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Zen and the art of the Project Log

Zen and the Art of the Project Log

Scenario: you’ve designed the best Mod in existence. Possibly in and beyond the known and unknown Universe. Yes, it’s so incredibly supafantasmaexcellent, a whole new word had to be invented to describe it!

A lifetime in the imagining; Two-years of painstaking rendering in a hacked beta of a Top-Secret 4-D AutoCAD, direct from the Autodesk R&D mainframe. Drawing until your bleeding fingers bled. And then bled some more.

What’s more… YOU’VE BUILT IT!111oneOMFG! *gasp!*

Oh, they said it couldn’t be done - even that retired rocket scientist next-door, the one with the German name, said it couldn’t be done. Oooooh Nein! But what did he know, eh?! Pah! Sure, that ex-Iraqi weapons programme Photonic Lathe and 10-axis Laser/EDM CNC VMC that you bought on the black market in Waziristan, helped. But it was really the year of 168-hour weeks and those kidnapped MIT engineers you had to whip daily, that clinched it.

And now it sits before you in all its four-dimensional mind-bending glory; all gleaming and glistening and black. Pure Absence-of-Light, even down to the black lighting – because, as only you know, black is the new black, which was the new green, which was the new red…all the way back to those blue ones. Heck, even that space-time displacement attachment you invented to slow down your competition at LAN parties works!

And you even have a project log! Woot! You even started it last week! Not only on that bit-something site, but on 47 others! You’ve waited for the accolades; even slept with your email server under the pillow, 1,000W headphones gaffer-taped to your head; just so you’ll not miss those oh so sweet beeps when the millions come and post their ‘I’m-not-worthies’!

But no one is posting.

Zen and the art of the Project Log It's all in how you put it... Zen and the art of the Project Log It's all in how you put it...
Old (Orac³) or new (Yuugou), good project logs encourage people to pay attention to your mod.

What? There must be something wrong with the Internet! After all, you’ve been posting successfully, every 10 minutes for the last week, asking for comments - so how come no-one has replied? ‘If you build it, they will come’ worked for Costner in that baseball movie, didn’t it? Ok, so that Iraqi stuff cleaned out the cash you had saved for a digital camera – but surely those pics you did on granddad’s old mobile phone were good enough, weren’t they? And you’re sure that people understood you were too busy rewriting the laws of physics to write much in your log. Well, to write anything really. And you’re positive that, despite the pics, people should know it’s black.

But that one, solitary Korean kid who posted just doesn’t seem to understand it. He just doesn’t get it! No-one appreciates it! And especially the whole ‘black’ thing. Ok, so the log doesn’t show the years of development and construction, the triumphs, the setbacks, the amusing story behind that bionic hand you now have and the radioactive crater in the yard; but just look at the C-R-E-A-T-I-O-N! In pixellated, dim, colour-shifted, mobile-phonic ‘splendour’, granted; but just look at it! C’mon people, use your imagination if you really have to!

*BING!*

At last! Woot! Eardrums shattered (damn headphones!), with shaking fingers you enter the forums and check your project log thread. Eh? Some idiot is posting ‘where’s the ‘on’ switch’? Hah! Where’s the ‘on’ switch indeed!

...Aw, crap.

The Project Log

PL Drop DownFrom a few fuzzy pictures to epics akin to The Lord of the Rings-with-power-tools; from front-page articles to forum-based threads, the modding project log essentially takes the same form on most websites: that of a visual and textual record of the construction (and end-result) of a modding project. Some become Internet legends, while others struggle for notice, only to be banished to the back pages by newer and more exciting projects. So why do some become popular and others don’t?

The biggest factors in a logs popularity are undoubtedly the originality and quality of the mod, and the talent and skills (and often personality) of the modder. Beyond these, however, there is another important factor at work: the quality of the project log itself - something all too often overlooked by modders.

A good project log tied to a good modding project really does become a case of the result being greater than the sum of the parts. 1+1=3, as it were. In such a case, the mod and the log blend into a true experience: one where “the journey becomes just as important as the destination, Grasshopper” (that’s the Zen part). It seems people really do like to read about ‘how the modder did it’.

But a good log is more than just a making-of documentary, where the modder invites world + dog into his or her creative endeavours. The very best are like a technological drama, where the audience shares the highs and the lows, the triumphs and disasters in a suspense-creating, surprise-making roller-coaster ride; and like any good drama they can be strangely addictive – I’ve known of people to call in sick to work, or skip school to stay home and catch an update; not to mention the hours many at work have spent stealthily reading project logs!

In the last five years I’ve read many, many project logs and written several. I’ve seen some good projects let down by lacklustre (or no) logs - missing the attention they deserve, not to mention us, as readers, missing obviously good modding techniques and inspiration. Therefore, to aid you in turning your project log from a Vogon-poetic ordeal into a journey, or from a ‘gee, that’s nice’ five-minute gawp at some finished mod pics to something that’ll have people tuning in week after week, I’ve put together some of my thoughts and my ‘top-ten’ tips on how to put together a killer project log.