Modder's Interview: Drac

Modder's Interview: Drac

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

In the strictest sense, I began modding games as far back as 1975... a text-based game called Trek73, which a friend and I were altering to add functionality and more variety of play. Later came Blood, Unreal, Neverwinter Nights and others. For Morrowind, I've been modding since late 2003; the first mod was a simple house because Toccatta showed me an example and I had to try my hand at the thing. Of course, being something of an abomination, it was never published. This was also well before Trbunal or Bloodmoon.

How do you approach modding? (What inspires you? Do you have a specific workflow?)  

I can't say that I have a specific approach, apart from plotting out generally how the mod is to work and then coding to fit that outline. Often, some difficulty arises in the middle that invalidates a portion of the original outline and the process must be sufficiently fluid to handle this.

What’s your favourite thing about modding?  

That is quite easy; It pleases me a great deal when some new function, process or object is encountered in-game and works well... just as it pleases me when someone mentions that their game is enhanced.

Morrowind Crafting is a massive endeavour. Can you tell us about it?  

Morrowind Crafting consists of the addition of a number of new skills and processes that allow a player more flexibility in their games; We've noted that many players seem never to get around to completing the Main Quest, and enjoy spending time exploring or otherwise rampaging about. In order to assist with this, we've added nine new skills (seven in earlier versions (through MC 2.1) ). A short description of each...
- Cooking: Creating edible things from raw materials, and processing some (alchemical) ingredients to produce still others.
- Sewing: Creating thread and cloth, and using them (and certain hides/furs) to produce clothing and armour padding. Sewing can, at extreme skill, produce exceptionally enchantable clothing.
- Mining: Obtaining raw metal ores and certain minerals from underground.
- Smithing: Creating arms and armours from raw materials, scrapping some old and/or broken items for raw materials, and smelting the ores to produce metals (and even alloying different metals in some cases to produce the more rare sorts).
- Fletching: The creation of missile weapons (arrows, bolts, darts and the like).

- Woodworking: Constructing furniture and various containers; even combining some items of furniture to make new and useful/pleasing types.

- Masonry: Taking stone and/or clay and making a wide variety of items.
- Crafting: Something of a catch-all to describe the making of jewellery, glass items and the like.

- Metalworking: Anything that is neither weapon nor armour, but still made of metal; the tinker's trade.

Some of these have crossover; making some items may use the higher (or lesser) of two skills; the tools will indicate when this applies by saying "Limited by your DDD skill" in the tooltip when using the tool. An example might be brewing poisons, to be applied to missiles.
- Containers can be labelled as to their contents; placing the crosshairs on a container and pressing -L will let the player enter a word or phrase to act as a reminder of what is being stored. (Note: labelling with a single space will erase whatever label may have been there before).
Many objects can be manipulated in-game by placing the crosshairs upon it and pressing the key; if the object is manipulatable by the player, a menu/legend will appear in the upper left of the screen, showing what keys to press or hold for particular functions, and using the mouse-wheel to move or size the object. I've found this useful for moving sacks or barrels off of trap doors, for example, or to move bits of furniture to where I want them. Pressing the key ends the manipulation session. Also, pressing the key will return the item to where it was (position and angles) at the start of the session. If you have the woodworking tool chest in inventory, pressing the key will allow you to install a container so that it acts as a container (you may also lock an item in place, but containers and toolkits are not considered 'installed' if merely locked. Items locked in place do not block).
There are other functions, which will be detailed out in the game files... including some 'secret techniques' and the like.
MC will have a means for adding in recipes from other mods so that their objects can be crafted as well, but that may have to wait until after the final release of 3.0... perhaps coming in as 3.1.

What Morrowind feature are you the most pleased with?

Apart from simply being able to craft items, I find that both the ability to label containers, and Precision Placement (MCPP) have made the greatest difference for me. To be able to designate what container is to contain what manner of item in-game makes it vastly easier for me to organize a base of operations, and the ability to move, turn and scale/size objects that I have crafted without the need to pick up and drop the thing 300 times makes for more immersion (at least, to me). It has added a bit to the experience to be able to pick up sacks and crates and move them out of the way at times, as well (such as to uncover a trap door).

When did you and Tocatta first come up with the idea of making Morrowind Crafting?

Very early on, a fellow named Max had begun working a mod called Complete Morrowind; insofar as I am aware, it was the first true crafting mod, and Toccatta helped develop it a great deal. However, after we both had used it for a time, we came to feel that we could do something that fit more properly into Morrowind and keep the original feel, so we began 'from scratch', as we felt that it would be highly improper to use so much as a line of code from Complete Morrowind in a mod that would compete with it. I think that we began Morrowind Crafting v1.0 in late 2003/early 2004. Of course, MWSEs Lua scripting has made many things vastly more feasible, and Merlord's "Skills Module" made it possible to more directly integrate MCs skills into the game properly.

