When you are an ARK admin, and you are hosting your own ARK servers, then you might have heard about the program Beacon. It started as a program helping you to adjust the drops on your server yourself to get rid of those nasty compass blueprints, but over time it grew and became even more helpful. I interviewed Beacon developer Tekcor for the ARK Magazine to talk about the development process of Beacon.
Hey Thom and thank you for talking to me about your work on Beacon / Omni. If you want to introduce yourself to the readers, maybe talk about your programming background
Well, as mentioned, my name is Thom (pronounced just like Tom) though online I usually go by Tekcor. That one I just pronounce as “tech-or” despite the weird spelling due to the name just being “rocket” spelled backwards.
I grew up in front of a computer, even when computers were not common in the house. My father was a graphic designer, so I grew up playing with professional tools like Adobe Photoshop, Quark Xpress, Macromedia Flash, GoLive CyberStudio. I was 10 when I really started to learn my first language: Perl. In my early adult years, I managed a bunch of Subway restaurants—up to 17 when I left—until I managed to get my foot in the door with a developer tool company called Real Software. So I’ve been professional developing software for 15 years, but writing software for closer to 30.
I love software. Tinkering with hardware is fun, but software is really my passion. I’ve got ideas for a game I’d like to develop, but I’m really a tool developer and have never made much progress with game dev tools.
When did Beacon get released, and what triggered the initial idea?
Like a lot of server admins, I wanted to do something about Ark’s loot. I was already familiar with a lot of the config options, but when I looked into how to edit loot, my eyes glazed over.
For those unaware, loot config can be literally hundreds of thousands of characters with no spaces. It’s exceptionally hard to work with by hand. For a while I used some pre-built configs found online, but I wanted to do better. So being a programmer, I started to work on a tool for myself to make it easier. As I kept working on it, I decided others could benefit too.
I don’t know how long it took me to get the first version ready, but I know I started playing Ark in April of 2016 and the first version of Beacon was ready in September that same year.
When looking at the GitHub repository, Beacon almost doesn’t let you get some rest from programming. Do you still have things you plan to implement into Beacon or is development slowing down now that ARK 1 is coming to an end?
Believe it or not, Beacon’s development doesn’t really ramp up or down based on Ark’s schedule. Right now development is a little slow because the current version of Beacon is very stable, and my available time is more limited than normal. But I have plans to get things going again when I’m able. I want to introduce a tool that can estimate dino spawning, as it’s a topic that is hard to get right.
I think many server admins have nightmares about their beaches being overrun by Karkinos. It’d be nice to be able to help predict that. I’ve also already completed work on a feature that will allow Beacon to automatically discover engrams, creatures, loot, and spawns from mods, but it’s just kind of sitting around waiting for the next big Beacon update.
And lastly, I’m also investigating adding support for non-Ark games, but it’s too early to name names. So I have no plans to slow down, I really love working on Beacon.
How connected are you to other developers in the ARK-Community is there cooperative work happening or are people rather on their own developing?
I have the most contact with coldino and alex of the Purlovia project, but that’s really only when there are problems. Although I’ve exchanged messages with Dan of Dododex in the past, it’s been a long while since our last messages. Our focuses don’t really overlap much, so there just hasn’t been a need.
Looking to ARK 2, do you think there will be a Beacon 2 as well if there is the need for it?
I’m hopeful there will be a need for Beacon 2. Based on the original announcement, I was worried that Wildcard was missing a key piece of why Ark is successful: the sandbox. But after the most recent announcements this summer, such as mod support coming to console—something that I totally did not expect—I’m optimistic we’ll have a broad range of options again.
Only time will tell. The good news is that I spent roughly a year of development time making sure Beacon will be able to support more than just Ark 1, so I can hopefully get a version of Beacon for Ark 2 ready in weeks or months after release, instead of a year or more. Wildcard doesn’t share anything at all with me, so I’ll know the same time the rest of us do.
What would Wildcard have to change in ARK 2 compared to ARK 1 to make development easier?
Right now Beacon relies upon the Purlovia project to extract the necessary data. I’d love if the game files were easier to work with, but I know that’s really an Unreal thing and something that won’t change. Besides that, better documentation for the config options. With every new command they give us, we have to do some experimenting to figure out how it really works.
What was the best experience you had while developing Beacon? (Could be interactions with users, meeting people etc.)
This might be a bit broad, but it’s not any one interaction, it’s the Discord server as a whole. It’s been both my best and worst decision with Beacon. On one hand, it’s basically like being on call 24/7. At least, it was when the community was smaller. These days I have a mod team and there are a number of smart people that can answer questions when I’m not able. But it’s also extremely rewarding, because I can more readily see how people use Beacon.
They do things I’ve never dreamed of, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction to be able to make their lives easier. I can’t implement every idea of course, but I love to help where I can. I owe most of Beacon’s growth to the community, so having to answer some questions on weekends seems like a small price to pay.
Do you have a message to the ARK developers?
As mentioned previously, the Ark community does a lot of guesswork and reverse engineering. As a result, there is a LOT of misinformation out there about how game mechanics and config options work. I would love to see a “Developer Relations Manager” or maybe a section of the forum where developers like myself, coldino, alex, MrPlow, cadaei, orionsun, and so many others can go for answers from Wildcard devs. I think every one of us would appreciate it.
Besides that, the message is simple: thank you. Ark has literally changed my life. Thanks to Ark, Beacon has a reason to exist, and thanks to Beacon I was able to afford a second car to help take care of my father in his final days. It’s hard to overstate what the game and the community means to me. So thank you.
Thank you for taking your time!
Download Beacon from the official website: Beacon for ARK