Age of Empires II: HD Edition

Age of Empires II: HD Edition

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Ozhara's Modding Guide for AoE 2 HD
By Ozhara
This Guide describes how to install/uninstall mods, publish your own workshop mod for AoE, where to find graphic and sound files and how they work, as well as how to mod them.

If you think the guide is missing something important or a point isn't that clear - just tell me and I'll adjust the guide. :)
As you may know with version 4.0 a new workshop implementation was introduced.

Most content of this guide is still usable, but some has to be updated.

I'll do so soon! :)
1) AoEs modding system
1.1 Installation
If you subscribe to a mod, steam downloads the mod to T:\Steam\SteamApps\workshop\content\221380\ModId where ModId is the mods id from its steam site url. If it does, you should be able to see an entry called 'AoE workshop content' in your steam download tab. Wait until it is finished.

When you start your game the next time, the mod shows up in the ingame mod manager. Here you can enable or disable the mod and change its priority.

If several mods to change the same file, the mod with the highest priority wins.

Not sure which mod to use?
Subscribe to several ones and switch between them by en/diabling them depending on your current mood.

1.2 Uninstallation
If you want to uninstall a mod, unsubscribing only tells steam not to take a mod into account when checking the game directory next time. So nothing will change only from unsubscribing.

To reset your game data, you have to verify your game cache.

For every game you have installed, steam has a list which files belong to the installation package.
When verifying, steam checks your game directory against this list and deletes every file on it that has been changed (including changes you did yourself without any mod beeing involved).

So you now have a) missing data, and b) if a mod contained additional files, like a readme, a scenario or something like that, these files aren't touched by steam and will remain.

At the end of the verification, steam will redownload all missing files (and reinstall the modded variant in case a file is linked to a mod you are still subscribed to).

Files that will remain:
- all non-terrain graphics
- all rms, scenarios & campaigns
- parts of soundtracks (in case they have more than 20 seperate track files)
- parts of taunts
- mod archives

As listed above, the mods archive file the mod was extracted from, is also an additional file and remains.

So in case you unsubscribed from several mods, your mod folder gets crammed pretty soon.
This can lead to AoE messing up what mods you are actually using, causing bugs and missing mod data ingame.

For this reason, if you don't use a mod anymore, don't just subscribe to another mod overwriting the old one, but uninstall the old one first.

So when uninstalling a mod, you should do the following:

a) unsubscribe
b) delete the mods archive file
c) delete all additional files you don't want to further use (for the 30 mod limit perhaps you just want to unsubscribe from a map but still use it)
e) verify your game cache

1.3 A mod stopped working
If a mod suddenly disappears, this often is related to a game patch that was installed.
These patches just overwrite all present files they contain, regardless of them beeing modded or not.

But AoE doesn't check a files status automatically, so you now have a file that is reset to its default despite AoE still thinks it is modded.

To get the modded file back, you have to reinstall the mod, just verifying your game cache is not enough.

So you need to fully uninstall the mod (see above), and then resubscribe to it and install it again.
In case you had mixed some mods by overwriting one with another, this may mean you have to reinstall several mods to get your install order back working.

1.4 Mod organization
As you can see, the mod organization of AoE isn't the best and there won't change that much in the near future (I spoke to a dev of Skylabs and they didn't even know how buggy the AoE mod system is. But they don't have plans right now to rework this part.).

So beside doing this stuff manually, there is only one solution for now - my mod manager. It allows you to organize your mods, really uninstall them, reinstall whole mod setups, install just parts of mods and much more.
2) How to publish a mod to the workshop
Ok, lets do the basics first. You have some files you want to upload, a scenario for example.

2.1 Place all files in your game directory
at the place they have to be so their content shows up in your game.
This is REALLY important, as a subscribed mod extracts all contained data to exactly that folder in your game directory, you chose/uploaded it from!

2.2 Now start your game and go to the workshop:
You can also reach the workshop by going to the scenario editor and clicking the workshop button in the editors menu. For some reason larger mods did succeed the publishing for me more often when using the workshop through the scenario editor...

2.3 Choose all files your mod shall contain
such as game files, readme files and so on. The preview image you can select later:
By clicking this button, a file dialog opens where you can pick all files you want.
But this dialog doesn't support all file extensions. In case you want to publish a file whose extension is not supported, just browse to its folder and write its name down by hand. It then will be selected correctly.

