Monday, December 20, 2010

On Criticism

A commenter on the last post brought up an interesting issue - whether I'd want to receive comments, if they weren't positive.

This, I thought, deserved its own post; rather than being relegated to the comments basement.

The theory behind this was that many artists can't handle criticism. Okay, I'm a writer, and modder and general monkeyer-with of all things vidja gaem; but I don't know that I've ever been described as artist.

Several other appellations have been thrown on me over the years... just not that one.

So, this gets me thinking. I bitch a lot about what I term 'the complainers'. Do I really not take criticism well? Am I being dishonest with myself - saying that I want comments, when I really only want vapid, sycophantic praise?


Nope. Had me worried there for a second.

Let me explain how commenting and criticism in general works.

I don't get paid for this. None of us do - such things are specifically against the EULA we all agreed to when installing our games and our toolsets. Making money off of our mods is, in fact, a hefty violation of international copyright law.

So, when you criticize a mod, you are in point of fact saying: "Hey, I don't think your work is good enough to be given away for free!"

No matter how you word it, this is a blow to the modder's personal ego. It doesn't matter how long you've been 'sharing' work; how hard you did or didn't work on it; or how much you tell yourself you don't really care.

But, criticism can be good, as long as it's constructive. Once you get past the sting, you can start to look at the comment itself, and see whether their concerns can actually improve your work.

Case in point: I bitch heavily and often about people who "comment" only with 'your mod doesn't work!', 'your mod needs to be X before I'll consider endorsing it!' and of course my personal favorite, the thumbs-down with no comment whatsoever.

On the other hand, when Herculine or ttomwv or Fry or the good Sergeant or any of a dozen other people come to me with an issue - with something that they think could be done better, I listen. I sit down and consider it before replying. Is it possible? Would it really be an improvement? If yes, I try it. If no, I try to explain why it isn't viable.

Why do I listen to one group, but dismiss the other? It's all in how you approach it.

Constructive criticism. Don't just tell a modder that something sucks. Take the time, think about it, and give them an alternate idea; how could it be good/better by your standards?

There's also the secondary matter that some stuff just ain't ever happening in a game mod. The sad fact is that most players have never and will never mod. They have no idea what is and is not possible in a game engine; or how long something will take to implement if it is possible.

Because of this lack of practical knowledge, they come up with unreasonable expectations. Some people expect a mod to rival the base game itself in content and quality. Granted, the quality bit is easier to equal in some games than others.

Then, there's the matter of motivation and time constraints on practicality.

I'll cite you and example here. Many moons ago, ttomwv wrote plugins for the RR Companions Vault that expanded the sorter in the armory. One handled the items for FOOK2, and one for 20th Century Weapons. These were written early on in the respective mods' lives; when item counts were still comparatively small. By the middle of this year, each of the two mods boasted more than five hundred new items.

To make the sorters work, each item needs a minimum of three lines of code; sometimes four or five. Bare minimum, that would be fifteen hundred lines of code for each mod. Twenty-five hundred if you weren't lucky. Then there are containers to store it all, since the point of a sorter is to separate your loot automatically. 20thCW would need a dozen or more containers; FOOK2 probably many more. Then there's testing. Every single line of code has to be proofread. Every sorting option tested - which means collecting or console-spawning some of nearly every item in the game. Figure on about a 10% bug rate where a typo or mis-pasted line will cause an option to not work right, and you have to re-do fifty of those items at least once.

So, was it possible? Yeah, sure. Was I going to do it? Oh hell no. We're talking about a solid week of six to eight hour days doing nothing but coding and testing; and for what? Something I wouldn't even use - an "option" that I think is a waste of time to begin with?

So, the TL;DR version: criticism is fine; but think before you hit post. If you can't tell me how it could be better, just telling me it's bad probably won't get you anything more than dismissed.


  1. I'd say that most of that applies to me, but to be honest when I'm working on a mod and then uploading it I do tend to find myself imagining a comments thread full of praise for my work. I think the closest I've come to achieving that goal so far was with the RR Scouts, but for the most part the comments for that one are not praise so much as: "Damn, you made a lot of them!" Okay, so we agree they're prolific... but did anybody like them?

    However, I've also come to realize and somewhat accept that I'm never going to be among the beloved top members of the Nexus. In order to do that I'd have to spend the rest of my life creating some massive overhaul of each Bethesda game and honestly I have neither the time nor ambition for that. As far as Bethesda games go I suppose I'll just have to settle for being semi-popular among certain circles.

    And then there's the Doom community. Those morons can kiss my ass. That's all I'm gonna say about that.

  2. Well, I'll confess I once entertained thoughts of notoriety for my mods.

    Then I realized that it's other people who get famous for my stuff; and just not in the cards for me.

    It's a bit discouraging, really - knowing that you pull off code no one else can... and no one cares.

    I tell ya, if I wasn't a fatalist already; modding would have made me one.

  3. In case anybody from the Nexus Sites happens upon this, here is an example of how mod comments should go, found on the Neverwinter Nights community site:

    "Compared to the last chapter, this one was more serious. The main difference for me was getting a bulk of background exposition, which is always good in this series, and Van Eisen. He had barely turned up and already brought a smile on my face ("I keep him because I'm a*bleep*").
    I also hit the first custom epic abilities duing this chapter. And the balance is formidable most of the time.

    The changes to the mod, at least those I noticed, were very good. The author has a talent for dealing with and listening to his fans.

    - Libita/Kristian"

    "Libita, thanks again for taking the time to write your thoughts on the module and for reporting the bug with Shadow Seiji. I'll look into fixing it as soon as possible.


    "You're welcome - you spent much more time making and recreating the mod I'm playing for free, so this is the least I can do.

    I think most of your "on enter"-scripts fire every time I enter a map through loading. When I load a map with an "autosave on enter", it will autosave right after loading. This is the first instance where this behaviour causes a problem.

    - Libita/Kristian"

  4. Concise, topical, and with a bit of respect.

    Yep, that's the way it should go.

    Good luck getting that on the Nexus, though. They're all too busy trying to figure out how to combine Shojo and AP.