In a bit of a twist, this week’s mod interview is with Robin Scott (aka DarkOne), the site administrator over at The Elder Scrolls Nexus. Before working on TES Nexus, he was also the brains behind The Elder Scrolls Source. Currently, Robin in a university student living in Exeter, a small city in southwest England.
On to the interview…
What got you interested in modding?
Morrowind, and Morrowind Chronicles, the fansite I created for Morrowind, were probably the biggest impulse for me to get into modding. Back when I was 15, a friend and I were bouncing on a trampoline at his house talking about video games. Long story short this friend introduced me to Daggerfall, and after a heavy reading session of the Daggerfall Chronicles book and all the stories, stats, and figures that were featured in that book (it’s still on the shelf in front of me right now) we decided to create a fan site for Morrowind, which was due for release in around 8 months from that time.
Morrowind Chronicles launched in August of 2001. Slowly a community formed around the site and things moved on from there. When Morrowind finally launched the site was quite popular, receiving around 6,000 unique visitors a day. Due to a number of issues, mainly a lack of coding knowledge and expensive space and bandwidth bills associated with hosting large sites (especially in those days), the site didn’t really become a prominent modding site for Morrowind.
During this time I made some very small modifications, things like The Boots of Unblinding Speed (which I’m sure every man and his dog modded themselves anyway). Truth be told I’ve never really been a good modder, and instead I focused my skills on projects that helped those people who were good modders! Modders of Morrowind might remember the Morrowind Mod Site Creator I coded that let modders create their own sites for their own mod projects, like an extended idea of the current database system at the Nexus.
While I wouldn’t call myself a modder I like to think that people like myself who perhaps don’t have the creative time or patience to mod the game can still be useful in the modding community.
Of your projects, which mod are you most proud of?
Prior to the release of Morrowind I instigated the creation of a team to brainstorm ideas for a massive Lord of the Rings total conversion for Morrowind named the Middle-Earth Mod (MEMod). Back in those days, there was a lot of talk but not much action, which was my fault. I love to blabber on (see: procrastination!) about ideas and general musings instead of getting down to the nitty gritty work. We had an awesome time back in those days and the community was always desperate to see what work we had managed to do. After a couple of years at the helm I passed on the reigns to a different leader for the mod, who shall go unnamed. By the time things had settled down and a proper leader put at the helm Oblivion was on the horizon and several revelations were made that meant the project could not realistically continue. It was a damn shame because the vision and scope of the mod was unparalleled in the modding community.
You previously ran The Elder Scrolls Source fansite. What brought about the decision to create TES NEXUS?
This one was totally business. Earlier I mentioned creating Morrowind Chronicles with a friend. After a few months working on Morrowind Chronicles this friend decided to make a business out of creating and hosting websites, something that I helped to establish. I decided to create a subsidiary of this company called Gaming Source. The focus of Gaming Source was to help those webmasters that were experiencing the same problems as me when it came to hosting their large sites.
It costs a lot of money to host a popular fan site which is something I’ve learnt from experience with TES Nexus. I, through Gaming Source, maintained several servers to host these fansites on and took on all the costs of running the sites and in exchange I got advertising real-estate on these sites. It was largely a break-even business that worked on good-will rather than making a profit, and it was ok to do this because I was/am young and don’t need to worry about where next month’s paycheck is coming from. In the UK we have student loans, and when I’m not at university I’m at my parent’s home, where my parents graciously don’t make me pay rent (yet!).
In 2006 Gaming Source became a fully incorporated company with a 50/50 stake being shared by myself and this friend. Unfortunately, by September 2007 I had become unhappy with the arrangement, mainly because I was doing 100% of the work and only seeing 50% of any money to come out of share dividends. It really came down to the realization that I’d soon be coming out of the softly-cushioned bubble of university life and would actually have to start earning money to survive!
I made the decision to move away from Gaming Source and focus on my own projects and wanted to take TESSource with me. Unfortunately, as director of Gaming Source, the work done on TESSource during those years was the legal property of the company rather than myself. So after some amicable talks with my friend and business partner I was able to hold onto the site and forum database, and all its files, but I was not able to use any of the code I had written for TESSource. So from the 10th to the 20th of September I did 9am â€“ 11pm days coding a completely new site to work with the old TESSource database. I decided to call the site TES Nexus and the rest, as they say, is history!
Any exciting plans for the site that you’d like to share with the community?
Lots and lots of plans, as always, but I’m often loathe to speak too soon just in case I hit a snag. I hate to disappoint people. I’ve got plans for new sites that I won’t discuss, but when it comes to TES Nexus there’s always things on my list. To name but a few:
- User written reviews of mods; like rating files only the member can write a full blown review for other users to read (authors can turn this ability on or off)
- Modder blogs; mod authors can write articles about anything that takes their fancy for other users to read
- The return of the tutorials system from TESSource
- Favourite mods and favourite author systems; allows members to track updates to files, or new files uploaded by mod authors through the site
- Daily email updates for premium members; premium members can choose to have the new files and updates for the day sent straight to their email inbox
- A readme uploader; allows authors to upload their readme’s in txt format so users can view the readme of files before downloading
- The return of the kudos system; users give kudos to authors and other users who they think are doing a good job
- A user activity meter; shows how active members are on the site by taking into account a number of factors, mods uploaded, images uploaded, tags, comments, ratings, etc.
- The return of the “mod of the month” feature; allows users to give one vote a month to a mod they think deserves to be recognized within the community, with added “Hall of Fame” style functionality
- Increased sensitivity to “mature” mods and images on the site; will require people to be consenting registered members to view mature material.
