“Immersive Legacy of the Dragonborn reborn masterpiece edition redux final version for good guys”aka Legacy V6

First before I get into this keep your pants on and don’t loose your shit, this is not incoming any time soon. Do not wait for its release to start your game or ask me if it can be upgrading mid game, these points are irrelevant because this is only a thing in concept at this point, but I did want to jot down a few things to keep track of and to tease folks with what is to come for Legacy moving forward.

As you all will now by now, we’ve been working hard to develop Odyssey of the Dragonborn, the sequel series for Legacy, and have drawn most of our energy away from Legacy to focus on Odyssey. Aside from Jelidity and Kriana updating the CC mod patches and me creating a few TCC support patches for them, SirJesto continuing maintenance on the Patch Central content and Picky headlining a few updates to minor issues in Legacy, we’ve been mainly focusing on Odyssey, but these ideas for the next big version of Legacy are still worth mulling over and keeping on simmer on the back burner.

Legacy V6 will be the next major version of Legacy of the Dragonborn and will likely require a new game to facilitate it since it adds so much new content and may make adjustments to some core elements that may not be update friendly (TBD though, just curb your expectations).

What do you have to look forward to in Legacy V6? Well I’ll tell you…

New Patrons

My intention is to offer a larger assortment of patrons who come by the museum in a more random fashion. These will have their own voice acting, their own routines and schedules for visitation and off days and their own overall characterization. They will pop in to the random tours Auryen gives and will help fill the massive space the museum offers, making it feel even more alive.

Vanilla Patrons

Various Vanilla NPC’s will be set up to come and visit the museum on occasion. Their lines and interaction may be somewhat limited as they will be constructed from the voice line pool of the vanilla NPC voice actor, but they will still do some basic doting on how amazing your collection is and wander about to admire your work.

New and improved museum staff

Museum guards will be given more range of lines and individual personality to set them apart from the rando NPC’s that they currently are. Each will have their own bit of story to tell and maybe a few scenes between each other and the new patrons. Additionally with the added attention, the museum will be hosting occasional gala-like events and will have a new in-house cook who helps Auryen keep things clean around the staff barracks, kitchen and reception hall. This new NPC will have a few features available to provide the player with some good utility as well.

Honorary Explorers

NPC’s like Calcelmo, and Tharstan who have a mind for scholarly pursuits will make occasional visits to the explorers guild as honorary members of the society, bringing with them an offering or two in the form of fragments or artifacts found to contribute to the museum once you have completed their central vanilla quests. They will have a few lines cobbled together from their pool of vanilla voice lines where appropriate just to make them feel more engaged.

Additional Explorer Perks

I’ve long wanted to add a “Nose for Treasure” perk which locates nearby hard to see chests and had a few other minor ideas for new perks, and given that Odyssey will be offering chances to extend your archeology skills beyond 100 points, new perks seemed appropriate. The existing trees will be reworked slightly to accommodate a few new perks, or if there ends up being enough new content, we may add an additional tree to fill out.

Explorers Overhaul

When it comes to battle, the existing NPC’s of the Explorers society are often not much more than paper tanks to draw fire long enough to deal with your enemies in many cases. In the overhaul we’ll be spending some more time to try and balance their skills a little more so they are more useful and resilient as followers. Additionally each member will have a selection of special abilities or skills that you can assign to them based around what they do and how experienced they become, again giving more usefulness to them as companions. Also new scene work will be implemented to give the explorers more interaction with one another to provide a more engaged guild house environment.

Fafnir Follower

The ability to have Fafnir the racoon follow you around. Randomly picks pockets of people you pass and can find and disarm (spring) traps for you.

Non-Compulsory Excavations

Come V6, the three explorer excavation quest arcs will no longer begin by way of force greet. Instead they will begin based on player input and conformation with the quest giver, allowing you more time to finish what you are doing, or take care of other guild business before sending everyone off on a lengthy dig.

Non-Compulsory Museum Events

“Event quests” are those which I term as such because they thrust themselves upon the player when they least expect it (get over it, that’s life, the car doesn’t blow out a tire only when you are ready for it to), but to better accommodate long time players being able to experience late game content more easily and to bypass a quest that has been done many times before, there will be an option in the “Shadows of one’s past” quest to force Avram to pick up the pieces of his naïve mistake and restore the museum on his own. He’ll take a museum guard with him and take care of business and return in a few days with the museum having been restored. This option is much along the lines of the “Night at the museum” quest option to allow the instigating NPC to complete the quest without sacrificing the story events but not requiring the player to drop everything to do the work themselves. Shadow’s of ones past will play out in much the same way. The player will still have to wait a few days for the quest to be resolved, but the player will no longer be required to engage in the quest directly beyond setting it on its course.

New museum event quest “The price of Vigilants”

A new museum event centered around the, you guessed it, Vigilants of Stendarr, will be added which will be a multi-path quest of intrigue, negotiation and investigation where the means of completing the quest is entirely up to you. An optional path will be available from the start of this event quest in much the same fashion as the others, to allow you to bypass the quest in an immersive way (though you will very much want to experience this one at least once).

Another Night at the Museum quest

A sequel quest that delves into more of the events around Macnarian and his family.

Safehouse plus” merging

The addon I created to give additional options for the safehouse will be merged into Legacy V6, effectively retiring its development moving forward. The addon will sill remain available for use with V5. This merger will also come with a few additional features to the room selections available.

Replica overhaul

Replicas have historically been a little inconsistent in their availability and nature and this update will likely make them all more universal and easier to keep track of all appearing in the replica craft station and migrating to the forge when crafted for the first time just for later use should you wish, while not confusing the list of items still to make on your replica craft list. Attributes for the replicas will match the originals in armor or damage (no enchantments will be present on replicas), This will allow players to make customized versions of their unique items and not sacrifice damage output or defense with a weaker replica.

