Shades of Puce: The Modifying Moose
Dustin “Puce Moose” Jackson is GWJ’s resident senior mod maker. He’s designed and released numerous add-on adventures for Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, focusing on ambient narrative and storytelling through puzzle-solving. He’s been interviewed on Bethesda’s blog. He's a very productive moose and we're proud of him.
I caught up with Dustin to ask some questions about creation and feedback—how the responses of the modding community factor in to his work. The words that follow are his.
On sequential development
When a new game arrives, there’s often a curve before mod content settles out into a wide variety of creations. Generally, the trend seems to be: nuke-firing machine guns (overpowered weapons), then nude mods, and then everything else. Even still, adventures constitute a very small percentage of the total available mods.
On distribution and aggressive visibility
I’ve stuck with the Nexus as the site to upload my mods to (Fallout3Nexus.com, NewVegasNexus.com). The Nexus is the largest of its kind and has an active community.
I think a mod site lives or dies by the quality of its feedback system. A system where users can converse directly and accountably (registered user names) with mod makers is important. A strong moderating staff to weed out viruses/flamers/copyrighted content helps establish an environment where people feel comfortable. I also think a transparent and legible download system for the mods is necessary. Everyone’s felt the rage that accompanies the experience of clicking the wrong “DOWNLOAD NOW!” icon and getting some other file.
Keeping your mods visible can be a tricky issue. Mods are sorted by name on the Nexus. People will sometimes start their mod titles with a 0, or a dash, simply to receive top billing in a list.
A key factor in enhancing mod visibility is response time to queries. More conversation is more attention. Someone quick to respond to comments will probably find their mod getting more time on the ever-important front page. Of course, this can also be abused: Some mod makers pad their post count or make extraneous updates or comments solely to boost their listing.
A community-driven system of generating content for games is something of a marvel in the realm of digital entertainment. How often can you expect an author to respond to a fan letter by modifying his or her next book to reflect your request? How about TV shows or movies? Yet with gaming, regular users have a reasonable chance to direct content through the avenue of mod requests and feedback. Do you want a gun that shoots tomatoes and quacks like a duck when it fires? Someone out there has the skills to make it happen.
On player feedback
I love it when the discussion rises above the mechanics and people get into facets of the characters/stories I introduce. This often ignites the desire to continue making adventures. One friend, who I met through the Nexus, generated detailed “in-character” accounts of her time spent in some of my adventures, complete with screenshots. This pleased me to no end.
It’s also entertaining when a mod polarizes opinions. For example, one of my mods received the following comments, written within a day of each other:
"As with all the Puce Moose adventures, this one is superb. To me all the Puce Moose mods are what RPG is supposed to be but all too often isn’t—an interesting mix of combat, puzzles and strategy. "
"Sorry, no, this mod is a complete failure. This one is simply annoying. No fun at all."
On player influence
Getting positive feedback and support from players plays a significant role in the desire to generate mods. It’s amusing how a few minutes spent writing a positive review can fan the flames for someone to work hours on new content.
Spoilers ahead: In my New Vegas mod “Tales from the Burning Sands,” the player discovers near the end of the adventure that a child has died in an accident, and the tasks they’ve completed are part of coming to terms with this loss. One player asked me to create an option to remove all of Harriet’s (the child) personal effects from the mod. He liked the mod and wanted to continue using it, but he’d experienced the death of a child in his own household some time ago. Seeing the notes, child-drawings, pillow forts and so forth was uncomfortably close to real life for him. It was an odd moment for me; feeling pride that I’d crafted an atmosphere real enough to precipitate such an emotional response from someone, while also feeling sad for this person’s loss.
On a more light-hearted note, my friendship with a Canadian player spawned quite a bit of content. I took bits and pieces gleaned from our email exchanges and worked them into my mods in various ways. For example, she had a bit of an affinity for odd-flavored jerky; thus was born Cap’n Stinky’s Dill-Pickle Flavored Beef Jerky.
On negative feedback
Modders are not paid for the content they generate (unless you consider “warm fuzzy feelings” to be payment), so stapling a lot of negative commentary to a mod maker’s threads is a good way to diffuse excitement over an update, likely resulting in delay or even cancellation of a project if bad karma accumulates.
When I released “The Mantis Imperative,” several users commented that they thought the puzzles were easy. This annoyed me a bit, so I set out to make an increasingly nasty puzzle. It had everything, from a puzzle involving multiple genera of arachnid to the use of elemental combinations in the periodic table to solve a password.
Of course, it also served as a cautionary tale for me. Just when I was sitting back, grinning at my own perceived deviousness, someone made a comment a few hours after I’d uploaded the new content: "As a chemistry major, I found that so-called “devious puzzle” quite elementary."
Five tips for aspiring mod makers
1) Tutorials. Yes: They’re often boring. But yes: They help.
2) Realistic scope. Don’t shoot for the stars, at least not for your first mod. Mod sites are littered with the corpses of grand designs, mods boasting “dozens of new areas! Hundreds of new NPCs! Eighty new unique weapons! Seventy new quests!” These projects are now strewn with cobwebs and cast aside.
3) Manage your expectations. Don’t be surprised if the interior area you spent ten hours building, cluttering and tweaking takes the average player three to four minutes to scour from top to bottom.
4) Maintain a cool head. There you are, beaming with pride over your latest 80+ hour creation, and someone will say, “Kinda boring—not really worth my time.” It’s tempting to lash out, but no good will come of it.
5) Back up your work!