Interview - (2001-08-08) Varaya & Khan

Interview - (2001-08-08) Varaya & Khan

Description: Phrozen Heart of the Phrozen Keep interviews Varaya and Khan of on their Middle Earth and mod making in general.

Categories: Interviews

How did you originally get into mod making and what was the the first game you worked on?
Well apart from changing sounds for Doom (I still occassionally play my soundedited Doom version),
Diablo was the first and nearly only game we modded. It all began with Jarulf telling us that there
were hidden (or better buggy=not spawnable) bosses in Diablo 1 (For example Fleshdancer, a
Soulburner boss of level 16). He didn't actually think about that this should be added but rather
told the community about it out of curiosity. We made these bosses available for our own private
playing. Soon more things, including the monster structure were discovered and so slowly things
got changed to the game, which eventually ended in a mod.
That depends on how you define 'mod making' :-)

In the most basic sense, the first 'mod' I ever worked on was back in the C64 time. Must have been
'84 or '85. Even then, the 'Ultima' series was alive, and it was relatively easy to modify the
monster stats for Ultima II and III, as well as of course all the names and the speech. Apart from
that, though, everything was basic hex editing. I have never been much into modding 3D shooters or
designing own levels, too much work involved to even get the level design tools working. I thought
about working a bit on the Baldur's Gate series, maybe that's something we could do in the future
when there's any chance of making a bit more random.

So why did you choose the Diablo series to create you well known Middle Earth mods rather than a more traditional roleplaying style game?
We don't really mod anything apart from Diablo and this also more or less by accident (see above).
Also modding a standard Adventure/RPG would mean to create or change the story. With Diablo you can
just change some parameters (like monster or item properties) and the whole game changes, whereas
with for example Baldur's Gate you would have to create each item, monster, spawnpoint seperately.
The modder would know everything about his mod and he himself would have less fun. Diablo is unique
in it's randomization and therefore unrivaled replayability. IMO it's idiotic to create a game
without randomized elements. Even games like Need for Speed or Unreal Tournament would be a LOT
better if they had randomized properties (random obstacles on tracks, random tracks, random levels,
random weapon enhancements). But a company sells a game and is most of the time not interested in
longevity of their game. Blizzard with Bnet is :)
Simple: we like the game, and the opportunity presented itself. As Khan said, one day there was this
post about the 'hidden' bosses (bosses which were set to appear on levels were the standard monster
never can appear), and we both spontaneously decided to a.) make them work and b.) fiddle around a
bit with the data to see what else can be done. It was pretty easy once you figured out the basics,
and so we decided to do some large scale modifications to the game. Standard RPGs have the disadvantage
that they are pretty story-oriented, so you cannot switch the whole background story around. In Diablo
1, there is no real background story with lots of NPC talk, cut scenes and whatnot, so it is very easy
to say 'well, look - this is Sauron, and these are the Nazgul'. The randomness of D1 - which is extremely
important for replayability - was another big point. Even though maybe some won't believe it, we created
the mod first and foremost for our own enjoyment. Creating a mod for, say, Baldur's Gate 1 with a Middle
Earth story would have been a nice thing to do, but you could only play it through once or twice without
falling asleep, since the second time around, every single item and every single monster would have been
at the exact same point like the first time you played the mod. I still play our ME mod for D1 every once
in a while.
How did the two of you hook up with each other and why did the two of you choose the Middle Earth setting rather than
an unthemed one as a lot of mod makers do?
We were friends from school and are both into RPGs and Computer games. Some other friends of us share
these interests also but only we two are obsessed by Diablo. We are also much into Tolkien's Middle Earth
and have read the Lord of the Rings uncounted times (actually I'm at page 426 currently again). IMO Middle
Earth is the only true fantasy world, or at least the very best and most 'realistic' one. Middle Earth has
some dignity wheras most other fantasy settings are infested by 'coolz wizards', warriors with more
useless spikes on their armor than is good for them or dwarfs with machineguns - bah!
We know each other from school (we were not in the same grade, but I had a friend who had a friend whose
friend was Khan). Back then, p&p RPGs were still played regularly, and so we got to know each other.
Since we're the only two who are into computer games, we meet relatively often. Middle Earth ? I think
Khan already said everything which is to say :-) I read quite a lot of fantasy literature (Tad Williams,
George R.R. Martin, no Wheel of Time though), but Tolkien is the best. It's hard to describe, but his
kind of fantasy somehow seems more 'serious' than everything else I have read. Far more believable. Like
Khan, I read the books at least twice a year - and that since around 1980 :)

The reason why we did not choose an 'unthemed' mod was that we both do not like the 'fantasy stew' many
other games present. Open a dungeon door, see twenty Medusae. Open next door, ten Balrogs storm out. Another
door, ten Nagas. Some may like this mixture of different mythologies, it may even work in games like
Might&Magic (which are IMO intentionally 'funny'), but in a somewhat 'serious' game I simply do not want to
seeGreek monsters next to Tolkien ones. So we chose Middle Earth and stuck to it as far as possible.

