Back to the drawing board

So, I am a man possessed. I am finally feeling highly motivated by the Odyssey project once again and have strapped on my proverbial riot helmet and am charging in head long and not going to take any prisoners. Behold the fruits of today’s labor: Balfiera Isles (yes plural) V2.0
balfiera plot.jpg

This crazy image may be a bit hard to decipher at first so let me first explain that I have decided to rebuild Balfiera from the ground up (literally) by starting a new worldspace and utilizing the Creation Kit’s Heightmap tool. The decision came about when I had been talking to a member of Beyond Skyrim’s Iliac Bay project team and was looking at a map of Tamriel again and realized that not only is Solstheim MUCH bigger than Balfiera, but our island ultimately was even bigger than Solsthiem itself! Couple that with the fact that I have always felt overwhelmed by the original version due to not having built it myself and having worked through various generations of attempts to finalizing things, it seemed more logical and ultimately more fruitful to return to scratch and start applying our existing assets to a new worldspace.

Instead of one single island (the main one), we will have the entire archipelago of islands in the Iliac bay along with the surrounding coastlines of Hammerfell and Highrock in the distance. This layout is almost perfectly accurate when compared to the Daggerfall map for the region and it reflects a much more scale and true experience for the Balfiera isles. Working with a more condensed area will also mean a lot less work for us and a much tighter package with clear areas we can assign without interfering with one another.

This map above reflects a gridded screen shot of the heightmap work in progress. The blue areas are land, the lighter of which is higher elevation. The purple is water, the brighter of which is deeper. Then there are a number of towns, settlements, ruined forts and palaces from ages past, dungeons and other landmarks across the areas. I tried to utilize most of the Daggerfall locations, merging some similar sites into a single location or making slight renames to prevent some of the redundancy that the old ES games had (man that Gaerhart guy sure gets around). There will be ferryman at each island that will take you to the various islands much like a carriage driver does or you can feel free to attempt to swim it, and could also potentially take the airship to various sites.

All in all I am much happier with the prospect of this than the original. The original is amazing, and awesome and the collective work on it will not go to waste, but I think being able to once again work in phases to build the landscape, touch up and texture, do cliff and rock placement (with LOD completed prior), tree and foliage and decoration placement and then construction of sites, we will ultimately be much better off for it.

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Pulling the strings

The later half of 2017 was rife with real life craziness, mostly centered around my household improvements and now I finally am to a point where things are starting to settle down. Yes there are more projects to be had, more walls to plaster and paint, more rooms to detail, but no more massive construction (thank the divines).

Coming back into the fray of modding I found myself working again on a Legacy patch (yeah I know, so shoot me). This new patch should see release in the next couple weeks and then it is back to full focus on Odyssey.

During this interlude over the holidays I haven’t been away from Odyssey of course. During the last few months we have had several weekly meetings to discuss story planning in great detail and continue to do so, soon shifting into general planning coordination. We’ve ironed out the overall plot, figured out the major sub plots and some nice twists and developed some key characters to a great level of depth. We’ve determined how we want to structure many of our side quests and how we want to treat player controlled choices to give multiple paths or at least the illusion of choice, all with the strong driving force that the Last Dragonborn is the only protagonist who could play out this story (sorry high level mercenaries).

During the process of this story planning I have been mulling over in my mind my role in all of this and the roles of others involved. With Pickysaurus’ scripting skills now surpassing those of ‘the master’ I am assigning a more prevalent role to him by appointing him the chief quest programing lead and lead script programmer, a role I previously was going to spear head. I will of course still design scripts and mechanics that Picky can later flesh out and optimize and will lay the basic groundwork for standard flow of main quest scripting, but the big picture and detail work of scripting will fall largely to him.

