Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Mark Johnson)

Mark Johnson is the developer of Ultima Ratio Regum, an ANSI 4X roguelike in which the use of procedural generation extends beyond the creation of landscapes and dungeons to also dynamically create cultures, practices, social norms, rituals, beliefs, concepts, and myths. This is the first in a four part series examining what generating this kind of social detail can bring to games.>

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

Skyrim doesn’t feel old enough to have a shiny new edition with enhanced bells and whistles, but that’s exactly what’s coming on October 28th. It’ll be released on current-gen consoles as well as PC, and if you own either the Legendary Edition of the original, or the base game plus all DLC bought separately, you’ll receive a free upgrade to the new hotness. You can see it below.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

A mushroom towers above you, reaching for the sky. The place feels familiar, but the light has changed. Plants have taken root in previously barren land, new rocks jut from the earth like gnarled fingers. It s the same, but different a place inspired by what came before. A complete remake and re-imagining of Morrowind, in the words of Brandon Giles, one of the lead developers of the ambitious community project Skywind. The mod aims to draw players fresh and old to the world of Bethesda s 14-year-old RPG.

Skywind had its inception in 2012. The seeds can be found in Morroblivion, which ported Morrowind s content into Oblivion s engine. Once the project came to an end, some leftover team members decided to attempt a similar feat this time using Skyrim as their base.

It wasn t until late into the following year that the project evolved into what it is now, Giles says of the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project, of which Skywind is a part. [We] aspired to do something greater than a mere port of Morrowind. No one really knows the exact point that this switch happened, but I think as we got more and more talented individuals on board, we really broadened our horizons and looked to make something much more special. Since then the vision has only grown.

Skywind s global team was brought together by a love of the Elder Scrolls series. They re all volunteers, and their ultimate reward for the thousands of hours invested will be the finished project itself. The challenge they have set is to take a classic and renovate it, improving it graphically and bringing the world s density, life and interactions up to the standards set by today s open-world games.

The team, though scattered, has clear lines of management. Tasks are chopped into manageable chunks and assigned by the development leads. Countless spreadsheets are assembled in order to keep track of the various tasks and deadlines. The driving force is a small core team, working with and managing the vast array of people who have volunteered their time.

These team members all share the same broad vision for Skywind. Morrowind is a game that now shows its age. The locales feel barren and sparse compared to modern achievements, the fog-cloaked horizon is a stark contrast to the immense draw distances we re now accustomed to. The team have to address this disparity, filling in areas of the world with new content. This act of creation in a game so revered comes with its own difficulties the additions must merge seamlessly with the established world. Skywind will include the story and quests familiar to Morrowind players, but some carefully constructed new missions have been added. The ultimate aim is that new content should be indistinguishable from the old.

Modifying a classic is no easy task, and the team must tread carefully when deciding on additions. Every idea goes through a vetting process. When someone has a new suggestion, and they re serious enough about it, they write up a detailed plan and share it with the rest of the team, Giles says. Everyone leaves comments and suggestions and we work from there, and if it s worth implementing, we ll put in the effort to make it a reality.

Additions are rigorously scrutinised to ensure that they meet the same high standards across the board. The gatekeepers of quality are several industry professionals, who are lending their expertise partly because of a deep love for the Elder Scrolls series, and partly to work on a project that s free from corporate oversight.

Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games. These team members have been followers of the series since the start, and are able to draw from their own deep knowledge of the world, as well as consult the extensive wikis and other reference sources. They are essentially historians historians with the advantage of being in direct communication with the creative mind behind a large part of the world and lore of Morrowind, former Bethesda designer Michael Kirkbride.

Enthusiasm can only take you so far, however, and the attrition rate among Skywind s voluntary team is high. The success of the project has been that, out of a number of people who have offered to help, you get one that really sticks with the project, Darren Habib, one of the team s veterans, says. I ll put a rough figure to it: out of every 100 people that join up to do some tasks, only one person will actually carry on to progress the project.

Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games.

The bulk of development is therefore handled by the core team, but they still want the project to remain as open as possible. They leave the door open in order to attract unique individuals able to contribute. Burnout is high true of any voluntary project but the team understand this, allowing people to take breaks when they need them. They have managed to keep morale high with their continuous communication and recruitment. Everyone is kept in the loop and made to feel a part of the community.

