Today I bring you IceCreamAssassin, author of 'Legacy of the Dragonborn'. This quest mod is currently on its 16th major update and will shortly see v17 released. The loyal and devoted fan base ensure that there are always people on hand to answer questions and its mod forum holds the second highest number of posts for a quest mod.
We chat about what's next for IceCreamAssassin, what his gaming history consists of, how he got the quirky handle and what he feels about modding for consoles. Please give him a warm Nexus Mods reception and feel free to comment below.
Hi IceCreamAssassin, thank you for agreeing to talk to me today. As always, I’m going to ask you to tell us a little bit about yourself, where you reside and what you do outside of gaming/modding?
Hey, thanks so much for having me. Well, I’m a 37-year-old father of 2 gamer boys and live in Portland OR USA. Aside from gaming related stuff, I’m a stay at home dad and part time builder/remodeler/handyman. Enjoy camping a few times each year with the family, and am a big movie buff.
The other topic I love to find out about is gaming history, please may you let us know what got you into gaming and the consoles/computers you have owned?
I got my first hand me down computer when I was 11, a super powerful IBM 286sx with 512kb of ram awesome. I’m a classically trained 1st gen console player that grew up on Atari, NES and Super NES. Got into game design with text-based interactive fiction style games and programming SBBS games. My first publically distributed MOD type work was levels and skins for the original DOOM game and DOOM 2. Tinkered a bit with Morrowind and cut my teeth with Oblivion, and now of course deeply entrenched in Skyrim. I’ve also done a lot of table top pen and paper style game design; RPG’s board games, card games, etc. and even self-published a few titles.
You have been involved in board game and card game design; that’s something new! Do you fancy a shameless plug? What got you into that?
Well, growing up, my best friend and I had a fantasy setting comic book series we had been designing (he’s a professional illustrator now), and we always enjoyed role-playing games like D&D and heroes unlimited, etc. and decided to take a crack at designing and self-publishing an RPG. We were involved in building an indie gaming scene here in the Northwest which is still to this day pretty vibrant. We found and inspired other game designers in the area and created a bit of a collective here in our local gaming scene and local conventions. Our first product The CrossRoads of Eternity was published under our Arcadiam Games label and distributed nationally in 2005. It had a pretty good core following for awhile, but we more learned what to do and not to do than anything with the experience. I still have cases of the books in my garage lol. Today I have many projects in various stages that I hope to get Kickstarter projects going for in the future.
You joined the site in 2011, and your first mods on the site were Oblivion? But you mentioned above that you mod Morrowind and Doom, are there any other games and can you give us some details?
Yeah, as I mentioned, I tinkered a bit with Morrowind as well but never released anything, but did make one relatively large mod on Oblivion “Imperial Bank of Cyrodiil” and quite a bit of level design for DOOM and DOOM2 which I distributed on old school dial up SBBS and MBBS boards. Back with some of my older computers I also created some text-based interactive fiction games, did some more stuff for Heretic/Hexen and Return to Castle Wolfenstein; basically, anything ID made back in the day. Was also pretty big into playing Battlefield 1942 and messed around with a 3rd party world designer program but nothing much came of it, but I’ve always had an interest in expanding and modifying games I loved.
I love the handle IceCreamAssassin, where did the name come from?
Hahaha, yeah, I used to own two Baskin-Robbins ice cream shops for a few years and managed the first one for several years before owning it. My wife is a big Tori Amos fan, and I was listening to a couple of her CD’s a lot around that time and one of her Lyrics “...Trusting my soul to the ice cream assassin” just kinda stood out to me and stuck given my occupation at the time.
You have a number of mods on the site, but by far the largest is ‘Legacy of the Dragonborn (Dragonborn Gallery)’ that adds an entire DLC sized expansion into Skyrim, did you expect it to be so popular?
