Guide:Open Modding

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This is a copy of Wyre's original "Open Modding" notes. In the spirit of Wrye's own philosophy, we are taking this over and hosting the community-evolving version of his original ideology. ANYONE IN THE WORLD MAY CONTRIBUTE (just register on the forums to log onto the wiki).


In this paper, I discuss the idea of open modding – what it is and how best it can be achieved for the Morrowind community. Unfortunately, I'm being pulled back into real life, and so am unable to complete this document or have much time to discuss it. However, I hope that it will serve as a starting point for others with similar desires.

~Wrye, 2005

Cathedral vs. Parlor

There are essentially two ways that modders view the place of their creations in the modding community: The Cathedral view, and the Parlor view.

In the Cathedral view, modding is viewed as being like a joint effort to build a cathedral. Individually, our contributions may be small – and may not be worth doing for themselves. But by each person contributing something, we construct something larger and more worthwhile than any of us could do on our own. Under this view, creations are contributions – and may not be taken back. (Just as in building a Cathedral, it would not be allowed for a person to contribute a stained glass window and then later take it back.)

The Parlor view in contrast, is the view that mods are more like privately owned works of art displayed in the modder's parlor. The modder invites others into the parlor to appreciate and enjoy the work of art – but may at any time close the parlor door and ask their guests to leave. And of course, the modder may be very selective about who they invite into their parlor. Under this view, our creations are never contributions; rather we continue to own and control them – takebacks are normal and accepted.

The Parlor view allows the creator to retain complete control of their work. But the Cathedral view creates a much larger, more enduring and more perfected body of work – and for that reason, I prefer it.

LGNPC Seyda Neen Redraft and Amulet of Scrye

To give an example... A year or two ago, Joe Stevens wrote a mod called "Less Generic NPC Seyda Neen", which fleshed out many of the characters in Seyda Neen by giving them non-generic responses to standard dialog topics. Joe eventually left the community, but another team took up the idea after him – creating LGNPC mods for a number of towns. But, after doing several towns, the LGNPC team had raised the bar considerably, and Joe's original work was looking pretty first draftish. At that point, I volunteered to redraft LGNPC Seyda Neen – fixing grammar, paragraph structure, logical inconsistencies and generally bringing it up to the current LGNPC bar.

By the Cathedral view, my redraft was a good thing – I took something that was good and made it even better. And as a result, Joe's original work is seen and appreciated more then before.

But by the Parlor view, my redraft was a bad thing, since I changed Joe's original work. According to the parlor view, I should have created a new LGNPC Seyda Neen from scratch. The result of this would have been two competing LGNPC Seyda Neen's. Not only would this have been a lot more work, but if mine were substantially better, it would have crowded out Joe's original – thus ensuring that even fewer people saw it.

Fortunately for all of us, Joe himself was more of a Cathedral sort of guy and had already given the LGNPC team permission to edit and redistribute his work. Hence, my edit had been pre-blessed.

However, not everything turned out perfectly. In my revision of Seyda Neen, I have the bard tell a ghost story related to one of my favorite mods: Ivza's Amulet of Scrye. If the player doesn't have Amulet of Scrye, then the ghost story is just an extra bit of non-generic dialog. But if the player does have AoS, then ghost story compliments it nicely, emphasizing the spookiness of that mod. However, a few weeks after I released the LGNPC Seyda Neen, Ivza decided to pull Amulet of Scrye from public distribution. To me, that felt like the glazier coming into the Cathedral, pulling out the stained glass window that he had put in earlier, and taking it home with him. But for Ivza, I think that it was just a closing of his parlor door.

It was this, combined with very vocal support for the parlor view on the forum, that led me to retire. I had several ongoing projects and there were several items that I would have liked to continue working on, but it seems like the Parlor view is predominant – and personally I don't find it that inspiring.

Contrasts and Consequences

Modding is a Joint Effort

Almost all of Morrowind modding is a group effort to one degree or another. There are very few mods that do not owe huge debts to earlier produced mods and/or to the expertise and tools provided by earlier modders.

New Work vs. Duplication

The Cathedral view vastly reduces duplication of effort – instead promoting either improvements in, or extensions of the original, or the creation of entirely new, complementary works. One doesn't have go far in reviewing one's mod library to see quite a few of these examples of mods that extend or fix earlier mods. E.g.: LGNPC, Adventure, Join All Houses, CharGen, Inferno's Island, Kivan's patches, alchemy sorters, etc.