The legacy of the original game released back in 2002 the third in the Elder Scrolls series still casts a long shadow. Its weird world is filled with wonders, from magically crafted mushroom architecture to the sprawling waterway-filled city of Vivec. Morrowind captured and continues to capture the hearts of its players.

The action mostly takes place on the island of Vvardenfell, which today stands out as delightfully alien compared to other locations in the Elder Scrolls series. All of Bethesda s worlds have had their quirks, but none have had nearly as diverse a landscape as that found in Morrowind. Each region feels fresh and different, its architecture and landscapes drawn from different inspirations.

The first Elder Scrolls games, Arena and Daggerfall, presented players with huge worlds, using random generation to map out and stock their myriad dungeons. Morrowind broke with tradition; Bethesda opted to create a smaller, more detailed, world than its predecessors. Throwing out the random generation, the game s designers hand-crafted every section of the world. This painstaking approach proved a massive undertaking, but the payoff was worth it. The developers love and attention shines through in the design of every location. From the caves of skooma-smuggling bandits, to the tombs cobwebbed with history linked to actual families in-game.

Post-Morrowind, there have been two new main Elder Scrolls releases: Oblivion and Skyrim. These build upon the foundations laid down by Morrowind, inevitably changing aspects of it as well. The strength of Elder Scrolls games especially Morrowind has always been believable world building and focus on exploration, says Max Fellinger, Skywind s game mechanics lead. Skyrim shifted away from this to present a more streamlined reward-curve, based mostly on dungeon-crawls.

The team faces the challenge of deciding which new features from Skyrim should carry over to Skywind and which should be consigned to history. They have to determine how best to retain the feel of Morrowind while keeping any improvements made by the new game. Abilities such as shouts, tied specifically to the Dragonborn protagonist, have been removed completely. In general, Skyrim felt more focused on player skill, like modern action games, while Morrowind focused on character skill, like a classical RPG.

For instance, contrary to the implications of its first-person action combat, Morrowind used the classic RPG dice roll to decide what happened in a fight. Your sword might hit an enemy s flesh, but it was a behind-the-scenes number that decided whether or not you did serious damage. It s a system that lacks responsiveness. Skyrim has far better feedback, because it s driven more by the player s actions than their character s stats.

However, as a result, Skyrim is more uniform when it comes to the character builds of its players. There are certain core abilities and skills that almost everyone upgrades, while others are largely ignored. Morrowind encouraged players to have more freedom in their choices. There s no single correct build. Some balancing issues remain, but in general players have a wider range to choose from.

Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced.

The challenge, then: how best to fix Skyrim s problems without recreating Morrowind s unresponsiveness? The developers have a balancing act on their hands, merging two disparate systems into a cohesive whole. Their approach has been to strip down the Elder Scrolls and other RPGs to their core, and find out what makes them tick how the gears of their various systems mesh together. Ultimately, the team want to craft an experience that brings back some of the systems of classic RPGs, giving players the freedom to build a character in whatever way they want.

In Morrowind s original release, dialogue was largely confined to text boxes, with only a small percentage of it voice acted. Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced. Our biggest challenge is the sheer number of voice actors we re going for, voice acting lead Ben Iredale told me. Unlike Bethesda s situation, where they focus on a smaller cast of actors covering the majority of lines, we re looking to have a pretty massive amount of unique voices to cover the roughly 40,000 lines of dialogue that are in Skywind. We think it is worth the extra effort especially since it is one of the benefits we have as a community project there are so many dedicated fans ready to lend their voices.

Skyrim s world often comes close to a place that feels like home. At least until a guard tells you, yet again, about how their previous career as an adventurer was brought to a close by an arrow to the knee. Idle banter can make or break immersion in virtual worlds, especially those that support hundreds of hours of exploration.

For Skywind, Iredale says that a team of writers have crafted 9,000 in-game conversation lines between NPCs, giving each character their own essence of personality. The final release will include priests discussing the 36 lessons of Vivec, and merchants arguing over prices little touches that breathe life into the world.

On release Morrowind was praised for its vision and fully 3D world. Time has not been so kind. Its once vaunted graphics are now showing their age. Giving Morrowind back its beauty is a major objective for the Skywind team they want to recreate the world with all the bells and whistles we ve become accustomed to in modern games. This is no walk in the park: the team have to rebuild the world from the ground up.

