For this week’s mod interview, we’re talking with Princess Stomper. If you’ve been around the BGS or Oblivion Real Estate forums, at the very least, you’ll probably recognize her as being the one that always has a bunny avatar. For several years now, Princess Stomper has been quite involved with the modding communities for both Morrowind and Oblivion…so we thought it was time to ask her a few questions.
When I see the rabbit on Princess Stomper’s avatar growl, I think of the movie Night of the Lepus and all those attacking rabbits. Maybe that’s Stomper on a bad day??
Where are you from…where do you live now?
I was born in Ireland, and moved when I was young to the South of England. I’ve been gradually moving north ever since and I’m fairly sure I’m going to end up at John O’Groats in Scotland for my retirement. Since I’m now 31, I’ve made a fair amount of progress: north of the River Thames but still quite a long way from Newcastle.
What’s the story behind your rabbit avatar?
When I first started modding, I released a few house mods within a short space of time, and quickly updated the ones I wasn’t happy with, so it seemed for a little while that I was always releasing something. Someone called me “the Energizer Bunny of Morrowind house modding” after those Duracell battery ads, and the description sort of stuck. If I was late with a release, I’d say it was because my batteries had wound down. I had the Energizer Bunny as my avvy for a while, and then changed it to a Christmas rabbit, by which time I had just become known as “the bunny”.
The usual avatar I use is from a Worth1000 picture editing competition. A girl at work had it as a poster on her wall, and I loved it so much that I adopted it ever since. I seem to recall that Gayla was the one who put the crown on it. I now have it above my desk, and use it as my litmus test: if someone says, “What the HELL is that THING!” it’s unlikely we’ll have much in common, but if they love it or recognize it, we’re likely to get on fine.
What got you started in the modding community?
I played Morrowind for two years before even playing a mod, and then PC Zone put NPC Replacer on its cover CD. I was hooked from the outset — suddenly the game seemed like a whole new experience again, and I started quickly installing as many mods as I could lay my hands on. I came first to the Planet Elder Scrolls forums — then “Morrowind Summit” — and later here to the Official Forums to find advice on which mods to try and how to install them properly. I played through The White Wolf of Lokken Mountain, which was an absolutely beautiful fairytale and very highly recommended. It’s very nearly perfect. One of the things that WASN’T so perfect for me was that after I finished the main quest, there was this beautiful castle with a dingy tower in which the poor heroine had been imprisoned. I wanted to turn that into a spare bedroom. Of course, being inexperienced and with no Wrye Mash around, it was a hopeless disaster (heard of doubling doors and NPCs? Try four of everything!) and I had to abandon it, though I did remake it later on. Instead I wrote some fairy stories and sent them to Emma, which she ended up using in Children of Morrowind, so I guess you could call that my introduction to modding. After that I had a lot of help from Emma and Kagz, who acted as both encouragement and quality control, along with the other posters on the forums. These days I check the forums before I check my email — I guess you could say I’m hooked.
What’s more important to you…the type of game you’re modding or the people you’re doing mod work with?
The game, definitely. I don’t generally mod with other people unless I’m leading the project, as I’m very much geared towards a way of working that involves deadlines and release schedules. I might break them, of course, but at least they’re there. The exception to that is Kateri, with whom I have been modding for over a year. She’s more important to me than any mod, but then because we are such good friends there’s an implicit trust there that allows us to be able to turn our ideas over to each other and let the other person run with them. She’s probably the funniest person I’ve ever met.
I think it’s very important to have a friend like that — someone to whom you can hand over your precious ideas and know that they’ll just improve them. I have a few other good friends for whom I’ve modded, contributing the odd interior or book to their project. Those friendships, of course, are absolutely important, but I tend not to see it as me modding with them so much as just donating a little something. As for the game, that to me is of absolutely vital importance because I’m usually modding solo and if the game doesn’t interest me I’m not going to have much motivation to create houses and towns there. Whenever I hear a witty water-cooler conversation, I have to run back to my desk and email it to myself to remember it for my next mod. That wouldn’t happen if I didn’t have the games on my mind in the first place.
On the topic of who you work with, can you tell me how you got started modding over at Oblivion’s Real Estate (ORE)?
I knew Shezrie from Morrowind, as she started modding a little later than me but was really good at it from the outset. She moved over to modding Oblivion before I did, and when she started ORE I followed her over. It’s normally the first place I look when I’m thinking of downloading a house mod, and the forum there is a lovely community full of helpful people. It’s a great place to go to exchange tips and ideas, and the feedback is generally really constructive. If you show someone a screenshot of a house you’re building, you get comments on how to improve it from people who really know what they’re talking about because they’re house modders themselves and can usually suggest a script or bugfix you might not find elsewhere.
