One thing that I've learned as a result of maneuvering myself into a position where I pretty much had to make NPCs and locations for this mod, as they're the best way to show off the Live faces, is that I really, really hate making NPCs and locations. I don't know how people can manage to make decent mods with these tools. I keep finding myself spending hours on making what amount to incremental changes, and half the time whatever it is that I'm trying to do doesn't even work. It's just insufferable.
A large part of it is, to kick a very dead horse, just how god-awful the Creation Kit's interface is. For example, I spent entirely too long trying to figure out how to get the lighting to do what I wanted it to do. The placed lighting that you drag in from the CK's lights list is uselessly dim, and you can't make up for that by placing more lights because having too many in an area causes annoying flicker effects. But there's no obvious way to adjust the brightness settings in any of the context controls. Turns out the only way to do it is by holding down a fucking three-key macro and dragging the mouse up and down, because apparently that makes more sense than putting a fucking lighting tab in the edit window! Christ.
Bethesda likes to mention how the Creation Kit is 'the same tool we use' to build the game, and I honestly think that's the whole of the problem. Internal and corporate tools are where UI design goes to die. They're invariably these horrible, cobbled-together, nightmarishly unintuitive messes crapped out on the cheap that spend far too much time getting in the user's way. It reminds me of the access control program we used at a previous job that didn't even have basic UI shit figured out like greying out text boxes when they're not editable. A frickin' college kid making a freeware program for downloading porn can manage to pull that trick off, so we're spending how much money for a program that we're relying on to secure our facilities and comes from a company that can't? It's baffling.
Anyway, angry rant aside I have been making progress with this. It's just been irritatingly glacial. Both for the reasons mentioned above, and because I have, as usual, really overextended my scope. Making the Automated turned out to be kinda interesting and, as mentioned before, really easy to do with the existing NPCs, so before I knew it I had, um... Going by the FaceGen file count, 143. So far. I think I might have plot openings for a few more.
So obviously the location work has taken on new priority, because I need someplace to put all these fuckers. The previously mentioned re-dress of Raldbthar still forms the core of it, and I've done various major and minor edits to get it styled up, especially that central room that I've remade to be the Automated factory's output. That got cleaned up and relit, with bins filled with Type XXX parts and chests scattered around that should contain every armor piece in the mod, if I filled them up right.
Some of my more recent work has been adding in idle markers scattered around so the Automated that I staff the area with have something to do, but that's one of those 'half the time it doesn't work' things. I gave all the Automated pretty much the same sandboxing packages, aside from some cases where I had reason to do otherwise, but for some damn reason most of the ones I put in this room just stand around like idiots. I've got 'study' idles all over the place, but most of them are going to waste.
Yet at the same time I've got other areas where I can't get the NPCs to keep still for all the markers and furniture they're constantly hopping between. So I have no idea what's happening here.
The rest of the Raldbthar rooms have been getting their own little livability edits and cleanups as well, with DMA parts scattered here and there for added flavor.
My plan to make use of copies of other Dwarven interiors ran into an all-too familiar snag, however. I had intended to make use of a couple of the rooms from the Afflicted dungeon, but those had even worse cases of the problem with sections not visually rendering that I ran into with the Avanchenzel interiors, one of them having pretty much everything ten feet from the door failing to render when you entered the room. I have no frickin' clue what's causing that, much less how to fix it, so that ruled those out for me. Out of the small handful of useful-looking areas I had identified, the only one that didn't really give me issues was the living quarters from the ruins under Markarth, so that kinda ended up as my expansion space by default. But it is at least a fairly useful space. I bodged together a door to it from the Raldbthar space off the bridge at the top of the main room...
...and rebuilt the tree area further in to serve as a sort of main room with an ad-hoc player home in the rooms around the dining area. The tree itself got replaced with a Dibella shrine, although my plan on using a giant version of the golden Dibella statuette as its centerpiece is slightly hindered by the fact that I don't know how to make it so it can't be picked up like the normal version. Doing so and then dropping it has odd results.
