Monday Modness – Galactic Civilizations III and Friends

Welcome back, dear reader. Here we are with another fantastic modder, Naselus, who took a Galactic Civilizations III and put his own spin on it. His mod, the Insane Abundant Balance Mod, increases GalCiv3’s playability on larger maps. We’ll also talk about his mods for several other games from Stardock and Paradox Interactive. So, let’s get started.

Naselus – Galactic Civilizations III, Victoria 2, March of the Eagles

Galactic Civilizations 3 review
“Raise shields we have incoming…” – Gal Civ III

Question: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Answer: I’m Russ “Naselus.” I’m a systems engineer in the UK. I’ve been modding for a variety of strategy games for about 5-6 years now.

Question: What was your role in creating these mods?

Answer: I’m the sole author of the Galactic Civilizations III Insane Abundant Balance Mod, which is designed to make the game balance better on the insane-size maps. I was the editor-in-chief of the Population Demand Mod for Victoria 2, and was the founder of the 1792 Mod for March of the Eagles [Editor’s note: the 1792 mod continues to be developed by roberttxx.]

pdm mod 1
“We demand.. POPULATION!” – Victoria 2

Question: Why did you chose to mod these particular games?

Answer: I usually mod games that have balance issues. GC III’s balance really breaks down on the larger map sizes, which are the ones I like to play. So I started modding it to make it work better on the big maps. In the case of the V2 mod, PDM was started about 2 days after the game was released; V2 on release wasn’t pretty. The market would collapse dramatically in the opening few months, and the game would be overrun with rebels after 30 years or so, rendering it unplayable. PDM set out to fix that and a bunch of other stuff, and ended up taking over 3 years of my life.

The March of the Eagles mod was a bit different; it was a release-day mod which I wrote in a few hours just to see if I could, really. MotE was a beer-and-pretzels game which didn’t really sell too well, but it had enough moddable script included to expand it considerably. I figured I’d move the start date back to the beginning of the French Revolution, add in a bunch of extra units, throw in extra events and make the whole thing more sandbox-y. It was kind of fun but there probably weren’t more than about 200 people playing it. It’s since been taken over by some other guys, who are doing cool stuff with it. But so few people play MotE at all that the audience was always going to be really tiny.

fixing shit
“Hi, I’m here to fix your game”

Question: How do your mods improve their respective base games?

Answer: The IAB mod improves the rules balance and AI of GC3 on really big maps. I also added some ship components, reduced starbase spam, rejigged the economic balance, tweaked the diplomacy AI, changed ship combat… basically, anything which is imbalanced, doesn’t scale well, or is just un-fun has been looked at, and some cool stuff has been thrown in on top.

The MotE mod added a lot of units and buildings and events and stuff, and redrew the whole map to be 15 years earlier.

PDM added thousands of events, dozens of countries, 22 new economic goods, and re-wrote just about everything in V2 that could be re-written. It went through about 300 versions, had a hugely talented team of people working on it at different times and was really a vast overhaul for the entire game.

Question: Where do you feel you could have done more?

Answer: I’m still working on IAB for GalCiv, and I came up with new cool stuff for it all the time. I’m somewhat limited in what I can do by the state of the script hooks. GC3‘s on a brand new engine so it doesn’t have a particularly mature XML base yet. I’d like to make diplomacy work better, for example, but the amount you can actually do is presently quite limited.

With PDM, I don’t think there’s much more we could add, to be honest. We’d already begun hitting performance problems, and a lot of the latter part of the mod’s lifespan was spent looking for ways to do things efficiently rather than doing interesting things. There’s a few loose ends we never tied up, which annoys me a bit, but we’d kinda hit the limit of the game. You can always spend more time doing balance, or AI work etc., but at some point the benefit you get from the effort you’re putting in just isn’t worth it.

pdm mod 2
“We need more people!!!” – Population Demand Mod – Victoria 2

Question: How did the community receive your mods?

Answer: PDM had thousands of downloads per week and was the most popular mod for V2 for most of its life. It has several highly successful mods built on it, and portions of the mod were adopted into several other major V2 mods. We stopped writing it about two years ago, and it’s still very heavily played. It’s so extensive that some people regard it as an unofficial expansion pack, and it is usually the first mod for V2 that someone tries.

IAB has some very dedicated players, but not many. I think that’s partially due to the changes in the way people get mods now, to be honest. Steam Workshop has become a major hub – in fact, probably the major hub – and GC3‘s workshop doesn’t support mechanics mods. There’s some very cool mods for the game on Nexusmods, but their download rates are tiny compared to the stuff on Steam.

1792 mod mote 1
“Something is rotten in Denmark” – 1792 mod for March of the Eagles

Question: Did your mods achieve the goals you set out to achieve?

Answer: IAB certainly makes GC3 work better on a big map, though it continues to grow and expand as Stardock adds new mechanics to the game (which, even if they work well in vanilla, are now hopelessly out of whack with the mod’s balance). The AI’s still not where I’d like it to be, but it at least works on sensible timescales and has more variation and direction.

PDM went rather further than I intended, and while it did most of what I’d hoped for, it couldn’t deal with some of the more fundamental problems with V2‘s economy. That’s really not something that a mod could fix. It took about two years to learn enough about how the game worked for that to become apparent.

