Patcher of Dragons - Qwinn

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In this week’s feature, we’re talking to Qwinn, long time Nexus Mods user and creator of mods for Fallout New Vegas, Skyrim Special Edition and Dragon Age: Origins.
 
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We’ll start as we always do, could you tell us about yourself to those who don’t know you?
 
Thanks for having me! My real name is Paul Escalona, almost 50 years old and just married last month to my lovely, wonderful and always-supportive wife Jerri, so I'm a very happy guy. I started programming when I was 11 years old back in 1980, doing my best to squeeze 16k game programs into my TRS-80 Model I's whopping 4k of RAM and even usually succeeding. My day job now is being a Data Analyst working mostly in SQL, so I am actually a professional at this kind of thing. I'm one of those sick and twisted individuals who spends all day at work programming, then coming home and doing it a whole lot more without pay on nights and weekends. My doctor says I should get some exercise, but what does he know?


What games are you playing at the moment?
 
...you mean I could play a game instead of modding? Yes... yes, that sounds familiar. I think I used to do that, a loooong time ago... seriously, it's been a couple of years since I played anything beyond what's required to test my own mods and patches. I would actually like to get a full run of Fallout New Vegas in soon though, as I never actually quite got to the end of it back in the day. The game I'm keenest on playing next after that is Divinity 2 Original Sin. That looks pretty awesome.


Can you remember how you first ended up on Nexus Mods 9 years ago?
 
Fallout 3 mods. I think that was probably the only game I ever used mods beyond just fixpacks for (and the fixpacks I made myself, of course) until I started playing Skyrim Special Edition about 18 months ago.


It’s only recently you started uploading mods, what inspired you to transition from modder to mod author?

Ah, but you have it backwards, sir. I was uploading mods right around the time Nexus came into existence (and before I was aware of it), and I was a mod author long before I ever used anyone else's mods. The first set of mods I ever created was for Planescape Torment back in 2008, hosted on a mod site for Infinity Engine games called Spellhold Studios (which is still there, as are my PS:T mods). The main one, the fixpack, was originally called "Qwinn's Planescape: Torment Ultimate WeiDU Fixpack", and there was also an "Unfinished Business" Restoration pack and a Tweak pack. I had noticed that 8 years after the game's release, there were tons of mods for the Baldur's Gate games, but hardly any for PS:T.  I presume it was because the PS:T engine lacked an in-game console which meant you couldn't see what variables were set to in-game, you had to pretty much deduce their value. Challenge accepted!  My PS:T Fixpack eventually wound up fixing many many hundreds of bugs in that game, and I even eventually got input from Chris Avellone and Colin McComb (designers of the original game) on what the original intent was. 

Around 2015, a game company called Beamdog, founded by modders, which had already re-released Enhanced Editions of all the other Infinity Engine games, bought the rights to my PS:T Fixpack from me and incorporated it into their re-release, Planescape Torment Enhanced Edition. So if you ever played that re-release of the game, you played with my work. I am in the credits for it as "Design Consultant" (image below), which is all kinds of cool, I can at least claim an actual professional credit in the gaming industry. And I got paid just enough to put together this monster machine I'm typing on right now that I've been doing all my modding on ever since. I call it Mjolnir.


One of your most popular mods “Qwinn's Ultimate DAO Fixpack” was recently featured by our friends at PC Gamer. Could you tell us how you went about making such a massive patch for Dragon Age: Origins? 

First, thanks for letting me know about the PC Gamer article, I wasn't aware of it until you told me! And actually, I released versions 1.0 and 2.0 of QUDAOF back around 2010-2011, before Bioware had even finished releasing official patches for the game. It only had about 3% of the number of fixes that v3.0 had (which I released in July 2017), but was still apparently considered one of the larger and more comprehensive fixpacks out there for the game even a couple of years ago. Back then it was hosted on the now-defunct Bioware Social website. 

Around 2011, though, life got busy again and I wound up dropping off the mod scene for a number of years. Then the PS:T thing with Beamdog happened in 2015. Then, January 4, 2017, I was just googling around and found posts on Nexus from October 2016 with people asking where they could find my old version 2.0.  I was so touched that I decided (after a 6-7 year modding hiatus) to pick it up again (and hey, who knows, maybe Bioware would notice someday and lightning would strike twice - Mjolnir needs a Threadripper upgrade!). I played through expecting to find another few dozen bugs. I wound up finding and fixing about 720 more (not all that dissimilar to my PS: T experience, actually). Actually, I found about 2/3 of those, and some really helpful Nexus posters pointed out the rest to me on that very same thread where people were asking about version 2.0 that got 3.0 rolling, and which grew to be a monstrous 122-page thread before it got locked once 3.0 released. I credit them in my Readme, they were exceedingly helpful and kind and kept me going through the 7-month initial development of 3.0.

