ORE interview with Princess Stomper

The following interview, conducted by speckledguar, appeared in the October 2007 issue of the Oblivion’s Real Estate newsletter.

How did you come up with your screen name?

PS: My husband’s nick is Bug_Stomper, so that’s where the “stomper” bit comes from. The “princess” bit comes from “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett: “I am a princess, all girls are”. I loved the sentiment behind that – that glamor and empowerment. Plus I have a habit of wearing sturdy walking boots and having lots of pink sparkly things around. For some weird reason people think the name suits me.

Where are you from and can you tell us a little bit in general about your background?

PS: I live in a swamp in the UK. It IS a swamp – it’s below sea level, anyway. It’s in the middle of bloody nowhere, there’s no decent shops, it’s obviously been designed purely to taunt anyone with hayfever, and the people are really rude. On the plus side, it looks like Morrowind’s Pelagiad and is just as tranquil, so that’s good. I’ve lived in big cities too, though. Oh yes, people, I was cool once. *cough* Um … aged 30, female, average desk job for multinational.

I’ve noticed your online presence in the Elder Scrolls modding community for several years now. I’ve followed your work for a while now and your contributions seem impressive, especially with TES3. It looks like you’ve gotten quite a start in TES4 too. How would you describe this journey to the uninitiated?

PS: I blame Emma entirely. I played Morrowind continuously for two years before I ever even heard of mods, and then I was like a lot of other people, and thought that modding was really difficult and something I could never do. Then I played The White Wolf of Lokken Mountain and wanted to turn the hidden passage into a swimming pool to enjoy after the main quest. Of course, it was disastrous. Have you ever heard of the Doubling Bug for Morrowind? It’s to do with the way TES3 retains information – Wrye knows about this stuff. Anyway, it remembers what it used to be like AND what it’s like now, so you get two of everything – doors, banners, even people – if you change a mod and add it to an ongoing game. By the time I’d finished my first foray into CS tinkering, I had FOUR sets of everything, and there were effing BILLIONS of barbarians standing threateningly out in the cold! I almost ‘did a Fergie’ in my greaves! Honestly, I needed a stiff flagon of mead after that one. So, I gave up for a bit (I remade the mod later, though). I wrote some books for Children of Morrowind and Emma encouraged me to continue.

I then made a house – Nerevar’s Magic Tent – and persuaded Kagz to help me upload it. He passed the mod straight back and asked me to fix it, telling me that frankly I’d have to do better than that. QUITE RIGHT! So I did, and the rest was … uh … Tamrielic geography. As time went on there were so many mods for Morrowind that a sort of friendly competition set in – people ran out of Data Files space, so would junk all but their favorite mods, which meant that the standard had to be very high if you wanted your mod to be downloaded and installed. It keeps us all on our toes. Now even first mods are of quite jaw-dropping standards, which benefits everyone, not least the player. The “friendly” aspect is important, though – I consider a lot of modders to be genuine friends. cheerbunny1 As for Oblivion, I bought it to mod it, but only by playing Shivering Isles did I really fall in love with it. By the time I finished the main quest, I had enough ideas to keep me occupied for years. The thing about Oblivion modding is that the culture is very, very different. Most release threads at the official forums – even of really good mods – get buried instantly. You post your release threads and before you can even check back to see the (lack of) replies, it’s on page 20. I’m basing my experiences on Morrowind, but I’m reliably informed that it’s the same for other games – you’ve been doing it a while, people know roughly what to expect, and you just stick up a few screenies and a download link. You can check back a day or so later, and there’ll be a responses and maybe a few bug reports and suggestions.

With Oblivion, you have the potential for far more downloads, but promoting the mod becomes part of the process of making the mod. It’s certainly very evident in, say, competition entries – where there IS no WIP thread – how much that factor weighs in when mods are made. It becomes like promoting a film, and you find yourself working almost as hard on plugging it as making it. Nobody should ever mod purely for the number of downloads they think they’re going to get, but it can be pretty disappointing to have spent weeks or months on something and nobody even knows it exists. The sane, sensible part of you keeps telling you how bloody ridiculous it all is, but just as you’re on the verge of calling a press junket and handing out party bags, suddenly all the effort pays off and people finally start posting in the thread.

