For this week’s mod interview, by request of folks within our forums, I decided to talk with popular Oblivion modders Kivan and Quarn (real names Kevin and David). While they live about as far apart as one could imagine (Quarn’s in Australia, Kivan hails from Canada), they managed to put out some great work, particularly their Unofficial Oblivion Patch, which cleans up and polishes several elements of the game.
I asked the guys about the projects they’ve worked on, how they like to work, and more. Here’s what they had to say:
Within our forums, folks recommended interviewing you as a team. What projects have you worked on together?
Quarn: Me and Kevin met and teamed up on the forums for UOP and we’ve worked together for all the unofficial patches we’ve done for Oblivion.
Kivan: Quarn and I have worked on the Unofficial Oblivion Patch (UOP) and the Unofficial Official Mods Patch (UOMP), though more so just the former. Quarn developed the UOMP independently and handed it over to me a few months ago when he took an ongoing sabbatical break from modding. I re-released it and made it a self-installer as the UOP and USIP (Unofficial Shivering Isles Patch) are, and added a few more fixes to it. I’m planning on releasing a new edition of both within the next week if possible.
Why do you think folks should use the Unofficial Oblivion Patch & the Unofficial Official Mods patch?
Quarn: For newcomers to Oblivion you most likely wouldn’t notice any of the bugs we’ve fixed but as you play more you will start to notice what should and shouldn’t be. If you like a nearly bug-less game, then these mods are for you.
Kivan: As well as fixing many leftover quest, NPC, dialog, item, spell and other bugs and problems that were not addressed by the official patches, I consider them to be a complement to the game’s greatest asset: immersion. For example, some would say that minor placement issues with statics (of which we’re up to over forty-two thousand) aren’t worth counting as errors or correcting, but I disagree. Oblivion’s outdoor spaces are beyond gorgeous and my favorite part of the game is just running around in the wilderness to see what’s out there. The trees sway in the breeze, birdsong fills the air, and there’s a certain ruddy cast of light at the day’s end that perfectly recreates reality. I can completely lose myself in it… until the first error shows itself, such as a see-through rock or a tree not attached to the ground. I think that we are adding much value to the immersion factor by getting rid of numerous cosmetic errors such as this.
How many other folks (estimate) worked on these projects?
Quarn: Me and Kevin are the main people who work on these projects but we’ve had heaps of bug reports from forum members. Some have fixed the bugs for us, we credited a total of 18 people in UOP’s readme for their great contributions.
Kivan: The UOMP was almost completely Quarn and I alone (AlienSlof helped on some icons), but the UOP is very much a community effort. About twenty other people have contributed something to it, be it one or more corrected NIF meshes, DDS graphic files, scripts, or other resources. Five or six have pointed out enough for us to fix that they are on the credits list as well, and about a hundred others have pointed out one or more that we ended up fixing too either through forum posts, PM’s or e-mails. There are currently six other people now helping with the project noted above (checking every object in every playable cell in Tamriel) for which my sanity and I are immensely grateful. Wormheart (who is best-known for the Natural Interiors mod) has also been contributing much in the past few months, which has nicely offset Quarn’s sabbatical absence.
Can you guys talk about the advantages of working with others to complete a project? Disadvantages?
Quarn: The bigger the group of people the harder it is to manage and that’s why we’ve stay with just the two of us, this allows us to work more efficiently. Kevin takes care of most of the esp related bugs while I take care of bugs in the files (nifs, textures etc.) but we both do a little of everything.
Kivan: The usual items in the disadvantage pile are compromise and coordination difficulties, but I’ve been fortunate to not see these nor any other disadvantages. Instead, I’ve seen plenty of cross-pollination of ideas, corrections of each other’s mistakes, and a general improvement in the output from what we would produce ourselves. Sometimes one gets hung up on a simple problem that just needs a fresh perspective.
Quarn, can you tell us what things you did differently with the Unofficial Shivering Isles Patch?
Quarn: Only thing that we did differently was we started actively looking for bugs right away instead of waiting for bug report by forums members, with Oblivion we had a lot of bug reports to follow before we decided to start searching for bugs ourselves.
