The Modders Guild

Article written by Tetsuo Shima
Published on 07-09-2016; updated on 12-24-2016
Tags: Modding Archives


Hello,

Welcome to the Modders Guild. Here I will discuss everything there is to know about modding data and graphics in AOK. Feel free to ask any questions, but be sure to read the up to date tutorials linked in this tutorial for more information. You can also go to the AOKH Mod Pack Stable (which I never knew existed) here.

What exactly is a mod?

A modification can be anything from changing graphics, sounds, icons and stats of a game. In AOK modding the game is relatively easy once you know how and all sorts of wonderful things can be developed to improve the game.

Luckily, for us, there are many ways of editing the data and graphics of AOK thanks to all the fantastic 3rd party software developed over the years.

Installing Modpacks

If you have spent any time on the blacksmith recently you will notice there are many modpacks on there which people have already created. Most of these come in two formats aks (Age of Kings) and akx (Age of Conquerors). To run these modpacks you need to install Mod Pack Studio. You can download it from here.

When you have installed Mod Pack Studio you can download and run your modpacks. MAKE SURE YOU UNZIP THE MODPACK FIRST into a folder. Then double click on your chosen modpack and it will bring up a box which you can either choose Age of Kings or Age of Conquerors. Most likely you will want the modpack to run on Age of Conquerors so click that and it will automatically load AoC with the modpack installed. It will uninstall the modpack automatically when you exit the game.

How can I permanently install modpacks?

I sometimes find permanently installing modpacks helps the game run more smoothly and allows multiple modpacks to be run at the same time. If you are going to do this I recommend backing up your graphics.drs and your terrains.drs from your AoK/Data folder first.

After you have loaded your modpack and you are in the game simply press ctrl+alt+delete. This will take you back to your desktop (failing that click the windows button and then press ctrl+alt+delete). This will bring up the task manager. Simply find Mod Pack Studio and click end task. You can go back to your game now and the modpack will be permanently installed.

I have found a mod I like but it is just bmp images/slp files? How can I install these into my game?

Then you will need to install them yourself using Mod Pack Studio. Read ahead on how to do this.

Creating Modpacks

To create a modpack the only necessary program you need is Mod Pack Studio. This will allow you to create akx files which can be ran by other people. You can find Mod Pack Studio here and the Mod Pack Studio Tutorial here.

In short, you can import bmp files and slps into Mod Pack Studio very easily. You can then create an install script (akx file) which allows you to play them in game. Once you have installed Mod Pack Studio, open Modpack Studio, click New Project and name it to MyMod.axp. This will load your drs files. You can then scroll through the slps in the game (By type>SLP Graphics) or (By Location> graphics.drs). Each SLP is listed by resource number. To install the slp or bmp* you downloaded simply find the correct resource number (matching the downloaded slp number (or whatever the bmp is supposed to replace)), double click on it and it will load the image with a few options, then on the right hand side click import slp or import .bmp. Find the slp or .bmp* you downloaded in the search function and click open. This will add that slp or bmp*.

Once you have done this click File, Make Install script for My mod. Choose a name for it (My Mod.akx) then press save. Click ok on all the boxes.

This will create a new akx file. Then once this is done go to File, Install and run modpack, in the search menu click the file MyMod.akx and click open. This will now run AOK with your mod installed.

* You may have to set the anchors for that building or unit. I won’t go into detail here but click on set anchors button and you can fiddle with the numbers there. Generally the x anchor should be half the size of the image width, and the y anchor coordinate should be a third of the way down. Try looking at other anchors for more info.

The Foundations

Where do I start?

Well first of all we need to understand the different file types of AOK and how we can edit them accordingly. Everything you will be editing is stored in the DATA folder of your Age of Conquerors directory.

Second of all you should download the modders guild zip file here. This will give you most of necessary tutorials and all of the latest software needed to modify the game. Don’t worry too much about what is in it yet though as I will go through them on here (TO FIND OUT WHAT IS IN IT SCROLL TO THE FAQ). Thanks to everyone who has contributed to AoK by writing these tutorials and creating the software. If you need a program to unzip the file then download that here.

