Hello there, post-apocalyptic warriors! Tchernobill is a very prolific modder, with 74 mods listed at the time of writing. A lot are helpful tweaks to our existing systems: a moodle that shows when you can’t attack, a “Sixth Sense” trait that lets you know when danger is nearby, and various mods that automate game features like looting, cooking, and mechanics.
Others add references to popular culture like the tape from The Ring, the Mysterious Stranger perk from Fallout, and the urban legend Bloody Mary, technical features of various sorts, a battle royale mode, and player actions like jumping, climbing over walls, and the classic unnecessary combat roll. There’s even a mod for putting Spiffo in a jar, for some reason.
With such a wide and varied array of mods, we had to track down Tchernobill for more information. Hacking our way through the hordes, we managed to find their still functioning laboratory and asked them a few questions, which they kindly answered!
Who are you in real life? Tell us a little about yourself.
“I’ve been working in the software industry (simulation for training) since 2006. I spend my free time playing video games, developing mods, and dancing salsa. All my life is very computer related – except for the dancing part. That gives me balance, in all meanings of the word!”
How did you first discover Project Zomboid? Why do you like it?
“I was looking for another game to play after Kenshi to give me the same sense of wonder, but it took me many failed attempts and a lot of time. At some point in 2021, I was half ready to go back to Kenshi and try a crazy challenge like those Ambiguous Amphibian was showcasing in his videos when one of their PZ Zero to Hero videos was suggested. For once, the algorithm got it right!”
How did you get into modding for PZ? Have you made mods for other games before?
“I made my first mods for Skyrim and Kenshi, but only for myself. When I started PZ, I was playing with zombie respawn, and there were performance drops from leaving so many hats and glasses on the ground. I Googled “Project Zomboid modding” and found this “How to make a mod” video by Blackbeard. That video shifted my mindset from “it’s too complicated!” to “it’s just a list of steps anyone can do”. It even includes how to publish mods, so I uploaded No Hat Drop to the Steam Workshop.
Give us a quick overview of your favourite mods you’ve made. How do they change the game? Despite their wide variety, do they have anything in common?
“I’m interested mainly in gameplay, as opposed to modeling and mapping. I also have an interest in ergonomics and the general “User Experience”. Some of my mods remove what hinders my (subjective) fun, by cutting down the time spent on laborious tasks. My “Auto” series of mods reduce the amount of user interaction needed for actions, without changing the in-game time to make those actions. Among those, the most game-changing is Auto Loot.”
“Where Notloc’s Inventory Tetris mod makes the loot system more engaging, Autoloot minimises the time spent on looting to nearly nothing, which is kind of the opposite approach! To achieve that, the player must build a preset of items to loot which requires some time investment, so it is only for players who are not engaged by the vanilla or modded looting systems. The Auto series now has 9 mods and you know what? I’ve spent far more time making and maintaining those mods than I’ve saved by using them!”
“Another thing I like to do with my mods is small gameplay changes like the cooling feature to the vanilla cooler item, a kill counter, or the ability to crawl under a car. I’ve also done some small “atmosphere” mods like Ring, Fred, Bloody Mary and Mysterious Stranger.”
“At some point I felt confident enough to make huge overhauls to the gameplay, but realised most are too big for my skills and the time I can afford. Battle Royale is probably the closest I achieved to an overhaul mod. It gives multiplayer PZ a very different flavor, and we had tons of fun playing it with Djackz community.”
Have any cool player stories arisen from your mods? Has there been any unexpected interactions between your mods in interesting ways?
“I’ve had plenty of cool stories of survival from my own time playing Project Zomboid, but sharing stories is a whole other skill than modding. Thankfully, Arean made me an awesome gift by publishing their Parkour video that showcases many of my animation mods, and others. I challenge anyone to count the number of shots used for that single video. To make that entertaining video, they have probably spent countless hours editing!”
““Unexpected interactions”? Does that mean all those bugs I wrote and am trying to forget?! The funniest bug I can remember was the duplication bug in Fred (the I Am Legend mannequin) that clogged up games and turned harmless mannequins into Weeping Angels (or SCP-173). It was supposed to be slightly disturbing but became a great menace with the unexpected duplication.”
How long does an average mod make to create? What’s the most difficult part? Which is the easiest type of mod to create, and which is the hardest?
“When the initial idea is mine, an average mod (like Ring) with one big new function and some minor stuff I can reuse from other mods takes around 20 hours. When the mod’s idea comes from a commission, it takes me around three days to ensure I understand the expectation from the commissioner. For this I use a lot of my work experience in simulation software.”
“Setting aside the never-ending maintenance, the most time-consuming part is the “last minute recheck” when I achieved all I wanted to in a mod, but have to ensure it will work for multiplayer and single player, and in any context possible on the vanilla map. It obviously cannot be done perfectly, but some time investment in it is what gives the mods their resilience. Well… that and following Fwolfe’s guide.”
“The easiest type of mod is probably ones altering an item, like increasing the damage of a weapon. The hardest type of mod for me are ones related to mapping and modeling. But I am very happy to let others use their expertise in these areas. Gameplay wise, modding is always more complex for a Multiplayer mod with behaviour that may be altered by client-server interactions. That said, I probably sweated the most on A Fight Mechanism, and that is strictly single player.”
Tell us about your Jump mod. How does it work? Does it change the game in unexpected ways?
“Jump’s first version was probably made in 30 hours, and it is built on the experience I got (or put another way, “errors I made”) from Infected Player and my other animation mods. It is far more complex than it looks, and usually the complexity causes things that break game immersion like contextual menu use, unexpected teleports and other bothersome artifacts. In this case, at least, the complexity is (hopefully) totally hidden and that makes me proud. That said, you can still break it (and nearly all my animation mods) by pressing escape during the animation, so don’t do that.