Interpreting the low poly models and textures is one challenge, according to Aeryn James Davies, Skywind s lead artist. [It s] practically impossible without going back to the drawing board and looking at pre-3D concepting by the original team. We went back to the original concepts of Kirkbride and others and reworked it from the earlier stages. The 3D representation of 2D concepts are always limited by the technology of the time. Fourteen years is a big difference in processing power.

The evolution of videogame graphics in the intervening time has given the team the chance to make something really special, building on the ambitions of what came before. The redesign ranges from equipment to landscapes, with a particular focus on ensuring each area of the island has its own distinctive feel.

We felt that each region of the game deserved its own unique set of assets and textures to expand on the exotic nature of the original, says lead landscape designer Giles. As a result, each area looks and feels much different than from before. Any Morrowind purist might be upset by the new changes, but we really wanted to do something different instead of just adding shinier texture work and remodelled objects. There have been countless fans who have commented on videos or screenshots of the game saying it looks and feels exactly as I remember! so I think even with these major changes, the charm and spirit of Morrowind has definitely carried over to this new design.

Azura s coast is just one of the regions undergoing a dramatic change. It was originally sprinkled with menhirs, but the Skywind team have transformed it into a landscape filled with striking basalt formations, quietly betraying Vvardenfell s volcanic roots. An overhaul of this scale could have been a disaster, but it s handled with care by the team changing the visual identity of the region while staying true to the heart and soul of Morrowind.

The team s ambitions aren t restricted to improving the variety of the landscape, either. They re aiming to make Skywind s graphical quality in its entirety exceed that of Skyrim itself now almost five years old. The team feels able to do this because their focus is solely on the PC. Where Bethesda had to take ageing console tech into account, Skywind s developers are free to concentrate on a single, more powerful platform.

The mod itself remains without a release date the general feeling being that it ll be done when it s done. Still, there s confidence that it will, eventually, be done. In the years since the mod s initial reveal there has been the constant worry that it might end up as vapourware all stylish screenshots and video, but never making it to a final release. It s a consequence of the team s open development. Professional studios only reveal projects after years of work. Skywind has been in the wild since day one. Viewed this way, their progress in the last four years has been remarkable from a group of volunteers.

The project inches ever onwards, getting closer to its release, but there is still plenty of work to be done and new volunteers are always welcome. The team have a lot riding on this a lot of people to please but each and every one is convinced they will deliver what they have promised. They probably won t have to resort to using magic to get there.

By Edward Bals.

PC Gamer

The good folks at The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project have released a new Skywind trailer that shows off some of the latest work that's gone into bringing the great Elder Scrolls RPG Morrowind into the great Elder Scrolls engine Skyrim.

Everything shown is but a small fraction of work done on Skywind over the last few months, the YouTube description states, noting that the video is taken from a private developer alpha and, as such, is subject to change. Music, voice acting, sound effects, quest implementation, bug fixes, etc. couldn't be shown properly in this video, but are being developed alongside the visual progress.

It's a gorgeous trailer, and the prospect of playing a version of Morrowind that doesn't look like it was hot stuff 14 years ago is powerfully appealing. But I can't let it go without leveling some sort of complaint, and in this case it's the music: Nice enough as a generic RPG tune, but it's really got more of an Oblivion vibe than Morrowind. Other selections from the soundtrack are definitely more on-the-money, though: You can listen to bits and pieces courtesy of Soundcloud.

There's still no word on when Skywind will be ready for release, but you can follow along with the development (and join in if you're so inclined) at tesrenewal.com, and read our recent feature on the modders who keep recreating Morrowind right here.

PC Gamer

Morrowind reborn as Skywind.

For millions of players, Morrowind was their introduction to the world of The Elder Scrolls, but even Elder Scrolls veterans who cut their teeth on Arena and Daggerfall left Morrowind with an impression that lasted. For some of those players, Morrowind made such an impression that they never wanted to leave at all. Those fans have spent the past years painstakingly updating Morrowind, brick by brick, texture by texture, into Bethesda s more modern engines.

