Modder's Interview: Toccatta

Modder's Interview: Toccatta

How long have you been modding and what was your first complete mod (published or not)?

The first mod I completed (although no mod is ever truly completed) would have been a scenario for Blood, a first-person shooter by Monolith Productions. Drac and I spent several months working on it and fighting against endless game-engine limitations, but finally declared it completed. That would have been some time in '97 or '98, so about 23-24 years.

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

I'm more of a reactive modder than a proactive modder. My mods more frequently fix something I feel is broken or expand on a feature I think was short-changed in the development process. I have created a mod or two that I felt added something entirely new - but mostly that's the exception rather than the rule. I did some game design work on a mud called "Dragon's Den" in the early 2000s which was my one real attempt at creating something completely original. Mostly it's reactive, though.

What is your favourite thing about modding?

Having the ability to customize the game so that it isn't a "one size fits all" design. There is something really empowering about being able to take a game that appeals to a wide range of people and being able to customize it so that it fits exactly your gaming style. It's also rewarding when you can share those changes with others that love the game and enjoy the features you've added (or tweaked).

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

By far, that's Morrowind Crafting. I've always enjoyed games that had a crafting feature and I was super-hyped when Max a.k.a ~Nobody~ released the first of his "Complete Morrowind" mods. I offered ideas and helped with tracking down some minor bugs on several occasions, and was credited in the readme of the "full" version of his mod for my assistance. However, while I did enjoy his mod, he had different goals and a different perspective, and so for a year or so, I was using a HIGHLY modified version of that with Morrowind. Of course, there was no way I was going to release a mod that was basically an overhaul of someone else's work, so eventually, Drac and I decided to start from scratch and create a different crafting mod. One of our prime goals was not only to add crafting features but to do it in a way that was as seamless as possible so that it felt like it was something that had shipped with the original game instead of feeling like something that was just tacked on.

Is there a mod you are especially proud of?

Apart from Morrowind Crafting, not really. Most of the mods I make are for my own use and have only been given to a few close friends, but never published. I must say, though, that there is one aspect of Morrowind Crafting that I am particularly NOT proud of... When I wrote up the original readme file, I had included a comment about usage permissions. I thought I had made my intentions clear, but some people felt that my request was more strict than I had originally intended, and it caused some people to choose not to do some things that I would have been very proud to see happen. It may be apocryphal, but I remember hearing that Abot had intended to include an MC ingredient in one of his mods, but was warned by someone that it would violate my usage restrictions. It wouldn't have, but the fact that I didn't make myself clear was obviously a mistake on my part, and I can't help but wonder how many other interesting things might have shown up in other mods if my ReadMe file had been worded better. Going forward, my usage limits will be considerably more liberal. To borrow a quote from Digital Underground, "Doowutchyalike."

Fortunately this has not discourged Abot from using and modding for MC, recently he's even published an MWSE mod for compatibility between and Morrowind Crafting and Necessities of Morrowind.

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

In the original version, we decided to go with an integrated skill set instead of the modular set that was one of the main features of Complete Morrowind. That was so we could have an interplay between skills so that one skill could be used to create items needed by another (for example, needing sewing skill to make the armor padding required to make your own armor with the smithing skill). With each new update, we added features and expanded the skills, but with the release of Tamriel Rebuilt, we had an entire mainland full of new items to create and ingredients to work with. We've expanded the skill set again, since one skill (crafting) was becoming a bit too over-generalized, and switched to using Lua-script, because it allows us to create new UI options for crafting instead of the old menu-based method AND it allows us to display the skills in the player skill list almost as if they were actual skills. You can't select them as major/minor skills when creating a character, but apart from that, it's as close to looking like it was part of the original game as we could want.

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

I don't play much anymore, although it still has hooks in me, and I can't help but get dragged back to it now and then. When I'm in a Morrowind mood, I usually end up putting in 40-80 hours before I've gotten my fix and can get back to something else.

How did you discover Morrowind?

I bought it about the same time as Neverwinter Nights was released, and it sat on a shelf for several months. I honestly expected that I would like NWN better, because it was based on the core Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, and I was a big fan. But the game design was very limited and there were certain aspects of the actual game mechanics that never really sat well with me. I decided to put it away for a bit and try Morrowind instead. The NPCs were pretty hideous in the unmodded game, but the world design and the game mechanics were FAR superior. I fell in love almost immediately. Over the next few years, I did try to pick up NWN again a few times, mostly when the expansions were released, but I never was able to get back into it because it was so limited in comparison to The Elder Scrolls.  

What makes Morrowind special for you?

It actually has the game mechanics that I wish NWN had, but doesn't. The whole AD&D rule set (and almost all games with a similar design) are based around experience points. Gain enough and go up a level - then apply skill points to your skills, wash/rinse/repeat. The problem is that I can kill a thousand goblins with an axe, get enough exp to level, and then gain skill in picking locks, swimming, and speaking Elvish - NONE of which have anything to do with killing goblins or swinging an axe! In Morrowind, you improve a skill by using it (sometimes by succeeding, and in some cases, by failing), and that was a major improvement over the other gaming systems I've played. It was also in a VERY different fantasy setting than the typical Tolkien-esque realm most fantasy adventure games tend to use. In some ways, it was both more real and more fantastical at the same time.  

What are the mods you simply cannot play without?

Apart from MC, there are some fairly obvious ones - better bodies and better heads, and some lesser known mods like "mana regen" which gives you a slow restore to your magicka over time based on willpower and Suran Underworld, which adds in a wonderful quest line along with new areas and items (and a well-stocked merchant area underneath Suran). I also couldn't do without my White Tiger mod, a great character race created by AlienSlof, who I had the pleasure of working with for quite some time a few years back.

There's also a newer magicka regen mod that utilises MWSE so that NPCs also get their magicka back. Harder but fairer!  

Do you play other games?

For a while, I was very much into Two Worlds and Two Worlds II, and although I do still enjoy playing them every once in a while, they didn't have the long term hold that Morrowind has. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time on No Man's Sky.  

Do you mod other games?

Apart from Morrowind, my modding has been mostly limited to the Two Worlds franchise (which were published on the Topware owned "Inside Two Worlds" website before they decided to stop supporting it) and No Man's Sky (which have not been published). I find that Hello Games updates No Man's Sky way too often to put effort into publicly modding. Each revision has a significant chance of breaking a published mod so that it either needs to be recompiled, or redesigned (or in some cases, abandoned when something necessary for the mod has been removed).  

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

There is a series of books by John Varley: Titan, Wizard, and Demon. In the stories is a race of people called Titanides. My user name is similar to the names used by titanides, as that was the personae I chose when first joining the online community. Each name consists of a musical instrument, a genealogical comment, and a musical style. My character's full name was originally "Pipe Organ (Lydian Duet) Toccata" If none of that makes sense, read the John Varley stories - I highly recommend them. When I first went online, I chose to spell my name "Toccatta" with the extra "t" thinking I could use that to differentiate between myself and people talking about the actual musical style. I was young and foolish and didn't realize how atrocious the average internet user's spelling is, so obviously, that trick didn't work. Still, that's how I've been known online for over 25 years. It's a bit late to change it now.