Modder's Interview: Sephumbra

Modder's Interview: Sephumbra
A battle in the Seph's Soul Battle mod.

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

I have been developing mods for about 20 years at this point. The very first game I started to mod was "Command & Conquer Red Alert". Back then I had no idea how to go about any of that and just stumbled across tools that were able to extract files from the game after searching for a map editor. This is where it all started for me and I very slowly tried to make sense of the fairly simple text-based files I extracted from the game's various archives. Once I realized what I was able to do by just changing a few values around I quickly found myself modding the game rather than playing it. Long story short, the first mod I ever made was making attack helicopters shoot Tesla beams instead of rockets in C&C RA. Kind of stupid, but it was my first exposure to modding. I was somewhere around 10 years old at that point so you can imagine the "quality" of those mods.

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

I often just find myself annoyed or disappointed with certain elements in a game.
At that point, I usually try to determine what exactly the issue is. Once that is done all you have to do is think about how you want the end result to work/look like.
This is a pretty regular workflow I'd assume. I don't do anything crazy or write up large documents specifying what is it that I am trying to accomplish. I mostly just wing it and see how far I can get. Depending on the game I try to mod this is where it gets hard, though. Usually, I open up the game's installation directory and start digging to see what I can find first. Thankfully you don't have to bother with any of that for games with established modding communities or decent modding APIs like Morrowind/MWSE.

What’s your favourite thing about modding?

Modding is one of my favorite activities. There are two reasons for that:
The first one is that modding is a great outlet for creativity. You don't get a lot of that in my field of work. The second one is improving/fixing the games that I love playing. Pretty much every game has one or more spots that annoy me. I also often find myself wishing for certain features in games or wanting the game to expand on various aspects. With modding I don't have to put up with that though (For the most part, some things would be way too painful to implement).

Seph's Inventory Decorator, colored backgrounds for equipped/bartered items

What’s your favourite mod that you’ve made so far?

That would probably be HUD Customizer. Don't get me wrong, wrestling the GUI to do what I want was a nightmare due to various factors. It is also missing quite a few features I still want to implement. Those are a bit harder to do and require more development time though. Still, I was finally able to make quick adjustments to the HUD for my installation and the mods I'm making without any further headaches. It was a fun exercise. The amount of things I could potentially do with future updates is pretty huge. I might split that off into other modules/mods though.

HUD Customizer, using the minimalistic settings

Is there a mod you are especially proud of?

Honestly, not really. I really like the things I did with HUD Customizer, but I can't say that the code I produced is all that good. Far from it. I'd say most of my mods are fairly small and don't do anything crazy. More often than not I just slap them together, test them, and hope it works well for others.

Seph's Enemy Bars, optional numbers on bars setting

Are you working on a mod these days?

I am. For the majority of the time, I am trying to supply updates to my existing mods right now though, even if my schedule is a bit packed right now. I hope I can get more time to work on those soon. Besides that, I took a look at a few of my unreleased mods and started taking notes of what I might want to tidy up for release on Nexus.

I do have one mod in a very early state right now: A mod that lets you set a "fixed" layout for your menus. Let me explain: a lot of people probably had issues with this one way or another. Sometimes when you right click to open your menus you will find a menu or two being offset by a pixel for no good reason. Time for micro-adjustments since that is annoying to look at. Sometimes you accidentally throw one of your menus around when you try to operate the damn thing. Getting it back into place is a pain. Sometimes you want to move a menu to check on something in the world or want to place something. I often find myself refusing to do so because I don't want to ruin my layout again. With the mod, I am making you define a position/size for your menus once and each time you right click to open your menus (or other instances where menus might open) they will reset to your desired layout. That means you can just move your menus however you like and once you reopen them they are nice and tidy again. You set the values for that in the mod config menu. Additionally, I plan on making menus completely fixed and unable to be moved as a config option that is not active by default, since some people don't like the mechanic of being able to move those windows at all.

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

In the last 1-2 years its probably somewhere around 100-150 hours. Play testing sadly took up way more time. Back when Morrowind was released I played it "a lot". I can't exactly tell you how much though, it's too far in the past.