There’s always something to be doing
What in your opinion is the most useful mod for Morrowind? For Oblivion?
For Morrowind it HAS to be Fwuffy’s Cliff Racer Solutions mod. That mod is an absolute god send for people like me who have short tempers and don’t appreciate turning around to find 20 cliff racers following you into town. I haven’t actually played Morrowind in quite some time, even talking about the game makes me nostalgic and I really need to install the game soon and play through with Timeslip’s amazing Morrowind Graphics Extender to remove all that fog from the game.
For Oblivion I’m going to go along with the crowd and suggest any of a number of the overhaul mods that help to remove or balance out the leveled creature system from the game. There’s Francesco’s, Quarn and Kivan’s and Oscuro’s for starters. Honourable mention to the current #1 on TES Nexus, Deadly Reflex by Skycaptain.
Can you summarize the process you go through when you decide to make changes to your site?
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt through the years it’s that you can’t please everyone; there’s always someone who isn’t going to like what you’ve done and similarly there’s always someone who has no clue how to use a computer, and is going to blame you for their incompetence. So when it comes to adding new functionality to the site or changing the current features on the site, I tend to take quite a broad utilitarian approach to things, essentially “what is going to please the most people.”
When it first came to completely recoding TESSource a few months before the release of Oblivion I took one big step back and looked at the Morrowind modding sites that were around, namely PES and ElricM. I took a deep hard look at how they ran, noting the parts that were integrally important, the parts I liked and the parts I thought could be improved. From here I could assess what was needed and also what would be handy.
Once I have an idea of what feature or function I want to implement, the RSI time comes. This is the time when I have to actually pick up a p…a p…I can’t say it…a PEN and write something on p…p…PAPER. It comes as quite a shock to the system. Sadly, all the old fart developers out there are right when they tell you to plan on paper first and code later. The slow pace of writing actually helps you to develop your ideas and it’s important you don’t just go headlong into things because it saves you a lot of time in the long run.
By the time I’ve finished putting pen to paper I tend to have a pretty good idea of what I’m meant to be doing. My database tables have been drawn out with the relational links to one another mapped out, there’s some pseudo code and a numbered and bulleted list of the tasks people are expected to be doing with this feature step-by-step.
From here I begin the practical work of creating the database tables and developing the code for the site. This is normally done on my test server first to avoid breaking the site while people are using it.
Finally, when I’m sure the code is tight and working how I intended, I upload it to the live site and wait until somebody tells me the site has broken. Large features like the file tagging that was recently added can take quite some time to be released. Most of the time is spent festering in my head coming up with realistic ideas of how the feature should work and also receiving feedback from the community on how they think the idea should be implemented. The coding time is actually quite a small amount of the entire process.
Do you have any new projects that you haven’t talked about that you’d like to discuss now?
Projects outside of fan sites I’ll keep on the hush for now, you can’t be too careful who you give ideas to these days! But when it comes to fan sites my latest mini-blog on the site goes into a little detail about a question I’ve been asked a lot recently, and that’s whether I’ll be creating a Fallout 3 Nexus site or not. This one totally depends on Bethesda and whether they release a construction set for the game or not. My forte has always been on the behind the scenes coding, trying to make community-centric systems that are easy to use and allow the community to be at the centre of things, rather than the other way around. Essentially trying to remove me, the bottleneck, from the process. At the moment this has mainly revolved around modding files.
How long do you see yourself running TES Nexus?
As long as the community keeps cranking out mods and supporting the site, and as long as Bethesda keep cranking out awesome games, TES Nexus will be here (touch wood). The beauty of TES Nexus is that I’ve coded the site so that it does not depend on me. Everything is community generated, I just work in the background to make sure everything runs smoothly, the servers work, the bills are paid, the site is clean and new features get added to help further the community. There are the occasional hiccups, but for all intents and purposes the whole concept of the site revolves around the fact that it cannot depend on me on a daily basis, “just in case”.
Add to that the two amazing support staff on the site, LHammonds (or Conan_Lon on the official forums) and Buddah. These two guys are absolutely awesome, moderating the site by removing all those nasty ratings and posts, fixing broken links by uploading new files for entries, helping with tagging and adding images and also providing helpful feedback. They not only help to keep the site in tip-top shape but also form an integral part of the greater Elder Scrolls community.
LHammonds has released a number of mods for Oblivion and Buddah is a great figure on the official forums, maintaining mod lists and helping people find the mods they need. The site, nay the Elder Scrolls community, wouldn’t be what it is without these guys.
Outside of the Elder Scrolls, what other games are you playing and/or modding?
If that feature I promised a week ago isn’t done yet it’s because I’m gaming. I’m a student and I love computer games; it’s a terrible combination. I’d probably be a millionaire by now if it wasn’t for this damn addiction! Current games I’m playing include Oblivion, Eve Online, Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament 3, Quake Wars, X-Com: Apocalypse, Fallout: Tactics, and Supreme Commander. I play at least 4 hours of games a day, minimum, sometimes edging towards the 6 to 8 hour mark. It’s good, but it’s also bad. I’m sure you get what I mean.
What do you see yourself doing 5 years from now?
With my university course over I’d love to be running several gaming sites and making enough money to live comfortably off. I love the flexible hours that being a webmaster offers. I’d also love to live in the US for a year. I’ve been there 5 or 6 times and I love the country and the people (I’m not your typical European, I’ve got to admit!) and I’d love to see what it’s like to actually live in the country rather than take holidays there. I’m thinking Boston or New York. Anyone in these areas looking for a tenant in 5 years time please get in contact with me. Mad gunmen need not apply.