Given your modding history do you plan on bringing most of your TES3 creations to TES4 as time goes on, and as other provinces are modded, such as Tamriel Rebuilt? If so do you have any plans? If not what are a couple of mods that from TES3 that you’d like to see in TES4?

PS: Kateri and I are making a sequel for TES4 to Dance of the Three-Legged Guar, our “epic comedy quest mod” for Morrowind. As well as TLG2 (as we’re calling it), I’m redoing Homes To Let – a rentable house mod – and The Holiday Mod, which adds festival days, though that might be scrapped if someone beats me to it. I’m also planning a sequel of sorts to Mournhold Expanded, but it will be much smaller and take place in the Shivering Isles. Without giving too much away, the TES3 update to Mournhold Expanded will feature a tie-in between the two mods in terms of story. I also plan to remake Princess Crate Manor. Basically, Pseron Wyrd made some comment about forum n00bs being so demanding that they expect to find a mansion in a crate in Seyda Neen, and it was a “festival day” in which I had imbibed more wine than is becoming of a Lady. So, I literally knocked up this mansion in 45 minutes. I even left a wall out, I was so wrecked. Still, PW thought it was funny, which was rather the point.

It’s nice to see you’ve kept up some links on your web site to the TES3 community. What is one aspect of the TES3 community that you wish was still around?

PS: The people, most of all. When the likes of Emma and Qarl and Tommy move on, it does sort of leave a gaping hole. Of course, they don’t get away with it that easily. I’m actually teasing Qarl as we speak. I can multitask, see? I’m clever like that.
Hey, Qarl! I’m being interviewed for ORE! How surreal is that! Have you done one of these?
Qarl: Did an interview for some Russian magazine. And a German one.
PS: Did they come out well?
Q: Dunno – I can’t read Russian or German.
PS: Well, since you’re here, why aren’t you modding for Morrowind?
Q: TES3 – easy. the engine is too dated. TES4 … it’s too time-consuming… I’ll consider starting up again if they fix the LipSync fuction.
PS: Fuction? That must be a Hot Coffee-like CS feature I haven’t found yet.
Q: *laughs* – “function” – although frankly, that wouldn’t hurt either.

Out of all your mods’ which is your 2 favorite? How about others mods? And why?

PS: Mine? Well, the “masterpiece” is Mournhold Expanded, which took a year to make. Basically, I started it in early 2005, but realized that I just didn’t have the experience to make it. I shelved it for a while, and then I found a half-finished beta called Mournhold Docks by Nemon, which he let me turn into the Docks and Andeera. It was like moving into an empty house – the shape was there (and what a shape!) but I gutted and refitted it, mixing up stuff I made with modder’s resources. I ended up making five more completely new districts plus a 12-zone ‘theme park’. There were so many other mods used to make it, it was never really “my” mod, any more than [Morrowind must-have] Balmora Expansion is fully Gorg’s. Still, it took a lot of effort and I’m very proud of it. The ultimate moment was when Nemon gave his verdict on the beta, and really loved it.

meresort7

My other favorite is Leyawiin, which I made for the Cyrodiil: Dawn of Oblivion project for Morrowind. It took about six months, and is cell-for-cell the best thing I’ve ever done, not least because I used some pretty amazing resources. I don’t really think I’ve hit my stride yet in Oblivion – Silorn Manor is the best so far but I hope it won’t be my best for very long, if you get what I mean.

leyawiinjungle

Others’ mods? I don’t think I can narrow it down to two. If my life depended on choosing, for Morrowind it would be Wizards’ Islands, and for Oblivion probably Nascosto Isles. Wizards’ Islands truly deserves its “unofficial expansion” title – it’s a huge landmass, awesomely detailed, with some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen, and that’s before you get to the 30-hour quest. I don’t think my favorite Oblivion mod has been released yet – I still see it as very “young” in modding terms. In Oblivion, we haven’t seen the likes of Kateri’s Ashlander Companion yet, or The Underground or Lokken Mountain.

I see on your web site that you can search mods by title or destination. Can you tell us or give a quick run down of your site PS Travel? The idea behind it, and future plans?

