[Editor’s Note: Eriq Jaffe is one of several Uni Watch readers who specialize in modifying (or simply “modding”) the uniforms on their video games. I’m not a gamer myself, but I’m intrigued by the design-it-yourself ethos exemplified by Eriq and other modders. He recently offered to write an overview of his modding practices and it turned out to be fascinating stuff. Enjoy. — PL]
By Eriq Jaffe
Ever since I can remember, I’ve messed with, or modified, my video games, whether it’s coming up with a cheat code for nearly unlimited cash in Ghostbusters or spending countless hours manually inputting team stats from my Neft & Cohen into SSI Computer Baseball, I’ve never been able to help myself.
Why? I think it’s got something to do with leveraging technology to create a sports-themed fantasy world. From the time I was 6 or 7 years old, I would set up fairly elaborate universes of dice-based football leagues, and I had full uniforms — and, in many cases, historical uniforms — that I would design and then laboriously map onto players by re-coloring traced photographs (unfortunately, none of that work survived a cleaning purge a number of years ago). And, yes, some of the teams featured purple as their primary color. And now, thanks to the fine folks at Electronic Arts — as well as a number of other talented people in various modding communities — I am able to fully indulge my passion for changing my games (and, probably, violating my license agreements).
It’s safe to say that I spend more time creating uniforms for MVP 2005 than I do actually playing it. There are many other things that you can mod with MVP 2005 — and pretty much anything that can be changed is changed by somebody. There are people who specialize in ballparks, “cyberfaces,” and a whole host of other esoterica. But me, I’m a uniform junkie, so I focus on modding the unis. The rationale for a particular modification can vary, but here are some of the common reasons:
- To right a historical inaccuracy. I am often alarmed at some of the out-of-the-box oversights. EA, you have a pretty good amount of revenue — you can afford to get it right!
- To improve on the quality of the work that’s already there. All of my mods are done in what’s called “2x,” which means that the textures are twice the resolution of the stock textures — this provides for a much sharper-looking uniform, although at the risk of overpowering slower computers.
- To honor my early habit of tracing pictures out of Street & Smith’s and then coloring them in with my own designs.
I have a tremendous soft spot for uniforms that are generally considered to be ugly (that’s what happens when you grow up as a White Sox fan during the ’70s and ’80s as a White Sox fan), and that tends to be a theme in my work. Be it re-creating uniforms from 1999’s infamous “Turn Ahead The Clock” promotion (additional examples here, here, here, here, and here, and let’s not forget those worse-than-2007 All-Star uniforms) or painstakingly rendering White Sox uniforms the late ’70s (those are from 1978, to be specific — the number of sock stripes varied from year to year during that period), I can’t seem to stop glorifying some of the more unattractive chapters from baseball’s past.
I also have a morbid fascination with defunct sports leagues and franchises. I know more about the USFL than most people would consider healthy, and I’ve recreated some vintage Pacific Coast League uniforms (additional examples here, here, here, and here), although that tends to be a bit harder, as finding good image sources can be tricky.
The actual process is a bit more tedious. First off, I have to research what the uniforms looked like. I find that Bill Henderson’s “Double Knit Era Collectors Reference” to be the best source, along with Google Images, eBay, and my own collection of baseball cards. Once I have a clear idea of what the jersey needs to look like, I’ll refer to Chris Creamer’s site for the logos and wordmarks (as well as my own private stash of logos that I’ve collected over the years).
Once all those parts are collected, it’s off to Photoshop, where I assemble the various jersey components using a series of templates that I have downloaded, created, or modified to suit my own workflow. This is the monkey work — cut, paste, shift, color, apply a little bevel here, a little drop shadow there. All in all, there are 28 different pieces that need to be created to create the uniform itself, as well as 36 items for the jersey lettering and numbering (a few teams, such as the Dodgers, require an additional set of “front” numbers, since they differ from the ones on the jersey backs). Mercifully, I have that part more or less down to a science at this point.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of others who have managed to crack open file formats and write tools to deal with them, we are able to modify the games. Some of the tools were written specifically for MVP (such as FuzzOne’s brilliant MVP Studio — you have to create an account on that site to download it), some tools are from other EA Sports communities (particularly the NBA Live and NHL players), and some are from non-sports games entirely. Some tools have fairly easy-to-understand GUIs, some are command-line driven, but once you get used to them, it’s actually pretty easy.
