Modding is Monkey Business for Wrye

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This week we’re talking with Morrowind/Oblivion modder Wrye. Born and raised in Texas, Wrye works in programming and has been playing games since Pong. It’s also worth noting that Wrye might be a monkey that lives in the zoo….hmm???

On with the show…

Where are you from?
Texas. Grew up in Dallas, but I find Austin to be more my style. I mean, where else will you see a parade made up solely of vintage VW buses? Great music too. Walked across the street once and stumbled into a Junior Brown gig at the Continental Club. At the end of the night, he segued into a surf music medley, and then polished it off with his rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. (Keep in mind that JB primarily plays country music.) Pretty awesome.

What’s your occupation?
Programming + XXX. In other words programming plus other stuff, where the other stuff varies. I’m trained in science and engineering. So the XXX tends to be analysis of one sort or another.

Are there any other personal tidbits you’d like to share?
My name is NOT pronounced like “wire”!!! It’s pronounced like “Wry” or “Rye”. Remember: “Wry humored Wrye will wrip your head off if you call him “wyre”!

When did you start playing games and what compelled you to start modding?
As for first part… Pong again. But I was pretty young. It was several years before video arcades started appearing. The first computer arcade style game that I played a lot was Dark Castle (mid-to-late eighties) followed by Apache Strike. After that, it was off and on depending on school, work and whether some compelling new gaming technology had come out.

As for second part… I wouldn’t say “compelled”, but not to quibble… Hmm… Like a lot of other geeks, I’ve found the idea of virtual reality interesting for a long time. There was the hype of the headsets in the nineties, but that wasn’t commercially successful. But after that, and continuing through today (and into the future) games have continued to move in that direction. I was really excited about Morrowind when it came out, because I saw it as crossing a threshold — outstanding architecture, vistas, etc. But more than that, the game world itself was more “real” — you could ignore the main quest, go anywhere, into random homes, to different towns with different people and stories.

However, I was bit a tight on cash, so I bought an XBox and played on that. After completing it, I had to wait about a year for GOTY to come out. GOTY was great, but it tempted me again to take the next step and start rewriting (virtual) reality to my own design. So, I bought a new PC, played the game ~again~ (with mods this time) and then started modding on my own. Having a lot of play-experience under my belt, I had a ready stockpile of ideas: better storage, better transportation, miscellaneous spells and dialog, better access to this and that. So I did all that and other stuff as well. Eventually I was fairly sated, but I decided to merge my mods together and release them — and that became my first mod, Wrye World.

Then I got involved in the community, and shortly after that, stumbled into Wrye Mash, and things just continued from there. I’ve come and gone a couple of times since then, but I find that there are several things that tend to draw me back to the Morrowind/Oblivion modding scene: 1) there’s always more that can be done; 2) there’s a lot of variety in what can be done; 3) there’s a lot of other people doing new and surprising stuff; 4) potato chip effect — you can often do something small (totally new or just an improvement or bug fix), and get a quick positive result and feedback; and 5) the community itself is quite good.

Wrye Bash is a project you’re known for. What made you decide to create this tool?
It’s probably better to start with Wrye Mash… In December 2004, I figured out why players were having problems with adding and removing mods from an active save game. So I wrote a paper about it and described how the problem could be solved through an external tool. I was hoping/expecting that one of the existing tool makers (Farren Hayden, Argent, Ghostwheel) would take it on, but none did. So after a bit, I shrugged and wrote it myself.

When I wrote Mash, I decided that rather than designing it to be a single purpose tool, I would instead design it to act as a platform on which features could be added fairly arbitrarily. That worked out very well for Mash, but it also meant that when Oblivion came out, I was able to strip Mash back down to the “platform” code, adapt a little code regarding file formats and directories and get Bash with very little effort. So creating Bash was pretty much a given as soon as I bought Oblivion.

As a result of its popularity, do you get hammered with requests for additional mod resources?
It’s actually not too bad. Since I don’t produce resources in the regular sense (I don’t model and I don’t write scripts for other people), I really don’t fall into the regular category of “Oh, I need XXX model/script. I’ll ask Wrye.”

People do sometimes ask for features to be added to Mash, Bash or one of my mods. If it sounds like a good idea, and if I have the time, I’ll generally do it. I’d say maybe about 1/3 of such requests get fulfilled. (E.g. the Save Profiles feature of Bash is due to a request.)

