Mods & Total Conversions
Now that Relic Entertainment has released a number of modding tools for the game through the Relic Developers' Network (RDN) there's a good number of interesting and fun mods circulating in the Homeworld 2 modding community. Big, high quality total conversions are just starting to make their appearance known. Homeworld 2 spacecraft were originally designed in the high-end 3D animation package called Maya (an old version, no less: 3.0), which caused a few headaches for the fans due to the high cost of this professional package and the difficulty in sourcing older versions. As you might imagine, many of them are already dissecting data files and writing their own editing tools to compensate. While the Maya tools and plug-ins might be a problem, there is still a wealth of information and data to be found in the downloads from the RDN. I'll focus on the player's end of things, since I'm sure most of my mates are more likely to jump right in and grizzle that it doesn't work straight away than spend horribly long hours trying to work it all out.
Homeworld 2 handles all its data using .big files. They live in the Data subfolder of the game install on your hard disk. These giant all-in-one compressed data files contain everything the game needs to run: descriptions and model files of spaceships, maps, how weapons work, the rules the pilot AI's follow; how much asteroids are worth to mine, how many ships you are allowed, how the menus are all arranged, and so on and so forth.
Essentially, a .big file is one of those huge directory trees full of scripts, graphics, sound and model files recompiled into a big archive, just like a .zip file. Its far easier for the game to quickly load up a couple of big files than wade through hundreds, if not thousands of smaller files. Given Windows' file management is, ah... somewhat less than optimal, you may want to defrag your hard drive to get the most speed out of loading such files and running the game after you've installed it. The game can tax your system resources so you may want to spend a little time and fine-tune your PC. You'll be amazed at the amount of clutter Windows buries your system with by default and just how much of your PC's resources (and your hard earned cash!) are squandered on the altar of User Friendliness. And that's before we get into the galaxy of system sucking utilities like browser tool bars, automatic software updates, virus checkers, malignant spyware and adware, and so on. You can find more details about "tweaking" your PC and getting the best performance out of it as some of these excellent sites: TweakTown, PurePerformance.com, Black Viper, or TweakUI.
There's no in-game switching between mods in Homeworld 2, unless the mod appears as a Game Type. Many of the more organized mods come as self contained .big files with their own Windows icons anyway; I've successfully installed several of them into the game with absolutely no ill effects. .big files won't screw up the original game, or any other .big format mods. But remember, unlike bought software, modding is a bit of a backyard business, much of it wildly speculative - so be prepared for things to go a bit pear shaped at times. Some mods are just small tweaks to see what can be done with the game engine, while others try to push boundaries to see just how far they can go with the game engine. A lot of the bigger mods are simply collections of these small mini-mods and tweaks fitted together.
While most modders are organized enough to release their .big format mods with an installer, or at least a readme, not all of them do. But you can create your own Desktop icons to use a .big format mod if you're missing any installation instructions.
Duplicate your Homeworld 2 game icon. If you don't have a Homeworld icon anywhere, you can always make a shortcut of a new one by opening up your Start menu, and bringing up Programs / Sierra / Homeworld 2 menu, and then right click and hold the Homeworld 2 game icon in the menu and drag and drop it to your desktop. You'll be given the option of making a shortcut.
So, most of the custom mods that you encounter will appear as a nice, neat, self-contained .big file. However, some don't. What you might get is an mod made up of hundreds of small files and subfolders. This simply means the mod hasn't been compiled into a .big file: to take that .zip file analogy, the mod is in an "unarchived" form. Unarchived mods can permanently change the game, and having two unarchived mods installed on top of each other leads to overwritten files and lots of problems with each mod.
Fortunately, this sort of potential mess can only upset itself. The original game, and any properly bundled .big format mods are completely unaffected by it.
This is based entirely on my own experiences as a user. Homeworld 2 seems to be fool-proofed against un-.bigified mods. Unless a custom mod comes as a Game Type or it conscientiously provides its own game icon to run from, Homeworld 2 simply won't see any changes as a default unless you expressly ask it to. This is great for most people - but if you consider yourself up for some tinkering then you'll need to follow this little procedure:
Oh yeah, here's another nifty little option you may want to add: -nomovies. It turns off the opening logos and animations - but also the black and white movies between the single player missions. Read the Homeworld 2 readme file for a list of other command options you can use.
|HW2 Game Types|
Last modified Fri, Dec 1 2006 by Lindsay Fleay.