This week’s mod interview is with Razorwing (or Gloomwing over at the BGS forums). In “reality”, Razorwing is known as Patrik Jonasson. Patrick lives with his wife and kids, and during the day, works as a fork lift driver. In regards to the Elder Scrolls, Patrik heads the Silgrad Tower mod team that has been working from scratch to recreate the visual look of Morrowind within Oblivion.
So tell me about the Silgrad Tower team. How did you guys get started?
We call ourselves the Silgrad Tower team, taken from the name of the capital city in our mod. The beginnings of our team can be traced back all the way to 2002, when our founder (and then only member) Valderon brought his budding city project to a mod team called Tamriel Rebuilt. We parted ways after a year or so, partly because we wanted more creative freedom over our area, and continued on as a stand-alone mod & mod team from that point on.
A big part of your team’s work for Oblivion involves recreating models from scratch that resemble the visuals of Morrowind. What was the inspiration for this?
It was the only way to recreate our Morrowind mod both legally and accurately. Our mod takes place in the Morrowind Province, which didn’t pose any major problems back in the days of TES III: Morrowind since the game had pretty much everything we needed in stock. Oblivion on the other hand takes place in Cyrodiil, and its library of objects would for the most part look strange in a Morrowind Province setting. Our first idea was to simply port the models we needed from Morrowind, but thankfully we found out early on in the process, in May of 2005, that doing that would be a copyright violation against you guys at Bethesda. We quickly tossed that idea out the window, and some of us took our first shaky steps into the brave new world of modeling.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep playing/modding Morrowind?
As time went, interest in TES III: Morrowind started to decline in the community as a whole. The veining interest hit our team in the late autumn of 2004, with members dropping off one by one. The forum lay dormant for a few months. Me and a few others checked in now and then, but we didn’t post anything. Perhaps because we’d grown accustomed to being a part of the team and a part of the development process rather than being the driving force behind it, though I wouldn’t say that I personally didn’t feel the waning interest in Morrowind as a game myself. But as it happened, one day we started posting again. When we received word about Oblivion being in development the discussions really kicked off, both because we were excited over a new Elder Scrolls game and because that in turn made us excited about the mod we wanted to do for that game. We still loved the atmosphere, culture and ambiance of TES III: Morrowind – I still do to this day, and I don’t think that will ever change – but as far as the actual game was concerned I think we all felt it was a closed chapter.
Since you cannot use the exact models from Morrowind, can you explain the process of converting models over?
I always start off by importing the original model into 3D Studio Max, which aids me tremendously since it works in a way I can best describe as being three-dimensional concept art. Importing allows me to examine the original model three-dimensionally, assess the scale of the object, and determine which modeling techniques I should use to recreate it. I then create a completely new mesh on top of the original, trying to keep the design while at the same using a face count more appropriate for Oblivion players. Finally, I texture map the mesh and then set up the collision.
How many folks are working with you on this project?
We have a dozen modders, modellers and texture artists working regularly in the team and around twice that who’ve do one or a few jobs.
How long do you think it will take to complete the project?
It’s a hard question to answer because we’ll never disband as a team and go our separate ways. We’ll continue working on the Oblivion mod indefinitely, until the time comes to think about modding for an Elder Scrolls V that is sure to come out eventually. In that sense we’ll never reach the point where we feel we’re completely finished, rather the mod will become better and better over time. But our current goal is to release a full version of our Oblivion mod in 2008, where we’ve brought it up to par with what players should expect from a mod. It won’t be finished, but it’ll be fun and sure to entertain for dozens of hours.
Silgrad Tower v3.0 sounds to be a major improvement on the previous release. Could you explain how?
The major problem with our last release, which we called Silgrad Tower v2.5, is that we implemented a lot of the groundwork for our future development. This was especially the case with our landmass, which at that time was almost completely blank. To us in the team implementing the final landmass was of course a major step forward because before then you couldn’t travel between our cities easily, but had to resort to teleporters and other unnatural means of getting around. But the impression that left players with was that our landmass was an immensely huge and dull slab of land that was impossible to find one’s way around – a problem compounded by the fact that we didn’t have an in-game map. I’m happy to say we’ve already generated 20% of our landmass’ content though, and before we release Silgrad Tower v3.0 that number will be 100%. Further there will be a road network sprawling our lands, with plenty of roadsigns along the way, and for those who prefer the fast travel system — or just like to get their bearing from time to time — we’ll have an in-game map implemented.
