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The Sunday discussion - Cavou - Author of the Texture Improvement Project for Dark Souls II

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This week we move to the critically acclaimed Dark Souls series and chat to a young modder who goes by the name Cavou. Fed up with the tiling of the textures in the vanilla game, he set out to replace each offending texture to give a more immersive experience.


Hey Cavou, thanks for chatting to me today, it’s most appreciated. Jumping straight in, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?


I’m currently 21 years old, though I was 19 at the time of making The Texture Improvement Project. I got into modding when I got my first decent PC back when I was 12. I’ve lived in British Columbia, Canada my whole life. My biggest passions in life are video games, art, creativity and imagination. I have a younger brother who is two and a half years younger than me and is an avid gamer as well, although he doesn’t do nearly as much modding as I do.



Do you have any hobbies outside of the gaming world?


I enjoy writing, I’ve even been working on a novel for the last few years on and off. I’m working on a different creative project entirely at the moment though - it’s in RPG Maker and has been my main focus for the last few years. Other than that, I like reading and going on walks and occasionally watching movies, but video games are by far my biggest hobby.


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


I first got into gaming because of my father, who bought a Nintendo 64 game console when I was less than a year old. He told me that I would watch him play games like Banjo-Kazooie, until around the age of 3, when I was finally able to play with his assistance.


I got into the ‘Legend of Zelda’ series after I played ‘Ocarina of Time’ round my cousins house. He had been playing for a bit with me watching before handing me the controller while he was in the ‘Temple of Time’, I ended up wandering into ‘Destroyed Castle Town’ only to get so scared by the ReDeads there (when one attacked me) that I jumped off the couch and turned off the console. My cousin thought that it was so funny that he lent me the game, which he has let me keep to this day.


I played various other games on my Nintendo 64 such as the Star Wars games - Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron. My parents later got me a Gamecube and DS, and many years later a PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and 3DS.


My brother and I earned and saved enough money to get a WiiU, PS4 and more recently an Xbox One. While I grew up loving Nintendo and still consider many of their old games to be masterpieces, I have recently been very disappointed in their games and their treatment of series such as Zelda and Metroid (among others). I have stuck with PC gaming for many years now as my primary gaming platform.


If you had to try and choose a favourite game from throughout your gaming history, which does seem pretty vast, what would it be and why?


My favourite game would probably be “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask”. I played it when I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old and it was the first game I played without any assistance from my father, and with him only seldom watching. I was terrified by the dark, surreal atmosphere of the game and I played it over the course of years, slowly unravelling its mysteries and learning how to play all on my own, it was quite a journey.


I had a young fascination with fear and the emotions it could evoke, I loved anything with a “spooky” atmosphere and at the time it was limited to tame Halloween episodes of kids TV shows. But, I remember vividly how I felt the first time in Majora’s Mask when the moon crashed into the world, that pure sense of dread as I watched the world get obliterated by the giant falling moon. After having been familiar with the mostly lighthearted world of Banjo-Kazooie, Majora’s Mask was a morbidly fascinating change of tone that helped me mature as a person from a very young age, it no doubt inspired my love of Dark Souls over a decade later.



So if you had a love for Nintendo, you must have seen the release trailer for the Nintendo Switch, how do you feel about a console that attempts to be everything from a handheld to a fully fledged system? Is it enough to tempt you back to Nintendo?


From my perspective, it looks like Nintendo is going to repeat all the mistakes of the Wii U with the Switch. The portable nature will hold back its potential performance as a current-gen console, and from all indications, the games will be very lacking, especially at launch. This is not helped by their needless hush-hush attitude on the Switch as if they see it as some amazing secret that will change the world, this will only amplify the problem people had with the WiiU of not understanding the function and intent of the console.


The only confirmed launch titles for the switch are a Mario game and a port of Splatoon from the WiiU with arbitrary console-exclusive content that will result in a split in the player population. Reportedly “Zelda: Breath of the Wild” will not come out at launch, and there are no other known games coming to it.


3rd party support doesn’t mean a lot to me as I own every other console that is currently on the market and a powerful enough PC to run any game at nearly maximum settings at 60fps and above; in comparison, reportedly “Breath of the Wild” struggles to maintain 30fps on Wii U, and Nintendo stated there will be no difference between the WiiU and Switch versions - which doesn’t bode well as the Switch probably won’t be much more powerful than the WiiU, if at all, due to its portable nature.


