This week’s mod interview is with Gez — who recently was named the Head of Concept Art for the mod project Tamriel Rebuilt. His nickname, which he uses on several sites, is a simple nickname from his initials (GaÃ«l Zimmermann). Gez lives in France where he studies English. He’s looking to head out to the University of Birmingham next year.
On with the interview…
How did you get started modding The Elder Scrolls games?
With Daggerfall. There were those text files used for the questions from character generation, and it gave different results depending on your answers. The ebony dagger was a famous example (and a very popular choice, because it gave one weapon to fight the two imps from the starting dungeon). Well, I looked at the game files and saw they could be changed and edited them to ask different questions that gave different results.
Of course, I’ve always loved modding games. It started with PopCorn, a freeware Arkanoid clone with an editor. Then it continued with Doom, which wasn’t shipped with its own editor but there were countless third-party ones. Nowadays, I consider a game that isn’t moddable to be a neutered game.
And I’ve always loved the Elder Scrolls as well. Ever since Arena. I love open-ended games where I’m free to do what I want, at the pace I want. There weren’t many at the time. Arena and Daggerfall for fantasy medieval CRPGs, and the Frontier games for sci-fi spaceflight simulators. While very different, I always considered them oddly similar. Both left you alone in a vast universe, free to trace your own path. Also, both were plagued with bugs. Such was the price of freedom…
So, when Morrowind was released, it featured two of the things I liked the most in a game, open-endedness and moddability. I started modding Morrowind as soon as I started playing it. But Morrowind had not just those two assets going for it. It also had an enticing universe — exotic vista, rich culture, even a certain depth in the metaphysics of its fictional world. Things going far beyond the typical “Oh no, aliens/demons/undead/mutants are invading, kill them all to save the day” scenario so common in video games. So before Morrowind, I loved TES games because they offered a big sandbox, and after Morrowind because they offered a very nice sandbox.
For those that haven’t read up on Tamriel Rebuilt, can you briefly describe it?
Tamriel Rebuilt is a continuing collaborative project to extend the area covered by modern TES games, rebuilding the whole continent of Tamriel one province at a time. For TES3, it’s the rest of the Morrowind province — since Morrowind itself only covers Vvardenfell and a few surrounding islands. For TES4, since the province is complete, it’s neighboring Hammerfell, the land of the Redguards. For TES5, who knows? We’ll decide when the day will arrive. As long as construction sets stay available, TR will continue.
Do you remember the day you decided to get started on Tamriel Rebuilt? Who came up with the idea?
It was long ago. I had heard about it on several forums, and I was eager to discover the “missing” land surrounding Vvardenfell. Since the project didn’t seem to move forward much at the time — TR was then in a lull, but it’s moving — I decided the best thing to do was to join.
Are you at all surprised by how much work has gone into the project?
Yes and no. No, because that a lot of work would have been done in all these years isn’t surprising. Yes, because there’s actually more work there than you’d expect, and more than you’ll ever see. The project advanced so slowly because many things have been redone from scratch a few times. You see, initially, the objective was simply to make a lot of landmass. Slowly, the bar has been raised. Quality was stressed. Making a lot of stuff wasn’t enough if that stuff was crap; so all standards have been raised with the objective of doing a mod that would have the same quality as a professionally-done expansion set.
So, all the old interiors and exteriors already done went through several phases of fixing logical errors (like items floating above a shelf), improving the detailing, removing inconsistencies and lore errors (even for tiny details like the use of “common” Cyrodiilic silverware in a Dunmer home where Dunmer kitchenware should have been used instead).
Map1, which we still consider beta, and Map2, as the oldest of the lot, were among the worst initially. The amount of work needed to bring Map1 to what it is now is incredible; there was at least three rounds of detailing and fixing before the first beta was released. We expect Map4 onward will require less fixing-up work because we have in the meantime greatly tightened up the reviewing process and established the showcase system. Hopefully, we’ll be able to finish the last three maps much faster than the first three.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of working on this project, and modding in general?
The creative aspect. Analyzing how the game was assembled, deconstructing that process, then adopting and adapting it, and finally finding new ways to use the elements to achieve new effects. I also like how we can make new elements and add them to the game. I’m not really a modeler, but I’m still able to edit meshes to make variants. Sometimes, when making a cell, I have to make odd construction with statics scaled and rotated in unusual ways because the piece I need doesn’t exist so I have to approximate it. Then I find a piece that could fit, if only there wasn’t this or that bit, or if it was mirrored, or such — and that’s what I can do in Blender. Here’s a a typical result.
And TR is full of creative minds. Lutemoth, our previous Head of Concept Art, was an amazing artist whose work really defined how Hammerfell shall look.
Any particular technical aspects of modding you enjoy most? Least?
The most? The feeling of satisfaction when something is finished. Not very technical I know. The least? Cluttering an interior cell. Stuffing the tables and bookshelves with stuff to give them a lived-in feeling. I’m too perfectionist to simply go filling them with twelve identical copies of the same book, and there’s never enough variety in misc. items for my taste because I don’t want someone’s baubles to be the same as someone else’s.
Why do you enjoy most about the community itself?
The appeal of TR is that it’s a team that has “reached critical mass”. For an ambitious project like this, it’s very important, because it means it’ll survive. Most ambitious projects die because people leave it: people always drop out of projects, for a multitude of good reasons. If the team is big and coordinated enough to continue working and attracting new members as old members leave, then the project won’t die. If the project doesn’t die, then it may entice you to get back in… TR is like this. It has gone through a few crises, but managed to grow stronger from them.
I’ve worked on a few solo projects for Morrowind and Oblivion, but most of them were never released because I started working on something else and lost interest. Now, if in the meantime they had “magically” continued to be developed and improved, I’d probably resume work on them. A collaborative effort allows the mod to progress even when one of the members suffers from burnout or modder’s block.
Outside of Tamriel Rebuilt, what other projects have you been working on?
I’ve worked on the unofficial patch for the French version of Morrowind (PNOG, patch non-officiel GotY). I’ve translated a few mods and mostly helped a lot of other mod translators.
What future projects do you have in mind?
Oh, I won’t tell. I always have a lot of projects, and I know very well that most of them will never even be started…
What other games do you play?
Currently? Not many. I don’t have the time to play a lot of games, and modding takes up enough of my gaming time already. That said, there’s another aspect of modding I like and which the Elder Scrolls sadly do not afford, and it’s directly tinkering in the source code. So I play a few old games that have been open-sourced, such as id Software’s Doom, just because it’s not too difficult to study and modify its code. I know it’s a pipe dream because there is too much licensed middleware to leave the matter in Bethesda’s hands, but if the Morrowind or Oblivion engine were open-sourced, the community would be able to do wonderful things with them. While already really impressive, MGE or OBSE are nothing in comparison to what could be done…
Do you have an interest persuing a career in game development?
It was my aim when I was younger. I’d still like it. I think I could take care of translations between English and French, for example. I’ve also dabbled in most other domains of game development — programing, art, level design, scripting, etc. — but translation is the one domain where I’m the most confident in my skills. Or maybe the least confident in the other guys’ skills… You know the saying, “Traduttore, traditore” (translator, traitor). The more you know a foreign language, the more you see the mistakes the translators did in translated works.