Thursday, December 29, 2011

NCCS v0.9?

May be a bit early to really announce that as imminent, but it's the next version, so yeah...

Anyhow, doing some scripting this afternoon; as the petulant whining accusing me of having that house mod pulled has already lost its amusement.

I keep forgetting how horrifically boring scripting is.

Still, I had a couple good ideas today that I felt bore inclusion into the test package.

1) I came up with a way to get the companions' hardcore mode to maintain compatibility with any overhaul mods you might be running. That is, if you run a mod that changes for example the dehydration rate; your companions will use the same rate you do, rather than the one from the vanilla game. This should at least help keep everything straight and even between your and your companions' needs.

2) I couldn't find any way to in-line increase the consumables' effects for NPCs in a way similar to how it works for the player. So, I copped out a bit and expanded to three sets of food/drink dialogue. One for Survival below 50; one for 50 to 75; one for 75+. That's the companion's Survival skill, not the player's. Item effectiveness will be determined on a per-companion basis; so companions with Survival tagged will get more benefit than ones without.

I also added almost-complete effects to the consumables -- I say almost complete, because there's little point in adding rads to an NPC since it isn't tracked for NPCs, and can't affect them anyway -- for example, Barrel Cactus fruit will reduce both hunger and thirst; but on the flip side, Pork 'n Beans will reduce hunger but increase thirst. The effects are again, the same for the player; so they won't be massive, but it will be something to keep in mind -- you won't want to be loading up on Pork 'n Beans and Potato Crisps if you and your companions are low of water and far from home.

The only exception is going to be Sunset Sarsaparilla and Nuka Cola -- they'll be coded to reduce companions' thirst similarly (but not as effectively) to water. It's pretty silly that neither drink in the base game quenches thirst; but I'm not out to overhaul the base HC system here, so we'll have to settle for companions acting right.

I also remembered to have the companion save the cap when you give them either soft drink.

I have to say, while certainly not my most advanced or impressive work, I am fairly pleased with how this is coming together.

Now, if I can just fight down the urge to add stripper-dancing to the sandbox packages for all female companions...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


So... long(er) time readers of my "petty ranting" here may recall near a year ago when the author of some shitty house mod in New Vegas (sorry, can't remember the exact title) seriously maligned NCCS, claiming all the dialogue problems with his mod were my fault.

This was before my new policy of repressing my anti-social tendencies, and I did not react well.

Aside from some whiny comments here and there about me being a big meaniehead, I never heard any more about it...

...Until today.

Someone posted a new comment, alleging that my petty ranting or whatever caused the mod to get pulled outright.

I don't remember doing that, but hey; it's not a power I'd say no to...

Once again: I could have handled it better, I suppose.

Still, it ain't often I get blamed for something good. This week may be lookin' up!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Skyrim and Philosophical Introspection

As I mentioned in the previous post, my interest in Skyrim is waning quickly.

I still don't think it's a bad game... it's just missing too much without proper mod tools.

The other day, I trashed the save-set I'd been playing on since first running the game. It clocked some 85 hours and change. The saves weren't corrupt; none of the game was "broken" (at least, any more so than it's supposed to be) -- I had just reached the point where I didn't want to play on any more.

Had explored some 85 - 90% of the game map; done dozens of quests, still had dozens active. Main quest wasn't played much, The Companions and the College questlines had been abandoned from lack of interest; Thieves Guild was done (and good riddance), and Dark Brotherhood untouched.

So, the game was hardly unplayable; nor any faction reactions destroyed, or anything like that.

In nearly any RPG I find my first game is a throw-away. I waste so many perks/points/whatever figuring out which skills work for me and which don't that my character ends up with a slew of useless skills that I never end up using. This proved true in Skyrim, where I wasted numerous points on things like Destruction, Light Armor, and Lock Picking.

Compounding the annoyance of this 'flawed' character was the facegen results I ended up with:

Even by male character standards, far from my best work...

...very far.

It got a bit better when I installed skin and eye texture replacers, but the face was just too far off, and ShowRaceMenu works in Skyrim about as well as it did in Oblivion -- which is to say it fucks over your character's skills in ways both random and most impressive to behold.

Loathe though I was to throw away 85 hours of play, I decided a fresh start would be best.

Even with the improved textures, I found little more luck with the facegen the second time around. Instead, I swore, decided to hell with the cries of 'crossdresser' and kicked the option over to female.