And besides, due to “Breath of the Wild’s” overly-large world with a focus on system-based gameplay, attacking enemy outposts and its unstructured sandbox gameplay instead of narrative, it is more like Far Cry than what I valued so much about Zelda in Majora’s Mask or Ocarina of Time, and interests me far less as a result.


As for Mario, while I loved Mario games growing up, especially Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario 64 DS, the Mario and Luigi RPGs on the GBA and DS (especially Superstar Saga and Partners in Time), Paper Mario 64, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and to a lesser extent Super Mario Galaxy, I haven’t had much interest or enjoyment in modern Mario games. I played and finished New Super Mario 3D Land and Paper Mario Sticker Star back in high school, I have played a bit of the New Super Mario Bros. U on the Wii U, and I also played a bit of Mario and Luigi Dream Team, only to find myself not liking really anything about any of those games.


Mario platformers play it incredibly safe and come across as very sterile products without any real personality or creative spark. They're just platforms over bottomless pits with the same cycle of generic environments that try to be creative by changing small details to fit a very loose theme that doesn’t affect gameplay, and even playing New Super Mario Bros. U in co-op with my brother in multiple sessions to give the game a fair chance wasn’t enough for me to really enjoy it, and my brother agreed with my sentiment about the game. I really don’t expect Mario Switch to be any better in this regard.


So, unless I hear truly good things about Nintendo’s games for the Switch, I likely won’t have any interest in playing what games they release. I do not want this to be the case, I want to find reasons to like Nintendo, but I simply cannot at this point. I also do not appreciate Nintendo’s heavy-handed approach to taking down Youtube videos with Nintendo footage or taking down fan projects, which simply compounds my issues with them. I hope something with them will change for the better, perhaps all the negative feedback snapping them out of their complacent stupor, but I won’t hold my breath.



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


I first got into modding when I was around 12 or 13 after playing Half-Life 2 and Garry’s Mod for the first time. I loved the feeling of freedom and the seemingly endless possibilities that it gave you. I had always wondered if it was possible to add new things to the game since I never wanted any of my favourite games to end. I like to think that I’m a creative person and I always want to express myself, so I learnt how to install mods for Garry’s Mod - which I have to say resulted in various degrees of frustration whenever something conflicted, had missing textures or crashed my game. Crashes and conflicts were a lot more common and installations were very easy to mess up, especially for an inexperienced 13-year-old.


I have so much gratitude for the existence of Nexus Mods and Nexus Mod Manager since it not only makes it more convenient for me and prevents me suffering those frustrations and easily-avoidable user errors, but also makes modding so much more accessible for a new generation of modders.


I also got involved with a few mods for Half-Life 2 such as a horror mod “Black Flames” as a writer, and more recently a mod for Portal 2 “Combined Technologies” as a voice actor. Sadly, neither project saw completion, but such is the nature of modding and game development.


So how did you actually gain the skills necessary to create mods?


I mostly relied on the advice of other modders and Youtube tutorials while learning what I needed to do to make mods. I also had a friend who was familiar with Paint.net to give me some pointers.


You’re known for your Dark Souls II texture mod - Texture Improvement Project which gives the game enhanced textures, how come you chose the Dark Souls series to mod?


I immediately fell in love with the Dark Souls series. A high school friend recommended Dark Souls 1 to me and told me to install DSFix, which led me to discover the small but tight-knit Dark Souls modding community.


A lot of other series such as Skyrim or Fallout have incredible modding communities - which I had plenty of experience with, I spent 733 hours in Fallout New Vegas, 170 hours in Fallout 3, and 448 hours in Skyrim - but the Dark Souls modding community looked like it could use some more contributors compared to the large amount of attention given to Bethesda RPG modding.


When Dark Souls 2 came out I got hooked instantly and played it from day one on PC all through the DLC releases, so I was familiar enough to feel comfortable modding it. I ended up spending a total of 542 hours in Dark Souls 2, nearly 300 in Dark Souls 1, and many more hours in Demons’ Souls, Scholar of the First Sin, Bloodborne, and most recently Dark Souls 3. I think that is good enough evidence of how much the series means to me.