The real fun here is actually in an alcove next to this area, which was previously just a caved-in passage. I'm a big fan of player home mods that include a teleport spell to the place, and it certainly made sense to have something like that here given that the current entrances and exits are a bit... fraught. But more on those later. Making teleport spells is actually one of the few bits of scripting that I have previous experience with, as I did one for the last attempt at a interior mod I made, some five years ago. Which turned out to be particularly useful since it meant that I could just reuse that script instead of going through the trouble of compiling a new one. Given the sort of worldbuilding I had in mind here, though, I wanted something a bit more impressive than what I had in that old project. This is Dwarven shit, now, it has to be a whole machine.
It took a lot of digging to find that lighting effect, let me tell you. On top of that, a regular old spellbook for learning the teleport spell wouldn't do, so I had to figure out how to make this happen:
Then there's the spell effect itself. I'd previously just copied the Skyfall Estate teleport spell's method and used the Restoration effects, but digging around in the effect list I found one that specifically said it was for a 'teleport' from the College questline. I tossed it onto my spell and, well...
Much more on-theme.
I have run into one problem with this, though. I've been using the spell from that previous project for years, and I've never had any problem with followers teleporting with me. They'd always end up right on the landing area beside me. With this one, though, that hasn't been the case. They consistently end up coming in through the relatively distant main door into the area instead. I'm not sure why, since the COC marker for the teleport is planted on the navmesh and everything. One of the many things I still have left on my to-do list is tearing that older spell apart and seeing what I did differently back then.
On the subject of entrances, here's the main exterior entrance to the Automated space.
There's some additional clean-up and detailing for it on my list, but it's currently functional. It does not, however, lead to where I originally intended. My plan was to use that long-drop trap from that one Dwarven ruin up in the mountains on the Morrowind border, but it turned out to be both more of a pain in the ass to rebuild than I expected and subject to that same unrendering bullshit that's been plaguing all of this stuff. So I finally said 'fuckit' and built a new space from scratch. It took a few tries to get started, but eventually I ended up with something acceptably close to the theme I wanted of a one-way drop into a pool of water.
That said, this very nearly ended up being abandoned as well, since it turns out that this is exactly the kind of space that you do not want to follow Bethesda's instructions for generating navmeshes on. Their damn auto-generator doesn't even recognize water. I wasted far too much time trying to salvage that mess before realizing that my best bet was just deleting the whole disaster and building my own nav from scratch, vertice by vertice. That was a useful thing to learn how to do, though, since it made cleaning up and altering the navmeshes in the copied spaces much more feasible and made those spaces more useable. But lord, was it a time-sink.
Eventually I ended up with a nav that would let followers fall into the room alongside me and escape from the water without trying to walk on the bottom...
...and that let the 'worker' Automated I had placed in there actually use the various idles I had placed around.
My one regret with it is that I didn't give it as long of a drop as I'd originally envisioned, as I didn't want to risk having parts of it outside of the view distance. But it gets the idea across.
Obviously, though, this won't serve as the physical exit. For that I wanted a tunnel off to Gloomreach, with an entrance in the Raldbthar space tucked into that sort of living area along the one side. My original plan there was to have a bridging pace using one of the Afflicted rooms, but since those wouldn't work I was left having to build another new space for it. I figured that it should be a sort of mining area, as I had a general idea that the tunnel into Gloomreach would be something that the Automated would've finished digging at some point immediately prior to the Dragonborn stumbling onto the scene, and in light of that there ought to be something worth mining there that might also explain why the facility as a whole was located there. To build it, I actually took that above shot looking up the ventilation shaft as my starting point, turning the 'shaft' cave meshes sideways and then shoving them full of Azura crystals.
The concept is that these crystals are the source of the ones used for the Automated's brains and various other parts. I had considered doing a larger excavation space reflecting that, but actually building it was a pain in the ass and then I lost all the work in a fucking CK crash, so to hell with it. All that's left of that is a little stub tunnel off to the side with some Blackreach crystal clumps in it.
The actual gameplay reason for this room, though, is the tunnel roughly knocked into the back wall. A short winding walk through there gets you back into Vanilla Skyrim, but not into all that great of a place.
