Welcome to the May 2018 Community Spotlight! To the uninitiated, it's the time of month where we take something awesome from the community and show it off. Our communities amaze us with their creativity and vision for adding more content to our games.
This month I want to take a look at the amazing total conversion mod many of you already know. The mod is called Sins of the Prophets. This mod combines the crazy space battles of Sins of a Solar Empire with the lore rich Halo universe to create a truly outstanding experience. Lucky for us the Sins of the Prophets mod team was willing to talk with us about all their hard work.
1. Can you tell us a little about the Sins of the Prophets team?
Our team is a diverse group of devoted fans of both SoaSE and Halo. Team members span the globe, but primarily reside in the US and Canada. We have 3D artists, coders, designers, writers, an audio engineer, as well as a dedicated group of playtesters who help keep the mod fun and balanced. Key members include Unikraken (Project Lead, Design Lead), Lavo (Tech Lead), Malcontent (Art Lead), Cole Protocol (Effects Lead, Balance), Zero (3D, Texture Artist), Sookendestroy (3D Artist), Idio (Playtest Lead), Moose (Sound Lead), Waseem (Composer)
MindlessMe: Wow, it looks like you have a great team of people working on this mod. It's no wonder you are able to pull off such a project.
2. How did you start playing Sins of a Solar Empire (SoSE), and what makes it so special?
Unikraken: I found a copy of the original SoaSE in my local BX when I was in the military and was instantly hooked on the space battles. If large scale space combat is your thing SoaSE has it in spades. It’s such a great platform for modding too.
Lavo: When I started to play and mod Sins are both connected. Back in the day, a close friend of mine convinced me to play the mod Sins of a Galactic Empire. I really liked the mod, but it was unfinished and the original creators had seemingly abandoned it. Some time after privately working on the mod, I got in touch with Evaders, the last remaining team member, and formally began to work on afterward. The scale of Sins and its competent AI drew me in very quickly and are the most special bits of the game I would say. No other game gives you a real time space RTS at Sins' scale with the relatively in depth combat it offers.
Sookendestroy: I actually only got into SoaSE after joining the SotP team, before then I'd never really looked into it much unfortunately. The thing to me that makes SoaSE special is that it basically creates an open sandbox for modding, that almost anything can be created in it given enough time and talent. The gameplay is much more free and dynamic than many other 4x games, not relegating your choices to only empire building or only combat like many of the other choices on the market, to me it makes the perfect balance for a 4x RTS game.
Idio: I started playing Sins a little bit after it first released in ‘08, and I’ve had an absolute blast with it ever since. I’m going on ten years of playing SoaSE, and there’s always something new to enjoy every time I get on it. All of the brilliant creations that people have made with their mods, as well as the support for the game over the years has made it a truly tremendous experience to continue playing. There’s no other 4x RTS game that’s as large scale, and provides the quality of combat that Sins offers, and it’s definitely why people have been modding it for so long - which makes the game special not to just me, but the large community that has evolved out of it.
3. What made you want to start modding SoSE?
Unikraken: I came across a mention of Bailknight's Graphic Mod back around the time the Entrenchment expansion came out and realized the game could be modded. This led me down the rabbit hole of SoaSE modding. Shortly after, I joined up with the original Stargate Invasion modding team and did some mild icon work for their HUD before coming across Canadaman7 working on SotP. My true love is for Halo so begged to join the mod team and help bring it to fruition. Eventually I took over the project when he stepped away to focus on other pursuits.
Cole Protocol: A younger me saw a mod page with neat looking ships based around one of my favorite sci-fi franchises. After some pestering of the devs, I made way aboard the team, and the rest is history.
Malcontent: I wanted to start modding SoaSE specifically because of SotP. When I first saw that this mod existed it pretty much fueled my desire to get into modding for this game (and led to the same desire for other games over time). I saw the amazing things the SotP team were putting together and wanted to be a part of that development.
Sookendestroy: I’d just graduated and wanted to challenge myself and my newfound 3D skills, being a fan of the franchise I’d followed various Halo mods forever so I contacted the team and joined shortly thereafter. Only after I got involved with the mod did I see how deep and engaging not only the game but also the community around it was. Being the first mod I'd worked on it also sort of opened my eyes to how large and passionate the modding scene was, how almost any universe could be recreated in excruciating detail and accuracy within SoaSE by a handful of passionate fans.