You’re only 21 and created the Texture Improvement Project a few years ago, do you think modding is a good way for young people to get into game development?


Yes, modding is a great way to get familiar with game development and learn how to dissect games, it helps you find out how they work internally with a first-hand experience.


I am currently also working on an RPG Maker game which I will hopefully release on Steam, which I have been gradually working on since I was around 16 years old.


When you created your mod, where did you gather your textures from?


I modified the textures I extracted using GeDoSaTo by Durante, then modified them to eliminate the obvious tiling effect of the vanilla textures using Paint.net. As a result, I had to remove a lot of the high-contrast lines on them and other distinctive marks by “smudging” and blurring them. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it is all I could do given how the textures had been poorly applied to the environmental geometry within the game.


Durante is very well known for his DSfix, it also assists with things like texture modding and resolution. Did you chat with Durante at all during the creation period of the Texture Enhancement Project?


No, actually. I figured he’s probably a very busy guy, and I never found it necessary to ask him for help as I never really struggled with any aspect of my mod. To be honest, I never really needed any technical help after I received those few initial pointers from a friend of mine about the basics of using Paint.net, but a few different users of my mod did help me with certain parts of the project.


It must have required a lot of planning to ensure that each texture is accounted for, how did you manage it?


I kept a journal of each and every texture I found while playing that needed fixing, even in the DLC.
The basic way I would work is play the game until I spot a texture that needed modifying, then exit the game near the texture’s location, open GeDoSaTo and then go back in the game so the loaded textures would be extracted.


Then I just needed to fish out the textures with the tiling issue out of the folder of extracted textures (this could be quite a few if the texture was in a large area), modify it and install it in the folder for replaced textures. I would tweak it over and over by entering and exiting the game and making small incremental changes each time until I was more or less satisfied with what I had done.


What would you say your go to suite of software is?


GeDoSaTo and Paint.net were the only two programs I had to use, and both did a great job at allowing me to do what I wanted to do.


Are there any Mod Authors that you look up to or who inspire you?


EvilDeadAsh34 was a very devoted Dark Souls 2 modder who created plenty of mods, he stuck with the game until its community dissipated with the release of “Scholar of the First Sin”, this was tragically unmoddable and as a result the mods for Dark Souls 2 became irrelevant.


Other modders for other games such as Puce Moose inspired me with his incredible quest mod for Fallout New Vegas, that mod has stuck with me in my memory to this day.



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


I find criticism very helpful, and I never mind helping people who have problems as long as they are mature about it - I like constructive criticism. Occasionally someone would have a crash which I’d be unable to replicate that they’d attribute to my mod, I would check them out, but they were never large-scale complaints and usually panned out to be down to something else. I’d also occasionally get comments saying that the original textures are better, which never bothered me since I only really made my mod for people like myself who were bothered by the repeating textures.


After completing my mod, I even did a request from a mod user who wanted me to make icons match armour and weapons reskins in other mods, which I have happily helped with.


I’m guessing that there aren't any real compatibility issues when you create textures?


Mod compatibility isn’t really a problem with Dark Souls texture modding, since any texture replaced would just be overwritten if another mod tried to change the same thing, which I never saw happen even after using almost every mod available for Dark Souls 2.


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


The best advice I could give is to simply focus on something you feel passionately about, don’t rush yourself, but keep yourself motivated. Set your expectations low and don’t start with something too elaborate. A texture mod is a great place to start out because of how simple but effective it can be!


Thank you for your time today Cavou, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

15 comments

  1. momuse88
    momuse88
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    Just a tiny bit of criticism for the interview: The whole Nintendo tangent seemed a little heavy-handed, but I wasn't sure if it was the intent of the reviewer to go down that road or not. I like these Sunday Spots a lot because I like learning about the modders and what drives work in their little corner but I give zero shits for what they think is the correct way to run a F500 company who already make millions each year.