Perfection vs. Stagnation

The Cathedral view tends towards perfection, while the Parlor view tends towards repetition and stagnation. Repetition, because earlier useful works that have been closed off have to be recreated. Stagnation, because this fails to lead to improvements, and more importantly because few modders are interested in replicating something that has already been done before. (Especially since, if they knew of the original, they probably have a copy of the original mod, and hence have no personal need to recreate it.

Integration vs. Isolation

The Cathedral view tends towards rich integration between mods. But under the Parlor view, there's not much point of integrating with another mod – since that mod can be removed at any time. Certainly, I would not have added the Amulet of Scrye references to LGNPC Seyda Neen, if I had thought Ivza might remove it.

Authorial Longetivity

Improved works are much more likely to give everyone credit. OTOH, if two works are independently created to do the same job, then it's likely that only one of them will "win" (i.e. be widely known/used) – and thus the effort and name of the loser will be lost. In competitions, there's little desire to mention your competitor in your readme; but in extensions and improvements, the norm is for the original author to get top billing.

Cathedral Effect

Many modders (such as myself) aren't interested in working in a non-Cathedral community. It's belonging to a community, creating something that outlasts our own efforts, that integrates and grows even when we're away that makes the community so interesting. But under the Parlor view, much of what has been built in the past just disappears.

Morrowind players and modders are already paying the price for the lack of prior action to support the Cathedral view. The loss of previous modding sites (Morrowind Files, Euro-Morrowind, Gamer's Roam, etc.) has meant the loss of many of the mods originally on those sites. Many of these mods are still available on people's hard disks, but without a clear re-uploading agreement, these have not been added onto new download sites. (Much of the recent dispute on the forum was on the topic of when and if these could ever be re-uploaded to new sites.)

Aside from just these lost files, other creations would likely have not been withdrawn if there were clear community standards and processes in support of the Cathedral view. I.e., if all upload and link sites had "no takebacks" policies, more of the old mods would be under no takeback licenses, and so could not have been removed.

Open Distribution

Okay, enough about the problem. Now, what can/should be done about it? I see two main questions: 1) What does the Cathedral view mean in practice? and 2) How can/should the Cathedral view be promoted?

No Takebacks

At it's minimum, the Cathedral view means, "No takebacks!" Once a mod has been released to the public, then it can't be taken back. Okay, sounds good, but... 1) What about group mods? 2) What does "released to the public" mean? Does email count? How about a sharing through a Yahoo briefcase? 3) Can the modder still restrict distribution to their own personal site? Can they require registration? These questions be discussed in the next section.

At a more advanced level, the Cathedral view often means that others can modify the original mod. There are clearly arguments for this (the perfection and integration described above), but there is also a strong argument against it (artistic vision of the original modder). These issues will be discussed later.

Open & Openable Distribution

The most basic level (the "foundation" you might say) of the Cathedral view is: "No takebacks!" One way of achieving this is to simply say that once a mod has been released, that it is Open Distribution – i.e., anyone else can distribute it with no additional permission required from the author.

However, there are a lot of modders who are willing to keep their mods available, but prefer to have them served by a single website. For these modders, and Openable Distribution might be solution. Openable Distribution allows the modder to limit distribution to preferred web sites – so long as at least one such website is available. As soon as that website goes down for an appreciable period of time (a week), then the mod becomes Open Distribution.

There are several benefits to Openable Distribution:

  • Management: For a creator, mod distribution through a personal website is the easiest to manage by far: no hoops to jump through, no waiting for other people to check in their upload. Personally, I've created and uploaded mods in the space of an hour to answer forum questions, and I've uploaded 14 versions of my Mash utility in as many days. That sort of speed and responsiveness could not have been achieved if I had been serving my mods through one of the major web sites. Mega Mods (TCs, LGNPC) also often benefit greatly from dedicated web sites for distribution and management.
  • Artistic Reward: Mod users tend to be quite sparing in their applause. Hence, the only really reliable measure of success is the download counter provided by the download site and/or the site stats pages for your personal web site – such stats are easiest to monitor when the mod is only available from one site. In addition, personal download sites allow the modder to express personality and artistic vision and advertise their other mods. See for example Silaria's Morrowind Visions.

The only care that needs to be exercised with Openable Distribution, is that it not be used as a cover for non-open distribution. I.e., the amount of downtime for the the preferred distribution site cannot be either prolonged or frequent. E.g., the site should not be down for more than a week at a time, nor down for more then 7 days in a month.

Public Release

I would take public release to mean release to anyone other than the mod creators/beta testers – by any mechanism (even email). Obviously, neither "creators" nor "beta testers" definitions should be bent in an effort to limit distribution. Basically, as soon as anyone whose major intent is just to enjoy the mod is given a copy of the mod, then the mod has been released.