Customized Display Reward Pacing

Inspired by Kriana’s awesome reward delay patch for Legacy, we are adopting the concept and applying it as an MCM configurable setting to allow players to determine between a few presets, how fast they want rewards to progress. Legacy’s reward and quest benchmarks are based around a vanilla Legacy setup with minimal to moderate display mod support. now with Creation Club content and the vast array of 3rd party support patches available, it’s easy to exceed twice what Legacy builds in by default. The new system will allow you to choose a setting based on how extensive your loadout is or just to slow down progression overall to savor the thrill of the hunt more.

Deepholme Update

Update some displays and improve functionality

Aesthetic fixes

Various meshes and textures have been optimized by a number of authors who have agreed to allow their fixes to be absorbed by Legacy. These issues will clean up a few bad UV’s, some off clipping issues and Z fighting of textures, etc. Additional adjustments to lighting is also on the radar, but custom patches for that are still recommended especially when using weather and lighting overhaul mods.

And much much more…

Odyssey: Setting the record straight

In the light of the recent release of the amazing Syn Gaming Teaser Trailer for Odyssey of the Dragonborn Act 1, some questions have once again resurfaced as to the nature of the project and its relationship to or compatibility with the Beyond Skyrim project, so I decided to take a moment to lay it all out again so that people once again, have the full understanding and a resource to point others to in order to clarify and maintain consistency. I’ll boil this down as much as possible.

  • Odyssey of the Dragonborn is in no way affiliated with the Beyond Skyrim project
  • Odyssey will not be set in the Beyond Skyrim world spaces
  • There will never be a Synergy patch or version of Odyssey that places it in the BS space
  • Odyssey is NOT going to Cyrodiil, so there are no incompatibility issues with BS Cyrodiil

Early in development of Odyssey we considered developing along side the Beyond Skyrim team and simply utilizing their developed worldspaces as a stage for telling the Odyssey story. This idea was discussed with some of the BS leadership of the time on a couple of the projects but eventually was decided on our end that it would be best to develop on our own. The reason for this is that the design of Odyssey is incredibly involved on its own and dealing with communicating to an outside team to develop appropriately within their space would be a massive hindrance. Additionally Odyssey is a serial story and would require areas to be finished before we could develop the next act, and since the BS teams are all compartmentalized and develop at different paces, there would never be any guarantee that a certain BS chapter would be done in time for the next Odyssey act.

People have often asked if there will ever be a patch for Odyssey and Beyond Skyrim. Firstly allow me to explain a simple concept about patches in general: they are needed in order to reconcile potential conflicts between data common to both mods, or are used to integrate, adopt or adapt content in one mod or the other to make it play more seamlessly or in an integrated way. None of this applies between Odyssey and Beyond Skyrim for the simple fact that both projects create their own stage, so there is no chance of overlap in those spaces. In the rare instance that something in the vanilla Skyrim space does conflict there will be compatibility patches as needed, but it is highly unlikely.

Second and more importantly people have suggested that a patch should be made to integrate Odyssey into Beyond Skyrim… Allow me to preface my response by definitively declaring that I will NEVER give permission for a patch like this to be made for Odyssey/BS. Don’t misunderstand, I have the utmost respect for the concept of Beyond Skyrim and I intend on experiencing it as well when the various chapters are released, however this sort of expectation of a synergy patch is unrealistic and I’ll explain why.

Let’s first understand that the mechanics of migrating data EN MASSE from one mod into another is insanely laborious. I’m not talking about merging plugins here, but actually migrating content from one cell into another, from one world space into another and then having to reattach all of the script properties, quest aliases, objectives, NPC AI packages and markers, Items, some dialogue, etc in order to make it fit. This is far from a weekend project. In fact this sort of migration would be more difficult and take more time than building Odyssey from scratch in many ways.

Putting technical limitations aside there is an even more fundamental concept which negates the possibility of this ever happening. Migrating content completely bastardizes and marginalizes the work of the design team who have spent thousands of hours collectively working tirelessly on the cells and exterior spaces for our story to play out in. The amount of hours spent by myself and the interior lead are staggering on their own. Every rock, every plant, each choice in light placement and design of interior flow of spaces; GONE. Imagine if you spent years restoring a classic mustang or corvette from interior to engine and when presented to someone, they said “great, that engine will work great in my Prius” Now I’m in no way comparing BS to a Prius, but rather just illustrating what disregard there is in making the suggestion to rip out the heart of a creation just to install it into something completely different. So for these reasons I will never give permission, make, or allow to be made; a synergy version or patch of any kind that has this end intention.

Finally we come once again to the misconception that there is a need for a patch for Odyssey and Beyond Skyrim Cyrodiil. There will most likely not need to be one. This presumption of need comes from incorrectly perceived information. At the time we stated that Legacy would not offer museum support for Cyrodiil for fear of potential immersion conflict with what we might be doing with Odyssey. After Odyssey solidified the fact it would not be going to the Cyrodiil province, any concern of immersion conflict was moot. We then pivoted to a concern that with a fully loaded game including all Beyond Skyrim chapters and all Odyssey acts, the game would likely not be able to handle it. Bear in mind this was back in LE, SE on the other hand though is much more rugged and the engine fixes in AE are also a slight improvement above that. So with a properly tuned load out, it COULD be possible to run both in some circumstances. That said however, because future acts such as Act 3 morrowind, Act 4 black marsh, Act 5 Valenwood, Act 6 Hammerfell, and Act 8 Elsweyr, there will very much be immersion conflicts so we have long recommended making separate playthroughs for BS and Odyssey. Odyssey will be focusing on particular regions of various provinces rather than the whole province, but ultimately they will still be the same canonical spaces, which will make for an odd story indeed if you visit both in the same playthrough.

I hope that this clarifies for people the reality of where things stand and is helpful for people to reference to others who are asking these questions for the first time.

Design Philosophies: Quests

How much to do and how to do it? are often two defining factors which will determine the overall quality of a mod. There are ways to “fake it” and ways to “do it right” but at what points should you implement believable shortcuts and when should you delve into great depth to bring something to life? This article series will cover a few areas in detail about my personal mindset on NPC development, Quest development, Landscape and cell design and Item creation.