Not at all. My initial intent was just to make a beautiful display museum that looked like it belonged in Solitude that the player could claim and set up all of the unique items from the base game inside. It became quickly apparent that a monster had been born, and I’ve been continually working on it since. I have been so excited by the response to the mod, however, and it’s that energy people bring to it that keeps me so motivated.
The mod (more like an expansion) is huge and adds all manner of lore, storylines, quests and characters/NPCs into the game, it was added to the site in March 2014 so how much planning went into it before you started on the PC, then how long was development?
Well if you look behind the scenes you’ll find each of the interior cells of the museum are labelled “DBM_TEST#”. I just pretty much jumped in and started building what I thought at the time was an interior test design for the museum and it pretty much just came together naturally, and I never bothered changed the naming convention. So it’s pretty evident by that, that I just fired from the hip which has its benefits and drawbacks for sure. On the upside, I didn’t over-plan and “shoot the moon” so to speak, and fall short by trying to make something too big right from the get-go. On the downside, my asset organisation and multiple major revisions of layout and functionality had to evolve as I learned more and more about modding Skyrim as I went. So the plan for it developed as I went.
Did you have anyone around that could help beta test for you?
Initially no, Legacy has had 16 major “generational versions” and over 100 updates in total in the time it’s been posted, but it wasn’t until V8 actually that I ran an official Beta test run, and then again at V13 which was pretty much entirely a beta. Up until that point, I pretty much ran frequent updating to squish bugs in almost real time at times (hence the 100+ updates to the mod). Now however I have accumulated a pretty good pool of avid Legacy users who know the inner workings of the mod a little more than most users and can tell when things are out of place or not working as they once did, so they tend to help catch those things more readily now.
It’s still being updated on a regular basis, do you have an end goal for the mod?
I’ve always stood by the caveat of “No work of art is truly ever finished”, but I have massive plans in the works for other projects that relate to Legacy and the continuation of its story. I have to be disciplined and draw a line in the sand for myself otherwise I could continue supporting and expanding Legacy indefinitely. When V16 was released, I intended it to be the “Final” version barring bug fix updates. Even then I knew there were still a few features I wanted to include and so I kept developing, now I am about two weeks away from the release of V17 which is currently in closed Beta testing. This will mark the official completion of the mod for the time being as I move on to the next phase with “Odyssey of the Dragonborn.”
Your mod forum page for ‘Legacy of the Dragonborn’ has the second highest number of posts for a mod (just behind Requiem) and a very active community behind it, even joining you to help with the development, patching and support of the mod, how do you keep on top of everything and organise these volunteers?
I’m very lucky that the community that has grown up around Legacy is such a vibrant and fanatical group of supporters, it makes me giddy just to think about it. They have pretty-much-done things on their own with only occasional input or redirection from me in fact. The Legacy English Wiki page (there’s also a fan run Spanish wiki BTW), was pretty much built and maintained 100% by fans and I’ve in fact had almost nothing to do with it at all and it runs fantastically. Fans have also created and maintained an official patch page on Nexus for Legacy, complete with a FOMOD patch installer that automates everything and, again, pretty much they built and maintained it on their own. And of course I’ve had a few devoted fans who know the mod inside and out, crop up and aid in moderating and answering questions/ do troubleshooting, and they’ve more or less done it all on their own.
These key folks I proudly refer to as my “development team”, and they pretty much keep me sane through their efforts. So as far as how I organise them and keep on top of it all, I don’t have to. A few PM’s or a comment page post now and then to make sure we’re all on the same page and a clear vision of what is collectively best for the mod and community and where I see things going is all it takes; these are some great people helping me out to be sure.
How about other mods? You have taken over some Authors work on the site, what sort of support does this include and how do you divide your time?
Biting off more than I can chew is certainly a problem from time to time. Luckily most of the work I’ve adopted for other authors is largely in a good state. I simply have a vision for making some additions and improvements which I’ve noticed users also mention on their comment pages, or they have a handful of well-documented issues that are sitting waiting to be worked on but the original author just doesn’t have the time or has moved on.