Access Registration

I'm fairly sure that it should be part of both Open and Openable Distribution definitions that downloading the mod not require any sort of registration – except for adult content mods – which may require a registration of sufficient age to access adult materials.

However, several major download sites require registration as part of the commercial operation. (E.g., Morrowind Summit.) So perhaps this should be allowed also. However, I think that downloads from personal web sites should not require registration – this seems like a form of restriction on downloading.

Open Modification

Open Modification means that the mod author allows their mod to be modified and redistributed at will. In the software open source community, this is one of the defining characteristics of "open source". However, the modding world is different from the world of practical software, and the desirability of Open Modification is much more debatable for mods. I'll discuss some of these considerations below, but in the end, I think that whether a mod is Open Modification, or partially open to modification, or not modifiable at all should largely be left up to the mod author.

Levels of Modification

Before getting into the pros and the cons of open distribution, it's useful to consider the levels of modifications that can be made to a mod.

Error Correction

  • GMST removal. Fix typos, grammar, etc.
  • Fix logic errors that break quests, etc.

Compatibility Patch

  • Fixing things that aren't errors in themselves, but which cause or are vulnerable to compatibility errors.

Standardization

  • Dialog standardization. "continue" to "Continue", etc.
  • Object names. (E.g. to follow Wrye Patches naming standards)

Re-drafting

  • Taking what is clearly an early draft and redrafting it, but sticking to the original author's intent as much as possible.
    • However, redrafting necessarily involves some degree of artistic interpretation.

Extension

  • Adding new material that is consistent with the original mod.

Multi-pathing

  • Allowing the user to take a different path, with different consequences than the original mod. I.e., the original path is left intact and is not diminished, but the user is given a chance to take a different path.
    • However, the multi-pathing is not to the degree that it perverts the intent of the original mod.
    • For example: in Inferno's Island Revisited, you're forced to kill two members of the Blades in order to continue the main quest. Multi-pathing would allow you to avoid this (after all, if you follow Morrowind's main story line, you are a Blade!)

Artistic Conflict Resolution

  • Correcting artistic conflicts between mods.
    • E.g., for LGNPC Seyda Neen, moving the Bal Molagmer "Forged Land Deed" quest from Indrele to someone else to resolve conflict.
    • E.g., removing Drakron's French Maid vendor from Six Fishes because her outfit is anachronistic there.

Artistic Destruction

  • Removing some element of the mod for the intent of changing the artistic intent of the mod.
    • E.g., removing the unicorn and fairies from Korana's Magus Realm mod.

Perversion

  • Modifying the mod in such a way that the mod's artistic intent is perverted – i.e., the original artistic intent is actually attacked in the modification.
    • E.g., taking the models from a Mog mod and using them in a Mog Hunters mod.
    • E.g., adding Moogles to Qarl's Underground, and having Qarl's NPCs say things like, "Moogles are the best!"

Modification Examples

  • make the levels of modification more concrete, here are some real life examples that I'm familiar with.

LGNPC Seyda Neen

  • Change Completed
    • Error correction.
    • Re-drafting
    • Mild extension.
  • Possible Changes
    • More extension, maybe substantial extension.

Wrye World Clothing Mods

  • I produce alternate versions of original esps. I.e., the user still has to download the original mod, but then they (usually) use my esp in place of the original esp. My esp is a modified version of the original esp.
  • Changes Completed
    • Error correction
    • Extension (add clothes to Erika + related dialog)
  • Deletion for:
    • Removing cheap solutions that are no longer necessary (dump crates)
    • Resolving artistic conflict (removing French Maid vendor from Six Fishes)
    • French Maid outfit is anachronistic in game – especially in that location, and Drakron did not have a lot of artistic intent invested in her.

LCV (Living Cities of Vvardenfell)

  • Possible Changes
    • Extension to other cities.
    • Resolve story conflicts with LGNPC mods.

Inferno's Island Revisited

  • Possible Changes
    • Error corrections.
    • Redrafting. Existing dialog is pretty minimal.
    • Multi-pathing. Allow not killing Blades agents, etc.

Korana Magus Realm

  • Possible Changes
    • Artistic Deletion: Get rid of unicorn and fairies! (Love the tower and realm, but not so fond of cutesy animals.)

Modification by Patch

It's possible to modify a mod while still leaving the original intact by either releasing either an alternative or patch esp.

A patch esp is probably preferable if the original esp is large and/or likely to change. It also leaves a clear distinction in the users mind between the original mod and the patch. And as a practical consequence, it simplifies support issues for the original modder – since the original and patch are clearly separate.

