Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 12: ENBSeries, textures, dwarves


While browsing the Bethsoft forums, I saw some screenshots and some videos, especially by Vality, which reminded me of what had lured me to Morrowind in the first place. While MGE was indeed an improvement over the vanilla look of Morrowind, after having played for a while, I can see now that my settings were definitely not getting the same results that Vality was displaying.

So after some reading, I determined that it was time to give ENBSeries another try. It's a third-party addon (like MGE) that works for a wide range of games, and adds various post-processing effects to Morrowind, such as bloom and colour-correction via user-made palettes. I had given up on it before, because the ambient occlusion had too many problems for me, and it slowed things down too much. But on the recommendations and settings of forum posters like Vtastek, Vality, and Mr. Domino, I tried a few specific settings for ENBSeries and shaders for MGE, and achieved some results that I think are an improvement. They may still be a bit too much on the dark side (a little gamma raising would help, I'm sure. Will have to look into that), and the contrast may be a little harsh, but this is much closer to the kind of results I was seeing in these nice screenshots. Vality is using a palette in ENBSeries to give the Bitter Coast's lighting a green tint, making it feel like a tropical rainforest, and also offers very nice tree replacers to increase the lushness of the foliage. He's also given the same treatment to Balmora, though there are some trees that are placed on top of structures added by Balmora Expansion, and I had to change the date of Vality's mod to allow Balmora expansion to load after it, to reduce landscape conflicts. I'll just be moving or removing a few trees from Vality's mod in the construction set to make them play more nicely together, because it really makes a great difference, and I also want to keep the expanded Balmora. At any rate, the Bitter Coast mod doesn't touch Balmora, so if you're going to try one out, I'd try that one first. There's also one that improves the foliage of the Ascadian Isles, including the town of Pelegiad. There are some nice before-and-after screenshots on that page.

I ended up using the settings of Vtastek from his post here, with the GIMP HDR Bloom custom filter for MGE that he recommended, with Mr Domino's personally tweaked download of ENBSeries. I also downloaded Vality's palette, but I don't use that all the time, because not every environment should be green. I should make separate, more subtle palettes to use for different areas, like in WoW, where for instance Ashenvale has a pink palette, and Feralas has a green one.

Other graphical improvements

I also installed several more texture replacers. I started with Darknut's Creature Textures for Morrowind, which preserve the same look as the original creatures, but with higher resolution and more fine details. Then I overwrote some of those with some of Connary's creature textures, which sometimes depart from the original design (for one, I chose not to install the zombie textures, as I found them a little lacking in character compared to Darknut's). I do, however, like his pack guar textures better! Also installed most of the rest of his region-specific texture replacers, such as the West Gash (which replaces that ugly cobblestone I was complaining about before), the Grazelands, and House Telvanni. Others, as well. Also installed Slof's Better Beasts to improve the Khajiit and Argonian races.

Dwarven spelunking

Today, I finally explored that dwemer ruin that was so interesting to me before. And coincidentally, before I did so, I followed up with Caius Cosades first, to get my first "orders" from him, due to a nagging feeling that perhaps I should start something of the main quest. As it turned out, the first thing I had to do was investigate those very ruins, which are called Arkngthand, to retrieve a particular item inside. I'll keep this limited to a general overview.

The place was lightly populated with a small number of low-level bandits, which were no trouble, but the loot was excellent -- mainly items to furnish my home with! Lots of pretty ornate dwarven bowls, pitchers, and goblets! There were also a lot of rusty dwarven cogs, which were worth 100 drakes, but weigh 50 pounds each, and I don't recommend bothering with them unless you've made one of those strength-enhancing spells I mentioned before.

The ruins were very interesting and mysterious. The dwarves obviously had a rather advanced industrial-age technology in the works, with lots of brass or copper metalworking, and probably chose the location for this building due to the heavy volcanic activity in the region, to harness its geothermal power (I saw many steam pipes around), and it was lit with buzzing gas-discharge lamps (probably sodium vapour).

It was very strangely laid out, but that's pretty common for a dungeon-crawl, where the intent is usually to lead a player on a particular path. There was separate section of it that was sealed behind a locked door that was probably meant to keep out any players who were following the main quest immediately, and wouldn't have been able to unlock it. I used Ondusi's Open Door, which worked fine. But I don't recommend going in there unless you're ready for a fight, because there are ghosts and three kinds of dwarven robots back there, some of which were very tough and killed me several times. I managed to lock one behind a door (using Fenrick's Doorjam -- I thought that would have to come in handy some time!), and the other I killed after using all my mana, several potions, many of my rings (for offense and for healing) and my Hellfire scroll. Big problem with robots -- my health-damaging and health-draining spells have no effect on them, and those are my most powerful spells. I suspect they're a bit resistant to fire, which comprise my second most powerful spells. I need to make a new level of shock spell, I think.

I was tempted to keep the special quest item for decoration purposes, but alas, I think I'll have to continue on with the main quest. Maybe I can find a duplicate of it somewhere, or get it back later.

Live Writer

On a slightly different note, I noticed that in the latest Windows Update, Microsoft was pushing their Live Essentials package, which included a number of things that already came with Vista, such as Calendar, Photo Gallery, Mail, and Messenger, so I never bothered with it. But I had read somewhere that the Live versions now included some new additional features that the bundled Vista versions didn't have, so I took a little look, and noticed that it included something called "Writer". I was a little curious what that was, even though I use OpenOffice for my writing needs, so I looked it up, and found that it's a writing program specifically aimed at bloggers. Well, I'm a blogger, and I saw it supported Blogspot posts, which is what I'm using here, so I decided to give it a try. Blogger's post composition window leaves a lot to be desired. It's tiny, can't be resized, and its buttons don't include header formatting, and when you insert a picture, it always inserts it at the top of the post, and you have to move it manually. This Writer promises better WYSIWYG post editing, using the format of the blog itself.

So I tried it out, though I was put off by it asking for my Blogspot user name and password, a bit of research failed to come up with any security issues or concerns, so I went ahead and did it. My impression isn't that great. It formats the text too small, and I can't find any options to increase the zoom factor. It restricts the text to a column meant to represent the main content area of my blog, but doesn't include the CSS wrapper or the menu bar on the side, so it's just wasted space, and without the wrapper, the text is too close to the edge, making it ugly. I was expecting a bit more. I'm already using an external application (FCKeditor) to compose my blog posts, full-screen, with full WYSIWYG buttons, and it's serving my purposes perfectly well, aside from the picture uploads, which I still do through the Blogger interface. I may play around with Writer a little more, but for now I doubt I'll be switching.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Extra note on custom spells

I forgot to mention that I also tried yesterday to make a Morrowind version of the warlock Life Tap spell which would sacrifice some health in exchange for mana, à la WoW warlocks (which I would then need to restore by casting a Drain Life spell at an enemy. Well, "drain life" was no problem, as it was a simple custom Absorb Health spell, but I didn't have as much success with Life Tap. Yes, I could create a spell combining Damage Health on Self with Restore Magicka, but the mana cost made it pointless. Logically, I think I should have gotten a discount for including an effect that was harmful to myself, but it just made it more expensive. Perhaps later I'll try making it in the construction set and see if I can mod it in at a lower cost. It's entirely for RP purposes, to add a physical toll on restoring my mana through a spell.

Day 11: Spellmaking, enchanting, more crafts, clothes


Today I spent a lot of time trying to find a vendor who would sell me a Fortify Skill spell, so I could make a custom skill spell (knowing any fortify skill spell lets you make spells to fortify any of the other skills, apparently). According to UESP, there are three vendors who sell them. I visited each one, and two of them wouldn't even open negotiations with me (one said I wasn't high enough rank, and the other said I had no reason to be in Skaal village at all), and the third offered me some spells, but didn't include any of the ones I wanted. The Skaal Village people were right about one thing -- I shouldn't have been there at my level, from what I can tell. That's from the Bloodmoon expansion, and I haven't even begun any of that quest line yet.

