The Elder Scrolls Traveler: Issue 2
A new issue will come out every Sunday (or Saturday, for those in the US).

  • Mera's Maps
    Our intrepid explorer shines light on Fort Urasek.


LATEST NEWS

Despite the lack of major announcements this week there have been a number of new previews and interviews. Pete Hines has been chatting to gamesblog, Edge and GameTrailers. New previews are available at Game Industry News, Cosmos Gaming, and Game-Revolution.

Another week, another award. Oblivion has won Game of the Year at Shiny Awards 2007.

Screenshot of the Week -- Mania.



MOD REVIEW:
Max Tael's Natural Environments v. 2.1.2

This mod promises to enhance the habitat, vegetation, water and weather of the game.

The mod comes with five .esm files each controlling one of the above factors. I'll comment on each of them seperately.

Natural Habitat - you'll notice this has kicked in when you see a butterfly, dragonfly or moth flutter in front of the screen. These little additions are nicely detailed and well animated, so they appear to really move like the real thing. They are also rare enough that the effect is not overdone. This .esm also adds birds which occasionally glide through the sky. They are best viewed at a distance as close-up the birds seem to be gliding rigidly in a straight line. The overall effect is subtle but adds another layer of life to Cyrodiil's environments.

Natural Vegetation - this .esm changes the scaling characteristics of trees and shrubs, making them taller and increasing the level of foliage. This makes the forest environments in the game much more real-looking and majestic as you travel beneath trees that do not merely stand over you as they once did; they tower. Every player will love this addition.

Natural Water - this changes the way water is represented in the game. It makes it much more clear and pristine, so that you can see boulders on the bottom of lakes when you are looking out over the water. When underwater you can see very clearly. Though this creates quite a beautiful effect when the weather is sunny, making the water very blue and clear, the water is perhaps too clear and un-natural. I would have preferred the water to be less transparent. I will probably use another water mod in place of this component.

Natural Weather (Normal and HDR versions) - this is the core of the Natural Environments file pack, promising to make enormous changes to the weather system including new weather types, improved sky textures, optimized rain effects, more realistic environment lighting, seasonal weather patterns, rainbows, and more. I tested this mod for several hours and here is what I noticed:

Sunny, fine weather in the vanilla version of the game seems quite cold and harsh, the light being bright rather than warm. With Natural Weather enabled sunny weather really is sunny - everything has a warm yellow glow and all the colours in the environment seem brighter. Water reflects the bright blue of the sky creating idyllic scenes. Storms, on the other hand, can roll across quickly and, when they do, tend to be quite intense. My character was lashed with wind and rain as thunder cracked overhead. It would have been amazing if the mod added lightning flashes that momentarily lit up the world in addition to the rumblings of thunder, but this is a small criticism. The atmosphere of a severe storm is really well conveyed.

A new weather type I observed was fog. It rolled in over the land gradually becoming denser. The sun was out and everything had a yellowish glow. It was an impressive, if gloomy effect. Trees look particularly good when they are merely shadowy outlines in the fog.

The new weather types I experienced in my few hours of play tended towards storms, fog and over-cast weather. I didn't get to see a rainbow or many sunny days. However, as the game promises seasonal weather patterns it may have been a winter period in the game. The weather effects all seemed to be turned up to 11, whether it was incredibly sunny, a severe storm, or a very thick fog, you will take notice of the weather because it always commands attention - and always for good reason.

This is a mod every Oblivion user should experience at least once. I'm confident most of you will never go back. You can download Max Tael's Natural Environments pack here.



GAME GUIDE

Knights of the Nine - Pilgrimage

After downloading and installing the Knights of the Nine official mod you will be able to start this quest. It's not difficult to find out how, as every NPC you meet will have the topic 'Anvil Chapel Attack' on their list of things you can ask them about (despite having heard nothing about this previously). Just like with quest markers it seems as if your character has crazy psychic powers!

You'll soon learn that the action is all happening in Anvil. Head there and ask around about the Chapel Attack to learn that there's a prophet preaching outside the church. Walking up the road to the church you'll probably see a listener standing before the prophet as his exclamations fill the air.