 
QUASIPC (Qwinn's Unified Automated Self Installing Patch Compendium) is your most well-received creation. It features a massive collection of patches for Skyrim Special Edition mods. How do you keep such a large collection organised and up to date?
 
It isn't easy! There are currently 50 mods that could be updated at any time that I have to check out and make sure the patches don't need updating. Thankfully, most of the time, it's not needed, but even a small percentage of them requiring updates still means quite a bit of work on my part. Incidentally, the reason QUASIPC came to be (I think a mod compendium of this size and involving so many mod combinations is pretty unprecedented, do correct me if I'm wrong on that) was because after having created huge fixpacks for PS:T, and then DA:O, when I came to Skyrim Special Edition I found that it had already been done (USSEP by Arthmoor). 

So the only thing left for me to do in a "fixpack" vein was to fix bugs caused by the interaction of other mods.  In a way I consider QUASIPC to be my "Ultimate Fixpack" for SSE, the main difference being that I fix the modded game rather than the vanilla game.  I will create small mods here and there that actually change things (like my QUARK mod, restoring visible amulets for use with armour mods), but squashing bugs wherever they can be found is always my first love as a programmer, and compatibility patches are close enough to bugfixes (even if not the fault of either mod author) to keep me happy.  What makes this harder to maintain than a standard fixpack, of course, is that unlike a fixpack for a game that's had all the official patches it's ever going to, 50 base mods being updated provides one hell of a moving target.  Still, that's true for everyone who mods, I just share my work so it doesn't have to be done individually by the tens of thousands of folks using the same updated mods.


What tools do you use when modding? 
 
Mod Organizer 2 beats all other mod managers hands down, IMO.  For creating SSE and FNV mods, 90% xEdit, 5% Creation Kit/GECK, 5% everything else including NIF Optimizer, DDS converter, etc. xEdit is a fantastic tool and there isn't much you can't accomplish using just that. For Dragon Age, the Dragon Age Toolset, Audacity and GoldWave for sound work plus a few others.  


Are there any tips and tricks you’d like to share for users looking to create mods like yours?

Just one, and it comes with a bit of interesting background... one of the things I'm most proud of is that I was the first to release and popularize the use of ESPFE plugins for Skyrim Special Edition (they had been used by Fallout 4 modders previously, but not a lot, and not at all for SSE). An ESPFE is my term for "ESL flagged ESPs", and they go a long way toward defeating the very restrictive 255 plugin limit that SSE previously suffered from.

I first released them in my mod "Qwinn's Magic Featherweight Patches", one of the two precursor mods to QUASIPC, 9 months ago in May 2018. Hardly anyone was aware of them then. I considered releasing them risky because even though they worked great in my own extensive testing, only one mod manager supported them then (MO2), and you never know what will happen when thousands of other people start using something like that on every operating system, mod setup, etc. Also, some other big name modders were resistant to the idea, but I saw the huge potential and felt it was worth the risk to my reputation to make people aware of them and to encourage testing them on a widespread basis (with all due warnings of the risks to my users, of course). The risk paid off - they worked great for everyone, and pretty much everyone's using them now. So, yeah, very proud of that. There, that's the background. 

Now here's my tip for modders:  Not all ESP's containing new records can be converted to ESPFE's easily. If any of the new records in your plugin has a formID numbered greater than xx000FFF, you need to run a process called "Compacting FormIDs" on the plugin first. You can't compact a plugin's formIDs and then update that plugin in an ongoing save game without breaking it horribly. So, if you are going to release a new mod that contains at least 1 but less than 2048 new records (overrides don't count), and you want your mod to have the WONDERFUL virtue of not using up a full plugin slot, make sure you compact those formIDs *BEFORE* you do your initial release. After that initial release, you won't be able to do it without breaking your mod in the save games of everyone who downloaded your mod previously. Initial mod release to the public = point of no return. There is really no other circumstance where compacting formIDs is worth doing, and that applies to both mod users and mod creators. That is all.

 
Which modders do you admire in the community?

