’s less fear of wasted time and effort, knowing that your work will actually help a mod reach its full potential.

I certainly understand the desire to release a complete project, but I can also attest to how that contributes to burnout, and ultimately cancellation of mods. That can happen even when a game is current and there’s plenty of interest in mods for it, let alone years later when it’s now part of the retro modding scene. If you can release a big mod that’s complete or close to it, by all means do so, but that won’t always be possible. It’s why we need to be open to beta releases that lay the groundwork for the project to one day become what we’ve envisioned. It’ll only build interest in the mod, demonstrating that it’s more than a pipe dream, and that with a little more help, it can be completed.

That’s something that the community can rally around and enjoy as it takes shape. This brings me to another important point: cooperation. With a smaller, niche group of modders with a common goal – breathing new life into classic games – we need to be willing to share assets, resources, and knowledge that will help in those efforts. Likewise, we can’t allow these projects to be paywalled, or otherwise made exclusive to corners of the community. We should take cues from other gaming and modding communities that have been keeping old favourites fresh for years. Tip jars are fine, but for old school mods, let’s maintain an old school mentality with our releases!

Reviving The Retro Modding Scene Will Require Reusing Existing Mods

With that being said, we also need to recognise when an old approach is no longer viable, or conducive to reviving the retro modding scene. We’ve always placed great emphasis on asking for permission and giving appropriate credit in our modding community, and we stand by that. When we’re talking about work that was released more than 10 years ago by someone who’s long gone however, that isn’t always easy. My belief is that when it comes to facilitating retro modding projects, anything that was released publicly in our Downloads section is fair game, as long as you can give full credit wherever possible. We can always smooth things over if an issue arises.

Needless to say, if a person is still active then reaching out first is good manners, but if they’ve moved on, we can at least give full credit. It’d be foolish not to make use of the archive of mods we already have at our disposal. The same goes for default assets, such as retro jerseys and faces. We should use what we have on hand first and focus on creating what’s missing, and then come back to enhance those other assets with new, better versions. Default files, old mods, and generic placeholders can all play an important role in ensuring that big modding projects actually come to fruition, with their eventual replacement being part of the ongoing process of adding further polish.

A final word before I sum up the gameplan for reviving the retro modding scene with some bullet points. Remember that some of the biggest modding projects began as much smaller releases, and expanded over time. A complete 30-season roster pack doesn’t spring up overnight, even when there’s peak interest in a game. It’s OK to start small and use placeholders, release a roster that’s playable and updateable, and build on it from there. Reviving the retro modding scene relies on us being sensible in our approach, with realistic and reasonable expectations. With that in mind, we have an opportunity to do some special things with some of our most nostalgic old favourites.

Advice for Reviving the Retro Modding Scene

LeBron James on the Lakers in NBA 2K11

  • Choose games wisely. Ideally, nominate and focus on a few games that people are most interested in still playing and having new mods for, and are also the most viable to mod.
  • Pick the right projects. If you’re passionate about the specific roster you’re working on, and it’s something that the community is keen on, you’ll stand a much better chance of finishing it.
  • Have realistic expectations. It’s unlikely that an old game will ever be as popular as it was when it was new, with the same output from the modding community. Big projects will take longer, there’ll likely be fewer of them, and they won’t necessarily be “complete” right away. However, we shouldn’t let that discourage us!
  • Be open to public demos, betas, and releases leading up to V1.0. Releasing roster mods in a playable and updateable state will encourage more people to get involved, having seen that it’s an ongoing project that’s already out there, and not just previews of something that may never come. Modders and mod users alike need to be comfortable with work-in-progress endeavours.
  • Make perfection/100% completion a long-term goal. Combining the above points: be comfortable with placeholders, default assets, and old mods that allow projects to be released in a playable state. As ongoing projects, these will be replaced as soon as possible. It’s OK if the first release is missing some faces and using near-enough courts and jerseys, establishing the framework.
  • Focus on the basics first. Ambitious and innovative ideas are great, but if the roster is only half-done, then it’s not the time to be focusing on out-of-the-box ideas that haven’t been figured out yet, and will take a while to make happen (if indeed ever). That’s another long-term goal to put on the backburner.
  • Patience is essential. The big modding projects that are available right now reflect years of work, growing from their initial release. Again, ambitious ideas shouldn’t be thrown out, but establish the foundation of a large modding project first, and then keep building on it.
  • Cooperate and share resources. If we hoard assets and knowledge from each other, and devolve into competing cliques, it’s going to make it harder to revive the retro modding scene. With a smaller contingent of people making these mods, we need to cooperate wherever possible.
  • Use old public releases, but still give credit. If it’s in our Downloads section and the person who created it hasn’t been around in years, use that work while giving full credit (where available). If issues arise, we’ll smooth things over.
  • Keep retro mods free. That’s what our community was built upon. Let’s keep that old school spirit going as we attempt to breathe new life into some of our all-time favourites!
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