Hey FadingSignal, welcome to the Sunday discussion and many thanks for agreeing to talk to us. As with the previous interviews, would you mind letting us know a little bit about you please?
Hi! Thanks for having me! Well letís see, Iím a designer, turned programmer, turned product manager, currently living in Los Angeles. Iím also a musician (I write synthwave/dance music under the name ďVogelĒ.) My background of software, digital art, sound/music, and user experience/product is why modding became so attractive to me. I get to use it all!
I really enjoy finding out a bit about an individual's gaming history, would you mind sharing yours with us?
Iíve been a lifelong gamer, with some pauses of inactivity here and there. My first intro to gaming was a dusty old Atari in 1985, then in around 1987, my family got an NES. Even back then, games like Contra and Super Mario (2 is my fav) totally pulled me in. Metal Gear was my absolute favorite on that system. Through the 90ís I moved into PC gaming, and played all the usual suspects like DOOM, Wolfenstein, Space Quest, and some lesser known like Commander Keen and Mean Streets. The year 2000 marked a pretty big gaming year for me with the first Deus Ex being released. That was when I really felt like open-world style games were going to finally be possible. My gaming was light for a couple years in the early-mid 00s after that, but I was into the Splinter Cell games a bit. I got back into games heavily by way of the Playstation 3, and then when Fallout 3 came out, itís what pulled me back into PC gaming (and the Bethesda realm in general.)
Do you still own any consoles or are you solely a PC gamer now?
I still have my PS3 but it pretty much acts as a Blu-Ray player exclusively. Iíve been tempted to pick up a PS4 for some of the exclusives, and the new Zelda game looks so good that Iím debating getting a Switch.
What game would you say you have the fondest memories of?
Probably Fallout 3. It was the first game I sunk serious amounts of time into after a long break from gaming, and for some reason, there are so many instances where the soundtrack, the visuals, the general feeling of being there (especially during a 4-hour marathon) just locked into memory. Whenever I hear the soundtrack I have distinct memories of locations/situations in the game.
How about now, what is your current favourite game?
From sheer playing enjoyment, Iíd have to say Witcher 3. Itís almost nice not being able to mod it very much. I have a huge list of games I need to install and check out, but so much of my game time goes toward modding Skyrim and Fallout 4!
How much time per week/month would you say goes into modding a game compared to the amount of time you play it?
I would say 90% of it, to be honest. Iíve only played through Skyrim and Fallout 4 one time each! I did savor those playthroughs and played all of the DLC, etc. but the rest of the time itís been pure creation and learning. I might be a workaholic.
So when you're trying to stop being a workaholic, what do you enjoy doing outside of gaming to chill out, do you have any hobbies or activities that interest you?
I mentioned it initially but I also write/perform music. I DJ sometimes as well. Iíve been known to take a decent picture or two here and there, and have made a few music videos for some artists. If you canít tell already, I like having my hands in many things at once! I also like to hike, go for long drives at night listening to music. Iím also a pretty big reader.
Do you have a SoundCloud account or similar where people can go to check out your music?
I do! All of my releases are available on Spotify, iTunes/Apple Music, Google Play, etc. You can search ďVogel HologramĒ to find my first EP. Most stuff is up on SoundCloud as well, which is http://www.soundcloud.com/vogel
Going onto your mods, obviously True Storms for Skyrim and Fallout 4 are Ďkind of a big dealí mods. How did you come up with the idea and how much planning went into them?
Every mod Iíve ever created began with me playing the game and wishing for something that wasnít there, then rolling up my sleeves to make it. Sometimes my wants are very specific, and when there arenít any mods out there that do what I want, the way I want, thatís when I dive in. I do start with a feature list, a ďspec sheetĒ etc, but in the modding world, thereís a lot of poking around and unplanned changes so you have to stay a bit loose sometimes.
True Storms initially began as just a sound overhaul. I noticed that the thunder sounds in Skyrim were pretty repetitious, and more in-the-background. I play on a 5.1 surround system with a sub, so I love deep, loud sounds. I started to work on crafting the sounds, but quickly realized the visuals and particle effects needed to match the new heavy sounds, so I dug in and learned all I could about the weather systems and visual effects, and kept experimenting until I had everything just right. The other big part was getting interior rain sounds running. Overall Iím a very big fan of mods that stay close to the vanilla feel of the game, but just obsessively improve upon and expand the details. I think True Storms accomplished that, and thankfully lots of people do too!
For Fallout 4, I knew from the first time I saw the vanilla rain storms that I was going to bring True Storms into the wasteland. I didnít want to just ďportĒ it though, so I rebuilt it all. Todd Howard said in a launch interview that ďthese big radiation storms in the glowing sea blow through the commonwealthĒ and it got me thinking, why not creatures, too? And the random ghoul attacks feature was born.
