Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 Posted by Jim Thacker

So what is… The Foundry’s Modo Steam Edition?

The Foundry has released Modo Steam Edition, a cut-down $149 version of Modo available through Valve’s online games-distribution-cum-online-multiplayer platform, and intended for use in the lucrative Steam modding market.

The new edition was originally announced last week, but with limited information about the feature set available until Modo ST shipped yesterday – for a time, The Foundry and Steam forums were contradicting one another on some of the details – we thought it was worth a round-up of exactly what’s in, and what’s out.

What’s in
First, what’s included: Modo Steam Edition has polygonal modelling, sculpting, UV editing, texture baking, materials and painting tools from the full edition of Modo.

According to The Foundry: “For all intents and purposes of creating game models and texturing them, Modo Steam Edition contains the same or similar functionality as full Modo proper.”

The renderer is also included – kinda. A render preview “enable[s] users to see their surfacing”, and there’s a texture-baking option, but “there is no way to render out 2D still images from the camera’s perspective”.

Downloaded presets “work fine with the Preset browser and can be imported”, but you can’t currently use any plugins, or any of The Foundry’s content kits.

What’s out
Next, what’s not included: the Dynamics, Animation and Layout menus have all been removed, and there’s no way to run Python scripts. This is a tool purely for creating static assets.

The other interesting limitation is export. While Modo ST imports a standard range of file formats, including OBJ, 3DS, FBX and LWO, its main export format is BLX: a “custom LXO-like file format” designed for direct export to DOTA 2. (The Foundry also “intends to update the full version of Modo to … load .blx files”.)

You can also export FBX files, but geometry is capped at 7,000 polygons: perfectly adequate for creating assets for the Source Engine games, like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead 2, for which the export is intended, given their own geometry restrictions – but obviously of limited use for more general games development.

However, that isn’t what Modo Steam Edition is intended for: the licence only permits it to be used commercially to create assets sold via the Steam store.

As The Foundry’s president of the Americas, Brad Peebler, posted on the company’s forum: “We just don’t intend for people to download this version and make complete games or use it to make films.”

A modding tool, not a general games-development tool
Several early forum posts have compared Modo Steam Edition to Maya LT, Autodesk’s cut-down version of Maya for indie games work. At $795, Maya LT is considerably more expensive than Modo ST, but less feature-restricted – debate over its original export limitations notwithstanding.

However, as a dedicated modding tool, a better point of comparison might be to Autodesk’s now-discontinued gmax and Softimage Mod Tool.

Both were free, and the Mod Tool, in particular, offered an extensive feature set; but neither was licensed for any kind of commercial work, having been released before Steam made modding a profitable enterprise.

Good documentation, but is it priced correctly?
Whether $149 is the right price point for a commercial modding tool is a matter of debate: early feedback on the Steam forums – not always the politest of places – has been mixed.

However, The Foundry has also done a pretty good job with supporting new users, including the Steam Edition’s online documentation and an extensive set of video tutorials.

And as Foundry product marketing manager Shane Griffith put it: “I know it sucks for those that want to do more than Steam stuff with this app, but we also need to be careful about eroding full Modo sales and not being able to sustain business overall. It’s a difficult balance [but] it’s a pretty feature-rich version when compared to Modo 201-esque days and a lot less $.”

Updated 18 April 2014: Since this story was first posted, The Foundry has released Modo Steam Edition 1.1, adding the option to import .blx files into Modo 701, and to export OBJ files.

Read more about Modo Steam Edition on the software’s Steam page
(Currently available at a 20% launch discount)

Read The Foundry’s forum thread clarifying the differences between the Steam and full editions of Modo