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I recently had the pleasure of asking Arthmoor, one of the heads of the Unique Landscapes project, some questions about his work on these influential mods. I have been using UL since it was first released, and it has grown into a comprehensive re-imagining of Oblivion's greatest asset; its natural environment. See the interview below to learn a bit more about it.QUOTE
Q: Firstly can you introduce yourself, and tell us your role in the Unique Landscape series?
A: I'm Roger, aka Arthmoor, and also known in some circles as Samson. I am currently a co-admin for the Unique Landscapes Project.
Q: What was the genesis of the project?
A: Some time back in late 2006/early 2007, Addiktive formed the project with the goal of improving the look of Cyrodiil's landscape. The project grew from a couple of mods to the huge project we have today. It's been through several leadership changes as people come and go.
Q: What was your opinion on the vanilla terrain in Oblivion?
A: Personally I thought it was OK for the most part, but after awhile it did seem to run together and there weren't a lot of places where you could just stop and say "wow".
Q: One of the things that appeals to many people about the project is the modular nature of the individual landscapes; how much creative freedom does a modder receive?
A: Modders get very wide latitude so long as what they do doesn't break a vanilla quest, doesn't conflict with an existing UL mod, and the mod is lore-friendly.
Q: How much dialogue do you have with builders of other mods about compatibility? Is there a community there?
A: The official BGS forum thread is where most of our communication with other modders takes place. There isn't a specifically organized community around it but we handle all compatibility issues there. We provide an extensive list of patches for those mods that require them.
Q: Do any of the mods tell a story through the landscape? A history that is perhaps left behind? Or are they merely landscapes to be experienced as a space?
A: There are a few that do, Dark Forest comes immediately to mind with the abandoned village mixed in with the landscape changes. Bravil Barrowfields has a lot of old structures that hint at the past prosperity of the area it covers. To some extent, Brena River Ravine also tells a story of past Ayleid glory mixed in with the current situation there.
Q: Is much research done into similar, terrestrial landscapes before the work begins?
A: I'm not aware of it if any of the modders do that before beginning. I'd say the focus is probably more on how well it will fit in with the surroundings in Cyrodiil.
Q: In your experience, how long does a UL mod take to complete?
A: That depends largely on the size of the area being covered and on the pace of the individual modders. We have some that come out in a relatively short time, others that have been in the works for years. On average, I'd say most of them would take a minimum of 4-6 months to complete.
Q: The modules are known and loved, at least by me, for what lies below the bigger picture; the micro-environments, the little touches that one finds when traversing these places that completely fit with the detailed aesthetic of Oblivion. One of my favorites is in Aspen Wood, the wonderful sense of scale you get as you emerge from the woodland and ascend to that statue. Which is your favorite?
A: I'm probably biased on this one but I'm very fond of Brena River Ravine. The graduated levels of the dam, plus the sheer size of the waterfall there is something that just isn't matched anywhere else in the game. If I had to choose another as a favorite I'd have to say River Ethe for the awesome scenery you go through as you walk along the banks between Chorrol and Skingrad.
Q: Do any of the modders, as far as you know, have experience in landscape design, architecture, or another related field?
A: Not as far as I know but it wouldn't surprise me if some of them did.
Q: What's on the release schedule at the moment?
A: Currently we have 5 that are in progress: Corbolo Fisheries, which overhauls the area around the mouth of the Corbolo River, River Strid, which is a massive overhaul of the river areas along the southern border with Valenwood, Silverfish River Valley, which aims to liven up the surroundings of the Silverfish River, the Eastern Peaks, which is an extensive modification of the southeastern Valus Mountains along the border with Morrowind, and The Jerall Glacier, which covers the northeastern portion of the game map.
Q: Finally, would you like to work on similar projects in Skyrim? Mind you, the landscapes look quite dramatic already...