PS: It’s actually based on the old Tapestry Holidays website, which used to look exactly like PS Travel, only it said ‘Greece’ and ‘Turkey’ instead of ‘Cyrodiil’ and ‘Vvardenfell’. I play my own mods as much as anyone else’s, and the experience I’m always going for is ‘a virtual holiday’. I love that feeling of being in a strange place, but being comfortable. As for the title/destination thing, the overriding need is for people to go to a simple site in which they can quickly find whatever they are looking for. If they don’t know what they want, they can just click on the destination (location) or type of mod they are looking for – house, quest, etc. If they just want to download it without fuss, they can just click on the title list. There’s nothing worse than spending ages trying to find your way around a site, which is why modding sites tend to be simple but easy-to-use, which is how they should be. I’ve recently added bookmarks on the longer pages to make it easier to jump to the (title) letter of the mod instead of scrolling. In the future, I may have to go for another redesign as I make more and more mods and the site becomes cluttered. I’d have to copy Tapestry again, of course!

You’ve got quite a bit of Vvarfendell modded. Do you have any major plans or dreams for Cyrodiil?

PS: Oh, definitely. For a start there’s Homes To Let (Oblivion), which will add a home to every major city. I’ve got an unfinished Mania Camp, as well, and quite a few announced but not-yet-started mods. Then there’s a tavern in Split, and I’m going to make a sequel to Silorn Manor – a tree village near Leyawiin. The Mournhold Expanded sequel will be called Shivering Park. Then there’s the Arcane Academy, a school mod like my Morrowind mod Sadrith Mora Academy of Magecraft. I’ve started it but have paused it for the moment, while I work on other stuff. To get around the usual rows, I’ll only include older “children” – teenagers.

Could you tell us about any of your WIP mods for TES4?

PS: The main one at the moment is Arnand Jastal: TLG2. It takes place six years after the TES3 mod, and is a short quest (as opposed to the full-length TES3 mod), but with several new locations to enjoy including two player homes. It’s essentially a companion mod with a choice of husband or wife, but with lots of houses. Dialog will be minimal by TES3 standards, but enough to show personality – and humor! There will be backup collateral like journals, letters and essays (Arnie’s an archeologist, Evie’s a mage academic). I still have Edgar Greyshadow’s 12 voice files for Arnand (in a wonderful mixed accent appropriate for his character), which could perhaps be recut to form new samples, but I imagine it will end up with me having to record Evie’s Dialog myself and have her “carry” the quest. I just need to practice doing a slight French accent. They’re High Rock Breton, see? Travelled a lot. The challenge will be creating the Charborne Cove worldspace – a small island with waterfalls and mountains and a lake, with a whacking great castle-like manor in the middle, and surrounding cottages.

I hear you’ve donated some modding resources from TES3 for use in TES4, Could you tell us how you developed those?

I made a couple of painting packs for Morrowind, applied to mighty_joe_young’s frames. For Mournhold Expanded’s Royal Pavilion palace (my favorite of my own houses), I had made some some portraits as I hadn’t seen any portrait resources. One or two of them were photoshopped to look like Dark Elves – I cut the faces out, turned them monochrome for the grey skin, painted their eyes red and added pointed tips to their ears. When I noticed a dearth of portraits for Oblivion, I just released the textures loose. Fortunately, Brendan62 spotted them and offered to put them into frames, which was nice. In the meantime, for Three-Legged Guar (TES3), I took the picture of Todd from the Beth Blog and turned him into a Dark Elf, so there is now a portrait of Todd surrounded by candles and flowers, shrine-style. Well, you know, who wouldn’t?

Qarl: I wouldn’t. [Qarl’s been drinking to celebrate some good news, and baiting people on Guild Wars.]
Qarl: I just posted… WTB: Sex with your sister!
PS: Everybody needs a hobby.
Q: Someone came back with ok, 50k.
PS: *laughs*
Q: I think he might be serious… he keeps bugging me about it now!
PS: You know this is going into the interview.
Q: Include anything from me you want. Although frankly, I think I have much better material. Plus I’ll be here all week, except for Tuesday – and try the veal!
PS: Poor little lambies, you heartless git!
Kateri: Veal is calves.
PS: Poor little cowies, you heartless git!

Out of all your projects everywhere what excites you the most?

