After a week off, we’re back with a new Elder Scrolls modding update. This week we’re talking with Jane Dee — better known to many of you as Brash. Brash hails from the beautiful state of Oregon where she work as a gamer-mom (cool!) and does some website work “stuff.” As you’ll see below, on top of having some pretty cool mod projects, she also has some interesting family stories that relate to gaming.
What are your favorite videogames?
Morrowind and Oblivion, though I also play on-and-off several online games including Vanguard, Eve Online, Asheron’s Call, Everquest 2, Second Life, and WoW. I became addicted to RPGs about 18 years ago after a neighbor asked me to safeguard her kids’ older Nintendo system while they went on a month vacation. I told her I’d probably never use it because it just wasn’t my thing — but by the time they returned, I had to run out and buy an NES system of my own because I was deeply hooked on games like Dragon Warrior, Lufia, and Breath of Fire. It was another five years before I got my first real computer, a 486 66mHz with 8MB ram and Windows 3.11. By then I had a second set of twins (!!!) and my very unpredictable hours made RPG games a nice break during naptimes. I used to collect all the old PCGamer demo discs, and played just about everything on them. That was also when I first started learning to troubleshoot games, since a lot of the demos were very buggy. I became increasingly interested in computer hardware, and started hanging out at Auction Web to buy old motherboards and 80 meg hard drives and building my first homebuilt computers from scratch. I spent a lot of time on their forums under the name Pongo, mostly helping sellers learn to use HTML and images in their ads, and even started my own small image hosting business. When Pierre Omidyar renamed his Auction Web to eBay, he actually paid me to sit at home and answer questions on their forums, and referred sellers to my image hosting business, which allowed me to become a stay at home mom-gamer, yay! And also gave me an excuse to upgrade my growing collection of computers, heh.
Anyway I’ve been hooked on both computers and gaming since then, and a very bad influence for my four daughters (now teenagers and avid gamers also.)
How did you get started with the Elder Scrolls games. What compelled you to start modding?
I was intrigued by reviews for Morrowind, especially the open non-linear sandbox approach and the construction set. I had always been very fascinated by the concepts of immersive worlds that you could fully explore and thought it would be cool to eventually make my own worlds. I’ve tried a few other gaming “editors” since then but none were on a par with the Elder Scrolls editors (though Second Life’s system is pretty nifty). I would say most of my time with Bethesda games, I was playing in the editor even more than in the game itself. In fact I bought Bloodmoon primarily for the chance to get my hands on new editor goodies.
What mods for Morrowind and Oblivion are you most proud of? Can you tell us a little bit about these mods?
I worked on Morrowind4Kids obsessively for almost two years, really full-time, so that was by far my largest project although it was never finished. I have probably a dozen or more other mods but nothing else on that large of a scale. My other “first” mod was Fantasy Color Morrowind, which was hugely influenced by my nostalgia for early colorful cRPGs like the Final Fantasy series. I have always really been much more intrigued in the process of creating than in completing a final project (which is why I’d never be able to be a professional game designer, or really a professional-anything).
For me, gaming and making mods is more about a journey than a goal, which is why I have an awful lot of unfinished “betas” floating around. They are all basically things I worked on for my own enjoyment first, and if others actually liked them that was great, but I never really felt any obligation to have them “done”. As a result, I don’t really consider myself a “major modder” since my portfolio is mostly works-in-progess and concept pieces. One thing that makes me feel good though is when work of mine would inspire someone else to take the idea and run with it, turning out something many times better than I could ever do myself.
For instance, Morrowind4Fish (adding Cait’s Sealife to the world) and Generations – Children in Vvardenfell, later inspired Abot and Emma to do their own much far more polished and larger mods. I know that Skydye has also credited Fantasy Color Morrowind for inspiring him to work on his terrific Vibrant Morrowind series. In fact, I tend to use their mods more than my own. But it made me feel good to know my earlier works might have helped get some really good mods out there even when I am way too undisciplined to finish my own.
You mentioned to me that Morrowind for Kids was designed with your children in mind. What makes it more compelling to a young audience? Did you add Barney to the game?
No Barneys! Though there a few other “cutey” type additions such as Moogles and baby Chocobos, and baby dragons that hatch from eggs. Kids could collect the eggs hidden around the world and turn them in to a special toymaker NPC, and get random things like flying capes or invisibility rings. My kids loved that. At the time they were younger, 9 and 12 or thereabouts, and they weren’t really into festering zombies or the like. Swimming with dolphins and making friends with little flying fairy creatures who would do the fighting for them, was more their style.
Have your children become involved in modding at all?