Incidentally, if you're in Mournhold, and you see a wood elf named Gaenor hanging around the temple, don't talk to him at all. It'll only cause trouble.

At any rate, I ended up mainly using the Fortify Attribute effect for some custom skills, which is different from Fortify Skill. For the most part, I tried to keep things as powerful as I could make them while still taking 1/3 or less of my total mana to cast, and also keeping an eye on the spell success chance. That's the really tricky thing about Morrowind as opposed to Oblivion -- that spells can fail! Especially if you're fatigued, so one spell you might want to pick up is called Rest of St. Meris, available from Telly Savalas at the Balmora Temple, which restores your stamina.

Aside from the Sujamma and other strength-boosting drinks I mentioned before, I was also making use of the Feather and Great Feather spells I had, but the Great Feather in particular had a frustratingly high failure rate, and only lasted 10 seconds. Without augmentation, I can carry 180...pounds? Kilograms? 180, at any rate. Great Feather increases that to 280, and I can add an additional 20 by also casting normal Feather, which also lasts 10 seconds, for a total of 300. The effects are cumulative, but they only add up if they're cast by different spells (casting the same spell again only resets its timer).

Now, my Restoration skill is higher than my Alteration skill, and Feather is an Alteration spell. Fortify Strength is a Restoration spell. I made a custom spell called Heavy Lifting that fortified my strength by 30 points for 30 seconds, and that increased my carrying capacity to 330! This not only cost less mana to cast than Great Feather alone, and lasted 3x as long, but had a 100% success rate. So I made a second, identical spell called Heavy Lifting 2, to cast alongside the first one, and this increases my carrying capacity to 480. This, along with perhaps also some Sujamma, Greef, etc., will make transporting the loot from caves to my pack guar a much speedier process. Especially with this other spell I made, that fortifies my speed +40 for 20 seconds, which is also useful for running around the countryside!

Of course, I'm also making heavy use of that Restore Magicka mod spell, or else this would be consuming a lot of potions.

Speaking of mana, though, I also experimented with some Fortify Intelligence spells. I made one that lasts for 30 seconds, for use in combat. It boosts my intellect by 30 points, and costs 46 mana to cast, but the effect is that my total mana goes from 172 to 232, and strangely enough this boost of my mana pool seems to make it only cost 29 mana to cast. I also made one that boosts my intellect by 200 points, giving me 572 mana for 2 seconds, which is just enough time to cast one big spell before it wears off, or enough time to start making some potions or enchanting an item, as alchemy and enchanting are both more effective with a higher intellect.


Speaking of enchanting, I experimented a lot with enchanting this session. Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of soul gems on failures. I wiped out my savings on all these spellmaking and enchanting attempts, so I had to go buy some more empty soul gems to fill with those good old summoned ancestor ghosts to refresh my income, not to mention give me more gems to enchant with. I wasted maybe 8 of them before I thought of boosting my intellect to aid its success. What I was trying to do was enchant a robe with...fortify intellect. I finally succeeded after the second time with a +200 intellect boost together with the +30 from the other spell. My new robe will boost my intellect a further 20 points for 20 seconds (the best I could do), and will do it 4 or 5 times before it needs recharging.


I finally found a place with spools of thread for sale. According to CM's readme, it should be added to the inventory of any clothier or tailor, but for some reason the one in Caldera didn't have any. Now I just need to obtain some cloth (folded, or rolls, I'm not sure), and I can try making some clothes.

Clothing shops and other Balmora Expansion attractions

I also explored a bit more of the expanded areas of Balmora Expansion. Of note are several new clothes shops, offering some custom robes and armour, some of which look rather nice (too many of them, though, made my character cartoonishly disproportionate in the breast area).

There was also a tavern in which a roaming guild guide (the mages who teleport you to other Guilds of Mages) was located, who will follow you on command, so you can lead him to any location you think might benefit from having a guild guide, and tell him to stay there.

There was a brewery, but it didn't seem to have anything to do inside, just things to look at.

There was also a furniture shop, which promised to sell portable furniture that I could set up in any location, but I didn't have time to try that out this time. My kitchen could use a nicer table, though.

There was also a brothel with dancing girls, and a place where you can bet on the winner of a catfight.

Ranis delivers more of the same

Ranis gave me an escort quest this time. Escort a scholar to Pelegiad, she says, but more confidentially she says that all she really wants are his research notes, and she couldn't care less if he actually makes it to Pelegiad alive. I think I'm going to just head on over to House Telvanni and see about joining up with them. I've heard rumours about their elitism and loose attitudes toward murder, etc., but can they really be any worse than what I'm seeing from the Guild of Mages?

The road to Pelegiad, by the way, took me on the same path on which I met that lovestruck young woman I mentioned before, so I'm guessing this larger area around the lake is what I'm supposed to be exploring next. I think I saw some other buildings around there somewhere. That's the best I can say about Ranis' quests. They point me in interesting directions.

Ranis' next quest, unsurprisingly by this point, is to simply find and kill some necromancer. No negotiation options this time, just kill her. Personally, I'm skeptical that this person I'm supposed to find is a necromancer at all, given Ranis' callous and murderous attitude. I guess we'll see.

I still haven't gone back to explore those dwarven ruins yet! I think that'll be my next destination. And maybe look into the main quest. I'm afraid I'm leveling up too fast.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Day 10: RPing in Pelegiad, crafting, rings

This time I made it to Pelagiad, though my travels were waylaid several times by interesting places I discovered along the way. As I neared the town, which I could begin to see off in the distance, I met a smartly-dressed Breton woman who was pining away out of love for a charming highwayman who had robbed her. Now that's the kind of quest I can get into -- one with a little romance in it! It's a shame that the quest designers have something against such quests, as evidenced by the dialogue options and journal entries. You have the option to be rude and critical about the girl's story, but even if you happily offer to help her, the journal entries criticise her as "foolish" and "silly". Being that this is a role-playing game, I'll thank Bethesda not to insert someone else's character's thoughts into my character's thoughts. Where are my options to be rude and critical about Ranis Athrys' obey-or-die quests?


Anyway, I won't say what happens in that quest, and instead talk about the crafting opportunities I found during my brief stay in the tiny settlement of Pelegiad. There's nothing special about Pelegiad as far as crafting goes, except that this is the first place I've seen that has a well. When I clicked on it, I was given the option of either taking a drink, or filling a bottle. A bottle! Suddenly a use for these clutter items I'd never saved. Complete Morrowind adds a lot of crafting opportunities, but the documentation lacks detail in some areas (like a list of what can be made with each method), so I'm still gradually figuring out what can be done.

Fortunately, despite being a tiny village, Pelegiad had a large number of crates and barrels sitting around outside with random junk in them, and I found five bottles. I filled a couple of them at the well, and saw that this bottled water provided a small amount of health and stamina restoration (I refuse, by the way, to perpetuate Bethesda's antonymic usage of the word "fatigue").

It was also here that I experimented with equipping a few odd artifacts I found in my dungeon-delving. One was called an "extractor", and I believe this was added by Complete Morrowind, because I don't see an entry for it on UESP, and when I equipped it, it gave me options of making various juices from certain foods. This, too, required a bottle. I successfully made some comberry juice and willow juice, and I saw that it also gave the option of making those strength-boosting potions I mentioned before (Flin, Greef, etc.), except that unlike the simpler juices, it won't tell you what ingredients are needed for it. I believe you're supposed to find the recipes during your travels.

