I’m glad to be able to talk about porting. It’s not the subject itself that I find as mysterious and alluring as some forumites seem to, but it’s been such a taboo topic for so long that I find it refreshing to be able to talk about everything I’ve been repressing.
Porting content from one game to another within the same series (e.g. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords) is now allowed on Deadly Stream. Because I’m allegedly “staff”, I was told about the change of policy a couple days before the official announcement, and I was shocked. I’m still shocked. Honestly, it feels weird discussing the topic even now. Not in a bad way - like I said, it’s rather liberating - but in an I’m still having trouble believing this is a thing sort of way. This would’ve been my tenth anniversary on LucasForums, if it were still online, and I was on the FileFront forums for a bit before that. Porting was always banned and I don’t remember when it wasn’t. When Deadly Stream went online, it maintained the same rules, and now that’s changing. It’s a shift in policy older than this website, put in place before many users here even played the games. It’s a surprise, to be sure - and I expect a welcome one for many.
Given the nature of this modding website, I expect anyone reading this likely knows well enough about porting, but not everyone is a modder or PC gamer and I have been asked before what porting is and why it’s a big deal. Porting is taking copyrighted content - models, textures, music, or what have you - from one game and putting it into a different game. It’s a kind of modding, but the distinction is that regular old modding works within the confines of whatever game is being modded, editing the existing assets and/or adding new content created by the modder, while porting involves something that wasn’t in the game and that the modder doesn’t have the rights to. Why is this a big deal? It isn’t in some communities. Different sites have different rules, and some do allow it. But it wasn’t allowed in the KOTOR community until now, though I feel I need to add a qualifier to that. It was kind of unclear. Porting was certainly against the rules on LucasForums, and with LucasForums went the KOTOR community. While I was a reviewer for KOTORFiles part of my job was to make sure the mods I reviewed didn’t have anything that wasn’t allowed. We were, for example, instructed to be on the lookout for TSLRP when the beta was leaked. If you were to ask me if porting were allowed I think I’d say no, but I don’t think that was an actual FileFront rule. JK3Files hosted mods that ported content from Jedi Outcast to Jedi Academy. There were also a few KOTOR mods I suspected of ported content - textures I recognized from Jedi Academy, for example - as well as mods that included other copyrighted material like music and sound effects. Fortunately, though, nothing ever came under my review that called for an examination of the laws of porting. To further complicate matters, the official release of MDLOps - still hosted on StarWarsKnights.com - contains a tutorial on how to port the Tenloss disruptor rifle from Jedi Outcast/Academy to KOTOR. Bit of a mixed message there.
Regardless, on LucasForums porting was certainly verboten. But for a long time, this was a moot point. There was a lot in the modding realm we couldn’t do. Until a few years ago, we couldn’t work much with head models - the animations would break, or something worse would happen. And unless you used Taina's Replacer, which didn't allow change in vertices, the smoothing would break. Even if you could get a model from point A to point B, it wouldn’t look as nice as it did back at A. Different tools could only handle different things. KAurora couldn’t do animations. MDLOps couldn’t convert lights or lightmaps, emitters, or walkmeshes. I don't know if room animations didn't work or if nobody ever tried it. All these things and more would break even if you were keeping a model in the same game. Most of these issues were only resolved last year with the development of KOTORMax, MDLEdit, and the updated MDLOps. For this reason, perhaps, porting as a reality was a rare concern. Only two cases from those days stand out in my memory, both of which involved screenshots taken in K1 to make textures in K2, and both of which deemed ok by the administration. On Deadly Stream, there was that fiasco with the credits. More often than not, the matter was merely theoretical - someone would unknowingly request something that required porting and be shot down for it. It was forbidden as a theory even though it wasn’t much of a possibility and I don’t know why. It was a rule from before even my time and I’ve never heard the issue properly debated. Porting wasn’t allowed, and you weren’t allowed to talk about why it wasn’t allowed. I find that a bit unsatisfying, so I’ll try to see things from both sides of the issue and debate myself.
Argument A: Porting is a copyright violation. It’s taking something that’s not yours and distributing it without the copyright owner’s permission. In more extreme cases, publishers have moved to shut down mod projects/websites for fear of losing sales, such as with conversion mods that would remake a game in another engine. Modding as a whole is already on shaky legal ground, so it’s not wise to attract that sort of bad attention. The line is drawn here.
Argument B: Porting isn’t anything like pirating a game because it involves a fraction of the content and requires the framework of a game to access it. It’s unlikely that any mod would negatively affect a game’s sales. If anything, more mods for a game is a good thing and content ported from one game to another draws interest in both. There’s nothing illegal about porting for personal use. The only part in question is the distribution of game assets - but that applies equally to all mods. The only difference is from which game the assets originated. It doesn’t make sense to apply a different standard of rules, especially for games in the same series that already share a lot of assets, like KOTOR.
Those are the essential arguments, as I see them. At the risk of earning Kreia’s wrath, I’m not going to take a side. This is a bit of a coward’s way out that I can take because I’m a modder and I can port stuff myself if I want to and not rely on downloading it from Deadly Stream - more on that in a bit - but that really is how I feel. I don’t see it as a matter of what’s right or wrong or what’s legal but rather what you think is a good idea and how much of a risk you want to take. Some communities take a risk and never have any trouble. Some - not many, but some - have taken the same risk and had their mods taken away. It’s a subjective matter, and maybe that’s why I’m a little bitter about the LucasForums days - because I see it more as a decision we should make as a community rather than an ultimatum that must never be questioned (even if most of us don’t know who made the decision or the rationale). But whether or not it was entirely by choice, that was what the community decided and I went along with it. That was then, this is now. It seems the community has gone in the other direction, and I’ll go along with it.
