I don’t want to get into the politics of the Covid-19 response (the consequences are depressing, no matter which side you think is correct), but being essentially home-bound for a few weeks has left me with ample time to go back through my Steam library and fiddle around with stuff that has been gathering digital dust for a while. By happenstance, I installed Beamdog’s Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition, mostly for a chance to laugh at the polygonal graphics (dang, but Aribeth has some pointy things that shouldn’t be pointy; and I remember someone creating “jiggly mesh” to make those pointy bits jiggle – go figure). I sold off my original Diamond Edition game at a garage sale many years back, so I snagged Beamdog’s remaster when it went on sale sometime back as a replacement (let’s not get into the pending stress catastrophes that my bookcases have become over the years – they are sagging in place where I didn’t know it was possible for them to sag). After installing and rolling up a basic Elven Ranger, I remembered that I had written a “Beginner’s Guide” for the game. It was still there, but at some point during the intervening 15 years, Chrome decided that Flash objects were a no-no, so every single one of my menu links were broken because the object that held the link wouldn’t load; Firefox wasn’t any better. Edge at least loaded them if I allowed Flash on a per-session basis, but I don’t do Edge and I’ve long since removed Opera and the other browsers, so I couldn’t say how they handle things.  Well day-um! Where I thought I would be wasting time laughing at an almost-20-year-old game, it looks like I needed to go fix a crap ton of broken stuff so I could refresh my memory and THEN I could waste time with the game. To cap things off, I got rid of the copy of Dreamweaver that I used to write the guide (and create all of those non-functional Flash objects). Not that I would have expected something designed for 32-bit Windows XP to work very well on 64-bit Windows 10, and I’m not going to shell out $250 per year for the current version. “Software as a service” is a whole other rant, but I wouldn’t use it often enough to justify the cost in any case. So back to Notepad++ I go, the whole while wondering whether I remember enough about HTML to fix the parts that needed fixing (I did, and Lord, it is tedious). I’m pretty much done with the Prelude and Chapter 1 and have mostly got the page edits into something resembling a routine. Give me a couple more days and the whole thing should be up and running again. Maybe then I can go back to grousing about lockdowns and laughing at Aribeth’s jiggly bits.

(Note: this is my take on DarkLadyLexy’s LotD modlist and as such it mostly represents my opinions rather than anything objectively true or false. Take it as constructive critique and as part of thinking through the process rather than outright criticism.

Let’s be clear from the outset that this modlist is YUUUGE! I count somewhat over 500 mods, many of them having multiple pieces and patches so the variety of pieces is probably in the 600-700 range. The amount of time and effort that Lexy and her team put into assembling and testing that collection (and keeping it up to date) is absolutely mind boggling.  Boggling my mind is a “Novice” difficulty feat, even after I’ve had coffee, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer magnitude of what she and her team have put together.

Anyone trying to follow her instructions will spend quite a while downloading stuff. It took me the better part of a week just to get everything downloaded, but this was not a 24/7 activity. Lexy claims about 100GB worth, including Skyrim’s 18 or so GB and that seems a fair estimate, though 110GB to 115GB is what I ended up with in the mods folder before getting to the merges. The most massive time sink will be tweaking the pieces, but let’s not mention the times when a multi-gig mod got locked into a 250kbps pipe. Once all of that is done, and only once it’s done, can you run start to put stuff into some semblance of a working order. This raises my first and major critique: the player isn’t going to know whether anything works as intended until they get to the end of the process as there is absolutely no provision made for testing the various pieces before the whole thing is completely assembled. “Trust the Guide” is one of Lexy’s major rules and most critical pieces are clearly marked with “Idiot check” tags as a reminder, but I come out of the “trust but verify” era and one of the first things every aspiring carpenter learns is that you should always dry fit before applying the glue. There is a bit of testing that can be done very early in the process if you follow Lexy’s process and don’t mind enduring the initial cart ride to Helgen (“Alternate Start: Live Another Life” doesn’t go in until you’re about a third of the way through so you can’t bypass the cart ride), but I’m reasonably sure that just about everyone can load Skyrim with the unofficial patch, SkyUI and some essential plugins without blowing up their game. If the game decides to choke and die due to mods, the more common cause is likely to be some piece of mod #160 fatally conflicting with some piece of mod #32 and you don’t get to check Lexy’s fit until you’ve applied the glue, stained and finished the piece, and are ready to put it on display. Really frustrating.