Morrowind Crafting is THE massive project you and Toccatta are working on... are there more?

There is Darkpaths... the name of an ancient travel-way, outside of the realms as we know them. Thought possibly to have been an old construct of the Daedric Princes, now long abandoned by them. However, creatures yet prowl the Darkpaths, and the Mages' Guild has recently rediscovered an entrance, and hints that the Paths lead to "other places"

How much do you play Morrowind, not counting playtesting?  

When not doing other things, I often enter into a 'Morrowind Mood' and play for at least a couple of hours per day; Sometimes, when possible, I've lost track of time and discovered that most of a day has passed (a true weekend-killer). Somehow, no matter what other games are available, I always return to Morrowind.

How did you discover Morrowind?  

Oddly, at first, I did not think that I would like Morrowind; Toccatta had purchased it in 2002, but it languished upon a shelf until nearly 2003 before I actually tried it. However, after perhaps two sessions of play, I was convinced that it was an outstanding game, even if the graphics seemed a bit dated. With such things as Better Bodies and Better heads (and the like), it rapidly became a distinct favourite.

What makes Morrowind special for you?  

It is very open-ended and more, it is simply open. You do not have to follow the inbuilt quests and tasks if you do not wish to do so; so many games lead players about by the nose. I enjoy exploring and finding new things, and the game world has a unique feel. A particularly pleasing point is that MW is unlike many games in that in order to increase the character's skills and abilities, one has to exercise those skills (or at least be able to afford training). With "experience-point" based games, I have never understood how knocking forty-three bandits or monsters over the head somehow teaches one new spell, or gives greater ability in sneaking about.

What are the mods you simply cannot play without?  

Morrowind Crafting, of course... also a couple of Denina's mods (Randar's Smithy and Supply Chain) leap to mind, as well as House of Mannequins and Suran Underworld (both rather strongly tweaked). Firemoth and Keynari come to mind as well, both somewhat heavily adjusted. Most mods that either of us uses are either self-written or strongly modified; Better Bodies and better Heads, Slof's Robe Traders, Denina's two mods, and perhaps a few others are almost the only ones that we have not at least tweaked a bit. Some smaller mods such as Magicka Regen are fairly crucial as well. Tamriel Rebuilt is a strong "YES", as I need large landmasses to explore; Vvardenfell is too small, these days. :p

Are there any underrated mods that you really enjoy?  

Abot's "Move or Take My Place" makes many annoying situations much more tolerable; little is as annoying as when an NPC stands in a doorway and Will.Not.Budge. The Keynari mod is a personal favourite, to the point that I had upon a time gone so far as to write episodic fanfic involving a Keynari character in Morrowind. It is still available online, with some 90,000 views, called "Crazy Like a Fox". Siege at Firemoth seems rather under-appreciated as well.

You make Morrowind mods and have written Morrowind fan fiction. Are the two very different activities, or complementary ones?

I would say the latter; to mod requires a somewhat deeper understanding of the game world, a necessary prerequisite for good fanfiction, and that may well inspire new mod ideas.

Do you think the modding community has changed a lot in the last decade?

The modding community has indeed changed, with the advent of using Lua, but not as much as one may think. The difference lies mostly in the types of mods; before, there were locations, npcs and quests; now large-scale changes to the game itself have become possible, with overrides to some of the most basic aspects of the game.

Do you play other games?  

Certainly. Most notably, "Sword of the Stars", "Stellar Tactics" and some of the Battletech games.

Do you mod other games?  

Indeed. The above-mentioned Sword of the Stars, for one. Most games do not overly invite modding, but there was also Two Worlds, though that was minor modding. We've made some landmasses and such for Transport Tycoon Deluxe, and we used to entertain each other with 'challenge' mods for Blood.

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

My name? Ah. In the mid-1970s, when ARPANet was first up and UseNet was beginning to become popular, I was "Draconis Aurum" in some circles. Later, in a 'talker' system called a Diversi-Dial (a few modems connected to an Apple IIE), I was shortened to Draconis, and again to simply Drac.. and that it has remained for some 39 years, now.

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

Hum...tabletop RPG (paper/pencil/dice) also of interest; I had been an avid D&D fan since 1975, the Chainmail miniatures rules for perhaps a year before, and over time had been on-and-off working upon a multiple-genre tabletop called Realms; perhaps one day it will be published.

Here endeth the interview of a legendary modder. Want more? I've got you covered: Arcimaestro Antares, author of Animated Morrowind and Antares' Bigmod will be answering my question.