Even returning to Morrowind 14 years later, it s easy to see why. Morrowind's island setting of Vvardenfell offsets a few standard fantasy clich s a villain who lairs in a wasteland of volcanic ash and dwarven ruins full of monsters but also more visionary ideas. There's a prison inside a moon floating over a city built on a lake, a transport network of giant fleas controlled by riders who directly manipulate their steeds' nervous systems, and a settlement where most of the buildings are the hollowed-out shells of gigantic dead creatures. Vvardenfell is a memorable place, more outlandish than anything seen in the Elder Scrolls games that preceded or followed it.

Morrowind was also the first Elder Scrolls game to come with a Creation Kit, a gift from Bethesda that gave players the opportunity to alter that world and make it their own. The best mods tended to leave the setting be and instead tinker with the clunky RPG mechanics it was filtered through, changing the way leveling works and the rate skills improve and so on.

Seyda Neen, in the Morroblivion mod. Image via Steam member Captain Kittenz.

The Morrowind of tomorrow

Bethesda would continue experimenting with those mechanics in later games, alongside making technical improvements like the obvious graphical ones as well as the additon of full voice acting and tweaks to the animations (it took until Skyrim for people to be able to move their legs the right way when running diagonally). Since both Oblivion and Skyrim came with their own Creation Kits, they were just as moddable as Morrowind. While many of Morrowind's mods anticipated future improvements, the most ambitious mods for Oblivion and Skyrim are those that look back, inserting the entirety of Morrowind's setting and story into the newer games. They're called Morroblivion and Skywind, and each is a massive undertaking that has required teams of modders and years of volunteer work.

A modder who posts on the forums at The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project as Brainslasher points me to a Morroblivion History thread that breaks down the timeline. It began with a modder named Galadrielle whose dream was to remake Vvardenfell in Oblivion, but with a new story that would occur during the same time period. Later modders re-imagined Morroblivion as a straight re-telling of the original, unwilling to alter the game they loved beyond some visual and mechanical improvements. As Brainslasher puts it, they were motivated by love for this game and its crazy world with its weird architecture and creatures, the hostile world that you as a player are thrown into without knowing anything about it.

(Someone suggests their next project right there in that history thread: Now let's do it all again with Morroskyrim! )

It s not every RPG that goes so far as to have its own saucy novels.

That crazy world is something that gets brought up again and again in my conversations with people who worked on these overhauls. They talk about its dwarves going beyond beery miner stereotypes to become a culture of Babylonian steampunk objectivists, or Hlormar Wine-Sot, the drunken barbarian who enlists your help in getting his clothes back from a witch. One of them namechecks The Lusty Argonian Maid, a book of in-setting erotic fiction. It s not every RPG that goes so far as to have its own saucy novels, but that level of commitment to detailing every part of the setting is what inspired similar commitment in its fans.

Morroblivion can be played right now, but Skywind is still in development, and has been for four years. Will Jordan, who posts to The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project forum as Smitehammer, has been there for two and a half of those years, joining just as Skywind changed scope from simply porting the old game into a new engine to what he calls a full re-imagining of Morrowind . That means creating a lot of new designs from scratch, guided by the concept art, rather than simply inserting objects from Morrowind and cranking the textures up. It also means creating new quests to fill in gaps and adding new dialogue so that NPCs can chat to each other rather than just the player.

Morrowind reborn as Skywind.

Jordan is both a writer and one of the team leads in the voice acting department alongside Taerkalith, aka Benjamin Iredale, who has been working on Skywind for almost as long, hopping from job to job. I've done a bit of West Gash landscaping, creating the initial river design through the canyons, worked on spells such as Silence and Icarian Flight, and helped jumpstart the music and SFX departments which had slowed down about a year ago, Iredale says. They're now some of our healthiest departments. Also a bit of quest fixing and dialogue implementation, but that overlaps closely with my department so it comes with the territory of voice acting.

Coordinating voice actors is a big job, since Morrowind was very heavy on the text and only a handful of NPC greetings (and one god) were voiced. Early on it entailed acquiring all the text data for the scripts and coming up with a method of identifying appropriate lines by NPC and creating scripts, says Iredale. Now I'm doing implementation of the voicetypes/voicefiles which entails working in the Creation Kit along with third-party supporting applications.

Jordan actually started as one of the actors, inspired by the performer whose greeting is the first you hear in the game. Jeff Baker came up with a very unique voice for the male Dunmer which few people on the team could match. I learned rudimentary sound editing and recording techniques to improve my audio quality, and began coaching others on how to improve their own sound quality and acting forming ideas on how each race should sound for some internal consistency.

