, or SMIM. I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Brumbek, which you can read below. Be sure to vote this month to see your favorite mod featured here on the site news.
Q: So, Brumbek, tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into modding?
A: I'm just a guy who likes to play really immersive games, games I can live, not just play. To paraphrase Sir Francis Bacon's famous quote about books, I like games that can be digested, games to play wholly with diligence and attention.
Anyway, way back I started designing levels for various FPS games like Quake II. Then I had big FPS mod ideas like "Prozac Run" where Brats and Old Fogies fought each other in order to gather and horde pills from the Prozac Tree (still need to make this game...). So out of necessity I learned how to do 3D modeling and texturing by reading huge books and various online tutorials. Years later I played Morrowind and Oblivion and started making little improvements here and there.
Q: For those of us who don't know, what is SMIM all about?
A: SMIM creates a more consistent visual experience for Skyrim in order to maximize immersion. SMIM does this by editing some of the ugliest 3D models in Skyrim to increase detail, fix errors, or otherwise remedy oversights. A detailed world is a believable world, and believability is the foundation for immersion, or so my latest fortune cookie said.
Here's a more technical answer. Skyrim's characters, armors, and weapons are generally excellent, but these great assets are often placed in locations full of blocky and blurry assets. This is jarring and breaks immersion. Think of a 1080p screen. An NPC may make up 25% of the screen pixels when up close. The other 75% is floors, walls, fixtures, and clutter (and so on). Yet Skyrim devotes large 2048x2048 textures and roughly 6,000 polygons for NPCs but only 512x512 textures and roughly 500-1,000 polygons for most walls, fixtures, and clutter. The result is inconsistent visuals. The good news is modern PCs can push an order of magnitude more polygons than vanilla Skyrim without issue. For proof consider Trine 2, which pushes upwards of 600,000 polygons per scene. Or just look at SMIM, which in some scenes (Riverwood) increases the polygon count by 250,000 with zero FPS hit for modern PCs.
Q: What was your inspiration for creating the Static Mesh Improvement Mod?
A: My inspiration was the table in Alvor's house that you sit down at about two hours into the game. I sat down and was literally disgusted at how blocky and ugly it was. Before Skyrim came out I told myself I wasn't going to mod Skyrim until I played through it. I didn't want another Oblivion situation where I never really played the game until 5 years after release, but that table made me ask the age-old existential question: "Is a world worth saving if it doesn't even have nice tables?" So at that point something snapped in my brain. I realized I was going to have to fix all this ugly stuff before I continued to play. Thus began the process that would later be known as SMIMification.
Q: What are some of the challenges you've come across and how have you dealt with them?
A: The biggest challenge is dealing with the mostly undocumented proprietary, .nif (Net-Immerse Format) 3D model files. Every artist hates wasting time fighting their tools. I must massively thank the entire NifTools team and TheFigment, specifically, for creating the 3DSMax plugins. Without these guys, my mod would never have happened.
Even with the tools, it has taken hundreds upon hundreds of attempts to get everything working. I pity others who are new to the .nif format. They have so many hurdles to overcome. I do plan to write down all the things I've learned since it has taken me literally years of working with .nifs to get a solid understanding.
As a side note, it would be so awesome if Bethesda would take a few hours and write down some documentation on the .nif format. Moreover, if we did have access to their tools, I could be so much more efficient. If NifSkope was integrated into the CK, efficiently would go way up. I often wonder if Bethesda has this functionality internally. If I worked there, I'd beg/threaten the tools guys to improve a bunch of this stuff. But anyway.
Q: What was your favorite part about creating the mod?
A: Seeing my new and improved 3D models in-game is an amazing experience. Where there once was ugly, now there is lovely. I claim SMIM is life-affirming, and that is no lie, friends. There's just something transcendent about a gloriously detailed 3D model. But anyway, I really enjoy the detailed 3D modeling work where I improve the model. I used to play with LEGOs as a kid, but 3D modeling provides so much more freedom.
Q: What are some of your favorite games besides Skyrim?
A: I was raised on the classic JRPGs like Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, so I love games that create emotion and memories like the best JRPGs do. I also love competitive FPS games. I love knowing it all rests on me to win or lose - skill versus skill alone. Quake II was nigh-perfect. I also love Modern Warfare 2 & 3. The original Infinity Ward guys are world class designers, technically and artistically - MW2 still is the most polished FPS ever made.
Basically, I love well-made games where a love for design is mixed with technical mastery. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a perfect example - it has immaculate art and great design. The Last Remnant for PC is a monumentally under-rated modern JRPG that combines fantastic gameplay with world-class artistic design. Metro 2033's atmosphere blew me away.
Q: How long has it taken you to get SMIM to where it is now?
A: I worked many, many hours since about mid-December 2011, devoting nearly all my free time to SMIM. I'm sure I could have completed the game several times already if I wasn't modding.
Q: Are you working on any other mods at the moment that you can tell us more about? Or do you have any new features planned for SMIM?
A: SMIM is the only major mod I'm working on. I helped a bit on Better Dynamic Snow, too, but hit engine limitations. SMIM has a never-ending to-do list. If I could work full time on SMIM, I'd have everything improved in no time at all, but since I just work here and there, SMIM will keep me busy for a long time to come. Maybe in 3 to 6 months I'll get SMIM to a state where I feel it covers all the really important stuff. Then I play the game in full, I hope.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring mod authors out there?
A: Study. Use Google to find tutorials. Read books. Modding is tough, especially since you not only have to learn the base skills like art design or programming but you have to figure out all the game-specific quirks. Don't ask for help until you have Googled your problem for at least 5 minutes (which I find to be good advice for every life endeavor).
Q: And finally, do you have anything else you'd like to say to our readers?
A: I never thought I'd have a popular mod. SMIM started as a personal project, but I decided to share it just in case someone else cared. I really appreciate everyone who has supported SMIM. It is great to know I'm not the only one out there who wants consistent quality. And a big thank you to all the Nexus staff for creating such a tremendous site. Between the Nexus, the modders, and the users, we'll keep improving Skyrim for years to come. Lastly, thanks for reading my first interview ever!