I then proceeded to smoothly and comparably quickly turn out this gorgeous and dangerous looking thing:

...I'm a bit of a sucker for facial scars on my warrior women. Gives them that veteran look, in my opinion. I had considered adding 'war paint' on that side, with the story that she wore it to cover the scars (Moe! Kawaii! And other annoying shit); but then I thought harder and reminded myself whatever I chose would be for the whole game, since face paint can't be removed or changed. After the SuCK is released we'll probably see equippable face paint, but I'm not aware of any existing right now.

Still not my best work... but to be fair, I've done things with NPC faces in FO3 that I'll probably never be able to top; and this character doesn't exactly have custom textures designed specifically for her, either. Vanilla hair could be better, too.

The ease with which I threw this girl together made me stop and ponder.

I've always had problems creating even moderately attractive males in any Gamebryo based game. Conversely, attractive women are pretty easy for me to turn out.

This made me wonder: is Bethsoft really half-assing the males as badly as it looks to me like they are? Or rather, is the issue that I'm not attracted to men?

I can easily picture an attractive woman in my head; I know quite readily what I like, what I think 'works' for whatever particular look I have in mind, from cheerleader to evil overlord-ette. Eyes, nose, mouth, ears, jaw, hair styles... it all flows pretty easy.

Attractive man? Insert the sound of crickets here. I draw a complete blank. Only even moderate success I ever had was in Oblivion; and there it's pretty easy to turn out guys with girl-faces... so I'm not sure that one counts.

In those "show your character" threads over on the Nexii forums, I've noticed plenty of people who don't seem to have this problem... but I also notice that they turn out characters who -- even matching their own gender -- are heavily idealized. Tell me to picture an 'ideal man' and again, I draw a blank.

I'm hoping that the SuCK includes a proper face editor and the ability to set NPCs as presets; since the chargen editor in-game is... decidedly limited. I can tell this game was made for consoles.

The one real boon in the whole thing is that the game isn't really gender sensitive -- character interactions, followers, and even marriage all seem to ignore gender. Nice that they finally figured that out. Now if they just added a 'wedding night' cutscene.

...What? I'm not asking for porn, here -- a Dragon Age-esque cut that doesn't actually show anything would be fine. I just think it sucks when games want to be adult, but then refuse to show any affection whatsoever between characters. It's like watching an R rated movie on basic cable -- by the time they bleep the profanity and cut out the sex and more severe violence... what's the point?


So, first off I've got to mention a milestone. My current FNV game has exceeded 100 hours now, and is still fully playable. I'm pretty sure that's a first for me in any Gamebryo title.

Anyway, with my interest in Skyrim rapidly winding down, I fired up FNV again the other morning.

Before Skyrim hit, I had finished the initial draft of the 'hardcore' code for one of my personal companions; but not tested it.

Since it's set to advance at the same scale as the player's needs (one point of hunger every 25 seconds, one point of thirst every ten) there was really no way to test but to play and wait and see if it fired. Unlike the player's needs, the companion needs are scripted; they only advance when the script is running in the Gamemode block -- not during fast travel, sleep, or wait.

This game is nearly done. All the DLC is done except Lonesome Road, and the main quest was left at the point where I had entered the Lucky 38 and spoken to Mr. House; but not gone after Benny yet. Otherwise, the only quest left active is gathering eggs for the Thorn.

I played through confronting Benny; splattering his head across the presidential suite, and taking the chip back to House. We got down into the basement, where House's droning is promptly interrupted when my companion grabs my attention and tells me she's thirsty. I give her a bottle of water, she thanks me; boring ass exposition scripted display continues.

Completed the rest of the chat with House without her interrupting; so it would appear that the 'thirst' counter reset correctly.

So, yeah... apparently hardcore mode for NCCS is going to work, after all.

I think I'm going to rework the values a bit, though. The more I think about it, the more I don't like one food or drink item completely resetting the counter. I'm going to reset it so that it only decreases the counter by the same amount the item would for the player; albeit at 100 survival skill.

I could script it to change based on the companion's survival skill... but we're talking about a lot of extra scripting, and I seriously doubt anyone other than me would ever even notice in the first place.