On the bright side, Lexy and her team have tested out this load order and cleared out those kinds of conflicts and you’ll find that this is the reason for the huge amount of time you spend tweaking individual mods. So when you install something like Pandorable’s NPCs, you’ll go through its contents and individually delete conflicting meshes and textures, or you just won’t install particular assets/folders when a mod goes in. Still, a workflow with checkpoints where progress can be tested and checked and potential problems identified would have been great.

A second but related issue lies in some of the choices that went into the modlist. A major chunk of what she has included are absolutely fantastic mods. I have used them, tweaked them, blessed them, and cursed them for years before I ever found her modlist and was absolutely fine with their inclusion. For some of the Oldrim mods, the only reason they weren’t in my current modlist was because I was new to SE and was not sure how to get them to play nicely with SE mods. In a few cases I couldn’t even get them to load and had to settle for inferior mods that WOULD work with SE, so I have to admit that I learned much from not only her choice of mods, but also the adjustments and tweaks that need to be done. Some of the follower mods struck me as being a bit problematic since I typically only run with one through an entire game (Don Quixote only had one sidekick, after all), but it is not exceptionally difficult to avoid picking up a follower during a game (M’rissi might be unavoidable if you hate the Thalmor), so I installed them anyway and just made a mental note to pick one and stick with him/her. Lexy’s modlist is good for multiple playthroughs rather than a single set of adventures, so the fact that you don’t pick up a particular follower in a given playthrough is not a major problem.

A second chunk are mods that I knew by reputation but never got around to using because I habitually run a moderately light load order and there are several mods that I hadn’t heard of before and am really interested in checking out. This is the major reason I tackled the project in the first place.

It’s the third chunk that bothers me. These are mods that I know, either by reputation or by use, and I know I do not want them in my load order; the whole survival section (Frostfall, Campfire, iNeed, etc.), for example, falls into this category. I used them back with Oldrim and found that they turned my game into an unpleasant grind. Some are mods that add in things in which I am not at all interested, such as Fossil Mining. Some, like some of the male body replacers, are not really my cup of tea. Others, like some of the female body replacers, I don’t mind but I certainly wouldn’t install them with the options Lexy chose. And then there is the phenomenal amount of graphical eye-candy where I probably wouldn’t notice if it was there or not, so why place the added load on my hardware?

And therein lies the third problem: little to no modularity. On something this large, I’m not sure that modularity would be especially practical, although it would certainly be useful. While I don’t think utility could be denied, the lack of practicality mostly stems from the compatibility and consistency patches. These are something that Lexy and her crew sat down and made, although there are several that were produced by the authors of many of the mods. Because their purpose is to make multiple mods play nicely together, you’d have to make a patch for every possible permutation. Once that’s done, you’d have to keep it current and working as the various mods receive updates and tweaks. Putting those together is a huge undertaking, so taking the position of “if you don’t like <whatever>, then go make your own patch” just makes everyone’s lives simpler. I kind of look at it in the same light as paying taxes: I understand the necessity, but that does not mean I have to like it.

So with preliminary thoughts out of the way, let’s move on to getting the pieces and putting them into something that makes sense. See you in the next one.

Side note before anyone starts griping: I’m already using the full modlist for LotD v4.1.6. It’s awesome. The only other reason I’d spend this amount of time writing about it is if it were a piece of crap, but I could dispose of that in a few paragraphs rather than a whole series.

Having found my Skyrim SE game to have gone a bit stale in spite of diligently rebuilding my modlist between playthroughs, I stumbled across Legacy of the Dragonborn several months back and decided to take it out for a spin. I was extremely impressed by the mod’s production value and the meticulous approach the author (icecreamassassin) and the development team took with the concept and implementation. I used it about two-thirds of the way through a strictly main-quest-and-DLC playthrough and thought it was a fantastic mod which mainly suffered from the problem of being built to deal with a crap ton of mods that I had not included in my current modlist. So I scrapped that character, rebuilt my modlist to include most of those missing mods, and tacked on Inigo since it was one of the major follower mods that I had never used before.