2.4 Set the mods general information and publish it.
  • A) Write down the mods title.
  • B) Choose the mods type.
  • C) Here you can write down the mods description. But the length is limitated while the description directly set in the steam workshop can be much MUCH longer. So I wouldn't write it down here.
  • D) Set the visibility of the mod. In case you want to try it first in a closed beta or want to write down the description directly in steam without someone looking at it before you're ready, set it to friends or hidden. Just keep in mind, your mod will show up in the 'most recent' page at that timestamp you published it, not when you set it to public. So at days lots of mods are published, waiting too long could be bad for beeing recognized.
  • E) Click this button to choose your mods preview image. You can't set it later and only change it by updating your mod - what is very buggy, so choose the right one right now!
    In case you add additional preview screens in the workshop, this main preview image will be shown at the right and not in the normal preview section anymore.
  • F) Publish your mod - to succeed your mod, including the preview image, must be smaller then 100 MB (if it's not, you'll get error 21). And the larger it is, the more time it needs, for my larger soundtracks it was up to 45+ minutes. And the larger the mod is, the more likely it is it will fail due to server/connection errors, showing up as error 16. As I mentioned before, for me it failed less often at large mods when publishing through the scenario editor instead of the main menu.
3) Where to find graphic and sound files
If you want to mod some game files, you first have to know where they are.

3.1 For sound files, check your game\sound folder.

All soundtrack files are in the 'music' subfolder.
All ui related sounds like main menu, civ related game starting as well as win and loose you can find in the 'stream' subfolder.

3.2 Non terrain graphics you can find in your game\data folder.

All interface graphics are contained in the file 'interfac.drs', all other graphics you can find in 'graphics.drs'. The file 'terrain.drs' contains the original terrains, but for the HD version Hidden Path changed the graphic system.

While you can find the default graphics here, if you want to mod these graphics, this shouldn't be done by editing these files but by using the modding system HiddenPath implemented.

Because every file can only be changed by one mod, modding the drs files would limit you to one graphical mod.
As a drawback, the modding system of AoE uses additional files for non terrain graphics.
So they will never be deleted/uninstalled until the user does it manually.

3.3 Terrain graphics can be found in your game\terrain folder.
4) Modding of sound files
When looking at the sounds (as well as some other files), in some cases you'll find two files, only differing in the one having a 'x' at its beginning. That means, the file without the leading 'x' is the files variant for 'The Age of Kings', while the other one is the eXpansion file. In case you use 'Forgotten Empires', there might be another version for that expansion. So only the last one is used.

The music for the main menu music is named xopen.mp3 and located in your game\sound\stream folder. The main menu music for FE is named xopen_x2.mp3.
In case players of both version shall be able to hear your replacement, you have to replace both files. Same with win and lost sound for example.

Without mods active there is a file called music1.mp3 which contains the 'Age of Kings' soundtrack, and about 20 named xmusic1-20.mp3 with 'The Conquerors' one in your game\sound\music folder.

'The Conqerors' soundtrack uses the new sound system that can handle multiple soundtrack files.

In case you want to combine some soundtracks or just publish a sountrack with a seperate file for every track like this (as I did for several of my soundtrack mods), you have to name them like this:


AoE will play them in their numbered order as long as there is a higher number left and there is no gap in the files numbers. If one of those two things happens, it will go back to xmusic1.mp3 and repeat looping through the files.
Of course this means the first file has to be number 1. Without that file, you will have no sound ingame at all.

There seems to be no limit, so you can add as many soundtrack files as you want. My Touhou sounbdtrack ends around xmusic150.mp3 for example.
5) Modding of terrain graphic files
The terrain files you can find in your game\terrain folder.
This folder contains a textures folder with 29 png images in 512x512 pixel format.

When creating a map, think of it as one layer per terrain, the png file placed side by side with itself.
By actually choosing a certain terrain at a specific area of the map, the fix terrain layer will become visible at this area.

You may have noticed, different terrains do blend into each other differently
, especially the borders of the ice terrain are unique.

The blending is defined in the blending files found in your game\terrain\blends folder.
These pngs are black and white, white for the actually placed terrain, black for the surrounding ones. The shape of the white parts edges and the grey parts define the terrains border and blending area/type. Here as an example the normal ice blending texture and the one I'm using for my space terrains to create a '3D like planet border':
Here an ingame example:
As you can see, the blending texture shows different compositions of the white and black terrain area.

