Thank you for joining us Lo2k. To start off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thanks for inviting me for this interview on Nexus Mods. Sure. I'm Laurent Rousseau, aka Lo2k. I'm French and I live close to Paris. I'm repairing multi-function printers for a living and it provides me with quite a lot of challenges. I always wanted to create video games but heh, when I was younger, video games were "not a job" as I was told so often and I was far from the creative guys posting impressive portfolios of 3D animations to be hired. So I did 3D creations on my own, 2D editing, a bit of video editing, and finally, I dove deep into coding and I believe all of this helped me in some way to become a modder.
How did you first get into gaming?
Gaming in general, or modding?
For gaming, I can't remember the very first time. My dad was the manager of a Xerox Store, selling the very first Apple computers well before the Apple Stores even existed. So I had a Mac SE for a long time at home and a bunch of games, even if the mac has never been a gaming platform. But at that time, PC gaming was not yet a big thing either, so I played the very first iterations of Crazy Cars, Dark Castle and Lode Runner in black and white. At his store, there was also Amstrad 6128 and 464, so I also played some colourful oldies like the very first Gauntlet. That was another era…
Concerning modding, the story will be shorter. It really started in 2002 with the release of Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4 also known as GP4. As an F1 fan, I played GP3 a lot and saw the modding community growing. When GP4 was released, I had quite a lot of spare time so I started to look at it from the modding side and I learnt to code at the same time. This eventually lead me to create a lot of tools for this game, including a full track editor called GP4 Builder, and they are still in use today in the GP4 community.
I left the GP4 community in 2016 after 12 "years of service" and started to look for new challenges and hobbies. Amongst them were a mobile game project and a new game I just bought and I was loving but that has a lot of tiny things that were annoying me and I would like to fix to enjoy the game even more: No Man's Sky.
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From our conversations, you seem to really like No Man's Sky, what is about the game that draws you in?
Well, NMS was sold (mark my words) to be the best retro-sci-fi experience a boy (or girl) could have ever dreamt for. And I had this young boy vibe for colourful sci-fi worlds, travelling into a galaxy full of stars and planets, discovering new ships, new wonders, exploring hundreds of planets, each with a diversity of trees, plants and creatures we had never seen before. That was appealing, to say the least.
The game had quite a negative reception when it was first released but Hello Games has managed to turn it around with the NEXT and Beyond updates. Have these changes influenced your opinion of the game?
Well, maybe, but not in the way you might think about, because for me the game has never been a complete deception. I was awaiting a solo game that lets me explore a universe alone. And that is what was released. We can argue on diversity, on bugs, on creature animations and a million other stuff but the core feature was here for me.
Since then, each update has brought something to the game. Each one making the game a bit stronger. We got base building, we got vehicles, we got new biomes, we got freighters and then frigates, we got an attempt at multiplayer and with latest Beyond release, we got a full multiplayer experience, we got VR and changes everywhere. I'm very pleased with that and I believe everyone is.
But on the other hand, I'm a bit worried about the latest changes from NEXT and Beyond. Multiplayer is not my thing and while I'm glad they brought it to the game for all the fans that dreamt playing this game with/against other players, I just hope Hello Games will continue to give us a way to play this game solo. Sadly this is less and less the case.
To give a single example: The anomaly, the tiny and almost claustrophobic shelter of 2 outlaws has become a massive nexus with tons of NPC and land pads. It makes sense from a multiplayer point of view but it is complete nonsense if you play the game solo. In my humble opinion, Space Stations would have been a better choice for a multiplayer HUD. Polo and Nada would still have their tiny station and everyone would enjoy the game either in Solo or MP. Nevermind…
Also, the Vulkan switch they opted for just before Beyond release and that is supposed to improve framerate had an unintended side-effect which removed all the shaders from the modding scene and most of the graphical fixes and enhancements mods for NMS were done via shaders. I could cite my UltraWide HUD mod that was bringing an unstretched HUD experience for all non-16/9 monitors NMS players. It's quite sad because not only this feature was never released for the game but now they even broke the mod that could fix it for them. Anyway, I can't blame HG because I have huge respect for all they have accomplished for NMS, from the initial development, flooding, Sony pressure, bad release and devoted commitment for years up to this day.
