Modpack 101

Article written by Shadowflare
Originally published on 03-31-2004 ; updated on 07-10-2016
Tags: Modding Archives

The number one and best way of doing these things is with a program called ModPack Studio(MPS), which is a free download here are AoKH. The current version that won't destroy your computer is MPS 2.0. The other one is version MPS3, which is a good program, but still has a few, minor, almost non-lethal errors. It's usable and has some nice new features, but for your sake, we'll, spare you the headache and use MPS2 in these tutorials. We are not responsible for the destruction of your computer, if such a thing were to occur. Be sure to back up your important data, especially your .dat file and language*.dll files. That way, if your copy of AoK gets damaged beyond repair, you MAY not have to go through the pain of reinstalling it.

Be warned though: prolonged usage of MPS over a span of half a year or less has been known to render AoK unusable in some cases. If you begin to get creepy error messages about DirectDraw or your graphics system not initializing when trying to start AoK, it's time to uninstall and then reinstall both the game and MPS (in that order). No other means of restoration have been found.

Aspects

Allllrighty then, now that the public service announcements are out of the way, we can begin schooling you in the ancient art of modifying AoK. There are many different aspects to 'modding' (not to be confused with 'moderating'. Also there are two different usages of 'mod' in the forums. One refers to creations that change AoK, and the other referring to Cherubs, Angels, Seraphs, or anyone else who may be moderating the forums). Let's go over the basic aspects of modpack design.

1.) Buildings - Building modpacks are the simplest of all modifications. They are one frame, and much easier to make than units. The thing to remember when creating building is that they have to be in 'AoK perspective'. Well, it doesn't have to be, it's just that if it isn't, you'll be called all sorts of names and probably won't get a very high rating in the Blacksmith. It's not pretty. There is a basic guide to making a building modpack here at AoKH. Be sure to read it.

2.) Units - Highly difficult for the uninitiated, and for me. :p These are multi-framed. Each unit has at least 5 actions that it takes: attacking, dying, standing, decaying, and moving, all with their own set number of frames. Certain other units have more. This translates into hundreds of frames to replace. Units can be painstakingly created in paint, but that's not advised.

Using an expensive program such as Poser would be better, but it is not required, nor is it necessarily desirable to spend money on something you can do for free. The best method would be to either simply modify the existing AoK units to your liking, or using some the free programs that are available on the internet.
There is a basic guide to creating unit modpacks here at AoKH.

3.) Language - This refers to any modification made to the language.dll file(s). In this particular file lies the naming conventions and labels for everything in the game from buildings, units, technologies, and civilizations. They can be accessed through either some versions of MPS, or through a simple to install and use program, Resource Hacker. You can find Resource Hacker on countless internet sites. Just run a search for it. It should turn up. By the way, it's free.

4.) Map Data and AI - These are basically for scenario designers, and goes beyond the scope of this tutorial for now. Just know that it's possible to edit these kinds of scripts in MPS and include them with your modpacks.

Vocabulary

Okay, that's what you can do to change the game. When walking into the ModPack Discussions forum, or any AoKH forum, it's easy for a first-timer to be confused by the many terms and abbreviations used in there. This is not a special language, so never fear. Here is a list of the most common ones. Either memorize them, or have your modder-to-english dictionary on you at all times when browsing the MPD forum.

MPS - ModPack Studio. We've been through this.

AoK - Age of Kings. Real easy.

TC - The Conquerors Expansion. Also referred to as AoK:TC, or 'xpack'. This is very confusing at times, as TC can also stand for ‘Total Conversion’, which is a mod that changes mostly everything in the game. There are very few of these. TC will usually be in reference to the expansion though, at least within MPDT.

PSP - Paint Shop Pro. It's a useful imaging program from Jasc.

Civ - Civilization, or tribe (e.g. Britons, Franks, ect)

MPD - ModPack Discussion Topics forum. Also referred to as MPDT. This is the main nerve center where new modpack planning, design, and creation is discussed.

Common Units - The units that are available to just about every civilization. Swordsmen, archers, champions, siege weapons, ect. If you change one of these for one civilization, it changes for all of them. Be careful.

Common Buildings - Buildings like outposts and certain towers that use the same graphic for every civilization.

.SLP (slip) - This is in reference to the basic format that graphical frames are stored in within the AoK engine. For instance, the collection of attacking frames for the Militia are stored in one SLP. SLPs can be imported, exported, and saved over with ease within the MPS environment. SLPs are of course stored in individual '*.slp' files.

.DRS - The files in you AoK Data folder where SLPs are stored. MPS modifies these files.

