BigBizkit: Thank you, Arthmoor, for agreeing to give us an interview. Most people must be familiar with your work on the essential unofficial patches as well as your Alternate Start - Live Another Life mod, however, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Arthmoor: I'm a 47 year old American who has been gaming for probably close to 30 years. I got into modding pretty early on in that, but didn't really get heavy into it until Oblivion came along.
You have been an active member of the community for over a decade now: do you still recall how it all got started and what made you want to stick around?
My first taste of modding, as we all know, was with Morrowind. It definitely caught my eye, but in the end I only put out a couple of things that border on being cheat mods. Still, they were fun little mods and I learned quite a bit about the basics despite how simple they were. Then I got together with some friends, conceived of a huge project to replicate our old MUD, and then we all realized we were insane and abandoned that idea
With the unofficial patches you have done work that pretty much everyone should have in their plugin list. What drove you to take on the task of fixing countless bugs - big or small - in the main Bethesda titles?
It was actually a bit of an accident, I think. Somewhere along the way after Kivan (co-author of the Unofficial Oblivion Patch) decided the UOP was more or less done, a major bug cropped up in Oblivion. Having worked with him before, I sort of just decided to fix it with a little supplemental patch, along with a couple of other minor things. It took on a life of its own and grew from there. Kivan showed up for one last big push in 2011 just before Skyrim and it was during the initial stages in 2012 when I took over full time.
I guess now the drive is that I don't like bugs. My team doesn't like bugs. They're not gonna fix themselves, so why not do it? Here we are, 6 years later, still at it.
? ??If you had to quantify it, how much time do you think have you spent on the unofficial patches?
Oh wow. I haven't ever really thought about it but I'd say a bare minimum of several hundred hours just for Skyrim alone. Probably somewhere in the low 4 digit figures if you count Oblivion, Skyrim, and Fallout 4 combined.
Can you tell us a bit about the team behind the unofficial patches: how did the team form and how do you guys keep organised? Can anyone join the team and start squashing those pesky bugs?
I honestly can't recall exactly how the current team formed up and became what it is now. It happened some time before Skyrim, I know that much. There was no formal process, it just kind of happened. Before us, Kivan had his own loosely associated team of contributors for Oblivion. Several of the ones on the team now came over from there.
As for how we keep organized, we have a bug tracking system where everything we're set to work on is kept for reference. Over the years we've gone through several different packages for that, and ended up dissatisfied with them all at some point. So eventually I wrote one for us. It's not the prettiest system or the most functional, but if we need something for it now, I can just write it.
It's even available for others as an open source package: https://github.com/Arthmoor/AFKTrack
There's no real process for when someone joins the team officially. Anyone in the community is welcome to contribute by providing fixes via the tracker or links to mods they'd like us to consider for inclusion. It's very much a community effort these days and that's the best way to handle it in the future as well.
Another mod you made - which I, personally, would describe as essential - is Alternate Start. What was your inspiration to create such a mod, and what are your criteria when it comes to adding new starting scenarios?
The inspiration for that actually started with the Alternative Beginnings mod I made for Oblivion. I had been wanting something new to start games with and not have to go through the lengthy prison stuff every time.
There were a few other alt-start mods available then, but I had felt that not all of the options were things I liked, and I wanted a lot of other options that were spread out across the several versions that existed. So I set out to write my own to have the mod with the mod options in one package.
When it came time to start doing stuff for Skyrim, that felt like a natural fit. I had already played through on two characters before the Creation Kit came out and I think we all know how long and involved Helgen was. So it was even more of a motivation to write up something to bypass that.
? ??When coming up with a new scenario, the biggest thing I look for is something that will fit in with the game world in some way. For instance, there was some popular demand for starting the game as a member of the city guard in one of the walled cities. This is a good scenario, but in order to make it fit in and flow into the MQ and other things, the guard needs to be ready to move on and become an adventurer, which is how this add-on was written.
It's also helpful if there's a way to construct a voice response for it from Mara since the voice actor who did the work is no longer available to record new lines.
What sort of games do you generally like to play? What genres do you prefer and why?
I tend to mostly play RPGs, but I also enjoy a good 4X strategy game from time to time too.
Right now I'd say my favorite RPG series are the Witcher games since they have a very deep story driven system to run things, and for the most part have vast worlds to explore. Especially Witcher 3 which is a huge open world game.
As far as 4X games, I like something that's got some complexity to it, but not over the top with micromanagement. Something like Galactic Civilizations or the Civilization series. They offer plenty to do, but don't bog you down too much in the details. They're also good time killers to fill in here and there.
?? ??How about your favourite pastimes other than modding and gaming? Is there anything unusual you like to do to unwind?
I like to watch movies, and occasionally just some mindless TV as well. I like slow and simple. Not much for a fast paced existence. When conditions permit I also do a bit of hobbyist stargazing and am hoping the new area I'm in has better light conditions than back home in California.
You have done programming work for Druid Gameworks and Witanlore: Dreamtime. Seeing how most of you guys working on this project have a background in the modding community, what is it, you would say, that you and the others have learned from modding that you could apply to game development?
I think modding will give you a very good handle on level and quest design for almost any game development project. Bigger mods also provide you with some level of project management experience as well as some insights into what programming and core development need.
That said, there's a huge leap to be made when going from modding on a platform that already exists to taking a raw engine and molding it into a whole new game that the studio has created itself.
RohvsM_baMgFor those unfamiliar with one or either: what would you say are the key differences between the Creation Engine behind Bethesda games and Unreal Engine which you used to develop your game?
The Creation Engine is a very specialized tool set that is made with a specific purpose that Bethesda has in mind. So a lot of it is based on what they need, want, or have time for. Plus the grand majority of the game systems are done and you don't have a lot of overhead to worry about.
An engine like Unreal is more like having a ton of raw power at your disposal and you have to come up with the vision and the desire to create something entirely of your own. Epic gives you a wonderful toolset to do that work with, and it's admittedly a much nicer overall system than what Bethesda is offering, but at the same time, you have to come up with everything yourself and get it working through all of the various stages.
? ?Seeing how you are continuing to make mods, is there something you have learned while working on Witanlore that shaped your outlook on modding and gaming?
The main thing I think I've taken away from it all that applies to modding is that you have to keep focused on what you want from the mod rather than simply slapping some stuff together like I did earlier on. Have a plan. Execute on it. Stick to it. I like to think that my more recent work reflects a more focused look at things, and has even benefited the unofficial patches by putting a tighter set of qualifications on what should and should not get done.
Though it might still be a long while until then: when the Elder Scrolls VI comes out, can you see yourself in the trenches of TES VI modding? Where do you think modding in general is headed?
I think I will always be partial to modding TES games and I'm looking forward to TES VI in a big way. I think modding overall is heading in the direction of larger projects, team collaborations, and more professional grade content as folks begin using modding as a springboard into game development jobs. So I expect there will be many such projects announced for TES VI, possibly even before the game is actually out.
OkFdqqyI8y4Is there anything else you would like to say to the modding community? Do you maybe have some advice to those out there who would love to get involved with modding?
Well, the best thing I can suggest is this: figure out something you want to do. Something small to medium sized. Take some time to read over any available tutorials. Bethesda actually has some pretty good ones on their wiki. Start slow and don't be afraid to make mistakes and ask questions of people.
Regardless of what you eventually want from modding, don't bury yourself under something that will take years and require you to learn a ton of things because chances are you'll just burn yourself out before getting anywhere. The big stuff will come in time, and you may just find a niche that isn't what you originally set out to do, but you love doing it anyway.
Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to chat with us, Arthmoor.
You're welcome, and thanks for having me!