I think the best way to describe my process, such as it is, when it comes to modding is 'a series of events arising from the consequences of previous events'. It seems like every time I make some small decision about some aspect of the mod, it leads to two or three or ten more things for me to do as a direct result.
The current case in point: I mentioned last time how I was planning to punt on adding the Charmers stuff back into the mod until some future update, to give me time to figure out how to get a few things working there. As a result of that the brass masks I made with the Charmers head mesh won't be available yet, which is a slight problem given how I redid the metal body parts with a customized skin texture to match with them. I don't really want to punt on the updated body, since it really is a massive improvement over the poorly-fitted Dwemer tile texture that's been my default for making bronzed versions of meshes, but without the Charmers masks the only brass faces I have available to use with the brass bodies are the masks sourced from the SeXtreme models from the initial version of the mod. The problem with those is that they still use that tile texture, and as a result look kinda lousy paired with the updated body.
So, best thing to do was update the faces.
This doesn't use quite the same process to get the brass color as the body parts. Those use a copy of the skin texture recolored in a way that reacts with the bronze cubemap to produce the brassy color, while these just use a solid block of color that attempts to do the same thing. Getting it to do the exact same thing as the body has proven difficult, however. Part of that is the fact that different meshes from different sources will often interact with the lighting and shaders in different ways for various reasons that I can't even begin to unpack, which is the likely cause for most of the wonkiness I've been running into here. Another part of it is the fact that my color vision isn't exactly reliable, so I'm never quite sure if I'm getting the results I think I'm getting. But after way too much trial and error making absurdly minute adjustments to the color block, I think I've gotten something that reacts adequately similar to the brass body in most lighting conditions. Hopefully.
The immediate knock-on effect of this was that it let me use an idea I had for a companion set to the Statue NPCs and build a batch of Dibellan Idols to add to the population around one of the shrines.
There's a bit more room for development on these models, though, due to an annoying flaw in their build process. One thing I haven't done with any of the Automated so far, including the statuary here, is make them a unique race. They're all just the Vanilla races with their body parts edited per character. It turned out to be very easy to swap out the 'nude' body doing things that way, and for the ones using the Live faces there's no need to alter the head parts at all. But as far as NPCs that use a mask for their face go, as I noted previously it's easy enough to replace most of the head parts with null meshes that don't get in the way of the masks except for the freaking mouth. I just can't find a way to get it to go away completely. I did find that I can reliably get it to initially be disabled on an NPC by using one of the slot 30 versions of the head frames in their Outfit, as the game thinks that they're spawning with a full-face helm and thus disables all the head parts. But the moment anything touches that outfit, say by using a follower framework with outfit management on them, the Vanilla mouth pops right back into place with sometimes horrifying results.
Clearly, this is not ideal. The only idea I have left for fixing it, though, is to try building a custom race for the non-Live NPCs and see if I can get it to exclude the mouth mesh that way. Given that that's one of the things that I didn't really want to have to do for this project, I've kinda been putting that off.
What I've been doing instead is thinking about Dibella. Some sort of Dibellan cultism has been a part of my meta-canon for all this stuff for a while now, and as such it was a pretty obvious theme to go for when doing the decorating for the spaces I've been building for the Automated, but the relatively limited amount of iconography available for her in the Vanilla assets was a bit frustrating. My attempt to use scaled-up placements of the gold statuettes in particular was stymied by the fact that they were still pickable objects. I figured the only way around that was to retexture the static statue with the gold statuette's texture, but right when I went to start on that it occurred to me that I'd just spent a lot of time on getting a clean bronzer texture for the faces. So I gave that a try... and got middling results. Too much of the statue's detailing is baked into the texture, so losing that just makes it look off. Editing the bronzer color into the statue texture, however, works quite well.
Just doing this for the Vanilla models felt boring, though, and it seemed like it'd be easy enough to add in some alternate meshes while I was at it so I did the same thing with the True Dibella and Edhildil's versions of the statue. You guys have noticed by now that I like having a variety of options, right?
So obviously I ended up doing a whole bunch of these, in both the statuettes and static statues. This skewed the course of my decorating more than a bit. To start with it gave me an excuse to revisit an idea I'd previously passed on, and fill in all those little niches up on the ceiling buttress above this room.
In the form of the Edhildil version and some careful placement it gave me a much more... satisfying object of worship for the shrine with the giant statue.
