The Sunday discussion - Chesko

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Hello and welcome to what is going to become a regular feature here on Nexus Mods; the Sunday Discussion. Over the coming weeks we hope to bring you many interviews with all manner of individuals. Ranging from people such as Jokerine, Elianora, Caliente (and a whole lot more), to special guests, developers and even some of the staff members. Join us on Twitter and Facebook if you want to be notified when they are released.

We’re going to start this feature off with a real treat. Chesko! He is a very well regarded mod author whose submitted work includes the hugely successful Frostfall. Chesko has been on the site since 2006 (which means he was in the first 200,000 to sign up to Nexus Mods) and is still very active within the community. Highly regarded and incredibly skilled, he has a cracking portfolio which I implore you all to go and check out.

Before we get into the modding side of things, would you mind telling us all a little bit about your gaming history?

I’ve been playing games my whole life! I grew up with the Commodore 64, NES, and SNES.

If you had to try and choose a favorite game, or at least the one you have the fondest memories of, what would it be and why?

Super Metroid. The atmosphere, the music, the discovery, the gameplay are all just incredible. The world is so cohesive and almost everything has a reason for existing. It was expansive without being too big, challenging without being too hard, mysterious without being opaque.

A very close second is Morrowind. I have very vivid memories of the first times I visited Balmora and Ald’ruhn. It was some of the most transportive experiences I’ve had in games.

What first attracted you to begin modding? Did you have any previous experience?

I used to be a DM for a few D&D groups throughout the years, and that creative outlet was something I was missing. When you get out of college [and] start working, making commitments to meet with friends regularly like that gets a lot harder. Being able to kind of act as a very remote DM, with my text messages in the corner of your screen telling you “You’re feeling very cold…”, that’s a lot of fun for me. It’s like I get to DM for tons of people at once.

I didn’t have any previous relevant experience. My first mod was “I think it would be cool if, in Morrowind, you always started the game at night, in a thunderstorm.” So I found where the game sets the game’s time and weather during the opening quest and changed the script and presto, I had what I wanted. That opened me up to the possibilities. Like, “Oh, if I can do that, then I can do this, and this, and this...” Thus began my fall down the rabbit hole.

In order to further your modding skills you must have to take the time out to learn, adapt and evolve, what would you say is the best resource to do this?

For me the best resources have been: the base game itself, followed by other people’s mods, followed by the Creation Kit wiki. I’ve never been much for learning from videos but I know that’s some people’s preferred method. Really I’m just a tinkerer. I play with things and experiment until I get things working the way I want.



Do you have anyone that you can turn to if you ever get stuck with a certain aspect of a mod?

I posted a lot in the Bethesda mod author forums quite a bit in my earlier modding days. Now, I usually don’t ever get that stuck. But if I did, I know I could ask the forums, or the /r/skyrimmods subreddit, or contact one of the other authors I’ve made friends with, and hopefully work things out.

Do you check out the other mod authors to either compare or learn from?

I’m very competitive. So, I do look at what’s out there and what they’ve done, especially when I’m about to create something in the same “space” as someone else. I’m usually never the first to release something in a category, but I’m known for executing really well. I look at what they’ve done, what they could have done better. What their users are asking for but they’re not delivering on. How I might offer my own unique spin on things. And sometimes I come across a mod and it blows me away; like, “How the heck did he do that?!?” Familiar Faces is the most recent example of that for me. So I eagerly take those mods apart just to see how they pulled some things off. That’s always fun.

Are there any mod authors that you look up to or who inspire you?

Absolutely. They’re the usual suspects. Arthmoor; Shlangster and Mardoxx; FadingSignal; Kryptopyr; Nikinoodles; Isoku; Expired.

Do you work in a team of modders? If so, how do you divide the work and how do you communicate with one another?

Nope; it’s just me. Sometimes I might need to request help from someone, like recently I really needed some help making some great new backpacks for Campfire, which FadingSignal was able to do an amazing job on. But usually when I request things like that it’s asynchronous to my other work, I try not to get blocked waiting on something.



You created Frostfall which has been downloaded over 2 million times and played by over 800,000 people, do those numbers ever really sink in?

It’s large enough that my brain can’t wrap around it. I’m humbled that I’ve (hopefully) improved the game experiences of so many. I was excited when Frostfall hit the Hot Files section and when it won File of the Month. Really though, the things I find the most rewarding are hearing people’s personal experiences with the mod, and how it’s created these completely new, organic moments they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And it’s like, “Awesome; I helped make that happen!”

