LoTR: Battle for Middle Earth 2 Scenario Design and Modding Preview

By One_Dead_Angel

Before I (One_Dead_Angel) dig into Designing and Modding for BFME2. I wanted to give an overall impression of the BMFE2 summit held by EA Games. I was also one of those privileged to be invited to this event, and I have to say its been rather memorable. Even ignoring the Death Star contest, I would say EA, and in particular Aaron Kaufman organized a very informative and fun event. One thing for sure, the impression I got was EA’s commitment to fan based Designers, and Modders. Indeed of the 2 day event. Just about a whole day was dedicated to Designers and Modders. Various Modding groups even got a chance to even show their work to the BFME2 design team and producers at EA Games (and there were some very cool and entertaining mods presented at the summit)! I think it is a boon to the fan based game designers and modders anywhere, that their work are recognized by those to the Industry. There are a lot of talent out there and I am glad that the folks at EA Los Angeles are dedicated to this segment of the gaming community and open minded about their “baby” to let people tinker with it. Besides solid gameplay and tournament support, fan based designers and modders is the 3rd element that creates longevity for a game. This tells me that EA is dedicated to making BFME2 not just the game of the season, but a classic title that will have years of appeal.

The game engine in BFME2 is essentually the same as the first BFME title. They relied on what they had with BFME, and built on top of it. So most if not all of the modding tools out there should work for BFME2. I haven’t personally modded for BFME, but from discussions I had with some of the other modders at the summit who has. One rated BFME a 3 out 5 in terms of difficulty to mod. So it’s possibly a little on the harder side. But from some of the Mod projects presented at the summit I’ve seen for BFME and CnC Generals (which shares the Sage engine), modding certainly isn’t just restricted to superficial parameter tweaks. So far the Modding community has relied on the RenX pluggin, and various fan made tools to mod for BFME and other games based on the Sage engine.

These tools, as the modders lamented are getting rather long on the tooth, and the folks at EA LA agrees that there should be better support from EA for modding tools. So the developers at EALA during their presentation, outlined some ambitious plans for how they want to support the modding community. They also described their art production pipeline during the presentation, and it is their hope to allow modders to have as much as possible of the tools that they have for their own in-house development. That is to say, a full fledge SDK (software developer’s kit) for modding BFME2 (and other Sage Engine based games). These include model exporters (for both Gmax and 3DSmax), w3d viewers (which would speed up the development of models a lot), and utilities like (.big) file extractors/packers. Plus animation/model source files to serve as an example and starting point for modders. Separate folders for each mods for easier organization and overwrite protection, and mod launchers. And of course also documentation, this being the main thing a lot of modders at the summit wanted.

It is a little early to tell if EALA can deliver on all of these plans. But during the summit, the modders amongst us certainly gave them a list of priorities for them to consider, and I think they took it seriously. The main issues that will impact the availability of an SDK besides time is mainly be legal, so they can’t promise anything in this regard at least for the initial game release, but probably should be available in a patch.

There are a number of new features added to the game like more factions, custom heroes and the turn-based campaign game on the “Living World” Map, as mentioned in this preview. I wanted to at least dig into the specific possibilities of modding these. So I made a point of asking about at least the feasibility of modding these new features. While the number of factions are again restricted by the code. You can again mod the factions to your hearts desire, and with the increased number of factions. Your mods can have the added complexity and breadth these extra slots will bring. In terms of the custom heroes, the base game already allows a vaste amount of customization and RPG style development in-game for your hero units. While the number of classes available are fixed mainly due to the interface used to select hero classes, you can add different subclasses by modding. I can already see a lot of possibilities with this feature in terms of modding the say model historical figures at various stages of their careers. The new subclass system could be used to create an infinite variety of super or leadership type units though mods.

Next: On to the World Builder