Archive for January, 2013


While waiting for the “Dragonborn” DLC to hit my hard drive in a couple of weeks, I decided to go fiddle around with Oblivion for a while. I managed to pick up the whole shooting match (Oblivion plus Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine and all of the official DLCs) for a bit more than $10 sometime during the holidays. This saved me the hassle of having to mess with my retail version of Oblivion (plus patch), my digital versions of the two big DLCs and my backup copies of the official DLCs. And who knows? Maybe that retail version with its very own cellophane-wrapped Septim will fetch something on eBay one of these days.  At any rate, I have resolved to install and play for a bit.

Because I never really bothered with modding Oblivion other than the official DLCs and a UI mod, step one was to bring in some of the utilities that I never messed with at the time. I am going to assume that you are using a mod manager of some sort. If you are not, then you are (a) much braver than I am and/or (b) a glutton for punishment.

Oblivion Mod Manager (OBMM) can be downloaded from the Oblivion Nexus, but I find the Nexus Mod Manager to be a bit more flexible as it works with several games. One caution, though. As of v.0.40, I’ve found that NMMs handling of OMOD installation is hinky, at least as far as Oblivion Unofficial Patch mods are concerned. You might be better served by using OBMM until those issues get resolved.

My primary goal with all of this is to get a clean base upon which I can build. Except for lock-up/crash on exit, Oblivion and its official DLCs have been pretty stable for me. The exiting problem can hopefully be fixed with an OBSE plugin called “Fast Exit”. I’m still testing this with my installation, but it looks promising.

  1. BOSS (Better Oblivion Sorting Software) has become an indispensible tool for Skyrim and I regret not using it with New Vegas. My little pea-brain didn’t even consider it for Fallout 3, although BOSS works with it and Morrowind, too. The first thing it identified was the ton of dirty edits in the official DLCs, so off to the cleaners they went.
  2. TES4Edit  checks for conflicts within and between mods. Although it has its own mod page at the Oblivion Nexus, the same program will work for Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim, and Oblivion. The only thing that needs to be done is to rename the executable. So I made a copy of my TES5Edit folder, renamed the executable to TES4Edit and went to work:
    1. Launch TES4Edit
    2. Deselect all of the DLCs (you can right-click and choose “Select None”), and reselect the one you want to clean. Click “OK” and let it load.
    3. Right-click on the mod and select “Apply Filter for Cleaning” (might take a bit, depending on how many records need to processed)
    4. Right-click the mod again and select “Remove ‘Identical to Master’ records”. If you’re in the Construction Set and make a change to something, save your work, then go back and change it back to its original setting, the Construction Set sees that as a change to the master file (Oblivion.esm in this case) and includes it as part of the mod. This cleans out all of those junk records. Most mods might have a couple of these “dirty edits”, but some of the official DLCs have a hundred or more of them.
    5. Right-click the mod again and select “Undelete and Disable References”. If you place an object into a mod with the Construction Set and then disable it, rather than delete it, the object still loads. This removes those kinds of objects and references.
    6. Close TES4Edit. If any changes were made to the mod by the cleaning process, you’ll be offered the opportunity to save the mod. TES4Edit defaults to making a backup copy of the uncleaned mod and it’s stored in the \Oblivion\Data\TES4Edit Backups folder. Click OK to save the changes.
    7. Repeat steps 1-6 for each DLC (Shivering Isles was clean as a whistle at the time of installation; the rest were not).
    8. Paranoia on my part – archive all of them. If you ever need to redownload/reinstall, you can simply extract that archive back into your \Data folder and overwrite the dirty DLCs with the clean ones.
  3. Run BOSS again. Hopefully everything is showing clean and ready to go.
  4. OBSE (Oblivion Script Extender) is exactly that – a scripting extender that lets mod authors do things that the Creation Kit won’t let you do. Because my Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine were digital distributions from Direct2Drive, I wasn’t sure whether OBSE would work, so I never bothered using it. FOSE (Fallout Script Extender) definitely didn’t work because of my distribution’s encryption, so New Vegas was the first game were I got to use it and it was one of the reasons why I went back and bought Oblivion and Fallout 3 from Steam. Installation is dirt simple (there is a ReadMe in the .zip, so this is for those who can’t be bothered to read the ReadMe):
    1. If your copy of Oblivion is retail (box with the Oblivion DVD):
      1. Copy obse_1_2_416.dll, obse_editor_1_2.dll, and obse_loader.exe to your Oblivion directory.
      2. Run Oblivion by running obse_loader.exe from the Oblivion directory or by making a shortcut that points to obse_loader.exe.
    2. If your copy of Oblivion is from Steam:
      1. Copy obse_1_2_416.dll, obse_editor_1_2.dll, and obse_steam_loader.dll to your Oblivion directory.
      2. Ensure you have enabled the Steam community in-game, or OBSE will fail to load. Go to Steam –> Settings -> In-Game and check the box marked "Enable Steam Community In-Game".
      3. Launch Oblivion via Steam or by running Oblivion.exe. OBSE will automatically be run along with Oblivion when launched.
  5. Install “Fast Exit” or something similar, especially if you’re on Vista/Win7. The author mentions a couple of other mods that try to accomplish the same thing, so one of the three should work for you.
  6. Launch Oblivion and let it do the hardware detection. Most players using current hardware can set the game to “High” or “Ultra High” with little worry about over-taxing the hardware. But if you’re concerned, let it go with what the game thinks is correct. You can tweak those settings later. You are not yet ready to play, but you do need to generate the .ini files for the game. These are stored in your My Documents folder, usually in “\My Games\Oblivion”. We are most concerned with oblivion.ini, but can deal with all of them in the same way.
    1. Open oblivion.ini in Notepad or some other plain text editor (do not open with a word processor).
    2. Save the file as something else. I usually just tack “original” on the end of the file extension, but anything other than “oblivion.ini” will do the job as long as you know what you’re looking at. The original file is not changed; you’re just making a backup copy of the original settings.
    3. repeat for any other .ini files where you might want to keep a backup of the original settings.
  7. DarnifiedUI. From the outset, Oblivion’s user interface sucked. Clunky, difficult to maneuver, not enough room to see what you needed to see, you name it. It did not rise (or fall) to the level of suckiness of the Mass Effect 3 ending, but calling it “less than ideal” would be paying it a massive compliment. Fortunately, the modding community stepped up to the plate and DarN’s user interface has worked best for me.  It doesn’t require OBSE, either, so if you’re hesistant on that issue, don’t be.