A: That really does depend on just how good the landscaping is in Skyrim. We haven't really discussed it in detail yet but who knows. I'm pretty sure there will still be interest in more landscaping mods for Oblivion even after Skyrim is out. Elder Scrolls games seem more than capable of standing the test of time. After all, people are still modding Morrowind today.
You can find examples of the project here and here, and all of Arthmoor's mods can be found at the bottom of this page.
Are you the sort of person that displays subscriber magazine covers above his fireplace like treasured family heirlooms? Do you have a legitimate (and legal) way to acquire at least $260 in the next two days? Well, it's your lucky day!
In support of the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund, Bethesda are auctioning a special edition of the Skyrim Game Informer Issue, the first magazine exclusive of the new Elder Scrolls title, signed by the development team. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to charity, and you end up with an excellent piece of Skyrim loot.
You can bid here at the eBay page, but with two days left in the bidding you may need a little more cash.
In addition to earlier news, the voting on the Art of Videogames exhibition has been extended to April 17th, so make sure you get your votes in.
I have just put up a new job opening over in our Jobs section for an experienced PHP web developer. This will be a full-time paid position which is a major step for me, and the Nexus, and will form a part of the on-going improvements being made to the network over the coming months and years.
As I've hinted at in recent blog posts I'm coming to the limits of my knowledge, and time, and this year will be a transitional and reformative year for the Nexus as various changes are made to accommodate progress and improvement.
If you are an experienced PHP developer living in the UK in need of work then head on over to the job information page for more information on the role.
Similarly I am on the lookout for a couple more news writers to bolster the ranks of our current writers who have been doing an excellent job so far. If you've got a knack for writing and your finger on the pulse of the news in the community then perhaps you'd like to write for the Nexus?
Over at G4TV.com, there is currently a contest between Starcraft and the Elder Scrolls franchise to see which is better.
You do have to sign up (or sign in, if you already have an account) to vote, however.
TheNiceOne's Map Marker Overhaul won March's File of the Month with 61 votes.
Continuing with the monthly feature, TheNiceOne has responded to our interview questions. You can read his responses below.QUOTEQ: What was your inspiration for creating Map Marker Overhaul?
A: When I first played Oblivion, I printed out several paper maps with locations of caves/ruins, etc. and marked the location with a red pencil when I had explored one. That was cumbersome, so when I discovered Map Markers Be Done (by Elis) I installed and enjoyed it, but it had one big drawback, that you only could tag a map marker when you were outside, close to it. So if I forgot to tag one, I had to go all the way back to it if I wanted to tag it. That was when the idea was born, a mod where I could just click on a map marker in the world map - and that was the first feature I created for Map Marker Overhaul.
Q: What did you find most enjoyable about the creation process of Map Marker Overhaul?
A: The interaction with the mod users that came up with new ideas that at first seemed impossible, but then keeping the idea in the back of my mind and slowly figuring out how it could be done.
Q: What were some of the challenges you came across making Map Marker Overhaul?
A: Several of the features are more or less overriding hardcoded features of Oblivion. Finding ways to overcome that was challenging, and would have been impossible without OBSE. Things like preventing the world map from centering on the player when opened, or making newly discovered map markers be visible in the hud, but not in the world map until some condition is met.
Q: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the Oblivion tools?
A: I am a specialist that almost exclusively do scripting (and a little bit of dialogues and textures), so I haven't really discovered much of the CS problem areas. My favourite part is definitely OBSE - without it I would probably not modded much at all.
Q: What are some other common tools you used in your development?
A: Gimp for creating the map marker icons, and Notepad++ for editing the scripts.
Q: Roughly what was the total time you have invested in Map Marker Overhaul so far?
A: Hard to say, but several 100 hours (in about 20 months), but I'm not sure if it's 200 or 500 - probably something inbetween.
Q: Are you planning or working on any new features for Map Marker Overhaul?