The question has become not what is allowed but what is and isn’t possible. I imagine, in the coming days, as more people ask this question there will be some poking and prodding to explore the new horizons. So I thought I’d save anyone reading this a bit of time by admitting that I’ve known how to do a lot of naughty things for a while now. I’ve been porting for personal use - not to make mods, but for my film projects that demanded it. Characters from different games interacting with each other, locations we wanted to use in another context, or just things that were useful for cinematic purposes - K2 has a lot more animations than K1. I’ve already been poking and prodding for years now and I no longer feel the need to hide it. I’m not going to go into much technical detail yet - perhaps when the modding wiki is online, if it's permitted - but I can answer some general questions right now.
Can we port head models?
Yes. There is some difference in the bone structure for each game, but there’s a specific process that works. It’s not even a huge difference, but it makes the lips of K1 heads clip in K2 and leaves K2 mouths gaping open in K1. My guess is Obsidian changed things during their development of the facial animation system that was never finished. The fix is essentially to copy the skin onto the appropriate game’s set of bones.
Can we port body/full body models?
Yes. Without any qualifiers.
PCs? Party members? Aliens? Really?
What about robes with capes?
Yes. The supermodels would have to be edited to include the cape bones and their animations, but it could be done. I had one go at it but it’s a bit shoddy at the moment.
Can we port other animations?
Yes. With a few caveats. 1.) K1 has a limited number of animations that can be scripted, though new cutscene animations are an option. 2.) K2 has more combat animations than K1 and under different names. A couple bugs in K2 stem from failure to account for this, and unless they’re named properly for K1 the same sort of problem would occur. 3.) K2 has a ton of other new animations and they’re added all over the place, which complicates any sort of porting.
Can we port models with their own special animations, like Darth Nihilus?
Yes. The same animation concerns apply, but that’s it.
Can we port textures - fancy ones, like bump maps and ones with animations?
Yes. The TPC format doesn’t change, so even in the event that we’re unable to properly decompile to TGA/TXI, simply copying over the TPC is enough. I have a texture archive for K2 that includes all of K1’s textures (and any that happen to share the same file names are overridden by the K2 versions).
Can we port areas?
Probably. I’ve had one definitive success - m14aa, the Jedi enclave courtyard - and a few partial successes or failures. But it’s still early days and I suspect the problems may have been procedural. The courtyard has grass, running water, and room animations - all the things I’d expect to go wrong first - and zero problems. Lightmaps, which used to be destroyed during ASCII conversion, load fine thanks to the new tools. There is a difference in how each game is lit, so a ported module may end up too bright or too dark, but that can be fixed in the .are file. Good signs so far, but not enough for me to be confident in a hard yes yet.
While we’re on the subject, since some of you seem to have been left out of the loop, we can also edit areas now. You might’ve seen area fixes in recent mods, but I’m talking full on editing like changing the lighting or texture mapping or adding a door to a new module. This would come in handy, for example, if one wanted to make new area mods that connect to the existing game, or integrate cut ones like the Czerka warehouse, or restore modules on Dantooine or Korriban that were left out of K2.
Can we port feats/lightsaber forms/prestige classes/the upgrade system/the level cap/everything hard-coded?
No. These were never porting issues. These game mechanics run directly through the game’s executable rather than an external file that we can mod.
For the MMO:
Can we port items?
Yes. See MDLOps’ tutorial.
Can we port vehicles?
Yes. I ported the Mantis bounty hunter ship to K1 as part of an area model on Taris. I stripped it of its bump maps because I didn’t know how to work with those at the time, but I imagine if we could figure out how to convert the formats those could be included as well.
Can we port character models?
Probably. But you’d have to weight it to KOTOR’s set of bones, which isn’t easy or fun work. That’s kind of why there aren’t a lot of new character mods at all for KOTOR. I’m not at all familiar with how the MMO models are set up so I can’t comment further.
Can we port areas?
Maybe? I can import the models into 3ds Max. To get one in KOTOR would be a lot of work - making new lightmaps and walkmeshes, replacing any emitters like running water with KOTOR standards, almost as much work as making a new area from scratch - but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible. Of course, KOTOR has issues with vertical space - can’t have one walkmesh on top of another - so there may be issues with the designs, depending on the area. But I don’t think poly count or anything like that would be a problem. The MMO seems to average around KOTOR’s level, some things better, some worse. I really just haven’t had the time to try it yet.
These are all just my general impressions so far and your individual success may vary. But overall I'd say there’s a lot we can do and not a lot we can’t do - just a lot we weren’t supposed to do until now. The point of this blog isn’t to encourage porting, exactly. It’s your choice whether to do it or not. Because of the rules (the old rules) I’ve always strived to use assets that are in both games wherever possible. It’s more challenging that way, but it almost always resulted in fewer complications. Even with porting allowed, I’ll probably still do that in the future. It's simpler. But now that, surprisingly, after all this time, that is a choice people can make, I want to put this information out there so those of you who are interested in stepping down this path may do as you choose. I’ll be available on Discord if anyone wants to see some more examples of my porting attempts or get a more thorough overview of the process.
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FileFront Deadly Stream.