In your AOK data folder (e.g. c:\ageofempires2\data)you will find the main file types you can edit for the game:

Terrain.drs
Interfac.drs
Graphics.drs
Sounds.drs
Empires2_x1.dat
Empires2_x1_p1.dat

What does that mean? Well the drs files contain all the graphics associated with the game. For example the graphics.drs contains all the graphics for units and buildings and gaia objects. Terrains.drs contains all the graphics for the terrains.

Inside each drs file are files called slp’s. There are many of them and each slp contains the graphics for a particular unit or terrain or menu.

The empires2_x1.dat file is what stores all of the stats data in the game, i.e. it tells your archer how many hitpoints he has, it tells your building it can collect food, and tells your town centre it can research castle age at a certain point.

Lights, Camera, Action…

Inside the modders guide zip file you will find two files. One is called drs_aok, the other is AGE (Short for Advanced Genie Editor). Drs_aok allows you to view and extract graphics from the slps. Go ahead and open drs_aok, click file, open, and then select the graphics.drs from your AOK data folder. Viola. You now have a massive list of all the graphics that you can view. You can use the graphics.doc or slplist.doc provided in the zip which tells you what they are. You can scroll left and right to view the different frames each slp has.

Now we understand what slps are we can move onto how it coincides with the data. Keep your drs_aok open and now install/open AGE. When you open AGE you need to select your AOK directory on the menu. So on AOK folder, click browse, then set your AOK folder (might look like this C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Age of Empires II\). Then click save. Now in the top left there is a menu. Click AGE OF CONQUERERS. This will load. Now click the menu where it says options and scroll down to main dat file. Now underneath that use the drop down box to click units.

Right. Now you have a list of every single unit in the game. I have brought you here to let you know how slps work. If you type in the search box (the blank box on the left) ‘archer’ it will bring up a list of units. Click on 4-archer. On the right you will see lots of numbers and fields. All we are interested in here is the STANDING GRAPHIC. You will see that the archer standing graphic is 633.

AGE has separate graphic ID’s for all of its units. A graphic ID is basically a link to the slps to tell you what slp to use, how many frames it uses and so on. Now, in the top menu where it says units, scroll to graphics. In the search bar type 633. It will come up with a name called ARCHR_FN. Click on that and look on the right hand side. You will notice many fields and so on but all you should be interested in at the moment is the field SLP. This particular SLP is number 8. Go back to drs_aok, scroll down to number 8 and there you have it, the archer standing graphic.

Righto, you should now understand how to install, run and create modpacks. You should also understand what slp’s are, and know where to find them if necessary. Now we will go into more detail on modding in other areas.

Data Editing

Data editing is a lot more complicated than adding graphics as there are many new angles involved. Basically you can edit anything from a trees standing graphic to make it look like a house, to making a champion have a 100 attack and move three times as fast. I won’t go into data editing here but there are many tutorials and websites which will explain a lot more about data editing. To edit data the only file you really need these days is AGE. This is the most up to date data editing software and has fewer bugs than previous versions. You can use AGE to edit research, techage, units stats, buildings, gaia objects, add graphics, create new units, give abilities to other units/building (for example making a house garrison able) and so much more it is unbelievable. You can find many files which showcases you some of the things than can be created by editing data. Go to Sword_of_Storms Unit showcase, Olivers Renaissance Mod, or Tanks_ft EEE Mod.

If you wish to edit the data of terrains then you should read the tutorial I wrote in the zip file included. I will also cover some extra slp information and show you how to make animated units, and edit frame numbers effectively. (To be ready soon).

You can find AGE and its tutorial in the modders guide zip file. Alternatively download it here. Here is the AGE Guide. There are links to other tutorials on the old modding thread here. You can also view the AGE thread here. Also, using the search function on the AOKH website can help. There are many answers hidden away in there that haven’t been brought to light in tutorials. AGE was developed by StSB77.

You can also go here to find university articles on the aokh site (Again never knew existed until now).

Aswell as AGE there are obviously its fantastic predecessors. They are still important to use today, which I will go into later, but mainly some .dat files won't open with AGE. You will need to use either one of these to open them. These were the newest and most exciting areas of AoK modding at one point. The great Ykkrosh brought it to AoK with his GeniEd2. It can be downloaded below. Listed below that is a guide to GeniEd written by qaz123tfg.