So, the current plan is for this to drop you into the very bottom of the Gloomreach Hive, right next to the tunnel leading back to the entrance. The idea is that you could then either sneak off to the start and go through the dungeon properly, or charge right into the boss area and see how well that goes. Things will be more complicated than they originally were in the Vanilla, though, because there's going to be a whole mess of Automated sourced from enemy NPCs who're hostile to both the native Falmer and the Player running around.
The exact details of this I'm still working on, as dungeon leveling is yet another of those things that I have no previous experience with. The Falmer pre-existing here are fairly tough, with the boss being a level 26 for the level 1 testing character I'm using here. The handful enemy Automated currently placed have their original levels, for the most part, so how well they fare against the Falmer is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes I go in there and they manage to kill the Falmer off, sometimes it's the other way around.
Part of my plan is to expand the battle some, adding more Falmer to help match the mass of Automated and moving some of the fighting up to the large but previously empty initial room of the first cave, but I may find myself having to change even more things around due to the pathing being a freaking headache. I've run into three different issues with followers already. First, while they'll go through the entrance between the excavations and the hive just fine, they invariably run off through the nearby door to the upper cave whenever you try to get them to go past it, so they will neither go into the lower cave or back into the excavations with you. Second, when they get to the upper cave they can't parse the jump down into the initial room.
And third, even if you get them into the start of the cave and proceed on the proper path through the dungeon, they get stuck on the ramps halfway down to the bottom of the hive and can't even approach the exits! So no matter what the heck I do there I've got a lot of what looks like Bethesda's fuckups to fix to get this running properly, and I'm not even sure what might be causing the first one. I might end up having to reposition my entrance, which'll be a pain.
For the followers and some of the generic non-hostile Automated I've got them set to level with the player, so they can be useful for longer, but that also means that most of them will be pretty useless early on against an enemy Automated with a set level of 27 like the Storm Wizard there. One of the things on my even larger 'would like to do' list is finding some way to add the Automated factions to the Player. As things are currently set up I have these NPCs divided into the regular Automated faction, which is friendly to the player by default, and the rogue faction which is hostile to you, but it would be nice to have an option to let them tolerate you nosing in on their Falmer extermination. I know there's ways to do this, but I need to do more research to see if I can easily implement them. There's probably more hostile Automated than could reasonably fit into these caves, too, so I might end up scattering a few more around nearby, but I have to see how the current hostility settings for their faction work with that.
I also complicated these a bit by not making every single Automated sourced from an enemy NPC hostile. Mainly because some of them are kinda cute. I needed a way to differentiate them, so all the hostile ones are now named as Rogues. This does make some of their names pretty long, though.
I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with the non-hostiles. Right now I've got most of them hanging around in the excavations, but I'll probably end up peppering them around with the other generics or setting them up as lesser followers. I've got some story ideas for how this all works, as well...
I should get a bit deeper into the People part of this post, but first I want to segue a bit into few additional items I threw together while I was working on the rest of this. The first one... doesn't quite work the way I want it to yet and probably won't be released with the rest of this, but it amused me and I want to show it off, so...
Remember last post, how I talked about figuring out how to make the Automated's default nude body be just their head, and maybe making a head-specific pedestal to showcase that? Well, I did that thing.
This is highly amusing in concept, but in practice there are... Problems.
Mainly it's the same problems faced by the other pedestals, in that it needs to have a fairly stationary idle pose forced on it to keep it from swaying around and clipping through the ground all weird like that. But while I found a good-enough solution for the regular pedestals in the form of the Soldier Wall Idle marker, using this pedestal with one of those just straight-up breaks the HDT height setting.
Now, while I was messing around with this I did find one thing that got me exactly the effect I wanted, and oddly enough it was the 'hands behind head' submission pose from Display Model. Not only did that get me a completely stationary pose, but it also coincidentally corrected the somewhat-off guess I made for the HDT setting and put the base more or less level on the ground.
So of course it then turns out that if I try to correct the HDT so that the base is level without the pose, the pose ends up hovering a bit.
