• 6 January 2014 15:46:38

    Nexus Mod Manager plans, answers and if you're a coder, we want your help

    posted by Dark0ne Site News
    The aim of this article is to answer a few regularly brought up questions and concerns in regards to the Nexus Mod Manager, talk about the plan for NMM this year as well as talk about how you yourselves can help us.

    I think one of the biggest questions that gets thrown around about the Nexus Mod Manager is why, after more than 2 years, it is still in open beta. Some people seem to find this rather insulting and claim we're using it as a cop out for not following a strict stable/beta release structure. I can tell you right now, without any sense of shame, that's pretty much exactly why NMM is still in open beta.

    We don't hide this either, it's not as though we claim NMM is some super stable, magical, bug free piece of software that's going to be the solution to all your modding issues. It's really not and we don't claim it is. When we say that, "We cannot stress enough that we are still in the beta stage of NMM. NMM is in a very good state and will be usable by nearly everyone, but Beta stages are typically used for testing and bug fixing, and some of you will find bugs." on the NMM download page and put "open beta" on our pages and within the program itself, that isn't just some blurb we put up to fill column inches, we actually mean it. Even the versions of NMM that are considered "stable" aren't very stable, and to put a "stable" moniker on any current version of NMM would be misleading for new users. No. When you download NMM, when you use NMM, you do so being fully and properly informed that NMM is still open beta and is still susceptible to all the foibles that comes with that. If you don't like that, if you're not comfortable with that, then absolutely nothing is keeping you using NMM over any other mod manager out there (or, manually installing the mods yourselves!). This is how we've chosen to do this as it's making our jobs a lot easier at this time. Once we get a 1.0 version of NMM out we will then most definitely change our structure to ensure we follow a more Linux oriented style of NMM releases (e.g. stable release/bleeding edge seperate releases). Until then don't act like NMM is anything more than in open beta, because it isn't, and if you have the idea that it is then you didn't get it from us.

    The reason why we're not just slapping a 1.0 version on NMM and moving into a more stable release structure is because NMM is not complete. I wouldn't say it's "no where near complete" but I'd say there's still a long way to go. And I think perhaps "complete" is the wrong word to use, I instead mean "complete to the point of being happy to put a 1.0 moniker on the program" because NMM, in all it's cliche glory, will never be complete, as we'll always be adding to it and upgrading it even after our 1.0 feature list is implemented.

    When I first contacted kaburke, a developer of the Oblivion Mod Manager (OBMM) and Fallout Mod Manager (FOMM), about coding NMM we wrote out a rather informal design document that contained a number of features that NMM would need to contain before it would be considered 1.0. Over the years there's been a bit of feature creep here and there, but to this day several of these features are yet to be finished. So you're probably asking, what features are these?

    • Stability. Naturally I'm not going to release a piece of software that is still struggling to get online half the time.
    • Bugs. As bug free as is feasible considering the myriad of hardware and software combinations out there.
    • Documentation. Proper, decent, detailed documentation on how to use NMM.
    • Modern UI interface. We commissioned work on a new design for NMM towards the beginning of last year and I showed you some of the work that had been done at the time. A 1.0 version of NMM will not look the same as it does now.
    • Mod profiling. More on this below.
    • Mod packaging. A piece of accompanying software for mod authors that will help them package their files into a single, open, proprietary file (e.g. a .nex file) that will ensure their mod is NMM compatible and also help with setting up custom/scripted installers for use within NMM while also remaining open so anyone with a zip program can open/use/extract the files manually if they so wish.

    Some of these features are major additions to NMM that require extensive testing, the sort of extensive testing that can only be achieved if the majority, rather than a small test pool of users, are helping us to test the program. So we rely on you to help us.

    It's now been over 2 years since we released NMM and things are going very slowly. It's not hard to see and, once again, I don't hide that fact. So what's taking so long? It's simply the sheer scope of the project at hand. Take mod profiling for example. We started work on mod profiling back in the middle of March 2013. That's 9 months ago, and it's still not done.

    Which leads to the next regularly asked question; why is it taking so long when programs like Mod Organizer have had it for yonks now and it was seemingly coded in a shorter time? Simply put and specific to mod profiling, we're having to do it in a completely different way because the scope of NMM, which has to support modding for multiple different game engines and not just GameBryo, is much larger. As such we've had to use different methods that aren't just specific to one engine. The result will be a mod profiling system that will not only work for all games but will also continue to work if game developers make some changes to the way modding in their games is handled. And herein lies the issue. Mod Managers developed for specific games or specific engines are always going to be at an advantage in some regards to NMM which is trying to create a platform from which any and all games can potentially be modded. That doesn't mean that NMM can't have powerful features unique to individual games it supports, but while NMM has a framework from which we work from, engine specific mod managers are more free to go off in any direct and do anything without being confined by an encompassing framework which often requires more time to develop for. The framework is what allows us to support all games in one piece of software but it also presents additional barriers that need to be overcome compared to a piece of software developed specifically for a single game engine.