A Skywind screenshot from 2012.

It's a lot of work for volunteer pay, but I really enjoy the community and almost everyone laughs or plays along with my jokes so I think I'll be staying.

Corpus X

Michael Pewtress, aka SFX team lead Corpus X, is a more recent addition to the team. He's been part of what he calls the Skywind universe for just over seven months, though he'd been following the project for a couple of years before that. When I came in for a visit last September it felt like nothing was happening and I thought I could offer my help to get it going, he said. When I joined I was just an SFX contributor, but the team lead at the time left the project about a month or two into my tenure so we ran team leadless until I took over in December. It's a lot of work for volunteer pay, but I really enjoy the community and almost everyone laughs or plays along with my jokes so I think I'll be staying.

Very few of Skywind's modders worked on Morroblivion and some of them, like Pewtress, have never worked on a game before at all. This has been a fun learning experience, he says. Iredale, on the other hand, worked on personal mods before stepping up to join Skywind. Given how long it's been and the still unfinished state of Skywind though some of the screenshots they've shown and the videos on their YouTube channel make their achievements so far look very impressive I ask if there s some worry that a new Elder Scrolls game will come out before Skywind does.

Iredale isn't bothered, saying, There is a good chance we'll release before the next Elder Scrolls game if they keep to their typical timetable. Even if we released shortly afterward, I think people would still want to play it, as the graphics and gameplay are still faring decently with the assets we've been creating.

As long as there's a Creation Kit in a new Elder Scrolls game, it'll be used to make Vvardenfell again.

Mewtress

Pewtress notes that Skyrim is still plenty popular, even though it's now almost five years old. I'd say we have a least four years before something is released and I want my SFX guys done [with] our job in six months, he says with enthusiasm. Sound Effects Division Rules!

When a new Elder Scrolls game comes out, whether it's set in Valenwood, Hammerfell, Black Marsh or any of the other provinces of Tamriel, it's possible that Morrowind will find itself being recreated by modders yet again in place of the new location. Porting Skywind into Valenwind, Hammerwind, Blackwind, etc. would require a lot of additional asset creation and complicated data wrangling, says Iredale. There's a good chance it may be done, but I don't think the current team largely is interested in doing that.

According to Mewtress, As long as there's a Creation Kit in a new Elder Scrolls game, it'll be used to make Vvardenfell again. He compares their slightly unhinged dedication to the Star Trek fans making fan films. They're even getting sued by Paramount and that's not stopping them!

Jordan agrees. One interesting thing about Skywind is that nearly all the assets are our own. The animation skeletons are taken from Skyrim or modified from Skyrim's, but nearly all the textures, models, and a great deal of the sound effects and music are to be completely fan-made. This means if another Elder Scrolls game comes out using an updated engine, it would be fairly easy (and legal) to port over anything we've made. We're thinking long-haul for this project, laying the groundwork for not only the project in its current form, but planning for its future development. If we do the grunt work now, future TES modders will be able to focus on refining and embellishing without having to remake an entire game from scratch again.

Some of the environmental assets going into Skywind.

So what is it about Morrowind in particular that makes it worth rebuilding at least twice, if not more? Morrowind, for me, was the first video game that truly realized a D&D world in three dimensions, says Iredale. The bizarre and complicated lore and religious-political hierarchies made it a world you wanted to know more and more about.

Developers like Michael Kirkbride went out if their way to make the world seem as alien as possible, while keeping suspense of disbelief possible, says Jordan. The world has all these fantastic creatures and strange architecture, but none of it looks out of place. For him, an important moment came when he noticed relationships between the different stages in the lifecycle of the humble Kwama, which he calls quadrupedal insecty things that are raised like cattle-chickens by the Dunmer for their eggs.

Their adult forms, the Kwama Foragers, Workers, and Warriors, are encountered frequently by players, and inside the tunnels where they nest you can meet their Queens. But they also have a larval form, called Scribs, which you'll spot both in the wilderness and depicted on the signs that guide you to Vvardenfell's taverns (you can see one outside the South Wall Cornerclub in Balmora, for instance). Their eggs and cuttle turn up as items, and they're mentioned in passing in dreams and conversations, just enough pieces to let your mind puzzle it all together in a way that makes sense.