So far, I've found several items that allow you to make different lists of items when you equip them. Activating a pot lets you make various stews. Equipping a bowl lets you make things like that marmalade I tried to make before. A knife gives you the options to make certain foods and also carved wooden items (I keep a rough knife over by my wood and metal shop areas, and a clean silver knife in my cooking area now). A frying pan lets you cook various steaks out of the raw meat you may have collected. Activating a forge has some kind of options that I didn't get to explore yet, while a hearth has to do with pottery. And of course, activating the extractor lets you make juices. I wouldn't be surprised if there are yet more items I haven't discovered yet. I know I haven't yet been able to try any of the sewing, for lack of thread.

There's also an option that's supposed to let you chop down trees with any axe, to gather logs, or use a mining pick to mine rocks for ore, but I didn't activate it because I thought it might interfere with Vality's replacement trees. Not sure about that. Not really necessary, though, since I've been finding metal bars and logs in various locations anyway, without the need for that.

Useful magic rings

The reason I can't help poking my head into all these caves and tombs I've been happening across is that, unlike in Fallout 3, there's a good chance that I may find some useful magic items in the random loot! I've found quite a few magic rings and amulets that I've been carrying around all the time. Although you can only wear two rings at a time, and one amulet, most of these items are "cast on use" anyway, so the very act of readying the spell you intend to use from a ring causes you to wear it, so it's no impediment. (Though it does, as I said before, cause me to keep unwillingly unequipping my Mentor's Ring.)

These items are lightweight, and are a mage's second line of defense (and offense) in the case of running out of mana. They each have their own mana pool, recharge by themselves over time, and are instant cast, unlike spells you cast by hand. This means rapid-fire spellcasting. The effects of rings may be tiny, but they do add up. I have a couple of healing rings, many offensive rings (poison, lightning bolt, fireball, etc.), and two rings for hiding (one of chameleon and the other of invisibility).


Before I forget again, let me mention this -- If you've installed the "Texture Fix for Balmora Expansion," it includes an .esp called "BE-Callenwald.esp", which I mentioned briefly before as a player home that I found too large for my tastes. Well, there's a more serious problem with it, which leads me to advise you not to use it. It seems to completely override the "little secret" dialogue option for all NPCs everywhere, so they no longer tell whatever information they told before, but only talk about the baths at Callenwald. This is not only annoying and repetitive, but sometimes valuable information or even quests can be found by that "little secret" dialogue under normal circumstances. The house is worth a look, but that bug alone would kill it for me.

Fix for Purchasable Alchemy Lab missing texture

This is a minor bug that finally got on my nerves enough to find a solution for it. There's a texture missing that gives an error when you load the mod, usually at the start of the game. The missing textures appear to be from another mod called Better Books for Morrowind, from which the model for the improved Alchemist's Formulary came, and the author of the lab simply forgot to include the textures. Install this as well, and the error should go away.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 9: There are quests?

I thought I had heard that Morrowind enemies aren't leveled like Oblivion. That is, that the same level creatures appear in the same places, rather than higher level creatures appearing wherever you go after you've leveled up enough. Why, then, when I went back to Seyda Neen, did I see netches all over the place? I spent hours exploring that area looking for the dead tax collector at level 1, and never saw a single netch, and now the place is covered with them.


Anyway, this play session I decided to do something about the mana issue. According to an archived usenet discussion I found here:

"With Daggerfall, most players felt magic was overpowered. So they tried to temper that with Morrowind and went too far the other way, something they've admitted in interviews."

I haven't been able to find these interviews, so I don't know how accurate this may be.

Anyway, I tried the trick I read about on UESP, that if you create a spell that drains your intelligence to 0, when it wears off your mana should completely refresh itself. Not exactly what I was looking for (a bit too quick and easy) but I went to buy a drain intelligence spell anyway. However, when I made the spell, it didn't work. I thought perhaps one of the unofficial patches or code fixes might have done away with this effect, so I just searched for a mod instead. (I later learned that since I'm a Breton with built-in magicka resistance, I would need to include a "weakness to magic" spell effect in addition to the drain, or else it wouldn't go all the way below 0 as it needs to).

At any rate, I'm happy with the one I chose (out of several). The Magicka Restoration Mod gives our old frenemy Ranis Arthys a spell that restores mana over several seconds. (I like the choice of vendor, because she won't sell spells at all unless you've reached a certain rank in the guild, so you have to suffer without it for a while). It's a relatively small amount, so I need to cast it 4 or 5 times to completely restore my mana pool, and this makes combat more manageable but still very challenging. It's not much different than quaffing a mana potion, just without taking up all that weight. However, since this makes "restore magicka" into an effect that can be used in spellmaking, now I can make a custom version of it which restores a smaller amount of mana over a longer amount of time -- a spell to cast at the beginning of a battle, the effects of which will hopefully last throughout the battle. Because "Mage minus Mana = Dead Mage."

Return to Seyda Neen

Back at level 1, while looking for the tax collector I mentioned before, I found a couple of locations that I didn't feel capable of exploring at the time. One was an underwater grotto with nothing but oysters in it. At the time, I didn't have a water breathing spell, and ended up drowning since there aren't a lot of air pockets under there. I still haven't gone back, but there are pearls there for the taking.

The other place I found was the Samarys Ancestral Tomb, where I found some ghosts and skeletons who were too tough for me, so I left. I found out later this tomb contains a special, unique ring made just for mages like me: the Mentor's Ring, which provides a constant boost to intellect and willpower. At least as long as you're wearing it. I'm finding it hard to manage my rings. This is a ring that I never want to remove, but it seems that whenever I choose a spell effect from one of my other rings, there's no telling which of the two rings I'm currently wearing it will choose to remove to make way for the other one. I want this ring to be protected from ever being removed!


I made my first attempt at cooking with Complete Morrowind. I tried making Comberry Marmalade, so I activated a bowl while I had a comberry in my possession, and it told me I needed more. So I got more, then it said I needed fire. So I picked up a torch, then it said I needed sugar. I picked up some sugar (I've been storing this crafting stuff around my house for an occasion like this). Unfortunately, my first dish failed, and I didn't have enough comberry to try it again.

I also tried drying a rotten log by putting it next to my fireplace, but nothing happened. I tried picking it up, and it asked if I wanted to dry it. I said yes, and it said "you have to be outside to dry a log!" I was out by the ancestral tomb before I remembered I was still carrying it around, so I dropped it to try out the drying. This time it allowed me to start drying it, but it was still going by the time I was finished in there, and it wouldn't let me pick it up again until it finished drying (which would take several days). I should have left it outside the guild in Balmora...

Also picked up a sewing machine from a clothier in Caldera, but haven't been able to find any spools of thread for sale to make use of it yet.

More exploring

Back to Samarys Ancestral Tomb... From there, I wanted to head to Pelegiad, a place I had passed by on my way to Balmora from Seyda Neen the first time. There's a spell vendor in the fort there who sells an Absorb Health spell that I want, so I can craft a warlock-style "drain life" spell. I was thinking of combining that with a custom spell that restores my mana while also damaging my health in exchange, to really get that warlock-style "life tap" going on!