    The mod can be had as an OMOD file, which will work with OBMM, but it probably will not work for you with the Nexus Mod Manager. It has always kicked a script error for me, so I will assume that if you use NMM, you will need to install it manually. Rather than repeat what is easily accessible elsewhere, you can find the manual installation instructions here. Do not forget to edit the fonts in your oblivion.ini or everything could come to naught.
    While you can outright overwrite the initial settings in the .ini file, I find that it is better to insert new values on a new line below the original and to comment out the original. Most (maybe “all”) applications will ignore any line in an .ini file that begins with a semicolon ( ; ), so inserting a semicolon at the beginning of the original line is a good way of reminding yourself of what you changed. That way, if you need to revert to an earlier setting, you know what it was.

  8. Turn on multi-core support. When Oblivion was first released, I was running a single-core processor (AMD Athlon, I think – it’s been a while), so none of these changes were necessary. While Oblivion’s support for multiple processor cores is tepid at best, it’s better to at least let the game know that they are available. Some players have reported performance gains while others have said there were none. Almost everything I have seen on the subject says that these changes at least make the game more stable on multi-core systems, though. All of these go into your oblivion.ini file:

    bUseThreadedBlood=1
    bUseThreadedMorpher=1
    bUseThreadedTempEffects=1
    bUseThreadedParticleSystem=1
    bUseBackgroundPathing=1
    bUseBackgroundFileLoader=1
    iNumHavokThreads=3
    iThreads=10

    Again, I’d comment out the original line with a semicolon so that you can revert back to the original values if you need to.

