Modding Interview: DragoonWraith

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This week we’ve got a modding interview with Kevin Ryan (aka DragoonWraith). Kevin spends a lot of time working as a “Sheriff” for both The G.E.C.K. and TES Construction Set wikis — he’s helped us add some really cool features to both.

The 21-year-old hails from New York City and attends school out in Claremont, CA, where he’s studying to be an engineer at Harvey Mudd College.

Check it out after the break…

What originally brought you to our forums?
Morrowind. I love that game. As a modder, I’ve moved on because Oblivion offers so many more features, and because at this point I have a lot of friends here, but I don’t think it’s any secret that I much preferred the previous game. Basically, a friend had Morrowind, and had some mods for it, and I started several characters on his computer (which were never saved, for some reason; I don’t remember why), and eventually bought it myself. I don’t really remember the details… I remember getting mods from various small hosting sites and many of them on  personal sites. At some point I found the official forums, and I’ve been here ever since.

What’s the backstory on your forum name?
Ah, I love my username. I’ve initialed things in real life with DW. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t really go in for the whole Internet anonymity thing; I have used the same username on every forum, website, and video game that I have ever signed up for, and as far as I know, I’m the only person on the Internet who uses the handle.

I first chose the username when I signed up for an IGN membership, when I was probably twelve or thirteen. I needed a username, so I amalgamated the “Dragoon” class from Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, which I was obsessed with at the time (and is still one of my favorite games ever, up there with Morrowind and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem), and the “Wraith” character in some fantasy story I was reading at the time (I think it was one of the Redwall books?) A lot of people assume it’s a reference to the units from StarCraft, but it’s not.

How did you get started modding, and can you talk about your first project?
Well, this was back in Morrowind. I forget exactly what prompted it, but I do remember wanting to try to recreate some of the aspects of Ogre Battle (told you I was obsessed; this was at least three years after the game was released), namely some of the classes and equipment. I never did that, but I did read DragonSong’s excellent modding tutorial series, and started creating my own personal mega-mod combining several hundred downloaded mods into one (a choice I came to regret later). Several of the items and models included into my own personal home that I created with DragonSong’s help. DragonSong’s tutorial contained a simple script for creating a secret door, which I included in my house (it was actually a wall of ice, with an armor mannequin behind it wearing the “DragoonWraith” suit of armor that I had created by combining several different sets of mod-added armor.) The house was impossible to release, of course, being all of those mods merged together, and really it was not very good — much too eclectic, as it really just was a sandbox for me to try things in. Still, it was a lot of fun to create.

After that, I didn’t work on any mods, really, but I spent a ton of time in the CS forums, and got better and more familiar with the scripting language. I learned a ton just by looking up how to do things for others, and contributed code to a lot of different little projects; probably more than half were never completed by whoever I was helping, but that never bothered me.

And then someone created a “request thread” for a mod to allow you to sneak up on people and kill them silently, so one could be a proper assassin. My initial impression was more or less indifferent, as I didn’t see a good way to achieve it, but then someone suggested using dialogue the way Cortex had been using it in his Vampire Embrace mod. Several things clicked for me at that point, and very quickly I’d created a very solid system for Assassination. Assassination was followed by Assassination 2.0, which fixed several bugs and added the ability for Vampire Embrace vampires to bite victims instead of the standard neck snap, but introduced issues with crime detection that I never did manage to fix. After that, it was Oblivion.

You’ve been a huge help with TES CS and The G.E.C.K. Care to discuss some of your responsibilities there?
Well, officially, my responsibilities are to monitor the Recent Changes list, and notify Bethesda of any vandalization or spamming that goes on, and to maintain certain pages that are locked from editing by the average user (mostly the policy pages and the Main Page). This stems from a very serious attack on the CS Wiki that occurred over the summer several years ago, that we editors were powerless to stop. I do very much appreciate Bethesda trusting us with the ability to defend the Wiki, and to work on those locked pages (several of which have needed major updates).

