After some internal discussion, we've decided that the best and fairest way of providing MSUC entry feedback is in this forum, so our comments are available to all entrants. Here's some overall feedback for the best mod category.
The suggestions and comments posted on this forum are mere observations, the implementation or application of which may or may not have any effect on the chances of success of future or revised entries. Please refer to the judging criteria specified in the rules.
As specified in the rules, we are judging the entries based on the following criteria: Creativity, Visuals, Innovation, Fun, Quality, Polish, and Gameplay.
We’re looking for mods that are different from games and mods we’ve played before. If you are making yet another counterstrike clone, it’s going to need either a really compelling twist, or an extremely high level of polish in terms of gameplay and visuals to make up for the lack of creativity in the mod. Prometheus, Snowreal, and The Ball, for example, were mods in this category which fell outside the range of the typical mod we’ve seen.
Visuals are important too. They set the stage, defining your universe and provide the context and background of your game. High quality visuals are the first thing players notice when starting a game, and provide the player with an initial impression of the overall quality of the mod. The Haunted is a good example of a mod which stood out for its visual polish. Good visuals are not only attractive, they are functional in providing clear representations of gameplay elements and gameplay feedback to the player. A consistent and attractive style, with high quality implementation in all areas (levels, characters, vehicles, weapons, effects, animation, UI, and HUD) are important elements of high quality visuals.
We’re always impressed by something that we haven’t seen done before with the Unreal engine (rewind feature in Prometheus), or is relatively unique compared to what’s being done by other mods (like UT2D).
Fun and immersive gameplay are of course a crucial attributes of a mod. Confusing and overly complex implementations are an enemy of fun. A mod should be accessible, easy to understand, and easy to get into. These are areas where I’d definitely recommend looking for feedback from players outside your mod development team, to understand where your vision and assumptions aren’t translating well in your implementation. Your mod shouldn’t only be fun for someone who already understands your vision, or require players to invest a lot of time and develop a lot of expertise before they can start having fun. Fun can be found by providing compelling problems and challenges at the right level of difficulty for the players and giving them interesting choices to make to achieve game objectives. Clear and immediate feedback to the player about the results of their decisions is also important.
A polished tutorial or short explanatory cut scenes can be very useful in making your mod more accessible. Prometheus, The Ball, and Ajax and Argos are good examples of mods that successfully focused on improving the new player’s experience using these tools. In addition to a tutorial, well paced introduction of more complex elements (as done by Prometheus and The Ball) helps players feel appropriately challenged throughout their play experience.
Focus on quality over quantity. Being ambitious in your goals for your mod is good, if you have the team to pull it off, but be realistic about the current state of content and features in your mod, and concentrate in your demo on what’s currently cool or fun about your mod. At the same time, give an idea of the eventual scope and plans for the mod you are creating. Don’t ask judges (or players on the internet) to wade through lots of unfinished content and features to find the fun.
Overall polish is important as well in making it possible for others to see your vision. This doesn’t necessarily mean ship level polish and quality, but rather making sure that every aspect of your mod is well presented and clearly understandable, including gameplay elements, visual elements, UI, and HUD. Your mod should be free of critical issues that prevent players from experiencing it (crashes, blocked gameplay, etc.), and should be easy to install and easy to play from the menus. Needing more than a handful of lines of instructions to get started indicates you are doing something wrong. Finally, good offline bot support can be valuable to allow users to try out multiplayer mods without having to find other players, if the mod isn’t really established yet.