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AN IDIOT'S GUIDE TO PREPARING FOR SINS MODDING

...and by "idiot", I mean, "really".

By on March 8, 2012 12:38:31 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Sinperium

Join Date 02/2010
+210

It's confusing to get started in modding and a lot of forum advice might be dated and incorrect.  Just getting started can be disheartening so I thought I'd provide an overview not so much as, "How to mod" but more along the line of, "What's involved and where can I start?".  To that end, here is this post. 

I am not responsible for any mental distress or injury that may result from trying to understand modding.  Read at your own risk.

REFERENCE FILES & CONVERSION TOOLS

You have to be able to read the files before you can mod them and that means if they are in BIN format converting them to TXT. I'd strongly advise visiting MyFist0's weebly site for batch converter files.  This let's you convert more than a file at a time.  Each version of Sins needs it's own converter too. Harpo makes and updates a set of tools you will definitely need or at least want to see and has all the converters.  They let you convert files, update mods between game versions, etc.  His thread and download link is here: Harpo's Tools.

Harpo also has update reference files already converted to text format.  They can be found here.  The reference files included in the expansions up to Diplomacy are completely out-of-date which is why Harpo's are so useful.

ERRR....SO WHAT EXACTLY IS A MOD?

A mod is nothing more than a directory--a folder with other folders or files inside it.  MyFist0 has made a very detailed post on installing a mod here.  If you look carefully, you'll also get a clue on where to paste your own mods in when you're ready to test them. 

You can even make a simple mod right now.  Create a folder called "MyMod" on your desktop. Open it and create a folder inside it called, GameInfo. Next, open your Sins game directory (which is organized exactly how your mod will be organized).  Open the GameInfo folder and copy (don't move) two of the ship files from one of your races and paste them into the GameInfo folder of your "MyMod".  Right click on the files and select, "rename" and switch the names of the files.  Then follow MyFist0's directions above and install your mod.  If you chose say, FrigateTechScout.entity and FrigateTechLight.entity, the next time you play the game, you scouts will be light frigates and your light frigates will be scouts.

The reason you use a mod is because if you just went in and changed the folders, the "checksum" will fail for online play and you won't be able to play online anymore.  Worse, if you made a mistake and changed the original files, you could break the game completely and have to uninstall and reinstall it to fix the problem.  Mods are safe and you can do anything with them--without messing your game up for good.  Mods will not let you "cheat" in online play.  Only people using the same mod can play together.

THE MOD TEMPLATE

Unfortunately, really changing things gets a lot more complicated than the example above.  To do this, the best place to start is with a clean, updated mod template (example).  Fortunately, Zombie did a good job of making a 6-race mod with the work already done up to version 1.32 of Diplomacy (the last release).  It just duplicates factions using what's already in the game.  The added races are Race1, Race2 and Race3--so it's easy to go look at his files and find those things to know what needs to be changed.  Also, follow Zombie's instructions on how to install his mod as you will be changing both Entrenchment and Diplomacy with it..

Here's the link: Zombie's Add a Race 

For the files you can edit in notepad, just use the "find" feature in your text editor and type in "Race1"--then you can go through line-by-line and find every entry for that faction. It's best to start with one area and finish it rather than jumping back and forth--at least until you are really comfortable.

TEXT EDITING

Sins is very intolerant of typos.  If you miss a space, add a period or something ever-so-slight, you can make things not work.  This usually shows with dev error pop-ups (if you're using the Dev mode to play-test) or minidumps if things have especially gone wrong.

There is a more capable text editor you can get online for free that will let you do some things better than notepad--particularly when you are trying to find a line error the developer's versions shows you.  It's called Notepad++ and is free here: Notepad++.  It might take a little while to get the hang off but even if you only use it for line entry searching it's great.

Notepad++ will let you compare two files side by side but it's a pain in the butt to find out how so for that you can download one of several other programs.

  • Compare It! ...as a paid version but you can keep using it.
  • Beyond Compare...lets you use it for free 30 days (each day used counts as a day).
  • WinDiff...is free to use but has more powerful paid versions.