The key to it is that I tend to work in arcs. I work for a couple of months on one project, release an update, then stick around and do an update or two to fix minor issues, and then I shift my focus back elsewhere… sort of like the eye of Sauron
A lot of my fans from the Legacy page will also frequent those pages and help folks with questions or even bring the questions to my attention via PM or a post on the Legacy page. If it takes more than a few days for me to reply, because they know that if it goes unanswered for more than that, I probably have shifted focus. So again the community helps out a lot. I tend to shift focus based on need and interest. If a mod I’m supporting needs a few critical updates and I’m not adamantly focused on another project currently, I’ll shift over and work it over a bit.
Do you work solo or do you have a team that help you with new mods?
I work solo on most projects but outsource certain tasks when able and necessity dictates or go looking for people’s resources and assets to see about adopting the things I need. It’s largely about networking and working on Legacy that has allowed me to accumulate a core group of awesome folks. These have helped with custom content in Legacy, I have brought them on board for development of “Odyssey of the Dragonborn” which is my next big project that has been in the works (though on the sidelines) for a couple of years now actually.
What would you say are your strongest and weakest points when it comes to creating mods?
I’d say that my biggest weakness during Legacy’s development was asset management and naming conventions. When you design a mod, you want to ensure that all your mod added files are clearly laid out in their directory structure and that you not only prefix all your forms with a proper tag (DBM_ in legacy’s case) but also have a set pattern for how you label stuff. Otherwise, it gets confusing, really fast, especially when you have over 140,000 record entries like Legacy does.
Biggest strength I have is that I have always had the knack of focusing on a new skill set and quickly learning and becoming moderately proficient at it in a very short time. For instance, I once had the urge to learn leather crafting (in real life) and decided that I was going to make an entire suit of armor, and over the course of 2 months I learned, got tools and supplies and did it. I did pretty much the same thing with modding, albeit at a much longer and more frustrating learning curve to be sure.
What tools and applications do you use to create your mods?
Aside from the Crash Kit… errr Creation kit! I use Blender, NIFSkope and Chunkmerge for modelling. Photoshop and CrazyBump for texturing (but have Quixel which I need to get around to learning). Oscape and TES5LODgen for world space and LOD work. Audacity for voice file work. NIFScan, NIFHealer, a Decompiler for scripts, and a handful of other minor utilities in addition to the essential TES5Edit and Wrye Bash of course.
Would you mind letting us know a little bit about your process, how you go from initial idea to conception?
When I was first learning to mod, the process was entirely different than I use now. Previously it was an issue of “I want to do this, now I need to figure out how” and now I have enough tools and skills to say “I can do X Y and Z, now what do I want to make with it?” So the process of learning as I go and figuring out how to make things is reversed and I can now plan ideas around knowing already how to implement them, and instead just determine the best way possible to do so.
Now that I have some experience under my belt, the process has more pre-planning involved. I tend to get a concept idea, jot a few outlines and ideas down on paper and immediately brainstorm how to make it happen on a technical level since there are dozens of different ways you can correctly implement something and dozens of more wrong ways or “irresponsible” ways. So now that I consider myself a bit more advanced I can think of how is the best way to implement something rather than simply how I can get it to work. Compatibility and Conflict mitigation is central to the design process now even more than what I want to make. I always try and build things so that there is minimal possibility of conflict and I never try directly to edit Vanilla resources via the CK when possible. I usually use scripts, so there are fewer conflicts.
Despite a little preliminary technical planning and thought, I still do most of my design work in real time. Just jump in and start laying things down, testing out ideas and putting things together as I go. I find or create textures and models as I need then rather than plotting out a list, I write most of my dialog directly into the quest handler instead of on paper first, etc.
