I wrote this to give newbies and even advanced editors insight into the TC creation experience. I have been working on making a TC for over a month now. Insight for those who are thinking about creating TC's and for those who are working on one. Insight into what they are, how they start, what makes them go, why they die, and suggestions on TC creation (not what to make a TC about, but how to go about doing it).
What is a TC?
A TC (stands for Total Conversion) is technically understood as the creation of a new game based on another game's engine (in this case the Jedi Knight or Mysteries of the Sith engine). There are varying opinions in this community on what exactly a TC, but it is generally considered a TC (by most) if it contains the following elements. TC's range from anything that goes beyond a single level to a series of levels, with a story that binds the levels together. It may also include patch modifications and additional Multi-player levels. My own TC, for example, is a series of levels (that tell a story) with a patch modification that gives the player new items and a new weapon. Other TC's can have you doing anything from racing in a pod race (as seen in Episode I: The Phantom Menace) to playing of Pokemon using Jedi Knight engine.
An all too Common Sight
I have seen many TC's spring up, inspired by a "cool" idea, create a web site, get to work, and then collapse in a month or less. Why does this happen and how does it affect a future TC creator? Read on to find out.
How They Start
TC's are often started by someone with an idea for a cool TC, but that has no editing experience. Now I can tell you on a smaller scale what happens. When I started editing, I would often have a cool idea for a level, so I would sit down and start creating it. But thinking something would be cool to make and actually making it is the same as liking guitar music and actually learning how to play guitar. So, I would become tired of working on that level. I'd get another cool idea, start working on it, and leave the original one behind. I've seen this on the TC scale too. I heard of someone who was working on two or more TC's at once. The same result will most likely (though not absolutely) happen at the TC level as it did on the single level scale. Nothing gets finished.
What Makes a TC Go?
The answer is teamwork! Usually no one person has the expertise to handle everything. Often times this results in one person gathering together a team of people who specialize in the different areas of editing (cogs, levels, 3dos, keys, etc). For example, in the TC I have been working on, I am a moderate in several areas. What I mean by this is I have knowledge of nearly every area, but I am not very advanced in any area. Thus I have one member of the team who specializes in cogs, three who specialize in skins (I am simply terrible at making skins), one guy who specializes in making 3dos, someone who specializes in sound, and another guy as a beta tester. No one person is more important than the rest, and all are nessecary like the stones of an arch, each one supporting the others. Without even one person, it doesn't work. This leads to another pitfall of TC making. I've heard about it in other TC groups, how the members become bored with the work and leave.
What Makes a TC Die?
There are several factors. One is work. The amount of work involved is huge! Not something to be taken lightly. The creation of one good level takes a good amount of time, making several is a long journey. I've found in my own TC that eventually your start to make yourself edit to keep working, and the work becomes more of a chore. Now this is not to say it is a chore all the time! But, pushng yourself to keep working is hard, and takes will power and discipline. This is one of the hardest hurdles to cross in TC creation. My advice: Take it one step and one day at a time. Break the work up into smaller tasks and do each one at a time.
Another reason TC's can die is that the team breaks up. There are many reasons why this happens, such as lack of interest or friction between members. Something I have found that helps aleviate this is making the members feel important! I make it a point to stress the team and each individual's importance by thanking them for each task they do. I also remind them of the very important truth that the TC really does depend on each one of them. That is why I try to say OUR TC when speaking to members rather than MY TC.
Another great hurdle is lack of interest. Remember I mentioned how so many TC's have come and gone, and asked how it affected you? Here is the answer. When you start your TC, it is honestly nothing new. Many TC's have come and have gone, and this is how people will view yours. There is no reason for anyone in the general community to think your TC will be unlike the others before you. "They come, they go." Thus no one pays much too much attention when a new TC appears anymore. One of our basic needs is to have someone appreciate what we do. Thus this lack of interest kills many TC's in there infancy (actually pre-birth is more like it since it is often before any levels are released).
I have heard a TC's creator who complained that his site didn't have big hits like Massassi Temple or JK.net. He eventually ended the TC due to "lack of interest." My advice: Keep at it and don't give up if nobody else but you and your team seem to care. Once you actually produce a first level (thus tangible results, which is something of a rarity among TC's), interest may pick up as people begin to see this isn't a here today gone tomorrow TC. If you can reach the first big goal of releasing the first level of the TC (and assuming it is good), you will have crossed the first great test. You will have held your team together, learned to discipline yourself, and survived obscurity! No small feat. Though the road ahead is still a rocky one, and the team could still break up, you will have met the first great challenge.
There are many things to take into account when making a TC. Don't compare your site to news sites like JK.net or Massassi Temple. What makes sites get lots of hits? News. A site like Jk.net or Massassi Temple are constantly posting news. A TC site, on the other hand, doesn't often have information to post. The only thing you could post much of the time is information on how the TC is progressing. Other than giving percentages or posting screenshots, the only way to do this would be to say something like, "I added the secret area at such and such a place today." As a TC site you CAN'T do that. You would ruin the level for those who will play it later. Thus you don't post that often. Thus don't be suprised that there aren't a large number of people who visit your site. Don't compare your site to news sites because it is like comparing apples and oranges.
Another piece of advice, plan, plan, and for a change of pace plan some more! Look at a level like Jeff Walter's Drazen Isle, he couldn't make a level like that with out planing out how where everthing would go. Do the same with your TC. Plan out the levels and the plot. If you jump into a TC without an overall plan the result is chaos, or at least a level that isn't as good as it could be. If you plan it out, you know where you are going, you have set goals, you know how far you've come (or have left to go), and you feel a sense of accomplishment. Plus, your work will probably have a higher quality to it. In combination with planning, study. Study the good levels, both user made and LEC's levels. Study their architechture, cog usage, realism, etc. Learn from the masters. Copy them (not literally). Master it yourself and build on it. This takes a lot of time, though. It took me over a year to get to where I am today as an editor. After all, usually the best level editors in the communtiy have been here the longest. Get away from the homepage feel. When I started my site (it was on tripod by the way), it had a textured background and big lettering, etc. Your average homepage look. I applied for hosting and got turned down. Why? The "homepageish" feel. (This ties in with the study bit too.) So, I went and studied the great sites, Massassi Temple and the Admiral's Command Chamber. Then I redesigned my site in their image. For instance if you look at the major sites like Massassi, JK.net, JediNights.com, and the Admiral's Command Chamber, they all have non-textured backgrounds, relatively small font sizes, and clear designation of where everything can be found. Even if you do this, you may not get hosted. Hosts may be hesitant to host TC sites cause there is no guarantee that the site will produce anything. Thus, for the host they become a kind of dead weight. So, don't be suprised if you can't get hosted until you've actually produced at least one level. In summary, be prepared for the work and don't take it lightly, be ready to keep at it even when no one else seems to care. If you are ready to take on a hard journey the rewards can be great, but not without great sacrifices in time and energy. After all, you only get back what you put in.