The Skyrim Mod Forge – Episode 0 – Baby Steps
The modding community dedicated to the Elder Scrolls series is probably the most productive and creative in the whole gaming playfield. Morrowind and Oblivion had hundreds of thousands of mods available, and some are still in production.
Skyrim is no exception as the Creation Kit still isn’t out, but the community is already using whatever it can to improve the game over the already amazing original game. There already are about 300 mods out in the wild, and that’s only what I could personally find. As a funny side-note, there already are at least three nude mods floating around, surprise surprise? If you want them, you’ll have to find those by yourself, though.
A couple months ago I wrote an article in which I tried to predict what the modding community would bring to Skyrim. In that article I also promised I would try and help those that aren’t used to such a rich and complex modding community (and that may be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of mods that will be released every day). This column is the result of that, and of my experience as a veteran Oblivion modder.
Was I right in my predictions? We’ll see together week after week. Keep in mind that this won’t be an all-encompassing mod encyclopedia, but just a personal selection of what I personally tested and found relevant. There will be many more good mods out there, and if you find one you’d really like me to include (or if you made it yourself), feel free to to add a link to the comments.
In the end, one of the most fun activities in modding a game is to comb the internet for them. It gets even more fun (and funny) when you get to do it around sites written in languages you can’t even understand. But for those that prefer an easier ride, this column, that will appear on DualShockers every Wednesday, might be a good place to start.
Oh yeah, if you got the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions of the game, though luck. Modding is PC-only. You may still want to give a look around and learn why you should just return that console copy and get yourself the best version of the game.
First of all, here’s a bit of a technical introduction. To unpack the packed files you’ll need a dedicated program, like Winrar or 7zip, so, if you don’t have one, you may want to start by downloading that.
Since we’re still very near to the launch of the game, most of the mods mentioned today just replace some textures or models in the game.
You may be scared at the idea of “replacing” original files, but the good news is that you don’t need to actually replace or overwrite anything. The original data of the game is stored into packed .bsa files in the \data folder inside the \skyrim folder. You won’t have to touch those files at all. The game is coded to look for folders in the \data one, named like the original .bsa files. If it finds unpacked files inside those folders, it will prioritize those over the files included in the .bsa. For instance the game will look into the \data\textures folder before it looks into the original packed Skyrim – Textures.bsa file.
This means that mods that replace textures will simply provide the \texture folder and you’ll just have to copy it in the \data folder without involving any overwriting. If you’re prompted to overwrite something, it’s probably because you already have a mod that influences the same files, and your new mod is going to overwrite that.
To uninstall a texture/model replacing mod, most of the times you’ll need to do nothing else than removing the files and folders you copied into the \data folder.
On the other hand, most of the tweaks that require you to edit your .ini files will have to be applied manually, so remember to always save a backup of the files you modify before touching them.
In any case just read the descriptions and readme files of the mods carefully, and remember that I can’t take responsibility if you destroy your Skyrim installation, your computer, or you leave the gas turned on in your kitchen. That said, if you need advice or help, you can still add a comment and I’ll try to provide some.
But without further ado, I’ll let the mods speak for me:
Spriggan is a lovely project by Hipolipolipigus: you can download it here and it includes a very nice suite of basic functions for which you’d need multiple sources and programs otherwise. First and foremost, it’s able to patch your installation of Skyrim with the Large Adress Enabling fix, that will let the game recognize and use more than two gigabytes of RAM (yes, that’s what it’s using if you didn’t patch it). It’ll also let you edit the .ini files of the game in order to change the draw distance of trees and grass, the detail of water reflections and so forth. It’ll also allow you to rename your character, which is a plus.
Some basic explanation what what each .ini variable does would be a plus, but the project is in it’s initial versions, so that’ll possibly come down the line. At the moment, though, Spriggan is probably the best tool available for the tasks it sets to accomplish. It’s also easy to install. You just unzip the file somewhere and launch it, and it’ll auto detect your Skyrim installation. Nifty!
No More Blocky Faces + Detailed Faces
Faces in the original version of Skyrim are a little blocky in the chin and nose area, due to the compression of the normal maps applied on the texures. Thankfully this has been addressed by Xenius, that replaced the original maps with an uncompressed and smoothed version, removing the blocky artifacts. In addition to this, he also created a set of new textures for the faces that show a much higher level of detail than the original ones.
You can download No More Blocky Faces here and Detailed Faces here. The two mods are of course compatible, and can be installed together. If you have a penchant for going around half-naked, you may want to also get and install his detailed bodies mod, that will make the level of detail of faces and bodies coherent.
Really Smooth Females Complete
This mod by Zalzama solves the same problem I mentioned above (and as such it should be seen as an alternative and they should not be installed together), but taking a different approach. It will smooth the faces of ladies considerably, making them a little more appealing for those that like that kind of style. It will, of course, also remove the blockyness mentioned above.