  9. More .ini tweaks. These are just things that I like. Feel free to use them or not.
    1. SIntroSequence – make it blank to skip all of the intro junk without hitting <ESC>
    2. SMainMenuMovieIntro – make it blank to go directly to the main menu
    3. There are lots of performance related tweaks out there. Read through them and use the ones you like. Don’t forget that putting a semicolon in front of the original line will make it easier to see what you changed and revert back if you don’t like it.
      1. UESP Wiki: http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Oblivion:Ini_Settings
      2. TweakGuides for Oblivion: http://www.tweakguides.com/Oblivion_1.html
      3. TESIV:Positive – https://sites.google.com/site/oblivionpoinfo/stabilization/oblivion
  10. Unofficial Patches – as much as I love Bethesda games, they are invariably a bit on the buggy side. Since Morrowind, Bethesda has encouraged the fan community to mod their games, so the modding community has stepped up to the plate with unofficial fixes for the things that Bethesda never got around to fixing. I don’t care which Bethesda game you’re currently playing, if you are on a PC and have not installed the unofficial patch for that game, you’re crippling your game play. None of these installed well with NMM 0.40, so if you’re using NMM, use the “download manually” link rather than the “Download with Manager” button. You’ll get a .7z archive that you can save somewhere and then point NMM to that file to install it.
    1. Unofficial Oblivion Patch – use this regardless of which DLCs you may or may not have, but only if you’re patched to the latest version of the game. Stick it first in your load order (right after oblivion.esm).
    2. Unofficial Shivering Isles Patch – same as UOP. Stick it right after DLCShiveringIsles.esp, but after UOP.
    3. Unofficial Official Mods Patch – includes Knights of the Nine and the other DLCs (like Horse Armor – ahem). Put it the various bits and pieces right after the official .esps that the modify. So you’d put DLCHorseArmor – Unofficial Patch.esp right after DLCHorseArmor.esp, for example.
  11. Knights of the Nine – if you have this DLC (most PC players probably do), I recommend deactivating it at the beginning of the game. I have two reasons for wanting to do this.
    1. The Anvil chapel is going to be nuked as part of the DLC. While the spells, blessings and whatnot are available from other sources, the NPCs with the dialogues that will point you to a particular Master trainer will also get nuked over the course of the quest line. You could probably find this trainer through blind luck (it’s not THAT hard) or by resorting to an outside resource like the UESP Wiki. But getting to it through normal gameplay seems much better. This is just a matter of personal taste, though.
    2. You can complete a pilgrimage to the altars of the Nine Divines that gives you a handy little power in the vanilla game. Although KotN leaves that power alone if you already have it, you cannot get it once KotN is installed and active. I prefer to complete the pilgrimage fairly early in the game to get that power and then activate KotN. Again, it’s a matter of personal taste.
    3. There is a “Knights – Unofficial Patch.esp”, which you’d place right after Knights.esp, but leave both of them unchecked for now.
  12. Run BOSS again – everything should still be kosher, but it never hurts to check.
  13. Run TES4Edit again. Leave all of the official and unofficial stuff selected and let them load. When they are finished, right-click any of the .esps. From the new menu, select “Other” and then “Create Merged Patch”. Name the patch as something you’ll recognize and click “OK”. If all has gone well, this patch will have nothing in it but a file header. If this is the case, then close TES4Edit without saving anything and you’re set. If this is not the case, then there are conflicts between the unofficial patches that need to be resolved before going any farther. Perhaps you grabbed an OMOD version when you should have grabbed the .7z version for NMM or perhaps your load order is just out of whack, but do not do anything else until those conflicts are resolved. Shoving new mods onto an unstable game is just asking for trouble.
  14. Now you’re ready to launch and play for a bit. You’re welcome to play for as long as you want, but the aim of this step is to make sure that your installation is stable. Go run through the Tutorial dungeon and scamper around the countryside. You’re looking for any big exclamation points (which would indicate missing meshes) or weird purple colors (which would indicate missing textures).

    TES4missingmesh
    If you don’t see anything along those lines and your game doesn’t lock up or crash within a couple or three hours, you’re probably ready to move on.

The first place that I intend to visit is the Oblivion Nexus. There are other mod site out there, but the Nexus is pretty much one-stop shopping. Once I’ve had a chance to eyeball, ponder and test, then I’ll start organizing my mod list. Keep in mind that Oblivion has a hard limit of 255 mods. My first considerations are going to be texture packs and lighting mods, but we’ll see what else crops up along the way.

Have fun with your installation and we’ll be back once I’ve got some stuff to work with.