The main thing for a requester to keep in mind is that they have to make a good argument for it — if I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea, I’ll never do it. And they shouldn’t whine, beg or plead stupidity. I hate that.

Do you enjoy helping others as much as working on your own projects?
No, not at all! :) There are some people on the forums who are very generous with their time and really look for ways to help other people, but I’m not like that. I’m more interested in solving interesting problems. I like getting to the end point, pushing the “Go” button or getting that in-game effect and thinking “Whoa! That’s pretty cool!”

Hmm… I’m glad that people use my tools/mods, and solving common problems (and receiving appreciation for doing so) is definitely a huge part of my motivation. But usually that alone is not enough for me to tackle a given problem.

A semi-exception to that is when some other modder does something pretty cool, in which case, I’ll keep my eye out for ways to pay that back. E.g. the Import NPC Faces feature went into Bash to support Veritas_Secreto’s TNR mod. And I took over Living Cities of Vvardenfell out of appreciation for what Helios et al did.

In my book, cool stuff begets cool stuff.

What’s your personal favorite mod you’ve worked on? Your favorite mod someone else has created?
For favorite personal mods, I would pick Wrye World for Morrowind and Wrye Shivering Death for Oblivion. Wrye World is kind of a mish mash of features: The Luggage, Portal Orbs, Icarian Flight, the Mystica activators, even Erika and her favorite weapon “Shopcleaner” — but I still get a kick out of it.

Wrye Shivering Death makes death the way it “should” be after completing the SI main quest (i.e. a lot less permanent and a little surreal). It’s nicely atmospheric, but enough of annoyance that you won’t want to do it very often.

For Morrowind mods by others, my favorite would be the LGNPC series and in particular, LGNPC Ald’ruhn. The goal of LGNPC is to add unique spoken dialog to every NPC in the game — to make each NPC a distinct character with their own story(e.g. in LGNPC Ald’ruhn there’s a quest involving three rings which eventually leads to a tough fight.) The writing for this is brilliant — it really puts you into the world of these three characters whose lives were turned upside down and almost destroyed by a nightmarish run-in with one of Dagoth Ur’s servants. In “vanilla” Morrowind, the horror of Dagoth Ur is too distant from daily life; but this one story makes it as close as the guy walking by you in the street.

For Oblivion, I don’t have one mod that stand out as a clear favorite — there are so many that are good. So, I’ll just recommend two: Ambient Town Sounds and Clocks of Cyrodiil. Both of these do what they say: add sounds and clocks — but these additions really enrich the game world.

If you could add a function to the Construction Set, what would it be?
Actually between current TES CS, Bash and tools from the other guys, I don’t feel much of a need for new functions in TES CS (although I’m sure other modders would kill to have a couple of bugs fixed — especially the one about not generating lip sync files).

For the game engine itself, I would very much like to see better support for non-spoken dialog. Spoken dialog is of course, very nice and immersive, but it sets the bar on dialog so high, that modders have a very hard time reaching it. (E.g., even Oscuro’s Overhaul doesn’t have any new dialogue — a pretty surprising absence in such an otherwise comprehensive mod). IMO, a better interface for non-spoken dialog would really the long term vitality of Oblivion.

Are you modding other games besides Oblivion?
Aside from Morrowind? Then I really would have no life! :) So, no. Actually I’m not even playing other games these days. Between Wrye time, RL and work, I’ve pretty much got my hands full.

What’s the most difficult aspect of modding for you?
Corresponding with users! Arguing points and trying to answer questions (being concise, getting the information across, not being too rude) takes a lot of time. Especially over the internet, where you don’t really have a good feel for the other person, and emotive overtones tend to be lost.

Any top secret projects you can talk about?
Well, not exactly secret, but probably not very public knowledge since it’s buried in one forum post… Breeze582000 is working on a Succubi Race mod, where as a member of the new race (Succubi), the player has the ability to shape shift into other identities. See WIPZ Succubi Race for info and demo download link. Also, see video of shape shift.

Since Breeze’s shape shifting method uses Wrye Bash, I got involved to help optimize and improve that part of the code. While doing that, I worked up my own mod based on his approach. In my mod, there’s no Seducer race — instead the player gets a book which provides the shape shifting spells. But one of the spells is a “doppelgang” spell, which allows you to assume the shape of any NPC in the game. Also, my mod differs from Breeze’s in that when shifting forms, not just your appearance, but also your stats shift (so one form can be a melee fighter, another a thief, etc.) Keep in mind that everything is still kind of beta/demo, but the shape shifting itself works fine. For more information, see this post.