OTOH, an alternative esp is necessary if the modifier wants to change the placement of refs. Alternative esps also have the advantage of reducing the user's esp count, and thus makes their mod management easier.

In considering what counts as "modification" for the purposes of licensing, one could argue either that both patch and alternate esps count as modifications, or that neither esp counts as modification. I'll split the difference, and say that an alternate esp is a modification, while a patch esp is not.

Pervasive vs. Focussed Mods

It's useful to distinguish pervasive mods from focussed mods. Focussed mods typically add new areas and quests to the game, but don't change the existing gameplay. I.e., if a focussed mod is removed, you only notice it's absence in that the specific areas and people that it adds are no longer there. Pervasive mods on the other hand change the gameplay in a fairly pervasive way. If pervasive mods are removed, their absence is felt through the entire game.

Tribunal and Bloodmoon are primarily focussed mods. OTOH, Wakim's Game Improvements, Srikandi's Alchemy, Better Bodies are all examples of pervasive mods. Other mods have both elements: Ivza's Amulet of Scrye had a series of quests, but it also had a placement of random ghosts throughout the world that affected the general atmosphere of the game.

While focussed mods can benefit from Open Modification, Open Modification seems most advantageous and desirable for pervasive mods. Ivza's Amulet of Scrye is a good example of this. There are a lot of tomb raiding, necromancy and magic mods – Amulet of Scrye impacts the gameplay of all those other mods. Hence, theres more of a desire to patch or integrate with Ivza's mod than with a mod that takes you off to some island.

Open Modding License

As discussed above, the foundation of the Cathedral view is "no takebacks" – i.e., either Open Distribution or Openable Distribution licenses for mods. At a more advanced level, the Cathedral view means a license that allows at least some degree of Open Modification. Several such licenses have been proposed.

However, the problem with these licenses is that they do nothing to encourage, a modder to use one of their licenses. I.e. the modder gains no benefit for adding one and suffers no penalty for not adding one. True, at least some modders will add one anyway – but I strongly suspect that most will not.

What is needed is a license that does a little arm twisting. If this seems a little negative to you, consider that open source licenses do exactly the same thing – and doing so has been crucial to the success of open source software.

Basic Deal

The basic deal of the OML would be: I (the creator of this mod) will allow you (the end user) to use my mod, if you agree that any mods that you produce and distribute will be at least Openable Distribution. If you do not agree to these terms, then not only may you not use my mod, but you may not keep a copy of this mod.

So, what's that mean? 1) If you never produce any mods, or only produce mods that you never distribute, then you're never limited by this agreement – enjoy! 2) But if you produce a mod and distribute it (i.e., give it to anyone other than yourself), then you're bound by the terms of the agreement and your mod must be at least Openable Distribution. 3) If you don't agree to the terms then you may not use any OML mods, and moreover, you must remove any OML mods from your hard disk, personal web site, Yahoo briefcase, etc.)

There's one out in this agreement. If you use an OML mod, and have not distributed a mod yet, but later decide to do so – but at that time decide to non Openable Distribute it, then you can do so – but you'll first need to remove all OML mods from your hard disk, Yahoo briefcase, etc.

However, this out will not be available if you have otherwise agreed that all of your mods will be Open Distribution. E.g., suppose that there is an "Open Distribution" thread in which people post their agreement that all of their past and future mods are Open Distribution. (I'm considering requiring that users make such a posting as a condition to my providing help for my mods.)

If you already have mods released, then you will not be able to use or keep OML mods unless all of your distributed mods are made Open Distribution.

Note that this agreement applies if you distribute your mod to anyone other than yourself. I.e., even if you email it, or pass it along in some other private matter, that still counts as distribution.

Details

Contained Mods

Suppose that your mod contains a mod that is not Open Distribution – i.e., the creator of that mod has placed restrictions on how you may distribute your mod. Frankly, I don't know of a case where this is true, but if it is true – the agreement still applies. I.e., if your mod is not Open Distribution, then you cannot use use OML licensed mods.

Group Mods

Suppose that a mod is produced by a group. In this case, the team leader is still bound fully by the terms of the agreement. Also, the contributions by any team member using OML mods are also considered to be Openable Distribution. (So, if all team members are OML users, then the team product is automatically Openable Distribution.)

Clear Licensing

In distributing your mod, then the main readme must include an explicit Openable Distribution license, or a statement that it is released under an Openable Distribution license which is included in the distribution in a separate text or html file.

Notes

1) OML is Open Distribution, of course. 2) Though OML requires that the users distributed mods be Openable Distribution licensed, it does not require that they be OML licensed. 3) The license would cover mods and utilities for the Morrowind platform only. (I.e., not Oblivion or anything else.) 4) If the license is in conflict with the Bethesda EULA, then the Bethesda EULA take precedence of course in the areas of conflict. 5) Standard legal boilerplate regarding liability, etc.