Heading in that direction, I found a little rocky mountain pass that looked ominous and interesting, so I poked around there for a while, even though it wasn't on the way. I found a curious bell on a pole with nothing else around. I rang the bell, and got a cryptic journal entry, and nothing else seemed to happen. I couldn't find any information on what this was about. Nearby, there was a cave with bandits in it, so I took the time to raid that place. This was the first place where I got to try out the tactics of the mana restoration spell, and it was indeed a challenge, but quite fair and rather fun. I tend to make use of damage-over-time spells combined with paralysis and/or invisibility. Paralysis is best because they stay put, and it gives me time to cast other spells, but sometimes enemies can resist magic, so this is not always reliable. Invisibility is more reliable since it's cast on myself (and I even have a ring that'll do it instantly, without fail), but strangely whenever I turn invisible, the enemies always take off running, much like the warlock's "fear" spell, making it possible they may alert others. Just have to decide based on the circumstances.

This cave had a great deal of loot to carry to my pack guar outside the entrance. Here I discovered the usefulness of the bottles of Sujamma, Mazte, Greef, and Flin, which I never carry around due to their weight and negative effects. There were quite a few of these bottles in this cave, and I ended up drinking a few to boost my strength so I could carry 450 pounds of loot for 60 seconds, long enough to get the stuff to my guar. Still took a couple of trips, and if there were any enemies remaining I wouldn't have drunk them due to their temporary negative effects, but they make very handy dungeon clean-out drinks.

Instead of continuing on to Pelegiad, I wandered around the area exploring a little more, and found another cave. There were two bandits right near the entrance, and one was a conjurer who summoned a bonewalker or something to fight me, and I died a few times trying to defeat them. This was another small cave, but loaded with loot. So much that my guar couldn't even carry it all, so I left most of it and returned home to unload the useful stuff and off to Creeper and the nearby clothier to unload the stuff I didn't want to keep (Creeper doesn't buy clothes). Next trip I think I'll head straight to Pelegiad, and maybe actually work on a quest or two. But it's been fun just exploring and experimenting with the crafting, so I'm in no real hurry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 8: Balmora mage quests, mods

I feel like I've joined the Mage Mafia. The first few guild quests in Balmora were pretty neutral, even if they didn't really have anything to do with magic (buy a bowl, help an incompetent guildmate cheat on her homework, and aid in some petty rivalries between guild members), but once I started getting my duties from Ranis "Mob Boss" Athrys, the quests suddenly took a turn toward mafia enforcer. Firstly, she gives me two concurrent quests. In one, I'm supposed to go to the home of an ex-Telvanni sorcerer, and convince him to join the guild, or kill him. In the other, she wants me to go to a cave where a guild member is conducting research, and collect her overdue guild dues...or kill her. What the hell have I gotten myself into? Killing a non-guildie because he won't join? And what if I fall behind in my dues? (I'll refrain from spoilers about this quest, except for a brief mention of what I did at the end of this post. Spoilers will be marked by a header!)

It was a long, adventurous road in searching for these two. I'm glad I'd just made a new fireball spell. It kills cliffracers in 5 seconds, though I can only cast it 2 or 3 times before resting to refresh my mana.

Here I came across one of the things that I wish were in this game. In WoW, you can tell at a distance which people or creatures are hostile, because their names appear in red. Here, there is no such indicator, so you get situations such as when I started across the dwemer bridge past Fort Moonmoth, and saw a man standing at the far end of it, near a large creature I'd never seen before. (I learned later it was a netch.) So I thought maybe this was something similar to the silt striders, and this man was the travel guide. Instead, as I approached curiously, he spotted me and charged into attack. Adding to my confusion, he had a name, Snowy Granius, so after killing him, I had to look up his name to see if I'd done something wrong. Apparently not, he's just a named hostile who has no purpose other than to attack you. Very strange to me.

I got lost a lot during this trip. Was much more challenging than Oblivion, which had the quest compass marker always showing you where to go. I passed my destination many times, but in the process I discovered a second large dwemer ruin (steampunk-looking places which I'm going to enjoy exploring in more detail later!) and several caves, which I took the time to clean out, returning to Balmora to unload my loot before continuing on.

Notable mods during this session

However, before I re-embarked, this back-and-forth loot trek convinced me to take advantage of something that was added by Balmora Expansion: namely, pack guars! I bought a tamed guar as a beast of burden, which was very handy in my later travels. The only trouble with this mod is that the guar has a tendency to stand directly in the way of the dead creatures I'm trying to loot. It also always runs to attack whatever I attack, which I don't want it to do! It can easily get in the way, and unlike a summoned creature, it doesn't give you several hits' grace before turning on you. It seems that telling it to "stay" will prevent it from entering combat, but you can't give it commands while it's attacking, and while it may be tough, it's not immortal. I just noticed this expansion also adds backpacks to the game, which allow you to carry more items. I'll have to try those out next time I play.

On this road, there's a small lake, which occupied me for a while thanks to Abot's Water Life. I spent some time there fishing and watching the ducks! To fish, you need some bait, and one of the possible baits you can use is crab meat. This is good, because this mod often spawns hermit crabs along with the ducks, fish, seashells, etc.

I also found some volcanic steam vents which have names as if they're activators, but they didn't do anything when I clicked on them. didn't have any entry for "vents", so I'm guessing these were added by one of my mods, and I don't know which one.

Balmora Expansion also apparently adds some crafting into the game, as it's a compilation of a bunch of other mods. Judging from the bundled readmes, it looks like it's from Quivers and Fletching Kit V2.5. This adds several new items to the game which can be used to assemble arrows, and poisons for dipping them in. But another crafting mod that I've installed separately is Complete Morrowind, which adds cooking, sewing, brewing, pottery, carpentry, mining, smithing, and more! Today I chose a table in a corner of the Magus Realm tower that will be my new workshop for most of these things, and I've also started using the kitchen to make use of the cooking features.

Here there be minor spoilers for Balmora guild of mages quests

First I need to say, at my current level, flame atronachs can kill me in one hit. They have some kind of fireball that's very similar to the one I made, which drains about 1.5x my hit points, so if I don't immediately cast my self-heal, it'll kill me. I tried many times to kill this one, but I just wasn't powerful enough, and it killed me over and over, so I gave up. Additionally, I still run into the running out of mana problem. I'm going to try to find a spell vendor who has the "drain intellect" spell, so I can try out its mana-refreshing properties. I badly need some enchanted clothes with constant-effect mana fortification on them. I'm picking intellect as my main attribute to boost on every level up, but it's still not enough.

Anyway, I found the two people targeted by Ranis. First the Telvanni sorcerer. I went in his house, expecting a fight, so I left the pack guar by the entrance. But when a woman showed up in the hall, she wasn't hostile (though with a rather low disposition), so I left her alone. Same with the others I met along the way, until I found Llarar Bereloth, who seemed very reasonably insulted by Ranis' ultimatum, stating that he just wanted to conduct his research and studies in peace, and Ranis' guild could go take a hike. Well, I wasn't going to attack this guy, as I was starting to feel the same way about the guild, but I ended up bribing him, and he eventually agreed to join up next time he headed into town. Fair enough.

Next, I found Manwe in a cave called Punabi, who said she wasn't even a guild member anymore, having quit to do research on her own. Apparently either she never informed Ranis about this, or Ranis' policy is that once you join, you're in the guild for life, and woe to anyone who can't pay their dues! Well, though I wasn't happy about it, I convinced Manwe to pay the 2000 drakes anyway, which she agreed to do if I'd leave her alone. I was almost tempted to pay her dues myself, since I think Manwe's scholarly ways are more honourable than the ruthless and strongarmed Ranis.

Ranis was pleased at my success, and had the audacity to split the gold from Manwe's dues with me. This is looking like plain extortion to me now.