Seeing this transition coming to be is difficult, because it’s always a challenge of your own worth as a creator to admit that someone on your team has surpassed you in an area, and that you are once again a fish in a pond where there are always bigger fish. I’m never the biggest fish in any pond I’m in, but I do tend to know quite a bit about every pond I am in and can jump between many, which is my real skill in the end; jack of all trades, which is why my role of general organizer is so important. It allows me to continue to steer and aim the overall project and maintain full knowledge of how things are developing and how they work. That’s always been one thing I always have told would be “shoot the moon” mod authors who are new to the game who want to make a massive project right off the bat and strive to build a team; you have to know how to do everything at least a little bit if you expect anyone to follow you. In other words, ‘proof is in the pudding toots’.

So knowing that I can give some slack to the scripting reigns I turn my focus to other critical elements like the stage we play our game on; Balfiera. Looking hard within myself in regards to giving up some responsibility and control in the area of scripting, prompted me to take a look at the broader picture and I began to admit that I hate worldspace development, or rather I hate the prep work involved in getting a worldspace ready for LOD building. This is another area that I’ve decided I am going to strive to find someone to aid with rather than fighting my way through it tooth and nail.

Ultimately giving up some control to folks better qualified in specific areas allows me a better means to seeing the big picture and helping to coordinate that development to greater efficiency. Overall it means assigning the best people to the job, which means a better product in the end or at least a more efficient development. Being a knowledgeable modder and assigning people to tasks that they are better at than yourself requires a lot of pride swallowing, but at the same time allows me to take a certain amount of pride in the skills that they have developed with some of my help. It’s like Yoda says in The Last Jedi “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” A great quote to be sure, even if it isn’t in Yoda-syntax, but we’ll forgive that for now.

Making it out of the mud

There are few things that are worse in the world of creativity than spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. That’s how I have been feeling off and on for the last several months while being bogged down with all this infernal remodeling work around my house, but with all of that now finally done(ish) I’ve set my sights…. and fell flat on my face.

Over the last couple weeks I have been struggling to make cohesive sense of an ever evolving concept and story but as of this morning I can happily say that the crisis has been averted (at least for now). This morning I had an almost 3 hour long voice chat with a half dozen folks on the development and creative team for Odyssey as well as a dozen or so total comprised of some fan eavesdroppers and idea posers (posers as in presented, not posers as in pretenders… but I think you get me). Lots of great ideas all around and we made it about 3/4 of the way through the 9 act outline of the story, fleshed out Auryen and the various plot developments and ultimately ended with a pretty fresh perspective on how it all pieces together.

I spent most of the rest of the day writing like mad to get through the entire outline and make sure that all the primary concepts and plot points made sense, the order of progression felt natural and the desired incidental side elements had a rational reason for being where there were. All in all, I feel like a cloud has lifted and I can suddenly see more clearly again. I intend on keeping this momentum with weekly planning meetings at least for the next week or two to finish fluffing out the story before we really go balls to the wall with the start of quest development and everything else that comes with this ridiculously complicated process.

I know that I’ve felt often like I have been limping along in this project but I really feel like once we get the foundation laid and the stage built, the rest will fall into place very quickly by comparison. So onward we merrily stumble.

Setting my Sights… yet again

Alternate title: Spinning my wheels.

It’s now been a couple months since I have accomplished anything meaningful in the realm of modding (other than an update to TWR) due to my massive home remodeling projects, which are thankfully starting to become more complete than less so, so within the next month or so I will find myself thankfully with a little more free time on my hands. But what to do with that time?

Most would be quick to chime in and say “Why, Odyssey of course!” and indeed, they would be correct, a large portion of my efforts during the day will once again be devoted to getting the Odyssey train moving again and hopefully a bit farther down the tracks.

I made some very good progress, not in direct development this last salvo, but instead in the form of project organization and coordination. I established a project planning page at Freedcamp.com and assembled a decent sized team of initial contributors such as script writers (code not text), a voice actor director, primary editor, Voice track implementation specialist, NPC designer and implementation specialist and a handful of other dedicated roles. Slowly but surely, this ship will have a full crew on board.