Start up a conversation and ask him about the attack to learn that Umaril, king of the Ayleid slavers, is behind the attack, and most remarkably, back from the dead! Or perhaps just back from the truly dead and is now undead. It's confusing. Either way you or someone else will need to find the Crusader's Relics in order to kill Umaril. Why those particular relics? Because they were once owned by Pelinal Whitestrake - the man who killed Umaril so long ago.

So, who's going to find these Relics, where all others have failed? The Prophet takes the lazy option and picks you, probably because you're just the closest person around. Are you a worthy knight? he asks. Pick 'No', because RPGs always reward humility. He's pleased with your answer. Ask him how you can find the relics and he'll give you a blurry Wayshrines Map and send you on your way. You must visit one of the Wayshrines for each of the Nine Divines and then you'll be shown the next step.

Before you head off, though, it'd be best to snoop around the crime scene a bit. The guard outside the chapel allows you not only to go inside and disturb things, but nobody will stop you stealing what you like either. My guess is that not many murders get solved in Anvil.



Inside you'll find some bodies, some blood, some mess, a woman sacrificed at the altar, some runes (""By the eternal power of Umaril, the mortal gods shall be cast down") and other grisly stuff. There's some small change on their bodies if you're the macabre/ruthless type. More pertinent to the story, though, are the books that can be found in the Chapel. Seems everyone was reading up on Pelinal Whitestrake and Umaril just before they got killed as a result of the conflict. If the priests weren't dead I'm sure they'd appreciate the irony. If you search around you'll find 'The Song of Pelinal' volumes 1 through 8, 'Shezarr and the Divines' and 'The Adabal-a' -- all relevant to the Knights of the Nine storyline and thus worth looking at.

Next you need to visit a Wayshrine for each of the Nine Divines. Upon making this quest your active one you might be surprised to find there are no quest markers anywhere, but this is not a mistake. It seems the devs are are trying to find a middle ground between Oblivion's extreme hand-holding and Morrowind's "see you in five years!" approach. Yes, you actually have to look at that crappy map for a map marker, go to the location and clomp around the shrubbery until you stumble across a wayshrine. Or -- or -- you could use this handy map I've prepared:



All you need to do is travel to each of those locations and activate the Wayshrine. If you get infamy points while traveling between Wayshrines you'll have to start again. Upon activating the ninth wayshrine your infamy points will be reduced to zero, so villians: be prepared to part with your street cred. You'll also attain the rank of 'Pilgrim' in the Nine Divines faction. In order to trigger the next quest you need to pray once again. But that's for next week!



TRAVELER TALK
An interview with Max Tael, modder.



Could you introduce yourself?
Well, you already know my name and the fact that I am the author of the popular Natural Environments mod. White male of European descent, I live in New York and work in software development... And this is where I suggest that we skip the sleep-inducing description of my biography and move on to the next question.

How and when did you first discover the Elder Scrolls games?
Even though I heard many good things about Daggerfall, I never got the chance to play it. My first introduction to the Elder Scrolls universe was a copy of Morrowind I received from a friend back in 2002. To be honest with you, I didn’t really like it. Partly because of its peculiar artistic style, mostly because of the generic, sandbox-styled design that lacked strong narrative direction... I remember someone said that open-ended games offer freedom at the expense of making all players’ choices equally meaningless. I don’t necessarily support this opinion, but I find it perfect for describing my Morrowind experience. When Oblivion came out, I found it to be a nice step up from its predecessor. Not without its own problems, the game still looked, felt, and played much better… and this is where I discovered TES Construction Set, stopped playing the game, and spent a more than month working on Natural Environments.

What attracted you to the Elder Scrolls modding scene?
As you may have noticed, I am quite critical in my perception of the Elder Scrolls games. There is a simple explanation to it. Throughout the last fourteen years of my life, I’ve played through literally hundreds and hundreds of game titles. What started as a childhood hobby has become a lifelong interest in all aspects of electronic gaming and game development. Thanks to this interest, I am familiar with nearly every major video game that has been released over the last two decades, and that makes me very critical even of some of today’s most popular titles. It’s difficult to get excited over, let’s say, Civilization IV, when you know how little it has changed from its 10+ year old predecessor. It’s nearly impossible to positively review a modern game that relies on the type of gameplay that was considered incredibly simplistic a decade ago. So, judging from this “historical” perspective, Oblivion is a good game that combines average gameplay with incredibly stunning graphical engine… but, even with its amazing visuals, it can’t measure up to the richness of gameplay old games like Fallout, Might and Magic, Final Fantasy, or Legend of Zelda had to offer to the players ten or more years ago.