Next up was more of the same. Oh no, there's a freelancer in town who's offering training in sorcery and selling spells. Can't have someone infringing on the monopoly of the almighty Mages' Guild! Ranis tells me, not surprisingly, to convince him to stop, or kill him. At this point, I'm starting to seriously wonder if Ranis even has the authority to be issuing people the license to kill. Well, this argonian is savvy. He makes me a deal that he'll offer me training if I just lie for him, telling Ranis he stopped his activities. Sounds good to me. Might be playing with fire, knowing how little it takes for Ranis to issue a death warrant, but after my previous two successes, I don't think she'll suspect me. And if she does eventually, I think I might be able to deal with her by then.

Next time, I think I'll work on my spells, maybe practise a little alchemy with all those ingredients I picked up on the road (the alchemy lab works very nicely, by the way), and maybe explore one of those dwemer ruins with the new enchanted gear I picked up in Caldera.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day 7: Alchemy lab

Well, now that I've gotten a chance to play again, I spent most of my time redecorating. Before I found out how profitable filled soul gems were, I thought I was going to have to settle for the mid-range alchemy set, but it turns out I can afford the grandmaster set! Here, then is my new alchemy lab, which I set up in the aforementioned Magus Realm tower, after removing the existing shelves and apparatus in the construction set. With this purchasable alchemy lab, you get four crates full of shelving and jars, an alchemy formulary with its own optional lectern, and all four pieces of alchemical apparatus. Once you unpack the crates, you can move them to wherever you want through movement scripts, and as you can see, I placed them two abreast on two tables.

It also comes with an in-game user's manual, which is nice. This explains how to do some things that may not be obvious, such as moving the alchemical apparatus. The shelves and other items give you an action menu when you activate them, but the menu of the apparati does not include an option to reposition them. As found in the manual, you move them by activating them while your inventory is open. Otherwise, they remain where you put them while you mix your potions, which is something I like about them. (Logically, an alchemist should not have to juggle his or her equipment while brewing potions.)

Of course, with the formulary tome, you don't even need to touch the apparatus. Though I haven't tried it yet, the book's menu includes putting away ingredients, retrieving ingredients, and even retrieving applicable ingredients for specific potions.

The only trouble with this set was getting it home. The four crates are heavy. Once I bought them, I was overencumbered, and I don't yet have any feather or fortify strength spells or potions. I dropped one crate and the alembic to lighten my load, which is where I found the temporary problem of how to pick it up again.

Anyway, now that my lab is nicely outfitted, it's time to start practising! First potions I want to have a supply of: Fortify strength/feather, invisibility, fortify intellect, fortify speed, and of course, restore mana. I need to start looking for a mod that'll allow me to apply poisons to a weapon or to throw them at an enemy. Very strange that the only action you can perform with poisons in Morrowind is to drink them. I used poisons a lot in Oblivion.

Bigger font

In one of my earlier posts, I expressed a desire for a bigger font in Morrowind, because I run it at 1280x960, and it was straining my eyes. In searches, advise was mixed, but this is a built-in solution that worked for me. In the Morrowind.ini file, under the header [Fonts], just change the first line to:

Font 0=century_gothic_big

Much more readable. Text in books is a little too big now, but I'm more concerned with readability than with aesthetics. But, for the sake of aesthetics, I might try Make MW Fonts later, which allows you to make a Morrowind font out of whatever fonts you have installed on your system.

The Wailing Wench

While looking around at Morrowind videos on Youtube, I came across a video of a mod called Clothiers of Vvardenfell, which adds a great, fun-looking tavern to the game, with a live band, dancing and drunk NPCs, and an overall fun atmosphere. I want more places like this!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I thought I was going to get to play this weekend, but work occupied every moment of my time, even much of that which I usually reserve for sleep. I very much look forward to the break I have coming up soon.

In the meantime, this looks interesting. As I said before, Morrowind lacks bump, normal, or specular maps, which limits the amount of detail possible in its texturing. But a new game engine would certainly improve things. I see they already have some kind of texture improvement on the cave rocks in their videos, but I'm not sure if it's a specular map or not. It would, of course, require that a texture pack of the missing detail maps be released for full effect, though you could see some improvement just by using the texture map for the bump.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oblivion retrospective

As explained in my introduction, Oblivion was the first of the Elder Scrolls series that I played. As much as I enjoyed it, I now consider Morrowind to be superior in every way except graphically, and even then only in a technical sense, as Morrowind's graphics have much more variety and imagination.

The state of Elder Scrolls modding

Nevertheless, during my time playing it, I produced a number of mods, and I'll list a few of them here. In the event that TES Nexus ever permanently goes offline, and assuming Blogspot survives longer (or whichever blog I may migrate this to in such an event), I should still be able to be contacted here to re-upload my mods elsewhere, should anyone desire them by then. I imagine it's quite possible, considering how many Morrowind mods have become hard to find or lost entirely in the six years since the game debuted (at the time of this writing).

Moreover, although when I came into the modding scene there was already in place a standardised Readme template (thanks to LHammonds), most Morrowind mods I've downloaded have no such standard. The most noticeable absence from many of these old Readme files is a statement of permissions. Being a largely well-mannered community, most Elder Scrolls modders are loath to re-upload lost mods, without being able to ask the author for permission first (and in fact, it's against the rules to do so on TES Nexus). The reason I only use one site to archive my mods is that user comments and responses are my reward for releasing these mods to the public. I'm not doing it to earn any kind of fame or name-recognition; I'm doing it for the sake of hearing from people and occasionally prompting conversation. Thus, I want all my work in one place where I can keep track of it, and read and respond to people's comments.

Lavish Mage Tower of Alchemy Power

I'll begin with my favourite home, my Lavish Mage Tower of Alchemy Power. Knowing this, you can see why I chose the Magus Realm Tower mod for my home in Morrowind. :) My design philosophy was to have a home that was roomy but conveniently arranged, easy to navigate (hence the floor map), aesthetically pleasing, and with an atmosphere I considered appropriate for my kind of character.

A full description, including more background on what I meant to accomplish is available on the Nexus (and in its readme file), so I won't repeat it here. (People seem to hate the name I chose for it, but with all the other mage towers out there, I didn't want anyone to confuse mine for any of the others, and you have to admit, at least the name is memorable!)

I Wanna Bayou A House!

This, my first house mod, was much humbler than the later tower, though it was tastefully decorated with custom interior textures, and with more of a focus on the house's exterior location. Here, the star of the show was really the location.

During my explorations of the landscape, this swampy area of Blackwood struck me as very pretty and atmospheric, and rather different from most of the forested landscape of Cyrodiil. So, much like one might do in real life, I picked what I thought was the most picturesque area, and built a house there. (And it sank into the swamp.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 6: Soul gems = wealth

Not as much time to play today, but I've found that gold will no longer be a problem. After my first successful attempt at soul-trapping my summoned ancestral ghost, I found to my surprise that common soul gems filled with ancestral ghost souls are worth 4000 drakes each! This feels a bit like cheating, but it has to have been intentional, since as a Breton mage I start the game with the ability to summon an ancestral ghost, and both the soul trap spell and several common soul gems are available for purchase at the Balmora guild of mages, and I also note that Oblivion had the helpful tip that you can soul trap your own summons.

I suppose the only real limiting factor is being able to find enough empty soul gems to buy in the first place, as well as the vendor gold limits. But since the gold limit only means that you can only sell one at a time, waiting 24 hours between each transaction for them to replenish their gold, and it's still a giant profit regardless, it only adds tedium instead of challenge to do it without Creeper. Perhaps the limiting is the fact that it's very difficult to figure out or keep track of who sells what, how many, and whether they restock or not. That may be fair, but an obvious roleplaying excuse for finding out who has a steady, restocking supply of soul gems is that it's what any capitalist would do. Of course, the other mages obviously don't do this, or the price wouldn't be nearly as high (simple supply and demand). Why not? The guilds aren't exactly shabby, but aren't what I'd call luxurious either. I think they could use the money so their new recruits don't have to go out to fetch ceramic bowls.

