Engine Dev Interview: David Cernat

Engine Dev Interview: David Cernat

How long have you been involved with Morrowind?

I first played Morrowind as a child, several months after it came out. It was a bit too much for me at the time, as I'd only played through a few other RPGs, but I came back to it two years later and did a pretty complete run through it with the help of Desslock's Morrowind guide.

TES3MP is an ambitious project, can you tell us a bit more about it?

TES3MP is an attempt to prove that it's possible to turn giant open-world games into fully playable multiplayer experiences as long as you have the source code for the engine... which, in this case, we have because of OpenMW recreating Morrowind's engine from scratch.

A joke created by someone 17 years ago about how a multiplayer Morrowind would look like

How did the project start?

As I understand it, Stanislav Zhukov AKA Koncord made a drunken bet with a couple of friends that he could add networking to OpenMW. This led to him putting out a proof of concept that allowed you to explore interiors with other players, but without NPCs working, without the game state being synced, saved or loaded, and without players being able to see each other in exteriors for long. However, I saw the potential in what he'd made and decided to help out, gradually fixing the aforementioned problems while Stanislav worked on more player sync and the server browser, which then led to me becoming the lead developer after he lost interest.

How do you approach working on TES3MP? What inspires you? Do you have a specific workflow?

I try to listen to the most common problems that players have and then I triage them based on a number of factors: whether they can be hotfixed or require an entirely new version because of networking changes that have to be made, whether they affect the game in a major way or are just someone's pet peeve about something small, whether they can be solved easily or require a lot of deep delving.

I'm mostly inspired by the idea of just ending up with a good example of completely seamless fan-made multiplayer.

Re-designing Balmora with friends

How much do you play Morrowind, not counting play testing?

Like many of your other interviewees, I never have time to actually properly play Morrowind anymore. I do have a lot of fun play testing silly features though.

How did you discover Morrowind?  

My uncle used to buy me video game magazines when I was a child. Morrowind had a glowing review in one of them and kept being mentioned in later issues, so I decided that I had to try it out.

What makes Morrowind special for you?  

It was my favorite video game when I first played it because I'd never seen such a large and interesting world in a game before. It hasn't been my favorite game in a long while, having been replaced first by Planescape: Torment and then Fallout: New Vegas, but it's very special to me now because we have a complete engine recreation of it.

The now classic pillow fort

What are the mods you simply cannot play without?

I would not do a playthrough without Tamriel Rebuilt, Skyrim: Home of the Nords and Province: Cyrodiil.

Are there any underrated mods that you really enjoy?  

Emba-5 and UIX: Redemption are amazing. I wish we had active multiplayer servers with them.

Do you play other games?  

I play a lot of other games, mostly RPGs and co-op games of any genre.

Do you mod other games?  

I do not. I've been tempted to add similar multiplayer to Arx Fatalis, because its source code was made public more than a decade ago, but its community is probably too small for the effort to be worthwhile. I'm more interested in making a game from scratch now.

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

Before Morrowind was released, someone took all the posts made by its developers on the official Bethesda forums and put them in a Word document. I don't remember how I came across this document... maybe someone posted it on ChatSpike IRC in the old Elder Scrolls chatroom and that's where I got it from. However, I'd like to use this opportunity to share it with people, especially since what the developers had to say about multiplayer back then is very amusing to me.