Currently, the code has the companion check their own inventory; and eat or drink something they have rather than bugging you to give them something. If they have nothing appropriate, then they ask the player. I'm planning to add a third possibility -- a new dialogue option where when they ask you for something, you can tell them to just grab something from the survival container -- this will be a randomly chosen item, ideally lending a bit of an idea that the companion looks through the container and picks what they're in the mood for at the moment.

I have to say, the last couple of projects I've tried have gone almost... unnervingly smoothly. I keep expecting something to blow up in my face. Must be getting a bit gun-shy after a year of modding FNV.

Anyhow, I'm not sure when exactly I'll have this ready for upload (it's a lot of dialogue to create and script) but it's working and in the pipeline, now.

Still trying to decide whether I want to add personalities for dialogue responses or not.

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Terminology

Reading around the internetz this mornin', happened across a new term: "Skyrimmer"; referencing, of course, people who play Skyrim.

Now, rather than add this to the 'ol mental lexicon for future attempts to appear edgy and cool, I just sat and giggled.

Maybe I've been around the darker side of the 'net too long now, but whenever I say or type the word 'Skyrimmer' I can't help but think it actually refers to a particularly intimate act engaged in by two (or hell, more -- it is the twenty-first century and all... I suppose it could be a group activity...) overly adventurous people whilst sky-diving.

Think about it a minute, you'll get it. And yes, I am that mentally warped, thanks for asking.

...I have to go now; I'm having too much difficulty repressing the urge to make more dirty jokes...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Could Somebody Make This Mod For Me?

I'm posting this here rather than on my own gaming blog because this is one of Nos' pet peeves (to put it mildly) though it is now becoming one of my own as well.

THIS is this person's first post on the Nexus Forums, ever, and it's a request to not only make a companion character for him, but to rip dialog from a movie for the companion's voice. He's wanting Short Round, the boy sidekick from the movie Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. And if that's not enough, he wants it for SKYRIM.

Does this guy honestly believe that someone is going to volunteer to do this for him? Seriously? A custom companion with custom sound files that likely will only be used by this one player? Sure, I think I've got the time and motivation to do it... NOT! Obviously he has no clue what it would take to do this; if he did I'd hope he wouldn't have the stones to post the request in the first place.

What are these people thinking? Do they think the modding community is here to serve as their personal lackeys? Perhaps the issue is that they're not thinking at all.

Here's my stance on this issue: if you want a mod made, particularly one that is so far out in left field that you're likely to be the only person to ever use it, then learn how to use game editing tools and get to work. None of us are going to do it for you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On Skyrim, Part III

I haven't really been hitting Skyrim hard lately. Unlike my favorite Neko who's been going retro (edited to remove the link; as Herculine apparently pulled a Nos and deleted the post while I was typing this one up), I haven't really been gaming much at all for reasons I won't bore anyone by going into.

Still, I've run this game up to just shy of 67 hours, and am currently level 39, I think it was.

I've explored most of the game map now (close to 75% by my reckoning), and have purchased houses in Markarth and Solitude, as well as the one I originally had in Whiterun.

House buying is more of a pain in the ass than I care for, all things considered. The Whiterun house is acquired after killing your first dragon -- or at least the first one encountered along the main quest; diligent players will probably be able to fuck over the quest progression somehow and encounter a dragon before then somewhere else. Apparently killing the dragon to protect Whiterun is considered your big good deed for the hold; and nets you permission to buy a house, and the title of Thane (which comes with a lackey -- Lydia in this case).

In other holds, it isn't so easy. You have to complete one big-ish quest for the Grand High Poobah of that particular little pond to get permission to buy a house; and then complete five quests "helping the subjects" of that hold. You do get followers for each title of Thane. They are not all moderately or better attractive women. The Thane title in Markarth came with the services of Generic Fantasy Male Fighter #1471A. Needless to say, he's never been adventurin' with his boss.

Solitude is a step up. It's an ungodly expensive house (I counted ~37k gold for the house and upgrades -- making it not as bad as Rosethorn in Oblivion, but still expensive as hell by Skyrim standards).

The thane title in Solitude also came with another female Housecarl:

Jordis, the Sword-Maiden.

Sadly, Skyrim is not written by people with an appropriate sense of humor. My first instinct on meeting Jordis was to ask if she was really worthy of the title of Sword-Maiden. Think about it a minute, you'll get it.