Sometime back around Thanksgiving, or perhaps a bit before, I started up a new playthrough using a lot of the mods that Gopher reviewed in his “Skyrim Mod Sanctuary” series (and leaving many out, too). Daiyugray V Sukinpeg has held on for two solid months and, now at level 54, reflects on what he has discovered in the couple of in-game years he has been at it:

  • Followers are a pain in the ass. They’re great for absorbing damage that would otherwise be inflicted on you, but they are still a pain in the ass (even with the “Ultimate Followers Overhaul”).
  • Marriage and children are over-rated. The Dragonborn isn’t home long enough for it to be worthwhile. Someone somewhere is always in the midst of a crisis that only the Dovahkiin can solve, so a warm fire, snuggly spouse and the rest of a homelife are pretty much out of the question until after all of the crises are resolved.
  • Being a land-baron is also overrated, but building is fun. Especially when you have to search high and low for that last little Sabre Cat Tooth in order to finish the job. Not sure that I’m thrilled with the boost to Smithing that goes along with it, but I didn’t think of simply paying a steward to do it for me until after everything was built.
  • It’s really cool to make super-power-up potions, which allow you to make super-powered stuff. But once you can one-shot Alduin, even with “Deadly Dragons”, it kind of loses its luster.
  • Bethesda really dropped the ball in the Lockpicking department by not providing any other way around them. I cannot think of one good reason why a warrior-mage character should have a 100 Lockpicking skill (without expending a single perk in it) other than the designers made it happen that way. There are several very good mods out there that try to deal with this problem in various ways, but it’s still something that should have been dealt with pre-release.
  • I’m not sure whether I like the idea of Alchemy being a quasi-essential skill. Granted, there are plenty of potions laying around (and stocked in Alchemist shops), so it’s not really necessary to harvest and use a single ingredient except as quest items. But I think it’s a bit on the over-powered side (really overpowered if you use Restoration exploits). Personal taste, though.
  • Some NPCs simply deserve a punch in the kisser and it’s occasionally worth the 40 gold to do it. Too bad they never learn the lesson. A hard-working Dragonborn could go bankrupt like that.
  • Bethesda also dropped the ball on the whole Blades/Paarthunax thing. I’m the Dragonborn and the Blades follow me. Period. If they don’t like it, they can go find another Dragonborn (“Inde muaghde Aes Sedai misain ye” and all that). I hear there’s one over in Solstheim. Good luck with that and see my previous comment about well-earned punches.
  • Fancy materials doesn’t mean fancy results. With some judicious Smithing (thanks largely to Hearthfire), the Leather Armor, Steel sword and Draugr arrows that I was using at the beginning of the game are still doing what I need them to do, at least when occasionally bolstered by the appropriate homebrew.

I’m debating about starting a new playthrough when “Dragonborn” is released in a couple of weeks. That will probably make for a good point in time to clear out the mods folder, make sure everything is up-to-date and put my head on the executioner’s block again. Until then, though, there is still much to be seen and done.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be an all-encompassing look at what’s headed our way for 2013. There are lots of (hopefully) really good games coming this year that have lots of excitement in their fan bases (a new Tomb Raider, a new Metal Gear Solid, a new StarCraft and the like), but which don’t hold much appeal for me. These are just the ones that are on my own radar. Some are a lot higher on that radar than others; I have much higher expectations for some than I do for others; some are going to be definite purchases at or near release time, while others will end up on my “I’ll get to it eventually” list and a few are on my “I intend to avoid it like the plague” list. All in all, 2013 looks to be shaping up into a decent year for gaming.

The release dates are what I could find at the time. I suspect that many will turn out to be wrong and a few will hit their release dates when they should really have been pushed back for quality purposes. That’s the gaming biz. Gotta love it since there aren’t enough places to hide the bodies.

Game

Developer/Publisher

Release Date

Thoughts

Elder Scrolls Online Zenimax Online/Bethesda Softworks TBA Previews have been generally positive, but since I am not into MMOs, it has little appeal for me.
       
Grand Theft Auto V Rockstar North/Rockstar Games Spring 2013 Lots of buzz and excitement in the fanbase. I absolutely adored GTA San Andreas (still play it occasionally), but was not horribly thrilled with GTA4 or its expansions. It’s on my “get it” list, although I have not pre-ordered.
       
Crysis 3 Crytek/Electronic Arts February 19 I was not horribly thrilled with the original and do not own Crysis 2, so this one barely blips on my radar. That might change, but don’t bet the farm on it.
       
