The Creation Kit is, at the same time, an extremely useful, powerful, and fairly easy to grasp tool AND a confusing mess that makes one wonder how anyone manages to accomplish anything within its confines. After going through the tutorials (which are actually very well done and very helpful for getting the very basics), I learned three important things that became the combined cornerstone of all of the mods I have made. They are these:
1 – Dialogue trees are easy to make.
2 – Quests are easy to make.
3 – You can incorporate scripts directly into dialogue in order to move quests from one stage to another (or do any other scripting thing).
There you have it: JFraser’s 1-2-3 method of mod making. Look at any of my mods and you will see this in action. You can’t move from one semester to the next in College Days without talking to Mhoram. You can’t even begin one of the quests in Escape the Cell without talking to someone. Dibella’s markings are put on you via dialogue in Divines Guide You (that’s actually my favorite thing I’ve done via making mods. I think the effect is fantastic). And, of course, you need to speak to the guard outside the cage to begin the auction in Simple Slavery.
The issue I was having with Simple Slavery that caused me torture to the point where I gave up on it was the auction, which was the heart and soul of the mod. The entire reason for its existence. I could get an NPC to talk, but only to me. The only way I could think to get this entire thing to work would be to prompt the auctioneer to his next phrase by saying something to him, but that would not be even a little immersive. I tried everything I could think of, given what I knew at the time, all to no avail.
To my surprise, the community once again responded with kindness after I announced the death of the mod, thanking me for making the attempt and encouraging me to try smaller things. Maybe I could grow from them and get back to this some day.
And that is what I did. I started with an idea of a small alternate start mod that would tell a story of a child of a farmer whose home was raided by bandits and you would have to scrape your way to freedom and eventual success. This germ of an idea eventually became Escape the Cell, which was much easier to make because it involved small scenarios that relied almost entirely on dialogue/quest stage scripting.
During the summer and fall of 2014 I worked on EtC and College Days: Winterhold (never did get around to College Days: Solitude, where you become a bard. Pity.) and learned a lot more about making mods and new ways to incorporate slightly more complex scripts.
And then, on October 23rd, I was replying to a post in the SS support thread, where people were tossing out ideas about how the mod could be picked up as a sort of community project, and I had a flash of minor inspiration.
One month later, it became official:
Two things sparked the revival. The first was something so stupidly simple, I’m still kicking myself for not realizing it much sooner: scenes.
The CK has a system to make scenes, where characters talk or move or do other things in a pre-ordained order. I had basically been trying to find a way to make scenes except without the scene function, which was what I found to be impossible.
I knew they existed. Hell, you see scenes play out in the game all the damn time. But it didn’t connect in my brain that they were the solution to the auction until that moment. Scenes work very much like dialogue and can have scripts connect to them in much the same way. You just have to use aliases instead of the actual characters, for whatever CK reason.
The other game-changer was a mod called Slaves of Tamriel which is still, to this day nearly six years later, the most immersive game playing experience I’ve ever had. Much like Simple Slavery, it began as a giant multi-tiered concept that became vastly scaled down once the author (also called @Slaves of Tamriel) discovered how amazingly convoluted and time consuming working with the CK can be. I compare the two, but he managed far more with his mod than I ever have. The atmosphere in that mine feels absolutely soul-draining.
SoT changed Simple Slavery on a fundamental level. Here was a mod that already had everything I could have hoped for in a slavery outcome. Well, except a way to end it – that part never did get made, more’s the pity. But I didn’t know that at the time. I PMd him and we talked about how we might be able to connect the two, which turned out to be as simple as him adding a quest that put the player at the entrance to the mine and me starting that quest at the end of the auction.
Just like that, I had a working mod with an auction and an outcome and a new business model, summed up on December 10, 2014:
This solved all sorts of problems for me. Well, it solved one problem, but it was the biggest problem of them all: my mod-making limitations.
Using blackouts, which @DocClox taught me, meant I didn’t have to try to get the flaky follow function to work. Using other mods meant that I didn’t have to build complex quests with animations that I could never get to work. If you look deep into SS, you will find my attempts to do so (unless @Lozeak removed them, for which I would not blame him). There is a cell that was meant to be a “pre-auction” room, where the player would be tortured and broken before being sent to the auction. I couldn’t even get the guy to whip me. Later I added another cell that was meant to be a farm where you would be sent as the “default” slave experience, instead of being set free. Turns out outdoor world spaces are really hard to make. Neither of these ideas came to fruition because I just couldn’t figure out how to make them work.