This week we’ve got a modding interview with LizTail — a programmer from North Carolina. LizTail is an active modder of Morrowind and his hobbies include gaming, programming, anime, movies, 2D and 3D art, reading, and writing.
How did you first get involved in the Bethesda game modding community?
At first I just downloaded other people’s mods and tinkered with making ones for myself that I never released. What I really wanted to do, though, was to create a seamless Argonian the same way that the Better Bodies people had for the other races. Eventually I learned Maya, only to realize later that exporters weren’t available for it…and that there wasn’t even a version of 3ds Max still for sale that had exporters either. After some searching, I found a group called NIFLA that had made some progress figuring out the NIF format but was no longer very active, so I asked how I could help. Later another guy named Amorilia came along who was also active, and the two of us got the idea to start a SourceForge project and be more organized. That was the beginning of NifTools and my Maya NIF importer/exporter.
Do you remember what the first project you worked on was?
The first big project I worked on for NifTools was a C++ library for reading and writing NIF files called Niflib. Up until that point, each person had been writing their own custom NIF reading code into each project that NIFLA was working on, but I wanted to write the core of my Maya importer/exporter in a more generic way that would allow other projects to share code with it. It worked out pretty well when Tazpn came along later and was able to create the 3DS Max plug-in more quickly using Niflib. Unfortunately Niflib didn’t meet the needs of every project that NifTools did, but I’m still pretty happy with the way it turned out since it ended up being helpful to a lot of other projects too, including MGE.
You’ve worked with others on a lot of popular mods, but you’ve mentioned that New Beast Bodies for Morrowind is the most popular one that’s all your own. Can you talk about how you got started on that project?
The whole time I was working on NifTools, the goal I was working toward was the ability to finish my new bodies for Argonians, my favorite race. To do that I had to figure data structures in NIF files, get Niflib working, and then write a Maya importer/exporter. So it took a really long time before I could finally work on it, but I feel like it was more than worth it because my efforts enabled a lot of other great mods to be made by other people as well. It didn’t become a body replacer for all beasts until later. My mods can be found on my website here.
This mod went through several iterations. At what point do you say, “I’m done working on this project”?
It has mostly been driven by people’s comments…a lot of people were really nice and encouraging, but others would say things like “I’ll download this when you finish the Khajiit.” Well, I initially had no intention of doing a Khajiit, so it was really frustrating that people kept acting like my mod was missing something because I focused on one race. So eventually I just broke down and started working on the Khajiit. After I finally finished both the male and the female Khajiit, the comments started to become “This mod is great except the Argonians don’t work with clothing based on Better Bodies.” So, again, I wanted people to just be able to say the mod was great without having to add exceptions, so I went ahead and re-did my Argonians so they would work with BB clothes. So I guess I was letting people’s gripes dictate when I called something finished, but I really want people to enjoy them, so it’s tempting to want to try to eliminate whatever it is that’s preventing that for the most people if I can.
Have you spent time modding games other than Morrowind – whether they’re Bethesda titles or not?
In NifTools we supported several games like Freedom Force and Civilization IV, so I spent time working with their modding communities and learning about their unique issues, but didn’t make any mods of my own for them. The first game I ever modded was Civilization II, which had all sorts of simple ways to customize it. You could add new units, create scenarios, etc. with nothing more than a paint program and a text editor. I toyed with modding Oblivion a bit, but I felt like the new way that the characters were done where you had to use the exact same body for everything or the body pieces in the clothing meshes wouldn’t line up was too limiting compared to the Morrowind setup, so it didn’t hold my interest. Besides, the stock meshes already looked good to me, so I didn’t feel such a huge need to redo them.
You’ve helped several modders (Timeslip, Emma) with projects they’ve worked on. Can you talk about other members of the community that have helped you move forward with your own projects?
Well, most of that was mutual cooperation toward a common goal, so those of us who were working on projects together helped each other. There have also been a lot of people like Tetchy who were kind enough to take the time to test out my mods and point out problems that I wouldn’t have found myself in a nice constructive way, and Psyringe even shocked me by volunteering to help write documentation for MGE! All the people who offered me encouragement and thanks really kept me going too. I’ve gotten most of my pleasure from modding out of the idea that I am creating things that other people will enjoy, so the ones who took the time to say so really made me feel good about what I was doing.
Outside of your own work, what other Elder Scrolls mods do you recommend folks download?
My favorite types of mods are graphic replacers that fit in to the original art style of the game. For a long time I felt like there weren’t really any texture replacers that fit into this mold, but Connary’s work definitely breaks that pattern. I don’t think there’s a single texture of his that I felt was out of place. Qarl’s Miscellaneous Objects is definitely another one of my favorites. So many mods try to create a single amazing looking object that’s you have to complete a quest to find, but I think improving the look of objects you see hundreds if not thousands of times throughout a normal game adds a lot more to overall enjoyment. The Morrowind Code Patch is definitely a must as well.
Do you have a fondest memory of modding? Can you share it?
Yeah, one time I was feeling really down because I had just released something, but people’s replies mostly focused on what else I could do for them rather than what I had just given them. I felt like they just wanted to see what else they could get out of me and weren’t really thinking of me as a person who had just done them a favor. I usually try to stay positive, but I happened to notice a post somewhere else in the forum by another person about the same kind of thing, so I chimed in with my own gripes. I didn’t figure anyone would really read it, much less respond, but Alaisiagae did. Her response was really understanding and encouraging and reminded me that there are lots of really nice supportive people on the forums who do really appreciate what modders do for them. She’s continued to voice her support for me and my mods since then, so I feel grateful to her and all the others like her who help to remind me the things I’ve enjoyed most about modding.
What aspect of modding do you enjoy most (texturing, animating, etc.) Anything in particular that you consider yourself an expert with?
I think my favorite thing in general was trying to figure out how to do things that no one else had yet realized was possible. The ones I’m proud of are adding unique shadows for beast races, allowing beast races to use the normal animations without their tail becoming ridged, making Better Clothes work with armor, adding animated grass to MGE and otherwise making its distant land feature look better and run at playable frame rates. I really like it when I post about something that I’ve been working on and it takes people by surprise in a good way. My projects have been a bit all over the place, but most of them have dealt with meshes and graphics in one way or another so I guess that’s my strong suit.
What are your favorite games of all-time?
I’ve always loved RPGs like Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Baldur’s Gate, and lately Fallout 3 which I didn’t think I’d like since I don’t generally play FPS games. I also really like addictive multiplayer games like Super Smash Bros., Tetris Attack/Puzzle League, and Soul Caliber. Yoshi’s Island, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, and Mega Man are some of my favorite platformers. I also really love the Civilization, Star Fox, Metroid, and Legend of Zelda games.
If you had one idea you’d like to see implemented in a future Bethesda title, what would it be?
I’d really like to see a more flexible clothing and body system in the next TES game. For example, the ability to change your physique and use cloth simulation like in Soul Calibur IV would be really awesome. I also feel like requiring the clothing to have parts of the body in it was too much work for artists and limited what could be done a lot. So basically I’d like to see a system that copes well with different body shapes so that more interesting custom races can be created without sacrificing clothing compatibility, or so characters of different body types and ages can be used in the game without having to make special clothing for them. The ability to tear clothes might be pretty cool too. It’d be awesome to see battle damage on clothing, or have the character’s clothes stay on but get torn when they become a werewolf.
Morrowind New Beast Bodies 3.0 Mod Demo