Vanilla classifications

-Miscellaneous quests

These quests are very incidental and do not even warrant a quest journal entry. They are pretty much literally “Do this and come back” type quests; kill the bandit leader, bring me that book, I can’t be bothered to shop for carrots myself… you know.

-Side quests

Side quests are more relevant quest lines which can have multiple stages and multiple options in how you approach them or complete them. They will warrant a quest journal to help keep track of where you are going and what you have recently done. The vast majority of more involved quests, fall into this category.

-Main quests

Just like side, quests, these are more involved, and have a larger purpose in most cases. The only real difference in Main quests from a game play perspective is that the text shows up larger in your journal, otherwise they are the same. Main quests from a design standpoint however usually are reserved for, well, main quests such as the vanilla primary quest, or the DLC’s and major central faction quests.

Design approach

Having established the categories above, I’ll go through the design types which can be used for any of the above as well as elements that may be used interchangeably in various types of quests.

-Linear Railroad

The most basic form of quest design: do this, get that. These are fetch quests (go and grab me that book on the other side of the room), gather quests (I need 5 potatoes), and really any quest that has a singular path to the outcome. It involves no choice other than “where can I pick up some potatoes?” in the case of gathering quests, and puts you on a linear “railroad” to the outcome. Generally these are only interesting once, and only if the quest has some unexpected outcome at the end, that didn’t have ANY plausible options for choice or variance along the way. If it is apparent that other choices could have been made but were not made available to the player, it comes off as poorly thought out or a missed opportunity.

-Multi-branching Quests

Multi-branching quests are ones which provide more than a single path to quest completion. This can be something as simple as “which side will you choose?” quests like the civil war or dawnguard quests, or they can be more elaborate with several different paths you can take and either rejoin the preset conclusion point along the way, or diverge into entirely different outcomes in the end based on your choices.

-World Changing Quests

These type of quests are a sub-type which almost always should be part of a multi-branching, multi-outcome quest where the ultimate end depends on your choices in the quest. These world changing events are a challenge to set up because in order to make them feel real, you not only have to change the world physically in some way (ahem… destroy a city), but you also have to change the attitudes of all the NPCs of the area, and seed the rest of the world with rumors or topics relating to the event. What good is a world changing event if nobody really talks about it. This is not however the same thing as “Player does a thing and magically everyone now knows about it”. I mean really how DOES news spread that fast? You need some lasting change to the world itself or behaviors at large to make it obvious that something is different due to the outcome and choices you’ve made.

-Choice, and the illusion of choice

Choices define a character’s growth and development, and ultimately their presence in that world. Providing a player choice in some way is key to good quest design. Usually this works best with multi-branching quests where those choices direct the flow of where you go next in the quest and what you do or who you side with. They can lead to completely different outcomes or just bring you to the same determined outcome, just along a difference scenic route. They can be used on linear quests as well, but always remember that whenever there is only one ultimate end, the choices you are presenting are just an illusion of choice. They can result in NPC response dialogues being different but having the same outcome, or being even the same, just allowing the player to state things in their desired voice. However it’s presented, choice is key, otherwise it feels like you simply are going through the motions or experiencing a linear story with limited interactivity.

Designing multi-path quests

My general design thought is to design out a linear “occam’s razor” quest where the most likely scenario plays out linearly. Then go back to the start and follow the flow through observing for any point where a player choice could diverge the story to a different conclusion and follow it through along the same rule. I ask myself a few questions: Is this choice important for the player to have? Does this branch of actions have a different end result that works with the design for the quest and any requirements for after? If it doesn’t work for the end goal, would the illusion of choice be beneficial? These questions will generally determine in my mind if a quest should have multiple branches, what those end points are, if they will reconnect to the main branch or alternately, where the illusion of choice can be implemented appropriately. Then I would go back to that first divergence and see if there are any choices along it that may diverge again, or any that might re-connect with the original or earlier branch. I continue this process until any plausible or important choices are accounted for. I would progress through the quest and explore any other potential divergences where appropriate until the end is reached. This may sound complex, and it is for larger quests with a lot hinging on them, but for your average quests, you may only have a couple of divergences with maybe a single potential alternate outcome resulting from the quest exploration.

To Quest mark or not to quest mark, that is the question

Most quests in vanilla hold your hand every step of the way, because frankly, Skyrim is not a role playing game, it’s a hack and slash dungeon crawler at its core really. Most often players don’t bother reading the journal entries, or the in game books and notes to get clues for where they are headed and what they are doing. Rather than designing inside the limited and somewhat linear by nature box of objective marked quests, there is always the option to not provide it. If it’s something that is clearly obvious like “go kill this person, they are inside this cave, I’ll mark your map” it makes sense to keep quest markers. For a quest where you are only being sent to an area to find a possible cave the person heard about in order to search for a relic within which is rumored to be hidden somewhere inside, it may make sense to not use quest markers. if you want to provide a more in depth experience where players need to read and immerse themselves in order to achieve the ends, then leaving markers off can be a big tool for that. As an example, the haunted museum quest has a few objective which it doesn’t mark, and requires a little reading to more easily find what you are looking for, not only does it provide a challenge, but it prolongs the exposure to the tense situation, allows anticipation to build more while they look around for things. It’s quite an effective tool in this instance. Granted I also have a “bail out” function where the marker eventually comes on to allow the player to move on should they not find it on their own (I’m a nice guy that way lol), but it’s a tool well used in this example. The important thing is to not circumvent expectations too greatly, unless you have a safety net in place, or clear instructions or indications of what the player should expect. We as players have gotten used to expecting certain types of puzzles and traps, so it’s always good to stick somewhat to the norm for the sake of certain aspects, but still work to keep things fresh and new and unexpected without slapping people in the face with it.

