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Kirky Picardo: on modding, his experiences, and plans!

Interview by Swolte: May 2008

Kirky Picardo has been an outstanding member of the AoW community. He is especially known for his Brave New World mod who has brought more life for Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you discover Age of Wonders and why did you like it? How did you eventually get into modding? Why your forumname?

Well I have been playing computer games for a quite a while now. My first computer was a commodore 64 which I loved. It may sound strange for someone to say they 'loved' a computer, but I wasn't alone in this and even today you can still find places on the net dedicated to the c-64 with devoted fans.

Back in those days, a lot of the software came from programs in magazines which you had to type in. I spent hours on end doing this. Some of these programs were written in Basic, so you could begin to learn a bit about programming in the process. I became a decent basic programmer myself and for a while was a regular contributer to a disk magazine called Loadstar. Loadstar was not a paper magazine, but came on floppy disks with the programs ready to use (you didn't have to type them in yourself). This allowed people to write larger programs then you would typically get in a paper magazine with stuff like custom fonts, graphics etc.

My programs were fairly well known for their custom graphics. I did a lot of font and sprite work which was a bit different from what most other people did and the editor of Loadstar used to make a big deal of them which was nice. I remember I used to make caricatures of him to represent the computer player in some of my games. It was also very cool receiving a check in the mail for something you were just doing for fun anyway. :)

I did this for a few years, long past when most people would of thought there were still folks using the c-64, but as the scene began to die out, the time eventually came to get a pc.

From a gamer's point of view, this was a truly a great time. There were so many fantastic games to play that I never did continue the programming I had begun on the c-64. I remember I subscribed to PCGamer which came with many demos on a cd each month. These demos were like full games in themselves!

I played so many good games back then, but one I kept coming back to was Heroes of Might & Magic. I first discovered the demo for HOMM2 then shortly thereafter HOMM3 came out and I got it pretty much as soon as it did. Sometime after getting an internet connection I decided to try an online game of HOMM3 at the MSN Gaming Zone.

This leads me to the question about how I chose this nickname... I imagine most people assume I am a big treky, heh. Well, I like the shows and all, but I like other shows too. I absolutely love BSG and think that may be the best series ever! When I entered the MSN Game Zone you needed to pick a nickname. The first few I tried were characters from fantasy novels I think which were already taken and I didn't want a number after my name. Kirk Picard just popped into my head and I typed that in. It hadn't already been taken so I used it and have ever since.

I played H3 at the zone for quite a while and really enjoyed it. However, nothing lasts forever...and eventually it just wasn't as fun as it used to be. I had a core group of online friends I played with and we started to try some other games. I think it was both myself and one other friend who had seen a review of Shadow Magic in PCGamer and we decided to give it a try. We would talk about it at the MSN Game Zone and others there began to try it as well. At this time there were many H3 players who were hungry for a new game of the same type as Heroes to play, as even though there were still a good amount of active players, the H3 community was in a steady decline (as happens to all game communities eventually).

After a bit, quite a few H3 people got the game and started playing. One person from the community had started a website devoted to games and made a tournament for us. I remember that some hoped it would really take off and be as popular as the Heroes community was in its hey day. Unfortunately, that never happened and the tournament never really grew beyond the H3 guys who were playing. Others signed up but didn't really play, so eventually most people either went back to H3 or onto other games. However, myself and a small group of guys continued to play.

As to how I got into modding, I went to gamespy one day and someone sent me a link to try a mod, so I decided to check it out. I goofed around on a couple mods that were around and decided to get the other guys to try this mod called Evilution by Lucretia96 with me. None of us had played a mod before and we were very used to the normal game. So it seemed quite bizarre to suddenly be confronted with whirlwinding, spear-chucking elephants and what not. I think it was a 4-player game and people were typing things like, 'LOL' or 'This is nutty!' and various other adjectives. :) But...something else was going on as well, we were all having fun!

We played this for a while and I began modding by editing this mod for our games. The first thing I did was not changing the cost of a spell or altering the stat of some unit, but it was to edit heroes! While the mod had altered units quite a lot, it hadn't changed heroes at all. This was a version of the mod that is earlier than the one that is still available in the downloads section I believe. So I began by making heroes a bit stronger and giving them better upgrades and also new portraits as well. After a while I began to make other changes too. At a certain point I was changing so much that I decided I should do my own mod, so I started over from scratch with a new default resource set. This then became a mod called 'Next Generation', which you could say was the prologue to the the Brave New World mods. I made it available at a Heroes tournament website which also had a Shadow Magic section. I also posted about it in the Heaven forums as well, but noone ever replied in that thread, hehe. :P

You are well known as a modder. Can you tell us what the moments are that you are really proud of the work you do? Are there aspects of modding which are more exciting to you than others? Also, how do complete these huge projects and keep yourself focused and motivated?

Hmmm...well there are some proud moments now and then. I've had some really nice comments from some very nice people out there that I very much appreciate. As I still haven't fully completed BNW 3 I don't know that I have a good answer for how I complete these huge projects, heh. I will say that it can be very difficult to stay focused and motivated. You go through peaks and valleys, and when you are in the valley (which is more often than not), the peak seems very very far away. However, you just keep at it. The main difference is that when motivation is low, you just don't accomplish as much, even though you may be working just as hard on the project as at other times.