Beyond that, though, I mostly just work to improve the Wiki. It’s not really a “responsibility,” as such, but it’s something I consider very important. I’ve done much less actual content writing, but the other editors and I have done a ton of work trying to optimize the Wiki experience as much as possible. It’s definitely not there yet, and realistically, I’m afraid it won’t ever be, but we have improved it dramatically. Unfortunately, all of us have less time to work on it than we used to, and there are very few of us.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank the people who have made the Wiki what it is. There have been a lot of people who have contributed a great deal — Tom Dawson, and his Beginner’s Guide, dev_akm, with his Mods FAQ and the De-Isolation Tutorial, Wrye, with tons of testing, commenting, and lot of help with how to run a Wiki, SickleYield and ThrottleKitty account for the vast majority of modeling information and tutorials that we have, and Amorillia from NifTools has done a lot to make sure that our information on Nif’s has been kept up to date. Razorwing, from over at Silgrad Tower, submitted a lot of great material too. Also ShadeMe. He did us a huge favor CS Wiki. He did us a huge favor recently by finally cleaning up the Questions and Answers sections. We’d been meaning to do that for literally years. That was a massive job he did.
I haven’t been involved in the GECK Wiki as much, at least not since the very beginning, but Snakechomp did an incredible job with the Game Settings for that game, and Cipscis has been really heavily involved, which is awesome. I’m really sorry that I can’t really express my appreciation for all the people working on the GECK Wiki, since I’m not as familiar with that community, but I do want to thank them. And I’m even more sorry, because I realize that there are definitely people I should be mentioning, people I’ve worked with and who have contributed a great deal to the CS Wiki, that I consider friends, that I’m not remembering. Either because it was a long time ago, or just because I’m horribly forgetful with these things. Without these contributions, the Wiki wouldn’t be what it is.

Even more, I’d like to thank my fellow editors. These guys have been the big forces on the Wiki, the ones who really have maintained and improved the Wiki as a whole for a really long time. In the first days after Oblivion, there were Tegid and MrFlippy, and every modder of Oblivion owes them a huge thank you for all the testing and experimenting that they did, all the documentation that they added to the Wiki, and all the work they did to make it more cohesive and more navigable. And for a long time, JOG and I were the only people really manning the Wiki, and I am quite certain that without JOG, the Wiki would have simply been left, not updated, and wouldn’t be even a shadow of what it is today. And since JOG’s retirement from the Oblivion community, and my own increased real life commitments with school, Haama and Qazaaq have been amazing. They really have done incredible things with the Wiki, and I’m really thrilled that we’ve had the opportunity to work on both of them together. They’re both really great guys, and I am very proud to have them as friends.

And finally, last but not least, I have to thank the guys at Bethesda who have helped out with the Wikis so much. From the beginning of the CS Wiki, when Joel Burgess had written us a great set of beginner tutorials, and several Bethesda employees going by Maturin, kkuhlmann, and jduvall, had given us what amounted to the beginnings of Oblivion Scripting for Dummies, full documentation of all of the functions in the game, and explanations of those things that were new — blocktypes and reference variables, which helped out a lot and did a lot to inspire early scripters. Kkuhlmann stayed around to answer questions in the beginning, and that was a great boon, and Joel always did his best to help us out and champion the Wiki for us, from the very beginning. And of course, Rob Havlovick has been great as an administrator and done a lot to help us the entire time. And now you, Matt, you’ve done a ton for us, so I want to thank all of you guys for everything you’ve done.

What first compelled you to get involved with the wikis?
Again, Morrowind. In particular, GhanBuriGhan, scripting guru. He had, largely on his own, compiled Morrowind’s scripting Bible – Morrowind Scripting for Dummies. A several hundred page PDF with every script command, each one’s syntax, dozens upon dozens of examples, sample code integrating the various functions, and an extensive list of bugs. Scripting in Morrowind would have been entirely impossible without him, period. There was no documentation, and the only way people had learned how it had worked was to analyze Bethesda’s scripts. GhanBuriGhan provided that missing documentation, and it was amazing.

It was also a ton of work, and something that someone needed to do. The information was out there, in pockets, and I know he got a ton of help in terms of people pointing him in the right direction and explaining how things worked, but he put it all together himself. And that was how it had to be, it was the only way something like that was going to get done. If one person didn’t provide that commitment and dedication, scripting in Morrowind would have been exceptionally difficult.

When Bethesda announced the Wiki, I was thrilled. To me, it was, and is, perfect. A centralized warehouse of information, kept constantly updated and improved, allowing all modders to share their knowledge in a way that had previously been almost impossibly difficult. Now, we no longer needed the super-human effort of a solitary hero like GhanBuriGhan, but we, as a community, could do it together.