The mod includes optional files to apply the same smoothing effect on the bodies, and unfortunately it affects only females. You can download it here.
Skip to Character Creation
This one by Iansaltman isn’t exactly a mod, as much as a simple save game. It’s an extremely useful, though, for those that like to try out many characters and different races. It will simply drop you at the end of the initial sequence, so that you don’t have to work your way through it every time you create a new character. Simple but effective. You can download it here.
Himmelsrand Custom Shader Suite
There are quite a few mods that perform a similar task, but this one by Hunin is my personal favorite. If you look at the pictures above, at first sight the “after” parts will just look darker, but by observing more closely, you’ll gradually start to notice that everything looks more natural and that details are sharper and more defined. This is because this mod applies several performance-effective effects to the picture, (like two levels of sharpening and vignetting) that considerably improve the visual quality and the natural looks of the game.
Not only it doesn’t give any measurable framerate hit (at least on my rig), but you can also switch back to the default with a single key press. You can download it here.
Note: Some seem to having crashes on launch when using this mod. If it happens, you can try to run Skyrim on admin mode.
More Barter Gold on Merchants
Quite often you’ll get back to a city after an adventure in a dungeon and some legit dragon slaying, and you’ll find out, much to your dismay, that merchants simply don’t have enough gold to buy all the merchandise you brought back. Some will consider this a cheat, others will consider it a shortcut to address a shortcoming of the game. It isn’t properly a mod, as it simply is a console command that comes handy in this kind of situations.
Credit goes to Graxter, and you can find the full explanation here. Simply bring up the console ( “~” key, or “\” if you’re using an European keyboard), click on the merchant (his code will appear on the screen if he’s properly selected), type additem 0000000F (number), where (number) is the amount of gold you want the merchant to have, close the console and then sell him all your stuff.
A word of caution: if you’re interested in unlocking any steam achievements, you better save and then restart the game after you’re done, because using the console disables achievements for the rest of your gaming session (thing that can be absolutely annoying when you hit the console key by mistake).
The men of Skyrim are definitely very virile. As a consequence of that, they’re also quite hairy. If you’re not into the whole “big burly hairy viking” thing, this mod by Srimk comes in handy. The effect is pretty simple: it will remove the all that hair from the rippling muscles of the dudes. That’s basically it. You can find it here.
Get Arrows Back
If you are ranged-heavy, this mod by Graxster may be just what you’re looking for. At the moment when you hit an enemy, you’ll lose 66% of your arrows, as they will simply disappear in some mysterious dimension. After applying this mod, you’ll find all your arrows by looting the corpse (of course not including those that missed). You can download it here.
As a side note, this is the only mod I’ll introduce tofay that requires you to load the .esp file in the launcher. Just launch the game as usual and select “Data Files” on the launcher. Then place a checkmark near to GetArrowsBack.esp and confirm. You need to do this only once, but you better get familiar with this procedure, as it will be widely used to activate mods that don’t just change a few textures around.
Enhanced Night Skyrim
The night sky in Skyrim looks good, but there’s nothing that can’t be improved. That’s what modders are for, after all. This mod by CptJoker71 does exactly that, as it makes the night sky of the game more lively and more full of lovely stars. It doesn’t even affect the constellations of the Game, as those are stored in a separate file (how clever, Bethesda). You can download it here. There are also a medium and a low density versions, for those that want more stars than those in the original games, but not as many as those provided in the default version.
And that’s it for this episode 0 (it’s not episode 1 given that we’re just moving the first wobbly steps) and I hope you found something useful to improve your game. Do come back next week for more, and let’s all hope that, by then, someone will have done something to replace those ridiculous default hairstyles…
Read More Episodes of The Skyrim Mod Forge: Episode 1 – Large Address, Steady Growth and Lips, Episode 2 – Mod Managing, Beauty and Dragons, Episode 3 – More Beauty, Divorce and Small Details, Episode 4 – Even More Beauty, Fashion and a Better HUD, Episode 5 – Hair, Flora and Weapons from Morrowind, Episode 6 – Handsome Men, More Hair and Armor From The Witcher 2, Episode 7 – Swords, Ice, Spells, Fashion and Realistic Light, Episode 8 – Cats, Shouts, Hideouts and Swords from LOTR, Episode 9 – Armor, Soul Gems and More Swords from LOTR, Episode 10 – Rainbow Colors, Weapons, Armor and Witcher Gear, Episode 11 – Companions, Pretty Faces and More from The Witcher 2, Episode 12 – Houses, Lovely Hairstyles and Riding Like a Boss, Episode 13 – Lovely Hair, Armor from The Witcher 2 and Hundreds of Books.