Elder Scrolls modding interview: Darkrder

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We return this week with a new Elder Scrolls Modding Interview — this time with Nicholas “Cole” MacLean, or simply Darkrder, who manages the website TES Alliance. A writer by trade, Darkrder happens to be married to a member of the Bethesda forums, Ladyflcn, who helped him work on Temple of Five Lanterns — released last December. The couple live in St. Louis and are expecting their first child this coming Halloween.

How did you get involved with the Elder Scrolls modding community?

I joined the Elder Scrolls modding community completely by chance actually. I originally only played Oblivion on the Xbox 360 console. After some time in game, I noticed a lot of NPC chatter about dogs and owning dogs (of all things to notice) and I wondered if a canine companion was some element of the game I had just missed or overlooked. So originally, I was just looking for a walkthrough or cheat guide that might tell me if that was possible. In a Google search I came up with a download link for a mod called Cheydinhal Petshop by Proudfoot. As I skimmed the page I saw all these mods that were free and it was some pretty cool stuff. I found this community of regular jacks making game content to expand Oblivion on PC and I was fascinated.

When playing Oblivion on console I had kept a list of ways I would like to expand the game within its original storyline, a writer’s habit of seeing stories everywhere I guess, and after finding the modding community, I started to wonder if I could make some of these things I’d listed for myself. Among that list was the outline for a story expansion surrounding Sancre Tor and the Blades faction.

You’re known for your expansion project, Reclaiming Sancre Tor. For folks that haven’t heard of it, can you explain the main premise?
Reclaiming Sancre Tor (RST) centers on the Blades faction that already appears in Oblivion. The story starts in the vanilla game, where we learned how Sancre Tor used to be a sacred place for Blades until it was taken over by dark magic. The player, through the course of the vanilla Main Quest, breaks the evil enchantment that held Sancre Tor in ruins for decades.

RST begins after the vanilla Main Quest where the Blades, having no Emperor to serve, fall back to a more ancient role of serving the Empire quietly through their spy work. The Blades faction is far more developed in RST, Blades from all over the Empire return to Cyrodiil to populate their new hub of operations at Sancre Tor, which they have restored to its former glory. The player is offered a rare opportunity to join their ranks officially, starting from the bottom and working their way up. Along the way to discovering their own destiny (a path that will take them to faraway lands), the player’s life will become entwined with the lives of other characters and the choices they make will determine the rewards they receive.

The expansion, based on current tester times, will add somewhere around 40+ hours of game play when it’s all said and done. She boasts a trove of new weapons and armors, several full length dungeons with boss battles, new world spaces, quests, and lots more.

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Sancre Tor Hub Before

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Sancre Tor Hub After

Without spoiling the fun, is there one particular element of the mod you’re particularly proud of?

There is so much to choose from, there are lots of little things that I’m very excited to have players experience at last! I would have to say the element I’m most proud of is the story. RST’s story is very dynamic and it has a way of really drawing the player into the center of things. The story was where RST began and the rest, the dungeons, weapons, and locations, etc. all sort of sprang up around that core. I was heavily influenced by existing Elder Scrolls lore, weaving bits of Bethesda “doctrine” into my story to make the whole thing feel really plausible in that world. At the same time I wanted a story that was familiar enough to seem very Elder Scrolls but unique enough to feel like fresh material and I think I accomplished that.

I’m also incredibly proud of and humbled by the talented folks I have been able to meet and work with throughout her development. WillieSea, WhoGuru, mr siika, Insanity Sorrow, and of course Windmill Tilter just to name a few. These folks really know their stuff and I was rather green as a modder when some of them came aboard with knowledge and skills to share. RST would not be where it is today if not for their generosity and I feel a lot of pride that they looked at my ideas and thought I had something there worth investing their time in.

How close are you to wrapping up the project?

As long as things stay on pace and my rig holds out, very close. I hope to wrap up the actual development on the project by the end of May. After that I will focus on debugging the overall game play of the mod and getting the rest of the voices recorded and mastered.

In the past, you’ve worked on an array of different and smaller mod projects — house mods, clothing mods, etc? Do you see yourself working on smaller projects after RST, or starting up the next big thing?

I have done a few smaller things, I started with Weynon Retreat, which was an element of RST that got binned and I thought it could stand alone. I originally released Weynon Retreat because I hadn’t released anything at the time and it’s a bit hard to lead a large expansion like RST if you don’t have any “street cred” in the modding community. After releasing Weynon Retreat I found that doing the occasional small release was a good way to vent off some of the release tension that built up while working on RST, so I think the occasional small mod should be expected from me no matter what. I always have some resource I binned and release for others to use.

I’m not sure what will happen after RST, I expect there will be some finalizing on RST to follow release; some patch that needs making or some conflict that needs resolving. Once the mod is relatively stabilized though, I intend to move onto the next big thing. I have a new project in the “on paper” phase of design right now; it’s a concept for a whole new RPG game title. I’m not certain yet if it’s something I will try to develop with my own team or as a pitch to an existing studio, but completing the dev plan for that title will come next after RST. I also have a fantasy genre novel in the works that I would like to finish this year; I’ve been published in a couple small college journals, it’s time to take the writing career mainstream now.

Care to spill the beans on any upcoming projects?

