This week’s modding interview is with ElminsterEU. Originally from Germany, he now lives in Australia, and indicates he has no plans of leaving. When he’s not modding, he works as a Lead Architect for a relationship database management system. His hobbies include reading science fiction and fantasy novels, pen-and-paper RPGs, swimming, and scuba diving. I guess the scuba diving wasn’t that great in Germany.
When did you first come to the forums? Do you remember why?
End of May ’07. I had just gotten Oblivion then and was looking for some mods for it. I first found TESSource (which is now TESNexus) and a link in the description of some mod which brought me to the Beth forums. Can’t remember anymore which particular mod that was though.
Do you remember what the first project you worked on was?
That would be TES4Dump which was the first step towards what later became TES4View. The goal with TES4Dump was to reverse engineer the Oblivion module file format and dump a module file as a human readable text file.
Your focus tends to be to create modding tools, such FO3Edit and TES4Edit. How did you get started working on projects like that?
Once I reached 10 or 20 installed mods I noticed that things started coming apart and mods not working as they should. After some research into how mods are working in the TES4 engine I understood why my installed mods are conflicting with each other.
The only tool at that time to find such conflicts was the “conflict detector” in OBMM. Unfortunately the information provided by that conflict detector was very limited. It simply reported any record that was contained in more then one mod as a conflict without any information about the contents of the different record versions. Which is completely insufficient to understand the nature of the conflict and to make any decisions how to resolve it, e.g. by changing the load order.
Being a software developer the obvious solution was to write something myself. Fortunately for me, others had already spend a great amount of work reverse engineering the TES4 module file format and publishing it at the UESPWiki. Without that information to get me started TES4Dump and everything that followed would probably never have seen the light of day.
The original goal was just to develop TES4View as a viewer and conflict detector. But once that goal was reached it became clear that using the CS to resolve these conflicts once they were found was not very practical and I expanded TES4View into TES4Edit.
Any plans to work on new content for the game, or do you prefer sticking with working on tool sets?
I’ve been involved in a couple of content mods, but my work has always been in the nature of taking something existing and cleaning and fixing it or creating compatibility patches. e.g. I’ve contributed the FCOM module for supporting Slof’s Robe Trader and created the initial version of TIE 4 MODS.
But mostly I download existing mods that sound interesting and go over them in TES4Edit/FO3Edit to find potential problems and areas of improvements and report them to the authors. An important problem with many mods is the presence of so called “dirty records.”
A record is “dirty” if it is present in a module, but it’s contents is identical to the original record from the master the defined it. There is no need for such a record to be present. But if a mod with such a dirty record is loaded after another mod which does make important changes to this record the 2 mods will conflict. Pushing the whole modding community towards properly cleaning up their mods is very important to improve compatibility between mods and giving mod users a much smoother experience.
You’re now working on tools for Fallout 3 that are similar to ones released on Oblivion. Is it any easier the second time around — do you get the same enjoyment out of working the projects?
FO3Edit is actually not just similar to TES4Edit. They are the same program. The obvious choice would have been to make a copy of the TES4Edit source code and modify it to handle Fallout 3, thereby creating FO3Edit.
After some consideration I rejected that idea because it would have meant much more work in the future, porting new features that get added to FO3Edit back to TES4Edit. Instead I have a single program which contains the record definition for both TES4 and FO3 and can be switched between the two modes simply by renaming the executable to TES4Edit.exe or FO3Edit.exe. This decision made the development of FO3Edit hugely easier as the work was limited to reverse engineering the Fallout 3 module file format.
Working on FO3Edit is a lot of fun for me. So much so that, given my limited spare time, I’ve not actually played Fallout 3 yet beyond the exit of the vault, preferring to work on FO3Edit instead.
I’ve seen with Oblivion just how much the base game can be improved on by these great mods that are available. I figured that if I spend my time now on developing the best tools possible for the Fallout modding community, by the time I get around to actually playing the game in a year or two, there will be more and better mods around.
What projects are you currently working on?
On of the most important tools for Oblivion mod users has been Wrye Bash with it’s ability to create a so-called Bashed Patch which allowed a great number of mods to work together that would normally conflict with each other by automatically creating merged record versions. Unfortunately Wrye has no plans to port this tool to Fallout 3.
While it is possible to find and resolve these types of conflicts in FO3Edit manually currently, that’s not a adequate replacement for a Bashed Patch. So I’m currently working on a function for FO3Edit to automate the creation of a patch plugin similar to what a Bashed Patch does.
I’m also trying to help Antistar with his excellent Weapon Mod Kits mod by writing a function into FO3Edit which will automated the creation of all the additional WEAP records that he needs to create for every base weapon.
What other games are you currently playing/modding?
What limited time I have to spare is currently used almost exclusively spend on FO3Edit.
Favorite games of all-time?
That’s a difficult question. Over the years there have been many great games I hand the pleasure to play and it’s difficult to label any of them as “the best.”
To name a few games that I enjoyed tremendously at the time I played them: Ultima 7, The Settlers, C&C, Jagged Alliance series, Baldurs Gate series, The Fall – Last Days Of Gaia, X-COM series. If you look at what game I spend the most time with, that would definitely be Oblivion.
Have you thought about a career in game development?
On one hand, game development presents many different (and interesting) challenges compared to what I’m currently doing — I would be building on my experience, handling huge amounts of data, and doing that in a time-critical environment. I always love challenges, so I would love to get my hands dirty doing that.
On the other hand, I’m happy with my current job — I’ve settled down here in Brisbane, built a house, and I’m starting a family. I wouldn’t really be willing to consider any job that requires me to move away from here, which unfortunately is probably going to mean that there aren’t many if any opportunities to get into serious game development in the near future.