The down side in all this progress is that we have also lost the involvement of MyBad due to him vanishing off the face of the earth, and his work has been instrumental in the development so far and his loss will be a huge blow since this now makes me the ONLY static model designer on the team other than RonnieMagnum who specializes in weapons. So as we progress in the coming months, I will need to push hard to find someone else to help in this task, otherwise I will be delegating more tasks I usually perform so I can focus more on this important aspect.

My current struggle on Odyssey itself is currently getting aspects of the LOD polished up and working. I have a lot of LOD models to convert from vanilla or from custom assets and texturing to do for them as well as a bunch of land coloration issues to figure out AND a possible complete rebuild of Gallowmarket (the major port town) since MyBad built everything there with small piecemeal parts rather than larger building objects. The result is something that looks more custom, but takes up more resources in game and also makes LOD a nightmare to deal with. I essentially am going to need to build some mash up models for larger structures and make LOD models for them as well.

I’m essentially feeling overwhelmed because of the scope of work that needs to be done, and of course the overhanging home remodeling stuff that is still in progress obviously, but additionally, I have another element that is daunting me: A new idea.

Awhile back I had posted a setting and concept idea for my own game and decided that I was going to pursue seriously building my own game from the ground up. The problem I quickly encountered was that I really had no direction to go with the game and was torn with the genre and style of the game. So I ended up back burning the idea for awhile.

The issue now becomes that I just put 2 and 2 together and realized that I already have a fleshed out game world concept, general setting and plot line with all the detail and fluffed out trimmings that truly define a game world already deeply developed which was for a pen and paper RPG game, and was a novel series I had the first draft of the first book done for, but those two incarnations didn’t truly feel right somehow.

So blamo, Gun Mage (the game idea) needed to be made into a video game RPG instead. So now I have this concept also pressing down on me and gnawing at my mind like a song that won’t go away (damnit legend of zelda a link to the past castle theme!!! yes it’s been stuck in my head for days for some reason).

Ultimately I have been reworking my previously developed content and re-outfitting it with the idea of a video game in mind, building slowly toward a generalized principal I can later make into a proof of concept, however the entire prospect of building this game is daunting to say the least and would require skills I currently do not have and resources I also do not have.

So essentially I am battling with myself about if this prospect is merely a distraction I do not need, or if it is the ultimate goal in the end. I suspect that in the end I will set it aside, focus on Odyssey and use it as a chance to develop a few of the skills I will need and gather more developers to be involved with this larger project and then take some time to research more on the plausible systems I will use for building Gun Mage.

I think really I am expecting too much out of myself and am way too worn out with all this work the last few months to really give any good level of thought to much of anything. I need to bide my time and get one thing done at a time I think, so once again, a grand idea must wait in the wings … sigh…

Every new beginning….

…Starts with some other beginning’s end. Too right you are, Semisonic. Last night we went live with Legacy of the Dragonborn V19, and it felt amazing. It felt like turning on a series of high power circuit breakers which sent a palpable energy to all corners of our little Legacy community. In less than a half hour we had over 200 downloads of this long awaited package and a buzz around the mod page and the discord channel that generated some great excitement. The end of this chaotic period is met with a new feeling of contentment. Sure there was a feature breaking issue with the dwemer compass discovered 3 hours after going live which I hotfixed, but hey, that’s bound to happen with a ship this big right? Despite the setbacks and the minor issues sure to come (which Pickysaurus will be handling), I have a different feeling than before. Previously when I tried to state “final” on Legacy releases, it felt as though I was swimming upstream, forcing myself to be disciplined (with little success) to step away. This time however I feel like I can actually throw on Sir Jesto’s patchwork cloak, pack up Deano’s backpack and begin my new Odyssey, leaving Legacy behind in good hands and in good condition.

This Cycle of Alpha and Beta testing was pretty fast paced and intensive. We had a lot of great folks come out to help and a few that worked tirelessly with updates, which we appreciate greatly, but most importantly, I had the help of Picky who after several volleys of “Development Update Tennis” where we passed the package back and forth and patched in our own updates on the other person’s previously updated main file, he pretty much ran most aspects of the testing discord and handling of the beta core package and packaging of the BSA. I really could not have gotten this update done as quickly or as well without his help, so thanks Picky!

