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Red Alert 3 Modding And Mapping

#1 User is offline   Smurf Bizkit 

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 11:37 PM

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Red Alert 3 Community Summit a couple weeks ago, for a detailed write-up about that (without any real info) you can go here.

Derelict Studios is based on modding though, thus this’ll be a much more serious look at C&C3’s modding, what we may see for RA3 and what we should see for RA3.

C&C3’s SDK

C&C3 has a robust SDK, and has had strong community support (largely due to Apoc’s efforts). Why then, is its modding community nowhere near as healthy as Generals’s (which never had an official SDK)? There are two reasons;

The first was that by the time there was an SDK, many of those who’d have been interested in using it…would’ve moved on to other games. In fact, we didn’t even see a C&C3 SDK until nearly half a year after C&C3 was released.

The second (and much more important) reason is that the SDK has a very high barrier to entry which blocks the majority of new modders from even attempting to tweak the game. In order to even make a simple “all units cost $1” mod, players have to know how to use the command prompt to compile the mod. Not only that, but in order to use the SDK, you had to hunt down several essential files that weren’t included with the SDK (due to legal reasons).

All of this means no newbies, and little potential for growth.

Kane’s Wrath SDK

First off, let me make it clear that I’m in the camp that doesn’t want a Kane’s Wrath SDK. Instead, if EA got the resources to create one, I’d prefer them to be spent patching some of KW’s features back into C&C3 (such as the improved APC logic).

Why is the KW SDK taking so long? EA didn’t make Kane’s Wrath. Oh sure the box says EA, the videos show EA employees but take a look at the credits. Notice the disproportionate amount of EA employees to those under the section titled “Breakaway Games”. This is the company that EA farmed out much of KW’s work to (and who also did the BFME2 expansion).

If EA made KW, then updating and releasing the SDK would’ve been much easier. However, they didn’t and it takes a great deal more work for them to re-patch in the SDK features they made for C&C3.

Red Alert 3 SDK

At the summit, a few things were mentioned about the potential RA3 SDK. The main thing is that EA is already stating they are aiming to release it “around the launch window”. This means after the game is released, and keep in mind…they said the same exact phrasing months prior to C&C3’s release. However, the difference here is that RA3 itself does seem to be much further along than C&C3 was at this point in its development.

One of the developers mentioned that they had a couple of ideas how to get around the need to compile.

Mastermind (longtime community modder) has also been hired by EA recently, and part of his duties will be in doing mod-support related work. It’s unknown what this means exactly, but it is a very good sign.

A wishlist for the RA3 SDK;
    Everything that C&C3’s SDK has

    Include all the dll’s this time

    Allow modders the option to run uncompiled XML’s (as well as compiled)

    Include the ParticleFX editor

    Allow for some sort of debug mode

    Include the UI editor (which is unlikely to happen, due to legal reasons…)

Red Alert 3 World Builder

The World Builder presentation at the RA3 Summit was enlightening, in fact it very clearly brought home the point in how all of the flaws the C&C3 World Builder could’ve been caught before it left EA. All that was needed was for someone at EA to;
    Load the World Builder on a non-developer PC.
Yup, if you load it up on a PC that doesn’t have all of the C&C3 files extracted, that doesn’t have Photoshop… you realize that you simply cannot do certain (crucial)things.

To me, the most interesting part about RA3 mapping is how much simpler it is than C&C3’s. Most RA3 maps seem to be started by importing heightmap textures (simple grayscale painted textures) which determine the overall look of the map. RA3, due to the grid system…doesn’t use many hills, so you are left with most maps just being a series of flat plateau’s.

Here is a wishlist for the RA3 World Builder;
    Allow for the imported heightmaps to be bmp files (in addition to the existing tga format)

    Allow for certain brushes to paint sections up to a certain height (eg. one that paints terrain exactly to 50 increments high, one to 150, etc.) [to give users a viable alternative to the heightmap option]

    List the wall/endpeice height values inside the World Builder (next to each item).