Last thing on terrains is the water effect
HiddenPath implemented.
It consists of three files you can find in your game\terrain\water folder.

The files normal0 and normal1.png do look like normal maps. The wave effect is created by having one layer of the normal1 image like with the terrains, and one wit the normal0 image. The first one (normal1) can be seen beneath water terrain, the other one (normal0) moves over it from the left bottom to the right top. This moving combined with color differences (or not) at a specific pixel at a specific time, generates the generall wave effect.

But that's not all, the water terrain itself and the wave effect do interact with the last image, the sky_hemisphere.png. This file is very special.

It's not used 'completely' as the other ones. Like them, it is rotated 45° to the left and stretched to fit the ingame tiles. But instead of being placed side by side with itself to create a layer for the whole map, this one png is stretched across the whole screen.

This is the file I'm using for my moving water V4. The red rectangle shows the visible part ingame. It's the top corner (after the rotation). Depending on your resolution (width) this area can vary.

The default image is black/white too. At areas that only have one color, no effect is visible. When not modded, there is only a small part in the upper left of the screen showing 'reflections' and waves. This is for at that area different black, white and grey shades do change quickly.

If you use a different color like green for example, the water will get a touch in that color as you can see in the cinematic water mod.

When using the same color as the water terrains like in my example, the water gets a blue touch. But it is already blue. But my image isn't just blue, but has different colored areas. This way the wave effcet is more subtle as with black and white for the color shades aren't that different.

What can cause problems are water terrains that have a structure themselve or contain a lot of different colors. This way the wave effect is less visible for it interferes with the terrains structure which breaks the wave effect. With different colors, regarding to the color of your hemispere image, it can happen only some areas show a wave effect for some terrain colors do absorb it.

Sadly for the implementation of this file it's not possible to give every different colored area on a water terrain a matching area on the hemisphere image.
6) Modding of non-terrain graphic files
6.1 If you want to mod non graphic terrains, you first have to understand how these graphics are implemented.

All graphics are implemented as slp files.

These slp files you can find in your game\resources\_common\drs\gamedata_x2 folder.

A slp file contains all images (bmp) for a specific animation. So a unit for example has several slp files as it has several animations like standing, walking or attacking. A buildings image is a one-frame animation. Objects like trees have one animation for every forest type, choosing one frame for each tile randomly.

For more information about slp file naming conditions and stuff, take a look at my guide to graphic objects.

In the file empires2_x1_p1.dat there is a graphic object defined, pointing at a specific slp file using the numeric id the slp has as well as its object name.

For modded graphics, the game checks your game\resources\_common\slp folder for seperate slp files. If it finds a file with the same id or name a graphic object in the dat file has, this graphic will be replaced ingame.

Just in generall, files ending with '_NN' are main graphics, files ending with '_0N' are shadow graphics (some objects have a seperate shadow, showing up ingame as semi-transparent (buildings for example), others have their shadow in their main graphic, showing up as completelly black (units for example)).

6.2 To edit these graphics, I recommend two free tools I'm using:

1. Advanced Genie Editor[]
2. Turtle Pack[]

Both of them are fan made as there exist no official modding tools for AoE 2.

Turtle Pack can be used for everything regarding drs and slp files beside actually drawing.
(I'll only cover the most important functions here.)

With the Genie Editor you can edit the empires2_x1_p1.dat in your game\data folder and change the games mechanic. If you want to do this - there are a lot of tutorials out there.

For now the interesting thing is to get the slp names, for extracted slps are named with their numeric id, that is used as a pointer by AoE by default. But you can also name them with their objects name now. -> Always use the objects name, this makes identifying specific slp files much more easy later on.

6.2.1 To get the right name for a slp file
do the following:

Either look it up from my guide to graphic objects, or open Advanced Genie Editor.

If you use Genie Editor you'll get a dialog where to choose/set general file locations.
You can choose from several path presets if you want to.

Important is the location of the dat file you want to open.

If you want you can also type in the path to your language files, then several unit texts will be shown as set in them in the editor.

Click on OK and the editor will open the dat file. For me the dialog shows up two times as well as the editor window. Just close/cancel the second one.