Looking back I can honestly say it’s been well worth the journey, but now a new journey is to come, and I have an island calling to me to complete. Starting Monday next week, I will be working full force on Odyssey of the Dragonborn Act 1 once again and updates will be forthcoming. So as captain Jack would say “Bring me that horizon”!

Legacy of the Dragonborn -Remastered

Legacy has always been pretty well polished and optimized over the years with various patches and addons to tweak and perfect every little aspect of the mod, so when I say to you that Legacy V19 will make all of our efforts thus far look haphazard, that’s an understatement.

Thanks to the very dedicated help of Pickysaurus, we have literally re-invented Legacy, having re-written several quests, some from the ground up. I’ve re-engineered various systems to work more effectively and Picky has helped streamline some script functions and has been a digital gardener when it comes to old outdated scripts and voice assets. Tearing out the old and leaving only the healthy and useful. Basically we took a bad-ass classic sports car and did a complete degrease, detailing, re-lube and wash and hot wax of the entire thing.

Aelarr is back with an offer to do a more up-to-date text editing and typo fix which will be implemented in the final release. The package will be neat and tight with a BSA containing most of the assets for the mod. The textures will be optimized at 1K inside the core package with 512 and 2K options available as well. NMM will no longer curl itself into a little ball and cry for it’s mommy when trying to install this monster (hopefully). This entire project truly is incredibly exciting for me to see come to fruition.

And the icing on the cake of course, the brand new Live another Life addon for Legacy which gives you a new explorer’s society guildmaster start for the game, in order to encourage folks to take the plunge with one final grand play through with this new beginning.

I will state more clearly; Legacy V19 remastered WILL require a fresh start. It will be VERY obvious and be written in many many places, so we will not be accepting any excuses when people come to the mod page for help and it becomes evident people have attempted an update. So many moving parts of Legacy have been adapted and rebuilt that even script cleaning will not suffice.

So once V19 remastered goes live, I will be stepping away from Legacy and leaving it in the very capable hands of my partner in crime on V19; pickysaurus who will be addressing any unseen issues and provide critical fix patches as needed over the weeks that follow it’s release. Once the inevitable wave of minor bugs are addressed and it’s patched cleanly, I will consider Legacy 100% done.

Then comes an even greater Odyssey, which I have taken short trips in preparation for over the last year or so, but now is the real push forward. With the help of a few active individuals I am going to be heading full steam into completing Odyssey Act 1, which has been a labor of love for as long as Legacy has been in the works almost. MyBad, RonnieMagnum and I have been working behind the scenes for years on this project and it will see the light of day sooner rather than later.

I also have had a lot of time to think about Skyrim Special Edition (SSE) and SKSE64 and how it pertains to Legacy and Odyssey’s future development, and these are my thoughts on the subject. SKSE64 is dead in the water currently. The original core 4-some that built SKSE is down to one person and that person is even no longer actively working on the project until more people can be found to breathe life into it. There are a good handful of capable coders out there who can and eventually may step up and take the reigns but right now in this present time I have to view it as dead and not to expect it. If it does come around eventually, it will save me a lot of work. If it doesn’t I need to plan for that eventuality as well.

If SKSE64 indeed does not get released in the next year let’s say, I have to examine what to do concerning Legacy. Some of you may know that I have no interest in SSE, no drive to put forth any effort for it, mainly because of how Bethesda has basically exploited the modding community to try and drive them to create content for their console launch of SSE. Compound that with the fact that they have blacklisted me from communicating with them because they clearly spend more time lurking and stalking the modding community than they spend developing their development software, leaves me with no interest whatsoever in SSE. Does that mean SSE will not have a Legacy release? not necessarily, but like SKSE64, do not expect it any time soon. I intend to ride things out and work on Odyssey. Once Odyssey Act 1 is released I will assess where we are again and if SKSE64 is no closer to being released or has no driving force to making it a reality, I will probably vest a little time and port Legacy to SSE and begin the long process of recompiling each script in order to strip SKSE functionality from them. Once this happens we can pass the meshes from V19 through the SSEOptimizer and be ready to pack up. Hopefully by the time Odyssey Act 1 comes out SKSE64 will be out and the job will be easy and I can avoid having to re-engineer dozens of scripts, if not, then I’ll have to appraise my level of interest at porting it come that time. In the meanwhile Odyssey and all future projects from me will continue to be released on Classic Skyrim, and potentially ported later.