Did you expect the mod to become as popular as it did?

No. Not at all. The whole thing was very surreal and it continues to be surreal. When I release something, it’s downloaded over a thousand times in a day. That’s over a thousand actual people. I try to sometimes imagine a room full of over a thousand people all playing with something I made and it just boggles my mind. Then that thought starts to terrify me so I try to tune it out and just focus on making something cool.

It must require a lot of planning in order to produce a mod of that caliber, did you have everything written out in advance? How did you work out the stats that you were going to use?

Frostfall has been very evolutionary and is a reflection of myself at different times over the last 5 years. The initial version had a simple goal and a very small scope; give the player hypothermia, make their equipment count for something, and give them camping equipment to combat it. I balanced it using a lot of spreadsheets so that I could see the entire system at the same time; things like “if I change the ambient temperature of this zone, how does that affect the player’s survivability?” Or, “What if their maximum exposure protection were increased by 10 points?” You can make one change and it has a cascading effect throughout the system. So, I use spreadsheets to see those changes to make sure things looked right “on paper” before I implement it. Really though, I find that it’s better to get things into people’s hands and listen to their feedback than it is to do a lot of up-front planning. You get something small working, you test it, you release it, and then you adjust it based on what people say they like or don’t like.

With the release of Skyrim Special Edition you have begun to convert your mods for use with the updated architecture, how are you finding the process and what do you think of the re-release?

The re-release has gone fairly smooth. The process of decoupling Frostfall and Campfire from SKSE started months ago, so that put me ahead of the curve when things were getting close to release. There’s been a lot of renewed excitement in Skyrim and mods, and that’s been reinvigorating. We’re still in a period of time dilation in terms of people’s expectations. It’s only been a week, but people are already very hungry for releases and bug fixes.

Do you keep track of recently released mods? Do you ever look at them and think they would be a good fit towards your mods?

I try to keep my ear to the ground. The Sleeping Bags mod came out recently, which was really cool, and that immediately started a dialogue between the author and I about how we could better fit things together. Thankfully they had already done a lot of the legwork themselves using the open APIs I publish for Campfire and Frostfall.

Are you able to complete everything yourself or do you ever have to pass things off to other people?

There are certain things I’ve had to have help with; mostly art (meshes, textures, etc). With things like Arissa, that required voice talent. Recently with Simply Knock I had to ask for a lot of help from Expired as that was my first SKSE mod, I couldn’t have done that without his help. Everything else (scripting / quests / anything in the Creation Kit), I try to do myself. It’s always funny when someone makes a comment to the tune of “Thanks for all the work the Frostfall team does!” In that particular case, there is no team… it’s just me! I always take that as a complement.



How do you take criticism from users? Do you find it useful or frustrating?

I have some of the best users on the Nexus. My mods wouldn’t be what they are now without their help. I greatly appreciate feedback as long as it’s actionable and helps me make a better mod. I try to stay in touch with my users as much as I can.

Like Frostfall, your work tends to be quite elaborate, utilizing many aspects of the engine to add new layers of gameplay and immersion. Last Seed and Art of the Catch are shaping up to be more examples of this, adding new art, animation, sounds, and gameplay to Skyrim. What can we expect from these highly-anticipated mods?

Well, I try not to set expectations too high, but my general attitude is “How would Bethesda do it?” Like, if they put real engineering effort behind a fishing system, what would it look like? And so I try to picture that and keep that vision in mind when I’m building these kinds of things. I often don’t have a comprehensive list of features, but I do know how I want you to feel. For Last Seed, I want you to feel clever as you try to keep yourself healthy even under the stress of being a hero. For Art of the Catch, I want you to feel like you’re playing a Zelda mini-game. So, now I need to figure out what features contribute to those feelings.

Do you worry about mod compatibility when you develop?

Absolutely. I try to step on as few other mods as possible when designing my mods. Like some other authors, I have a compatibility system that I use in most of my mods that does checks when you start the game and adjusts my mod accordingly.

That said, it’s a balance; if you try to be compatible with everything, you can sometimes lose sight of what you were trying to accomplish in the first place. I try to be as compatible as possible without losing sight of my original vision.