Aside from them, are there any other projects currently consuming your time?
Ooh, yeah. Heh. Magickal Arsenal, a mod to add more magely weapons — like Staves, but doing slightly different things — has been in the works for years, and on the shelf, unfortunately, for much of it. While I intend to get back to it, there are a few bugs that have proved extremely difficult to crack, and my free time has been extremely limited ever since I started college. The MgkAr thread in the official forums appears to have actually been pruned. Eek, it really has been too long…

ARES was a project that I started several months after I started Magickal Arsenal, and is also still incomplete – though it’s getting very close! ARES, essentially, recreates the “magical affix” system of generating random loot that is used in Diablo and similar games. It uses a custom OBSE-plugin to load a huge variety of effects in a variety of magnitudes and areas, and then uses OBSE to add these effects to random loot that the player finds. It’s really, I have to say, a really elegant system.  It automatically calculates balanced effects, using the same formula as the spellcrafting altar, and gives your opponents magical gear to match their own level. This gear is generated from the equipment they already have, and can affect any equipment in your game – no matter whether it came from Oblivion itself, the Shivering Isles, one of the official DLCs, or any fan created mod. Basically, the mod is truly 100% compatible with everything – overhauls that change how magic works and how often it is found will affect how often you find random enchanted loot, and how powerful the enchantments are; players that use mods to add items to the game may find those items randomly enchanted, and so on and so forth. The system matches itself to your game, no matter what mods you have active, and follows suit. You can read more about ARES here. There’s also a list of the various effects and their affixes here.

My last project is NifScript. This one is very different, and really, to be perfectly honest, I’m not the best one to be doing it. You see, OBSE is written in the C++ programming language, and the NifTools team, the folks who brought you the brilliant NifSkope, and PyFFI, and the Nif scripts for Blender, also created NifLib, a C++ library for modifying Net Immerse Format model files. NifScript is essentially a C++ interface between the two, making NifLib’s nif editing features available in Oblivion scripting through OBSE’s plugin API. I say I’m not the best man for the job because really, I don’t know that much about Net Immerse Format files, but I’m willing to do it — it’s been very possible for quite a long time now, and no one else has done it, so I am. And I’ve learned a lot, and I’m thrilled with it so far. The exact consequences of giving this ability to modders have been difficult to explain to the average mod user, but now I don’t have to, as HeX_0ff has done an amazing job of that with his absolutely brilliant Unnecessary Violence mod. That mod has done some incredible things for Oblivion’s combat system, and I’m really proud to have been a part of that. NifScript isn’t done, however, and as soon as I finish up ARES, I’ll be working on NifScript 1.0, which should prove a bit cleaner and considerably more powerful.

You can read more about NifScript here.

But really, I’ve always been much more of a tinkerer than a modder. That’s why I spent so much time on the CS forum, without releasing any mods for Morrowind before Assassination. It’s why I have released so little for Oblivion, and it’s a big part of why I haven’t finished some of my bigger projects — I’m constantly tinkering with it, trying new things, improving, and adding to it. I have dozens of tiny little half-mods, just neat ideas that I had and coded up enough to see if it’d work – and then abandoned. Some of it has ended up on the Wiki, a few of them have actually become projects for release, but for the most part they’re just ways to indulge my curiosity. A lot of the “finishing up” aspects of modding bore me – the testing, the adding of it to the game world, the documentation and packing and release. That doesn’t interest me as much.

Part of it is simply that I’m really perfectionist. I don’t pursue ideas unless I think I can get it to fit into the gameworld seamlessly, without arbitrary limitations. That’s why ARES affects everything. My primary modding mentor is the incredible Chris Woods from Morrowind – his Magical Trinkets of Tamriel is easily my favorite mod ever made, and it is, in large part, everything I attempt to do with my mods. My ideal mod is one that the player can never tell wasn’t a natural part of the gameworld to begin with. I like subtle, but global mods. Unfortunately, those take a lot of care, and being a perfectionist, things end up getting shelved when I get frustrated with some limitation, or I end up waiting for the next version of OBSE to let me get around it. ARES has been dependent on every version of OBSE from v0010 onwards, right up to the soon-to-be-released v0018. As each gets released, I then realize the next one has some feature that I really want to use. I do feel bad about it, because I know a lot of people are waiting for it, but it’s really the only way I can mod. Otherwise, I just get burned out and bored of it, and it gets shelved. This way, progress occurs, and even though the goal keeps moving further back, I do end up closer than I started. ARES is testament to this — it started as fairly simple, and has gotten massively more complex, but it is nevertheless very near release.