Inigo and Angnin Darkmane cut quite the swath across Skyrim and Solstheim (but not Elsweyr, Falskaar and Wyrmstooth) when the LotD team dropped a new version on Monday. There is no upgrade path from v4.1.3 to v5 of LotD, so Angnin went off to digital Sovngarde (who knows where followers go when a Dovahkiin gets retired) and I decided to start over after giving the new version a quick playtest on an essentially vanilla setup. It went well enough that I decided to bring out the big guns and do a massive modlist rebuild.

I had run across DarkLadyLexy’s LotD modlist quite a while back, but I wasn’t particularly interested in investing the hours (and days) of time it would take to make all of the pieces play nicely together. The new version of LotD was a good enough excuse to take a break from playing to take a stab at it. What follows is my experience with setting up a new modlist. While I deviate from her modlist in some places because I think it pushes the game in directions that I don’t particularly want to go, I’m mostly sticking with hers for a couple of reasons. The primary one is that she’s using a lot of mods that I’ve never tried before and this is as good an excuse as any to give them a shot. For example, I’ve been a pretty diligent user of Obsidian Weathers or Climates of Tamriel in conjunction with Enhanced Lights and FX and she’s using Cathedral Weathers with Enhanced Lighting for ENB, so this made for a perfect excuse to try out different weather and lighting systems. ELE has been out for years and I just never got around to trying it out (even on original Skyrim) while Cathedral Weathers and Seasons is only a few months old, so why not?

A second reason for taking this approach was simple curiosity. I have never run what might be thought of as a heavily modded game. I have around 40 or 50 of what I think of as my “core mods,” things like the unofficial patch(es), Live Another Life, ELFX,, CoT, Lilyu’s Lockpicking mod (because you WILL be picking locks), some sort of weapon/armor retexture like Immersive Weapons/Armors (I tend to flipflop between that and things like aMidianborn’s stuff), sometimes with one of the follower overhauls like AFT or Convenient Horses, and that kind of thing, with the rest being something central to the character that I’m playing or a couple of the big quest mods like Elsweyr or Falskaar. The whole point was to be able to spend most of my time playing and as little time as possible getting the pieces to play nicely. All told, I’ve probably never had a load order bigger than about 150 or 175 mods. Lexy’s modlist looks to be well over 500 separate mods. A sizable chunk are mesh and texture stuff without an .esp to count against the cap, but the rest is still well over the 254-mod limit. The idea of doing some serious editing, bashing, smashing, and merging just to make something really complicated work was too tempting to pass up at this point.

If anyone wants to follow along, Lexy’s Legacy of the Dragonborn modding guide can be found at https://wiki.nexusmods.com/index.php/User:Darkladylexy/Lexys_LOTD_SE. It’s a massive read which will probably never be on the New York Times bestseller list, but it’s a very well done roadmap. I have a few minor gripes about organization (telling you to do stuff for MO2 before MO2 is even installed, for example), but it’s clear enough that even I can follow.

My Skyrim SE was already installed, although I had put off letting the game update back in November. I use what I guess is the standard approach to this in that I set the game to only update when launched, but never use Steam’s launcher EXCEPT (1) on a completely vanilla installation and (2) when I feel like messing with updating SKSE64 and the various mods and plugins that depend on it. Bethesda’s recent updates have only been to incorporate new Creation Club features rather than to patch any of the unpatched bugs in the game. Since I do not use CC content, I’ve never needed to update on short notice. Because I use SKSE64 (skse.silverlock.org), I launch through that and the Steam launcher never triggers unless I do it on purpose. It might not be what Bethesda had in mind, but they probably didn’t envision dragons that looked like Thomas the Tank Engine, either (I think the Randy Savage dragons are funnier).

All of that out of the way, the standard group of tools is what I’m starting from (DLCs were already cleaned and SKSE64 already installed):

Mod Organizer 2: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/6194/

Ideally, MO2 should be installed on the same drive where Skyrim (or any of the other games it can handle) is installed, but I have my games and my mod tools on separate physical drives for reasons of space and performance. The additional load time at the start is a small price to pay for being able to have the game on a fast SSD. I use a portable rather than a dedicated installation as I’ll probably get back around to some of the Fallout games later and won’t have to mess with a duplicate installation.

