on May 16, 2008
One of the major advantages of Oblivion was the fact that the game was so easily mod-able. This allowed the modding community to do things like:
- Fixing the hundreds of outstanding bugs.
- Repairing the broken graphics engine.
- Fixing the awful, self-defeating leveling system.
- Replacing the abominable default interface with something appropriate for a mouse & keyboard.
The release of Oblivion stung badly for me because the game was so buggy and unpolished. What was I going to do? Wait for the next freeform RPG? If we are very lucky we will get one more before the decade is out. And even then, we still must hold out hope that Fallout 3 won’t be dumbed down by its obligations to consoles, that it won’t be encumbered by unacceptable DRM, that it will run on computers that can be constructed on this planet, and that it won’t be a software jalopy like Oblivion was.
So I find myself in the position of needing to play and complain about this title at length. If there is only one game in your chosen genre, you’re sort of obligated to play it. Although, since it’s the only one, I guess we can say Oblivion is the very best freeform RPG for this generation of PCs.
So my hopes for this title rely on using mods to straighten what Bethesda has made bent. There are three major problems with the mod system in Oblivion:
The biggest problem is that the game suffers from an almost complete lack of polish. Bugs, broken quests, bad balance, outrageous polygon counts on simple objects, textures which are much too large or too small for their intended use, bad leveling system, cumbersome interface, screwed up voice files, game balance issues, etc etc etc. There is no aspect of the game which can’t be greatly improved through the application of a suitable mod. There is just so much in this game that needs attention that the required mods are too numerous and far-reaching. In an ideal world, the default game should be fine, and then mods could be applied to offer greater replay value. To require a half dozen mods just to get the core of the game running is to ask too much of the modding system.
Over the last couple of years entire Oblivion sites have come and gone, been bought out, moved, or just reorganized their database. Which means many links are 404’s. There is no one site that has all mods. All of them require some sort of account creation before you can download. You’re going to be going through the register » CAPTCHA » email confirmation » login process more than once in your quest to get the files you need. During my search I encountered popup ads, download queues, fake download links, broken links, and large NSFW advertisements.
It really is insane that they will put the user through such merciless hassle to let them have a 20kb file, which is smaller than any one of the half dozen ads on every page.
Since modding is such a huge part of the game, Bethesda probably should have hosted the files themselves, similar to what Maxis did with the Sims Exchange.
Some mods come in the default .esp file format. You activate these mods when launching the game. Some come in a different .omod format and require the Oblivion Mod Manager in order to install and activate. Others are just a collection of files for you to place in various directories, along with some cryptic commands to add to configuration files. Some require a combination of the above.
Some mods don’t work with other mods, or they work, but only if you install them in the proper order, or only with certain versions.
This is the third time I’ve installed the game since release, and each time the mods have been harder to track down and sort out. This time I’m saving them to my hard drive. I don’t know if I’ll ever install it again, but if I do I don’t want to have to battle to locate and install the mods like I did this time around.
For the curious, the must-have mods for me are below. I’m not going to link the mods, since they will most likely be 404’s by sometime next week.
- BTmod – This interface overhaul is a must.
- Harvest Flora – Makes it so that when you harvest fruit or herbs or flowers that the plant actually changes appearance. This makes it much less of a headache to gather ingredients for alchemy.
- Harvest Containers – This makes it so that when you open a wardrobe, box, desk, chest of drawers, treasure chest, crate or barrel, the game actually shows the object in question being opened. You can see what you’ve looted and what you haven’t.
- Younger, Hotter NPC’s – I’m not crazy about this one. By default, all the women in the game are middle aged and most of them are quite homely. This mod makes them all young and pretty, even ones which should look old. What I’d really like is some dang variety, for both males and females. Still, it’s better to have all pretty girls than all ugly ones.
- A mod to increase the size of the face textures, which default to 128×128? Wha? This is the sort of insanity I’m talking about: A game with 3,000 polygon boulders and 24 polygon tufts of grass, but which only spends 128×128 pixels on one of the most closely viewed textures in the game, the character face. There is a mod to reduce the poly count of some of the more wasteful objects, but it looked like it was going to be a little dicey to get running.
- Color map mod – The default map is just ugly. The mod to color it also makes it more obvious where the invisible walls are on the edges of the world, so you don’t blunder into them as often.
- Female Voice Replacement – I hate when I create a 20-year-old elven chick and she has the voice of a woman in her late 50’s. The voice replacement corrects this.
- Unofficial Oblivion Patch – Fixes about a thousand little bugs and issues.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.