How did you discover Morrowind?

I am not 100% sure on the exact time frame, but it must have been somewhere around 2002-2003 when it was first released on the original XBOX. My older brother bought the game and brought it back home. I did not know what I would be getting myself into, but firing it up for the first time was incredible. I had never seen anything of this scale packed with so much unique content before. I could not believe how huge this world was. It truly was a great experience for its time.

What makes Morrowind special for you?

I can't deny nostalgia being a factor for me getting back into it. That being said I was actually surprised to find that quite a few of Morrowind's concepts still stand the test of time and have actually gotten somewhat unique at this point. I like how Morrowind tells its story, putting emphasis on the player discovering as much of the story as they want to. It is almost never shoved directly down your throat but instead gives you the option to delve in further if you so desire. That is also reflected in its gameplay. Morrowind is by no means a hard game but it takes a much different approach to gameplay than its later iterations. Quests often have different paths to approach them, not always having a clearly better way to go about them. It does not try to guarantee that anything you encounter can actually be fought, nor does it hold your hand when it comes to using its various systems.
Want to clear a tomb early on as a warrior without damaging spells? That's too bad, ancestor ghosts are here to give you your first wakeup call that you need to plan your adventures more carefully. I could continue rambling about all these things in more detail, but I don't want to write a review here. Simply put, it provides an experience that is harder to come by nowadays. Given the efforts of the community, most of the game's flaws can also be fixed or improved, which allows me to enjoy this game even today.

What are the mods you simply cannot play without?

The most important ones to me are fixes and balance adjustments. Morrowind in its vanilla state certainly has a lot of bugs and things that outright break the game.
Some that come to mind immediately are "MCP", "Dungeons Rest", "No Rest Without Beds" and non-intrusive versions of "Morrowind Patch Project". I also made a lot of mods targeting these issues that I have not uploaded anywhere yet.
Graphical improvements like MGE XE and asset replacers to get the game in a more presentable state are also something I can't imagine playing without.
The same goes for various convenience/visual mods like "Clock Block", "UI Expansion", "HUD Weapon Charge", "Right Click Menu Exit" and "Quick Equip".

Are there any underrated mods that you really enjoy?

I believe "Mabo's Unstacked" and "Chameleon" would be the only ones that come to mind. Although "Mabo's Unstacked" had a fairly large number of errors I had to fix, which might or might not have been caused by changes inside MWSE. Take that with a grain of salt.

Do you play other games?

Probably too many. I play games alone or with friends whenever I have some spare time since it is my favorite hobby. If I were to restrict it to games that I currently play it would be:

- Beat Saber
- The Legend Of Heroes: Hajimari No Kiseki
- Grim Dawn
- BlazBlue Centralfiction
- Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
- Baba Is You

Do you mod other games?

I developed mods for a lot of games that I played. Some more, some less extensively when compared to Morrowind. The only mods I ever released to the public were for Morrowind though, with the exception of a mod or two for other games here and there.

This is a list of the games that I recall making mods for:

- Command & Conquer 95
- Command & Conquer Red Alert
- Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun
- Command & Conquer Red Alert 2
- Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
- Dungeon Keeper
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
- Factorio
- Unreal Tournament 99
- Unreal Tournament 2004
- Killing Floor
- Beat Saber
- Terraria
- Stardew Valley
- Rimworld
- 7 Days To Die
- Conan Exiles
- Endless Space 2
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel II

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

This one is fairly simple actually. It is just the names of two characters that I really liked a lot back when I came up with it. As you might have guessed the "umbra" part comes from Umbra in Morrowind. That guy just left an impression on me when I first played Morrowind back at release and I remembered him when I wanted to think of a new user name. The "seph" part comes from Sephiroth, one of the main villains of Final Fantasy 7. That game was my favorite JRPG for a very long time. That's all there is to it!

If you want to learn more about Sephumbra, watch Danae's video, where she has them as a guest modder. She also reviews their Soul Battle mod in this video.