The editor looks like this:

Now select 'SLP' as the first filter, type in your slps id (in this example the Knights attacking animation) and apply the filter by checking it:
As a result you get the corresponding graphic object entry and it's name (without the file extension of course).

6.2.2 To get in contact with the graphics
you want to change, just open the slp file with Turtle Pack then:

  • A) AoE has no real collision system. Each object blocks an amount of tiles. The 'X' in the center is the center for the objects graphic. That one can be positioned where you want. Theoretically the graphic could show up 3 tiles away. It would still block its building tiles, but be shown somewhere else with no actual collision at the graphic. You can change the position by using the arrows or 'STRG + Arrow Keys'. This has/can not to be done on the graphic itself!

  • B) With this Button you can select all frames on the right. It also works with 'STRG + A' when you already have one selected. The Default is no selected frame.

  • C) All selected frames will be extracted as seperate bmps to the folder you will choose in the opening dialog.

  • D) AoE uses an indexed color palette. This means it uses no colors, but pointers to a color for every pixel. That color is defined in the palette. Therefore each image you want to import should be converted to the right palette first (It works without, but you WANT to convert it!).

    As you can see this works independant of the actual frames. You can convert whatever you want. Just choose the files by hitting the 'Add' button and choose a directory the converted bmps will be saved in. Hit start and then close the dialog (this doesn't work automatically).

    After doing so, you should replace the frames (you can do a complete new slp, add or delete frames, but the used frame count is defind in the dat file, so additional frames doesn't show and missing ones will result in empty frames beeing played. So for just changing existing visuals, just replace existing ones.):

    For the replacement, choose the new frame and set player color and transparency.

    The transparency defines which color of your bmpy shall be changed to the transparent one.

    The player color means which color you used in your bmp as player color. This is important as the AoE palette has 8 exactly defined values for every players color shades. When extracting a bmp, every pixel that is supposed to change it's color according to players color will be colored in the chosen player color (default is blue). To convert a real color back to the undefined player color one, you have to set this. If you choose red for example, no red pixel - even if it matches a red player color value - will be interpreted as player color but shown as red - for every player.

    On the other hand, every pixel that changed to a color shade of the chosen player color while converting - even if it wasn't meant to have players color - will have it ingame. And every pixel supposed to have the players color but doesn't have the right color value after converting - will not change its color ingame.

  • E) You can verify if a pixel has the right color by changing the player color on the left side of the editor. This changes all pixels marked as player color to the right color shade of the chosen player color. The chosen color is also the color used as player color when extracting a bmp.
< >
Ozhara  [author] Sep 18 @ 12:08pm 
That part of this guide is outdated since 4.0.
(Will be updated soon.)

Create a folder in your 'mods' folder named like your mod.
In it, recreate all needed folder structure needed for your mods files, starting with 'resources'.
Then add your files and a preview in your mods main folder named _preview-icon.jpg.
Now go to the ingame mod manager, select your mod and click publish.
hayhar07 Sep 18 @ 11:42am 
If I don't have the Workshop tab in my game how can I upload scenarios?
Jelv Jul 30 @ 5:40am 
The different pallets don't change that much. I will post it on aok heaven, thanks for the help!
Ozhara  [author] Jul 30 @ 3:47am 
Yes, some images do look like saved with a wrong color palette.
You can try to open them in turtle pack and change the used palette.
I can't tell you what to do exactly for I never worked with those images.
Jelv Jul 30 @ 3:30am 
I'm trying to save the image from the history. I've found it in 50162. But when I save the image from Turtle Pack to bitmap it doesn't look at all like on the history page. Screenshot:
DennyVlogs Jul 17 @ 6:31am 
Oh thans Im an idiot :D
Ozhara  [author] Jul 15 @ 10:10pm 
We are both posting in the comment section of this guide right now. Just scroll down a little to see comments posted before...
DennyVlogs Jul 15 @ 1:43pm 
How do I find the latest comment q__q
Ozhara  [author] Jul 15 @ 9:39am 
Yes, the procedure has changed (started to change this guide, but it's not finished yet).

Read my last comment, it's explained there. :)
DennyVlogs Jul 15 @ 8:47am 
publishing doesn't seem to work anymore for me. There is no "add files" nor "steam workshop" option under "map editor" - please help!