    Speaking generally, I get that we're all fans of games and have something to say about them, but I don't think the focus of these interviews should be to get a hobbyist's two cents on current events in the industry unless they have something in their background that would give them a unique perspective on it.
    1. Cavou
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      Thank you for your input; I'm sorry you feel the way you do. To perhaps offer some more perspective on my choice to go into detail on that subject, it related to my choice to get into gaming from a young age to the point of being willing to mod and support games I love, and my love for action adventure games in particular being inspired by my love for Nintendo games of the 90s and early-mid 2000s, Zelda and Metroid in particular.

      I wasn't meaning to try to tell Nintendo how to run their company since I understand that what I personally like isn't what will be the most profitable, but rather I just wanted to use Nintendo as a sort of framing device to give context to what I personally value in video games and how Dark Souls embodied a sort of continuation of what I loved so much in Nintendo games as a kid, and could inspire the kind of wonder, exploration and fear that stuck with me so much, and that it's one of the only games that has been released in the past 9 years or so that made me feel that way due to Nintendo's different focus.

      My mod didn't take as much in the way of technical skill as it did commitment and determination. I could have mentioned how I have attended Digipen courses, but the skills I learnt there wasn't as relevant, and I had never created any mods before even if I have previously modded games such as Garry's Mod, Half-Life, Fallout and Skyrim. As such, I wanted to explain how I was inspired by my appreciation of what I see as a fading, or perhaps changing, genre evident in a game that blends many types of game together, such as hardcore classic RPGs, Metroidvania, and action-adventure games. As such, I think that stating my reason for not sticking with the company that made my childhood and instead heading over to Dark Souls in pursuit of a Nintendo-esque experience was relevant. Wanting to help make a niche game that represents something I value as good as I could make it by addressing flaws with it that I also saw as flaws and were able to fix with the tools available was most certainly motivated by what I talked about, though I could have worded it better in retrospect.

      I know disagreeing with Nintendo may be an unpopular opinion, but I wanted to be honest and not be afraid to offer another angle on the Nintendo Switch hype train that is so prevalent, though I didn't intend to come across as overly negative or a nay-sayer. Regardless of anything I said that may have upset you, I do honestly hope that the Nintendo switch is successful with games that I can enjoy, and I hold no ill-will towards Nintendo.

      Also, I do not mean to come across as overly defensive of myself, but rather I thought your point had relevance and I wanted to clarify something I felt I didn't adequately cover.
    2. momuse88
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      It's all good, home slice. I didn't have any negative perception of you and I don't care if people criticize Nintendo (I haven't played their games since the N64). It was more a light journalist criticism for the interviewer. The ideal situation (and I stress IMO) is to ask questions that the interviewee would be able to provide a unique perspective on because of their hobby/occupation, i.e. grabbing Tom Hanks and then asking him what he thinks about Star Wars is NOT a good question nor a good use of anyone's time.

      Feedback is just feedback and I'll continue to read these Sunday Spots either way. Cheers!
    3. Cavou
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      Fair enough, and thanks for replying to my response. Cheers to you too!
    4. rau3
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      heheh
  2. Psychophobe
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    Good interview.
    Although, I wanted to know what's Cavou's favourite food?

    There seem to be a relatively high number of high[er] profile modders and game designers from British Columbia, I think that area is a generator of computer game creativity. Which is awesome

  3. fredlaus
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  4. Jokerine
    Jokerine
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    It's always good to see modders of the more obscure games get the recognition they deserve
    1. Cavou
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      Thank you!
    2. pesadelo
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      Indeed i enjoyed this interview very much and i dont even play DS
    3. KunoMochi
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      I agree, it's nice to see non-Bethesda game modders being spotlighted on here. It helps exposes other games and their modding communities to those unfamiliar with them.
  5. Apprentice Harper
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    Please help... for the last few months I can not go to the forum here. I always see a page that says I do not have permission.


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    If I try to go to the contact link I go to the same page. The help link the same page.... I can go into the profile here in the mods section and check moderation for warnings and I have no warnings. Several members have tried to message me but I can not reply. What did I do wrong? I see my premium status is still active so I would guess I am not banned? I have cleared my browser content and cookies and tried other browsers no help. I can not contact moereators so I am posting here. Please help.
  6. urielz
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    Great to see non-skyrim content being included in this series.
  7. wilburense
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    Now i can´t wait to grab DS2 ^^
  8. JRes
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    My f***in bae got front page!!!