Open Modification vs. Open Distribution

As discussed above, Open Modification is often, but not always desirable. Hence, I think that there should probably be two versions of the OML license. The first (OML-A) would allow Open Modification, while the second (OML-B) would not. In addition, any modification to an OML-A licensed mod would also have to be released under an OML-A license. Other than that, the licenses would be pretty much the same – i.e., they would only require that users release their code as Openable Distribution.

Limits on Modification

If an OML-B mod is distributed, then it must be redistributed with all readme and licenses. It may be broken up into several parts (for downloading convenience for large mods), and it may be recompressed into a different format (e.g., zip to rar). However, if it is broken up, then the read me and license must be included with each part.

Other Mechanisms

Aside from the Open Modding license, a couple of other mechanisms are possible to help promote the Cathedral model.

Help Requirements

Before providing help on a released mod, the mod's creator might require that users agree (irrevocably) to make all of the user's past and future mods Open Distribution.

Replacement Mods

Another option would be to create open versions of non-open mods. E.g., if the author of a mod refuses to open it, yet it implements a good and generally useful idea, then someone might decide to create an open version of the mod. Part of the benefit of this approach is that just the threat of it may be sufficient to encourage the original modder to open his mod. (Note that this sort of approach would likely only work when the original mod is relatively simple. E.g., an invisible armor mod.)

License Status Database

It would be good to have a central database listing all(?!) mods and their license status. Naturally it would be important that people putting data into the database be reliable, and that the database be shared.

General Behavior

There are some additional rules of thumb designed to encourage open modding and a generally pleasant modding atmosphere.

Users

Gratitude

  • Show some gratitude to the mod authors once in a while!

Modders

License and Readme

  • Release your mod under the most open license that you feel comfortable with. At the least, release it under an Openable Distribution license.
  • Strongly consider using a OML license, which encourages other modders to also release Open Distribution mods.
  • If your work is a modification of an existing work, or if it includes components which are non-modifiable (because they come from another author), be sure to take this into consideration in selecting your license.

Readme

  • Provide your readme in html format, and at the top, and place links to any relevant feedback and/or applause forum topics. If you only want to hear positive applause, be sure to make this clear.
  • If the mod is a modification or an existing mod, be sure to give full authorial credit to the original author. This typically means listing them first in the mods "Author" box, and listing them first (with full explanation of their original product) in your readme.
  • Likewise, if your mod contains components from other mods, be sure to give those authors full credit. And if the license agreement covering those components of the mod is different from the license covering your original work, be sure to be very clear about which components are theirs – and thus under their license.

Support and Applause Topics

  • Create a forum topic for discussion of your mod.
  • If there's a forum that hosts applause topics, you may want to add a topic for yourself there.

Ignore Idiots

  • If you can't stand hearing from idiots who do nothing but criticize, complain and demand, then ignore them...
  • Use forum "Ignore" features if available (Elder Scrolls for one provides this).
  • In the extreme, put support on a forum that allows you to limit idiots more strongly. Note that "no takebacks" does NOT say that you have to support your mod or deal with idiots.

Distributors

Mod Backup and Open Distribution Mod Hosting

  • Keep backups of Openable (or better) Distribution mods from other download sites and personal sites in case those sites go down.
  • If the original site goes down, or goes down frequently, check with the author first to see if the problem can be resolved. If not, make the mod available from your site.

Upload Requirements

  • Require that all mods uploaded to your site have at least an Openable Distribution license, and that the license be included or referred to in the readme. If it's only referred to in the readme, then the upload zip must also contain a copy of the license agreement.
  • Strongly suggest that uploaders use one of the standard licenses.

Downloading

  • When listing mods, indicate the type of license that it's distributed under.
  • For mods with standard licenses, provide links from mod license type to a copy of the mod license.

Postscript

While many people have been supportive of the Cathedral ideal, very few people have supported the OML. I have recently been looking at other licensing options. Results of that investigation can be found at UESP Wiki: Licensing. Since I was dissatisfied with the available options, I've devised my own informal licenses (Wrye Modding Licenses 1.0). While these are not as aggressive as the OML, it is hoped that providing standard licenses (especially licenses with Share Alike attributes) will help to open the community up somewhat.

Reuse and Credits

Credits

  • (C) 2005, by Wrye

License

  • Feel free to mirror this.

Contact

  • Home page: Wrye Morrowind
  • Best way to contact me is by PM to "Wrye" at the Elder Scrolls forum.