Nope. Some of my kids are very artistic, and of course they are all avid RPG gamers now too, but overall they are very non-geeky when it comes to computers. I guess having a mom who would always fix their computers made them less curious about “how things work”, so I’m not sure whether they could even install a mod on their own. They grew up with computers but can barely even plug in a mouse on their own, heh. They did learn at a very early age though how to use Google effectively, because whenever they’d ask me a question we’d sit down together and ask Google.
I always felt a little guilty about them not getting a proper upbringing like “regular kids”, but they insist they like having an eccentric mom who plays games. When my World of Warcraft hunter site, Petopia, started becoming well known, they also liked it that their friends at school knew about the site, and they started thinking having an oddball mom maybe wasn’t too bad.
Of the projects you’ve worked on, about how many would you say you completed, or at least felt that you went as far as you could?
Well, hmm. That’s a good question. I guess because I always had some ideas of other things I could have done or could have explored, I wouldn’t consider any of them ever really “done,” but for myself that’s not a problem. I don’t consider myself someone who makes mods for others. I make them for me, for the fun of playing in the editor, and if anyone else wants to play in my sandbox, they’re welcome. But I don’t “produce” things for others. (Pseron went through and counted at least 10 he considered “finished” and playable, including Generations, LandPatterns, Teddy Bear Mod, Fantasy Grotto, Fantasy Color MW, Balmora S’Mores, Low Fat, and Exotic Trees for Morrowind, and Alternative Light Armors. Generic Faces and Wood Bows & Leather Armor for Oblivion.)
Outside of your own projects, which mods for Morrowind and Oblivion have you been most impressed with?
I’ve always been impressed by works by Rhedd, LadyE & Cait, because modeling and animating are things I just can’t do well. And GhanBuriGhan for all of his scripting resources that made it possible for others to work on mods, and RedwoodTreeSprite for all of the work she has done collecting and cataloguing and acquiring permissions for modding resources. So I guess my very favorite modders, I often appreciate most for things that are not actually “mods” in and of themselves, but instead resources for other modders. More toys for the sandbox, yay!
You spend a fair amount of time in our Hardware/Software boards giving volunteer tech support. What types of problems do you encounter more frequently than others?
I enjoy troubleshooting because its usually a process of elimination, trying to figure out what it is about one computer system that makes it act so different from another, even when they have the exact same hardware. Most of the problems boil down to other programs installed on the computer that are interferring with Oblivion, either background processes or third-party codecs. There’s other issues, but those two pop up again and again in a large number of cases. People sometimes get angry at the game developer, but at our house we run Oblivion on a wide range of systems from very lowend $200 budget systems to state of the art gaming systems, and the game runs great on every one of them. Still I very much appreciate the frustration and helplessness people feel when they’ve spent hundreds of dollars on their computer only to find a $30 game won’t run right. And in some ways its even more satisfying than modding, because with modding you help them enjoy the game more, but without troubleshooting some people could never play the game at all. And that’s such a shame since they are such terrific games!
You’re also a fan of World of Warcraft. Is it weird going between playing the single player experience of the Elder Scrolls and a massively multiplayer game like Wow?
Not too much. I am excited of course to discover what Bethesda (or rather, ZeniMax) eventually plans for that super-secret MMO they are working on, because while I love so many aspects of Bethesda games, especally the non-linear sandbox style they generally follow, to me a world is even more interesting with other people in it. I tend to play solo in online games, which a lot of more socially inclined people think is weird, but it just adds a lot to me to be running through a town and to be passing other people all doing their own things. And of course the economy is a lot more dynamic. Scripted NPCs have never added as much “life” to a world as real people.
Do you find it odd that you met the love of your life in forum for a single player game, rather than in an online experience like WoW? Can you talk about how this all took place?
Pseron and I met on the forums back in 2003 when I first started posting work-in-progress reports on my mods. He used to tease me a lot — he’s a very very funny guy but also was very supportive of my projects. One day I noticed he seemed to be avoiding my threads, and I PM’d him to ask if I had done anything to offend him because I had enjoyed very much our discussions. He said he was afraid he had been hijacking the threads and diverting attention away from my work. We started PMing every day after that, and I thought he was the most brilliant and wonderful person I had ever met.
Eventually I persuaded him to move out to Oregon, and he’s been my Poopsie Darling ever since.
Was there/will there be an Elder Scrolls-themed wedding? We’ve been hoping for one of these.
Well, Pseron and I realized very early we were lifetime soulmates, and announced on the forums our engagement. Then we suddenly had some real-life issues pop up where I needed to sell my house and move near my mother, and all of our wedding plans got put on hold while that got sorted out, which took longer than expected. For some people on the forum it’s been a little confusing because we gave our wedding date then no followup. Neither one of us are very conventionally-minded and basically, we consider ourselves life partners. Pseron says though that if you guys want to pay for it, we just might consider an Elder Scrolls wedding yet!