You are quite famous for the Brave New World mod. Can you tell us a bit more about this mod? How did you make up the name? Is there a general theme or thought behind the mod? What kind of player should download it? Or... what makes this mod a Captain Kirky mod?

Well as I mentioned earlier, when I first began modding I concentrated on heroes. I felt they were too weak and also just were not very interesting or cool. They seemed to be very generic in nature. I had come from Heroes 3 where what heroes you had were a big part of the game. When we started playing Shadow Magic, we would often ask each other what hero each had just as we had done in H3. However, even after a year of playing, noone really knew the heroes by their names and the answer often was (after clicking on the hero) something like, 'I got a priest' or 'I got some rogue guy.' Ultimately it didn't really matter who your hero was. Their main function only seemed to be as a conduit through which your wizard could cast spells.

So I set out to make heroes more important and diverse, giving them more personality (with nice portraits too!). I also wanted developing these heroes to be an important aspect of gameplay. In BNW 2 I discovered how to give them unique bodies which added to all this. In the latest version of BNW, while heroes start off not quite as strong as in previous versions, developing them is still a very important feature of the mod. This is just something I really enjoy and feel adds a lot to the game.

So the mod features many cool heroes and in the final version ALL the heroes will each have their own individual stories as well. A person from the forums who goes by the name of Boojie Boy has been sending me great stories for the heroes who didn't already have them and they are wonderful.

The mod also has many many new units, and similar to developing heroes, getting medals for your units has always been important in BNW as well. In the latest version, thanks to discoveries by Turbo Beholder and others, I was able to take this even further with units that can upgrade to better units at gold medal. This is a very fun element of gameplay that I think some other people enjoy as well.

The mod also features a tremendous amount of new graphics. Now I know some may say, 'I dont care about graphics, only gameplay is important!' Well, if that were completely true I think we would be playing games on simple grids with Xs and Os. :) Graphics are important to games and add a lot to the experience. Now this doesn't mean they have to be cutting edge in terms of 3D technology which require the newest most advanced hardware to run. However, in a fantasy game such as this, it is important that the game be well designed with nice graphics. Shadow Magic is such a game even in its default form, but with BNW I have tried to take this further. An important aspect of this to me, is that even though the material in BNW is adapted from many different sources, I did not want it to look like some frankenstein-type mod, with weird looking, weird moving things that appear odd or out of place. I have tried to give the mod a distinctive look, where everything seems like it belongs in this game. While there is still some work to do, I believe that overall, it succeeds in this. When you play BNW I think it looks and feels very much like a more modern version of Shadow Magic! That's my opinion anyway. :P

Of course, there are also new races, re-made races, new map structures, spells, skills and well, just lots of cool stuff! The mod was originally called New Blood, and in case anyone ever wondered, that's why all the unit and hero ILBs all have a NB_ prefix. As I had mentioned before the first mod I did was called Next Generation. I guess I thought New Blood would be a good name as this version was going to have a lot of new units. However, I didn't really like that name and eventually decided to call it Brave New World instead. I believe there is a somewhat famous novel of this name, but it's just something that popped into my head really. I feel it fits and never thought of changing it.

As to what type of person should download it, well I guess it should a person who has a good internet connection as the mod is very BIG! :) I can't point to any specific thing that makes it a 'Captain Kirky' mod. I very much believe it is though. :)

You are now working on the third big installment of Brave New World. Looking back at these three projects, have things changed much over the years? If so, how has your work changed?

The main thing is that everything has just gotten better. There are things in BNW 1 & 2 that seemed fine at the time - and relatively speaking, may still be fine - but they are not as good as in the latest version.

How do you deal with criticism on your mod?

Well to be honest, probably not very well. It depends on the type of criticism, where it is coming from and what the motivation of the person giving it may be. There will always be things that can be improved, but based on the overall quality of the mod, I can't see any good reason for someone to be extremely critical of it. After all, it does come with a complete money back guarantee! :)

We have already seen some spectacular images of a Lord of the Rings mod. Could you comment on that?

Unfortunately, that project is very much in limbo and it seems doubtful it will ever be completed. It's not something I feel I can do properly on my own as I am only a casual fan of LoTR and don't have the intimate knowledge of this lore which is needed. Awegust, who I was making this with, certainly did though. He also seemed to be a very fine map-maker, and was becoming a highly skilled modder as well, doing lots of nice things. If I hear from him and he wants to get back to working on this, then the project may live again!

How do you see the future of AoW? Is there anything that you have in the works or dream about after BNW3?

Well as to if there will ever be an AoW 3, I have no idea and it's not something I really think about. If there ever is an AoW 3 it will be very different from the current version and it wouldn't surprise me if those who are most vocal about wanting to see this end up not liking it.

I think both the future and the present of Shadow Magic is in mods, or if you prefer, patches. :)

There are other projects I have thought of doing, but currently I am just concentrating on finishing this third installment of Brave New World. After that we shall see. I have been at this for a quite a while now and have spent an enormous amount of time modding this game. I will probably take a break after BNW 3 is finished. Even if I never do anything else for this game, I hope there will be some people out there who have enjoyed my mods.

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