Idio: Ever since getting the game when it first came out, and watching all the communities that sprung up around it, I’ve had an interest in modding SoaSE. Seeing all the awesome creative people that were working on projects such as SotP, Dawn of the Reapers, etc, definitely made me want to interact with that community in a more tangible way outside just playing the game.
MindlessMe: I always find it really interesting how our profound love of games and community interaction can lead us to create some truly amazing things. This is why modding is such a critical component to video games today. Modders like yourself never crease to amaze us.
4. Is modding something you have done for a long time?
Unikraken: I’ve been a user of mods for some time. The earliest I can remember is downloading new characters for Quake 3 Arena. My first foray into making mods was with SoaSE.
Lavo: As for modding itself, I started modding back when I was a wee lad of 14 years or so, giving me a modding history of over a decade. Amusingly, even then I was working on a strategy game, Hearts of Iron 2, and within that same year I got into modding an actual space RTS, Star Wars: Empire at War.
Cole Protocol: Modding of any sort is something I had never personally partaken in before my time at SotP. As a result, working on SotP has been a valuable experience in the way of exploring the community and “culture” of modding.
Sookendestroy: For me I never really got into modding until I joined SotP. Before I would see mods come and go, occasionally I would play one or two but for the most part I didn't have the time for it. Now though I’m involved with the development of a handful of mods, mostly still Halo related across several games and haven't looked back since.
Idio: I’ve been modding games for a long time, ever since I started PC gaming. It’s something about having the freedom to do whatever comes to mind, without anything other than your own skills and limitations to get in the way of making something fun. There’s nothing to gain but shared experiences, so it’s a pure development environment that allows for boundless creativity.
5. I’m assuming we have some Halo fans in the group, haha. What did Halo have that the team wanted to bring to SoSE?
Halo has an incredibly detailed and fleshed out universe, with a ton of space combat related lore. Unfortunately, a lot of this is underrepresented in the main games, and is only showcased in the additional media surrounding the series, such as the books and comics. This extensive lore describes massive structures in space, an asymmetrical war, and visceral fast-paced battles with brutal losses.
These are things that we’ve felt very confidant SoaSE could support, and subsequently present in a manner representative of those feelings. Those conflicts found in the extended media certainly found a perfect place to showcase them.
MindlessMe: As a fan of Halo myself, I love what the team was able to accomplish. I think its amazing that you were able to recreate the look and feel of Halo, all while letting me blow the crap out of some space ships.
6. The attention to detail in the mod is pretty amazing. Did you ever imagine the team could pull something like this off?
Unikraken: In my mind SotP has always been something like this, the climb has just taken a while. We’ve really lucked out finding talented Halo fans willing to devote their time and expertise to help bring the mod to the level it is now and where we’re wanting to take it.
Lavo: I came onto the team initially as an outsider, soon after Rebellion came out. At that time I saw a team with a solid vision on how they ideally wanted the game to play and feel and already had a large collection of good art assets and the beginnings of a unique, fast paced, gameplay. I saw a lot of potential in the team at that time, but looking back at that I'm surprised at how far we've come. Much of that is thanks to Malcontent and his top tier art, I would say.
Idio: Never was there a doubt in my mind, especially with a team so full of talented and dedicated individuals. Being able to see the projects vision unfold has been a journey, and every step of the way has been taken into plentiful consideration during development. So many passionate discussions about ways to implement ideas, with so many plans for the future.
7. In all the work that goes into a mod of this level, what is your favorite to work on?
Unikraken: Working on the design of the mod with the team - how we expect ships to behave, what we want fans to experience, what artistic language we want to convey, the tone of the character for each ship, and fine tuning promotional materials. As lead designer I really enjoy having a hand in each piece of the pie that makes up the mod and helping the mod become what I know it can be.
Lavo: Buffs are easily my favorite thing to work with, as they are so powerful and filled with lots of potential. For example, the Flood make clever use of buffs to spawn in place of the pirate faction when the first pirate raid is triggered, to replace them with a whole new enemy that makes use of the MadVasari behavior, which turns them into a snowballing survival mode that's awesome for co-op play. Another buff chain that I'm very proud of is for Star Trek: Armada III, where I set up the Prometheus' M.V.A.M. ability that splits it off into three separate entities. On top of that we have been able to use buffs to do other things like AI improvements, which really demonstrate the flexibility and range of possibilities that Sins' buff system brings to the table.