I've got some vague ideas for making something useful out of this, maybe by finding some way to put a sphere or hover effect on the bottom, but it's not that much of a priority. The pedestals as a whole still need some way to lock the characters into poses and out of furniture and idle markers to really have the functionality I want for them. DAR has some promise for the former, although I didn't get quite the performance I wanted out of it on NPCs, but the latter is way outside of my ken. A script effect like Holzfrau used on Dwarven Augumentation might also be worth exploring. Either way takes a lot more work and research than I really want to put into this just now, though. I probably ought to focus on actually getting the basic mod out before I try out any fancy tricks like that, and I definitely need to stop adding new stuff.
That said, I did add some more new stuff. Not much, though! I've wanted to add some pony-themed headgear for a while, you see. The horse head mask is amusing, but... not really cute. I've made a couple attempts at a mechanical horse mask or helmet, but none of them have turned out quite the way I wanted either. I'd been playing around with some quick, non-Dwarven ponygirl stuff alongside all the rest of this, though, and found that combining the bridle piece from the Haru outfit with a pair of equipable horse ears, initially cut from the Vanilla horse and later from Bad Dog's Horse race mesh, had some pretty favorable results. while I was playing around with the cow horn pieces that I added recently, I thought, hey, why not recreate that?
The bridle part is very loose on the face to hopefully provide clearance for all face morphs, but it's supposed to be more evocative than functional. I used the Horse race ears in my first test of this because obviously they look vastly better than the Vanilla horse's, and couldn't bear the thought of giving them up so I got Bad Dog's permission to use them here. ?
This is set up the same as and categorized with the horn sets, and can be used with the wigs or a character's existing hair, but I also did a combo piece with the Crest that's set up as a helmet under the name Cavalier.
I also asked if I could use the Horse race tail to make a new weighted horse tail accessory in the vein of the equipable Khajiit and Argonian tails, since it's also so much better than Vanilla.
Between this and the cow-themed stuff I had already done, I got the idea for another new area. There was a door in the Quarters area that I wasn't using, so I thought, why not have it lead to a cave that was set up like a ranch? Just a big rocky cave with a grassy field and an artificial sun in it. Sounds great, right?
Yeah, well, turns out that making a big grassy field in Skyrim is waaaaaaaaaaay the fuck beyond the realm of my patience. You can't even actually do it as an interior space, and exterior worldspaces are a whole damn thing that I ain't got any time for. So it got scaled back to a sort of a stable room.
That give me a home for some of the NPCs that I gave cow and horse-themed loadouts, but the space I made ended up being big enough for the stable area to only take up one wall. So I used some of the rest of it for a different kind of stable.
And then I tossed a bar area in because why the heck not.
This whole space also isn't quite finished yet, and again isn't entirely what I originally had in mind. I originally had a couple of the cow-themed characters on pedestals behind the bar, but it turns out that even if you have them set on a furniture idle with them marked as the owners and delete their sandboxing package, they'll still wander around to other markers if they're set close enough. With all the ones around the bar they were just wandering around willy-nilly, so it didn't make any sense to leave them back there. That actually makes filling in the rest of the room a bit tricky; I scattered some idle markers around to give the characters stuff to do, but I have to keep them a certain distance away from the characters on pedestals or they can break off to use them.
The pedestal characters are generics based on various player presets, and I've got one of each race in here. I'm tempted to have more of them, but with as much of a pain as implementing the idea has been I'm content to dial it back to just this group. I might build some additional mechanical structure above their niches at some point, since the head-canon I've got going for these guys is that they're Automated who've set their systems on idle for repairs or somesuch.
As far as the NPCs in general go, it think I've pretty much got them finished. I've gotten all of the custom RaceMenu-made characters I've had on-hand or made recently loaded in, and Automated all of the Vanilla NPCs that interested me. I've got them all set to have the heads as their nude bodies, and as part of that I ended up setting each crystal insert type as its own 'body' to simplify things on my end. That does mean that the crystals are no longer lootable, but it made setting up outfits that much easier. I'd been vacillating a bit on how exactly to do the outfits, toying around with the idea of doing sets of 'generic' outfits for the bandits and such to choose from and only doing character-specific one for the followers, but in the end I decided it would look better and be easier to keep track of things if everybody got their own specific and unique outfit. Actually adding them all in took a few days, though...
But in the end, I've got a pretty broad base of Automated 'citizens' running around. Hunters, an Argonian maid, a whole little coven of witches...