Additionally, the rumored upcoming release of a Windows 10 directx memory limitation fix could blow the roof off of Skyrim Classic and open up a huge array of possibilities, which will further dampen any interest in involving myself with SSE.

So ultimately lots happening and a lot to think about.

Voice acting 101

So I don’t for one second pretend to be a great voice actor or even an aspiring pro or anything like that. I think overall I do a descent job, but more importantly I understand the basic principles of good voice acting from an acting, directing, and mod author perspective, and so this little guide is going to be like a primer for anyone who would like to get into voice acting but isn’t sure how.

What you need

  • A microphone
  • Audacity (or similar sound software)
  • Quiet space
  • willingness to sound like an ass

1- Microphones

Mics come in a very broad and range from $20 to $2000 or more. Ultimately you don’t need to spend much but you need one that is going to give decent results. The two features you really need are Cardioid mode (also known as Uni-directional) which picks up sounds right in front of it and cancels out sounds from around the room better. The second thing is the frequency range needs to pick up the full spectrum of sound range. The Blue Yeti silver I linked above does 20hz – 20Khz which is perfectly fine. Other more expensive mics will have higher high ranges and lower low ranges but 20hz – 20Khz is the apt range the human ear can actually pick up, so paying more for better frequency range is a waste of money.

It is also smart to get a pop filter, which is a device that acts as a barrier between your mouth and the mic which blocks air flow from you to the mic which results in popping sounds in the recording. Hard P and T and K type sounds will cause pops if spoken close to the mic, and the pop filter prevents this. A sock put over the top of the mic also works in a pinch and does a pretty good job, but you are already going to sound like an ass doing your goofy voices, so may as well LOOK professional while doing it and invest the extra $15 am I right?

2- Recording and Editing software.

I use Audacity (linked above). It’s free, it’s simple to figure out, has quite a few features and filters and what not and does everything you could need for basic voice acting. There are again, some high end pieces of software that can help make voices shift gender entirely and 100% believably and have hundreds of extra bells and whistles but in most cases it’s overkill. All you need is a software that can utilize MP3, WAV, mono, stereo, the proper response range of 44100hz and 16 bit and Audacity does all of this and more. It allows you to cut and paste and snip and trim and amplify and reduce, change pitch and tempo, apply reverb and echo effects, reduce them, do noise reduction, fade in and outs, and a lot more that I rarely ever use or even have honestly. It’s well rounded and does the trick nicely.

3- Quiet space.

This is vital. The smaller the space the better, or a room with a lot of clutter in it to absorb bouncing sound waves. If you don’t have a padded recording room with acoustic insulation, don’t worry, you are not alone. I recorded my first voice acted lines inside the cab of my Ford Ranger using my iPhone (which surprisingly had a great recording quality). So really confined is the best thing for voice acting.

One other alternative is to use a laptop in a closet. I’m sure you’ll get goofy looks if anyone happens to come along and open the door to find you sitting cross-legged on the floor talking like a dark elf, but hey it’ll make an amusing story.

Another method is to make your own cone of silence. Those who have ever watched the TV classic “Get Smart” will know what I mean, but this method is much more effective I think.

  • Get a cardboard box that can go over your head and your monitor and mic while sitting at the computer.
  • Get some styrofoam to line the inside of the box. Home depot has a pack of several 1 inch thick sheets that is more than ample for about $10
  • Line the styrofoam with felt (optional, use the cheapest stuff you can get on sale at Joanne fabric or similar craft store).