Not too many beans to spill yet, but the new RPG title I’m planning will incorporate some of my favorite elements from classic RPGs and roll in some new features that have not been used much if at all in the RPG genre. The story centers around a dying world and the player will have to unravel the true history of that world in order to save themselves and everyone else. One of my favorite features of any RPG is the dungeon puzzle (players will find some tricky ones in RST) so that will be a prominent element of my plan. I love those games that really twist your imagination and make you think in order to move forward on your quest. Exciting stuff!

I noticed you had a Silent Hill-inspired project on your website that is no longer in development. Can you talk about what your plans were there?

I am a big fan of the Konami series Silent Hill and almost from the onset of my foray into modding I knew I wanted to do a Silent Hill mod for Oblivion. I spent some time developing that project on paper when I needed a break from all things RST. The idea was to recreate the Silent Hill world, but with a medieval twist. There would be dilapidated caravans lining the roads instead of cars, custom ruined town architecture, and I had sketched out new creatures as well like the Legionari, which were twisted, grotesque, mockeries of Legion soldiers and served as denizens of the darkness. I had started height mapping the landscape, which was based on the town layout in Silent Hill 2 and had some effects I was testing to simulate the falling ash and constant fog effects of that classic SH environment. I would still like to see a medieval Silent Hill, that’s just a really neat concept for me. Silent Hill Oblivion got the axe along with Serenity Lost (another RST bin gem) and Eagle’s Rest v1.2, to open my schedule for development of the aforementioned game title.

Would you ever consider going back to a project you cancelled?

I would yes, if I found myself with the time to develop it properly, I would consider reopening the plan. In relation to Silent Hill: Oblivion, having already done some physical work on its build and development, I could see myself picking it up again.

Recently have you checked out any new mods that you’d recommend to others?

Between modding RST, my family, my writing, and managing TES Alliance, I don’t get too much time to play mods, and what’s new for me is probably old hat to most, but for those who haven’t played them I would recommend WillieSea’s Haunted House, Shadow Ranger, by Hobbs, and Middark’s Heart of the Dead, which rank among my top favorite mods. I would also recommend TESA’s Oubliette, not because I had a hand in organizing it, but because the talent of the contributors makes for a very long, arduous, and fantastic dungeon crawl, I enjoyed myself in there thoroughly.

Do you do mod work on anything other games? Fallout 3?

I do not mod for other games, though I have considered modding Fallout 3 as it’s a very elegant game, and I’ve heard great things about its moddability. Oblivion has just always held a special place for me, more so than some other games. It was a gift from my wife and came at a time when I was going through a rough patch in life and Oblivion helped me dial out and just game through it. I think even years from now I will always look fondly on Oblivion. I think just sheer love of the game is why I mod it today.

What games are you playing through these days?

When I’m not doing the things I’m supposed to be doing I find some time to play a title or two. Tops for me right now are Assassins Creed 2 and Uncharted 2. I’ve also started in on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii which has a wicked concept; there is no fight option when the creatures attack instead you have to try and escape the situation and just survive through it; it’s really intense. Also just got my copy of Mass Effect 2 so looking forward to taking that for a spin real soon.

Have you thought about a career in game development?
I would like to go into game development eventually if the right job opportunity came along; I lack the training for some of the more technical sides of development, but I would love to be a game designer; developing stories, worlds, dialogue, quests, etc and work with a team to make those concepts into a playable game. That would be my dream job really; to take my writing skill and combine it with my passion for video gaming.

If you could have Bethesda add anything to a game, or create a new game altogether, what would it be like?

I would like Bethesda to snatch up my project RST as an Official DLC, just so I can play it on my Xbox! I’m kidding… mostly. Seriously though, I would like to see Bethesda continue to raise the bar in everything they do as always. If I could choose one thing to see in a future game I would like to see better handling of horses (a la Assassins Creed 2), meaning steering devices, better proportions, realistic animations, the ability to fight from horseback, maybe purchase/sell options; these things are quintessential to horseplay in an RPG environment.

Reader Comments

  1. Great interview DR. I think you would make an awesome game designer and any developer would be lucky to have such a talented writer that is also an avid gamer.

    Bethesda, hire this man immediately.

    I’m not kidding.

  2. It’s always good to see modders focused on story and setting, rather than hack and slash. Although H&S can be an awful lot of fun, it’s narrative and design that drive the truly enduring mods.

    (Also, I lost count of how many times I died working my way through the Oubliette. Usually because I was jumping onto something I shouldn’t’ve’. Also also, an Oblivionated Silent Hill would be absolutely horrific… and awesome. But mostly horrific.)

  3. I agree that he should be hired, but I’m gonna force myself back into reality…….. The best we can hope for is that he lives forever! And he makes mods until he dies! And he makes mods after he’s dead, in lich form! Oh, and TESAlliance rules the world! Yes……

    Great modder=Great interview!

  4. Fantastic interview of a fantastic artist. Will be watching out for the final version of RECLAIMING SANCRE TOR. Thank you Darkrder for the..WONDERFUL.

    Yes MASS EFFECT 2 is a marvel of game design and artistry. Its like the sci fi version of The Elder Scrolls. Everything is so fleshed out and so full of lore and history i feel like am actually in many of my favorite sci-fi movies and stories i saw and read as a child.

  5. Awesome interview DR/bethlog. I am eagerly waiting for RST release. Oblivion is the best game I have ever played and I know RST will add to it’s wonder…Thank you..doric