Possible lore reason (and any old hands should feel free to enlighten me if I'm barking up the wrong tree)...we know that the guild of mages doesn't like House Telvanni, and considering that Fadase Selvayn (in a Telvanni-aligned town) is the only merchant in the vanilla game that has a constant supply of petty, lesser, and common soul gems, I'm guessing House Telvanni controls the soul gem mines, or wherever these things are supposed to come from.

But, then again, Tribunal added a vendor to Mournhold who has a restocking supply of common, greater, and grand soul gems. Mournhold is aligned with the Temple, who have a slight dislike for House Telvanni, not to mention that it's a Breton who's selling them. Well, okay, this could still work, since neither of them sell all qualities of soul gems. Telvanni sells the two lowest grades, and the Temple sells the two highest grades, both selling common in...common. Therefore, they both control soul gem mines, but the ones in Mournhold have better quality gems in them.

Of course, for that to work, filled soul gems would have to be worth much less to Telvanni or Temple-aligned vendors, and I don't think that's the case.

Anyway, the point is: gold is no longer a problem.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 5: Morroblivion, Enchanting

Looks like I was right about Morroblivion (the fan-made conversion of Morrowind into the Oblivion engine). According to their FAQ:

"Morroblivion is currently in beta and quests and dialogue do not work yet. As of now, you can't do much more than explore the land and cities, and kill creatures and stuff. Quests are scheduled to be added eventually somehow."

Sounds pretty indefinite. It may look beautiful, and is clearly a faithful visual reproduction, but the reason I stopped playing Oblivion was that I had run out of quests! So there's really no point in me dealing with it unless (or until) they add them all. I see there is (or was) an effort to add some of the quests, which is nice, but it's very few of them, and I need a fully functional game. Morroblivion would only be good for me if I had already played the original, and just wanted to explore the place with better graphics, for nostalgia's sake.

Another thing is that there are a lot of gameplay mechanics that are different between the games, and others that exist in Morrowind, but not in Oblivion. In short, Morroblivion is not a game at all right now, and even if they add all the quests and dialogue topics, it won't be the same game without a lot more work on the gameplay mechanics. So, I'm sticking with the genuine Morrowind.


One of the gameplay mechanics I'm still trying to get used to is the much more extensive enchanting system in Morrowind. Mainly that unlike Oblivion, almost any item can be either constant effect, cast when used, or (for weapons) cast on strike, rather than weapons always being cast on strike and clothing always being constant effect. Also, that unlike Oblivion, these items essentially have their own mana pools that slowly regenerate on their own, without the need to recharge them. One thing not mentioned in the Morrowind Guide for Oblivion Players is found on the page for Enchanting. Namely, that paper and notes can be enchanted as well, creating one-use spell scrolls like you find throughout the game. The use for these being that while normal spellcasting can fail depending on your skill or fatigue, enchanted items (including scrolls) are instant-cast and never fail. Though I think rings would be more useful to enchant, since they don't disappear. Perhaps I'll try enchanting a pair of rings with "restore health" and "fortify magicka" spells, so I can keep myself healed and full of mana when I run out during a fight... Might work!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 4: Addendum

Here's a comparison between the Magus Tower interior (which uses the Imperial texture set) as it appears in the author's screenshots, and two screenshots taken by me -- one using Morrowind Visual Pack (which I don't recommend anymore), and the other using Connary's Imperial texture pack, with a couple of small tweaks by me for some variety in the otherwise uniform stone.

Above is Korana's screenshot. I don't know what texture pack she's using, but I don't think it's vanilla, and it's not MVP. Also, she has some blue glowing things in the air that don't appear for me.

Above is my screenshot with MVP. First you see it's a lot brighter, with white stone and white marble. You can see the ugly seams where the tile is not seamless on the floor, and these floor tiles are shadowed on one side like the cobblestones I mentioned earlier, which creates the illusion that they're inverted if you view them from the opposite angle. Also there are ugly seams and obvious repeating elements in the marble columns.

Above is my screenshot using Connary's Imperial set. I left the columns as vanilla just for a little variety, but they're so much lower resolution I'll need to find an alternative, or just darken Connary's version if I want to keep some alternate trim like I have here. This scene is still much lighter than Korana's, which I think may be explained partially by the Dungeon HDR shader I'm using for MGE. I wouldn't want my house to be as dark as Korana has it, anyway.

Day 4: Texture packs, Tribunal

Okay, someone lied. I was testing out my own replacement for an ugly cobblestone texture that Morrowind Visual Pack installed (with strong shadows that only look good from one angle), and repeatedly waited a couple of hours to let the sun come up to properly illuminate the texture, and suddenly I was attacked by the Dark Brotherhood! I had read that shouldn't happen until level 5 or 6, but I'm still at level 2! Not that I'm complaining, though. I was able to kill the assassin anyway (no thanks to the two town guards who were standing right there at the time), and I needed to get to Mournhold as part of a quest to earn a more mage-appropriate house in a mod.

Speaking of the Visual Pack and its occasional poor choice of textures, I visited Thepal's excellent page full of screenshots comparing 5 different texture replacement packs to the vanilla textures, and found that the one I liked best was one called "Mixed Textures", which appears to be a mix of the best textures from the other available packs. But the download link currently gives a "500 Internal Error", and it doesn't seem to be hosted anywhere else. However, in light of my later discovery, that's not important.

Edit: "Mixed Textures" has since been uploaded to TES Nexus.

One issue I have with the MVP is most obvious between this screenshot of the vanilla textures, and this corresponding screenshot of the MVP textures. You can see that the Bethesda texture artists painted darkened areas of what looks like rainwater runoff stains (or maybe just shadows) near the top, and mold near the bottom, which gives it a nice sense of solidity. The MVP textures, while they may be higher resolution, have no such environmental detail, hence making it look like a toy model of a castle rather than one that's been standing out in the weather for years. Since Morrowind apparently has no bump mapping, normal mapping, or specular mapping, these details are all the more important. Mainly important on built structures, not so much on landscape textures.

I've found another series of texture replacers that look superior to the MVP. Connary is a texturerer of skill whose textures I think I'll be using from now on. According to the date of the forum link, he released his Balmora "Hlaalu" textures this very month, and he's still working on more! This is a good sign.

His Balmora set didn't include replacements for that aforementioned ugly cobblestone, which is apparently more generic. Not sure which set I might find them in.

To Mournhold, with a purpose

In any case, I made it to Mournhold, finally. I had my mage guide port me to what looked like the closest area, Vivec, but I had a hell of a time finding my way out of that bloody pyramid (tried going downstairs from inside, and ended up running through some ghost- and rat-infested tombs trying to find my way back out!), and from there I couldn't find any boat to take me across the lake to Ebonheart, so I had to waterwalk across it (avoiding the slaughterfish). From there I had to find Apelles Matius, which was a chore, and while looking at him I got stuck on a rooftop surrounded by high ridges I couldn't jump over. Got a good test of the Levitation spell out of it, to get myself down from there.

