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04 May 2012

Morrowind Alchemy

A Budding Alchemist

In the spring of 2010, I was replaying Morrowind from the beginning. After joining the Mages Guild in Balmora, I did several quests for Ajira, a Khajiit novice alchemist. Her first task was to bring her samples of mushrooms; her third task was to bring her samples of flowers; and her fifth task was to recover the reports she had written that were stolen by a fellow student. The rewards for doing these tasks were several different kinds of potions. It occurred to me that after wandering around in the wilds looking for various plants based on their described characteristics and then reading the reports that Ajira wrote about her experiments with them, that my character should have improved in alchemy skill. Wasn't that the point of going through these types of exercises?

This thought led to the creation of my first mod. I ran The Elder Scrolls Construction Set (TES CS) and poked around until I found the two reports. It was a simple matter to change one attribute on each report to cause each one to give a skill point when read. Thinking that other players might like this mod, I decided to upload it to Planet Elder Scrolls. I gave the mod a simple and obvious name — Ajira's Alchemy Reports. It was a big hit and that was all the encouragement I needed when I got an idea for another mod.

Evolution of a Menu

Morrowind is a very alien environment, which is one of its many charms. There are lots of plant and animal parts — ingredients — that your character can consume. Some bestow positive effects and some bestow negative effects. These effects are small and short-lasting, so it's not particularly a problem if your character consumes something detrimental. In the interest of role-playing, however, I thought it would be nice if there were some information that could be found somewhere that gave an indication, in a general way, about which ingredients were safe to eat. I decided to create a menu that listed, by way of various meals, all of the safe ingredients.

Using TES CS, I created a new scroll, added text for the food and drinks, and placed it on a table upstairs in Arrille's Tradehouse in Seyda Neen, the small port village where the player's character begins the game. I called the mod What's on the Menu? and uploaded it to Planet Elder Scrolls. Shortly thereafter I got an email from someone in Germany who wanted to make a German version of this mod. He wrote the German text, sent it to me, and I uploaded a new version containing both English and German.

Today's Menu
English version
German version

The interest in this mod got me thinking more about it. The text menu was very plain-looking and couldn't be formatted the way I really wanted the menu to look, so I became determined to create a graphical version with a different typeface plus pictures of the ingredients. The hypothetical reason for the pictures was that there could be characters in the game world who couldn't read and that characters newly arrived to a strange land wouldn't know anything about the local food. Looking through the typefaces available on my computer, I chose Comic Sans MS because it looked handwritten, not typeset. For a reason I don't remember, I used Inkscape to create the menu image. I didn't really know what I was doing, since this was all new to me, but I didn't let that stop me. Here's what I came up with:

Arrille's Tradehouse Menu v1.1

Unfortunately, when I added it to the scroll, this is what I saw in the game:

Arrille's Tradehouse Menu v1.1
Arrille's Tradehouse Menu v1.1 - Scroll View

It looked pretty bad, but I released it anyway as version 1.1 and solicited comments. I soon learned that Comic Sans is the most hated typeface on the planet. (Hah! Silly me.) I immediately began searching for free fonts and downloaded and installed quite a few of them. I created new menu images in GIMP, choosing Verona as the typeface because I liked the calligraphic look to it. I also figured out how to use transparency so that the text and pictures would look like they were on the scroll texture. Here are the two pages of the complete menu plus what it looks like in the game:

Arrille's Tradehouse Menu v1.2

Arrille's Tradehouse Menu v1.2 - Scroll View

I released this as version 1.2, which was much better received; but, I wasn't completely done. Each object in the game world that can be placed in the environment or picked up and put in the character's inventory has one model and two or more image components. Up to this point, my mod had dealt with only one image — the one the player sees when the scroll is opened for reading. In order to complete the menu object, I needed to create a texture for the ground mesh (the 3D object placed in the environment) and an icon that would be displayed for the menu when it was in the character's  inventory. The icon was easy. I just put a background on the image for the first page of the menu and shrank it down to 32 x 32 pixels.

Menu in Inventory v1.3
v1.3 Menu Icon in Player's Inventory

Texturing the ground mesh required NifSkope, which I had never used before. Something else new to learn! One download and installation later I was playing around with NifSkope with a little help I found on the web. Basically, I ended up copying the .nif file for a piece of paper and putting my image of the first page of the menu on it. Here's what it looks like in the game:

Menu on Table v1.3
v1.3 Menu on Table

I released this as version 1.3. Since I had just gone through a huge learning experience, I decided to share my newfound knowledge, so I also included a How To Guide. Working on this mod was great fun and I got to meet some really nice people in The Elder Scrolls forums.

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