The State of Modding (2014-03-26)

Writing periodically about the progress of the modding community, from api to mods, seems like a good idea, so here's the first post. This isn't meant to be comprehensive, but a snapshot of what is interesting to me at the time of writing. Some interesting thing will probably be missed, hopefully it will still serve as a reasonable account of things as they stand.

The API

The API has remained remarkably stable over the past months. A few weeks ago there was a small but significant change due to the introduction of the picture-in-picture feature, which api-wise means handling multiple views. This led to the introduction of multiple mods which take advantage of multiple views, including but not limited to 'Planet PiP Buttons', 'Tracking PiPs' and 'n screens'.

Refactoring

A few days ago some refactoring of the api took place. Everything in 'media/ui/alpha has been moved elsewhere, mainly to 'media/ui/main', but further altered by placing most of the directories into 'media/ui/main/game'. It seems the idea is to clean the code up. Many mods are broken (see 'broken mods on Uber forums'), so expect many updates to mods in the coming days and weeks. Hopefully these breaking changes to the api means Uber is about to focus on adding new features. It doesn't really matter what it is, but there needs to be a development in the API soon to make different types of mod viable. I'm itching for something new to play with.

Wishlist

Things I want to be added to the API:

  • Select by unit id
  • A separate selection model dedicated to mods
  • The ability to use a global coordinate system instead of screen coordinates
  • Fine-grained economic information, data that can be used in economic visualisations and beyond
  • Access to units and buildings that are in the progress of being built

The above were cherry picked from a community API requests topic on Uber forums. Any of these will pave the way to impressive new mods, or allow vast improvements to existing mods.

Mods

The mods that have interested me in the past weeks are mainly the ones using multiple views. Still, there are many others new and old with notable features of late. As ever PA Stats continues to improve, and there's even a mod which builds on data from PA Stats.

PA Stats

This essential mod has been around for a long time, and work has never stopped, adding features and fixing issues. The thing that excites me now is the 3D globe that shows structure placement over time. See this games page for a working example:

We're looking at a snapshot of a base 7 minutes into a game

Now a more detailed analysis of games is possible, including the effectiveness of expansion, proxy base placement and management etc. What impresses me so much is that we can now analyse beyond numerical statistics alone (using the picture as an example, now we can tell pink built a radar in a critical location, whereas before the location was unknown). Given enough time for this feature to mature, I think it could be the next best thing to watching a replay or stream.

PA Stats Live Charts

This mod makes available live charts of player stats, to spectators in live games. It makes interesting use of a combination of 'PA Stats' and 'In Game Browser', combining them in a simple but effective way.

PA Stats Live Charts

n Screens

The most interesting of the multiple view mods (in my opinion) is 'n Screens'. It allows you to create a multi-screen setup relatively easily (requires some hacky setup). If you have multiple monitors and a good enough graphics card (multiple views means more rendering), it's easy to see how this mod can make playing the game easier. It particularly shows its strength in multi-planet systems, allowing you to view and interact with multiple planets at the same time (instead of messy context switching). This sort of functionality will be in the main game, but it may take a long time to get there (multi-screen done properly, as is necessary for the core game, is time-consuming to implement and low priority).

n Screens

Obsolete Mods

As patches update the game some mods become obsolete, either due to their core function being implemented in the base game, or the scene they were in being totally redone. In many cases I think such mods actually influence the games design, acting as a 'community preference indicator' by their popularity. A classic example from yore is rRandomPlanetName, a mod which actually got subsumed into the core game. This is a salute to all fallen mods (feel free to play some patriotic music of your choice now).

Economy Efficiency v1

In a way Economy Efficiency v1 had already been obsoleted by its successor, Economy Efficiency v2. However v2 is such a radical change, and has a few bits of missing data that some relied on, that v1 still had merit. However in a recent patch, Uber improved the eco bar that comes with the game. It bears a striking similarity to economy efficiency v1:

Economy Efficiency v1 as it looks in gamma

The eco bar that now comes with the game (v63234)

Thank you economy efficiency, not only for making the game much more playable in the months prior to this patch, but also for influencing the design of the eco bar that comes with the game. It's been emotional.

Stay down

Stay Down only lasted 10 days before the functionality was included in the base game, but it made the game much more playable in those 10 days. Gamma changed the UI extensively, including making the player list and planet list during a live game hidden unless hovered over. This made it very hard to play or cast, as chat and orbital became much more difficult to understand. These things often need to be always visible, to allow comprehension at a glance, as opposed to actually having to interact with the game to get the information. The mod adding 'click to stay down' functionality was much appreciated