Last January, the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 scene was unexpectedly flipped on its head. Tabs, a longtime Marvel player and modding enthusiast, dropped his Palette Swap v.5 mod. Though the title makes it sound like a simple color pack, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Palette Swap v.5 added fully functional faux-DLC characters to UMvC3. Suddenly, players had their hands on Cyclops, Psylocke, Rashid, and more, and the FGC erupted. Combo videos, team synergy displays, and even Maximilian Dood videos were flooding Twitter. The FGC was eatin’ good.
We at TopTier were able to catch up with Tabs and discuss the process of creating these characters, his background in fighting games and modding, and the future of his Palette Swap UMvC3 mod updates.
Our Interview with Tabs
TopTier: What’s your background with fighting games?
Tabs: So, I’ve been playing fighting games casually for a long time – I was mashing on emulators back when the original GGPO was a thing where it was like, Alpha 2 with the GGPO Dojo. Very much at that level of like, “casual but enjoys fighting games”. When Street Fighter 4 came out, I picked it up. I’ve always been a massive Marvel/Capcom fanboy and had always loved the Vs. series games at a fan level. So when Marvel vs. Capcom 3 got announced and Clockwork vs. Neo kind of happened at the same time, I decided to really dive in with Marvel 3. I got lucky enough to find a local community through a pretty bizarre turn of events and ended up going all-in.
Naturally, because of that, it’s my favorite game – there’s nothing quite like it in terms of overall character feel, movement, pacing, expression, and cast choices. It’s pretty masterclass in almost everything that I find important for fighting games. It helps that my favorite character in Marvel is Taskmaster and he just randomly showed up in the game.
TopTier: What about your background with modding?
Tabs: It’s kinda stupid how little skill I’ve racked up outside of this specific niche, but basically I started modding games with Resident Evil 5’s PC release by doing very simple things like swapping model/motion files around – barely something you’d really count as “modding”. Dead Rising 2 is where I really started getting into bigger gameplay changes. Someone had figured out that almost all of the game’s information was stored in, like, plaintext files you could edit so I started going nuts with that. I pretty much had the only major mod for it at one time, but I think people who are way more skilled than me have done way more impressive things with that game since then.
Afterwards, it was RE6 and then DMC4 Special Edition. Note that RE5, RE6, DMC4SE and MvC3 all run on MT Framework, which was Capcom’s big in-house engine at the time. The big one was DMC4 Special Edition. The DMC4 modding community had a lot of knowledge stored up through their own exploration of the original DMC4 PC release alongside scraping off what they could from the much larger RE mod community’s exploration with the MT Framework engine and its quirks/how it worked.
By the time MvC3 came out on PC, I had done a pretty fair share of modding for DMC4SE and was pretty familiar with a lot of really weird quirks from just monkeying around with things.
TopTier: When did you decide to start the palette swap project for UMvC3?
Tabs: By the time MvC3 on PC had come out, the game was 7 years old – already very much long in the tooth with Infinite coming at the same time. UMvC3 is one of those games where, it’s like.. you know, it’s REALLY got that “man, if the game just had ONE more patch it would literally be perfect” feeling since the major downers in the game are generally pretty limited to the obvious ones folks know. You know, Zero/Morrigan/Vergil.
So when the PC version was announced and released, there was very luckily a small group of folks who were extremely excited to just get in there and start making a mess. Ultimately through the hard work of those folks, a fairly functional but barebones toolset was able to be made. This allowed us to sort through things and edit them cleanly without being in hex-editing hell. I really can’t give folks like Dantarion, Anotak, SixFortyFive, EternalYoshi, and EMC enough credit when it comes to the sheer amount of work they put in to make the tools and information exist.
— tabs (@tabs_mvc) January 21, 2022
But basically, through all of that was the end goal of creating that “dream” balance patch of Marvel 3 – toning down Zero, Morrigan, Vergil just a tad and really making those weak characters into more realized versions of themselves or giving them some extra spice so they could be viable and unique picks. I ended up making “UMVC3: Arcade Edition” as a balance patch, trying to do that without really announcing anything. In the time I was making it, EMC had started his own vision for that stuff and released a trailer, naming it “Project Mahvel” which really stuck with folks – that’s what eventually would become what folks call “UMVC3 EX” which is his own big vision of making characters overall more fun and cool. Folks ended up really getting attached to that so I decided on a whim to try and take advantage of some knowledge that I had from my DMC4SE modding days.