But more than that, these helped kick off a general flurry of redecorating that saw pretty much every area worked over into a much more presentable state as I figured out how to get the CK to (mostly) do the things I wanted it to do, with the 'Stables' area in particular seeing a lot of improvement. A large part of that was also due to figuring out how to more reliably get the pedestal characters to behave. When I showed that space off last time, almost two full walls were dedicated to their placement, with no idle markers put down anywhere near them as that was the only way I could keep them from breaking position to use them. It worked, but it was hugely wasteful of space. Since then I've worked out how to make a custom AI package that blocks them from using any idles or furniture, removing the need for all that distancing and letting me compact their space down to one side of the room. It also semi-reliably locks them into a static pose that doesn't mess up the pedestal effect, although I haven't found out how to disable their head tracking yet. What it does not do, annoyingly, is lock them onto the spot they were placed. I don't know if they were wandering off a bit before the package kicked in or what, but I was consistently getting a couple that were out of position.
So what I did here was find a way to brute force it. Turns out that if you only give them a tiny island of navmesh to land in, they'll stay exactly where you put them.
A bit of a downside to all this is that these NPCs are now more emplacements than characters. I made the AI package conditional to having a pedestal equipped and tried having both it and a default sandboxing package on the character at the same time to see if the pedestal's would override it, but instead they were visibly fighting each other. There may be some way to get that to work, but I don't know it yet. And the thing with the navmesh makes it a bit difficult to actually recruit these NPCs as followers. You can talk to them like any normal NPC, and recruit them with whatever follower system you're using, but they won't actually, well, follow, because they're stuck on that island. You'll need some way to teleport them to you to get them off of it, and I'm not sure if there's any way to get them back on afterwards. So, yeah, consider these guys mainly decorative. The buttons above their heads, too. Those are just there for the look of some kind of energy something something device, they don't actually do anything.
Given that this method was pretty effective, though, I used it in a few other places. Such as an 'offering' on a nearby shrine, and the couple of 'milker units' that I had previously intended to put behind the bar. So far they've all stayed in place just fine.
All the space this freed up gave me a lot to work with in the remodel. The stables are mostly untouched on the left third of the room, while the pedestal emplacements and the translocator machine take up most of the right third by the door. That gave me all of the middle out from the bar area to turn into a fuller dining area, backed by a small lounge and bedroom.
Since I had some space on the back wall by that shrine freed up, I decided I might as well add on a bathing area. I... Might've gone a bit overboard.
This was one of those things where the progression of events kicked in. It started with just the idea of doing a sunken metal tub. While messing around with things it ended up becoming quite a bit larger than intended. I had added the waterfalls behind the shrine in the other room just before starting work on this, so I thought why not add in a water feature here, too? Why not a big curtain of water right down the middle of the tub? And hey, why not have it all centered on an Edhildil Dibella statue?
I can't see any argument against it.
I also took some of my exuberance from getting the steam effects to work and added another amusement to one corner of this room: a steam cleaning booth.
This also inspired some further modifications to the Quarters. I needed some more bed space there for it to really fulfill its role, but the only area I didn't really have plans for wasn't quite big enough to fit all the beds I wanted. So I knocked a corner out and expanded the room. There was a bit of a snag there when it turned out that the outside corner piece I needed to make the turn I wanted didn't actually exist, but I used that opportunity to place another Dibella statue. And a small bath, while I was at it.
Having all these brass Dibella statues to decorate with had the further effect of getting my head-canon going again. You see, the general idea I've got for the Automated's situation is that they've been pretty much trapped down there, some of them for centuries, until just recently, and they've been pretty bored as a result. At least one of them, however, discovered that they had a talent for making cast sculptures, and has been turning all the scrap the Dwarves left behind into art for quite some time. I decided to cast one of the enemy NPCs that I turned into a friendly Automated in this role, entirely because I'd already given her an all-brass body for her outfit on a whim.
She'll be getting her name changed to 'Automated Sculptress' to reflect that. I couldn't be bothered to go too crazy building up a workshop for her, so she's just got a modified-ish smelter tucked into the smithy area in the Quarters.
Although I did up the scale of the operation just a little bit by adding a closet where the molds cool just down the hall.
But here's that knock-on effect again. I've got the setup of a bored sculptress living in a highly sexualized society of abandoned multi-purpose companion automata with artificially lowered inhibitions and a strong Dibellan cult presence.
I've also got a lot of those SeXtreme models sitting around and a texture that lets me make brass statues out of them.
You can guess where this is going, right?