PS: Both TLG projects, equally. The TES3 one because there’s so much there – 2000 lines of dialog, a whole village, nearly 100 NPCs. Kateri and I have been working on it a year, and we’ve enjoyed every minute. We know that if we can make each other laugh until stuff comes out of our noses, chances are, you’ll laugh too. And if you don’t, well, we laughed. It’s classic sitcom stuff – a lot of the jokes are from 3rd Rock from the Sun, Blackadder, Spaced and Friends – but a lot of it is based on real situations and real people. I think I’ll have a lot of apologizing to do to the real-life couple whose wedding is parodied at the end. I work with a lot of naturally funny people, and often email Kateri midway through the day with some quote or other I’ve heard by the water cooler. (Annoyingly, I can’t include the one I heard today for ‘lore’ reasons: “I’m shaving homeopathically.” “But you have a beard!” “Nah, that’s just the toxins coming out.”)

Kateri, of course, makes me laugh even more. I think that’s the great thing about both projects. I hate working in groups, and if I’m working on anything that takes more than a few months on my own, by the end of it I don’t even want to hear the letters “CS” for a number of weeks. Occasionally I’ll catch sight of my project plans and sketches and scream, “Arrggggh! Gods! No!” and have to run off to play Guild Wars for a month or so. The benefit of modding with a brilliant partner like Kateri is that we can take it in turns to do that, and keep each other (in)sane for the most of it, bouncing ideas off each other and telling each other quite frankly which bits are crap. The net result is that not only does the project continue even when one or the other isn’t working on it, but the overall outcome is improved because each of us focuses on the bits we love most – Kateri loves scripting, and I love building interiors.

arnand2

Kateri: Actually, when she says we’re “working on” TLG, she means that she’s working on it, and I’m feeling guilty about not working on it, while drowning in baby sick. And forgetting any scripting knowledge I may have ever possessed. But I have hope! It’s a great mod, and it’s going to be released eventually, anything else would be just criminal. And their little accusing, pixellated eyes would haunt me forever.

PS: See what I mean? She’s the funniest, least arrogant person I have ever met – a total godsend. She’s done far more work on it than she gives herself credit for. The TES4 version is great because it’s the challenge of learning a whole new discipline. It’s finding that the apartment is too big and open-plan, and having to cut bits off with extra walls and link doors to the “wrong” places to give the illusion it’s a totally different shape. It’s finding ways to fake views from windows and light coming through your fake windows; it’s making four poster beds and toilets out of individual planks of wood and feeling very smug about what a clever git you are. Then seeing Brendan62’s new mod and feeling frankly inferior, which just makes me more determined to try harder to match that standard – which is really what drives modding forward, and is a great thing. I think that’s why Brendan and I get on so well. I get inspiration, and he gets … uh … Adoring Fan.

Ok thanks for being a sport and for willing to be interviewed. I hope everyone gets a chance to look at your site and see all creative ideas and resources you’ve posted. Last question from the balcony; Do you have any comments on this?

PS: Oh … THAT. Yes, I think that Shezrie was about the first to figure it out. Apparently it was the “whilst”. Americans don’t say “whilst”, the awkward buggers. I’ve now had to go back and remove all the “whilsts” from my mods whenever I find them. Basically, the story behind that goes back to a post I made on one of the (thankfully rare, though always interesting) occasions when I’ve staggered back from the pub and checked the forums. Some comment or other really set me off and I made a furious tirade about how Bethesda were mistreating modders, and got myself a stern telling-off. In the ensuing conversation with the moderator, he suggested that if I felt so strongly, I should write direct to Pete.

So, I did, and Pete wrote straight back and … it’s impossible to stay mad at Pete for long. It was the start of a very constructive dialog for a day or two in which I summarized the things other modders were saying to me and passed them straight to Pete, and he replied with Bethesda’s point of view in a disarmingly frank and approachable manner. In the middle were the moderators, who found the whole thing quite illuminating, and one of them said that modders “just want to be appreciated … hugged a little bit from time to time”, which was exactly how I’d been feeling.

Some months later, when April Fool’s Day was approaching, I remembered that, and an old spoof article in The Onion about “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door To Door Trying To Shock People”. I wondered what would happen if Todd and his cronies went from door to door trying to hug people, and knocked up the “press release” in my lunch hour. I sent it over to APY, who obligingly stuck it up at PES on 1st April. I’m frankly HORRIFIED by the number of people who took it seriously! Have you no shame? That said, GStaff is in post now, and I’m still waiting for that hug …

If you’re not sick of me yet, further interviews can be found on Bethesda Blog and TESFanUnion.

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