Modder's Interview: Starwarsgal
How long have you been modding and what was your first complete mod?
I first started modding around 2006 to early 2007. After having played Morrowind on the Xbox I learned that the PC version had a modding scene and came with the development tools. I got myself a copy and became hooked on the new possibilities that the Construction Kit gave me as well as the plethora of mods that were available at the time. Around this same time I’d also been messing around with modding Halo 2 on the Xbox (we had a modded Xbox at the time so I was fortunate to be able to mess with some neat things such as modding). I never really went very far with Halo back then, I pretty much just copied things other people had made into different levels and played around with the settings on certain game mechanics, like making the human Jeep vehicle the “warthog” able to fly.
My first complete mod is still out there, just titled “Balmora Christmas Tree”. A lot of mods back then were still being made just using base game assets so I didn’t use anything from the expansions. It was just a Grazelands tree plopped in the middle of the plaza in Balmora with some coloured lanterns hung on it, not a very exciting mod but it was cute and helped me learn the basics of the Construction Set.
How do you approach modding?
Most of my mods have been art-focused or involve custom assets in some way. I used texture replacers as a way to teach myself how to use Photoshop and grew my skills over the years. I’m generally inspired by the art style of Morrowind as well as the attention to detail other modders or game developers put into their assets for mods or games. As someone who’s made a lot of textures, I can really appreciate the craft and am often the weirdo who’s found staring at a wall in a video game because the art team put a nice texture there!
I probably don’t have a specific workflow but I have made a number of Photoshop brushes for painting clouds and stars and stuff that I used to make my Skies mod. I also like to keep my work faithful to the original art style so that it can be dropped into a game and fit in nicely.
What’s your favourite thing about modding?
Aside from just seeing your creations in-game, the community aspect has always been a big draw for me. I didn’t have a lot of friends or peers growing up interested in the same things as me so having peers in the modding community really helped me grow as an artist because they’d give me honest feedback and encourage me to keep improving my craft. I don’t think I’d have spent nearly as much time improving as a texture artist or graphic designer without modding as a hobby, it’s hugely shaped my life.
What’s your favourite mod that you’ve made so far?
This is such a hard question! I feel like the obvious answer would be my Skies mod, it really pushed me out of my comfort zone in version 3 when I tried my hardest to go as far as I could and reach the limits of what was possible with modding the skies of the game.
Then for version 4 I redid everything to a higher standard and tried to not only make the mod a standalone replacer but a platform others could use to make their own sky replacers. I’m happy I did because we’ve gotten several really cool mods made to work with my sky assets since such as mods from Melchior and Vurt, which took things in a totally different direction I wouldn’t have even thought of.
Is there a mod you are especially proud of?
Aside from the previously mentioned Skies mod, I’m really proud of the two mods I’ve been working on over the past few years. I’ve done a lot of cool new things I’ve never done before and they’ve turned out really cool in my opinion.
Over the past few years, I’ve been working on and off on two big mods. One is an untitled GUI overhaul of the game, and the other is a mod I’m calling CODA (not to be confused with the work titled C0DA by Michael Kirkbride, which has a 0 in the name) that aims to write a whole new soundtrack for Morrowind.
The GUI overhaul has pushed me to do a lot of cool things, I made a whole new custom font for it based on the font used for “The Elder Scrolls” text in the Skyrim logo, which combines stylistic choices made in Morrowind’s original “Magic Cards” font (which is based on a font called EF Medieva) and the more conservative designs of EB Garamond. The result is something that distinctively looks like an “Elder Scrolls” font but that’s a bit more readable and better looking for UI than the original “Magic Cards” font. I also created my own take on Morrowind’s original splash screens, with hand traced linework based on Morrowind screenshots, and a new Logo for the game based on its original logo that I actually made 3d in Blender so I can manipulate the lighting and perspective of in cool ways.
CODA is a project that’s also been in the works for a while, and while I’ve only completed two tracks for it so far, I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish. Morrowind’s soundtrack borrows a lot of stylistic choices from impressionist composers like Debussy, making it very distinctive. But it also was fairly limited due to it’s implementation. The same set of “explore” tracks play everywhere in the game regardless of the situation or location, meaning no particular characters, factions, or locations have any specific musical identity. The battle music is handled similarly, where there is a set playlist of “Battle” tracks that play when you are in battle, regardless of any other circumstances.
A big thing I wanted to do was approach writing Morrowind music like a film score. What is the musical identity of the different factions in the game? Is the music more subdued when you are in the safety of a town or is it more bombastic when exploring a big city like Balmora or Vivec for the first time? Should battle music themes be based on the tracks that were already playing before the battle started? Should specific characters have their own battle themes? Should battle music not play at all if some small critter like a rat attacks your level 20+ character? A lot has become possible now with MWSE that will allow me to get really in-depth with how music is implemented in-game and it’s all very exciting to me.
How much do you play Morrowind, not counting play testing?
These days, not as much, but whenever I do start a new playthrough, I generally end up sinking at least around 100 hours into the game before I complete my goals of said playthrough. It’s something I haven’t had as much time for in recent years due to my interests changing over time and just less free time in general, but I usually come back to the game at least once a year to do another playthrough.
What makes Morrowind special for you?