You mentioned that, like myself, you started out modding in ID's game Doom. The majority of the Doom
modders seemed to have migrated to the Quake series and more recently Half Life and Unreal Tournement,
did you ever consider something along those lines?
We didn't actually mod Doom. I just changed the sounds of it and inserted samples from various movies
(Star Wars, Predator, Excalibur, Star Trek (yes the infamous 'KHAAAAN!' from the second Star Trek movie
should be there too :)
I personally like to play those games once in a while in coop mode, but after having had a look at the
various level designers for the Quake series, I have to say there's too much work involved for my taste.
The quality of the existing add-on levels is so high that it would be very hard to create something of
comparable quality - when we want to do something, we want to make it good. And since I like RPGs and
the Diablo series more, I don't see any point in investing months of time into learning how to do correct
lighting and 3d models.
In your opinion, has the D2 mod making community suffered as a result of Blizzard's introduction of BIN
files to the patches?
At first I did but that was only because I was afraid that modding was altogether dead for non-programmers.
As it is now it does require a further step but you for testing purposes you can just use the -direct command.
So I say it doesn't have any bad effect on the modding comunity and those who do think so must indeed be more
lazy than myself - which is hardly possible :)
Not at all. Once it was figured out which command line parameters to use, everything was back to normal.
Except of course for those modders who neither read web pages nor ask Blizzard programmers :-)
Do you think the frequency that Blizzard releases patches is a good thing or not?
Well it's a nuisance for modders but it's a blessing for players. With the new txt-modding of D2 vs D1's exe
modding, this is not much of an issue. The only patch that was difficult to convert mods to was the 1.08, but
then this added so many new and moddable features that I'd say it was more than worth it. At the moment I
would like Blizzard to release the 1.09 patch as I think it changes quite a lot of hardcoded stuff, that
modmakers will have to compensate for and take into account while modding.
It depends on what the patch does. For D1, a patch was a massacre, since you had to port everything over,
which was a pain (especially the code changes). For D2, that is a pretty easy thing to do. But there are two
kinds of patches which I think are annoying: First, the 'was it really necessary ?' - patch, which really
does nothing except change the chat colours for Win95 users in Usbekistan. You, as the mod maker, see
absolutely no reason for the patch, but you have to do the work. Next, the 'when will it finally arrive?' patch,
like 1.09 for D2. You wait and wait and wait, the patch is announced for Mid-July, you decide 'let's wait for
that patch before we mod any further', then you wait some more, but the patch is not there yet. But basically
yes, patches are a good thing. It shows that Blizzard is at least interested in making D2 as bug-free as
possible (even though they do not manage to actually do it :) )
Other than your own, what mods either past or present have sparked your interest?
Well I don't play GP3 or RS2/3 (F1-Racing Championship) in an umodded state if you count season updates as
mods. Other than that it's only levels for shooters and the like but no real mods. I tried some mods for
Rogue Spear but they only add weapons. In fact I think there VERY few real mods for any games out there.
IMO a mod is a total conversion, not just some new level, weapon or enemies. I really wish there were more
mods like there are for Diablo 1 and 2.
Of course most of the other mods for D1 and D2. Some of them are really well done, like 'The Dark'. It is
interesting to see what other modders pay attention to. Some of them like 'flashy' changes, i.e. things you
immediately notice when you start playing, but sometimes these changes are just there for the sake of it and
have no real relevance, which is sad. Others concentrate on replacing every single unique item, but leave
the monsters like they were in the original game. Still others put in code changes which raise D1 nearly to
the level of D2 :) Following the mod scene is interesting, but I think it is a bit sad that so many D2 modders
concentrate on putting in new sets and uniques but do nothing to the rest of the game.
Are you planning on continuing with your Middle Earth mod or are there any new projects on the horizon?
Well the Middle Earth Mod for LoD is nearly finished and will be expanded with rune recipes, crafting recipes
and balancing/bugfixing in the future. If Blizzard decided to create Diablo 3 we would probably make an MEmod
for that game also. We are not planning to create another mod and there are no other games that are moddable
to the extent D1/2 is.
For now, ME for D2 only. It's enough work, and it is still fun.
In you opinion, are the modders who still only have classic Diablo 2 getting left behind in the wake
of all of the xpack modding?
Yes - D2X has so much more moddable features that making a mod for CD2 doesn't make sense. There are several
issues where you could argue CD2 was better than D2X but as a modder 99% of these are changeable by you.
The problem is that of those players who are likely to play mods, nearly everybody will have bought the
expansion pack (since it is kind of an 'official' mod). So, doing a mod for classic Diablo2 is most likely
pretty useless, since you cannot use the mod with the expansion pack, too (and this is the reason why we
stopped doing anything for classic D2).
Finally, do you think the D2 modding community as a whole has much of a future and if so, what direction
do you think it's most likely to take?
I guess the modding community is only beginning to evolve. In the future mods for D2 will raise in importance
as more and more players are looking for new challenges and features to the game they love. I think the max
in mod popularity will be reached in about half a year. Depending on if there are other great games (Neverwinter
Nights, WC3, Freelancer, etc) or not, the modding scene will survive or slowly vanish.

Mods for D2 will probably be played until D3 or a comparable game is released, and from what I read about
upcoming games with high replay value, I don't see any likely candidate to beat D2 in the near future.

Wow, this is a kind of 'what's the meaning of life' question :)

If you look at the way the modding community for D1 evolved, you can already see parallels. D1 was a completely
new kind of game (if you ignore the good old rogue etc.), since it had massive replayability. People played it,
liked it and since there was no real alternative, they craved for any kind of expansion to the original game. D1
was the only game I know of without any kind of 'official' editor which had such a massive modding community.

With D2, it will be the same, although it will take a while for the mods to become really that popular. D2 classic
itself offered far more things to do (different classes/skill) and Blizzard themselves offered a massive 'mod' with
the expansion pack. It will take a while until players get bored with the original game + expansion pack to make
them look for mods. Right now, IMHO the great majority of the mod players does not look for new monsters/items when
they play mods, they are in some way dissatisfied with the original game (balance etc.).

Well that about wraps it up. Thanks a lot guys for taking the time to share your thoughts and views with our
D2 modding community and I'm sure everyone will be keeping an eye out for future releases of the excellent Middle
Earth mod.

Anyone wishing to check out the Middle Earth mods can do so by visiting Varaya and Khan's website at

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