Malcontent1692: My favorite part of working on this mod is getting to create the models and textures for our ships and structures, especially when a new ship asset is done and we get to show it off to the fans. That's always a great feeling, and makes other people more excited for the next release.
Cole Protocol: Personally, my favorite work is in Sins’ particle editor. While I do plenty of other jobs on the team, in the particle medium I feel I can levy what I’ve learned over the past 4 years the greatest, being able to tie art and code into a well composed package.
Sookendestroy: I think all in all my favourite part of working on the mod is working with the community. The fans are just as passionate as us and the players are very supportive and understanding across the entire SoaSE community. As for my part in the mod, rebuilding the new user interface was a nice learning experience having never worked with UI before, designing new Covenant and Forerunner art assets is always fun and rewarding getting the chance to go through the entire design process from start to finish and seeing a finished product at the end in game, as well the project is a way for me to flex my writing skills every once in awhile which I otherwise wouldn't be able to.
Idio: Yelling at playtesters, of course. No, I only jest. Collaborating with all of the amazing people on the team on design, and helping fine tune changes through continual feedback from all our playtesters. Being there to help focus that feedback and get utility out of it, and seeing fixes and changes realized, helping lead us to stable releases is very satisfying.
8. What are some of the challenges the team faced when creating Sins of the Prophets?
Unikraken: Because SotP only uses in-house or donated models from other fan projects, art has been one of our greatest challenges. Finding/keeping and mentoring artists to help them help the project has been a huge amount of effort.
Sookendestroy: The intensity and asymmetry in the gameplay is really one of the greatest challenges and graces when it comes to the mod. The balance needs to be tweaked very specifically so that it is both canonically accurate, and allows skilled players to be rewarded for the proper use of tactics. The flexibility that SoaSE has is certainly a great benefit for this as it can easily be altered to fit most circumstances even though the base game was intended for a far different experience than we’ve created in SotP. As it's an older game though there are things here and there that require some smart thinking by part of the coders to achieve or otherwise are impossible within the current constraints of hardcoding.
Lavo: One of the biggest challenges, from the coding side, of the mod is dealing with various aspects of hardcoding. Sometimes we find ingenious solutions and alternatives, other times we have to give up, and in rare cases we are saved by the devs. One example of the first is finding that certain OnCondition types only work via periodicAction. As a result, there are one or two buffs with a periodicAction which have a repeat count of one as a hacky alternative. One time where I've have had to give up is in creating detailed, faction specific, Outlaw Sector ships. While the actual ships spawned by this DLC are fixed types, I attempted to get around this through clever buff usage of createFrigate, but this sadly did not work. One big save from the devs was when a bug with the ApplyBuffToTargetsAtAdjacentOrbitBodies action was fixed, as that buff applying action is extremely powerful, and has allowed for some very interesting buff chains, such as effects that impact every single planet at the same time.
MindlessMe: I think it would be funny to see a group of players go up against the Flood with some buff chains. Probably a little frustrating as well. Even with the obstacles you have faced in the various aspects of creatig the mod, you have done some fine work.
9. Do you ever take a look at the mod and think, damn I helped make this?
Unikraken: Every time we release and I get to see fans play the mod. It’s extremely rewarding.
Lavo: I've taken a step back and looked at this mod, and the other Sins mods I work on, with a sense of pride. Or maybe that's what I tell myself after having worked on it for so many years.
Cole Protocol: At times, I can stagger at the sheer scope of what we’ve done so far and what we want to do, but then I simply start looking at it as an amalgam of puzzle pieces. I see the pieces I made or helped to make, and the pieces other people made. To me the mod is a huge jigsaw of creative talents and people, and I'm happy to be apart of it.
From all of us here at Stardock and Ironclad we want to thank you for all your hard work and hours spent in making this mod. You have done the Sins of a Solar Empire community a great service. We look forward to hearing more from all of you.
To those in the community. If you haven't played the Sins of the Prophets mod, we highly recommend it. You can can head over to ModDB website and download it directly.
Until next time, fly safe! o7