So all in all, yeah, we have great new things in the latest updates and a few little niggly things. And I hope we will continue to see more improvements than niggly things.
No Man's Sky features a lot of procedural generation, would you say this makes it difficult to mod?
It depends on what you want to mod. NMS is, from the different games I looked into for modding, the one that exposes the most settings to modders. Every big or small setting is available to editing, either via a simple text file or via textures and there's not much stuff that is fully written in the stone of the EXE file.
So we can't add many features to the game if they were not designed by Hello Games, but we can tweak almost all of the existing features. Even procedural generation is based on settings, like turbulence, noise, scales, roughness... a lot of them are exposed and are used by modders as Redmas or Rayrod who both provide complete overhauls of planet generation.
NPC, ships and creature generation on the other side makes them difficult to mod at this time. But modders find their way. Redmas rebalanced scales of the different parts of ships and vehicles to bring more variety to them for example. WinderTP replaced the shuttle class with ships from their favourite Sci-fi movies in Ships of Moar.
Buildings use an L-system I still haven't looked in deep, but which creates tiny changes in the arrangement of each building interior, even if the scale of the changes is not as noticeable as it might be.
All in all, procedural generation is tough and Sean Murray did a humongous work on terrain generation. There's still room for improvements to create a larger diversity everywhere else, but it might be their focus for the next or the next, next update.
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What tools do you use when working on mods?
Actually, the only tools really needed are an archive extractor like Periander's PSArc to decompress all the game files that are stored in ".pak" files and Monkeyman's MBINCompiler that could convert the binary ".mbin" files into ".exml" (text) files and the reverse. From here, you can use your favourite text editor and texture editor (with a DXT plugin as textures use the DirectX format).
On my side, coming from GP4 where all the files were in the binary form like the ".mbin" of NMS, I also use a hexadecimal editor when I need. It's of great use to compare changes or to quickly update some mods when a very few values have been changed after a new update.
Have you ever made any mods for other games (or thought about doing so)?
Not really, I mostly made some tools for Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4 as I described above. I don't know if you count them as mods as tools aren't really mods but they allow others to create mods with them. I also helped in improving some tracks and textures back then nonetheless.
I also looked around Cities Skyline modding community as I love this game too and would have loved to bring some improvements here and there but the framework is completely opaque to me so I play the game within its restrictions and the great mods already published by more talented modders than me like Move-it and Transport Lines Manager.
Do you have any tips and tricks to share with others who might want to start modding No Man's Sky?
Hmm, not really. The first advice is to come on the No Man's Sky Modding Discord where most of the modders are discussing. A newcomer will most likely ever have an answer to his questions. There's also the modding wiki that provides a good overview of most of the common knowledge about NMS modding.
My own advice to someone who would like to start modding NMS would be for him to unpack the files, look at the way files are stored into folders and the file names. Then convert the most expressive ones in mbincompiler and browse the list of settings until you find a value that could bring a change you would like to see in-game. Then recompile the mbin, repack and test your first mod.
See your change in-game and check if everything is as you expected. If not repeat until satisfaction. Modding is a trial and error game of his own. A great one though
What are your favourite mods for No Man's Sky by other authors?
I browse Nexusmods every day so I see about every mod released, but I personally use very few mods from other authors in my own game (Having 60+ mods on my own already covers a wide range of improvements).
The only mods I can't play without are:
- Riccaforte's RemoveIntroLogo which is one of the very first mods released for the game and that is still working today!
- Clean Space version to remove the kaleidoscopic speed lines at each pulse drive.
- I also loved LawnReality's Crescent Worlds but it sadly can't be used anymore as it was a shader-based mod.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to the Nexus Mods Community.
Well, Nexus Mods has grown a lot and now hosts probably hundreds of communities so I'm not sure what part of NexusMods audience is also interested in NMS. But if they haven't tried the game so far and would like a space sandbox game, where you start at alone and end your journey with several ships, bases, a massive fleet and a better knowledge of an imaginary universe, they might want to try NMS
A big thank you to Lo2k for taking the time to respond to our questions. As always, if there are any mod authors or mod projects you'd like to hear about, don't hesitate to send a message to Pickysaurus and BigBizkit.