See, the MT Framework engine has a really interesting quirk in its load priority order where if something is loaded first, it immediately stops trying to load that file. Before, I’d use this to stick unique costumes and effects onto specific costume slots in DMC4SE. For some reason that I can’t recall, I decided to try and make Shadow Lady using that concept – rather than “buffing” characters, making a “new” or “returning” character would be interesting. Shadow Lady was fairly unique from Chun-Li and is generally way cooler because she shoots a huge beam and missiles so I figured it’d be one of those kinds of things that is interesting to do. Something to show, “Hey, Marvel 3 modding is more than upping numbers on characters”.
I ended up making Shadow Lady, and then things kinda just tumbled along from there.
TopTier: Is it just you making the UMvC3 mod? How big is your team?
Tabs: It was pretty much just me until the latest release. The model importer tool hit an area that I’m not really great at (3D model stuff) so I ended up asking for help from Fewtch and Lean, two folks who were doing stuff with MvC:I back when that first came out on PC. They ended up helping me out a massive amount with the Cyclops and Evil Ryu models that look absolutely stunning.
But overall, when it comes to everything else, including all the other custom models on characters, it’s just me by myself plugging away.
TopTier: In simple terms, how does the palette swapping work?
Tabs: So, in terms of what’s happening with the mod – basically, every character color in the game is its own individual file with the model and textures. By using that quirk of how MT Framework loads things in order and how certain things have priority in that loading order, stuffing those full of game-defining parameters, effects, sounds, and whatnot means that they get loaded instead of the regular game files. That’s the reason why there’s no way to let something like “Ryu vs. Evil Ryu (who is on the same slot) ” happen as whoever is loaded first is effectively taking priority for those files.
Anyhow, the main reason why the mod is called “Palette Swap” is because of my terrible and direct naming scheme. Effectively, since there was no way to import models into the game before this development, the only possible visual distinctions you could make on characters were texture edits and swapping out models from other already-existing characters onto the slot. So, all the characters were simply “palette swaps”, with the original characters all being legacy palette swap characters from MvC1 (Shadow Lady, Orange Hulk, Lilith, Evil Ryu). The name isn’t really accurate now that the model importer exists but it’s stuck around for the 4-ish years I’ve been making the mod so it’s just kinda there despite it being so bad, haha.
TopTier: How did you pick which characters to mod into the game?
Tabs: In terms of deciding on characters, most of it is a combination of what seems possible given the limitations of what we’re dealing with and whatever seems cool. More often than not, it’s just something that comes on a whim based on random inspiration or something that I had always wanted to see in MvC3. I generally try to consider types of characters that cover areas that aren’t necessarily represented in MvC3 in terms of character archetypes or just fan favorites that I think are cool.
TopTier: Which UMvC3 mod are you most proud of?
Tabs: The one I’m most proud of overall is kind of cliche – it’s Cyclops. He’s not really unique nor was he the most challenging, but the nature of capturing the proper “feel” of the character and translating that from the vastly different old Vs. series games into Marvel 3 is something that’s always very finicky. It’s all about striking the right balance of nostalgia and MvC3-ifying the character. Seeing people play the character and immediately “get it” and have those reactions of “Wow, he’s EXACTLY like I imagined he would be” is something that is seriously satisfying.
TopTier: What’s your dream UMvC3 mod?
Tabs: I actually think Ultron is possible at a technical level, but the aesthetics aspect really bothers me. It feels realistic to add him if someone was able to figure out the proper animations to blend together to get his stuff looking right. In terms of an actual, straight up “Wow this would be WILD” type addition, the main ones that come to mind are Nero and the protagonist of Dragon’s Dogma, Savan. Both from a gameplay design perspective and limitations (animations, special properties, etc) perspective they would effectively be impossible, by my understanding, to recreate in a manner that is actually like… properly satisfying and “real” looking rather than looking like a hacky mess. They’re very much far beyond what I can even picture for what little knowledge there is in MvC3 modding at the moment.
Where to Get UMvC3 Palette Swap V.5
At the time of writing, Palette Swap v.5 has been patched up to version “b3”. Tabs has been hard at work fixing bugs and improving the functionality since the initial release.
You can download Palette Swap v.5 here.
If you’re a PC UMvC3 player, and FGC member who appreciates good work, or a general enthusiast for modding, be sure to check out Palette Swap v.5. Cheers to Tabs for his incredible work and for taking the time to answer our questions. His work will undoubtedly inspire more FGC modders, and we look forward to seeing what happens next.