For someone unfamiliar with the mods on ORE, which homes would you recommend folks check out first?
Oh, there are so many! The most recent additions are from the MORE Competition, which used only modder-made meshes for the exteriors. They were all beautifully made, but Halcyon Island by Exilehunter is my personal favorite. It’s just so inventive. If you’re looking for something larger, I’d recommend absolutely any mod by Brendan62. His mods are outstanding in both innovation and craftsmanship. He’s the sort of modder that I’d like to be when I grow up. Bond has made some great upgrades to the game’s buyable houses, too. I’d also recommend Akaviri Kojima by Kielanai, which is a really beautiful Asian-themed home. If you’ve wandered over from the Star Trek forum, you’ll love Bond’s Star Ship Orion, which is a really amazing Trek-themed spaceship, complete with replicators and observation deck. The 70-strong crew even look like the TNG set, because Mr Bond made it so.
You’re currently working on projects for both Morrowind and Oblivion. What are the pros and cons of working on each game?
Morrowind is generally much easier to mod for because it’s been out longer, so we’re more familiar with both the game and its construction set. One of the disadvantages of Oblivion is that the lip-synch function only works with the earlier version of the construction set, so modders wanting to add spoken dialog have to install both versions. When you don’t need to hear it, and there’s space for more of it, you can have almost unlimited dialog — so Morrowind mods can have literally thousands of lines. Also, mods can’t easily “talk” to each other in Oblivion like they can with Morrowind, so you can’t have arguments between companions from two different mods. Oblivion’s advantage is that you can create worldspaces for new lands, and can choose from pre-set AI packages as well as making your own. So, Morrowind is best for quests and companions, and Oblivion is best for houses and towns.
Care to share any updates on the projects you’re working on?
The main project I’m working on at the moment is Dance of the Three-Legged Guar, which I’m making with Kateri. It’s effectively Morrowind’s answer to a sitcom — a “rom-zom-pirate-com”. We’ve had Lokken Mountain, which was a celebration of the fantasy of romance; and Julan, which if you like was a celebration of real courage and heroism as well as having a lot of very funny moments. With TLG (as we call it), it’s a celebration of the mundanity of life on Vvardenfell. It’s what it would really be like if you dated someone in that world, whose friend works in the Census and Excise Office, and actually, they really HATE their job. It’s all about having to rush back to feed the dog, and bad dates, and geeky hobbies; and as well as the obvious bits we’ve taken from Blackadder and 3rd Rock From The Sun, it’s also based on people we’ve met or know. Oh, and it’s got zombies and pirates in it. Crassius Curio does make an appearance, but it’s more of a cameo. It’s quite a challenge to come up with the right mix of groan-worthy puns (“Just tell me the name of the Argonian.” “Noh-Wei.” “I can not believe you’re being so difficult!”) and slapstick sight gags. Fortunately, I have a long memory for bad jokes and Kateri has a keen sense of absurdity, so we’ve managed to make a few people laugh in beta-testing.
Then we’re working on a sequel to it, which will take place in Cyrodiil. It is, obviously, an Oblivion mod, and takes place a few years after the end of the Morrowind mod. It has all four main characters in it, as well as their new apartment in the Imperial City and a recreation of the High Rock village of Charborne Cove. It has a working title of “Arnand Jastal: TLG2″, but like everything else, it’s subject to change.
Once at least TLG is out of the way, I’m going to go back to Balmora Council Club. It was one of the first mods I started for Morrowind, back in early 2005. It started off small but like so many things turned into something much bigger. I then wanted to integrate it into another mod that didn’t end up being finished. Since so many modders and players were moving to Oblivion, I figured that if I didn’t at least finish SOMETHING, there wouldn’t be anyone left to play my mod when it came out, so I chopped out all the story where it would have overlapped with the other mod and released it as-is a few months ago. Although people seemed to broadly enjoy it, I think it was very obvious where the seams were, and I was never completely happy with it. I’m therefore going to reinstate the original, much longer, storyline. One of the advantages of doing that now is that Morrowind seems to be enjoying a second … or is that twentieth? … lease of life at the moment, since a lot of people seem to be reinstalling Morrowind to play the latest mods. The Morrowind Mods forum is now one of the busier boards here, so it’s definitely a good time to be modding.
