Masochistic Dreams Of Game Design Oblivion

I ran across this post the other day on the website of Chris Crawford, veteran of the game biz.

It basically says “You can either break into the industry through a trade school or get a more formal liberal arts education and then a real job. The first way is quicker, but the second way is a much more reliable method to avoid getting assigned to mere grunt jobs.”

As a University student seeking a DTC degree, that’s got me in a good mood: I’m on the right track. To these ends, I’ve found myself emulating the other part of his article: While in school, play with game design.

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Mr. Crawford advises building little “go karts” – crappy games that serve as educational means to understand how a game is put together. Truth of that matter is, I’ve already done a bit of muddling around with that in my Java and C++ days. That’s the technical side of things, and now I’m looking at content quality side.

So it is that I’ve found myself once again attracted to developing an Oblivion plugin. Once the choice to turn down the triple-O was established, that option became open. I was also heavily encouraged by encountering the very sparse monster variety that the stock Oblivion spawn tables use.

Some player on the official boards said that the Elder Scrolls Construction Set stopped working once the Shivering Isle was installed, but I haven’t discovered anything of the sort. The NPC preview window is bugged (possibly my uber-fast new P4 650 processor is causing the contents to fly out of view when I touch it) but none of this stops me from making the kinds of changes I wanted to make. Geldon Yetichsky, the Oblivion plugin creator, is back in business.

As it turns out, I don’t want to make really in depth changes. I’ve decided that my Plugin will stand alone as the “purist” of well done Oblivion plugins. So far I’ve come up with three “Guidelines for Preservation of Oblivion Purity”:

  1. No new objects, whether they be items, monsters, or spells. All modifications must be made to existing objects.
  2. The fully scaling monster spawning system remains in place. Oblivion was conceived as a game where you can explore freely without worrying about running into unbeatable foes, and this assures that.
  3. All spells must be able to be recreated by the player when creating custom spells. In other words, no turning off the auto mana calculation.

One of the main benefits of this approach is that save games can be compatible whether or not you are running this mod. If you get tired of running the mod, just uncheck it and you’re good to go. If you find a mod that adds additional content while leaving the stock Oblivion content alone, you should have no problem running it alongside this one. Unlike Oscuro, I’m not rolling everything and the kitchen sink into this, and as a result I have a “pure” mod that leaves the horizons open to expansion.

So, that’s pretty well conceived. Now all I’ve got to do is actually code the thing. I’ve some previous experience from my old plugins (now residents of dev/null) to determine some good changes to make. The preservation restrictions actually remove a lot of the work I could have done. Given a week or two of 3 hours a day, I could very well be finished with the base Oblivion enhancement and ready to move on to stage two.

Stage two is a next version plugin that enhances both Oblivion and Shivering Isles content. First, I have to complete the Shivering Isles expansion, otherwise I’ll spoil it for myself. You never know, it may not even need improvement. After completing this second plugin, I could potentially move on to a third “impure” plugin that makes more radical enhancements that don’t necessarily follow the three guidelines laid out above. However, I’m thinking a bit far ahead – given my erratic whims, I’m not even sure I’ll finish stage one.

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