    Include an auto-minimap maker with the World Builder.

    Allow for users to pick which volume texture, cloud texture, etc. they want from a dropdown scroll menu in addition to the pre-existing file selector.

    Have a handy “compile the map” button, inside the World Builder.

    (not really world builder) Allow compiled maps to be auto-transferred online.

    (not really world builder) Let RA3 load maps from the mydocuments/ra3/maps folder instead of the ultra-hard to find folder that C&C3 uses.

If you have anything to add, or any questions, please reply.
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#2 User is offline   Count von Phoib 

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 12:09 AM

Did you get to see the XML's?
Is W3X still used?
Is there any major difference between C&C3's W3X and RA3 W3X?
Will the WB include all the art objects from C&C3 as well?
Canl C&C3 maps be opened on the RA3 map maker?
Will the SDK include map object editing as well, from the start?
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#3 User is offline   Smurf Bizkit 

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 12:12 AM

QUOTE(Count von Phoib @ Jun 27 2008, 6:09 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Did you get to see the XML's? Nope
Is W3X still used? No clue
Will the WB include all the art objects from C&C3 as well? Doubt it
Canl C&C3 maps be opened on the RA3 map maker? Would assume so, since you can even load Generals maps into the C&C3 WB
Will the SDK include map object editing as well, from the start? Good question!




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#4 User is offline   killakanz 

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 01:21 PM

My questions all stem from my line of work, but if you can ask apoc, please;

- Is it W3X?
- Setups and rigging still similar?
- Will we still be forced to use DX9 shaders on everything?
- 2sided faces support without the need of a specialised shader? (I want that tickbox option in W3D settings to work again!)
- Will RA3's W3X (assuming it is) support inherited axis transformation restrictions for animating purposes? (...I might need to better explain that one; see the chocho wink.gif )
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#5 User is offline   Golan 

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Posted 29 June 2008 - 10:40 AM

QUOTE(Smurf Bizkit @ Jun 27 2008, 11:37 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
First off, let me make it clear that I’m in the camp that doesn’t want a Kane’s Wrath SDK. Instead, if EA got the resources to create one, I’d prefer them to be spent patching some of KW’s features back into C&C3 (such as the improved APC logic).

I guess most people voting for a KW-SDK would actually favor an upgrade for TW, seeing that it has the larger playerbase. However, it simply seems even more unlikely to me that EA would ever again touch the TW engine rather than wasting their time on an KW SDK...

This post has been edited by Golan: 29 June 2008 - 10:42 AM

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#6 User is offline   Banshee 

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Posted 29 June 2008 - 11:44 PM

Porting KW features back to TW is not viable, let's be honest. There won't be any global conquest mode ported to KW and people who makes partial conversions or ballance mods wants to mod the latest patch of the latest game. A mod SDK for KW is damn necessary.

But, nice article, by the way.
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#7 User is offline   Smurf Bizkit 

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Posted 01 July 2008 - 09:13 PM

I didn't mean global conquest mode, just some of the misc new unit logic that could be helpful if patched back into C&C3.

My point is though, with it being so late in the game for KW...and so close to the RA3 beta. Won't most modders ignore a KW sdk anyway? Won't most of the hardcore players who'd make and play the balance/tweak mods...be busy playing RA3?
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#8 User is offline   Golan 

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Posted 01 July 2008 - 10:26 PM