Writers and Players; the conflict within

There is often a split between what the player wants and what the writer wants to convey. It is plausible that a writer will in fact miss out on a potential choice option, but other times, even if that choice is presented, it may end in the same result as intended by the writer. Sometimes the player wants a different outcome from those choices, but in the end it’s up to the writer to determine if the type of outcome the player might want is appropriate for the story the writer is telling, or the story that the writer later wants to tell, which hinges on the outcome of the previous quest. Writers certainly can play the “long con” so to speak by designing something that presents an illusion of choice while preserving certain content and aspects of a quest outcome so they can later utilize and reference it elsewhere. An even better approach is to design said later content so that it is different should the player choose a different outcome in the original story, or even that the later content will not even be available if they choose the route they wanted to. Problem in both scenarios though is that often players choose to use meta knowledge about the quest and its outcomes to choose what they want to do, rather than taking a role playing approach of “what would the character do?” Often a choice will result in a different reward or no reward at all, and sometimes players complain when they miss out on getting “all the things”. Same would hold true if a later quest is not available because they chose said route. It’s a difficult balancing act to create content that all players will enjoy; nigh, it is impossible to do so, therefore the writer should always design to what they want to tell in the story and just be open to possible suggestions or be made aware of missed possible choice opportunities that might be able to be written in. Ultimately though, the outcome is up to the writer to determine what KINDS of outcomes work for the overall story, rather than for what the player may want. Sometimes in life, no matter what choices you make, the outcome may be the same, so too it should be true in the game.

Skyrim Limitations

The real kick in the sweet rolls is the fact the Skyrim’s quest system is quite linear in its nature; do a thing, now do another thing, now do something else, etc. Each quest stage along the line progresses the quest forward and is organized in such a linear way that if quest builders make anything other than a basic linear quest, they have to have very good skills of abstraction so they can keep the concepts in mind. Conditions for choices are something that requires a lot of organizational thought and some pre-planning. The game mechanics DO allow for firing quest stages that occur earlier in the line of quest stages, even after progressing well past them, so it’s always plausible to run a higher group of stages for the actual events and use the older stages to fire off specific events that might repeat or happen at any point in the story.

In summary

I always strive to take the approach of providing a mix of quest types, from simple fetch quests for unique items, to multi-level multi-choice quests and everything in between. Providing variety is key to keeping things fresh, and applying unique approaches, despite the design challenges, will really make the content stand out.

Design Philosophies: NPC’s

How much to do and how to do it? are often two defining factors which will determine the overall quality of a mod. There are ways to “fake it” and ways to “do it right” but at what points should you implement believable shortcuts and when should you delve into great depth to bring something to life? This article series will cover a few areas in detail about my personal mindset on NPC development, Quest development, Landscape and cell design and Item creation.

NPC’s

Cardboard standee

These NPC’s, for all intents and purposes are simply “scene dressing”. They may as well be animated statics for all it matters. What qualifies an NPC as a standee is one which simply wanders around in place and has no AI routine (daily schedule), no custom lines, no topics to discuss or quests to facilitate or participate in. They simply say a couple generic voice type hello lines at best, and nothing whatsoever at worst. These NPC’s can be used to make a city feel more populated, however it has the adverse effect of making it feel less “alive” because they are not really engaging in anything specific. Sure they may lean on some railings or sit in the town square, but they are never on their way to “do something” and they never have anything interesting to say. I generally say use these sparingly, or around the outskirts of an area that has well developed NPC’s that draw most of the attention.

Animatronics

Like the cardboard standee type, these NPC’s aren’t good for much, but what they do add is a little more feeling of being alive by adding AI routines to them, so that they can be found sleeping, eating, working, and otherwise living their days with some more purpose. The best designed and most effective Animatronic NPC’s will have day varied AI routines so they have different things to do on different days and even some random aspects to their routines like random location sandbox packages. While they still have nothing interesting to say beyond default “Hello” lines, it does go a long way to making the environment feel more alive, when you add some more actions to their routine.

Makeshift NPC

These have set routines and schedules, have some basic conversation topics, and may be involved in quests with custom dialogue for them. Too often in modding however, modders will rely on the base voice types available and not do a custom voice acted character. Some may fake it by mashing up vanilla voice line fragments, which can be a helpful tool, especially when you are including a vanilla NPC in the mix, but generally, custom voice and custom lines are what is preferred. These NPC’s can be a double edged sword though. While on one hand they have all the trappings of Animatronics along with topics and quests, they almost always are simple fragment lines you can pick out and attribute to vanilla content if you try hard enough. Sometimes it can be more immersion breaking than not having lines at all. So these should be used sparingly. if you are going to go to the effort of mashing up vanilla lines for a custom NPC, you may as well just find a voice actor and make them more unique.

Full NPC

Most NPC’s fall into this category. They have routines, schedules, general topics, character specific topics, proprietary quests where the lines make sense, and full engagement in said quests, and sometimes set or random scenes between other characters. They don’t merely say “do the thing”, then “Ok, here you go” at the end and that’s it like makeshift characters do. These NPC’s are more engaging, and help to paint the picture of the world around you, and even if they share a voice type with other NPC’s, say enough in a unique way to set them apart from other NPC’s of their voice type.

Unique NPC

While most named NPCs are “Unique”, these types set themselves apart. This category is more for those special NPC’s who really come alive. They are custom voiced NPC’s with their own lines, characterization, quests, elaborate routines, conditional dialogue, environmental interactivity and complete engagement with what is going on around them. Some will even level with the player or grow with the conditions of the quests and situations around them. These NPC’s are incredibly rare honestly because they are so much work to tackle. Having NPC’s that comment on various world events or conditional situations, who evolve and grow is very time consuming. Giving multiple engaging quests which evolve their attitudes and approaches to things, is challenging. Ultimately however, if you get a room full of a handful of these characters, you feel like you are living in the space they occupy and that ANYTHING you say and do will affect the outcomes of things around you and the attitudes of each of them towards you in turn. They begin to cross the line between generic NPC and something that is more AI driven, albeit that may be impossible in Skyrim given AI engine limitations, but with enough effort, this kind of NPC can make the world feel very real indeed.