The two editors (zEdit and SSEEdit) are sitting in the game’s directory, but the rest of the tools are on the other drive with MO2.

SSE Edit: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/164

zEdit: https://github.com/z-edit/zedit/releases/tag/0.6.5

Wrye Bash: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/6837

Mator Smash: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/90987

Load Order Optimization Tool (LOOT): https://github.com/loot/loot/releases/tag/0.15.1

BethINI: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/4875

Cathedral Assets Optimizer (CAO): https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/23316

CAO is a new tool for me since I haven’t needed it in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do.

Lexy recommendd the most up-to-date version of the C++ Redistributable (https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/help/2977003/the-latest-supported-visual-c-downloads). I’ve never had anything cough up hairballs because of having the wrong version of this, but figure that it can’t hurt and it seems likely that something somewhere down the line might actually require it, so why not.

I also reinstalled a couple of LOD tools:

Sheson’s xLODGEN: https://mega.nz/#!QVZlzShQ!fkUTPUIp2O5cg1s4BlfwFMwI1uG6M3Hg9tCJNbw_hUE

(Do not forget to send your firstborn to Sheson after installation)

DynDOLOD: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/59721

I decided to play around with ENB for this setup. ENB is a new thing for me in spite of it having been around for freakin’ ever, but this is an optional thing and can be dispensed with if you prefer another graphic solution.

ENB Series by Boris Vorontsov: http://enbdev.com/mod_tesskyrimse_v0396.htm (I had v0.395 hanging around from an earlier install of Fallout 4, so didn’t bother with the newest version, but should note that Vorontsov removes old links with each new update and the download link at the bottom of his page will disappear in the future).

Since I had used most of the tools in the past and still had a few installed, getting all of them set up didn’t take very long. If the reader does not have them or is not used to using them, this initial setup will take a couple or three hours. Lexy’s instructions are very precise (as in click this, type that, and so forth), so “trust the guide” is probably the best rule to follow if you’re new to modding.

Coming up: the modlist (this is going to hurt)

For reasons best known to the folks at EA, they are no longer dishing out the Store content patches to anyone who is not running the current Origin version of the game. This would be mostly Steam and Mac players, but probably applies to those who are still using physical media installs, too. As best as I can tell from other players who have posted on the topic, the content patch stuff from a previous install can simply be copied into the \Documents\Electronic Arts\The Sims 3\ContentPatch folder to get around the issue. The link below is a .zip file containing the everything in the ContentPatch folder from an install of the game on my system before this became an issue. At the time the Store dished these out, I was playing a Steam installation on PC (Win10) and was patched to v1.67. I added them to my current Sims 3 installation (Win10, also) and have not experienced issues with them.

http://www.tesguides.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ContentPatch.zip

Just unzip the contents, place them in the ContentPatch folder, and all should be well (or at least not completely broken). And thus players step up where developers won’t.

There are upsides and downsides to having an email address that’s fairly easy to find. Downside: spam; upside: people with questions or comments.

I received an email from someone who had found the Beginner’s Guide to Daggerfall, found it useful, and asked whether I still played. I had to admit that it had been way too many years since I had fired up the game, so made it a point to reinstall it and spend some time wandering the Iliac Bay. Big mistake. There is way too much that I have forgotten in 20 years (yes, it has been about that long since the game was released), and way too much that I remember. My current gaming project (which had better be taking a back seat to Grad School) is to update the Guide and redo as much of it as possible in video format. There are a few YouTubers who have done or are doing Daggerfall “Let’s Play” videos, but since I’m not a Twitch kinda guy (at my age I’m not twitchy enough), but there are enough mistakes in the current crop to warrant a more reasoned voice of experience. Keep your eyes peeled.

As a side note, in firing up the game again, I find myself being relatively active on the Daggerfall subreddit (reddit.com/r/Daggerfall/). Questions are always welcome

Six years worth of posts – poof and gone! My database is misbehaving and I didn’t make a backup. It’s not like there was anything exceptionally meaningful in there anyway (OK, I’ll miss everything that I wrote about Mass Effect 3), but it’s start over again and see what happens. Gotta love technology because I’ve run out of places to hide the bodies.