This week we’re talking with Dev_Akm, whose modding days started with PnP projects like Dungeons and Dragons and GURPS more than 20 years ago. Now a systems developer and analyst in Austin, he spends a fair amount of his free time modding Morrowind and Oblivion (though he also is a fan of hiking, camping and listening to punk rock). Of course, that free time is in jeopardy. In addition to raising one daughter, he’s got another on the way.
What are your favorite games of all-time?
Morrowind and Oblivion are definitely very near the top of my all-time favorites list, but the top honors still go to the games that dominated my childhood: white box Dungeons & Dragons, AD&D, GURPS, Squad Leader and Car Wars. I got my entire high school education from playing those games.
Later favorites include PC games like Planescape: Torment, Diablo, Ultima Online, Half-Life 2, and Command & Conquer. Console games like Zelda, Halo and Burnout are up there, too.
Were the Elder Scrolls games your first foray into modding?
Yes, at least on the computer. Morrowind really stands out as a landmark event for me because it got me back into modding — my previous experiences with modding were all for pen and paper games. Does that count?
I ran a pen and paper campaign that lasted for more than 13 years — from high school until my late 20s — morphing through D&D, AD&D, and GURPS, all with my own custom “modded” rules, world, races, etc. I loved it. But then I got too caught up in the rat race for the next 10 years or so and “forgot” how much I loved doing all that stuff.
Morrowind brought it all rushing back to me. The world of possibilities Morrowind offers is just so vast that it really captured my imagination like nothing else has since the old pen and paper days.
FCOM is a popular mod in that it lets you use Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul, Martigen’s Monster Mod, Oblivion WarCry, and Francesco’s Leveled Creatures-Items all together. How difficult was this project for you?
It’s definitely the hardest project I’ve worked on so far. I released the first beta versions more than a year ago. Fortunately, we’ve had a great team contributing to the project. It never would’ve come this far without the incredible work and inspiration from our team members and fans.
In some respects, FCOM probably was not any harder to make than the big mods we’re integrating, but in some other respects it has been much harder. For example, FCOM doesn’t add any of its own art assets to the game, but instead draws assets from the other big mods and then rebalances them into a coherent experience. FCOM also required a dramatic leap forward in mod-making tools, so if you look at all of the combined efforts that went into the tools and then the assets built with those tools, it really is quite astounding.
One interesting thing that people may not realize is that FCOM has also driven significant improvements for most of the mods it uses. MMM, OOO, and WarCry have all been improved because of FCOM. So, even if you don’t play FCOM itself, it’s quite likely that you’re getting some benefits from it — either in direct improvements to the base mods or in the tools available for building other great new stuff.
I hate to put you on the spot, but if you could only have one of these mods, which would it be?
I like them all, but Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul is the core foundation, to be sure. I couldn’t play without OOO. In fact, FCOM originally started as a way to expand and improve OOO with the great work being done by Martigen, Newcomer24 (creator of Francesco’s mod), and L@zarus (creator of WarCry).
What other Oblivion mods are among your favorites?
That’s a very long list. Several very long lists, actually. Check out The Oblivion Texture Overhaul and The Oblivion Quest List for more details. Those two guides start to scratch the surface, but there’s more amazing new stuff arriving every day.
You mentioned to me that you’re working Martigen’s Monster Mod with CorePC these days. How much input do you get from Martigen?
Yeah, with CorePC, Shadowborn, and Argochris, we’ve managed to expand and improve MMM quite a lot recently. I’ve talked to Martigen a few times since he “retired” from modding, and he’s always very supportive and encouraging, but he’s not actively involved right now. We still miss him, but that’s just one of the things you get used to after a while with mod projects.
Any news/updates you’d like to share on some other projects?
We’re working hard on the 1.0 release of FCOM. I think there will be some nice surprises when it gets done.
What’s your favorite part of the Elder Scrolls modding community?
I love seeing all of the amazing work the community produces, and especially when new projects build on the foundations of earlier mods to create great new experiences. I think the community is really just now starting to hit its stride. The volume of really dramatic new releases seems to be increasing all the time.
What are the biggest hurdles for you when modding??
Debugging is always a huge challenge. I think the lack of error logging in the game engine is a huge limiting factor.
Are you interested in pursuing a career in game development?
Possibly, but I enjoy the freedom of modding. I’ve been lurking on the periphery of the gaming industry for a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of friends get burnt out working in the industry. Still, I might consider it at some point if the right opportunity came along.