I had an original Xbox growing up and Morrowind was one of the games we had. It sucked me in with the amount of content and replayability and I could spend hours just wandering around the world, and keep finding new things. Replayability is something I value greatly in games and Morrowind to this day still has some of the best replayability of any game in its genre. Aside from the unique approach to gameplay, the setting is incredibly unique. Kirkbride era Elder Scrolls (which is just Redguard, Battlespire, and Morrowind) took the standard fantasy tropes of the time and flipped a bunch of them on their head, and pulled in influences from a lot of non-western cultures which really made the Elder Scrolls as a universe stand out from other fantasy franchises. Unfortunately, when Kirkbride and a lot of the other prominent developers of Morrowind left Bethesda, Bethesda took the series in a much more “standard fantasy fare” direction, which failed to capture my interest like Morrowind did. The Elder Scrolls Online recaptures a lot of it in some places, but it’s approach to TES Lore is lacking in others.
What are the mods you simply cannot play without?
A bit of a controversial take here, but I swear by Galsiah’s Character Development. It removes the level up screen, removes skill caps and changes how the game calculates a lot about levelling so your character won’t level up quite as fast as vanilla. The mod really makes combat more punishing at a low level since you will start with far less health and won’t be as good at using weapons or offensive magic.
For a more recent take on GCD, MULE by Mort and CCCP by Necrolesian have all of GDC's features, which results in better perfomance. is another great alternative.
In addition to that, I always play the game with some type of mod that removes the “dice roll” nature of combat, at least for hit chance. Morrowind is punishing enough as it is for me with regards to how the game is completely unbalanced in how much enemies can deal damage to you that I’m not really interested in the tedious nature of sitting there for two minutes missing half my swings. A lot of die-hard purists will probably hate me for it but I just find the game more fun that way!
Next Generation Combat is a great mod that lets you choose if you want 100% accuracy or not, in addition to many neat features
There are so many other small and large mods that I’ll always play with such as juggernauts like Tamriel Rebuilt, Project Tamriel’s Cyrodiil and Skyrim, or the recent OAAB series of mods, but some of the more underrated ones I like to play with are Dave Humprey’s Furniture Store for decorating my play homes, and QoL roleplaying mods like Matthew’s Free More Slaves mod that adds ways for you to free the majority of slaves in the base game. I also love any mods that make Morrowind look more like it’s concept art.
Pillow Mage Manor is a great complement to the furniture mod as it adds a great variety of rugs and cushions to personalise your home.
Are there any underrated mods that you really enjoy?
I already mentioned Dave Humprey’s furniture mod and the Free More Slaves mod, but I really love Adul’s Smart Crosshair mod, and PeterBitt’s series of small mods.
Do you play other games?
This is a funny question, it implies some people who you’ve interviewed only ever play Morrowind. That’s not actually the case, is it?
Anyway yeah! Over the past half a decade I’ve put in a ton of hours into Minecraft. I also love Fallout 3 and New Vegas and have played both a lot through the Tale of Two Wastelands mod. Halo recently came to PC after not having a mainline Halo game releasing on PC since 2004 through The Master Chief Collection’s PC port and I’ve put in a lot of hours into Halo since then. I also wholeheartedly recommend people play Chicory: A Colorful Tale which is a lovely little indie game that was released earlier this year and has some amazing writing and music. The soundtrack actually hugely inspired how I want to implement my own music in my Morrowind mod.
You mention ESO, what is the best, and the worst thing about it?
ESO is a really cool take on The Elder Scrolls universe when you temper your expectations. It's important to remember that even the games are stories told from an unreliable narrator. That said, the continuity and consistency between ESO and other Elder Scrolls media isn't great, but if you go in to the game expecting this and just enjoy it for what it is, it's still a really cool game. ESO explores a lot of interesting areas of TESLore and does a far better job at it than say, most of Oblivion and Skyrim. It's quests are also charming and well written and have actual recurring characters with interesting personalities, actual motivations, and backstories, something mainline TES games struggle with even with their main quest characters. I could talk about the game for ages but what I will leave it with is don't write it off just because it depicted something you are attached to differently than what you prefer, it has plenty of redeeming qualities.
Do you mod other games?
Last year, I started working on a mod for Halo 3 on The Master Chief Collection which I’ve titled “Halo Climactic Cut”. It started as a way for me to throw all of my favourite ideas from both Halo games and Halo mods into one mod, and a way for me to realise a lot of the hopes I had for what Halo 3’s campaign was going to be before the game came out. It’s been a lot of fun learning how a new game handles everything and going out of my comfort zone learning how to balance things and design gameplay encounters and stuff. We also finally got official mod tools recently which is something Halo 3 never had up to this point. It’s made a lot possible that wasn’t before and the whole scene is super exciting right now.
And by the way, what's the story behind your user name?
Hah! It’s not very interesting. When I was a kid, my Mom made me set up an email address and just came up with it on the spot because I liked Star Wars. The name stuck and now I’m kind of stuck with it within the Morrowind community due to brand recognition. In other communities, I usually just go by my first name, Markel, but I’ve never been able to shake my Morrowind username within this community.
Anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t talked about?
Aside from my mod CODA, I make music! Releases tend to be few and far between but I’m still really proud of some of the stuff I’ve put out and would love for people to check it out. Everything can be found at https://markelabel.bandcamp.com. In addition to that, keep an eye on my Nexus Profile for future releases of my Halo 3 mod. I’m really excited to see what people will think of it when I share it with the public.