Have you considered/applied to work in game development?
In the early nineties, I designed a game, but didn’t have the knowledge/skills to build it. These days, I’m not actively seeking it as a career, but still, I’m always open to possibilities. Of course, a plentiful supply of bananas and free access to the “All Lara, All the Time!” hotline is always a plus in any negotiations with me!

Reader Comments

  1. Wrye has made the most critical tool for Oblivion mod users imaginable (outside the CS of course).

    I can safely say many mods out there wouldn’t be possible (such as the Gigantic FCOM: Convergence) if Wrye didn’t share the tools of the monkey god with us.

    And while it can seem overwhelming at first, the documentation on Wrye Musings (http://wrye.ufrealms.net/), makes it relatively simple for even novice users.

  2. Great interview!

    Wrye Bash has become an absolutely essential tool that every Oblivion mod-player should use. If you’re not using it, then you’re missing out on a whole new realm of enjoyment with Oblivion mods.

    I already knew about the Succubi shape-shifting project, but I had no idea about Wrye Morph. Sounds very cool!

    Keep up the great work, Wrye!

  3. Been Hooked on Morrowind & GOTY… Since April…
    Wyre Mash about a Month or two…

    Just felt compelled to say…

    Yes Yes & Yes Wyre you ROCK !!!

    A totally huge,
    THANK YOU
    to Bethesda, Wyre, & the community =)

  4. I came across this interview on the front page of the uesp.net wiki news section, and I’m glad I did. I’ve been hooked on Morrowind GOTY for a while now, and find it to be one of if not the most interesting and intriguing game I’ve ever played (and I’ve been playing since Super Mario on NES). Being a web developer by trade, when I found out today about the modding scene for Morrowind and Oblivion I was ecstatic; not only did I find out about mods such as Wrye’s that will give me even more entertaining playtime out of the game, I can possibly contribute with my own mods and ideas!! I am grateful to Bethesda and to a further extent, Wrye, who it seems has spent a lot of time creating stuff for other people (I give props to Bethesda too, but Wrye doesn’t get paid for it! :D ). I think what Bethesda did with the construction set is pretty innovative, by opening up a whole new world to gamers and allowing people like me to build on what they did to create and contribute to the gaming community, thereby extending the playtime of the game and probably driving sales. I hope what I’ve heard about an online version is true ( http://easywhois.com/?domain=elderscrollsonline.com )

    Thank you all for your respective contributions!

    PS. I love how even when warned people are referring to the monkey as ‘Wyre’ as opposed to ‘Wrye’. Hah.

  5. Very nice interview, and it’s great to know a little more about our god-monkey! What would be of us MW and OB players without his tools? Thanks a lot for making TES players and modders lifes easier, Wrye!

  6. Thanks all. And thanks Joey from saving from having to point that out myself! And I just wanted to say… What? Oh, the next guest is here already? Well. That was brief. Still… (Monkey handlers from the zoo enter stage right, pick Wrye up and carry him off stage left before he can start pontificating about pythons, or telling the bemused audience about his evening with the latest “Lara” monkey at the zoo.)

    GStaff laughs from behind his desk, and Dark One, looking like he hasn’t slept in a week, is dragged away from a Team Fortress 2 session and thrown into the comfy guest chair. “So, Dark One…” says GStaff…

  7. I would just like to add that Wrye gives excellent documentation with his mods. This is something that is EXTREMELY important to users of any mods for Morrowind or Oblivion. Spoilers aside, complete documentation is the only way a user can be assured of enjoying ALL of the Modders’ work.
    I won’t mention any names or mods, but there are some modders out there that seem to think complete documentation of their work is not really that important. Sadly, for all mod users.

  8. Follow up on the secret project… [b]Wrye Morph is now out![/b] And not only do your stats shift, but so does: class, factions, equipment, ownership, etc. Even better, you can now [b]doppelgang (almost) any npc in the game![/b] And when you do, you get ownership of their cells, bed, etc.

    Video: [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9miFR-1bTs]Wrye Morph Demo 02[/url]. Discussion: [url=http://www.bethsoft.com/bgsforums/index.php?showtopic=828869][RELZ/BETA] Wrye Morph[/url].

    But beware the warnings! This is difficult mod to install — advanced users only!