The individual pieces fit together like they would in a real culture, and the longer you spend inside the game, the more of those pieces assemble into something greater.

It's this sense of interconnectedness, from the lowly Kwama and their eggs all the way up to the legends of ascended gods Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil that makes Morrowind special. The individual pieces fit together like they would in a real culture, and the longer you spend inside the game, the more of those pieces assemble into something greater.

The Skywind team are doing impressive work on making Morrowind look and sound better, while also helping it become a little less frustrating to play thanks to Skyrim's mechanical improvements, all to allow the Morrowind we built up inside our heads as we first played it to live again. To some degree, though, no matter which game's variety of combat and leveling are applied to it, no matter which level of fidelity it's polished to, that version that will always live inside our imaginations.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Joe Donnelly)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [official site] turns five this year [that can’t be corre- oh my god, we are so old -ed.], but that’s not stopped its dedicated community from expanding its dragon-bashing, Thu’um-shouting, knee-shattering boundaries with mods, updates and overhauls. The latest pick of the ever-multiplying crop is Galandil’s Holds The City – an ambitious overhaul that adds new settlements, architecture and characters to Skyrim’s towns and cities in a bid to increase its population and weave new tales into its existing lore. Come see a trailer after the drop.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

When Skyrim came out I played it on a pretty sweet rig, running it on its highest settings and eventually adding high-res mods so I could see every twist in every peasant s rope belt. Now I m going back to it on a laptop with an Intel HD 4000 graphics card that struggles to run it on low, dropping below 30 fps whenever a fight breaks out or I absorb a dragon soul in that swooshy display of lights and effects. Fortunately, there are mods for this situation too.

The Shadow Remover mod takes the blocky shadows that distractingly flicker over everyone s faces on low settings and gets rid of them entirely, which gives an immediate performance boost. We can do better though, and with the Ultra Low Graphics mod suddenly I m getting between 50 and 60 fps, even if the world now looks like abstract art and some of the faces are a bit freaky. Everything s smooth and plastic, like action figure accessories. It s fascinating to see a familiar setting warped like this though, and I m enjoying seeing twisted versions of sights that had become commonplace.

It s all thanks to Alex, aka The LowSpecGamer, a YouTuber who makes video tutorials to help people get high-end (ish) games running on low-end PCs. I remember struggling to get games running as a kid on the cheap computer my working class parents could afford, but LowSpecGamer goes above and beyond, demonstrating how to edit .ini files and mess around with mods as well as showing which in-game settings give the biggest boost.

Though he lives in Barcelona now, The LowSpecGamer (as he likes to be called) was born in Venezuela and grew up unable to afford the newest hardware. For him, learning to push games below their minimum settings was the only way to play them. There s always this narrative about PC gaming being about trying to get the best out of the game, trying to get the best graphics and so on, he says. That s the main narrative in gaming culture. That didn t really fit with what I was doing or how I felt and I thought I was the only one.

Obviously he isn t, as the thousands of views on his videos show. In those videos he passes on some of the expertise he s picked up from several years of modifying files and changing priority settings to lowspec games as diverse as BioShock Infinite, Life Is Strange, and Goat Simulator. Even if you re not interested in following his advice, it s fascinating to see him surgically altering the guts of games.

It takes a lot of effort to make these videos, with plenty of time consumed in testing tweaks for games made using the same engine to see if they carry across and trawling forums to check out what enterprising players have already done. I have to try everything because it s very often that I will find a Steam discussion where someone will tell me some magical procedure to increase performance of a game and then I will try it and it will actually make it worse, he explains. I do have to extensively test everything.

Some games are more resistant to this process than others. For the three videos he s made about Metal Gear Solid 5 he did a lot of research in the mod community, eventually hitting gold in a thread on NeoGAF where modders were trying to decrypt its configuration files. I don t know, 40, 50 pages into it some guy started figuring out how to do an ultra high graphics mod and he explained his steps for his research. I saw the files he was tweaking and I thought to myself, Wait, I could use this exact procedure but instead of making things higher I could make them lower. Which is exactly what I did.

One of his most popular videos is about The Witcher 3, with over 500,000 views. Following its advice I installed the Hunter s Config mod and disabled various options, then went into the game s user.settings file and edited it to remove even more effects and drop the resolution below the minimum available in the options menu, all the way down to 800x600.