RA3 modding will only prosper if a bulk of experienced modders provides support for newcommers and "casual modders". Yet, who of the experienced people is likely to mod RA3? The dedicated Voxel modders that aren´t into SAGE but certainly have the assertiveness to learn the ropes? They didn´t switch to 3D editing for years, why should they now? The Generals modders that already know the basics? Those that still mod Gens usually stay with it because of it´s accessibility and low sys specs - which RA3 modding is very unlikely to be able to compete with. And the TW modders? Well, take a look at the community - most of the people that initially sustained the community by giving support to newcomers have stopped posting regularly, all tutorial/wiki/long-term support projects I know of have been abandoned, (almost?) all big projects are focusing on their own dealings offering no support to outsiders at all. Do you think that the few of these groups that haven´t been pissed of by now and are actually willing to mod RA3 are enough to keep a whole community running?
There were a noticeable number of people voicing their interest to start modding SAGE again - with the release of a KW SDK. Those might be enough to get things back on track and allow the community to grow enough so that it can take care of RA3 as well. However, without a KW SDK and seeing that RA3 will most likely require very different mod concepts (seeing that it will probably, like TW, not support more than it´s native modules and has some drastic changes to eco etc.) this chance might be lost.
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#9 User is offline   Count von Phoib 

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 03:01 AM

There is no way I will touch a KW SDK, even if it gets released.
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#10 User is offline   flyby 

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 12:21 PM

The main problem with the current versions of CNC/RA is that modding now requires a massive amount of work.

With cnc3 /ra3 the graphical workload has nearly quadruppled compared to Generals. And that's why very few ppl get to the end of a mod.
Time is the main enemy of a modding project as enthousiasm wears down when the weeks and months pass by.
So far only those mods that had "special insentives" (read financial backup) could gather enough momentum to get to the finish. The rest is plowing through the mud with no end in sight.

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#11 User is offline   Bhones 

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 07:41 PM

QUOTE(Smurf Bizkit @ Jun 27 2008, 2:37 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Yup, if you load it up on a PC that doesn’t have all of the C&C3 files extracted, that doesn’t have Photoshop… you realize that you simply cannot do certain (crucial)things.

To me, the most interesting part about RA3 mapping is how much simpler it is than C&C3’s. Most RA3 maps seem to be started by importing heightmap textures (simple grayscale painted textures) which determine the overall look of the map. RA3, due to the grid system…doesn’t use many hills, so you are left with most maps just being a series of flat plateau’s.

Here is a wishlist for the RA3 World Builder;
    Allow for the imported heightmaps to be bmp files (in addition to the existing tga format)

    Allow for certain brushes to paint sections up to a certain height (eg. one that paints terrain exactly to 50 increments high, one to 150, etc.) [to give users a viable alternative to the heightmap option]
This confuses me. Plateau's are simple to make. Could you elaborate?

QUOTE
List the wall/endpeice height values inside the World Builder (next to each item).
Oh? Wall height values? Excuse the curiosity, but why?
QUOTE
Include an auto-minimap maker with the World Builder.
heh, yeah.
QUOTE
Allow for users to pick which volume texture, cloud texture, etc. they want from a dropdown scroll menu in addition to the pre-existing file selector.
Good.
QUOTE
Have a handy “compile the map” button, inside the World Builder.
I'm guessing this invovles the SDK, something I have not looked in to. Guess I need to. Moving on...
QUOTE
(not really world builder) Allow compiled maps to be auto-transferred online.

(not really world builder) Let RA3 load maps from the mydocuments/ra3/maps folder instead of the ultra-hard to find folder that C&C3 uses.
I like having them away from my My Doc's folder. Unless you keeo your My Docs folder tidy, this gets full fast. Sorry, dude, I do not agree. I say leave it the way it is.
QUOTE
If you have anything to add, or any questions, please reply.


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#12 User is offline   Deezire 

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Posted 02 July 2008 - 11:45 PM

I hear what Smurf said, but to elaborate - I wont be modding RA3 if it's anything like C&C3. It's just way too complicated, period.