EA uses “.fsh” (“fish”) files as their container of choice — one .fsh for the uniform and one for the letters and numbers. There’s a specialized application known as FshEd that I use to insert the various components into a the .fsh files. The completed .fsh files are then packed into another container format (this one known as a “.big” file) using gfxpak (which I linked to a screenshot of above). There is yet another .big file that contains the “preview” in the jersey select screen of the game, but that’s just one 125×125 picture — small potatoes.
Game time! Finally, I get to fire up MVP and see how close to right I’ve gotten things. Most of the trial and error comes from limitations when dealing with the 3D models — some jersey elements will tend to stretch a bit oddly, or have other strangeness. Sometimes, a jersey cannot be 100% accurate due to these restrictions — for example, the Don Wilson memorial patch on my 1975 Astros jerseys should have been positioned higher up on the shoulder, above the rainbow stripes. Unfortunately, due to the model, that doesn’t work in MVP, so I had to move it down — acceptable losses, I guess. Sometimes, the tweaking can take a long time. I don’t even want to think about how many I hours I spent just to get the stripes on these sleeves to line up with the stripes on the shoulders – that’s four different uniform pieces I had to juggle around (nudge the stripes on the left sleeve a couple pixels over, pack everything into the container files, play a game, rinse, repeat) to get that working. If the jersey is right, I take a screenshot using a program called Fraps (good old Print Screen doesn’t work with a lot of DirectX and OpenGL games), and then package the mod up for distribution.
Then I bask in internet-based glory!
If you want to get into this for some twisted reason of your own, the best thing to do is find a modding community for whatever game you’re interested in — if it’s on the PC, somebody’s probably modding it. For MVP, the biggest and best community (IMHO) is MVP Mods. Poke around, ask questions, see what other people are doing, grab some templates and tools, and start showing your work. Don’t worry if your stuff seems a bit unprofessional or off-the-wall, because somebody’s probably already tried something stranger, and one of the best ways to learn is through constructive criticism. If you can’t afford a copy of Photoshop, don’t fret — good results can be achieved through freeware programs like the GIMP or Paint.NET (you’ll need a plug in to handle Photoshop files for that one). While every internet community will have its share of bad eggs (except Uni Watch, of course), most people are happy to help the inexperienced — the more the merrier, y’know?
(I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t thank and recognize some other standouts of the MVP modding community: Kccitystar, whose templates have been the basis for most of my work; Royal Blues, for trading tips and techniques; FuzzOne, for making some indispensable tools; and Pirate and SeanO, whose stadiums add an incredible amount of realism to the game experience. Without these people, I probably couldn’t indulge myself to nearly the same extent as I do.)
Friendly Reminder: Paul’s on vacation. If you have questions, observations, or contributions, send them to Vince.
Uni Watch News Ticker: First, let me say that I know a lot of hockey news has been going on, including new Predators uniforms, but I know little to nothing about hockey, and I’m sure Paul is going to take a crack at it all when he gets back, so I’m leaving it out for now. If Paul were here, however, I wonder what he would have to say about this (with thanks to Rob B.)… Dario Sala seems intent on pissing off MLS and Adidas. First, he wore the FC Dallas away jersey in goal, which was nixed by Adidas because it wasn’t an official Adidas goalkeeper jersey. Then, he wore the dark jersey with green trim, but was told he couldn’t do that because it was too similar to DC’s black uniform. Now? Now he wears the white top that the coaches use for training. Brilliant, I say! (nice assist by David Walker)… Jeremy Brahm has gone on uni-overload this weekend, sending the following contributions – Norichika Aoki wearing a silver glove in the Japanese All-Star game, a great gallery of All-Star hats being made by NPB, memorial crape bands (see picture 3) being worn by the Brazilian athletes competing in the Pan-American Games for victims of the Sau Paulo TAM plane crash, and the new uniforms for the Japanese gymnastics teams… Jon Lauer reports that the Washington Wild Things wore retro Blue Jays jerseys on Saturday night, leaving the grounds crew no option but to wear the coaching staff’s regular uniforms… Awesome looking hockey jerseys (or sweaters, for you purists) from the Israel Ice Hockey Federation, Paul’s really missing out here (great catch from Avi Berliner)… Yesterday’s Open Thread focused on the Negro League throwbacks worn by Detroit and Kansas City on Saturday night, and luckily Mike Bendert was at the game and sent along his photo gallery… Patrick Nance passed along some logos from the Texas Collegiate League that he thought were pretty spiffy. Agreed… Some nice contrast in shorts style between Brazil and Canada at the Pan-Am Games… Finally, FANTASTIC argyle pattern socks on Boca Junior.