And to answer your next question: yes, I did suffer sometimes brutal physical reprisals for my "witty banter" as a teenager. In addition to simply being punched, I did actually get bitten a couple of times (hand and arm; pervs)... but that's neither here nor there.

I like Jordis better than Lydia; and not just because of her closer-to-proper hair color. Lydia always sounds... resigned; morose, even. Jordis' voice actress actually makes her sound like she's okay with being your partner.

Though Jordis does... concern me a bit. I'm not sure if it's the level disparity when they were recruited, but she's head and shoulders above Lyds' combat abilities. Jordis smoothly swaps between bow and melee; preferring ranged combat when possible, and often one-shotting bandits from a considerable distance.

While exploring a tower or something, we were attacked by Forsworn in the halls. It being too close to effectively use a bow, I swapped to my sword and shield and prepared to get medieval on some barbarian asses. As I moved to engage the nearest screw-head, Jordis suddenly appeared between us. She spun the primate -- who was at 100% health -- around, grabbed him with her offhand, and rammed her sword between his shoulder blades, insta-killing him. She then proceeded to step over the corpse, and enact holy terror upon the deceased's friends.

Note to self: do not ever stiff Jordis on her salary.

By this point in the game, I had acquired a small stack of Daedra hearts, and could finally finish out a set of Daedric armor for my new hench:

Not as stylish as the Ebony; but decidedly more intimidating. I've since also taken to leveling my enchantment skill, and enchanted her armor fully as well as using the 100 smithing skill and some buff potions to work over the armor to Legendary or Epic status; I forget which. She's not quite a battlemech; but the girl will fuck up anything shy of an Elder Dragon in short order.

Aside from the combat prowess, another reason I prefer Jordis to Lydia is her personality. I don't just mean the voice actress', either. Jordis seems...

Naive isn't the word; nor is innocent. She's... not jaded?

We were out on some godsforsaken mountain, hunting down the legend of some guy for reasons I never figured out; and had just cleaned out an enclave of Forsworn (animal-skin wearing savages are fucking everywhere south of Solitude). I was grabbing something off the blood-caked altar, when I hear from behind me:

"Wow. I've never seen anything like that before!"

I turn around, and Jordis is standing behind me, looking over my head at these rune-engraved arches. I mean it: her model was looking up, right at them. That. Was. Cool.

Pathfinding problems persist for her every bit as bad as they were for Lyds, however. I'm more convinced than ever that the game world was navmeshed in an extremely half-assed fashion -- which, let's be honest, would be par for the goddamned course at this point. When Bethsoft employees actually do something right (if they ever do) then I'll be surprised. Screw-ups and general laziness don't even make me blink, anymore. It isn't nearly as bad in interiors, but there seems to be a lag of several seconds between the time the player moves off, and the time the follower notices they need to move. This causes havoc of all sorts when trying to avoid traps (since it makes it impossible to keep your hench close enough to you to follow your exact footsteps and miss the traps' trigger plates -- which helpfully cannot be disarmed under any circumstances in this game), and can easily leave you without backup for thirty or more seconds if you stumble onto enemies. Crossing rivers is probably the worst, since bridges are infrequent at best; and followers flatly refuse to climb up and/or over rocks. They always catch up; but it can take awhile.

Beyond that, while I like the design of the Solitude house, the game itself has been more of the same. If you've made it to level fifteen or so, you've probably seen nearly all the game has to throw at you -- everything except the main quest is just various rehashes of the same half dozen quests; and you've only got six or so groups of enemies that you'll generally encounter: animals, bandits, forsworn, undead, Dwemer automatons, and dragons. Eventually, after picking a side in the war you'll also be considered the enemy of either the Imperial Legion or Stormcloaks; but they're just human NPCs with different equipment -- bandits or Forsworn in different outfits.

I've played a bit of all four "guild" questlines -- "Companions" (fighters guild), "College" (mages), Thieves guild, and Dark Brotherhood; and I'm not impressed at all. Dark Brotherhood was my favorite part of vanilla Oblivion, and Skyrim is a grave disservice to the organization -- fictional though it may be. Thieves Guild is just boring. Mages guild is same-old-same-old; "researching" ruins that always end in combat, finding books, listening to the prattle of people who need a sword in their aorta. Companions were the worst, though. After completing a couple minor quests, and not even proving yourself remotely; they initiate you into the inner circle (*train horn*) which involves making you into a werewolf.