Errors

Now that we have our Vocabulary down, let's move on to our Conflict Resolution class, shall we children? This is a list of the most common snags you'll run into as an AoK modpack designer.

1.) The Little White Boxes of Doom: Despite what others may tell you, that is not the name of a C-rated horror flick from the 80s. They are in reference to something that you may have already encountered if you have attempted to add in your own building or unit. If you start the game, and you place your unit somewhere, and it has a little white box surrounding it, this is a transparency problem. In AoK, all graphics must have a transparent mask generated for them, otherwise, they just look strange. While we're on this subject, let me give you the simple fix. To do this exercise, you will that ultra-powerful imaging program, Paint:
a.) Open your image in Paint.

b.) Once opened, press 'ctrl+i'. The background should turn an obnoxious color of orange, and your picture should look like, well, you get the idea.

c.) Using the 'Fill' tool, color all of the orangish-yellow black with one simple click.

d.) Press 'ctrl+i' again to return the picture to normal. Save it.

e.) Import the file again. MPS will automatically generate a mask for it. To see if it worked, click the 'Player Color/Transparent Mask' tab. The picture should be a white silhouette against a black background. If so, you have been successful.

f.) At times though, this process has been known to remove any player color tags on the building or unit. To see if they're intact(if you added any) click the 'Player' drop down box and scroll through the player colors. Now is the time for you to self-test for color-blindness. If you see the blue spots change color with every click, both you and your building are fine.
2.) "MPS Won't Load My Image!" That's probably because it's not in 256-color windows bitmap format. You'll have to open Paint and save it in the correct format. Don't forget to take care of the 'Little White Boxes of Doom' while you're at it.

3.) "MPS crashes when I try to open certain SLPs for editing!" There are certain SLPs that seem to be either protected or contaminated in some way. Most if not all of them are identified in the Graphics.doc file. Speaking of which, this file is your index that you use to easily find which graphics are located where in the vast list of SLPs within MPS. Graphics.doc can be downloaded here at AoKH. Use it early and often, unless you have some sort of mental power that allows you to guess which SLPs are where, or unless you've been doing it for years and have each location memorized...actually, you should just it anyway.

Those are the three most commonly reported problems. Other common complaints are certain fatal errors that MPS has from time to time. These are deep-seeded glitches within the software. They usually can be worked out with a clean installation of both the game and MPS(including the deletion of the folders they were in), but sometimes, it does not. In these cases, either:
a.) Your computer is retarded, or

b.) You are using an illegal no-CD crack or some other form of illegal copy of the game, in which case, you are.
MPS has not been known to work with ill-gotten, diskless copies of AoK. If this is the case with you, we cannot help you, for there are very few to no known ways around it. Also note that no-CD cracks are not supported by Microsoft nor HeavenGames, so don't run to us with any problems relating to cracks. Just buy the game legally.

Another common problem is some modpacks downloaded from the Blacksmith or from other sites crashing the game. These are usually problems with the modpacks themselves. You need to try to cleanly reinstall both AoK and MPS.

One other reported problem that we get asked zillions of time is why the 'Install and Run Multiple Modpacks' option under the 'File' menu doesn't work. The answer is that it never has, and never will work in MPS2.

Inside ModPack Studio

Well, most of it is self-explanatory once you are in there. But let's go through some basics anyway. If you have the 'By Type' tab selected, you'll see all of the data is neatly categorized into these clearly labeled folders. Almost. You may have noticed the 'Unknown Binary' and Unknown ASCII' folders. In MPS2, these are just that, unknown. But in MPS3, some of these have been interpreted. If you really want to know what they are, I suggest you look into getting your hands on a copy of MPS3.
The 'By Location' tab organizes them by the .drs file they're in on your hard drive.
The 'Favorites' tab isn't terribly useful, other than storing the location the SLPs you like to have access to.

Expanding these folders will reveal a seemingly endless array of Resources. most of these are SLPs, but others are in fact palettes, scripts, or something else, depending upon the folder you are in. The only way to decipher a building from a unit in this view is to either double-click on them, or use Graphics.doc to find the desired SLP.

The main thing is to just tinker around and test things out. You could also ask those of us in the MPDT, and someone there should be kind enough to help you.

Getting Started

Alright, you have your copy of MPS, your copy of Graphics.doc, your ultra-powerful image editor, and loads of ideas, good and bad. Now what? Well, if your me, you go take a nap, or do something else and put it off. Seeing how you have the good fortune of not being me, you probably want to get started right away. You should read the two tutorials on creating simple building and unit modpacks, which are both here at AoKH. The ModPack FAQ is also good reading, and while it covers some of issues discussed above, it is more specific in the areas of certain errors. Good luck. ;-)