I'm not naive, I know the structure and design of the game and the way it is coded and assembled has to move and adapt with the times, after all C&C3 was technically 'next-gen', but that should not mean that the ability to supplement the game with user generated content or simply edit the core data structure should be complicated by that process of evolution. In short, C&C3 even with the belated SDK is simply not mod friendly enough. There's just no substitute for being able to place edited data files, even if there's a lot of them like Gen/ZH/BFME/BFMEII, in the game directory and be able to edit them on the fly. Plus, the learning curve was too steep. I could read INI files and even core XML files like plain English, but to piss about with them the way I had to with C&C3 and then have to complie them was a nightmare to the point where I abandoned all effort whilst cringing at the mods that did appear. I have my own personal C&C3 mod that I'm pretty proud of but thats as far as it goes.

As far as modding goes, I know what I am doing, but to be honest the effort required to achieve the simplest of results is just not worth bothering with and with the SDK I don't always get the results I expect. Even then, it's technically not capable of being able to do simple things, like I wanted to replace the Nod EVA with CABAL and you just can't do it.

So no thanks, unless they can tempt me back with a mod friendly mechanism - and they know what this means - then I'll be staying in the GTA community where practically anything is possible without restriction and there is no mod support - actually, to correct that statement, there is the best possible mod support - a series of games that are easily accessible and editable with a little effort, just like C&C games before TW and KW came along. And its not easy - you have to script and code practically in bare C+ to get things done and then compile it, but it's just a lot less hassle than C&C is now.

C&C has long since had it's day as a community firelighter.
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#13 User is offline   JeepRubi 

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 02:21 AM

I'm not sure how many of you, if any have used the Renegade mod tools. For them to port something like that over to an RTS game would be simply amazing. The mod base would grow huge, because of the simple fact of how freaking easy it is to do.

For those who don't know it, there was a preset list that you created on the side of the map editor. By default it included all the stock presets made by westwood. You pick one, you can either choose "make" or "mod" or "temp" Make would plop it down, mod would modify it. Pressing temp would make a copy of the preset temporarily for use in that level only.
In when you pressed "mod" a menu would pop up and give you all the default options for that unit, like price, health, armor type, speed, weapons, the model and anything that was not regular to a unit was attached with a script.

I was really surprised when I saw the c&c3 mod SDK, there was no user interface, it was just straight XML editing. In my humble opinion something like renegade's editor would be a huge success. To this date, I've never seen such an easy to use, yet powerful editor, not even the all mighty Unreal Editor could compare. And for an RTS, it would be pure genius.
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#14 User is offline   flyby 

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 10:16 AM

Geee, Deezire !!!
One would give money to see you post once more !!! hehe

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#15 User is offline   Count von Phoib 

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 01:00 PM

QUOTE(JeepRubi @ Jul 3 2008, 2:21 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I'm not sure how many of you, if any have used the Renegade mod tools. For them to port something like that over to an RTS game would be simply amazing. The mod base would grow huge, because of the simple fact of how freaking easy it is to do.

For those who don't know it, there was a preset list that you created on the side of the map editor. By default it included all the stock presets made by westwood. You pick one, you can either choose "make" or "mod" or "temp" Make would plop it down, mod would modify it. Pressing temp would make a copy of the preset temporarily for use in that level only.
In when you pressed "mod" a menu would pop up and give you all the default options for that unit, like price, health, armor type, speed, weapons, the model and anything that was not regular to a unit was attached with a script.

I was really surprised when I saw the c&c3 mod SDK, there was no user interface, it was just straight XML editing. In my humble opinion something like renegade's editor would be a huge success. To this date, I've never seen such an easy to use, yet powerful editor, not even the all mighty Unreal Editor could compare. And for an RTS, it would be pure genius.

Except that you can't just load all units into a map. Remember how long it takes to load Worldbuilder, and how your RAM suddenly gets flooded? The same would happen if you load a map with everything preset into it.
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#16 User is offline   Deezire 

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 07:56 PM

QUOTE(flyby @ Jul 3 2008, 8:16 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Geee, Deezire !!!
One would give money to see you post once more !!! hehe


Show me the money tongue.gif LOL
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#17 User is offline   killakanz 

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 12:46 AM

QUOTE(Golan @ Jul 1 2008, 3:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
most of the people that initially sustained the community by giving support to newcomers have stopped posting regularly, all tutorial/wiki/long-term support projects I know of have been abandoned, (almost?)