For Oblivion, I have over a dozen Works-In-Progress, but one of the ones I’m most looking forward to making is a sequel to Silorn Manor, which will be a tropical Ayleid tree village. Since Silorn’s Elves were so pale, living underground, it will be nice to try the golden-skinned, brown-haired variety and have them living in wooden huts as well as the stone bunkers.
If you had to pick your crowning achievement within our modding community, what would it be?
The obvious one to pick would be Mournhold Expanded. I’m immensely proud of some of my other mods like Leyawiin and Ghostgate because they took a lot of hard work to create, but Mournhold Expanded was the toughest and the most rewarding. It’s the one I personally enjoy the most, which is ultimately why I made it. I can spend hours there. It uses a lot of resources made by other people, so it belongs as much to everyone else as it does to me. I’ve barely even started with Oblivion yet, but I enjoyed making Silorn Manor, and it’s the one thing I’ve made where I have to take a little look around every time I load up the game. It’s weird — it seems very arrogant to admit to enjoying your own mods, but then they do say that we should mod for ourselves, and whenever I make something, I’m thinking “What would I like?” rather than thinking about what other people will want. There’s an element of that, of course, though. Emma used to say that she wanted to tell a story and would try to imagine the face of the other person as they encountered the next plot twist. I remember when someone told me that they found the pair of pajamas I’d left in Mournhold Expanded and changed their character’s clothes to go to bed, and admitted that they’d never roleplayed like that before, and really enjoyed it. I felt then that I’d really achieved everything I’d set out to do – to create a wholly believable place where characters could spend entire game-days as if they were really living there — and it was definitely my happiest modding moment.
I know you’re also a fan of Guild Wars. What does their modding community offers that you might not get from modding Elder Scrolls games….and vice versa?
It’s technically possible to mod Guild Wars, but there’s no construction set and mods will only affect your own game. It’s legal, but totally unsupported. Consequently, there are only a handful of texture replacers and nothing much else. The community I hang out with in Guild Wars is actually THIS community — our guild is comprised entirely of Morrowind/Oblivion modders and their families. It’s effectively a chat room with quests. One of the things I like about it is the regular in-game events and parties, and the companions and pets your character can pick up. In that sense, it’s a game that comes with the things we usually mod in — but it’s nowhere near as immersive as Morrowind or Oblivion.
Speaking of Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars, who do you think won the dance off?
Oblivion, definitely. I mean, Julan has the moves, but it was Sheo who really swung it in the final moments. Pretty close going, especially in light of some pretty spectacular twirling from Tommy Khajiit with his Guild Wars char. Also due credit should go to Emma and Lidi for their synchronized folk-dancing, and of course BadKarma, De Fothers, Fireseed, Gayla, Imrhien, Intrepidacious, Kalikut, Kateri, Master Sam, Qarl and Santa Cruz. They were awesomely patient with me, especially when I was being such a bossy cow the whole time. That experience really summed up the whole modding community for me — that people were willing to give their time and work co-operatively just to make something that might make you smirk for three minutes. Then, of course, none of it would have been possible without the player-made animations or the mods depicted in the Morrowind and Oblivion sections. It’s staggering, really, whenever I play Morrowind and think about just how many people it took to make what I see in my game — from the development teams to the many hundreds of modders who made the textures, meshes and utilities that make it still look fresh even six years later. The video itself is just a tribute to this video, which doesn’t really have any intention of finding a winner. I did it for the lulz.
Do you see yourself modding games for years to come? Maybe game development?
Modding, yes. Definitely. I’ll mod for them as long as you keep making them. Games development? Hah! Gods, no! I enjoy chatting on the forums with you guys, but I don’t envy you. Not every games company is like Bethesda, and for the most part they take you as soon as you finish schooling and make you work ridiculous hours for lousy pay. If you do any job in an apparently glamorous industry, you pay a cash premium for doing so, and all too often the reward for pouring your life and soul into something is to be burnt out and sick of it before you reach the age of thirty. If I miss one of my self-imposed deadlines, I’m not holding up a multi-million dollar project. If I get writer’s block with one of my mods, I can go and do something else. Even play-testing a mod can get very tedious very quickly, and the allure of working in the exciting world of games would likely vanish after about five minutes. Ultimately, most jobs are pretty much the same, and your level of satisfaction comes from having friendly colleagues and a supportive boss. Bethesda has the advantage of being an excellent company culturally, which is obvious from the glowing way you talk about your jobs. If I lived in your city, sure, I’d work for Bethesda if the right job came up — but it would have little to do with the games the company makes and a whole lot to do with the people you have working for you.