What other games are you currently playing/modding?
Well, I’m a Diablo II fanatic, so yeah, I’m still playing that. Pretty excited about v1.13 — I really hope to see some cool things from Blizzard on that. Right now I’m on US West Ladder (DragoonWraith, as should be no surprise), and I’m working on gearing up a Whirlwind Assassin, which I’ve wanted to do for ages.

I also have just gotten into Dungeons & Dragons. I’d never really given it much thought before; none of my friends played it. Recently, though, a friend on another forum started a play-by-post game, and I’ve really gotten into it. I like fantasy RPGs (another complete lack of surprise, I’m sure), and suddenly we’re replacing the computer with a living, thinking human being, and the possibilities immediately become endless. It takes (a lot) longer, and you can’t just turn it on to play whenever you want. But with a little imagination, it really can do all of those things you’ve always dreamed of seeing in a videogame. And as for modding, they call it “homebrewing,” but I’ve been putting some thought into a bit of that, as well.

When you’re away from the computer, how do you spend your free time?
Heh, there’s a saying at my school: “Studying, socializing, sleeping: you may pick two.” My experience has been, you’re lucky if you do get two. So my “free time” is rather limited, as the fans of my mods can attest. At any rate, all of my hobbies are on the computer – gaming, modding, etc. When I’m away from the computer, I’m out with friends — just hanging out. We always manage to have a great time, doing all kinds of silliness. We’re always happy if we get a story out of whatever we’re doing, so we try to do wacky stuff as much as possible. And our favorite stories are the ones that have to end with a reminder: “…and we were completely sober.” Not that they always end that way — we are 21, and we are in college – but it’s always better when the stories end that way. So we do things like setting up play-boxing matches that devolve into dance parties, setting up Rock Band in the four sides of our dorm (it’s kinda like a square donut in shape), running around collecting the free phone books that they bizarrely give each student and then building ridiculous structures out of them. We have fun.

I also have a girlfriend — we’ve been together for four years. It’s a long distance thing, she goes to school in New York and I’m in California, but really we don’t have that hard a time of it. We’re really happy together. We look forward to getting done with school so we can figure out living together somewhere, though all that depends on jobs and grad school and such…

If you could implement one feature into the G.E.C.K. or TES CS (that we haven’t helped with already), what would it be?
Oh, wow, that’s hard. I don’t know if it counts as one thing, but there are certain types of things in the game that you cannot create — magic effects, skills, animation types — being able to create those would immediately jump to the top of my list. If I had to choose one, oh, that’s hard, but with the Scripted Effect you can get around a lot of the limitations on magic effects, so I’d say adding new skills would be really cool.

Of course, it seems Kyoma’s already got that one covered.

On the other hand, an obvious source of inspiration could easily be OBSE. They have done some incredible things. Actually, in terms of simple things one could do, incorporating something similar to whatever Valve added to the Steam version of the launcher to allow it to work with OBSE, so perhaps the D2D folks could take advantage of it (and everyone else could use the default shortcut) — that would be really cool. But I assume you’re talking about for the next version, in which case I’ll stick with my first answer.

Reader Comments

  1. Heh, no, I actually have NEVER spent any time in any of the General forums. I don’t know why people found the Puzzle Cube so hard to find, I never did.

    I strongly suspect it’s because I LIKED reading the dialogue, and never skipped any of it.

  2. Thanks DW, been waiting a long time for this one and I can honestly say that it’s been the most informative interview to date. I was hoping to get some raw community history and that’s exactly what I got.

    There are so many devoted members in this community that have really carried the rest of us to the pinnacle point which we now enjoy. An enormous thank you to yourself and those you remembered to mention and those you forgot, to ALL the pillars of this community that never cease to amaze me with an abundance of talent, camaraderie and a continuing faith in Bethesda and their massively moddable open world rpgs. TFS

    Long Live The BGMC