I definitely went overboard with these. Making them is just a bit tedious, as they require the .obj conversion trick to get the environment mapping to work on top of having all the textures and settings adjusted, but the results are quite nice. I ended up doing a bunch, some of which are preeeeeeeetty explicit.
But they amuse me. I'm entertained by the idea of the place just getting littered with this lady's thirst. And it is littered; these things more or less became a focus of my decorating and are scattered all over the three main sections of the complex, especially the Stables and Quarters. The quarters in particular had one space left over from its donor dungeon that I wasn't quite sure what to do with, a torture room that didn't really fit the theme I had going.
So now it's an art gallery, loaded down with 'study' markers for whoever wanders in there.
A number of these are modified from the originals, as I prioritized female figures that were in a position that would make a believably stable statue. Some changes were purely cosmetic, such as swapping in a Dwarven sword on this model when the original didn't really take to the retexture very well.
Another converts a decorative Dibella shrine to a fully functional one.
Others are purely for perverse shits and giggles, such as this alternate version of the standing group all outfitted with the Dwarven 'strap-ons' I made, plopped down right in the middle of the new sleeping area. I might replace it with something a bit more restrained and move this elsewhere. Might.
The most significant change that resulted from these isn't actually to these, though.
The Edhildil Dibella statue is nice, but it's always had a distinct flaw. On the original version, the face is just this featureless blob. The updated version fixed this by adding in a face, but unfortunately it's just the default headshape's face, which can not really be described as lovely. It's better than nothing, but it didn't really feel up to the job of being the Goddess of Beauty, y'know? That was a large part of the reason why I'd never really used it in my game before, but now that I had reason to make significant use of it the face was really jumping out at me. So I thought I'd see if I could find something in the SeXtreme models that could fit into the same angle as the head and replace it.
I expected that would be the hard part. Ended up finding one that would fit on the second try.
No, the problem was, once again, getting it to match. The initial setting looked fine in OS, but in-game it was way off. So once again it had to go through countless minor adjustments... And then I made it harder on myself by remembering that the body mesh on Edhildil's Dibella is an altered 7Base body, and that I had that bronzing skin texture sitting around.
That's an improvement, but the arms were yet another additional complication. They're merged onto the body mesh, but they're not mapped to the body textures so you end up with some noise from the foot textures right front and center there. But OS does have that handy UV map tool now...
And that's how I found out that it will only save the results of moving one mesh each time you open the tool. If you move more than one, the changes on the others go *poof*!
What the hell.
But once you get past that annoyance the fix is just a simple matter of piling the arm meshes onto some open bit of skin texture, and you end up with nice, smooth arms to go with the cleaned-up body. Now back to the head!
I still don't really have a match on it, but I do think it's close enough that it's not especially jumping out at me. It's something that I can always adjust later on, so it's good enough for now. There's a few other tweaks; a bit of a glow on the eyes, a slight edit to the hair, a Fragment of Dibella crammed into the middle of the flower. And while I couldn't do it on the standing version due to the way the other model's hand is placed, this felt like a good replacement for the Dibella statue in this scene:
Of course, working on this had its own knock-on effect. The texture I've been using for the eyelashes on these is the same one that I used on the brass versions of the SeXtreme face masks, which was the 'gold lashes' texture already sitting around in that mod's files. And it works fine, except that for some reason it's missing the bottom lashes. That always slightly annoyed me, but it wasn't really a felt thing until I was working on some of these statues where it really seemed to detract from the look. So I took another one of the eyelash textures, altered it, and replaced the gold lashes with it. Because I'll be damned if I'm going to go in and re-point every single lash mesh. It does add a bit of a different look to the masks, but I kinda like it.
Aside from all that, most of what I've been doing lately could be called rationalizing the Automated's position in the world. I had originally planned to lean heavily on Gloomreach for that, but that has proven a bit... iffy. Some of that remains the nav for followers. I managed to fix some things- adding a jump so they can get down from the exit loop-around, cleaning up and straightening out a lot of the mesh- but there's still two areas on either side of the bottom of the second cave where there's something that just completely borks their pathing. Coming in from the new entrance they consistently jet off through the door for the exit loop, and coming down from the top of the cave they reach a point near where the boss is placed and then run back out of the cave so they can somehow pop back in through the exit. I have no idea what's causing that, and it's annoying as all hell. Especially since you kinda need the help down there.
I've mentioned being confused about why the Rogue Automated I crammed in there seemed to get killed off so often. Well, I finally got an opportunity to watch them fighting and... Apparently you have to set a faction to be friendly to itself when you make it if you don't want them attacking each other? I mean, You'd think that would be some kind of a default setting, but... Anyway, with that fixed the Rogue Automated are much, much more efficient.