Quite a few. ElminsterAU (creator of xEdit) does amazing work, as do the entire MO2 team. I trust their development versions more than I do most authors' full releases. Modders who can actually decompile game engines and work them in Assembler impress the hell out of me (such as a gent named Scient that contributed some engine fixes to my PS:T Fixpack long ago, and Nuukem and aers who do the same with the SSE Engine Fixes and SSE Creation Kit Fixes mods.). RoyBatterian has done it for the GECK too and is pretty much the ModGod of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, period. Dracomies deserves the title Slayer of the Uncanny Valley for making thousands of NPCs look less creepy and weird in practically every game I want to play. And Arthmoor, of course, as one of the few (if not only) modders I am aware of who have ever created a larger Fixpack than the two I made, and I appreciate his devotion to keeping it as tweak-free as I do my own fixpacks. There are quite a few others I respect, but those are the big ones.
 

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Nexus Mods community?
 
Thank you! The reception to my mods has been pretty uniformly positive, and lots of people have gone out of their way to give very kind thanks, and those and the stray donation here and there make it all worthwhile (not so much the money, I get maybe one small donation per 2000 unique downloads, it doesn't amount to much, but the voluntary expression of gratitude and appreciation they demonstrate is priceless). Oh, and let me thank Nexus Mods for the new Donation Point system. It doesn't (and can't) amount to much as far as compensation compared to time put in either, but it does show respect by a content host towards the content creators, and that is rare in this crazy online world and more appreciated than you know.


A big thank you to Qwinn for answering our questions. As always, if there's an author or mod project you'd like to know more about, send your suggestions to BigBizkit or Pickysaurus

16 comments

  1. Qwinn
    Qwinn
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    Thanks for the kind words all, and to Pickysaurus and Nexus for the soapbox.

    Just FYI, in celebration of the PC Gamer article, I'm hard at work on version 3.5 of my DA:O Fixpack. Already got another 30 fixes done for it (including a couple of pretty awesome dialogue restorations in the Mage Origin, about 40-45 lines of voiced dialogue total there) and at least another 30 fixes to come. You can keep up with the progress on it on the thread in the mod's Forums tab.
    1. LordRavenclaw
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      Oh Maker. I'll have to reinstall DAO just to experience this! I've been using your fixpack as part of my essential DAO setup for years now.
    2. Qwinn
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      Version 3.5 of the Qwinn's Ultimate Dragon Age: Origins Fixpack has been released :) I hope you'll all enjoy.

      Now back to QUASIPC...
  2. Arkane348
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    That explains why your patches are so well done. I switched back to MO2 because of your espfe's. Being 50 sucks, try to listen to your doctor(s).
    1. Ehrann
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      Just hit 57 myself and outlived my Rheumatologist by 8 years, muahahaha!
  3. Supertron
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    Thanks a ton Qwinn. I rerun your mod pack for SE every time I do changes lol
  4. Thandal
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    @Qwinn; It'll be a tough call for me this weekend... Start another DAO run with v3.5, or play Anthem straight through from Launch on Friday! 
  5. LeonidasNerevar
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    Very nice of Nexus to showcase all these modders. It's what makes this the best community.
  6. Thandal
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    In response to post #67553571.
    Spoiler:  
    Show

    Oh Maker. I'll have to reinstall DAO just to experience this! I've been using your fixpack as part of my essential DAO setup for years now.


     
    I also have had Qwinn's FixPack in my set of "essential mods" ever since I discovered it almost 10 years ago.  Looking forward to another run with QUDAOFP v3.5 when it's released.  (Don't have to reinstall DAO though, because I replay it about twice-a-year anyway!    )
  7. ViktoriaLanders
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    Qwinn is one of the best mod authors out there, I am proud to have worked as a tester of his fixpack.
  8. BinakAlgo
    BinakAlgo
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    Now we really have a true heavyweight of modding!

    Thanks a lot for your work! It's impressive!
  9. requested
    requested
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    This is the first Nexus interview I bothered to read, to be honest. And only because I value the quality of your fixes, Qwinn.
    This was quite an interesting read, thanks to all people involved for these insights :)
  10. Alehazar
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    An enjoyable read indeed.
    The drive and dedication you both possess and display -and share- can only serve as an inspiration for others to give modding a try.

    To me this is -at its core- what makes the Nexus sites great; a vast repository and exchange of knowledge and resources, made possible and accessible by those who run and maintain the site -and by everyone willing to contribute in whatever way they are able to.
  11. RoyBatterian
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    Thank you for the kind words Qwinn, much respect from me as well. Enjoyable read and looking forward to your continued work.
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