I have not abandoned killasmods. I'm neglecting it again like I had done for many years before.

And I agree with JeepRubi, the Renegade LevelEdit was an amazingly powerful yet incredibly easy to use mod tool. In my time of making the Renegade; Battle for Dune mod there was never any moment I needed to manually edit an INI file, everything I needed for setting up new vehicles, weapons and characters was right there in the interface.
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#18 User is offline   Golan 

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 12:26 PM

QUOTE(killakanz @ Jul 4 2008, 12:46 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE(Golan @ Jul 1 2008, 3:26 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
most of the people that initially sustained the community by giving support to newcomers have stopped posting regularly, all tutorial/wiki/long-term support projects I know of have been abandoned, (almost?)


I have not abandoned killasmods. I'm neglecting it again like I had done for many years before.

Which in essence has the same result, now doesn´t it?
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#19 User is offline   booto 

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Posted 04 August 2008 - 07:03 PM

QUOTE(Deezire @ Jul 3 2008, 5:45 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I hear what Smurf said, but to elaborate - I wont be modding RA3 if it's anything like C&C3. It's just way too complicated, period.


FYI, from what I've seen while perusing files included with the beta, the RA3 resources are very similar to the C&C3 resources.

The manifest/bin/relo/imp filesets are almost exactly the same in structure with many stream types contained within with the same names.

I strongly suspect they're using the same core tools to process the XML and generate this stuff, or at least 'newer versions' of those same tools... maybe we can hope they've boilerplated some user interface on top or integrated them into a mod studio type environment...

e.g. of stream names/types within RA3 beta:



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#20 User is offline   jonwil 

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Posted 14 November 2008 - 11:57 AM

QUOTE (Deezire @ Jul 2 2008, 11:45 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I hear what Smurf said, but to elaborate - I wont be modding RA3 if it's anything like C&C3. It's just way too complicated, period.

I'm not naive, I know the structure and design of the game and the way it is coded and assembled has to move and adapt with the times, after all C&C3 was technically 'next-gen', but that should not mean that the ability to supplement the game with user generated content or simply edit the core data structure should be complicated by that process of evolution. In short, C&C3 even with the belated SDK is simply not mod friendly enough. There's just no substitute for being able to place edited data files, even if there's a lot of them like Gen/ZH/BFME/BFMEII, in the game directory and be able to edit them on the fly. Plus, the learning curve was too steep. I could read INI files and even core XML files like plain English, but to piss about with them the way I had to with C&C3 and then have to compile them was a nightmare to the point where I abandoned all effort whilst cringing at the mods that did appear. I have my own personal C&C3 mod that I'm pretty proud of but thats as far as it goes.

As far as modding goes, I know what I am doing, but to be honest the effort required to achieve the simplest of results is just not worth bothering with and with the SDK I don't always get the results I expect. Even then, it's technically not capable of being able to do simple things, like I wanted to replace the Nod EVA with CABAL and you just can't do it.

So no thanks, unless they can tempt me back with a mod friendly mechanism - and they know what this means - then I'll be staying in the GTA community where practically anything is possible without restriction and there is no mod support - actually, to correct that statement, there is the best possible mod support - a series of games that are easily accessible and editable with a little effort, just like C&C games before TW and KW came along. And its not easy - you have to script and code practically in bare C+ to get things done and then compile it, but it's just a lot less hassle than C&C is now.

C&C has long since had it's day as a community firelighter.

Speaking as a long-time C&C modder, I dont think that the actual process of editing the XML files is any harder than editing ini files of generals. I DO agree that a "mod studio" designed to make editing the XML easier would be of immense value (and in fact I wrote the beginnings of such a studio for TW but it never went anywhere because I couldn't get people interested in using it, providing feedback or helping come up with a suitable design for it)

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