GeniEd1 for AoK:TC
A version of GeniEd1 for TC created by MasterJoab and scenario_t_c.
Thread

GeniEd2
A powerful and easy-to-use stats editing tool. Ykkrosh's Thread

GeniEd2 Enhanced Version 2
The second version of GeniEd with several bug fixes and new features.
Thread

qaz123tfg's GeniEd2 Guide
Comprehensive guide to the use of GeniEd2.

GeniEd2 Enhanced Version 3
The newest version of GeniEd.

Graphics Editing

Graphics editing is my favorite part of modding. It allows you to create a whole new world of AOK where every single unit is replaced by naked women who run with their chests swaying and cant lift their swords properly and all the buildings look like large boobs.

So how do I create new graphics?

Well first of all we need the right software to make the graphics. Good for us that AOK graphics are relatively simple (When I say simple I mean to today’s standard and the fact it doesn’t really matter when its all in 256 colors) and can be replicated to a good enough standard without using really expensive software. Over the course of modding I have come across many different pieces of software but to be honest a lot of them are useless or outdated so here is my version of what you should use.

Oh yea, most graphics will all be done in 3d and rendered with a 2d isometric view (more on this later). You could also use copy and paste methods but this takes longer. If you do decide to use this method I recommend GIMP, and the Color Brush to edit material colors. You can then copy and paste from different AOK buildings to create some new ones. Or maybe even use other games graphics.

Free software

Forget paint, it sucks use GIMP. This allows you to pretty much do most the things Photoshop can do.

Google Sketchup. This is an amazing tool used by many professionals. You can make anything you want using this program. Matt Li Vecchi wrote a good tutorial on this here. You can also go to Sketchucation, for some more in depth tutorials and plugins.
- Kerkythea Renderer – A free renderer for Sketchup. Gives you some good results.
- POV RAY – Another Renderer that can be used with sketchup. POV RAY is really useful for many other applications too like Arbaro(another tree generator).

Daz Studio 3D. Daz studio is what makes the world go round. I heard that if Daz Studio threw a ball into the air it wouldn’t return to Earth for another 104 years.

Blender. I haven’t really used this as much as I want to. It is very confusing at first but can create some excellent graphics (as seen in the galleries). If it can make things like this then I’m all for it.

Joshua4missions pointed out some more of the best blender pics here.

If you really are on a tight budget but want to create quality units and buildings then these will help greatly. Use Sketchup with an external renderer for buildings, use Daz Studio for units and render them in Blender.

Here are some free models for Daz Studio/Poser to get you started.

Expensive Software

Maybe you like modding and maybe have another reason to buy software but they are some of the best programs out there.

Adobe. Simples. Adobe Photoshop would be the main piece of software you need but Adobe Illustrator can also come in handy sometimes.

Pretty much anything by Autodesk. This company is like the Optimus Prime of the 3D graphics world. I would recommend starting on 3D Studio Max, but Maya is also good. Expect to pay $1000’s of dollars.

Poser
A tool for creating 3D characters. Great for unit design. Tutorial.

Random Software

I have come across some other cool pieces of software over my modding time that can aid you in other aspects you may never have looked at before. This is mainly for things like textures, terrains, plants and many other things.

World Creator. An inexpensive game maker for 2D worlds (like AOK). One of its best features is an isometric terrain generator which allows you to cut isometric pieces out of one large texture image. Costs about £30.

Frecle Tree Generator. This cool program allows you to create many tree styles, add custom leaf images, textures, colors etc and all sorts. Best of all its free. You can either render directly from the program or import the mask as an obj file into things like 3Ds Max. (Note. There are also many tree plugins for 3Ds Max, but they all cost money. A google search can help you.)

Easy Tree Generator. This is yet another tree generator but costs only $20 and can create some pretty realistic results. I’ve never really had chance to use it though.

I will add random software over time. I have much more to add to this list which can really get people inspired. The main reason I can’t do this at the moment because my two 1000 GB hard drives are ALL over the place and I need to organize everything I have installed to make a good list.

WHITE BOXES OF DOOM

Don’t worry about the white boxes of doom anymore. Inside my modders guide zip file you will find a palette file and an ACT file. I put them both there but you only really need one or the other. They both get rid of the white boxes of doom when importing into Mod Pack Studio and works with both GIMP and Photoshop. When you convert the image to 256 colors choose this palette. For transparent parts you should be using white, rgb values 255, 255,255. I decided to upload them to the blacksmith aswell, the download link is here.

