We would like to welcome to the Bethesda Blog Mike Hancho — commonly known by the forum community as Balok, creator of Helgen Reborn for Skyrim. When he’s not too busy rebuilding Helgen, Mike is an Operations Manager for a construction company in Clemmons, NC.
Recently we caught up with him to discuss Skyrim modding…
How did you get involved with modding?
It all started with a radio! I loved the “Built for the Future” mod for Fallout 3 and wanted a radio near all the lockers I used to store my gear. Getting started, I was completely overwhelmed and not a little bit lost, so I went through the basic tutorials and figured it out from there. Since Fallout 3 was my first Bethesda game it eventually led me to the official Bethesda forums where I learned about Oblivion. I bought it and spent the next year playing it.
I made a couple of unreleased mods that I used for my personal enjoyment and then Fallout: New Vegas came out. After playing it for a while, I decided to write and build my New Bison Steve Hotel and Afterschool Special mods. Then I joined the Boulder Dome team and built all the interiors for Inner Boulder including the Haunted Toy Store as well as Harcort Positronics and the Android Manufacturing levels. That led to Skyrim and here we are!
When I think of Helgen Reborn, the first thing that comes to mind is Oblivion’s popular mod, Kvatch Rebuilt. Do you view this mod as a spiritual successor?
In all honesty, no, not really. Although I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the name alone drew some attention to my project because of the popularity of Kvatch Rebuilt. In the beginning Helgen Rebuilt was a sort of working title, but I discovered someone had already uploaded a mod by that name. However, by this time I was well into development and into my closed beta test, and several of my testers liked my suggestion of using Helgen Reborn as they felt it was truly Reborn when it was finished, so I stuck with that. If anything, I see Helgen Reborn as the successor of my New Bison Steve Hotel and Afterschool Special mods for Fallout: New Vegas. I learned enough techniques building those mods that I felt confident enough to try something a little more ambitious. And since I like taking things you guys leave destroyed and turning them into places that are once again useable, Helgen was the obvious choice for my next project.
Is there anything about the mod that you’re most proud of?
Yes, several actually, as it’s difficult to name just one. But I’d have to say I’m most proud of the writing, especially the little speech Marcus gives during the funeral service. The performance Ben Britton delivered was amazing, and sometimes it still chokes me up when I listen to it. And believe me, I’ve heard it 1000 times by now! I would also have to say I’m especially proud of the Private Tower, Display Room and Cavern. There was over a month of work in that level alone.
Lastly, I really loved how the packages and work stations turned out for all the construction workers. It was extremely difficult to figure out where I could position idles and furniture markers without editing the vanilla navmesh. Everything had to make sense especially since I have a construction background, lol. Most people probably don’t take the time to actually watch them for any length of time, but if you do, they’re pretty cool, and given the limited vanilla assets I had to work with I think I pulled it off pretty well.
What assistance did you receive on the project (be it direct support, advice, etc)?
I had 20 voice actors, four artists who contributed textures, nine beta testers and a handful of folks who submitted screen captures that I turned into the custom artwork you see throughout the mod. Then, there’s dozens and dozens of people who helped me with with everything from writing suggestions to the actual scripting. They and many others helped nursemaid me through learning the new changes with the Creation Kit. And of course the official tutorials at the CK wiki helped a lot too.
Your mod was recently featured on PC Gamer’s website. What was that experience like?
Incredible! First, I spewed many adult beverages on my monitor reading Christopher Livingston’s “Living in Oblivion” blog back in the day, so I was thrilled that he was the one who wrote the article. In fact, my Independent guard “Kindrick” was 100% inspired by that series. His character was “Nondrick” and was always getting chased by wolves, and never did anything exciting. So, Kindrick is “kin” to Nondrick, (great-great grandson) and wants to be the first in his family to be an adventurer. So yeah, there couldn’t have been a better author to write it, and I couldn’t feel more honored than I do with that recognition. That honor is now equaled by getting to do this interview you you! It’s all very humbling, but also makes the stupid amount of work that goes into this stuff a little more worth the effort.
Have you put any thought into what your next project would be?
Well, I’m still not finished with Helgen, if there is such a thing as “finished” when it comes to modding. I’d like to add a couple of mini-quests for the town once it’s completed such as finally getting Joto a dog, playing cupid for Meen-Lei and Wanan-Dun and getting Froki and Haming to move into the empty house on the hill. I also hope to get some more generic dialog in place for my characters, and I’m currently overhauling the radiant quests and turning them into non-radiant custom locations. So, nothing in terms of new mods, but I will continue to develop Helgen Reborn.
What other user mods are you currently enjoying?
To be totally honest, sadly, I don’t have a ton of time to actually “play” the game. I spent over a year building and testing Helgen Reborn and primarily used a vanilla load order for that. Since I released, I’ve still been working on it, fixing bugs and adding new features, so I’m still pretty vanilla in my load order. It seems every time I do try to play for a while I begin thinking about things I need to be doing for Helgen Reborn, lose focus and have to exit the game and fire up the CK and get to work! As a result I’m woefully behind in trying out mods, but I’m really looking forward to trying Hunting in Skyrim. I’d like to give Moonpath to Elsweyr a run through as well. I’m also looking forward to fully exploring Falskaar, and Wyrmstooth both. I’ve never been into gameplay overhauls, but there are a few tweak mods I’ve seen I’d like to try. I’d also like to play the Civil War overhaul at some point.
I’d like to thank Bethesda for the incredible games they produce, and for giving us users and modders the permission, encouragement and tools to play around in their playground. I’d also like to thank all the folks who have helped me directly or indirectly along that way. I’d also like to thank Matt for the opportunity to do this interview. Lastly, I’d like to thank all those who have played Helgen Reborn and endorsed my mod.
Thank you for the interview!
Want to see more Skyrim modding interviews? Be sure to make suggestions within our official forums!