Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of five mistakes that modders often make, and how best to avoid them.
I remember when I discovered the NLSC – then called the NBA Live Series Center – back in 1997. My family had just got connected to the Internet, and I was searching on Altavista for NBA Live 96 content. That’s when I found the site, and all the great work that our founders Tim, Lutz, and Brien had done, along with some other people in what was then a much smaller community. I was thrilled to find out about modding – then called patching – and marvelled at all the wonderful things that were possible. As I’ve said before, at long last my created Michael Jordan could have a full bio!
Modding was a hobby that I got into before I ended up taking over the NLSC, and while I haven’t been as active in that regard in recent years, I’ve continued to dabble here and there. Right now I’m working on an NBA 2K11 roster update, with an eye to getting it out soon. Of course, plenty of people have come to discover the NLSC over the years, and I always get a kick out of seeing them experience the same thrill I had when I first learned about modding. New people are always trying their hand at it, and while mod-specific tutorials and guidance will always provide the most help, I’d like to offer up some advice about common modding mistakes, and what to do instead.
1. Taking on too many projects
When you’re enthusiastic about modding, it’s difficult not to think of fun ideas for mods that you’d like to create. I can attest to that; I’m always thinking of crazy roster mod concepts that I’d love to have a crack at sometime, but I know they’ll take a lot of time and effort to put together. It’s all well and good to write these ideas down, and even share them to inspire your fellow modders, but trying to take on too many projects at once is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. You’ll just end up with a lot of unfinished projects, as it’s impossible to dedicate enough time to all of them. A lack of progress only leads to frustration, burn out, and ultimately unreleased work.
In my experience, it’s very common for your attention to start wandering when you hit a particularly tedious part of the project you’re currently working on. You can often breeze through the preliminary stages of creating a big project, but once it comes time to put in harder work that’s repetitive and tedious, you’ll miss the fun and excitement of setting everything up. The key here is to concentrate on one project at a time, and push through the tedium to get it done. Eventually, as the project begins to take shape, the fun and satisfaction will return and you’ll be able to see it through to the finish. In short, when you’re working on big projects, don’t take on more than you can handle!
2. Giving up too soon (or not knowing when to give up)
These mistakes are two sides of the same coin. Because modding can be tedious at times, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up on a project, big or small. Whether it leads you to take on other projects as mentioned above, or you simply quit trying to mod, you’ll end up doing yourself a disservice. Modding requires perseverance, and it’s immensely satisfying to keep trying until you master the skills you need, or find a solution to your problem. Don’t throw up your hands and quit the moment something is a little hard, or doesn’t work. Try out a few ideas, ask for help in the Forum, and by all means take a break so that you can come at the problem tomorrow with fresh eyes.
On the other hand, it’s all too easy to spend too much time on a project that isn’t going anywhere, or trying to do something that simply isn’t possible. While I don’t advocate giving up too quickly, there comes a point where it’s prudent to shelve an idea that’s not working out or doesn’t seem technically feasible; especially if everyone else that you ask about it is also stumped. The sunk cost fallacy applies to investing time as much as it does money, and it’s difficult to let go if you’ve spent so long working on an idea and feel like you’re close to a breakthrough. If you keep hitting walls however, it’s best to move on to something else you’d like to work on, at least for the short term.
3. Not making regular backups
Whenever I write an article about modding advice, failure to make backups is one of the mistakes that I always try to warn against. You never know when you’ll make a change that you can’t undo easily (if at all), or with files that are temperamental, cause some kind of corruption that can’t be repaired. That’s when you need to restore from a backup, and if you don’t have one on hand, that can mean hours of work – or indeed, weeks or even months for that matter – straight out the window. While a single backup is better than having no backup at all, I’d suggest keeping multiple staggered backups, much like having more than one restore point available for your operating system.
The reason for multiple backups, of course, is that you never know when you’ll end up preserving changes or mistakes you’ll later discover and need to roll back from. You’ll lose more work if you have to revert to an earlier backup, but you also won’t have to choose between being stuck with changes or minor errors that can’t be undone (easily or at all), or starting over from scratch. With an art mod, you might decide that an earlier unreleased attempt was better; if you’ve overwritten that work without making a backup, it’s gone and potentially a hassle to re-create. Bottom line, make sure you don’t lose your work and that you’ve got multiple points to roll back to if needed.
4. Aiming for quality before competence
Here’s the reality of modding: when we’re new, we’re going to make mistakes. Very few of us make outstanding mods or our best work right away, because like anything else, modding takes practice. One of the mistakes we’re very prone to making when we’re new to modding (or a particular type of mod) is impatiently aiming for quality ahead of competence. What I mean by that is we’re focused on making great mods before learning the basics of how to modify the files in question. A fitting basketball analogy would be trying to learn an ankle-breaking crossover before being able to competently dribble the ball, or mastering trick shots before free throw shooting.
It’s only natural to be inspired by the fantastic mods that we see in our community, but they’re achieved through experience. I’m not suggesting that you don’t try to make good mods out of the gate, but you have to learn to walk before you can run. Rather than setting the goal of immediately creating a mod that will wow everyone, master the skills you need to open and modify files: exporting, manipulating, and importing a texture, how to make desired changes to a roster through external editing, and so on. Once you know how to edit files and get your changes into the game without causing crashes and other problems, you can hone your skills to focus on making better mods.
5. Refusing to consider beta/demo releases
This is probably one of the more controversial things to list among modding mistakes, and in all fairness, there’s a good argument against beta and demo releases. With all of the amazing mods we’ve seen – particularly big roster projects – a stripped down beta or demo release may fail to impress. Also, if we’re being honest, not everyone reads release notes carefully. This can lead to headaches as you try to explain that yes, you know something is missing and said as much when you specified that what you’ve put out there is merely a playable preview to give everyone a taste of the finished project, and to get some feedback. There’s also a sense of pride in releasing a completed mod.
With that in mind, it’s understandable that not everyone is eager to put out a beta release of a big project. When I was working on roster updates for NBA Live years ago, I began shying away from smaller releases that added new rookies in batches, to avoid the inevitable “you forgot to include Player X!” comments. Looking back on it now though, it accelerated my burnout because I felt I had to get everything done as quickly as possible. It all depends on the project of course, but if it’s at all possible to release a beta or demo version, it’s worth considering. As for smaller mods – such as standalone faces, courts, or jerseys – remember that you can always release a v2.0!
Modders, have you ever fallen victim to these pitfalls? What other tips do you have for your fellow modders to help avoid making similar mistakes? Have your say in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.