How long would a mod like that take you to create?
True Storms for Skyrim took me probably a week or two off and on†since the weather system was a new world to me. True Storms for FO4 was a bigger challenge because I made it before the CK came out, when the game was barely a month old, and a lot of us modders were still figuring out the bits and pieces with the available tools. The first version of True Storms for FO4 took me about a week. The updates with the ghoul attacks and all that was probably 2 or so weeks beyond that.
You created the mod, so itís only fair that I ask you what weather effect you would say is your favourite?
I would say the SOUNDS. Having interior rain/thunder, and such intense outdoor thunder just feels good. For Fallout 4 I gotta say the random ghoul attacks are definitely a favorite!
How would you like to see the modding scene evolve, grow or change?
Firstly Iíve been lucky enough to get to see it evolve over the last few years. The tools, community, etc. are stronger than ever IMO. And it being wild, open, unstructured, is part of what makes it so great and so diverse, so itís tough to say! I would like to see modding become more ďmainstreamĒ, with possibly more direct involvement from game developers, and ways for creators to be empowered to make more, if not turn it into an actual career path somehow.
In terms of career path for modders, did you see the recent news that the creators of Ark: Survival Evolved, Studio Wildcard, are going to be paying 15 modders a considerable amount of money each month to design, create and release mods for that game? What are your thoughts on that?
I think this is a new frontier that has clear benefits to both developers and mod creators if it can be done right. The fact that they are jumping in front of it early on, and with generous compensation is a smart idea, IMO. Because itís such a fairly new realm, weíll have to see how it pans out longer-term, but I like the idea of talent being recognized and rewarded appropriately.
In one of our most recent Sunday Discussions, we spoke to GamerPoets, a lovely guy who creates YouTube video tutorials and videos based on modding. What do you think of YouTubers that use mods as a way of getting a viewer base and making some money while Bethesda still shuts down mod authors from utilising sites such as Patreon?
Ooh, weíre getting a little controversial now! This is a touchy subject, so forgive me if I tread lightly. I have no problem with YouTubers doing their thing, and getting views, and getting paid. Thereís supply and demand going on, and it gives great exposure to mods and their authors. That said, I feel like the finer points of where those lines are drawn for mod authors could use some work and some open discussion.
How about paid modding, we havenít spoken about it for a while and I know you have some views on that subject - would you mind sharing those with us?
Another touchy one! I do hold the (unpopular) opinion that it would be great if there was a path for mod authors to somehow do this as a living. I personally would love for this to be my actual job. I have tons of detailed documents for mod projects I may never build because I donít have the free time or resource.
I think a primary issue is that itís such a new frontier (marketplace as opposed to a community), you canít just set up shop at the edge and turn on the ďopenĒ sign. What we experienced so far just felt a bit detached. A lot of care and consideration has to go into doing it in such a way as to actually improve things, and not harm the ecosystem that has been there for many years. I donít think itís an inherently bad idea at all, itís just a complex one, but I do believe there is room for it, and that it could be very positive if done correctly. I have a lot more thoughts on this, but I donít want to take up the rest of the interview
Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you want to talk about or disclose?
For one, Iím slowly but surely porting all of my mods over from Skyrim classic to Skyrim SE, which includes publishing them for XBOX. Iím also wrapping up my Remote Explosives mod for Fallout 4 as we speak, which adds C-4, IEDs with a real working detonator, new meshes, animations (thanks Hitman!)
Do you use a lot of mods on your own playthroughs?
TONS. The last couple years Iíve got to the point where I mod mods for my own personal load order, so I spend tons of time Frankenstein-ing things together into something custom. I think in Skyrim classic I had around 500 mods merged and crammed and morphed down into the 255 limit.
Ha, amazing, think (if time was no object) you could ever merge them into one ďMega ModĒ? What if I was to give you a limit of 10 mods to install, both for Skyrim and Fallout 4? And no, you are not allowed to merge any. What would you choose?
Iíve always wanted to take the mods I always install as ďmust-havesĒ into a single, massive ESM package for both Fallout 4 and Skyrim for personal use, but thatís quite a lot of work. And people would be hounding me for the files, which is a big no-no. Either way, Iíd have 254 slots free!!
Regarding limit of 10 mods -- THATíS A TOUGH CALL! There are so many! But if I HAD to pair it down, here are the big ones off the top of my head:
Skyrim Top 10
- Enhanced Lights and FX - Itís unreal how much this adds to the game.
- Immersive College of Winterhold - Another incredible mod
- Immersive HUD - Give me a clear view, or give me death!
- Interesting NPCs - Adds so much life to the world, gotta have it.
- Immersive Armors+Weapons - Sorry I know thatís two, but they really are a pair!