A: No, I consider Map Marker Overhaul complete by now (though I have said so before, and then had some user come up with a new good idea which I couldn't resist implementing). I have a few spots that I am going to rewrite in order to improve it, but don't plan on adding any new features. I am trying to reduce my modding, and get into playing Oblivion again. I want one more playthrough before Skyrim.
Q: Do you have other mods you are working on?
A: Yes, lots I have 19 uploaded files on TESNexus, of which 13 are proper mods. The largest (both in number of features and work put into it), is Enhanced Economy, which also has been voted file of the month here. But I have worked quite a lot on the others as well, like HUD Status Bars, Enhanced Hotkeys, Dynamic Map, Display Stats, Soulgem Magic, etc.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. Where you are from, what are some of your other hobbies outside of games?
A: I'm from Norway, with wife and two kids, so there's not too much time for (other) hobbies. Though I am very fond of music and films, mostly of the quite alternative kind. Like the band my quote and avatar is taken from, the Canadian industrial group Skinny Puppy.
Q: What are some of your other favorite games if Oblivion isn't the only game you play? Any other game genres besides the RPG style games that Bethesda publishes?
A: I enjoy all types of games, not only computer games, but very much old-fashioned board games too. RPG games is certainly among the favourites, but also strategy games (Civilization, Total War), good shooters (Half-Life, etc.) and racing games - and of course Portal, I look forward to Portal 2 now. I only play single-player games though.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring mod authors?
A: To start out small. Even if you have this great big idea, think of one aspect you can start with, and release the result as a mod. Then start adding new features and polishing the old after that. Trying to do everything at once will most likely make you give up before you're finished.
Q: And finally, do you have anything you would like to say to our readers out there?
A: Thanks for supporting Map Marker Overhaul, and my other mods. I would never have made Map Marker Overhaul what it is now, without all the feedback and suggestions from the mod users.
Thanks again to TheNiceOne for participating in the interview. Check back next month for another interview, and don't forget to vote for April's File of the Month.
Last Saturday marked the 5th year anniversary of Oblivion. Who knew? (I was travelling back from New Zealand at the time).
Since that time The Elder Scrolls Nexus has amassed 22690 files for Morrowind and Oblivion.
Have a favourite Oblivion memory? Whether it's from before you knew about mods, the first mod you loaded, or the countless hours spent trying to set the mods up so that your game didn't crash every ten minutes, share them with us in the comments section.
Bethesda has also released a podcast talking about Oblivion's development so if you want to find out who to send coal to for Christmas for the level scaling system you might want to check it out.
IGN has interviewed Todd Howard about Skyrim.
While there is not a lot of new information Todd confirms that levitation will be available as a download for three hundred dollars, that unicorns will be available for one hundred dollars and that we can ride dragons - but not in the ahem traditional way.
It has some new screenshots.
He also explains how Bethesda has created a 'new engine'.QUOTEWe've always used a lot of our own stuff, mixed with other middleware that we liked. Coming off of Fallout 3, we made a pretty big list of what we wanted to change technically. So we redid the rendering, lighting, shadows, animation, faces, foliage, mountains, scripting, interface and more. And by the time we got through it all, it was clear the technology was new enough to give it its own name, The Creation Engine. Same with our editor, The Creation Kit. They go together as technology.
Some of that you'll notice as a player, like shadows, mountains, and the animations; some you won't, like how scripting or pathfinding works internally. If you looked quickly at our editor, it behaves similar to our old ones; it just does a lot more, and does some old things in better ways. But we don't change things just to change them. We still use the nif file format, because it worked fine for what we're doing and our modders know it well. We still use some middleware that we like, such as Havok. We're not just using their physics this time, but their animation system, Havok Behavior. It makes a dramatic difference in how the game looks and plays. Overall though, the paradigm for how we build these huge worlds has not changed dramatically, we just want it to look better and play more smoothly.
I wanted to bring to light some official news from GSC, the creators of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of games, on some information regarding the use of their assets in other games.