SimCity Maxis through Electronic Arts March 5 My college roommate and I played the hell out of the original and I also enjoyed SimCity 3000, but became more enthralled with Sierra’s city-building games like Caesar III and IV and Pharaoh. This will definitely be on my “get it” list for this year. The co-op aspects of the game look interesting.
       
Dead Space 3 Viceral Games through Electronic Arts February 5 I pretty much enjoyed the original, but it mostly came across as another horror/shooter game. If I’m lacking anything better to do and I can find it on sale, I’ll likely pick it up.
       
BioShock Infinite Irrational Games/2K Games March 26 I really enjoyed the story and gameplay of BioShock and BioShock 2. This one is definitely on my “get it” list.
       
Splinter Cell: Blacklist Ubisoft Toronto/Ubisoft Q2 2013 The jury is still out on this one. I can’t say enough good things about “Splinter Cell”, “Pandora Tomorrow” or “Chaos Theory”. “Double Agent” left me a bit underwhelmed and “Conviction” is still on the store shelf. The franchise is moving much more into the shooter genre and there are much better shooters (and sneakers) out there.
       
Dragon Age III: Inquisition Bioware/Electronic Arts TBA I’m going to be really leery of this one. DA and DA2 were wonderful games, although DA2 didn’t quite rise to DA’s bar IMO. But having heard the “endings that matter” spiel from BioWare and been massively burned in the past on that, I think this is one that I’m going to wait to see the fan reaction before shelling out anything. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but BioWare has its “Mass Effect 3” legacy putting a massive damper on my enthusiasm.
       
Arma III Bohemia Interactive TBA I’ve never played any of the other Arma games, but will probably buy this on just to piss off the Greeks. Once I’ve bought it, I’ll feel obliged to play it, but aside from my overwhelming desire to give the finger to Greece’s idiotic security service, I have no expectations for the game. We shall see how it turns out.
       

Since most of what I’ve been covering in my game guides and blog posts has to do with Bethesda games, I’d be remiss if I didn’t dust off the ol’ crystal ball and take a shot at some prognosticating in Bethesda’s direction.

There is starting to be some movement in the Fallout franchise. Bethesda confirmed that they had a couple of projects in the works after the release of Fallout: New Vegas. One turned out to be Skyrim (no big surprise there), leaving Fallout 4 as the logical choice for the second one. Most recently, there was some excitement over Erik Todd Dellums tweeting about being contacted about reprising his Three Dog role (and having Bethesda’s blessing to do so). While this might have something to do with a Fallout movie of some sort, my money is on a game gig. That might just be wishful thinking on my part, but it seems the most likely explanation. Bethesda managed to milk four good games from the Gamebryo engine (Morrowind, Oblivion and both Fallouts). The “new” Creation Engine for Skyrim is rumored to be slotted for at least one more game and, again, Fallout 4 seems the most likely scenario. I’m sure we’ll hear more tidbits and buzz over the next few weeks, but I would not expecting a major announcement before spring at the earliest.

The “Dragonborn” DLC is still due for PC sometime in the next month or so and, God bless ‘em for their patience and fortitude, the PS3 community is still waiting for a fully functional Skyrim AND a port of the existing DLCs. I have high hopes that Bethesda will be doing something for them in the very near future.

There might be one more DLC out there for Skyrim. Bethesda has registered “Redguard” as a trademark for digitally-delivered game content and they have left the entire Aldmeri Dominion issue unresolved up to this point. Assuming this to be something addressed by any such DLC would be wildly speculative, but there’s no love lost between Hammerfell and Summerset Isle if we look at the lore thus far. Also, we got a good look at Cyrodiil in “Oblivion”, High Rock in “Daggerfall”, and Morrowind in “Morrowind” and the “Dragonborn” DLC, so doing something in Hammerfell wouldn’t be too far outside the bounds of reason.

Of course, dealing with the Thalmor problem would also make excellent fodder for an Elder Scrolls VI and wouldn’t’ necessarily depend upon a single outcome for the Nord civil war. So my suspicion is that we’ll probably see one more DLC for Skyrim which may or may not work as a lead-in to the next TES game. Around the time of that DLC’s release we’ll probably get something official on Fallout 4. Todd looks like he’ll be a fairly busy guy for some time to come.