Any will work but the paid ones have more features.  Basically, you can open the regular game file and your same mod file and compare them with the differences highlighted for you by the program.  A good way to catch mistakes.

DEVELOPER'S BUILD & DEBUG

In-game, you can choose to have the mod path shown so you know how to find your mod files as well as where to put them.  In that same directory are your Debug files showing errors, ScreenShot where your screen shots from in-game are stored and saved/recorded games, Galaxy Forge maps, etc., etc.

To start de-bugging your mods as you run them in Sins, use the Developer's build (look inside your Sins directory and you'll find the .exe there.  For a neat list of all the incredible things you can do with the developer's build, check GoaFan's dev guide that I personally dictated to him and insisted he write.  In the same directory where your mod's are kept (AppData) you will find a folder titled, Debug which not only will show all the errors in your game so you know where to look for what you may have done wrong in your mod. Typical locations for the debug folder (Windows 7 and Vista) are below:

C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Ironclad Games\Sins of a Solar Empire\Debug

NEEDFUL THINGS

Another little program that takes up almost no space, uses practically no resources and is total free and not buggy is called DeskPins and it is just all around handy for making sure one window stays on top while you work and are changing back and forth between files.  Here's the link: DeskPins

REALLY HARDCORE STUFF

Zombie has the best (meaning most powerful and versatile) mod editing tool for the game--hands down.  Zombie is also a developer (what the bible refers to as "The Devil") in real life and is amused that lesser beings find his tool hard to learn.  For a guy with a wife and kids he offers a ton of help and he has documented the heck out of this.  Even with his documentation and help though I would liken understanding how to use his Eclipse tool to this cartoon:

It's a beautiful but simple language...you just have to know the Incan monkey god.  To be fair, he's bent over backwards to make this usable and has done a perfect job of thoroughly documenting it.  Highly recommended.  Learn this and all that is Sins is within your power.  For those with busy real lives and no coding background or monkey god connections...good luck.  On a final note, Zombie sounds exactly like "Leonard" on the TV show, The Big Bang Theory.  You really must hear him talk at least once before you die.  My wife laughed so hard she had to go to the bathroom.  It's eerie.

MODELING, TEXTURING , GRAPHICS & EFFECTS

I'm not going into modeling, texturing and the like here as there are very detailed posts all over the forums on this and a lot is involved.  I will say, if you get comfortable with Softimage's Mod Tool  you'll have it made for exporting XSI models to convert to mesh for Sins.  It's a free program but a long slow download and is only 32-bit compatible.  I can't use it in Windows 7 on my computer--though others can on theirs. Otherwise, try Wings3D or Blender (if you already understand it).  Beware...Blender also needs the monkey god connection if you have no modeling background.  Wings3D is your best shot.  If you have a copy of Milkshape, it can do just about everything except the XSI exporter exports version 3.0 and you want XSI 3.5 or higher to make Sins meshes.  Milkshape has a trial but, alas, costs money to keep using. Wings3D is free (so is Blender) and the easiest of them.

If you are a 3DS MAX (or it's related prodcuts) user, there is a model exporter linked here.

Google's Sketchup (free version or pro) can also be used for part of your modeling--though you'll have to learn how to export and convert files from it.  I'm not covering it here in depth but Sketchup exports 3D models as .kmz files.  Change the .kmz to .zip and you can open them as that file type.  The .dae file inside is your mesh that can then be converted to a file you can use (.obj is a good choice) by the free program Meshlab.

Doing textures and graphics for the game will require TGA, DDS and mipmap and bump map things.  Look for forum posts on these but supposedly the best all-around tool for graphics in Sins is Gimp.  It's completely free.   Some plug-ins might be needed.  Again, check the forums.  Zombie has a really good XSI tutorial video here that's worth watching and re-watching as you learn:

Finally, KrdaxDrkrun has made a thread specifically on Particle Forge (the Ironclad program that lets you make explosions and pretty sparkly things).  You can find his official thread here: Particle Forge Help

MESH FILES & RIGGING POINTS

The mesh files used by Sins once converted from BIN to TXT can be edited in notepad or any text editor.  So even new modder's can play with and learn by moving around weapon and ability points, exhaust effect points and the like.