Kivan: Quarn is too generous… he did it all. I picked up the slack in vanilla while he worked on the USIP. I hope to contribute to it soon.
When was the last time you guys played the “vanilla” version of Oblivion? Also, do you guys spend more time modding games than playing games?
Quarn: I’m a purist when it comes to mods and only use mods that don’t upset the balance/feel of the original game. The last time I played vanilla Oblivion was when I first got it, I finished all the quests and guilds then moved onto modding. I’ve spent more time modding than actually playing Oblivion, but Oblivion is the only game I really modded for as the tools provided by Bethesda and the community are great unlike a lot of other games.
Kivan: Vanilla? What’s that? My last unmodded game was just before the first official patch came out. Actually I’d been working on a small mod (the Encyclopedia Cyrodiilica) that I made to get my feet wet in the Construction Set at the time, but that was all. After the first patch, work on the UOP began in earnest. My modding to playing ratio was initially about 2:1 but has grown to perhaps 10:1 (10 hours modding for each hour played) as the quest bugs that require extensive play-testing have been dealt with, and we’re left with object placement, which is extremely time-consuming.
What other games have you done mod work for? Any that you’re dying to get your hands on?
Quarn: A few personal mods for Morrowind but that’s it, as for modding for other games none at the moment.
Kivan: I was bitten by the Debug bug in Baldur’s Gate II after the first official patch when it did not address a game-breaker in the main quest, and ended up spending about a year on it, its expansion, then Baldur’s Gate I. Other than an included script compiler which was intended for the player to write their own party AI but fortunately would still compile any other game scripting, we proto-modders were on our own then. No Construction Set or other official toolset was ever released, and contrary to popular assumption, all the BG titles only ever had one official patch released for them. Most of the fixes were done using a hex editor, which for the dialog trees with their pointers-to-pointers was more than a little difficult. I was planning on making the expected transition from Baldur’s Gate to Neverwinter Nights when it was due to appear, but in the interim just to pass the time I picked up a title that someone I worked with had recommended… it was called “Morrowind”. I ended up never playing NWN or much else after that until Oblivion came out. There was already an Unofficial Patch for Morrowind so I had to content myself with fixing all the typos and other text errors. In the highly unlikely event that I’m done with Oblivion by the time it’s released, I may give Fallout 3 a try. I prefer fantasy RPG to a living-will-envy-the-dead post-apocalyptic world, but FO3 looks to be well-done enough that I might be able to get over it. But my must-have will of course be Elder Scrolls V.
Do you guys have any upcoming projects that you’d like to talk about?
Quarn: An unofficial patch for the newly released official mod “Fighter’s Stronghold,” of course.
Kivan: Completion of the UOP/UOMP so that I can finally move on to Shivering Isles and work on the USIP are my only current or upcoming projects at the present time.
Outside of projects you’ve worked on, what are some of your favorite Oblivion mods?
Quarn: My favorites are the official mods, I’ve never really been enticed by mods other than my own.
Kivan: There are too many excellent mods out there for me to list them all, so unfortunately I have to leave many out and hope that no feelings get hurt. I also haven’t tried as many as would be expected due to what I do… have to run a clean official-only install during the play-testing as would be expected, so haven’t been able to have more than a brief look at some of the larger game-transforming mods. With this in mind, I like everything that AlienSlof, Nicoroshi and Scruggsywuggsy the Ferret have ever done, and WillieSea’s Clocks of Cyrodiil. Would like to play a little more with Deadly Reflex as well as it’s a technical breakthrough.
Are there any modders out there that you’re dying to work with?
Kivan: Already have. The ones I want to work with are the ones that contributed to the projects.
Have you ever considered working in game development?
Quarn: I’ve thought about it but I don’t know about turning something fun into work and something you get paid to do…
Kivan: Gaming is a business, and when the business side says it’s time to move on to the next project, one has to let things be less than perfect. If I could get over that, I think I would enjoy working in the industry.