With ‘Legacy of the Dragonborn’ being on par with paid for DLC, what is your take on this year's very controversial subject, paid modding, do you think this is something that should be addressed in depth?
I definitely support the idea that modding is something done for fun and should be free for anyone to share in, and they should not be required to pay to access a mod. But I am also a huge supporter of the patron model of support, where fans can opt-in to donating on a scheduled, regular basis and not simply as a one-time donation if they desire. Bethesda likes to pretend that this model equates to subscription, which it does not since users can still get the content even without the donation.
There has to be a middle ground that doesn’t involve a pay wall which will get mod authors the support they deserve for their work and allows Bethesda to get a REASONABLE cut as well. The patron model is how classic artists and musicians lived for centuries; they had patrons support their work so that they could continue to focus on doing what they loved and all people would benefit from it, and the patron would get some occasional perks for their support. You never had Stradivarius (Legendary violin maker) coming back and wanting 75% of the money the composer made, so why should Bethesda get that for our use of the CK?. I’m content with the system that is in place now, allowing donations and tactfully reminding people now and again that the option is there, but it'd be good to have a system of continued support that Bethesda won’t get it’s underwear in a bunch over.
Skyrim Special Edition was released recently to a somewhat mixed bag of reviews, have you had a chance to have a playthrough? What are your impressions?
So far I am unimpressed honestly. Aside from the back end x64 stability and processing speed improvements and the improved script load processing, the polished up versions is pretty much something modding has already achieved with ENBoost and the many ENB settings and light and weather and texture overhauls, etc. And yes, SSE will save using load slots for that stuff, but this is modding, after all, the flexibility and customizability is the focus. It looks pretty, but overall feels a bit like having to start over at square one with a lot of things. I ported over Skyrim’s Unique Treasures by Clintmich which I currently support, and it had some stumbling blocks for sure, and Bethesda has once again proven that they don’t want to support the modding community. They just want us to make content for them so they can sell more copies of SSE to console players, they can’t be bothered to answer questions or give support on their SDK. I remain hopeful but am personally waiting until SKSE64 is released, as Legacy hinges on that. When that happens, we’ll see if they have made any further efforts to help support modders, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
I thought that It was aimed more at the console market to add the ability to include mods into the game, do you think that this is going to become the norm for consoles now?
Yes, I quite agree, it’s entirely based on selling console copies. I think that the industry will continue this trend, but two things need to happen. First and foremost Sony needs to get their heads out of their you-know-where and allow player created content to be distributed in mods on their platform. It’s absurd that they are so paranoid. Secondly, Bethesda needs to better support modders, both with resource support and by lightening up on or establishing their own fair voluntary opt-in gratuity system. If they don’t, my theory is that the vast majority of modders will not even bother making their mods console capable because it’s more work for nothing and requires us to maintain multiple versions of the same mod, which is a major hassle. I know I for one will not make any of my mods available on console until such time that they do.
What do you think about the whole PC vs. console culture? I have both and love each for very different reasons.
Let’s face it, the high intensity; first person shooter dominated atmosphere on consoles has brought about a brash breed of users who “shoot from the hip” before actually thinking things through and speaking out on something. This is probably truer of those who are EXCLUSIVELY console users vs. those who are also PC users, but I find that those who are involved in the PC community are pound for pound a bit more tactful shall we say. Yeah I do get the occasional troll still, and some folks still come off as self-entitled, but it’s a lot less prevalent on the PC end I feel based on what I have seen on some mod author’s SSE ported mod pages.
On the flip side, I am excited for console users finally getting access to some of the content that PC users have been making for years, and I think it’s long past due. I just have issues with Bethesda’s execution and roll out, as usual, so won’t be partaking in Console mod development, at least not for now. I also don’t have an Xbox or PS4, so I wouldn’t feel right about releasing a mod anyways without being able to test it first.
Going back to you, do you have or can you see any collaborations on the horizon with other mod authors?