This setup will compensate for your microphone’s lack in unidirectional cancellation if you don’t have a $100+ mic. If using a headset mic or something below the Blue Yeti Silver model, this will help shore up any lack in white noise cancellation and also prevent echo reverb.

4- Willingness to sound like as ass:

This is a big one, and as funny as it may sound, I really am serious about this as an element in voice acting. To be a good voice actor you really need to be willing to go over the top.

It’s just like you are taught in theater class in high school or in acting classes; GO BIG OR GO HOME. Just let loose, over accentuate and pronounce your words, use exaggerated elocution, focus on moving your mouth in excess of what feels normal in an effort to push the words out as clearly and dramatically as possible. It will feel weird and sound over the top when it comes out but when you play it back, it will sound great.

Also, it’s exhausting. Anyone who thinks that voice acting is easy hasn’t done it or isn’t doing it right. Voice acting takes extreme energy, even to play a subdued character because even though you don’t have the physical movement to deal with, you are limited to convey the thoughts and feelings of the lines through your voice alone, no blocking, no facial expressions and no makeup or costumes to aid you, so it’s all in the line delivery.

Recording a Demo

Once you have your toys in order you need to show people what you can do. Practice a bit and figure out what you are comfortable with. Are you aiming for extravagant characters like Golem or Cicero or are you aiming for more average sounding people? Can you do very characterized race types like Khajiit or Lizardmen of some sort or prefer humans? Can you do accents or simply American standard? These are all things you should explore before making a demo. Once you feel comfortable with your ranges, record them. If you are doing a generalized reel for a variety of possible purposes, then make your reel as diverse as possible. If you are aiming for roles with a specific video game such as Skyrim, then stick to character types in that realm. You can do lines from pre-scripted lines from the game at hand, or simply make up some on the fly or prior to recording. Just ensure you show the range you are capable of and please god, no Skyrim guard sweetroll lines, they are passe and nobody is looking for guards to hire really. Most modders want something that sounds unique but still immersive, we don’t need more bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impressionists.

Finding a project

Mod authors are looking for voice actors all the time, so just look around and you are sure to find them. You also can post openly on recruiting boards and post links to your demo (soundcloud is a good place to host them). When looking to work for a specific modder or project, it’s best to simply submit a link directly to them and offer your services. Don’t waste your time or theirs by asking for a specific set of lines to audition with. It’s best to show your diverse capabilities in a sort of ‘sample tray’ format and if they think you are good for a particular role or two, they will likely follow up by asking for you to read for a specific lead character part or simply give you batches of lines for general NPC’s and tell you to “mix it up and have fun”. Be open to being creative. Some mod authors like myself will encourage or even prefer that voice actors improvise some elements of their work at times when it comes to general NPC’s. Granted if a specific script is given, you should read it verbatim )barring any typos or mistakes), but in the case of large projects which have general NPC’s getting creative and giving some extra general lines above what is specifically requested is always a welcome plus. Just be careful not to confuse “creative supplementation” with “unsanctioned rewriting”. I always appreciate when my VA’s (voice actors) fix an obvious problem and let me know about it when they deliver the finished lines, or when they double check if unsure so they can get it right the first time.

Post production and Direction

Once you have recorded your raw lines of dialog for a mod, make sure you have an understanding of the formats the mod author prefers. Do they want individual files for each line? do they want everything all in one track file when possible? Do they like having multiple takes of each line with varied delivery and tone to choose from or prefer to have you deliver what you feel is the best take. Know these things before you record to save yourself some time in retakes. Also be open to retakes. Sometimes it will be an issue of intonation or meaning that is misunderstood from the text provided which the author needs to clarify and other times it will be typo related. Sometimes it may be the author wanting a slightly different delivery and giving you direction, and other times it could even be that they re-wrote part of a scene. Don’t ever take these pieces of feedback as personal or even as negative; you are working together to make a better product in the end and the author has a distinct vision for it. If you have ideas or insight and the author is open minded to collaboration then by all means discuss character motivation and the like to get a better understanding and ultimately results. In the end the product will be better and your skills will grow as well.