Great, they want to make me take sides in the fucking Twilight fangirls' war? Like hell. As soon as I saw that I reloaded an earlier save and left the questline hanging. No big loss; I only joined the organization to get access to another armor and weapons vendor, anyway. I wonder somewhat idly if the mages' questline will involve becoming a sparkly, effeminate vampire.

The high point of the game continues to be the scenery, no question. From the balcony of your house in Solitude, you can see out over the north sea. As well, the view from Mehrunes Dagon's shrine is simply kickass.

While my opinion that the game is worth picking up hasn't changed, it nonetheless needs a toolset. Badly. Really badly. Really really. 'The community' could bang out fixes for most of the issues plaguing the game inside a week if there was just a way to read and modify all the entries in the main master.

The game also needs the ability to craft arrows. I know there are a couple mods floating around the Nexus that allow it; but it seems like the sort of thing that would have been in the base game. I'd think it would work piggybacked onto either smithing or marksman.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Or Not

"Creation Kit — Beginning in January, PC players will be able to download the same development tools we used at Bethesda Game Studios to create Skyrim."

So much for December third. Is anyone surprised at this point? Well, at least it can't get much worse...

"We’re excited to share news that we’ve been working closely with Valve to integrate Steam Workshop into the Creation Kit."

Great. So now I'm going to have to put up with Steam in my fucking mod tools, too? You're not making any friends with this bullshit, Bethsoft.

First the anti-patch, and now DRM crammed into the mod tools? This is depressing. I'm gonna go load ammo or something -- at least RCBS can't "patch" my Goddamned Rockchucker...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Skyrim, Part II

According to the handy-dandy save counter, I'm up to 46+ hours on the game now, so I thought I'd throw out a few more observations -- as well as stuff I missed in the last run-down (hate it when I get rushed during a post).

Being who I am, and playing the game the way I do, I'm primarily interested in companion NPCs -- their capabilities, functions, and the AI in general.

And it seems that AI is alive in well in this new iteration of the engine.


Uhh... anyway, so this is Lydia in her default outfit:

In an interesting departure from previous games, Lydia reverts to her default outfit whenever not in your party. Any equipment you give her stays in her inventory; but she's forced to equip the iron armor and shield, and no helm -- though she'll continue carrying the best weapon she has regardless of where it came from.

I had complained before about her generally piss-poor behavior, but I'm happy(er) to note that the behavior is improving as I log hours. Lyds has begun to actually use her shield, and with good armor and an armload of healing potions, her staying power in a scrap is greatly improved. She's particularly good at using a bow for harassing fire to keep a dragon's attention off of me while I kill it...

Bullshit, I say!

...Maeva, what the hell are you going on about?

Don't "what" me, Master! You know perfectly well what my problem is.

You haven't found a bishie to brutally rape lately?

No -- and you're still an asshole, by the way -- you want to know what my problem is?

I'm assuming you're not going to let me get back to my post until I ask, so sure.

Look at me!

Looking. Let me know when to start wolf-calling and offering singles...

I'm six-six, red haired, and am quite capable with a Big Fucking Sword! I am a Viking wet dream!

Don't forget the raging alcoholism and ability to devour an entire side of beef in one sitting.

Point. Get to one. Please.

Why am I not in Skyrim?!

Probably because it's kind of hard to add NPCs to the game when the fucking toolset hasn't been released yet, genius.

A likely excuse.

She's telling the truth, you know. No construction set, no TESVEdit -- you can use the old version of TESSnip to read the Skyrim.esm partially... but as far as I know I've got no means of adding NPCs at all; to say nothing of writing scripts or editing faces. Plus there's the little detail of your hair and eyes not being ported over, no custom bodies, your textures won't work...

...I suddenly haz a sad...

Look, I've been clearing out bandit caves and shipwrecks and shit; I've got a decent sized stash of mead built up. It's yours if you let me get back to my fucking post.

...Nordic honey-booze, you say? Gimme!

Ooh, that's good. Give me the rest of the case and I'll go sexually harass Natasha and leave you guys alone.

Fine, it's yours. I don't drink, anyway.

Hee. You know, she still hasn't forgiven me for the elf-rape I was making allusions to in that post you deleted. Tonight's going to be fun after all...


There, there. Would tits help?

Not while I'm trying to type, thank you...