Speaking of traveling, we’ll also implement a seamless transition between Cyrodiil and Morrowind in 3.0. In the early days you had to go through a portal in Cheydinhal to reach Reich Parkeep/Soluthis, which was our only city at that time. Later on you could find a cave north of Cheydinhal that exited to our lands. But for 3.0 my teammate Sandor has devised a seamless transition through scripting, enabling players to walk across the border on foot. The way it works is that Sandor copied a part of Cyrodiil’s heightmap over to ours, so once you hit the teleportation spot in Cyrodiil you’ll be whisked to the same spot but in our world space, and can continue on further into Morrowind. It will feel much like a normal cell load.
Another problem with our last release was our division of assets into public and private versions. Basically we made certain models in the public mod less complex in an attempt to protect the full models from those whom might use them against our will. I championed the system myself and I’m the first to admit it was a mistake. In hindsight I’d rather put my faith in the community as a whole respecting copyright issues, and those with influence enforcing it if someone breaks it, than continue to water down the playing experience in that manner. There’ll be no public/private arrangement when we release Silgrad Tower v3.0; the version we release will be the best there is. At the same time we’ve made a lot of progress in improving and updating the models since 2.5, and we’ve created a ton of new ones as well, so visual-wise there’ll be a lot to look forward to.
The final problem I’d like to comment on is the “there’s nothing to do” impression certain players got from playing 2.5. There was actually quite a few quests, but they weren’t easy to find. We’re working on remedying that problem in a couple of ways. For instance we plan to make more use of the noticeboards in our cities — a method we used successfully in our Morrowind mod — whereby the questgiver has written a note and pinned it on the noticeboard, giving the player hints where to find a particular quest. We might also look into writing and voicing conversations the player can overhear, just like he can in the main game. A more direct solution is to focus on making quests for the guilds and factions in our city. For instance we’re finally implementing the Redoran faction in 3.0, for which you’ll be able to go on a multitude of quests. Many of them will deal with the conflict with Skyrim and one may even see you cross the border over into that Province.
What’s part of modding do you enjoy most/least?
I see myself primarily as a modeler on the team, and I often feel more at home in 3D Studio Max than the Construction Set. But what originally attracted me to modding was the ability to create my own adventures, so questmaking has always been my favourite facet of pure modding. It’s harder to think of something I don’t like, but I guess making path grids is rather tedious sometimes.
If there are modders out there that would be interested in helping your team, what would you suggest they do?
We’re always interested in making new friends, so if you ask me I think they should go ahead and dive right onto our forum by starting a new thread on The Tavern, telling us a bit about themselves and what part of modding they enjoy working on. We have plenty of information pinned on the different boards that they can read up on it when they have time, and if a question crops up while they’re working they can go ahead and post it right in their claims thread. Working with us can be a great learning experience for newer modders in that sense because all of us have a vested interest in each other succeeding with what we’re working on for Silgrad Tower.
Though it sounds like you have your hands full, what other modding projects would you like to undertake in the future (with TES Games and beyond).
I’ve been a steady fixture in the Silgrad Tower team for close to four years now, so it’s safe to say I’m not going anywhere. But I’m very excited over the prospect of modding for the next game in the Elder Scrolls series together with the team when that time comes.
Imagine if you will. You’ve just been granted all the money and resources to create your own game. Pitch it to me.
I would want to create a traditional fantasy RPG with depth, atmosphere, culture and a rich backstory – while at the same time having visually realistic and entertaining combat. If you have sufficient skill with a sword, strike your opponent in the right place, and get a bit of luck then you should be able to take their arm off. A player proficient with a mace whom strikes their opponent’s foot should see that foot take visual damage, while at the same time giving their opponent a permanent limp – which would affect their combat performance. Take out both feet and the opponent would endure the rest of the combat crawling. The more damage someone takes the weaker they should get, making it important to win the first strike. Not only do I think it would add tremendously to the entertainment to have visually realistic combat, but I think it would instill a fun sense of fear when the player character can take that kind of visual damage as well. Naturally the impairments can be healed by spells or seeking out a healer. I think many players would find the idea of being able to take someone’s head off disturbingly fun.