1792 did pretty much all I’d hoped to achieve with it; it fleshed MotE out into more of a grand strategy game and less of a wargame.

Questions: Is there some other modding project you hope to take on some day?

Answer: Not really. I tend to mod new games, and generally ones where I’m not happy with balance, AI, or scope etc. So really, I don’t set out with a strict plan to mod – I don’t hear about this or that game which is being released soon and sit down and start looking at ways to improve the balance or whatever. I buy the game, play it through a few times, and if I think it has potential but doesn’t quite feel right, I’ll start changing stuff. There’s no grand plan, though I do start planning stuff out once I’ve decided it’s necessary. Modding is really quite derivative; there’s not much point in planning a whole project in advance.

“Is that a fire I see?” – Rimworld

Question: Okay, but what game has your attention now?

Answer: I’ve been hitting Rimworld pretty hard recently; it’s a cool little Dwarf Fortress-style game. I believe it’s launching on Steam in a couple of months.

Question: How would you go about modding Rimworld if you were to do so?

Answer: There’s already a really active and mature modding scene in place for the game which has done most of the stuff I’d want to do, so I’ll just plug the Hardcore SK Global Project modpack and all its talented contributors, who have easily more than doubled the content of the base game.

Question: Any parting advice for the budding modder?

Answer: There are usually two things where new modders go wrong. They either start making crazy-big plans with no idea if they’re feasible or not, or else they’re too scared to mess with things in the script if they don’t know what it does.

For the first thing, just don’t try and run before you can walk. I’ve seen a hundred mod threads with no work but a massive outline of what they intend to achieve. These projects pretty much always end up dead in three weeks. It’s just like any task or hobby, to be honest  – unless you’ve made or contributed to a big mod before, then be realistic about your own skill level and lack of knowledge and do something small and reasonably easy. Add a new ship part to GC3, or write your girlfriend into CK2 – don’t start out by trying to convert Prison Architect into a 3D shooter. Once you’ve made like 10 of these small mods, you’ve made a fair-sized mod already.

For the second thing, experiment with EVERYTHING. 99% of the time, you will only be able to find out what something is by changing the numbers and then playing the game over and over again. Forums can only tell you so much, particularly in the first year or two after a game’s release, and half the fun in modding is finding out what the different lines in the code are and how the game really works underneath.

Well, that’s a wrap as they say in show business. Another modder has shared their experience and thinking behind why and how they mod. Let us know what you think about the Insane Abundant Balance Mod and this modder series as a whole. I am very encouraged by what I am seeing, and I can’t wait for week five. It’s going to be exciting. See you then!

7 thoughts on “Monday Modness – Galactic Civilizations III and Friends

  1. No doubt a great series here on eXplorminate. Now I love Mondays because of it.

    I’m not familiar with Naselus work because I don’t own any of the games he modded. But sure am glad to hear about mods for GalCiv III that try to improve its criticized AI, particularly on large maps which is usually also how I like to play my games.

    But Naselus makes reference to an issue that I have observed before too. Steam Workshop put a serious dent on Nexusmods. And for a service that survives on user donations and advertisement, that may spell disaster in times to come. But that’s how things are. What bothers me instead is that Steam Workshop is limited in comparison to Nexusmod. It’s selling point is the convenience of full Steam support and that is becoming increasingly walled in.


    1. Yeah, I do think Steam Workshop has been a good thing in a lot of ways (it’s certainly expanded the number of people who use mods), but it depends on if it’s done right or not.

      One of the thngs that attracted me to GC3 was how moddable it is – you can edit the xml really easily and it only takes about a week or two to learn what most of the stuff does due to the well-laid out file structure. But the GC3 workshop specifically doesn’t allow you to publish mechanics mods; while SD have gone out of their way to support ship designs and sharing races on the workshop, mods which go deeper than that aren’t permitted.

      This is a bit bizarre, as GC3 has a pretty robust mod folder system built in which works very well – exactly the kind of thing that modders were praying for in games 3-4 years ago. But it’s very noticeable the effect this has; the various ‘deep’ mods on the Nexus have much, much lower download rates than the race packs and ship designs on the Workshop.


    1. I get the feeling most of the modders in this series are going to use the advice question to caution against over-ambition.

      It’s usually a matter of not knowing enough to realise how much you don’t know. A lot of mods start out with grandiose plans that simply cannot be implemented in the game. When they eventually realize it can’t be done, this is hugely discouraging and causes a lot of people to just give up; or else the unachieveable feature is too integral to the mod’s design and the whole thing needs to be redone from scratch.

      Most people don’t really recognize that there’s a big difference between a modder and a developer in this regard – the develop has access to the source code and can make really sweeping changes, while modders are usually limited to altering data files that have been purposely exposed (there’s a few noteable exceptions to this rule, such as Ail’s Pandora mod). Anything the designer didn’t think of is probably off-limits, and anything which is too fundamental probably cannot be altered very much. For example, I’d love to add a load of new resources to GC3, but the game’s code structure doesn’t permit this; you can rename the ones which already exist, or change the icons, but you’re never going to have more than the base game’s 5. This is a realy shame, because it would be possible to build an entire tiered industrial economy if extra goods were permitted.



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