So, as I was saying before I was interrupted.

Lyds' AI does appear to be getting its act together for the most part; though she (and all other NPCs) seem to have huge pathfinding problems. Trying to walk over, or through solid objects when sandboxing; and in the wilderness, she flat refuses to follow me through nearly all rough terrain -- even between rocks that the gaps are wide enough to walk through easily.

While I obviously can't fire up the suck and check it out, it feels almost like many areas aren't navmeshed.

To her credit, Lydia will plot another path to get to wherever I am -- oftentimes a very circuitous route -- so the problem obviously isn't that she's losing her follow package... it's pure pathfinding; that she can't figure out how to get to where I am the way I got there. It's annoying though, since it's not unusual for it to take close to five minutes for her to get to me; and more than once she's caught up to me after picking up an enemy or two along the way.

I'm thinking viable companions in Skyrim are going to require distance based teleporting code. Blessedly, there doesn't seem to be any delay in follower NPCs following through cell-change doors; so it won't need that block of teleporting code, at least. Maybe... ten thousand units' distance, trigger the teleport? It's rough; determining proper teleport distance without breaking combat behavior...

On the up side, at least some of the new armor is great. I dolled Lyds up in ebony:

I swear, I've seen armor that looked almost exactly like that -- right down to the color -- in an anime somewhere. A cyborg bad-guy, I think... but it's been so many years I can't place it. I want to say in the AD Police/Bubblegum Crisis universe, but I'm not sure; I think it may also have been one of the Patlabor films. Not that I mind them reusing the look, it's great and all... it just annoys me when I can't place something. Damned steel sieve of a memory.

The new glass armor isn't bad looking either; though I wish they'd fire whoever keeps insisting it be green.

Is smoky quartz glass armor too much to ask? Nice, neutral, slightly translucent gray.

Thankfully, I maxed out my smithing skill last time I was playing, and could finally make use of the dragon scales I'd been collecting:

The armor rating isn't that much better than glass, but it looks less elf-y...

Elf rape! Woo!

...God damn it, I'm going to have to taze her by the end of that case, I just know it...

That helmet/mask, by the by, is not part of the dragon scale set:

On the whole, I still really like the crafting system. Daedric equipment is frustrating, as each piece requires a daedra heart to craft -- and we don't get Oblivion gates to go find the owners of said hearts. The only place I've found them regularly is for sale at alchemists, and they're not cheap. I foolishly used the first two daedra hearts I came across as alchemical components; should have saved them for creating top-end weapons -- I ended up using the last one for a daedric bow, and it is indeed quite the murder machine.

One thing that's continually giving me a WoW-vibe from the game is how you gather components for crafting. You can buy metal from smiths, of course, but you can also gather it yourself:

There are ore veins all over the game world, in various types of metal; and you can enter some actual mines and mine there. Ore veins are pretty hard to see from a distance though. Essentially, they work by having a pick-axe in your inventory, and hitting "use" on the vein. The camera skips out to third person, and your character is shown chipping away at the vein. The animation goes on ten or twenty seconds, and you get a random number of ore chunks (usually two to three) before the vein is depleted and changes to another texture that shows only the rock remaining. Unlike plants, I've not seen the ore veins respawn yet, so it looks like there is a limited number of ore hunks to recover from the world without buying it from merchants. Mining ore also nets you random gemstones sometimes, for selling or jewelry making.

I've read tell that you can have your companion mine, as well. Skyrim's default followers have a new dialogue option: "I want you to do something for me" or some such. Once used, they interact with the next world object you "use" -- if they have a pick-axe they'll mine, a wood cutter's axe will let them chop wood, presumably they can convert animal hides in their inventory into leather if told to use a tanning rack. I haven't tried it myself yet, so it may just be rumor; but if we can use such functions without a script extender this time around, it promises to make companion systems far more versatile.

One of the interesting things about merchants this time around is how often their inventory respawns. It seems to do it daily, now. I've gotten stuck in a smithing loop in Whiterun more than once now -- spending the day "grinding" my smithing skill with components bought from the blacksmith shop there by the gate; go to bed in my place to start adventuring again the next morning; hit the shop again to see what they got in, find a big enough stash of ingots and leather to get me started on the day's work all over again...

It's good for my skill level, but bad for getting much accomplished quest-wise.