SOUNDS

Finally, to edit sounds, the simplest and easiest tool to use is Audacity...which also, thank God, is free.  If you are a real sound maniac and want to play around in mind-numbing ways, there's the paid program GoldWave (not to be confused with Goldfrapp):

GoldWave's a great investment for anyone who needs to regularly convert quality sound files using a pc.  On the adventurous and "No--I will not help you here side" you can try pre-recording mixes with the free and excellent FMOD Sound Designer which lets you make custom sounds for games including 3D modeling effects, etc.

MOVIE INTROS

Finally, if you want a quick way just to watch the Sins movies--or view your own to make sure they'll work in game, there's another free tool called Bink & Smacker (no kidding) in the Rad Video Tools download.

Good luck future nutcase.  Make something and they'll call you a modder.  Begging for people to do your mod for you doesn't count.  Trust me--it's been tried.

POSTING TEXT FILES ONLINE

If you need to share text from inside your files, use Pastebin which lets you upload it with a link to read it with online. It keeps your forum posts easier to read and helps stop the thread from getting lost in the clutter of super long posts of boring file contents that might not even be done right.

GETTING ACTUAL MOD-MAKING (MODDING) HELP

The "big brother" to this thread is the actual modding help thread.  If you are actually WORKING on a mod, you can find links and ask for help here: Modder's Get-An-Answer thread.

P.S "Working on a mod" doesn't mean, "I'm trying to install one"--it means you are trying to make a mod yourself.

Good Luck.  If nothing else works, be sure to blame Ryat.

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March 8, 2012 1:03:33 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I'm posting in here so it shows up in my replies...awesome work, good sir...

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March 8, 2012 1:04:35 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Thanks!  Hopefully it will help...and heck, it has cartoons, biblical references and a music video.  How can you beat that?

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March 8, 2012 1:16:27 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Quoting Sinperium,
Thanks! Hopefully it will help...and heck, it has cartoons, biblical references and a music video. How can you beat that?

Maybe by taking that and mentioning the developer.exe somewhere (with a link to a guide by the only modder that attempts to document these things)?

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March 8, 2012 1:32:37 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I was going to do that and forgot--thanks, added.

I think you just envy my cartoons, music videos and bible references though.

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March 8, 2012 3:53:51 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Goldfap?  Really?! 

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March 8, 2012 4:22:45 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Quoting SemazRalan,
Goldfap?  Really?! 

It was the only thing that rhymed with "GoldWave".

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March 8, 2012 5:20:49 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

GoldFrapp is great. I absolutely love their Seventh Tree album.

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March 8, 2012 10:00:22 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

THE MOD TEMPLATE

I'm planning to make an entirely new one for Rebellion, mostly to facilitate my own move to Rebellion. 

TEXT EDITING

Eclipse is a better tool for all of this, including source compares. Add a repository like CVS or SVN and it's even better. Eclipse, however, is NOT meant to be a text editor that you open files into from windows explorer. All the files including the folder management is performed within Eclipse. I'd rate this as a moderately advanced tool suitable for more technically oriented people or those with a any programming background.

Everyone should have a good external editor like Notepad++ though. I use it when I want to open a standalone file not associated with my modding project.

REALLY HARDCORE STUFF

Well, it's all perspective I guess. If only I could combine them both into a nice single installer that would do your mod for you (inside joke)

I'll look at my video for Eclipse to see if I can DUMB it down some more. Mostly after the initial setup the tool is fairly easy to use and should be combined with other forum tools like Harpo's manifest generator. I also have Ant Tasks that do similar things as Harpo's tool, but then you probably are getting more into the HARDCORE stuffs.