My PC with an i7 processor and 8GB of RAM but a not-so-hot Radeon 7600 graphics card can normally only run The Witcher 3 at about 15 fps. Now it s jumped up to the high 20s, sometimes nosing up to 32, though it looks like it was released around the same time as Oblivion. Foliage springs into existence as I ride past it, Geralt s shadow is only visible at certain angles and only from the knees up, and most of the surfaces look a bit like they ve been coated in milk.

Some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way.

I don t mind because I remember playing games on my parents old 486 in a tiny window in the corner of the screen, but some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way. They say things like don t buy the game at all if you can t run it and claim that it totally ruins the experience . There s an odd defensiveness, as if they re seeing a mural of Jesus permanently muddled by inept restoration rather than someone turning down textures because they can only afford a mediocre laptop.

I remember one guy commenting, I don t see the point of this, you can get a good computer for X amount of dollars at your local store and put it together so I don t see the point of your channel. I was about to answer him when one person responded, The world doesn t end at your doorstep. It s a good point. What the LowSpecGamer demonstrates is ingenuity that comes from necessity, and it should inspire our respect rather than contempt. It s easy to think that it s easy to get a good computer when you live in a developed country. As I know because of the country I was born in, that is not the case for a lot of people, and judging by the analytics of the channel a lot of people from many countries around the world enjoy or feel represented by this.

Not every game has cracked open and revealed its secrets under his pressure, however. He maintains a list of what he calls the doomed games," and they include a couple of obvious suspects. Batman: Arkham Knight seems to particularly frustrate him. To this day I keep regularly re-downloading the game and trying stuff. I haven t given up yet but it s amazing how it ignores the configuration files for so many things. Even the way the configuration files are set up is messy. The problems with Arkham Knight aren t only superficial, they are very evident everywhere. Then you have games like Assassin s Creed: Unity, which is one I particularly dislike because even when getting into the configuration screen of the game, trying to switch things into low, when you check back into the configuration file it will barely change.

There are a couple of games on that list for better reasons though, ones that don t obfuscate their configuration and instead make it so easy to alter them that there s nothing left for him to do. Games like Saints Row IV and Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor are good examples, as both can be changed so dramatically in their own options menu there s no need to push them any further.

And while some players aren t impressed by what he does to their favorite games, the developers don t seem nearly as precious. Recently the team behind Oddworld: New n Tasty!, the remake of Abe s Oddysee, reached out to him personally to offer some advice on how to lowspec their game. To have a developer—especially of that game, I really loved the original Abe s Odyssee—to have the developer help me tweak around the remake to make the video, it makes me extremely happy.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Graham Smith)

I used to like total conversions not only for those few which were released, but for watching the development process in action. Untextured weapon models get a bad rap, but I like watching a plan come together or even partially together.

Skywind, then. It’s an attempt to re-build Morrowind within Skyrim’s engine, with re-build environments, textures, models and more. The latest update video shows just how far the project has come, while aiming to recruit more members to help finish it.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

The team responsible for Skywind, a full conversion mod for Skyrim which recreates the third instalment in the Elder Scrolls series, is still plugging away. While the team at the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project released a short video in February showing off some of the game's landscapes, the video embedded below is a progress report outlining most of the work done since last year's diary. 

While the game has been in development for over four years, the volunteer-operated project still needs help with textures, models and more. They've also recruited over 100 different voice actors to lend words to Morrowind's colourful assortment of NPCs. Details on how to contribute to the project can be found on the official ES Renewal Project website.

Here's the video:

PC Gamer

Remember when buying a game didn't feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn't simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?

With a quick mod—Frostfall in this case—you're forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That's just one example, and over the next couple of pages you'll find plenty more. These aren't mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy's hit-points, they're full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they'll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.

Realism Overhaul

Game: Kerbal Space Program

LinkKerbal forums

Kerbal Space Program is not an easy game to begin with, and the addition of any extra manageable parameters adds only more complexity to the brilliant flying sim. The realism overhaul wasn t intended to create a punishing experience, it merely brings a few things in the game in-line with the real world. Solar panels are lighter, for example, but produce far less power. Cockpits and components that weigh the same as their real world counterparts, and engine propellants are more accurately simulated. The fact that all these changes make the game seem new and incredibly hard? Well, that s rocket science for you. It s also a great baseline for other mods, like the punishing Deadly Reentry mod.