To use with GIMP. View this image for some guidance.
Load your image. Go to the menu bar, windows, dockable dialogues, palettes.
Now in that box click on the back arrow looking thing and then go to Palettes menu, import palette. Then in the import palette box, go to palette file, search for where you unzipped the .act file and click import. This will add this palette to the palette box.

Now, go to the menu bar, Image, Mode, Indexed Color, select custom palette. Click on the colored box, then the AOK Palette should be there, click on it, and it will load. Then click convert and your image will now have the AOK palette. You can mess around with the dithering etc to make it look its best.

To use with Photoshop go to the Menu bar, image, Indexed Color. This will open up a box, on the palette part scroll down the menu to custom, click load, and then search for the act file. This will load and then click ok and ok again. You might want to set the dithering to 100% (for most things) although this can be changed to noise or pattern or whatever looks best.

Editing Language Files

This is the way of changing the labels in AoK, such as the name of a unit or building, the main menu text and even the text of many of the scenarios. In order to change them, you need to edit the language.dll files. To do this, you need an editor. There is an excellent language editing tutorial over at the SWGB forum here.

Pebble32
This file is used for editing any .dll and works slightly better than reshacker as you can view what the strings say before scrolling through them all (unlike reshacker) and it contains a search function. The only problem is you can't add new strings.

Resource Hacker
An easy and straightforward program for editing .dll files. With this you can add new strings.

Cygnus Hex Editor
A powerful hex editor.

Editing Sounds

I will add to this later on. It is possible and easy with modpack studio but sometimes there can be problems. More info later.

Editing Palettes

Palettes in AOK basically tell the game what colors to use in what and where. You can view the Palettes in Mod Pack Studio and edit them from there. The main game uses palette 50500. I will go into this later on as there are a lot more things you can do to create better palettes, changing player colors, editing the interface and some other stuff that involves data editing.

Putting It All Together

Building SLPS

Ok, So you have finished all your graphics, you have completed your new .dat file. Now what? Well. You could both import it all into Mod Pack Studio and create an install script but this isn’t the only way of creating a mod. For Mod Pack Studio you can also use the import frames button for importing many images into one slp.

You will need to change all the SLP names and bmp names to AOK particulars though, so you will probably need a batch image renamer (to update with links).

Another good piece of software to use is Mod Workshop. This allows you to create slps a lot easier than using Mod Pack Studio. You can create new SLPs from scratch and many other things. I like to use this as the ‘final’ piece. I use Mod Pack Studio to view my SLPs nicely and so on and create the easy SLPs. I then use Mod Workshop for the more complicated things. It isn’t as user friendly as Mod Pack Studio but is very good.

Download it here, and read more with its included tutorial. Alternatively if you downloaded the Modders Guild Zip it is in there.

Adding SLPs to DRS files.

There is one last thing I need to go into. When creating SLP’s with a different number of frames to its original you need to edit its frame number in AGE. You can do this easily by going to graphics, find the graphic, and then edit its frame number. You can add SLPs with different frame numbers into Mod Pack Studio, by importing an SLP, clicking yes or ok to change the number of frames. You can also build your SLPs from scratch in Mod Workshop, either way you still have to either add the graphic in AGE or edit it with the correct number of frames. (I will include a very short tutorial on this shortly).

This is also very important for when adding completely new SLP’s to a drs file (i.e. not replacing anything but adding things). The general process is; add new SLP to drs, go into AGE, add the graphics in the graphics list using your new SLP numbers, then add your unit in the units tab. (Or you can create data first and add graphics after but I find it easier doing it all at once after the graphics are done, you can still do it as you go along).

(I will update more info on this later on with in depth numbers and field’s info; I will also go into how you can add new terrains to the drs and modify terrains using data editing).

Read this tutorial here for some basic info on how to ADD new SLPs to the drs file. The main way though is by using a program called DRSBUILD. This program saves you from sending a massive graphics.drs to someone, and allows you to put different slps and files into different DRS files.

All files for this section are included in the Modders Guild Zip. You can also download them here:
DRSBUILD, DRSExplorer. If you visit the Drsbuild website it gives you an in depth tutorial on how to use it.