“For those interested in the details, here are my main technical problems and solutions: I am too slow and bad at animating, so I reused vanilla animations (which makes the mods very lightweight too!); I am not (yet) able to add my own Java State to animate like vanilla does with falling and climb movement-related animation, so the mod uses a Timed Action instead with some tricks copied from vanilla to apply the animation to the whole body instead of just the upper body; translation speed is related to the animation selected and cannot be controlled precisely during the animation, so the mod blocks all movement and uses short range teleport instead during the animation; and movement (other than falling) and teleporting cannot occur on a tile above the ground, so the mod creates an intangible terrain tile on the client database. It’s basically dynamic terrain generation… which may give some ideas both to me and other modders!”
Some of your mods automate parts of gameplay like cooking, reloading, and sewing. Can you tell us how they work?
“My goal was to removes the number of clicks to repeat a vanilla action multiple times in a raw. I added a contextual option that starts the vanilla TimedAction exactly like in vanilla PZ, then detects when it’s finished and starts the next action immediately. And this continues until the meal is finished or the training is impossible (e.g. when there is no more thread available for sewing).”
“The magic comes with the compatibility I made with the vanilla time speed control in single player. The player clicks once on the contextual menu, then increases the speed to x8, and no more repetitive actions are required until the all the car parts are uninstalled, the food is ready etc.”
“Just a warning for interested users: do not use AutoAttack mod, it’s just a joke that will kill you if you don’t take care!”
Tell us about your more technical mods like the libraries and frameworks. What features do they add, and how do they make life easier for modders?
“I see at least three good reasons to make such mods, in general all of them leading to what devs call “complexity encapsulation”: when we find a way to make a function that was requested by modders for a long time (like Star’s ModOptions, the god of all mods, and Eggon’s Modding Utils for its Distribution API), when having some code on a single place is required for mod compatibility (like Soulfilcher’s Quest System), and when having code in a single place improves the performance (like Dhert’s Get Zombie By Id).”
“When it comes to framework mods, a large part of the job is ease of use. That requires far more time than a basic description of what it does, but otherwise nobody will ever risk using the mod. That’s probably part of why ModOptions is so popular. (To a lesser extent Moodle Framework fills the same kind of need from other modders, but its subscription success is mainly due to More Traits authors putting it as a dependency on the workshop.)
“TchernoLib is quite complex, and now includes code that is likely to be common to many mods, avoiding duplication and simplifying maintenance over time. This will force me to be extra careful when adding more stuff, but it is the only solution to maintain a workshop with more than 70 mods.”
“For modders who want to use Tchernolib: please have a read through the description first.
Some of the options include a minimal keybind function, a way to add color selections to sandbox options, a minimal interface for modded “global objects” (when you want to make complex objects like farming plots, campfires, or teleportation portals that also work in multiplayer when their square is unloaded), and more!”
Do you have any tips for new modders? Is there anything you’d do differently if you were starting again?
“I have quite a few! Get a very precise idea of the mod you want to create, up to the point you can explain it to someone who does not know PZ. The method is called Rubber Duck Debugging and can be applied in many other fields. Then look at the “how to make a mod” video by Blackbeard, and read Fwolfe’s guide to PZ modding just before you start your mod.”
“If (when) you get stuck for more than an hour on the same problem, analyse workshop mods that have behaviors close to the ones you want to make. Ask for help in the appropriate channel on the Project Zomboid Discord. For slightly more advanced modders, you can decompile the java code or look it up online and search for interfaces you can use.”
“My only regret is to have waited more than a year before joining the Discord!”
Is there anyone else in the PZ community (or beyond) you would like to give a shout-out to? Which mods or maps by other users do you enjoy or find interesting?
“Albion, aka “The End Boss of Lua”, has probably saved me hundreds of hours since last summer. And I know we are legions to benefit from their wisdom. Bless them! Poltergeist and Chuck are also frequent sources of help on Discord I want to highlight. I’m sorry to everyone I can’t thank, but I’m very happy the modding community is so large!”
“They’re so well known they don’t need a shout-out, but the community owes a bunch to IBrRus, AuthenticPeach, and Dislaik for animation stuff (Moodle Framework is partly based on one of Dislaik’s ideas in Zombie Camouflage).”
“I am very impressed with mods on the workshop from Oneline, NolanRitchie, Bibi and Dislaik. Their work is pushing the limits of PZ modding, which is inspiring. Also, a few weeks ago I discovered Azakaela’s workshop. I still can’t believe one person went so deep into so many different topics. They covered the entire range of disciplines you can find in Project Zomboid modding and mapping.”
What’s next in your modding plans? What’s the dream?
“Some of my ideas include making the “Dog Goblin” actually spawn (once I can make a satisfying and dangerous creature, probably after the animals update), a Necronomicon, making the Infected Player from the mod so close to a normal zombie that it can be mistaken for one in multiplayer and building Werewolf-like gameplay around it, learning to recompile java code to be compatible with vanilla, and working on a stealth mechanic.”
“Others include a “Dead By Daylight”-style multiplayer overhaul, the automated integration of all books from Project Gutenberg into Project Zomboid, making the Speed Framework mod compatible with other mods, making hats protect from the sun, and letting you keep a zombie as a pet!”
“My far future ideas include use dynamic terrain to make a slowly flooding map, using dynamic terrain to make earthquakes destroy the map, adding animations the expand the A Fight Mechanism mod. Adding complex NPC quests when vanilla NPCs are added, and, maybe, make an Outward-like overhaul. No pressure!”
Thanks to Tchernobill for answering our questions! You can find all their mods here.