With this week’s Elder Scrolls Modding Interview, we’re checking in with UK talent Timeslip…
How did you get involved with the Elder Scrolls modding community?
I have my uncle to blame for that, for leaving his copy out on his desk when I was visiting. I borrowed it for the evening, and a few lost hours later I’d already decided I was going to buy my own copy the next day. As it turned out, I was lucky enough to get the very last copy that my local games store had in stock. On installing it, I spotted the data files option in the launcher, visited the Elder Scrolls website to try and find out what it was for, spotted the modding forums, and things went downhill from there.
Until then I would often pick apart the data files from a game to see what I could change, but this was the first time I’d heard the term ‘modding’, or put any serious effort into it. I have to say that I’ve never regretted it for a second. Modding Bethesda games has become as much a part of the fun as playing them, if not more, and I specifically bought Oblivion and Fallout 3 with modding in mind.
Many modders think of your project, Morrowind Graphics Extender, when they think of you. What was it like working on that project?
In a word, educational. I’d never attempted writing anything on that sort of scale before, and furthermore I was forced to work in a programming language I wasn’t familiar with (which unfortunately, as anyone whose ever looked at the source will attest to, shows). I had a great amount of help from the community though; the MWSE team, Vality7, Scanti and Shon all deserve a special mention, and MGE wouldn’t have half the features it currently has if I’d been working on it alone.
It’s taken more than two years to get MGE to where it is now. If someone had suggested back in the beginning that one day MGE would allow you to see Red Mountain from Vivec, I would have thought they were crazy. In fact, if shortly after the distant land feature was originally added someone had suggested that one day MGE would have reflective water and support for displaying individual pieces of scenery like trees, rocks and houses far out into the distance, I’d have still thought they were crazy. Something that evolves one small step at a time can soon grow beyond anything you were expecting, and if there’s one thing MGE has taught me, it’s to never ever utter the words ‘that’ll never happen’ when someone asks if a mod is possible.
Oblivion Mod Manager is a highly useful modding tool that many modders can’t live without — have you worked on similar projects for other games?
I made a Morrowind version of OBMM, although it’s far less commonly used as there were already other widely used and perfectly adequate tools in place by the time of its release.
There’s also the unfortunate issue of time; there’s a limit as to what I can do in the little time I have to spare, and since I mod solely for the fun of modding trying to duplicate something I’ve already done for another game is something I generally avoid in favor of trying something new. I have considered making something similar for Fallout 2, as the way it handles mods makes it difficult to install more than one at a time, and so the role of a mod manager would become something completely different to Oblivion. That’s a project for me to consider in the future though.
Outside of your own work, what other Elder Scrolls mods do you recommend folks download?
For both Morrowind and Oblivion, the unofficial patches are a must have, as is a UI mod for Oblivion; I use DarNified UI personally. Aside from them, I find the smaller tweak mods tend to become the ones that I wouldn’t play without. For Morrowind, No-Glo and Real Signposts. For Oblivion, Spell Delete, Toggleable Quantity Prompts and the like.
You mentioned to me that you’re doing mod projects for Fallout 2. How has that compared to working on Elder Scrolls mods?
By the time I’d moved onto Fallout 2, I already had a fair amount of experience from Morrowind and Oblivion, and so things went far more smoothly. It was a different community to get to know but just as friendly and helpful, as the growing list of thanks and credits in sfall shows. There was also the advantage that because I was joining in quite late, most of the ins and outs of modding had been worked out already, whereas with OBMM I made a lot of bad design decisions after assuming that the game worked in a way that later turned out to be incorrect.
From a more technical viewpoint, because Fallout 2 is quite old, it was written using older programming techniques that make reverse engineering considerably easier than more modern software. I was able to create a working script extender within a couple of weeks, but can only envy the OBSE/FOSE team who seem to have pulled the same thing off for Fallout 3 in conditions I would just get lost in.
Do you plan to return to modding Morrowind and Oblivion?
That’s a difficult question. I have nothing planned, but a lot of what I do is trying out spur-of-the-moment ideas. I have few projects which I’ve planned more than a few days in advance; I usually just work on whatever interests me at the time. If I have a good idea for Morrowind or Oblivion, and I’m not working on something else, then it’s very likely that I will find myself back there.
Have you played Fallout 3?
Indeed. I’ve completed it once, although I’ll admit to not doing much in the way of exploration. It’s far too easy to accidentally come across spoilers while modding, so I thought it best to get a quick playthrough in while I was still unaware of the ending.
As I mentioned before though, I bought it mainly with modding in mind, and it is likely going to be a while before I next set foot outside Vault 101.
Are you considering any projects for the game?
More than considering; I have several tools released already. Thankfully the Fallout 3 engine is similar enough to Oblivion’s that most of my utilities could be made to work with Fallout with only very minor changes; the only one that has changed significantly since its Oblivion incarnation is TESsnip, which at the time of its release was the only tool capable of creating Fallout 3 esps and hence has been used to create most of the esp based mods currently available. Hopefully that will change soon, either with better tools by other modders or with the G.E.C.K., because it was never intended for building plugins from scratch and it’s very user-unfriendly for newbie modders. When people ask to do simple things like editing the damage of a weapon and people point them at a complex low level tool like TESsnip, I worry that I’m going to scare the next generation of would-be modders away.
Further on in the future I’m planning a Fallout mod manager to go along with OBMM and MWMM.
What other games are you playing these days?
Primarily Discworld Mud, a sort of massively multiplayer online text adventure. I find it comforting that even in todays age of DirectX 10 and graphics cards that run so hot that I haven’t had to turn the heating in my room on for the past two years, text based games relying solely on gameplay rather than eye candy still aren’t completely dead. Other than that, the obvious answer would be Fallout 3, and the slightly less obvious one Wii Sports, because it remains the only game that I’ve ever been able to convince my grandparents to join in with.
What are your favorite games of all-time?
My fondest memories are of an old DOS game by the name of Fragile Allegiance, with the original Worms and the Amiga version of The Settlers close runners up. In terms of hours (or on bad days, meals/sleep) lost while playing, Discworld Mud, Morrowind and Pokemon Yellow win out.
Have you thought about a career in game development?
I have, but unfortunately I’m not aware of any game development related jobs within a hundred miles of me. If I ever wanted a career in game development, I’d have to move first.
If you could have Bethesda add anything to a game, or a create a new game altogether, what would it be like?
Definitely not the sort of question you should be asking someone like me. Being the sort of person that I am, I’d much rather see Bethesda start shipping file format information and releasing source code for older games than I would see them waste time by doing something silly like creating a new game.