Modder's Interview: BTB

Modder's Interview: BTB

How long have you been modding and what was your first complete mod?

Depends on how we're define modding, I suppose. In the strictest sense, I've been modding ever since I started playing Civilization 2 as a kid, where all of the rules were specified in text files. Around 2003 or so, I helped inspire the first actual attempt to modify the skill tables for Might & Magic VII (shout-out to Versenwald), but Morrowind is where I first started getting my hands dirty in earnest.

I gained some notoriety in the Morrowind community for a mod that was essentially a continuation of ideas from Wakim's Game Improvements, but there was just far too much work to be done for someone with my lack of experience at the time. I think there are some good ideas in my mod, but it really needs to be rebuilt from the ground up these days - which I hear some people have been doing.

Both Necrolesian and Lucas have been improving BTB's game improvements, or adjusting modern mods to follow BTB's settings.
Link to the original mod here.

How do you approach modding?

The first article I ever wrote about game design was about modding specifically, and it covered a lot of questions I often get asked as well as a number of misconceptions that people have about it. In short, I don't set out to make mods because I really like a game and I want to put my mark on it - I make them because I see potential in a game that isn't fully realized. In the case of Final Fantasy VI (likely my most well-known work at this point), I don't really even like the base game all that much, but I did like some of the ideas it had that just weren't executed well.

Most importantly, I always aim to make the game I'm modding a better version of itself, not something else entirely. There's a point of liking the game you're modding that you fail to see any room for improvement, and so all that's left is to just add things that don't need to be there. This is something you see quite a bit of in Morrowind modding, actually: most mods focus on either graphics improvement or adding more stuff to the game, even though the base game already has way too much stuff as it is and most of it is procedurally-generated trash meant to fill space.

I believe in quality over quantity and that everything in a game needs to have a purpose. If it serves no useful function, then it needs to be cut. Unwillingness to trash ideas that are clearly not going to work leads to a "square peg in a round hole" problem - this statement applies both to concepts from the original game as well as things that you might want to add that just don't fit in the game you're trying to stick them into.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time reading strategy guides because it was the early 90's and we really didn't have much else do to when we were away from home. The thing about them was that even the "totally unauthorized" ones had a certain responsibility to hype the game up. It couldn't just outright come out and say that certain characters or choices in the game were absolute garbage, so when that was the case they just had to be as nice as possible and talk about how they were intended to function rather than how they turned out. In a lot of ways, my mods are just an attempt to make a game that's worthy of being described like how a strategy guide of old would - something which tends to be reflected in my extensive documentation that my mods are somewhat well-known/notorious for.

What’s your favourite thing about modding?

It's nice to breathe new life into games that I enjoyed as a child but as an adult have a harder time enjoying because I can no longer ignore their flaws, and there's a definite sense of satisfaction that comes simply from creating things. But far and away the best thing about modding has been the community that has formed around my work and the many amazing people I've had the opportunity to meet because of it.

Do you mod other games? What’s your favourite mod that you’ve made so far? Are you working on a mod these days?

To answer all of these at once, Final Fantasy VI: Brave New World is my most well-known mod. I'm not the hugest fan of the original game and, although I am very pleased with Brave New World, am kind of burnt out/sick of it after having spent a decade working on it. I also functioned as the lead designer of Brave New World while leaving the coding up to other, more talented individuals (shout-outs to Synchysi, Bropedio, Seibaby, Think, DN, and Tristan) whereas my current project - Heroes of Might & Magic 3 - has actually forced me to learn how to program.

How much do you play Morrowind, not counting playtesting?

Rather famously in the Morrowind community, I've never played more than a few hours into the game because that's how long it takes me to become completely overwhelmed by things I want to change in order for the experience to not just be completely broken. My background is largely in strategy games (see above: Heroes 3) where gameplay balance is at the front and center of the experience, whereas with Morrowind it appears to have been an afterthought at best. And since people tend to fall in love with games for what they do best, the prevailing attitude in the Morrowind community regarding its numerous exploits tends to be "if you don't like them, don't use them". But I for one believe that self-control is a terrible thing to balance your game around and have often likened modding Morrowind to a lazy developer handing a child a flamethrower and then I get called no fun when I try to take it away.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but without restriction, there can be no choice. Your selection of a non-Atronach birthsign in Morrowind, for example, has absolutely no bearing on the game proper since the effects of any other sign can be duplicated at practically no cost nearly immediately after starting the game. When none of the options you have give you something appreciably different from all of the others, then your choice is essentially meaningless outside of whatever cosmetic impact it has.

What makes Morrowind special for you?

As I said earlier, people tend to fall in love with games for what they do best, and in Morrowind's case, that's grand map design and lore. I am a huge sucker for exploration and could spend hours just staring at a map of Vvardenfell. But a critical aspect that I always felt was lacking was a true reason to want to explore the entirety of that map. Why bother foraging for ingredients and loot to scrape by and gradually become stronger when I can just stand in front of the Alchemist at Balmora, and make myself a "potion of become god"?

The absolute best time I ever had with Morrowind was the very first time I played it before I had the slightest clue of what was going on or how it worked. I fondly remember wandering around the Bitter Coast, getting pretty damn lost, and running low on resources before I finally stumbled across a soggy squat called Hla Oad. Knowing what I know now about how the game works, that sense of struggle would never occur, and not just because I have a better idea of how the map looks. My ultimate vision for Morrowind is a game where that sense of danger and trepidation that comes from being far away from civilization and surrounded by hostile creatures is present even if you know how the game works.

And by the way, what's the story behind your user name?

Back when I was in high school, I made a little doodle of a stick man getting fried by a laser beam, after which all that was left was a pile of ashes and his pants. For some reason, the pants just seemed really funny to me, so this turned into a long-running series of doodles where this poor bastard got Kenny'd in every strip (for the record, this pre-dated South Park) with the gag being that his pants would fall off every time he died regardless of how it happened: burning, stabbing, shooting, poisoning, or even gross negligence.

Anyway, I named the little dude "Billy The Bum" and eventually adopted a shortening of his name as my own since he was already drawn to resemble me and many video games of the time had that wonderful four-character limit on custom names. Funnily enough, my real name is exactly four letters long, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I truly embraced having the douchiest male name in existence.

Anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t talked about?

The deeper I've gotten into modding, the more I've begun to accept it as a legitimate form of game development in its own right. As a result, I've begun penning articles on game design to sort of sort through/share my thoughts, with if you're so inclined can be viewed on my site.

Finally... thank you for taking the time to talk to me and listen to my ramblings. I've been out of the Morrowind modding scene for a long time, but I do hope to eventually return and am glad to see that my earlier work continues to inspire people today.