This week’s mod interview is with William C Anderson, aka WillieSea (Willie C…WillieSea…get it?). Willie works as a Programmer/Analyst Lead for a credit card processing company in Boise, Idaho. In addition to Idaho, he’s lived in Michigan, South Carolina, Arizona, Washington, and Illinois.
On with the interview…
You’ve been programming since 1982. What kind of stuff were you working on back then?
I taught myself how to program BASIC on a TI 99/4a in high school. I created a lot of games. This was before there were computers or classes on computers in school. In college, I learned several languages, including Assembler, PASCAL, FORTRAN, COBOL and several others. I started creating games for the Atari ST 16bit computer in the early 90’s. I created and released four games using the STOS language. I have always liked creating things that I thought were fun.
A lot has changed since then. What skills from programming in the early 80s still pertain to modding today?
Logic skills and being able to sit in front of a computer all day are the most important skills a programmer can have. LOL! You can code in any language if you can make your mind think logically. Creativity can also be an asset as it can help you find different ways to use or do things.
What was the first game you modded?
I could say I was modding many of the early games in the 80’s and 90’s. I would start up my Hex Editor program and change bytes in the games to allow more lives, or unlimited supplies like gold or food. The Ultima III: Exodus game by Origin Systems was the first game I hex edited. I changed the game map to place permanent treasure chests, horses and ships. I would also write QBASIC programs to completely allow you to modify your saved games, using a very basic (pun intended) menu system. This was the start of my desire to tailor games to my preferences. Probably the closest I came to making actual mods would be for the original DOOM game by id Software. The graphics for the game were saved as individual files on the hard drive, and I would use my paint program to edit the monsters, weapons and interior spaces textures. It was a lot of fun and made the game playable again.
In this day and age, do you find modding to be more accessible?
As I have aged, I find that my taste in games has narrowed to specific genres. I prefer the single-player RPG games. I have played all of the Elder Scrolls games, but what I really like about the last two games was that they came with a simple to use construction set. Some of the ‘Home Brew’ construction sets for other games can be impossible to use without a huge learning curve.
I think the younger generation are a bit spoiled with modding and mods. In the early days, the games programmers would encrypt and check-digit even the save game files. And when they were not encrypted, you had to read hex, convert to decimal reversing the hex digits, change the values, and then convert them back to hex backwards. All that just to change one byte! So, to answer your question, yes, modding is much more accessible and easy to do now than it was in the past.
How did you get started playing/modding the Elder Scrolls games?
I first played the Arena game, the first Elder Scrolls game. I can still hear the goblins while I sat in my prison cell trying to figure out how to get out of it! That “Ulruk” sound was perfect, and the game at that time was the only one of its kind! I even figured out how to edit the ‘current’ random maps of dungeons I was in. So, in a way, I was modding Elder Scrolls games as early as Arena.
I started modding seriously when Morrowind was released, and it came with the construction set. I saw the Morrowind game on the ‘new release’ shelf at my favorite computer store and knew I had to have the latest installment to the Elder Scrolls saga. At the time, the game was way ahead of the competition! And when I saw those treasured words, “Construction Set included”, I was sold at any price to get it. Like any modder, my first mod was a little home base which became filled with fun stuff that I created.
You’ve got some pretty popular mods out there (like Clocks of Cyrodiil and Ancient Towers for Oblivion). Of the projects you’ve worked on for Morrowind and Oblivion, which mod is your favorite for each game?
My favorite mod for Morrowind is my Haunted Castle mod. I will have to get this packaged up for release someday. I recently installed Morrowind on one of my many spare computers for my son to play, so I suppose that would be a good place to test it and make sure I have all the files needed for the mod. The only way I could re-texture a mesh back then was to use a hex editor to change the texture name in the NIF file (keeping it the same length) and saving the mesh as a different name. These were tough times! The mod was rather large, and I made it when I was laid off from my previous job during the programmer recession of 2002. The mod is a large quest inside a very large castle and an evil Necromancer to slay. You had to travel around the place to find clues in how to destroy her. It was a lot of fun making and playing!
My favorite mod for Oblivion would have to be the Ancient Towers. What I like most about that mod is the tremendous amount of ideas received from the community. I’ts the community that made it a really great mod. I just had to do all the work in building it and putting in my own creative elements. My favorite part of that mod was the Travellers’ maze, where you must try to stop the travellers from making it through the maze, Xedilian style! There are also several elements in the Enchantress shop that I really like that most people probably do not even notice. The windows are totaly redone from the original blue and they have bars on them. The stuffed animals and whirlpool give the place a magic shop look.
What advice would you give to newcomers to the modding scene?
There are some great tutorials on the Wiki that really help you learn to mod very quickly. And if you get stuck, the “General TES Construction Set — Oblivion” forum is a great place to ask questions. You may also find out how to do things you may not have thought of yourself by reading the other posts. And when you get stuck in your mod, its a great place to ask questions! I lurk there quite a bit and help out whenever I can.
Given your experience, how often do you look for advice on projects?
I like getting people’s opinions on my mods during the WIP phase of my projects. If you are open to other ideas, and encourage them, you can get a different perspective on what things are good for your mod. Like I said, Ancient Towers had quite a few people thinking up ideas that could be used, and the mod really turned out great thanks to the help of others. I have not actually ‘asked’ for much help, as I like to try and figure things out myself where possible.
What’s your favorite/least favorite aspects of the TES Construction Set?
My favorite aspect is being able to create new objects and give them the stats that I want them to have. I like being able to make my own enchanted weapons, armor and other objects.
My least favorite aspect would be setting up dialog and quests. It may sound funny that I can’t do either of those yet, but its true! None of my mods have ‘real’ dialog or quests in them. I usually simulate quests by scripted events on objects instead. This may change with my upcomming Clocks for My Houses mod that I am making. Lingwei made most of the quests and dialog for me, but I am going to try and set up the last one myself.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently getting an old test mod of mine ready for release. I never planned on releasing it, but since so many people asked for it, I had to do something before it was lost forever. It is called Mini Cyrodiil, and it was featured in my video when I released Clocks of Cyrodiil.
Clocks for My Houses is progressing nicely as well. I have a clockworks shop in Skingrad where you can purchase clocks for the various houses you can purchase in ‘vanilla’ Oblivion. There are also several quests you can go on to gain access to special clocks, objects, or gold rewards.
I then plan on creating Clocks of Cyrodiil v2. There will be a few ‘versions’ of this mod. For one, the textures will be updated. There will be a version with the street clocks, and a version without the street clocks. (They will be replaced with wall or small tower clocks.) A few of the reported bugs will be fixed as well.
How would you spend your free time if you weren’t modding?
Playing the game. LOL! When I am not creating, I am playing. After that, I have my wife and three children to spend time with. I also like to go on short bike rides with my son. When my daughter gets old enough, she will ride along with us.
Lastly, what would your “dream game” be like?
A game world that plays like Oblivion, but has more technology mixed in with the magic. Like the game Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura developed by Troika Games. You then have a mix of technology and magic, where they are incompatible with each other, so you have to pick your path of which discipline you will use.
And I am also really looking forward to the new Fallout game as I am a hardcore Fallout fan. I have played all four of the previous games, and look forward to Fallout 3. If you need any testers or anything, just let me know!
Thank you for the interview!