Frostfall

Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Link: Nexusmods

Frostfall stands out among survival mods for complementing the open-world game underneath and not just demanding you stare at a temperature gauge and eat a deer every few minutes. Skyrim s blizzards will kill you. Nighttime will kill you. The water will kill you faster than you can say, Rose, make room on the bloody raft! Big deal, right? All survival games do that. Frostfall alters how you understand the world, forcing you to find crossing points, plan your excursions and select gear based on more than its stab resistance. Simple quests become scenes from The Revenant. In the unlikely event Frostfall doesn t make a human-sized ice lolly out of you, you ll feel like a true Nord.

Infection Mode

Game: The Witcher 3

Link: Nexusmods

Zombie outbreaks are easy to handle if you catch them early, as you ll find out if you install Infection Mode for The Witcher 3. The mod summons a Devourer, who you can kill immediately if you choose. If the Devourer attacks a villager, they become a Devourer too. Anyone they attack will join the Devourer legion, even children. The results are quickly horrifying. Go for a walk for a short while and return to the region for an enormous fight, or let one loose in Novigrad and watch the nightmare spread.

I Am Legion

Game: Dying Light

Link: Nexusmods

Day is night and night is day for Dying Light s breed of zombies. In sunlight they plod around in small circles, not really paying attention. By night they suddenly become a lot more frisky. The circadian difficulty loop is a key part of the game, giving you the chance to scavenge during daylight hours and hold up at night in your favourite safehouse. I Am Legion disrupts all that. Zombies are more lively by day, and there are more of them, while a reduction in bandit numbers means choked access to vital resources like bullets and weapons. More than this, the mod transforms the tone of the game. Suddenly it feels like a true fight for survival.

Motion Tracker Remover 

Game: Alien: Isolation

Link: ModDB

The motion tracker is your best friend aboard the Sevastopol. Guns immediately draw the attention of the bullet-proof monster, so until you get a flamethrower, there s very little standing between you and brutal slaughter. The motion tracker is a little green beacon of light in a world of shadows and fangs, which only makes it crueller when this mod snatches that away from you. With a broken tracker you're forced to rely on your senses—headphones are recommended—if you want to make it to the next room alive. If you eventually get the hang of that, consider installing Unpredictable Alien at the same time, which tweaks the frequency at which the Alien chooses to roam in different areas.

Misery

Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Link: ModDB

All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet—who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you've got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.

Project Nevada

Fallout: New Vegas

Link: Nexus Mods

Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It's also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There's a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.

Brutal Doom

Game: Doom

Link: ModDB

Despite what modern 'old-school' shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience—fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We're talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It's compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don't get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection—including the BFG's big brother.

Full Combat Rebalance 2

Game: The Witcher 2

Link: RedKit

This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt's adventure might have played out in the books. He's more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he's in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that's claimed.

Requiem

Game: Skyrim

Link: Nexus

Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you're standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.

Radious

Total War: Shogun 2

Link: TWCenter

Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There's even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It's as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.

Game of Thrones

Game: Crusader Kings II

Link: ModDB

Real history doesn't have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn't simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters' traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It's best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you're absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.

Realistic Weapons

Game: Grand Theft Auto IV

Link: GTAGarage

Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don't need to goon for assholes after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren't written with that in mind, obviously, but there's nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn't expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.

The Long War

Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Link: NexusMods

You're looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don't cheat as much.

Ziggy's Mod

Game: Far Cry 3

Link: NexusMods

Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.

Terrafirmacraft

Game: Minecraft

Link: Terrafirmacraft

Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it's not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there's enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.

Synergies Mod

Game: Torchlight II

Link: Synergies Mod

This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class—the Necromancer—more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way—including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It's the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it's still in development, and has a few rough edges.

Civilization Nights

Game: Civilization V

Link: Steam Workshop

While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It's a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don't expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it's also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.

Ultimate Difficulty Mod

Game: Dishonored

Link: TTLG Forums

This makes Dishonored's enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored's second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy's face and be politely ignored. He's now much more likely to be spotted—especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider's gifts rather than the Overseers' continued lack of a local Specsavers.

Hardcore

Game: Deus Ex

Link: ModDB

New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to 'Realistic' mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to 'Unrealistic', which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he's meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.

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