The Falmer in the cave spawn at level 9 for my level 1 testing character, so many of the weaker Rogues get offed, but something I'm a bit hung up about with these guys is exactly how to level them. At this point in time they're just imported directly from their face donors, stat-wise, so since I grabbed NPCs based on looks more than anything else they're scattered across most of the level range. That means some of them are piss-weak, while some of them are... I piled all the stronger ones into the boss area to give them a fighting chance when they were all getting killed off. Now that they're actually working together, catching their attention as a level 1 is terrifying.
I'm kinda inclined to go in and set them all to level with the player, with some degree of adjustment either way depending on their original base level, and to thin them out by spreading some of them around the nearby wilderness. That does mean they're more likely to get rolled by the Falmer while the player is a low level, but I'd kinda like to keep things so you don't have to be any sort of a set level before you can get into any of this content. I mean, in a lot of ways it'd make sense story-wise to not be able to use any of this stuff without Ancient Wisdom or something, but that kind of forced delay is just a hassle. And I do have some vague ideas about researching how to set up alternate starts...
Regardless, I may also simply not implement every Rogue I've got built just yet. I could just put in enough for what I have set up now and keep some in reserve for future plans. I do have an additional area that I've been trying to build but haven't liked the results on, and will probably punt that down the road. Might be a different case if I could get a few things to work the way I want them to, but annoyingly the collision box on the pipes is single-sided and I have no idea how to invert it.
As an aside, I've finally found out what happens if a Live-faced Automated gets decapitated. Basically it does what I expected, sending the face and hair (if present) flying off and plopping the decapitated neck mesh onto the body while ignoring the head frame on slot 59. Oddly it also leaves the helmet behind, and I'm not sure why it would do that. But then I'm not sure of a lot of things here.
This next thing isn't quite a knock-on effect of the above, since it's something I was planning on doing anyway, but it takes on a new light in the event of a weak assault on the Falmer. There's uncomfortably little space between the two ends of the Excavations should the Falmer counter-attack, and they lead right back into the main Facility. As such the pathway through the crystals is now fortified, and the place is loaded up with all the 'drone' NPCs that I had intended to make before the Live faces took over the mod, along with some Automated Adventurers and a particularly strong Subject. Hopefully that will be enough to hold them back, and it will be, because I don't intend on implementing anything like an invasion. But they wouldn't know that.
Anyway, as a result of those problems with Gloomreach, I've tweaked the concept of the Automated's imprisonment a bit. I'd always intended on adding a 'teleporter' exit at a certain place in the Quarters but had been debating how to have it be something that the player turns on; now it's going to be something that had already turned itself on some time before the player arrives, for unknown reasons, and the Automated will have a limited presence out in Skyrim as a result of it.
A bunch of statues are scattered about the room, because part of that presence in Skyrim will be the Sculptress doing some export business.
This exit deposits you behind the Dibella shrine across the river from Old Hroldran, not far from the physical entrances to the Facility. You'll meet a caretaker of sorts out there, and the shrine itself has been augmented with a grand statue of the Goddess.
A couple more of the Dibellans are at other shrines to the Goddess (and there may end up being more if I remember any other appropriate places to stick them), and at least one of the Subjects has been keeping an eye on things at Old Hroldran.
Back at the Facility, the entrance to the Ventilation Shaft has gotten cleaned up and improved, and the drop itself has gotten a bit more treacherous-looking.
There's one more character who needs a bit more progress, and who's tied to what's probably the most significant chunk of work I have left: The Synod Researcher. She herself is pretty much all set, as I've decided against killing her off like I'd originally intended and have instead given her a lovely little chamber not far from the teleporter exit.
Her role is to be the 'author' of the series of explanatory books for the mod, which will be conveniently housed in one of those bookcases there... when I manage to finish writing them and copy them into the mod. I'm maybe halfway through? It's been a few weeks since I had a chance to work on them, and I've changed and added some stuff since then which probably added more volumes... That duplicate of herself she has in there is also of some note, since the current idea is that she's taking advantage of the ability to make a duplicate to send out messengers. Whether any of those messengers actually reach there destination is in question, of course... Part of that question being whether I can be bothered to figure out how to make that an actual Event or if just want to dump a corpse somewhere noticeable.
At some point here I'll decide this thing is done enough. Of course, then I'll have to clean it up and pack it for distribution...