Sep 20 2012

A Meditation on Creation and Divinity

Okay look I’m just talkin’ here:

The entire Elder Scrolls lore revolves around the concept of Creation.

At the lowest levels, we reproduce. That act of creation is not a divine act in the poetic sense, but basic survival instinct. It is the least “powerful” form of creation. Even ants can do this.

At a higher level, we build things. Rocks become Cairns. Trees become Logs become Houses, Bridges, Walls, Weapons. Ore becomes Blades and Armor. But this is just the manipulation of one thing into another. It is not as much Creation as it is Conversion.

So we move to the next level. We create with Magicka. Fire between our hands, ice from our fingers. But again, this is Conversion, though the brush is loaded with the phlogistonic paint of Aetherius.

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Aug 18 2010

Technically, Scrolls that are Elder are still involved.

I had fun playing Oblivion, while it lasted.

I got to… let’s see… A good ways into the Thief’s guild quests, and quite a distance into the Mage’s guild, and of course I “rescued” Kvatch, because who doesn’t love that new greeting everyone gives you?  But in the end I realized that I could still clearly remember nearly every quest in the game, which meant that nothing would end up surprising me much, no matter how many aspects of game play I changed.  No amount of graphical prettiness can make a game as long as Oblivion seem truly shiny and new.

I didn’t uninstall it, though.  Who wants to spend a whole week configuring plugins again?

Instead I installed Morrowind, the game Bethesda published before Oblivion.  It’s got a number of advantages over Oblivion:

  • It’s made for the PC, which means the interface isn’t nauseatingly stupid and infantile.
  • It was made in an era when RPGs were still intended to challenge your skill, not just your ability to play the game until you’re so powerful that you’ve broken it.
  • Based in the land of the Dark Elves (aka the Dunmer), the landscape is dry, harsh, and completely alien.  It’s a wonderful break from the usual forest-based fantasy you can find everywhere else.
  • The plot is wicked awesome.  I can’t find a better way to put that.

The only problem is, Morrowind is old.  Damn old.  It was published five years before Oblivion in 2002, which means while Oblivion might look like this:

The best Morrowind could manage is this:

However, of course, the mod community had my back.  Developments involving certain techniques normally reserved for more illicit activities, the mod community created the Morrowind Graphics Enhancer, which makes Morrowind look… well… rather a lot better:

Now, the MGE isn’t exactly plug and play; there’s a lot of tweaking involved before you get that quality of graphics.  And because everything is happening at the .dll level rather than directly in the game engine, there are a number of graphical anomalies and the usual loss of stability. But it’s been nearly nine years since I last played this game, and while some of it seems vaguely familiar, on the whole it’s an entirely new experience.

I suppose, in a way, that I’ve finally found the one and only advantage to a biologically impaired memory.

Aug 1 2010

I got pulled back into OBLIVIQN

I re-installed Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion a few months ago, for some reason I can’t identify.  I suppose I thought it’d been so long since I last played it that I might have forgotten the plot or the quests somehow.  And I wasn’t completely wrong, but some of it still gives me a sense of deja-vu.

Anyway, the point is this:  The mod community for Oblivion has not slowed down.  Not at all.  People are still producing content by the boatload for this game, even though it’s almost four years old now.

And because the game is four years old, the hardware that was once considered “high-end” is now laughably slow.  After installing a wide range of high-resolution mods that improve texture resolution, model resolution, sound effects, and even rendering modes, Oblivion looks pretty damn nice.  Certainly nicer than I ever remember.

Here’s some screenshots, just because.

So God Rays are a cheap and easy “wow-factor” graphic improvement.  But what I find astonishing about this mod is that it is essentially a feature reserved for core engine features, and the community has somehow managed to staple it onto an engine they can’t even get the source-code for.  That’s impressive stuff.

Here’s a nice scene in Oblivion.  Looks a little flat.  Especially when you compare it to the way it looks with a fan-created SSAO rendering mod:

Amazing.  All available from one simple mod.  And some new high-resolution textures don’t hurt either:

And because my new (sensibly-priced) gaming rig is so much more awesome than what they had in mind four years ago, I can crank things like self-shadowing effects up to crazy levels:

Mind you, with all of these mods comes an incredible amount of the usual stuff you get when you allow people total creative control over an environment, so there’s plenty of BDSM mods and furry content to wade through before you start getting to the good stuff.

I would’ve liked to have provided “before and after” comparison shots, but while these mods are easy to install, they’re not at all easy to remove.  Loading a save game that relies on several very complex modifications can often turn the game into unusable mush, so I haven’t risked it.