Recently I’ve started to care a lot more about providing interfaces (APIs, injected records) into my mods that other authors can leverage in order to create compatibility for their own mods and mine, without me having to be involved. That’s been very successful so far and there are several very creative things that have come out of that, like the Dig Site tents.

If you could offer any advice to our users who want to get into modding what would it be?

START SMALL. Your initial impulse might be to build a huge quest overhaul, or a brand new land mass, or something equally daunting. Once you get started, you might become very discouraged when you discover how difficult these things are to build and then just give up entirely. So find a very small part of what you want to do, do it well, and then expand from there and build on it. Try to learn as much as you can. Everything you create teaches you something. You don’t have to save the entire free world at once; make a small contribution to the community and let that motivate you to bigger things.

Thanks ever so much for talking to us today.

No problem at all. Thank you for having me here.

137 comments

  1. WightMage
    WightMage
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    Chesko is Love, Chesko is Life! ^^
  2. atticus1989
    atticus1989
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    Just came here to say, CHESKO YOUR MODS ARE AWESOME PLEASE DONT STOP!
  3. Zambad
    Zambad
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    What a lovely read! These interviews are a great idea
  4. dimension
    dimension
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    "Well, I try not to set expectations too high, but my general attitude is “How would Bethesda do it?” "

    i see, so the key is half assing it and waiting for the modders to fix it.
    1. coolaid4852
      coolaid4852
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      LOL!
      He's very humble, yes?
  5. Lisselli
    Lisselli
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    When did modding become all about endorsements and popularity?
    1. OrcLivesMatter
      OrcLivesMatter
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      I'm afraid it always was like this.
    2. PoisonBLX
      PoisonBLX
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      When the first person modified a game someone else created, and wanted recognition for their efforts, I suspect. If I were to put a date on it, I'd say... oh, well. We were hunter/gatherers then, and not the best at record keeping, so I can't really put a clear date, actually.
  6. PrenticeNexus
    PrenticeNexus
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    Skyrim would never be the same level of fun experience without your mods! Thank you for making polished and detailed work to improve the gaming experience of many people!
  7. Zylice
    Zylice
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    Interesting interview with a phenomenal mod author! Thanks Chesko for your time and efforts!!

    And of course, thank you Nexus Team for giving us the opportunity to learn about our favourite mod author's histories in both gaming and modding! B)
  8. RumBakats
    RumBakats
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    I'm reading so many childish comments about paid mods fiasco etc. I have the solution, and it's simpler than you all think. Sites like Nexus, ModDB etc. are there thanks to MODDERS and the users who visit and download from them. Every Modder has is own page for his mods, and there are ADS in every page. So a little percentage (like 30%) of every click in the "mod X" page SHOULD GO TO THE MODDER. I know it's tricky scripting something like that but modding is some kind of work and takes time and efforts, deserving to be paid in some way. Maybe adding a mandatory ad before the download like some other sites would help. And obviously we users, should disable Adblockers on these sites. And justice for all These are my two cents.
    1. Ethreon
      Ethreon
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      OH EM GEE Man how did nobody thing of this it's so damn easy and super simple!!!one!!!

      I think you could come up with even better ideas, like printing more money and such.
    2. lasse1001
      lasse1001
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      Your idea won't get any better just because you re posting it. However, you are always free to donate to almost all mod authors
    3. SparrowPrince
      SparrowPrince
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      Because ads are that lucrative, Nexus clearly doesn't require any sort of alternative direct donation system. Maybe gofundme should set up this new system for people like Hugh Mungus, so they can benefit even more?
    4. bigo161107
      bigo161107
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      This site gets its money from ads + premium subscribers and its barely standing, having to limit non premium users downloadspeed to what, 1MB per sec? How do you expect the site to run if they pay all the users 30% of their main incomesource? It baffles me how stupid some people are... the nexus isnt youtube, we're a small community.
    5. damanding
      damanding
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      Even assuming the nexus site could afford to give a percentage of their funds to mod authors (which they really can't), it would be against Bethesda's rules anyway. Mod authors aren't allowed to ask for donations or use systems such as the one you suggest to earn income on their work. Even Patreon pages are against the rules unless done very carefully to demonstrate it's for art work you're doing that isn't involved in modding.
  9. Musicante
    Musicante
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    Thanks, really interesting :-)
  10. NIKSEEN
    NIKSEEN
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    Very interesting and great read.