- Gamwich + aMidianBorn Textures - Another pair, but itís texture mods so it doesnít count!
- True Storms - yeah I know itís my own mod, but I made it just how I wanted it!
- Campfire - Camping in Skyrim is wonderful, I canít touch the game without this anymore
- JKs Skyrim (for Special Edition I use the FULL edition, because SE handles it like a champ, no FPS loss whatsoever.)
- Inhabitants of Skyrim - Vanilla hair version. Very minor tweaks that adjust odd proportions of some vanilla NPCs. Goes a long way.
Fallout 4 Top 10
- Immersive HUD
- Survival Options
- True Storms (again ha!)
- Darker Nights
- Pip-Boy Flashlight
- Any of DOOM or asXasí weapon mods (pick one!)
- Interiors Enhanced
- PreWar Binoculars
- Legendary Modification
- Ammunition Crafting (Crafting Workbenches)
Okay, do you mod any other games? If so, do you have any favourites for them that you can give us a quick rundown on?
Currently, no. Iím itching to try out some Witcher 3 modding though!
What about mod authors? Which mod authors do you look up to?
Oh tons! There are a number of modders who are flat-out professionals and inspire me all the time, some of whom Iím lucky to call friends: Chesko, Isoku, Elianora, Expired6978, Ousnius, Jon (NifSkope), Registrator2000, and DOOM/Valdicil/Gambit77 who did a lot of pioneering work in Fallout 4 and laid groundwork for things like slot standards.
You are a very positive person and produce really popular mods, so do you get negative criticism and if so, how do you cope with it?
Thank you! Thatís a big compliment. I welcome constructive feedback, ideas, conversation with open arms, but I do get some flat-out negative criticism or unwarranted angry comments sometimes. It can get under my skin, but thankfully itís rare, so Iím able to just brush it off. No matter what a person does, or how successful, there will always be someone who is unhappy with it, or who wants to troll or fight, so you have to just take it in stride and focus on the positive.
On the flip side, you must also receive a lot of positive messages, have any of them ever stuck out and made you smile/regain your faith in humanity?
Yes! People send me messages sometimes telling me that something I made greatly added to their game experience, or that some little bit of modding advice I gave them helped them learn to create something themselves or fix an issue, and it always feels good. My motivation for doing this has always been because I just want these cool little things to exist, and so when other people express their enjoyment, itís just nice to hear. My favorite is when people in the comments sections on my mods start helping each other out with config/install issues and such.
In terms of advice for our readership, what would you say to someone who is just getting started in modding?
Most importantly, have an idea before you try and learn. That keeps the focus. If you just want to learn ďhow to make modsĒ, thereís just too much to spread yourself thin with. Think of it like the human body -- doctors spend years learning about a single organ, and become a specialist on just that one thing, with only peripheral knowledge of everything else. If you love storytelling, think about making quests. If youíre a digital artist, or want to become one, look at how to make textures. Learn each component before trying to assemble the whole.
After that, itís passion, and patience. There is a LOT of work in even small things, reverse engineering, figuring out workarounds, and flat-out walls youíll hit when making mods, and if you donít have the passion for the end result, and the patience to unwind the ball of yarn to get there, it can lead to frustration and burnout.
I see a lot of people asking how to start learning the CK so they can build their big DLC-sized new land mod. Not gonna happen. You HAVE to start small. Weíre talking about an entire game engine at your fingertips here. My first mod idea was a big quest / story with new locations, lore integration, etc. and I quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing. So I retextured Skyrimís moons instead! I only focused on texture mods for some time before I moved onto more complex things.
Hit YouTube and learn the very basics of xEdit first. Then get into the CK. Donít try to skip ahead, just learn the controls, the interface, the very basics. Change some weapon damage, change an NPCs default outfit -- small moves. Over time all of those small moves will end up in a large skill set. Itís only now after 3 years of having my nose in this stuff day-in and day-out that I can do HALF of what I would like to do. So think big but start small and stick it out!
You said to hit up YouTube, would you say that this is your primary resource in learning new things? Where else would you suggest people go to learn?
It definitely is. When I first got into installing mods at all, Gopherís channel guided me through that. DarkFox127ís channel was a huge help when I started cracking open the depths of the CK. Tutorials for Blender or 3DS Max are always everywhere on YouTube for anything I need to learn how to do.
The NexusMods forums and official Bethesda forums were both incredibly helpful when I was just starting out. Lots of people there ready to look at code snippets and give input!
The best way to learn is to reverse engineer. Look at how Bethesda did thing
Thank you so much for chatting to me, itís been a pleasure. I wish you all the best for the future and look forward to seeing what comes next from you.
Thank you for the opportunity! Itís always a pleasure. I wish yourself and Nexus all the best as well!