Community Spotlight: WHoward, the Legacy Modder

We’ve always been impressed with the Civilization modding community, which churns out an impressive number of mods on a daily basis. Just look at Steam Workshop, where the latest in the Civilization series, Beyond Earth - Rising Tide, has benefitted from numerous community contributions.

One such contributor is William Howard, who has been playing since the very first Civilization game. Howard isn't just a player - he's also quite the accomplished modder. Learn more about this prominent member of the Civilization community in our latest Community Spotlight feature.

Can you tell us about yourself?

I'm William Howard, aka whoward69, a middle-aged software engineer living on the south coast of England. When not playing/modding Civ or working, I build Lego (which is just modding with little plastic blocks!)

What was the first Civ game you played? Were you hooked from the start?

I played Civ when it first came out in 1991 and spent many hours upgrading my palace and creating spider-webs of rail connections all over the map! Fast-forward to October 2010 and I rediscovered the series when a friend of mine wrote a review of Civ V; I've been hooked ever since. He's directly responsible for the "loss" of a lot of my free-time!

What was your first Civ mod? Can you describe it?

The first mod I wrote was to increase the maximum XP earnable from Barbarians from 30 (level 2) to 210 (level 6). It's a simple one-liner, but writing it required understanding the core game files, working out the XP logic and mastering ModBuddy - all non-trivial tasks at the time.
The first significant mod I wrote was "Units - Rangers", and I still play with it. It arose from the frustration of Warriors converting to Spearmen in Goody Huts and a simple change to Swordsmen fails because you invariable get hit with a lack of iron combat penalty. Which meant I had to create a custom unit, which leads into all the nuances of icons and the DDS file format, and the (then) nightmare of adding 3D unit models by editing and replacing a core game file.

How many mods have you made and for which Civilization games?

My approach to modding is lots of small self-contained mods that can inter-operate, rather than a few monolithic "do everything" mods. This approach came about partly because that’s how I develop software for a living and partly because the first mod I downloaded had one feature I wanted and several I didn't. Dissecting that mod, it became clear that the way Civ V implements mods meant that it could have been split into several smaller mods, thereby enabling players to choose only the features they wanted - which is how my "Pick'N'Mix" suite of mods was born.

According to ModBuddy I have written a total of 271 mods for Civ V and 30 mods for Civ BE. A number of the Civ V mods are now obsolete, being for non-BNW versions of the game or for features that now come "out-of-the-box". There are currently 260 mods for Civ V available for download on my Pick'N'Mix Mods website and 29 for Civ BE - which makes me wonder what the 'missing' Civ:BE mod is!

In addition to mods, I have written numerous tutorials and references and also a couple of Java utilities - also available on my web site.

What goes into creating a mod? Where do you start?

I'll figure out how I'd prefer to interact with the game and then write a mod to achieve that effect. Once the basic mod is written, I'll play several games with it and iteratively refine it - something that works OK for one play through may not be optimal for another. Occasionally, I'll use Fire/LiveTuner to set up test situations, usually if resources are missing from the map, but I try to avoid this as you end up testing the test scenario and not what happens during a real game! The huge advantage to a pick-and-mix mod approach is that you're not breaking any existing mods while developing the new one, and if it doesn't do what you want, you just don't use it!

Which is your favorite mod? If you could only play with one mod, which one would it be?

If I could only play with one mod, I'd use my ModTools utility to merge the 175 or so I regularly use into one mega-mod and play with that! But the mod I miss the most when I occasionally play an un-modded game is "UI - Trade Opportunities". It makes trading excess luxuries with the AI and dealing with city states much quicker as it presents all the required information on a single screen - no more multi-click hunting to find the best trading partner for your excess Salt or Oranges, and one screen to ascertain where you can gain most benefit from that spare 500 gold you have sat in your coffers.

Which mod was the most difficult to create?

Without a doubt my DLL mod - "DLL - Various Mod Components". Modding the DLL goes directly against my mix and match approach - as you can only have one DLL mod active at a time. So to support many mods requiring individual changes to the DLL I had to come up with a way to only enable those changes required by the currently active mods. Out-of-the box, except for some very minor bug fixes, "DLL - Various Mod Components" actually does nothing - by default every change is switched off. However the DLL mod provides 112 new GameEvents (some of which were adopted into the core game in patch 3.276), 336 additional Lua API methods, 64 new database tables (mainly around providing consistent yield bonuses across Beliefs, Policies and Traits) and 187 optional features - from the trivial (sending an event when a team circumnavigates the map) to the complex (permitting hovering units to fly over coastal waters and embark at the coast/ocean boundary). This additional functionality is then either used by more complex mods (for example, my Morindim civilization mod which enables 29 features and uses many of the additional GameEvents and API methods) or by "micro-mods" which exist only to turn on a specific feature (for example, the fix for the science overflow exploit). The DLL mod is a bit like the foundations, wiring and plumbing for a house - not very exciting on its own but underpinning a lot of useful stuff!

Can you call out any of your favorite mods made by other community members?

I play with very few other mods (as it makes testing interactions between mine extremely complicated), but everyone should try at least one large / total conversion mod at some point, like Anno Domini, Faerun, or CCTP.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into modding Civ?

Start small! Even the simplest one-liner requires you to master a lot - ModBuddy, xml formats, file attributes, logging, etc, etc.

Break it down! You may have a great idea for a new civilization, but trying to create a civilization as your first mod will be frustrating, as you're trying to eat an elephant. But the trick to eating an elephant is one bite at a time ... change some values for an existing civ, add a unique building, add a unique unit, change the trait, change the leader ... and suddenly you have most of the components of your new civ. See also: http://forums.civfanatics.com/showthread.php?t=490901

Ask! We were all "noobs" once and most of us don't bite, but please do search the forums first for similar questions and read the appropriate tutorials. And don't just post "my mod doesn't work" - we need details and preferably the current version of the mod.

If folks wanted to get in touch with you, how would they go about that?

My preferred way to be contacted is via the CFC forums - post a general question or a specific question on one of my mod threads. I tend not to respond to PMs about specific problems as that then means the knowledge is lost to the community. A post in the forums can be answered by anyone with the appropriate knowledge and the reply is available to everyone - including those coming along later looking for a solution to the same or similar problem.