 

There is also the REALLY EASY STUFF too that is part of my Soase Modding Tool.

The eclipse syntax wiki is probably the most regularly used by most modders (or should be). It has the most up to date values for all the constants, structure, etc and is generated from the same xml rules I used for the eclipse plugin.

Here's an example of the most common values people tend to look for.

Constraint

http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/constraint

aiUseTime
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/aiUseTime

aiUseTargetCondition
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/aiUseTargetCondition

EntityBoolModifier
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/Buff

EntityModifier
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/buffEntityModifierType

buffInstantActionType
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/buffInstantActionType

buffOverTimeActionType
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/buffOverTimeActionType

* buffPeriodActionType use buffInstantActionType.

instantActionTriggerType
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/instantActionTriggerType

finishConditiontypes - Thanks to Carbon 016
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/finishConditionType

researchBoolModifiers
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/modifierTypeBool

researchFloatModifiers
http://code.google.com/p/soaseplugin/wiki/modifierTypeFloat

There are lots of other constants too defined on the wiki.

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March 8, 2012 1:59:20 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Very nice post Zombie man--MUCH appreciated.  Listen to him , he has powers.

I am tongue-in-cheek playing up the difficulties of Eclipse.  However, also keep in mind that this thread is for the brand-spankin' new person who thinks, "He--I'll do my great mod idea right now!"...then after 15 minutes of overwhelming stupor says, "Hmm...maybe not...my brain hurts."

On a realistic level, if you can learn the Softimage mod tool and Eclipse you can do about anything.  It all just depends on your real life background, time and personal interest.

If you live at home for free and go to school, knock yourself out learning it and you will in short time be a Jedi master of modding--unless you're a Sith...well, Sith happens.  If you have a few days where you can work uninterrupted a lot can be learned in a short time and you'll be on your way too.

I haven't touched particle forge and particle effects and that's an example of one of the many little things that you can run into.  Start simple and work your way up.  Basically, if you just keep practicing, it will start to click.  Tear apart someone else's mod...look at the reference files from Harpo.  Ask questions on the modder's Q&A thread.

I just remember there are people who don't know what a bat file, exe, primitive, nurb, ogg or graphics layer is and it's tough to start at the bottom without a leg up.

Great add here Zombie and I am really looking forward to the Rebellion mod template and expansion of Eclipse's user-friendliness.

I also didn't mean to overlook the official Sins wiki--it does have a lot of really helpful info in it and is nicely done.

 

 

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March 8, 2012 2:09:33 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Quoting Sinperium,
Very nice post Zombie man--MUCH appreciated.  Listen to him , he has powers.

Lol, I read your Karma description. You realize you are about to "Eclipse" me in total number of replies

 

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March 8, 2012 2:10:47 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Quoting ZombiesRus5,

Lol, I read your Karma description. You realize you are about to "Eclipse" me in total number of replies

 

Those who can't mod, post.   It makes me look really, really smart.

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March 8, 2012 6:05:58 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

- Definitely buy Beyond Compare. It's fantastic.
- I didn't see a link to the DDS tools for Photoshop. Here it is. I haven't used GIMP in a long time but if it's as bad as I remember you'll be begging to throw $75 at Adobe for PS Essentials.
- The Sins Data Converter is my converter of choice but the updated versions are pretty crashy. I use 1.2 and it does anything I'd want it to do.
- For the love of god don't use Sketchup for anything beyond making floor plans of your living room or something. Real modeling involves optimization and careful attention to detail to make uvmapping easy and to not overcomplicate the model with stuff you can do with normal maps or whatever.

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March 8, 2012 6:44:06 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Gimp is better but still pretty "non-intuitive".  Here is a faux Photoshop fork known as Gimpshop.  It's a little dated and not incredibly well maintained but works and if you matured using Photoshop, you may like it.  Gimp usually has a better chance of working properly with Sins' color and texture channels.

 

The Nvidia DDS plug-in for Photoshop is free and linked in Carbon's posts. 

I myself can't get a working export out of Photoshop with it but other's do.