Another new feature this time around will probably seem familiar to Morrowind players:

While it's not the same as TESIII, they did give us a transport service this time. You can hire a carriage at any town stables to carry you to any of the major cities (for a fee, of course). This is an interesting way of getting the fast travel markers without having to walk everywhere once; and for players who don't believe in using fast travel, it lets you get to questing spots faster without breaking "immersion" or whatever. Though I -- as usual -- run a reduced from default timescale in the game, I've noticed that the carriage still takes several hours worth of transit time once the screen fades back from black. Going from Riften to Solitude took like six hours, I think.

Sadly, we don't get to see your follower climb into the wagon to ride with you; but they're still there when you appear at your destination. It's a small thing, but I'd like to see that changed someday. No idea what scripting would be involved, though, so it may not even be practical.

I've killed several dragons now, and I'm pretty disappointed in them. They're billed as the big scary monsters of the game, but the last one I fought would've had trouble killing me if I weren't fighting back. I took his breath weapon full-on two or three times in the fight, and it barely caused my health bar to move. It was so bad I didn't even have to fight -- Lydia (unmodified, remember) could have killed him while I held his attention. Her arrows ended up eating more than half his health bar. Steel arrows and a Dwarven bow -- not even anything special.

As I also predicted, Shouts are pretty crappy. Flame and Frost breath won't even kill bandits; the super dash shout is stupid and pointless; I have no idea what the "throw your voice" shout is supposed to be good for other than getting NPCs to look somewhere else when you're sneaking... about the only useful one is unrelenting force, which at words one and two shove your enemy away and stun them. Word three blows them fifty feet back -- which sucks because by the time you've reached them to melee attack the stun has worn off. Like I said in the last part of the review: gimmicky. Shouts are a tarnish on an otherwise solid combat system.

The quests also, are a black mark on the game. I don't mean their content, I mean how poorly they're coded. I forgot to bitch about it the last time, but I actually ended up dying during the tutorial, the first time. Not to spoiler too much, but you start the game in line to be executed. A dragon attacks, scattering the Imperial bastards and saving your life. While your hands are still tied (can't use anything, search corpses, or fight) you have to follow an Imperial soldier to someplace safe. All well and good, except the blowhard led me into a clearing the first time, and just stood there. The quest marker didn't change, the log didn't advance... he's just standing there. After a couple minutes, a dragon comes along and turns me into a Nos-kebab.

Second try, it was even worse. At one point in the flee to safety, the dragon is supposed to destroy the wall of a tower; thereby allowing you to jump into the next building over. The dragon attacks... flamey flamey... the wall collapse animation never triggers. My quest marker updates, telling me to jump... through a solid wall. Had to TCL past that one. When we reached the clearing, soldierboy hung again and didn't tell me where I was supposed to keep going; but I had a fair idea and went on anyway, avoiding scorched death. Once inside, it seemed to run okay; but their ability to precisely set up and trigger scripted, animated events is apparently still just this side of complete shit.

Lastly, I figured I'd close with screenshots of some of the nature-y goodness I raved about before.

Loathe though I am to upgrade my PC, I have to say again this game would be fucking amazing in ultra high.

I also noted with more than a slight grin that one of the things the guards say to you in this game is "watch the skies". I know they're talking about dragons, but still... between that line, and the reintroduced Dwemer ruins...

Welp, that about exhausts my list-o-talking points this time around; so I'll shut up now.

Edit, next morning:

Despite my attempt, it looks like I did forget something again after all.

You may notice in the helm-less screenshot, that Lyds' irises are visible and do not look like shit. This is because I installed a new eye textures mod. I've actually installed a few:

Colored Map Markers -- changes the color of your quest target marker to green, and cities to blue; making them stand out on the map. A small detail, but a very nice one.

A Wench Outfit retexture -- retexes one of the barmaid outfits to be predominantly red, rather than filthy used-to-be white. Another small detail, but looks much better. I recommend the "Less colorful" version, that's a bit more subdued and seems to fit the society of the game a bit better.

High Quality Eyes -- Must-have mod. This one redoes the eye textures so that they don't suck. With this installed, you can actually discern eye color without a magnifying glass.

No More Blocky Faces -- this mod reworks the faces slightly, making them smoother and less crappy looking. Another small detail; but to me it helps greatly with keeping the faces from subconsciously feeling "wrong" when looked at.