Mournhold was another chore to navigate. The whole reason I went there was because the Mournhold magic shop is where Korana, the author of Magus Realm Tower, required me to go to get access to the tower home. (Thumbnail pic takes you to the author's image gallery.) After acquiring the teleport crystal and exploring it, I can say this is just about perfect for a mage like me. Not too thrilled about the Imperial textures in it, but I'll be replacing those soon anyway (with more of Connary's). It's just what I needed. Compact, but perfectly spacious enough for my needs, with plenty of storage. It also has its own alchemy lab with an ingredient sorter, but I don't care for the "necromancer" style of using skulls as ingredient jars, and having a little dragon walking around in the middle of the room that you activate to sort the ingredients (for one thing, he gets in the way). The Purchasable Alchemy Laboratory has more features (like the ability to automatically retrieve ingredients by their effects, the alchemy apparatus is static (the ones here you have to pick up to use), and the activator is an open book, not a creature. So, when I can afford the alchemy lab equipment, I'll move out of the Mages' Guild basement, clear out the necromancer gear in the Magus Tower, install my new equipment in the lab, and move in.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day 3: Balmora home

So, the first thing I did when I reached Balmora was to join the Guild of Mages. Got me a place to stay, cheaper spell sales and enchanting services, some free goodies, and some quests. And cheap portal transport to guild halls in other cities! But the most important thing I need right now is a place to store my loot, since I can't find any Bag of Holding type mods like I had in Oblivion. And since I'm collecting ingredients for alchemy, I have a lot of stuff to stash! (I didn't even bring all the ingredients I had gathered in Seyda Neen!)

The difficult thing is that I don't know what containers I can stash my loot in without people accusing me of stealing when I retrieve them. There's the chest marked Guild Members Supplies or something like that which is free for me to take stuff from, but I don't know if it's respawning or not. Yacoby's Ownership Indicator is useful for turning the crosshair red when you hover over an owned container, like Oblivion does. But I still don't know if I put stuff into an owned container, is it stealing to take them out again? The single most profitable quest I've had so far was the second quest in the Mages' Guild, and this was straight out of the "Starting out" guide. During the second quest you get from there, the girl at the top of the stairs steps away from her desk, leaving her grand soul gem worth 60,000 drakes unguarded. I stole it (hey, she was a thief, too, stealing poor Ajira's reports that you just helped her write). The only trouble with stealing a soul gem from an enchanter is that you can never come back with another soul gem of the same kind and have her enchant one of your items with it. But that's fine, as I intend to enchant my own items when I gain enough skill in it.

Eventually, I went and delivered that package for Caius Cosades that was given to me in Seyda Neen. Oh great. Caius is a member of the Blades, and wants me to join up and work under him. These guys are the elites of the Emperor, the wanker who arrested me and shipped me off to Seyda Neen without explanation in the first place! I'm supposed to work for this jerk now? I guess I'll have to eventually, in order to go through the main questline, but first I intend to rebuild the life these guys stole from me in the first place.

Sorry for the minor spoiler, but it's the very first step in the main questline, and the only reason I learned it so late is that I took my time exploring instead of following orders immediately, so I don't think it's giving anything away. I won't be spoiling anything else if I can help it.

Anyway, Balmora seems to be a nice place to set up shop for a while. Lots of quests that are appropriate for a low level like me (I'm at level 2 now), a nice atmosphere, and convenient transport. Others apparently felt the same, because there are about 5 billion mods adding player houses to Balmora. Trouble is, most of them don't have pictures, and the ones I've installed so far have either been too extravagant, or too cramped, or not well-enough designed around the needs of a budding mage alchemist. Extravagance is a problem because things are spread out too far apart (Callenwald), and it takes too long just to run through the entrance halls (Dome Home). Especially if several cells separate the rooms (Dwemer submarine).

At the moment, I've settled on Denina's Balmora Mages Guild Home, which puts a few rooms in the guild basement with storage and tables and other things for my convenience. I actually opened up the construction set already to make a minor change to it, clearing out a couple of tables and shelves to make room for the Purchasable Alchemy Laboratory (pictured) that I intend to buy once I can afford it again (yeah, I already spent too much of the money from that grand soul gem. Spells are expensive!) I bought the Mark and Recall spells from the local temple, which I have set to teleport me to Creeper, one of the best merchants in the game. I thought Mark and Recall would have given me more than just 1 place to teleport to, but apparently not. Not as useful as I'd hoped. But there are a couple of other teleport spells for other uses.

The Balmora adventure has barely begun!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Day 2: Seyda Neen

About the too-dark MGE settings. I figured out how to use the shader chain in MGE, and downloaded a shader called "Dungeon HDR", which ended up giving exactly the contrast and brightness I wanted. That's what I'm using for my screenshots.

So, for the entire day, I explored the area around Seyda Neen, the tiny port village where you start the game. Note that I mean "tiny" in Morrowind terms, not Oblivion terms (where a "village" consists of 2 or 3 houses and an inn). I happened to meet a guy who was familiar with Morrowind earlier, when I had freshly installed it (before I put mods on it), and he walked me through the basic interface and showed me an interesting little exploit to get some extra money and gear at the very start. This might be common knowledge, but I didn't see it in the "Getting Started" guide on Before you exit the Census office, you will not be arrested or attacked for anything you do. So you can, for example, kill Sellus Gravius* and take his Imperial Legion armour and sword. Just be sure to talk to him, turn in your release papers, and obtain the first quest from him before you do. He won't even attack you as you hit him over and over with your basic fireball (though he will complain loudly each time). After killing him (but not looting him), you return to the first room with Socucius Ergalla in it, and wait for the guard to approach you and issue you a warning for your murderous misdemeanour, before clearing you of all charges. Don't make the same mistake that I did, leaving through the wrong door out into town, where the guards promptly arrested me. This room also has a key to the warehouse across the street, with much more loot for the stealing.

Of course, this is definitely a cheat and an exploit, so it doesn't even fall under the rubric of "role playing". It'll just take a few days to settle into my character for my usual kind and generous nature takes over. But for now, I'm fighting tooth and nail to earn enough money to purchase the spells I'll need to survive in this dangerous world!

* In retrospect, I regret having done this. I advise against it. There are other, much better ways of making money that I describe in detail in later posts. If nothing else, you want Sellus Gravius alive for one of the official free plugins, Siege at Firemoth.

Mana issue

Playing as a mage in this game is no fun at all with the vanilla settings. In Oblivion, mana slowly regenerated over time, as it does in WoW. Here in Morrowind, mana (well, "magicka", but I'm going to call it by the name everyone else uses) does not regenerate unless you sleep, which seems very silly. So naturally I installed a mod that allows my mana to regenerate over time. I tried several, and several didn't work at all, but Regional Mana worked, and adds a little variety to it. It's a very slow regeneration, but at least it's based on intelligence and willpower, and as a bonus, certain regions and weather patterns have a higher or lower rate of regeneration.

Even with regenerating mana, it's tough to survive as a pure mage, because the regen is so slow, I might as well rest between fights to get it all back, and health too. I can only survive 1 fight at a time this way, and my skill is apparently too low to cast the invisibility spell I bought yet.

I also installed Abot's Water Life, which adds lots of underwater stuff to the game, as well as shells and sea stars on the beaches, which are alchemical ingredients. It also gives you a fishing pole you can use to fish, as long as you have the appropriate bait. It also says there are some underwater palaces added, but I haven't found any of those yet.

I think I played all the quests available in Seyda Neen that day, though it was primarily occupied with running back and forth to my only available bed with its nearby containers to stash my meagre loot and rest. The tax collector quest took the longest (which is where I got that nice-looking robe you see on my Day 1 post), because with the MGE grass installed I couldn't find the body anywhere, after wandering the whole area several times, even after viewing a Youtube guide. I finally found him after turning off the grass temporarily. I was impressed by the twists and turns that quest took, assuming you're honest enough to return the gold to Socucius Ergalla. That quest alone has more difficult moral choices with shades of grey than the whole Mr Burke questline in Fallout 3.