Yes, in fact, I have been working with a world designer MyBad as well as model designer RonnieMagnum on a project called “Odyssey of the Dragonborn” for quite some time. Some other people have also been involved in the planning process.
This project is a nine mod series of episodes (Acts) that follows the Legacy storyline and takes the player to several world spaces all across Tamriel in a truly epic quest against the Thalmor. I like many others feel the Thalmor angle was woefully wanton in Skyrim and had real potential that Bethesda let slip and given the history of TES games, it’s likely they will not be continued in any major way in the next game. The Fight against the Thalmor series is an interesting addition, and I use them in my game usually, but I wanted something grander and more directed.
Once V17 of Legacy is posted before the end of the year, I will be focusing again on full force development of Odyssey.
Are there any mod authors whom you look up to?
There are a ton of big names whose work I admire, and I’m sure that if you look at the A List of mod authors, you will find all of them on there. I’ll leave that list with the comment that I really like Chesko, both as a designer and as a person. He’s a good guy and is very knowledgeable and supports the solidarity of mod authors and supporting each other, which is awesome.
I think that some of the unsung heroes are the people I look up to even more though. Folks like Saerileth (of Druid’s Den), who was a joy to collaborate with when I took over updating Druid’s Den at the request of a fan. They have given me a lot of insight into methods I had previously not been familiar with both during Druid’s Den’s rework and before that. MyBad of (Shadow of the Underking), which was not presented well on his mod page, but I was able to integrate his work into Legacy. I have gotten MANY MANY compliments on his work; he’s an amazing interior dungeon designer and an exquisite worldspace maker and static architecture designer. He totally doesn’t get the props he deserves which is why I’m excited to be working with him on Odyssey.
Also, Ronnie Magnum has made numerous awesome weapon and ring mods and has contributed an amazing amount of work for both Legacy and Odyssey. Including a lot of new and unique items never before seen in Skyrim and again I think gets overlooked a lot. I’ve learned a lot from these three in particular and can’t thank them enough for everything.
If you could only add ten mods to your Skyrim game, what would they be and why?
- SkyUI - an absolute must if you don’t want to go insane
- Legacy of the Dragonborn - it’s my baby of course
- Ordinator or SPERGp - lightweight perk overhauls that don’t require me to customize every aspect of my game first
- Immersive Weapons and Immersive Armor - both because I need the variety over the bland vanilla stuff
- JK’s Skyrim - a must have for me to keep Skyrim more diverse and interesting
- Forgotten Magic - love having levelable spells which are unique and interesting and diverse
- Alternate Start LAL - Who wants to constantly ride that damned wagon every game, not me
- CCOR - Just enjoy the customizability of it and being able to scrap stuff for crafting
- One extra slot for trying out different quest mods. None I have played are a must have for every game, but I have loved most big quest mods I have played for the experience they bring the first time through.
I use the Creation Kit wiki page a lot. Even to look up mundane things that I probably should remember by now lol. Though it’s a little sparse in places and out of date, it still is quite valuable, and I also contribute there when I discover something new now and again. I also frequent AFK mods at times and TES Alliance, as well as Darkcreations. All three of these sites offer great resources, extended community and a lot of good guides on various modding topics.
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, to end, do you have any advice that you could give to someone looking to get into modding?
Don’t shoot the moon. Start small with something that you can manage to learn to make, support, and polish. Do not release a mod unless you intend on getting it to a semi-completed state and as bug-free, as you can get it. The first three months of learning are hard, and the main thing you will learn is HOW to ask questions; learning the terms and exactly how to word a question is the hardest stumbling block in the beginning. Learn as you go but also try and learn the tools and features before attempting to make anything large because you will inevitably be re-working things you have already made when you learn a better way to do it. There is no single definitive way to make things happen in this game. There are better, more efficient ways, but no one way is THE way, so keep learning and keep polishing your work. Don’t give up; it’s all worth it in the end!