Followers for the sake of followers

I’ve made it no secret; I generally hate followers and hardly ever use them. From a gameplay perspective, they are mechanically difficult to deal with at very least, and completely obnoxious at worst. There are a great many challenges to overcome when creating followers and if you don’t achieve a quality result, the only other option is to remain superficial with the design, because there is no in between. If you try and create a solid follower with proper interaction lines but don’t quite execute it perfectly, the result is a follower with repetitious lines, which is the case with many of mine sadly. Alternately those who don’t even try, are frankly producing the follower for… other reasons than gameplay immersion, let’s face it, and those are literally a dime a dozen. The best NPC followers almost have to delve into “Unique NPC” category status in order to provide story purpose, interaction, character development, and overall freshness. Characters such as Inigo and Lucien in the modding scene hit this mark quite well. Even Serana in Vanilla’s Dawnguard questline is well developed enough to meet this mark as well, but it is quite challenging.

In summary: NPC’s

Generally in most instances I aim for “Full NPC” builds, using custom voiced actors, full series of reaction lines and comments, AI routines with some random elements and plenty of quest interactions. I do tend to delve even higher at times, adding some elements that may define them more as Unique NPC’s with their unique feature sets, evolution of attitudes and scene interactions, and likewise will step back into more animatronic NPC status if they are more minor. I’ll even employ basic standees on occasion just to fill the spaces more. So really it’s a judgement call to be made on if you spend more time and make everyone as developed as possible, or focus most effort on those pivotal characters instead so you can put energy into other areas.

Next article: Quest Design

Drawn and quartered

Life loves to pull us in many different directions. Between daily life responsibilities, family, work and other unforeseen events demanding our currency of time, we often find ourselves without two nickels to rub together at the end of the day. Or if we do have a handful of change left over, we have little mental capacity to handle spending it on anything other than playing a few mindless games or watching bad TV. We’ve all been there for certain and I find myself there currently.

In January of 2019 my wife and I started our online store (www.chibichopshop.com) selling Anime chibi figure parts as a side hustle and within 4 months found that it was much more than a casual pet but quickly becoming a slobbering beast demanding more of our time and energy every day. Now almost 2 years to the day since we started the business it’s grown into a giant rampaging monster of a pet which constantly calls our attention to feed it. That facilitated us moving into as much larger home at the end of the summer (of which it happily occupies about 350sq feet of it), and me being pulled day by day more and more closer to a full time job. Pulling and filling orders, answering questions, handling back end development on the site, ordering distributor inventory and supplies, accounting, doing PR and promotion, etc. has quickly dominated the majority of my time and siphoned a good amount of it away from my modding work.

There is a solution on the horizon though as we stand on our toes and try to reach the ceiling of potential, we have yet to be able to touch that ceiling or really even see it for that matter. We have however hit a point where we no longer can handle more business than we have given our available time unless something changes in how we work that business. My wife has long worked in the veterinary industry as a certified tech (for almost 25 years in fact), but we are on the verge of being able to sustain her working full time for our own business and cutting back to part time at the clinic to drive said business higher and if that ceiling continues to remain above our heads we will shift her to working exclusively full time for our business and in both instances, she will be able to take over much more of the day to day operation that I’ve been handling for the last two years, which then frees me up to return more focus on modding.

It’s all a bit like a chess game as we had to take a high interest cash loan to buy our house (since we didn’t have 2 years of taxes on file for our business yet) and are looking next to refinance with a traditional, more affordable rate after I get taxes submitted and accepted. Once we get that finalized we can then shift towards the work arrangement changes and I can once again focus on the task at hand.

So what does that mean in the meantime as the beast that is our business continues to bark for attention from the ground level or continues to jump into our laps amidst other things? It basically means that my presence may be a little spotty for the next few months. I will be continuing to hold weekly Odyssey team development meetings to ensure I stay in the loop and answer any needed questions and steal a few hours here and there to do some work on the project as well. Ultimately though I have no more limbs left to tie and will need to wait for some slack before I can maneuver again.

“Ok world, I’m ready to save you now”: the player character’s place in the game world.

The game world moves on without you, or does it? It seems that most games like to give some form of illusion that events are happening around the player with or without their consent or involvement, but the reality is that very few games execute it well. The player comes home after a hard fought battle with the latest bad guy, get’s the rewards and praise and takes a well deserved break. They decide to brush up on their cooking skills and craft some new furniture for their home, or maybe have a sit by the fire and catch up on some in game lore books. The world will wait right?

Skyrim is one of those games which I categorize as “hero worship” (even though ironically everyone treats you like shit most the time, but hey that’s just Nords for you), so maybe “hero-centric” would be a better term. These games are the ones where the player has almost omnipotent control over the gas and brake pedals of the vehicle called that game they are in. They can decide when and how to press the plot forward and if they desire, NOTHING will happen until they will it. This is fine for linear storyline games like old school JRPGs or most of the original Final Fantasy games which rely on lots of forward progress to tell a rich linear story with great character development, but not so much for open world sandboxing games.

This concept gets particularly bad after games have aged a bit and people are on their two dozenth playthrough or more; they know the ins and outs of the game, so that control begins to feel even more meta and all powerful as familiarity of the game grows. When you first play a game, it feels like all events that occur are unexpected and could have potentially happened under many different circumstances, but as you play the game more and more times, you come to find that all of these events are specifically laid out to happen at certain times or places under certain conditions. Sure, that’s to be expected because quest programming has its limitations, especially in a game that is designed as linearly as Skyrim is. The horrible mechanical stability dumpster fire that is the civil war quest arc is evidence enough of that.