The followers have almost as wide of a variety. Some of them are old personal characters, some of them are faces that I made for the mask project, and others are ones that I just made to fill a perceived niche.
There's some that are of note, and a few that honestly really aren't. A couple I made almost solely to flesh out (aheh) the 'companion' role, and one of those exists entirely because I like redheads.
Figuring out the exact roles and abilities of these characters has been one of the main timesinks around making them, especially since I ended up making so many and even more especially since I don't really know what I'm doing. Sure I can add perks, but do some of them actually do anything? How much do combat styles even matter? What actually is the difference between Berserker and BerserkerLow? I have stumbled across a few good combos, though. One is in the form of N11-24. She was one of the faces that I originally made for the mask project, and I had a frost theme in mind when I gave her that very blue makeup. So I figured, why not give her the ice-encased body parts that I had made on spec? And while I was at it, give her the Frost Atronach's body SFX? And the Ice Form shout? And the Dragonspeaker helmet, so I can cast her as an ancient Tounge who got caught up in the Automation?
And it all pulled together very well, actually. Although there is a bit more of a story behind those iced-up bodyparts. After I made the burnt set for Y1SR4 I poked at the idea of making a few more elemental-themed Assault Troopers and made these parts in the same way that I made the ice skin in the old -BAF- stuff. Those didn't have a matching face texture like the burnt skin did, though, so I tried to make one. And it crashed the game. Consistently. Not right away, though. I had it equipped onto a testing character who I'd spawn into the game using the console, which usually placed them behind me. And every time I'd turn around to take a look at the face... Instant CTD. I don't know what the hell was going on there, but the whole idea got tossed right onto the 'don't care enough to spend the time on' pile.
Another thing that almost ended up there was Not-Samus, here. I still haven't gotten that gun-arm to line up properly with the magic FX, but that was honestly less of a concern than the fact that the Atronach firebolt spell that I wanted to give her, and that I'd previously used on Y1SR4, persisted on firing from the wrong hand no matter how I changed her spell and equipment loadout. Then I finally took a look at the spell itself and saw that it's specified as a left hand-only one, whoops. So hey, now she's got a custom right-hand version with boosted output.
There's another thing that's not on that pile, mainly because it's very easy, but that I'm inclined to exercise some restraint on, mainly because it's way too easy: Duplicates.
Before I stumbled upon the Live Face method and ballooned the NPC portion of this project way out of control, I was only planning on adding in a few NPCs equipped with the Vanilla masks. That's mostly been washed away in the tides of all these characters, but it's still something I can easily do. In fact, since I added in all of the faces I made the masks from as Live characters, it's trivial to make copies of them with the null headparts I made for that concept and the appropriate mask tossed onto their outfit. So far I've kept it to just a few; two helpers for the worker in the ventilation shaft, and one duplicate of 12-16 for shits and giggles.
But like I said, it'd be way too easy to go overboard with this. Y1SR4 could use an assault squad, for example...
There's also a few more characters I'd like to get in based on that whole nearly-forgotten 'living statue' aspect of the mod provided by the stone parts, which haven't seen much play in the Live Faces section of this project. That'd tie into what I've got in mind for the other half of the Quarters area and the 'safe' exit from the place, assuming I can get things to work the way I want them to.
One other thing that's gonna get cut for time is the Charmers content. I do still intend to get it out at some point- it's got my best stone and brass faces, after all, given that those textures don't work worth a damn on the Vanilla masks- but there's various complications around them that I just don't want to bother with right now. And one of those is actually the Live faces, because it's perfectly possible and highly effective to use the same process on a Charmers head. That's how I figured the process out, after all. But I've still got to do little things like cut out a proper mask texture for them, and figure out how exactly to add a Charmers-built character as an NPC, and so on and so forth, which hasn't really been a priority with 143 vanilla characters and counting. Eventually I'll get to it. I want my Dibella back. And I definitely want to see if I can get those stone and brass faces moving.
There's also probably some more stuff that I could find to shove in here, particularly with the last Holiday hair set release. Just a quick skim there produced a few things that look worth doing...
But I'm going to prioritize getting the tedious and annoying work of getting the locations built done first. I'd like to get this out sometime this year, y'know?