 

I didn't link the Sins Data Converter as I didn't know it was fixed for Windows 7

BCXtreme has done a great job with this and it is now Win 7 friendly again (aslo works with Vista and XP).  It has a GUI and is very easy to use (you get spoiled by it, trust me).  Make sure you get the latest version, follow the simple directions.  His forum link is here if you want to give him feedback (Support our college kids!).

Sketchup isn't ideal for modeling in Sins.  However, the working models  can be gotten from it by using Sketchup for basic design and then converting the file to a more usable format for import into Sins via the Softimage Mod Tool (Softimage will import .obj files).  You will not have the fancy bells and whistles on such a model but you can get a working one in.  It just takes some patience and effort.

Carbon is right in that you can have many model issues depending on what you make with it.--especially if you just grab a model out of the warehouse.  Some skill is still required but Sketchup is easy to start from "no experience whatsoever" with.

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March 8, 2012 7:04:07 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I'm also posting here to get this in my relpies.

Useful stuff on here, even if I don't understand half of it.  

Sorry, make that 75%.

Found ZombieRus 5's thread with the Eclipse plugin:

http://forums.sinsofasolarempire.com/380774

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March 8, 2012 7:10:01 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Thanks Pavel.  That's exactly my point.  People that have been doing this stuff a long time forget that some of the easy stuff, isn't.  It's easy to ride a horse...but if you never have been on one before and I suddenly toss you onto the saddle of a stallion you're in for the scare of your life.

There are several "starting points" here.  People can decide where they want theirs to be and some of this will help.

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March 8, 2012 7:24:47 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

You're welcome.

edit: I like how you include a disclaimer in the top of the main post.

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March 10, 2012 12:41:26 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Yeah..I had to have a disclaimer.  They don't pay me and I can't afford a lawsuit.

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March 10, 2012 3:58:45 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Later on perhaps when rebellion is released Ill work on doing some detailed texture editing, and mesh importing tutorials that will be up to date. Stuff i did before is way too dated.

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March 10, 2012 4:13:04 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Great idea...I even have models you can use to demonstrate on.  

After I get the annoying detail work and debugging done, I'd love to work on textures. 

Texturesand modeling are probably the two toughest areas for people. Would be great.

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March 12, 2012 2:51:21 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

As someone with some ideas of things he would like to see in a mod but has not had tons of time to attempt to get into modding, this guide gives some encouragement at the idea of dipping my toe in the water so to speak. In fact, the Eclipse software doesn't look that bad, looks like programming Macros in Excel. I've got some vacation from work coming up, might be I'll start experimenting.

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March 12, 2012 9:33:22 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I'd actually highly recommend taking time to get the hang of Eclipse if you plan a big mod.  Time is my own problem, unfortunately.

If you have familiarity with any of a variety of scripting programs, you have a lot easier task before you.

It is hands down the most powerful tool available for the game--though that's not to dismiss the work of others that are highly useful in their own rights.

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March 17, 2012 3:53:34 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Quoting Major Stress,
Later on perhaps when rebellion is released Ill work on doing some detailed texture editing, and mesh importing tutorials that will be up to date.

Really hope that Stardock will make themself a new post related to the sins limit...

By example, before the limit was 3 weapons type with 20 hardpoint by side : 240 hardpoint max ... now, if you look at the Titan in Rebellion, there is a max of 5 weapons type...

It look like details but it is important for the modeler to know these limit too... i remember one of my first model having 12 hangar bay... not possible to use correctly in sins since the limit is 10...

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March 17, 2012 9:40:55 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Some basic, helpful information:

Sins Forum Hardcode Limits Thread

It took a lot of pestering apparently for Brad to realize people wanted this--I imagine Rebellion will require the same.  Squeaky (but polite) wheel gets the grease.

 

 

 

 

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March 18, 2012 1:59:25 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Here is MyFist0's newly migrated modding site: http://soase.x90x.net.

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April 9, 2012 10:26:49 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

bump.

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