Something Odyssey seeks to achieve is giving a more in depth feeling that the world is changing around you based on your choices and that some tasks you may have to undertake may only have a small window to peruse them in. Timed quests seem to be a largely foreign concept in Skyrim and modding as well. Back in the days of Daggerfall and Arena, they had such quests, and they gave a real sense of urgency that the Skyrim “deliver these pelts” quest you’ve had in your journal for the last 2 months in real time, just fails to instill.

In addition we strive to take a little control out of the hands of the player in that some world events will occur with or without your involvement. Of course we are still limited by the confines of the programming and these events will have to be anchored to specific other quests and events that are triggered by the player, but if we are able to execute these elements right, we’ll have world events that happen and physically change the scope of the game; pirates raiding a local settlement and burning half of it to the ground if you don’t make it there to save them, ships that will pull into port and offer some unique goods for sale for a short time before sailing off, never to return that season. All events that the player can be informed of to know to find them, but also can easily overlook and observe later as a bystander.

Of course the challenge lies not in the creativity of our team but in the functionality of the tools available. Quest mechanics are designed in a very linear fashion to where stage 2 is triggered when 1 is done, stage 3 is triggered after 2 is done, etc, but in situations where stage 3 can happen before stage 1 is even started or stage two can lead to stage 3 or 1 depending on choice, things get logistically and mechanically complex. Take Shattered Legacy in Legacy of the Dragonborn for example. In v5 I rebuilt a large portion of the quest line and opened up the mechanics of the “guardian arc” of the quest so that you could follow the guided path by the NPC’s, pickpocket them for more information, kill them and strike out on your own, or even lead them on while working with your stolen info and then giving them the slip. Seems all smooth enough right? Nope…

Having a linear engine to do a non-linear, multi-event factored quest design is a nightmare. I had stages specifically for acquiring particular items, certain stages for death triggers of the NPC’s so many conditions that some of the actual quest stages (that show journal progress) had 16 variant condition options based on the criteria that was true based on your actions. When you have 2 elements, it’s pretty easy; if 1 happened, do A, if 2 happened do B and if neither happened do C and if BOTH happened, do D. But when you have 3 artifacts, 2 things to read, the living state of certain NPC to account for and various states of conversation thrown into the mix, you have a potential mess on your hands.

That was pretty much the result of the rework of Shattered Legacy initially; a mess. It wasn’t until several versions later that I was able to identify the “bad paths” to close any condition loopholes that caused hiccups in the progress. It took a lot of play testing and trial and error to get it sorted out and with the help of my awesome team of testers and helpers, we managed to iron it all out… for now at least. If I’ve learn only one thing in modding it’s that a new bug that has always been there but never reported will always appear one day. Then of course you have the “two steps forward, one step back” issue of patching but that’s a whole other story.

The struggles of support

Since the dawn of Legacy I have always striven to give the best possible support to users of the mod. The first couple years I personally responded to almost every single inquiry or concern myself. The high level of support I tried to provide was reflected in the fact that Legacy LE had the second highest topic post count of any subject on the entire Nexus (second only to Requiem). This support effort continued with a few additional folks hopping on board to help out in an effort to support the mod they loved so much, and most the time it has been greatly appreciated. At times however it has brought some tension and drama as well because with every different person comes a slightly different approach.

I come from a long background of customer service, technical support and retail management and though I too get irritated and fall short sometimes, I do understand the concepts behind good technical support and customer service. I do have a very strong philosophy of mutual respect between customer and support worker which the old school golden oldies mentality of customer service (The customer is always right) gets very much in the way of and is still pervasive today. The reality is that the customer is NOT always right, but we as customer support and/or technical support people have a responsibility to make an effort to give the benefit of the doubt that in most cases, the customer is trying to be forthcoming and honest about their needs. When it becomes clear however that deception or deliberate misrepresentation are present, that is when my stance distinctly parts ways with that old philosophy.

As Legacy grew into the absolutely MAMMOTH project that it is today both in scope and in following, we expanded out to Discord to provide a real time community and avenue for providing support. With this came a lot of benefits but also a lot of challenges. As someone who has managed several online forum based communities in the past, I understand the challenges of mitigating and managing different aspects of people’s personalities and incompatibilities as well as minimizing drama and let’s be honest, it’s not an easy job. I can’t personally be around all the time and the more I am, the more likely I am to explode on difficult situations and sour everything myself, so for the longevity of the community and my own personal sanity I had to differ to trusted moderators. People who I trusted to make good calls and try and manage things in my stead when I’m not around, and while no option is perfect and each person has their own limits and struggles with certain situations, it overall has provided a good level of support for quite some time.

Enter Odyssey… oh Odyssey, my white whale and my Sistine Chapel all wrapped up into one. The focus on Odyssey has been daunting. We have done several insanely intense development cycles with Odyssey and come back to a few development cycles with Legacy in between phases and then Covid hit and we all more or less scattered to the wind mentally. Most of us have taken a break from Odyssey for the most part while we struggle with daily life and get our heads back on straight but slowly and surely I am seeing that passion return not only in myself but in many members of the team as well, so Odyssey will once again fire up that hype train engine to start chugging down the tracks once more, and I’m very excited for it, but doing so presents more challenges for support.

A couple months back we scaled back a certain degree of our agenda of providing “official” support and instead went to “developer assisted community support” which meant a large clear guide providing all necessary resources for fixing most issues, and opening up the channel to allow all members of the community to help one another with developers assisting when able or chiming in when necessary. This has been overall pretty successful as far as keeping issues addressed while allowing the official team some space to work on other things but it has brought a lot of additional challenges, which is of course the animus for this post.

In our effort to curb constant repeats of the same questions and reduce the overall inquiries in the support channels on Discord, we re-worked all the documentation for Legacy (relating to technical aspects), into a central “Full Guide” which has links to the FAQ, compatibility guide and other resources and tools, and when things are covered in said resources, our support team and community members simply point them out and the person seeking answers can then refer to them for their solutions. The issue however is that not everyone reads the “required” reading, even those who are striving to provide support and as a result conflict can often ensue. Most drama in the support channels boils down to one of two causes; lack of reading on the user’s part, or lack of qualifying on the support person’s fault. And as I can do nothing about users not reading other than telling them to do so (just as my Nexus forum signature indicates with; “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him read the sticky post.”), I’ll have to focus on the qualifying element of support people.