A few people not in the know have either been using the fact a few mods on the Nexus sites use STALKER assets as an excuse to use assets from other games and mediums or claim that we're some how biased or turning a blind eye to illegal content in some mods.
We take reports of the use of illegal content very seriously, perhaps more serious than most sites out there but, as we continue to say, we're not always up-to-date with every mod hosted here so we rely on you, the community, to let us know if you think something is amiss by reporting content. Lots of folks do and we're very thankful for it. Similarly we haven't played every game in existence so some times have no clue that the assets in a mod are from another game.
When the first mods appeared using STALKER assets (a long time ago) we were told that GSC allowed their assets to be used in non-commercial work. Buddah followed this up by contacting the relevant people at GSC and sure enough Buddah was told that this was fine. In recent months new moderator Thandal has pursued the case again, to once again verify the validity of claims (as I said, we take this stuff seriously!), and GSC have now posted up an official response on their forums regarding this issue:QUOTEIt is done! GSC made its official lawyer-vetted statement:
GSC has made explicit its position regarding the legal status of mods, including the use of its resources with others games. You can find the original under the link below. I am attaching a translation, as well.
Mods (modifications) of a computer game can be made by a person who has legally acquired a licensed copy of the game and exclusively for the purpose of its use on the hardware belonging to the person performing the modification or persons to whom the modification was given on non-commercial basis (such as freely over the Internet).
This means that the person who makes a mod for a computer game can use this modification exclusively on non-commercial basis.
The author of the mod retains authorship and exclusive rights on the mod. However, the resources used for development of the given mod belong to another person. As such, the mod does not wholly belong to the author of the modification, who does not have full control over it (such as for commercial use).
Our company allows non-commercial use of mods for our computer games. If you want to use mods developed for our games (such as from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series) with another game, you have to turn to that game's developers for permission.
You can check out the original Russian thread or read the English translation on their official forums.
This is a nice breathe of fresh air in the gaming industry and we definitely welcome such an open policy to the use of assets. Please remember that this policy only applies to GSC STALKER assets and using content from most other games is still a violation of copyright and will not be tolerated here. If in doubt, ask a moderator or post on the forums and someone will tell you for sure.
Everyone knows what Oblivion’s menu looks like: the yellow parchment, the large, ugly text, and the sepia map. Many mods fix this, but for Skyrim, Bethesda is making a new user-friendly menu completely from scratch.
Unlike previous menus, Skyrim’s won’t take you back to the page you were on the last time you looked on the menu. Instead, it will bring you to a compass, where you choose which page to go. If you were to press on the right arrow, then it would take you to the inventory, which separates items by type. You can also view every item in 3D. If you were to press the left arrow, then it would take you to your spells, complete with how each works (for example, shock spells drain magicka as well as health). Pressing the up arrow would cause you to look up to the sky, where the three major constellations will be shown: The Warrior, The Thief, and The Mage. Each has six constellations inside, all of them representing a skill, which means a total of 18 skills. Each skill level-up will go towards a new level. Every time your level goes up, you can choose a supplementary perk for one of your skills. If you use heavy armor a lot, then you’d want to choose one that is related to heavy armor. Like in the Fallout series, some perks can be chosen more than once to be "leveled up".
Finally, pressing the down arrow will make the screen zoom out to reveal a map of Skyrim, which is fully interactive. You can move across the map and examine the mountains, the caves, or the cities, similar to the 3D item viewing. You can manage markers, plan where you’re going to go, or fast-travel (yep, its still there!). When outside the compass screen and in the game world, you will be able to hit a button and it will pause everything and bring you to your favorites screen. This screen is very similar to hot-keys in Oblivion, except that the slots are unlimited, and you can assign anything to them. In theory, you could put everything in your inventory on this screen. You can’t determine the order the favorites are in, however; they will be listed alphabetically.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading and keep watching the TESNexus news for more information on Skyrim!
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