Remember: Graphics in graphics drs. Sounds in sounds.drs. Terrains in Terrains.drs. Everything else (like palettes etc) goes in the interfac.drs.

Custom Installer

Another way of giving people your mod is by using a custom installer. You must first use an install script that allows the mod to be uploaded in an .exe format. You can read a good tutorial with some examples of a basic installer here. This is by far the best method for large mods as it saves in file size and adds the new slps on the user end.

File Sharing

There are many sites which host files and so on but I recommend http://box.net/ and http://www.mediafire.com/. Here you can create folders, make them private, share private links, upload via drag and drop and you get a gig of storage. Download links are instantly available without having to wait for download timers and if it is music or video you have preview boxes. If you have any suggestions I will add them here.

FAQ

I am using a Mac; can I create/run mods?

The short answer is a Mac can’t run any of the AOK 3rd party software needed to make or install mods as they are written for PC’s. The long answer is you can run boot camp. Go here for more information.

I am using Windows 7 64 Bit. How do I install Mod Pack Studio?

Mixon Dixon put this perfectly. MPS uses a 16-bit installer, which 64-bit no longer supports. Your only hope would be to install a 32-bit version of Windows (2000 or up) on a virtual machine (my recommendation: VirtualBox).

To use MPS with a virtual machine (starting when your 32-bit OS is installed on it):

  1. Set the virtual machine to use the real disk drive.
  2. Install AoK, TC, and any patches you may need.
  3. Download and install MPS on your virtual OS.
  4. Now you have an option. Either play AoK on the virtual OS and use MPS with it (slightly buggy, but easy), OR
  5. Using the permanent install trick, copy the modded DRS files on the virtual machine to your real AoK data folder. (If you need help doing that, just email me).

I know the last step isn't fun, so I may make a utility to make it easier.

Mod Pack Studio Errors – Usually quite frequent but some of them you can look out for and stop from happening. These are new ones I have come across which haven’t been covered. You can view more errors on the old thread here.

"UNEXPECTED ERROR - #52, Bad file name or number, on line 192" – I ran into this one a while ago and couldn’t find the solution anywhere. Turns out it is a registry error. I think it sometimes happens if you uninstall mod pack studio or install it before AOK, I can’t remember. If it happens randomly, uninstall mod pack studio. You then need to run a registry edit and delete all of the registry items for Mod Pack Studio before re-installing. Here is a link to registry editing software.

“UNEXPECTED ERROR - #35602, Key is not unique in collection, on line 2449? – I used to get this error a lot when constantly ‘testing’ new mods. It occurs after installing a mod pack from inside Mod Pack Studio and then trying to reload an AXP file after you quit AOK. It is quicker just to quit Mod Pack Studio after installing a mod from it and exiting the game, reloading MPS and then opening your AKP file again. You don’t need to uninstall Mod Pack Studio.

Can I add a new civilization or new option?

No.

What is in the Modpack Guild Utilities Zip?

The 35mb zip file contains:

  • Tiles Template
  • SLP List
  • Graphics.drs/Interfac.drs List
  • Sounds.drs List
  • AOK Fixed Palette for GIMP and Photoshop
  • Anchor Guide
  • Mod Pack Studio 2
  • AGE
  • Mod Workshop
  • DRS_aok
  • DRS_build
  • DRS_explorer
  • Jorgitos Graphic Pack (To help you practice importing bmps)

Conclusion

I hope this was informative and more up to date than the previous thread.
Please, if you have any questions or suggestions mention them here. I will be updating this very shortly once I get a bit more organized. It’s getting late now so I’m going to go to bed. Goodnight.

Completed Mods/ Mods in Progress

I would like to show you what can be achieved with modding to show you how great it is. It is fun when you get into it albeit seem daunting at times but these might inspire you.

Age of Chivalry
Rome at War
All Roads Lead to Rome
BOME/METC
The Edorian Chronicles (In progress)
Tales of Middle Earth (In progress)
Old Steel Reforged (In progress)
Age of Sherwood (In progress)
Age of Voivods (In progress)

I recommend reading through the archived Modpack Forum to get some more info.


Do you want to comment on this article? Thank the author? Tribute resources for its improvement? Raze it to the ground?

Come by and visit its thread in the Scenario Design and Modding Forum!