Firstly, what is qualifying? Qualifying is a support/retail term which basically means to ask for more information. Asking open ended questions that require more detailed responses than simply yes or no is central to determining the causes, situations and needs of a customer or user. Asking for example “what steps did you take to install?” rather than “Did you follow the instructions when installing?” will get you a MUCH different picture. You will start to pick out individual elements in their accounting of their problem which will raise red flags. Even if the support person did this first step correctly however, the next step is where most people fall short; which is to reiterate the response and ask clarifying questions. A lot of support people will start to identify the possible red flags brought up by the user’s accounting and immediately start throwing out solutions, suggestions, etc, but often there is much more to know about the situation which can greatly affect the plausible solutions. When a users raises a flag in their statements, repeat back that element to be sure you understand it correctly, then ask clarifying questions about that element to get the full picture. From this point you are then pretty well equipped with a full picture of their circumstances and will have things narrowed down pretty well. From here you are well equipped for the next stage which is “overcoming objections” which is the stage where things can tend to go off the rails and become combative if you have not properly qualified their issue. Frustration starts to flair and either party can get defensive.

Overcoming objections is not what it sounds like. It’s not a case of “I’m right and you are wrong, and this is why”, it’s a more reasoned approach using their own accounting to support your suggestions. Overcoming objections is where you reason with the user/customer as to why they should buy into your recommendation, and this is where you either go back to asking more qualifying questions to get a further clearer picture or the user admits defeat and applies your solution. In Retail we would then go to the “ask for the sale” or “go to close” step, but in support, that stage is pretty much implicit when the user applies your fix and their issue is resolved.

I have come to notice that in our zeal to get people to read the documentation a lot of people on the support channels go right for the throat and immediately “try to close the sale” by sending them there. If it’s obvious they have not checked in cases where the issue is addressed in a sticky post or on the FAQ, then great, the express lane it is. I have seen however a lot of people who misinterpret game feature problems with technical support ones. Often times the “read the guide” response should really be “read the CURATOR’S guide in game” instead.

The last arrow in your quiver of support is deescalation. This is a HUGE problem. When you fail to get enough data and overcome objections, escalation is right on the horizon. As soon as that happens you have 1 chance to step in, collect your wits and return to the crux of the problem itself, otherwise it becomes a spiraling game of finger pointing on what person A or B said or did and what user A or B said or meant, etc. To this end DOG PILING is also a huge concern. Users on the Discord love to show off their knowledge of Legacy and its inner workings (often times incorrectly) and will chime in when things already have been addressed (this is bad), or they jump into the midst of escalation in an effort to support one side’s argument or another (this is also bad).

I want to reiterate that having members of the community help one another with support questions is great, and I appreciate it, but any who wish to do so, NEED to follow my guidelines presented above and keep things chill, focused on the problem, and differed to development team or moderators immediately if things start to escalate and it can’t be brought back on track. If an issue is already being addressed and someone is actively helping and progressing correctly, do not intervene unless you KNOW for a fact (not think, but KNOW) that something stated is factually incorrect. If things are escalating, do not add to the flames, bring it to the attention of dev team or moderators and we can deal with it.

Ultimately the goal of the support channel is to help people, and making things a stressful situation or being a drama llama is not conducive to this goal. Work together, ask questions, and interpret people’s intention as generously as possible. Sure there are the occasional self-entitled dicks, but that’s why the dev team and moderators all carry banhammers 😉 let us deal with it, and thanks for helping out.

Odyssey – position on ESO as canon

Firstly, wow, it’s been awhile! I haven’t had access to my wordpress for awhile because it just stopped letting me post through Firefox one day and I haven’t bothered to access through chrome until now. So HI AGAIN!

Now that that’s out of the way, on to the highly divisive topic at hand. Since its inception, ESO has been a point of contention among TES fans with some hard liner main series RPG fans swearing off ESO entirely and many MMO versed players choosing to embrace it wholeheartedly and all the while the question at the crux of the topic remains fueling the divide: “Is ESO Canon?”

If you scour the internetz you will find several citations and sources about how ESO is canon, but just as many references and elements suggesting that it’s not. The social media director on ESO has said it is, but Todd Howard has a distinct disdain for it and will no longer make statements concerning ESO at all and when asked will not affirm or deny one way or another as to it’s status as Canon. It has also been said that ESO should be considered an alternate universe and not part of the main timeline by primary writers of the TES series, AND Pete Hines had officially declared the books in the “infernal city” series as being canon while ESO has not had any such official statement from him that I’m aware of.

Ultimately I’m personally in the “not canon” camp, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t accepting and adopting a lot of elements from ESO as if it were canon. The simple reality is that the TES universe has NEVER been consistent and they have repeatedly retconed storyline information with the convenient “Dragon break” excuse; the world’s greatest Ex Machina ever. The idea that Cyrodiil was a jungle before Tiber Septim’s achievement of CHIM turned it into a vast open land was long ago established and ESO attempted to explain it away with some in game texts relating to a “mis-translation” is a great example which in my opinion was done only to facilitate siege warfare for their PVP battleground which would not function nearly as well in a vast dense jungle. That aside the mainline series has never held itself to solid consistent storytelling either, so one can hardly blame ESO for taking the same liberties as well.

In the end we have adopted a lot of Lore from secondary titles like Redguard, Shadowkey and Battlespire and also have done so with ESO content, but we reserve the right to also ignore any of it if it contradicts any mainline title canon or steps on the adopted lore we have laid down in an irreconcilable way. Legacy already adopted several ESO created dragon priests and their masks, a number of story concepts and character backgrounds as well as some in game books that help establish the lore for Odyssey to come. Much of the history we apply to the Direnni in Act 1 in fact comes from ESO in game books and concepts as well as a large element from ESO’s main storyline is adopted into Odyssey’s canon.

