Released on December 6, 2004, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords (KOTOR2) was the first game from the then newly formed Obsidian Entertainment. At that time, the new studio was a shoestring operation with just seven veteran developers who had made the move from the recently shuttered Black Isle Studios, all holed up in CEO Feargus Urquhart’s attic. But publisher LucasArts, wanting to capitalize on the success of the original KOTOR from the year before, reportedly gave that threadbare new team just 14 to 16 months to create a sequel.
It’s no surprise that the finished product had some issues.
The most noticeable of these issues at launch might have been the conclusion to the HK-50 factory side quest. Specifically, that conclusion is just nowhere to be found in the final game.
That means players never get to discover the origins of KOTOR2’s most recurring threat. Several files buried in the game’s code reveal content Obsidian made for KOTOR2’s final planet—including dialogue and action set pieces—that the developers just couldn’t get working before launch.
And that’s where 15 years of collective modder obsession comes in…
Putting the pieces back together
When he first started modding KOTOR2 over ten years ago, Zbigniew “zbyl2” Staniewicz had previously been working with the mod toolset for Neverwinter Nights. That meant he already had experience navigating KOTOR2’s engine.
His initial focus was finishing a mod to bring cut planet M4-78 back into the main game. That’s the droid planet where players were supposed to originally find Jedi Master Lonna Vash hiding from the Sith threat stalking Jedi across the galaxy.
Progress on restoring the M4-78 file was halted while Staniewicz was waiting for a writer to return scripts. So he moved on to begin work on what would become the Restored Content Mod.
“Another group that was making a restoration mod was taking years to release anything, and I knew I could have done what they were trying to do much faster,” he recalled. “I met this other guy in the modding community [DarthStoney] that shared my sentiments and we just went for it.”
Originally, Staniewicz and his team planned to fix one planet at a time and release them accordingly as they were completed. Once the team finished working on Nar Shaddaa, however, they decided to keep going and release their work as one large mod encompassing all the cut content.
As development went on, Staniewicz started looking for more people to help get the project across the finish line. A modder named Hassat Hunter was brought in to perform beta testing and eventually began assisting with development. And another modder named VarsityPuppet was brought in to troubleshoot issues with that incomplete HK-50 Factory, putting together the unfinished second half of the mission.
This kind of modding was far from a direct process. Even something as simple as changing the location of an NPC required going into the game, finding the character, writing down the coordinates, then leaving the game and inputting and modifying the coordinates in a modding tool, as Staniewicz described it. But that mod tool gives no indication if the process worked, so the modders had to start the game back up and find the NPC’s new location to see if they had succeeded.
“With what was left in the game files, the dialogue worked, but there was no ending,” Staniewicz explained. So they put the final sequences of the factory mission together to fit the available dialogue from the factory and Malachor V.
After releasing a few versions of the RCM, Staniewicz stepped away from the project while the team was fixing problems with the game’s random loot system, saying he believed he no longer had substantial feedback to offer during the process. The involvement of the other team members meant progress never ground to a halt, though. “If it was just me and Stoney… we probably would have stopped way sooner,” Staniewicz said.
The Restored Content Mod entered open beta in 2009. It has more than 400,000 subscribers on the Steam Workshop.
Putting on a disguise
Not all KOTOR2 mods are so intricate. Effix, who has posted more than 60 mods on Steam since 2010, focuses instead on more cosmetic changes. That can mean everything from changing a companion’s hair color to turning Hanharr, a darkside specific Wookiee companion, into a pink “Care Bear.”
“There was someone who suggested it, and a few others were also on board with the idea or daring me to [make the Care Bear mod],” Effix said. “I don’t think they expected me to make work of it, but to me that was extra funny to turn that idea into an actual mod.”
Other work by Effix includes mods allowing the player to replace their standard human head with alien variants like the ancient Rakatan or dark Darth Malak. “The technical term [for these mods] is ‘disguise’ because that’s the name of the [in-game] item property that lets you take on another appearance,” Effix said. “A lot of things from KOTOR [like disguises] were left in KOTOR2‘s files, even though they might not make an appearance in the game.”
The bulk of Effix’s work, he said, is done through Fred Tetra’s “KOTOR Tool,” a simple utility for editing modules, images, wire models, character appearances, dialogue, and items in the game. Focusing on these elements has helped Effix to retain his enthusiasm for modding the game, he said, as has concentrating on projects that are “fairly bite-sized” when compared to others. “I like doing retextures because I like giving something a new look, and for me it’s pretty straightforward. I’m not that into more complex things like scripts, adding new areas, new 3D models and animations.”
“Making mods for a game that you really enjoy is great fun, so that’s my motivation,” he added. “It’s also satisfying to get positive feedback from people who use your mods and also are passionate about the same game. For me it’s a fun and relaxing hobby. It’s cool to create things and see your creation in a Star Wars game, and I get a lot of positive feedback from the community.”
Listing image by Effix