    It's why when certain high-and-mighty users of other mod managers feel the need to come take a dump on the progress of NMM I dismiss the criticism for the ignorance it exudes. Thankfully, and much to the credit of Mod Organizer in particular, I know the author is actually a rather stand-up individual who's done everything in his coding power to ensure that the NMM services he uses aren't placing an undue burden on our servers. He hasn't caused a hassle at all (even when services have been changed or taken down) and has responded to any questions asked in great manner. So when such individuals come and act like self-righteous asses on the topic of NMM I'm able to form a clear dividing line between these minority users of MO and Mod Organizer itself, and its author, which are both great.

    Lest people forget, the services used to allow users to check for new mod versions or download straight from the site in to NMM or MO or any other program are currently open and free for anyone to use. We've kept these services open because we didn't want to be those types of developers who make everything open source apart from the one thing other programs might need in order to be on a level footing. And to clarify, NMM is open source, our web services are not (they're completely different entities). Nothing is stopping us from closing the web services to anything other than NMM in the future, and the main reason we haven't is because (a) no one has given us a reason to close them and (b) the people who are using them are using them well and in a morally sound way. In the future we'd like to create an API to be able to better control who can use the services, and extend the services on offer. I know that the S.T.E.P. crew, for example, have been wanting a way to allow more than 1 mod to be downloaded from a single link to make the process simpler, and that's something we want to look into, but considering the time it's taking us to develop things right now I don't think it's going to be happening any time soon.

    Which brings me on to my next topic. Help. While we've been going through the recent site issues a lot of people have been asking "How can I help?". On the website end there really isn't much anyone can do except not mash F5 twenty times a second if something goes wrong, and perhaps become a Premium Member. But with NMM things are completely different. You can actually help, and you can pay with time, not money (and maybe even earn some money).

    When we released NMM we made it completely open source. That means anyone can go to our SourceForge page for the NMM project, download all the source code and see exactly what NMM is doing and how it's doing it. I wanted to do this for a number of reasons:

    • It sets us apart from other modding networks who have mod managers but haven't made them open source to ensure they maintain some form of "competitive edge" in a niche area of the gaming industry that I don't think should be competitive at all.
    • It enables us to be completely transparent about what NMM is doing on your PC. If you're worried it's doing anything bad, malicious or nefarious, intentionally or otherwise, then you can either look for this yourself or someone else can find it and let others know. It enables us to remain above-board with you.
    • My stance on mod publishing is well known among mod authors. I think all mod authors should release their mods with an open and free license to allow users to fix bugs and add or change features based on personal preference, and that these fixes and changes should be allowed to be shared on the premise that the original mod is still required. That's my feelings on the matter. I couldn't in good conscious release a mod manager that didn't follow that philosophy. NMM is open source which means you can add to it, change it and publish it anywhere and I can't do anything about it.
    • It means anyone and everyone can help with the development of NMM.

    Unfortunately that last point has never really happened. While a few people have expressed an interest in helping with NMM it never turns into anything. This community has a lot of talent within it across a broad range of skillsets. There are plenty of programmers out there and I would like to harness that potential to help us with NMM.

    When you write on the forums that you can't believe NMM doesn't have feature X yet, or that bug Y has not been fixed, you need to realise that you yourself can add feature X, and fix bug Y, and in not doing so you've, at least in my eyes, accepted that we will (or won't) add feature X and fix bug Y in our own time. If you don't like that then crack open your favourite coding program and do it yourself and help out millions of other users in the process.

    We recently did a trial run with a developer from the X:Rebirth community who coded the integration of X:Rebirth in to NMM which was recently added. It went brilliantly. So much so I'm now talking with another developer from the Starbound community to get NMM integrated with Starbound modding. I think this is an untapped resource in the community that could be put to good use if done right and with the proper incentive.

    I was planning to hire an additional .NET programmer this year to help the 2 we currently have already working on NMM. However what I'd like to do is run a little experiment within the community over the new few months to see if that money could be better spent working with multiple individuals on a project by project basis. Anything from some simple bug fixes to adding functionality we just never got around to, like properly integrating NMM with BOSS. The plan is to talk with would-be developers, discuss what needs to be done (and honestly, you can come to me with ideas for what you think NMM should do and I'll listen), provide rough estimates on how long such functionality would take to code and then provide a respectable financial incentive that both parties agree upon based on how long we think the work will take to complete. I'm not planning to pay a coders hourly wage because the site coffers simply can't afford it (and it would defeat the point of doing this!). Instead, this would be the perfect opportunity for individuals looking for a hobby coding project to earn some money on the side while also getting a rather nice addition to your CV or resumé. If you were looking for a coding job in the web or gaming industry then having Nexus Mods on your CV would definitely help in that regard, and I can, of course, provide references if necessary. Perfect if you've just graduated and you're looking for some names to add to that resumé.

    If this idea interests you and you're looking for a hobby coding project right now then get in contact with me by PM or using the site contact form and we'll have a chat. Neither of us are under any obligation and everything will remain informal, such is my way.

    With all that said, I will simply end by saying that I believe that the worst of the site issues are now behind us. If you've been using the sites over the past week hopefully you've noticed now that things are a lot more stable. However things within NMM still remain quite unstable, and we're looking in to sorting that out as a matter of urgency at this time.

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