Ultimately Urag Gro-Shub of the Winterhold College said it best when he said; “Everything is true, even the falsehoods… ESPECIALLY the falsehoods”. In a world where time is malleable, so too are the concepts which one can call “canonical”.

Bottom line policy: If it contradicts established canon from the main TES titles, it is NOT going to be regarded as canon by Legacy/Odyssey. Anything else we will happily adopt if it aids the storytelling.

A bump in the road

So life as it seems has decided to take another turn to slowing my progress with Legacy V5 and ultimately with Odyssey as well. I sadly found out this week that I have developed diabetes, which in itself is not much of a surprise considering my genetic history of it (not to mention my ironic namesake affinity for ice cream). As a result this is going to mean a lot of mental adjustment on my part and a complete change of my eating habits as well as much of the way I’ve been living to date. It’s going to mean several doctor’s appointments and a lot of educating myself more over the short term until I get into a rhythm and can cope with all of this. As a result it sadly is going to slow my productivity a bit over the next month or so which means that Legacy V5 may see a little more delay than I had hoped. I’m still chipping away at it, but won’t quite have as much time set aside for it as I had expected. Just when you start making progress again it seems that life gives you a sharp kick in the ribs. At least I’ve come upon it now rather than ending up in a crisis state, so with an adjustment of diet and exercise and medications I should be able to slow and hopefully reverse the development of the condition a bit. Time will tell.

Legacy V5 Update

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Much has happened over the last 6 months which has caused some significant delays in progress on Legacy of the Dragonborn SE V5, but recently I’ve managed to work out the rust and start gaining some steam on getting things wrapped up and ready to present to you the, oh so patient fan. So I figured it was well past due for a current status and feature update.

The museum build is pretty much done. Aside from a few bits and pieces, all the major stones are in place and the building looks fantastic inside and out. But rather than explain in depth each and every thing in a wall of text I’ll throw down some bullet lists:

  • Shattered Legacy – Quest rebuild is just about done. About half of it has been re-written entirely with new, better lore, and stronger tie ins with the upcoming Odyssey sequel series.
  • Voice actors – Many characters such as Kyre, Avram and Eriana have been recast for a variety of reasons and Kyre in particular I will be very sad to see go, but we need a VA that can carry us into Odyssey and the original has moved on as many have. I’m on the fence with a few other possible recasts but these are the main ones that are certain and it all depends on time.
  • Audio remaster – Many lines of dialog were corrupted back in V14 and I’m working on overwriting them with the backups or re-extracting from the source files to build cleaner lines.
  • haunted museum quest – you now have an in game, immersive means to bypassing the quest which will cost you earning the Ghost Helm, but for those who don’t do well with horror, this is a better means than using MCM menu or console commands.
  • Heist quest – the flow of the quest and dialog has been adjusted to give more variety and more player control over choice with some variant options in the ending. Avram’s behaviors have been adjusted and he overall is a better tag along during the quest.
  • Unique item replacers – Thanks to the help of Rains and Fafnir (the fan turned dev team member, not the racoon) and a few other folks, we have rounded up or made new replacers for a handful of items that still were missing unique models
  • Excavation quests – I’ve built a new mechanic in to the Windcaller pass and Rkund excavations which allow the player to stick around and help to dig and progress the segments in a quicker fashion. This proved challenging since we don’t have access to Marassi’s voice actor, but I managed to polish things up. I’ve also fixed the final stretch of the Rkund magma silo so it’s a little easier, and even implemented a secret workaround to avoid it altogether for those who just can’t handle it.
  • Book turn in quest – Latoria’s book turn in quest will soon allow you to hand her crates full of books instead of just 20 at a time so she can work them into valuable items at a faster rate.
  • Guildhouse – The guildhouse has a new placement on the other side of the museum and has an entrance from the museum reception hall itself, giving much faster access. The auto load door around the patio loads to the airship dock just behind the safehouse balcony for not only a great view but also avoiding the terrible instanced cell bug moving forward.
  • Safehouse – Vastly expanded yet reworked for that cozy feel, the safehouse features everything like before and then some. A few features like a book reading chair and access to the book returns as well as space for both followers AND children along with an in home hot tub, the place is fit for a Jarl. Many more planting spots have been added (for purchase) on the balcony outside and even offers more sensible access through the museum staff area and from the upper ring of the main atrium as well. Secret passageways have been added that connect direct to the safehouse for faster loading. Sadly the hot springs outside and the hall of secrets as we know it had to go away, but the hall of secrets does still remain hidden somewhere within.
  • Improved sorting – The prep station fixes that Picky and I each implemented in late stage LE and in his handling of SE are being combined to create a multi-tier display sorting system that will process displaying items more accurately for large sorting and faster for those folks with only a handful of items.
  • Supported mods – Legacy V5 will no longer have any built in automatic support for other mods and instead will be shifting to creating patches to support them instead. This allows us greater ease up updating support patches, and in ESL form will allow us to condense load orders for people. Integrated support was a nice feature, but could be broken by users who didn’t follow the exact instructions and required script cleaning and console magic when updates occurred and there should be less of this in the future.
  • Smarter Mannequins – In our eternal quest to better the horrible mannequin mechanics of Vanilla Skyrim, we have taken some measures to removing Mannequin use for dedicated displays like Miraak’s robes, snow elf armor, hold guards and the like, while keeping as vast selection of our creepy friend in two large armory wings for player use. We continue to fight the good fight to working out a new universal armor display system, and are on the verge of several new breakthroughs, so we fight on!
  • New guards – The museum will be getting a larger entourage of guards over the coarse of filling the museum. They also will have their own snazzy custom armor as well.

My hope is to continue at a higher pace over the next three weeks and hopefully by the end of July we will be into solid playtesting and have Legacy V5 done before the end of August. We shall see. Much more to come.