So finally, after doing just about everything I could do in Seyda Neen (including a dungeon crawl in a smuggler's cave, but not including a couple of tombs with creatures too strong for me), I headed out to the town the delivery quest pointed me toward. The place where better money is to be made, and my new home for a while -- Balmora!

But that's for another post.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 1: Setting up

Morrowind arrived, and it's the Game of the Year edition, with Tribunal and Bloodmoon. I'm not sure if it also includes the free official plugins, which I already downloaded. I saw a mod to "delay Tribunal assassins", which stated that assassins start showing up even if you're a new character, if you install Tribunal, but I did it anyway because so many nice-looking mods require it. I can always use the "delay" mod if it's a problem. [Edit: it will not be a problem, because the assassins don't show up until level 5 or 6.]

So, I've got it working, with a number of basic graphic improvement mods. Better bodies, vanilla clothes pack for BB, various custom clothes for BB, and "THE" Facepack Compilation, along with its companion THE Morrowind NPC Makeover. The improvement is huge. Next I need to try to find an animation replacer to fix those silly walks.

I also installed the Morrowind Code Patch, for various fixes, and the Unofficial Morrowind Patch, though I see there's a newer one that succeeds that one that I should probably replace it with, Morrowind Patch Project.

MGE works great, and adds animated clumps of grass like in Oblivion if you follow these directions.

However, MGE seems to make the gamma dark, and the in-game gamma control doesn't affect it anymore. At least, it's dark in windowed mode, how I prefer to play it (for easy switching between game and other things).

I got ENBseries running with it, too, just for the ambient occlusion effect (I didn't try the bloom, but I hear that re-lightens up the place), but I had to disable it because it made the character selection screen black. I'll try it again now that I have a nice character done and saved (I played through that beginning area many times trying out mods before I got to the part that lets you save!) [Edit: Nope, ENB slows things down to a crawl, makes things so dark I can't see, and the ambient occlusion is visible through walls. Will wait for improvements on that.]

One thing I can't seem to find is an interface mod to make the inventory easier to deal with. I want to be able to sort my items by weight (so I know what to drop when I'm encumbered) or value (choose what to drop or sell first), etc. And not have to hover the mouse over each item to see that. It's the same kind of icon-based inventory interface I had to deal with in WoW, except at least in Morrowind I don't need to place things in "inventory slots" like WoW and System Shock 2. I want a list instead, with columns for weight, value, etc., like Oblivion had. And a bigger font, please! This font is tiny at this resolution.

For my character, I went with a Breton mage. No surprise, given my history. I would have probably picked an elf if I could find a custom race like the mystic elves for Oblivion. This is Milly, with THE Facepack Compilation, and Hurdy Gurdy's robe replacer.

Anyway, just getting everything installed and working properly took all my time on the first day, so I wasn't able to start playing until Day 2.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Morrowind diary introduction

I started playing Morrowind only just recently, here in the spring of 2009, and I like to talk about my experiences, but rarely know anyone who is as interested in these things as I am. The forums are nice for some kinds of discussion, but (aside from being rather dead for this older title) they're a little too volatile and disorderly for the kind of in-depth coverage I like to do, so I decided to start a blog instead.

Perhaps if I share my experiences with the larger world, it might lead to some interesting discussions. (hint, hint)

I changed my mind about making this post always on top, because it may create the illusion that I'm not writing anything new, as long as it remains there. So I've placed it back in the normal chronology. As this is a blog, the postings show in reverse order, which isn't the most logical way to read a linear diary, but I'm sure most blog readers are familiar with it. Aside from the date posted, I'll also be sure to put numbers in my post titles so you know which order to read in.

This blog won't be entirely about Morrowind, of course, since I do play other games. But all Morrowind posts will be tagged as such, as any other games will be tagged with their names, so you can just click on the appropriate tag to see posts about the game of your choice. (Some, however, contain tags of other games because I happen to mention these other games to compare them with Morrowind.)

My gaming history

So, a little background on what led me to this place and time. My gaming history goes back quite a long time, so I'll just name off a few games first. LucasArts adventure games like Monkey Island. The Thief series for stealth and atmosphere. The Silent Hill series for story and atmosphere. Racing games. Action FPS like Half-Life II. Hybrid games like Bioshock and its predecessor System Shock II. Turn based Strategy games like Galactic Civilizations II. Etc. The first game I believe I played which used the open-ended, relatively non-linear "quest" style of gameplay was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (and later San Andreas). I liked this freedom, different from the linear games, since I could go anywhere, and there were all kinds of things that I could do, in any order I chose, at my leisure, instead of being stuck in a level with only one way to go, or tiresome tasks between me and the place I wanted to be.

World of Warcraft was the first major RPG I played for any length of time (as warlock, druid, and mage). I have very few complaints about that game. Aside from chunky polygons, low resolution textures, too much grinding, legions of assholes, unnecessarily long flight paths, a monthly fee, inability to drop items (on the ground or on a countertop), and no player housing, it's nevertheless a very fun game, that even now I'm tempted to return to, if only I had the time.

After I quit WoW, I decided to look for a single-player RPG that I could play without a monthly fee. Oblivion was the game I chose, the fourth installment in the Elder Scrolls series, of which I had no previous experience. I had heard of Morrowind here and there, but that was all I knew.

Oblivion was great. I spent a lot of time playing it (as a mage/thief), though I avoided the main quest as long as possible, because I didn't want those pesky Oblivion gates opening up all over the land and wrecking the scenery. I was familiar with mods from many other games I've played, so I delved deeply into the world of Oblivion mods, to the point where my Oblivion folder was about 20GB in size. Eventually, I ventured into the TES Construction Set to edit some of the mods to better suit me (lighting, furniture placement, etc.) and ultimately started making my own mods. I started with some simple retextures, and moved on to creating some companion NPCs, and a couple of house mods which became my main homes. Alas, eventually I ran out of things to do, things had gotten a bit boring, and even quest mods couldn't keep my eye from straying, and Fallout 3 had just been released, so out of curiosity I took a look.

Fallout 3 held my interest for a while, even though in many ways it was a large step backwards from Oblivion. The construction set for it (called GECK) eventually was released, after a month or two of pessimism from the community, and I proceeded to mod the hell out of Fallout 3. Ultimately I made a couple of mods of my own for it, most notably another house mod.

Alas, it held my interest for much less time than Oblivion did. Compared to Oblivion, Fallout 3 falls short in many areas. But this isn't the time or place to get into that. The result was that I wanted another open-ended fantasy game with plenty to do and explore, variety in play style, and a healthy mod community. I looked at Fable 2, and The Witcher, and some others, but ultimately I was swayed to give Morrowind a try despite its inferior graphics.

My approach to Morrowind

Now, I've played and enjoyed my fair share of older games with inferior graphics. WoW, System Shock 2, Thief 1 and 2, and others. But a large appeal of games like this is getting to explore unique and beautiful landscapes, and "beautiful" isn't the word for what I had seen of Morrowind. However, some videos I saw on Youtube showed me what it could look like with mods like MGE (Morrowind Graphic Extender), as well as some city expansions, NPC makeovers and addittions, and texture replacers. It changed my mind! Also, being an older game, it was very cheap.

Some people have recommended Morroblivion instead. Morrowind's models imported into the Oblivion engine, with NPCs, creatures, items, and presumably quests recreated. But now, writing from having played Morrowind for a few days, I think there are some fundamental aspects of Morrowind that would be lost in porting it to the Oblivion engine. For instance the very extensive dialogue trees. And is it complete? I got the impression that it isn't. And what about the thousands of mods there are for Morrowind? They wouldn't work in Oblivion. No, I think it's better to play Morrowind with the Morrowind engine, improving what can be improved from there.

So, I think that's enough introduction. On to my first impressions of the game!