However, by making its internal development tools available to public, Bethesda managed to compensate for many of the shortcomings of their product. Very few games on my memory have advanced modding capabilities similar to those of Oblivion. The Construction Set is the necessary component, that special something that has the ability to turn Oblivion from being “good” into being “great”. It provides critics, such as myself, with rather peremptory challenge from the game’s creators: “If you think you can do better than us, be our guest.” (The fact that the phrase actually ends with “what’s important, that won’t cost us a dime” is not really relevant to this discussion.)

So, what attracted me to the modding scene? I would like to say something like “great community” or “the love of the series”, but the true answer is a bit more prosaic: pixelated sky textures and unattractive underwater lighting. Thanks to the game editor, I have been able to rework and improve the elements I didn’t personally like instead of simply subjecting them to my scathing criticism and/or discarding the game.

How much effort went into making the popular 'Natural Environments' mod?
Overall? Considerably more than I would like to admit. The lack of prior experience with most of the development tools and concepts translated into a significant increase in the amount of time I spent working on the mod. Esp/dds/nif file formats, some of Bethesda ’s unusual design principles, multiple limitations of the scripting language, even the Construction Set itself… I spent most of the time learning how to do something, instead of actually doing it. Even my programming experience turned into a minor obstacle: after dealing with such high level programming languages as C++ or C#, I always wanted to implement something the scripting language couldn’t do.

You see, when I started working on Natural Environments, it was a simple modification that I intended to use for my own internal purposes. When I released it as NE v1.0, I didn’t really expect to receive any reaction from the public. Instead, I got buried in comments asking for various features, bugfixes, and troubleshooting tips. Many people didn’t like the excessive usage of colors in the original version. By the time I recalibrated the colors, someone had claimed that no one could possibly make moving birds for the game. By the time I made my primitive birds and insects (really, Bethesda , what were you thinking?), I had received about ten letters asking whether I could add rainbows… and so on. I made something that end up being used by dozens of thousands of people, and I felt that I had a moral obligation to provide them with at least some form of rudimentary support. Besides, the whole process has made me understand why so many people are willing to spend their time on open-source projects and other volunteering activities: working on challenging objectives while learning new tricks and concepts is both gratifying and exciting experience, and even the lack of monetary compensation is often negated by the absence of such negative sides of regular employment as deadline crunches and short-tempered Neanderthal bosses. Not that I’m pointing any fingers. I love my boss...

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Thanks to the upcoming expansion, my mailbox is once again filled with Natural Environments-related letters. In fact, I received my first “Will NE be compatible with SI?” email literally within minutes after the official announcement of Shivering Isles back in January, a fact I find rather disturbing. Anyway, I’ve already made a couple of promises to make an updated version of Natural Environments at some point after the release of the expansion, but I can’t say whether it’ll be a mere compatibility update or some new features will be included as well. I’ll most definitely reintroduce rainbows (I know, I should have done it months ago) and make some minor optimizations/fixes to the scripts, but, other than that, I have no clear plan for what I am going to do next. Perhaps the expansion will rejuvenate my own interest to the game and I’ll end up making something more tangible than distant birds, clouds, and raindrops.



BUG FIXER

Please submit unsolved bugs or bug fixes to ledriver @ gmail dot com.
Unsolved bugs should be submitted in this format:

Quest name:
Description of bug:
Platform (PC or XBOX360?):
Have you downloaded the latest patch?:
Have you tried anything so far to fix it?:



MERA'S MAPS

This week's exploring occurred quite by accident. I was walking along the Red Ring Road to the west of the Imperial City on my way to Cheydinhal. I decided to cut a corner in order to get on The Blue Road and quickly found myself walking between ruined, burnt-out structures. My coin purse was heavy at my side, ready to purchase a year's worth of parchment and ink in Cheydinhal. I was distracted, thinking about what I might map next when PLOOF, my coin purse seemed to explode and the coins inside fell to the ground. An arrow hung limply from the torn and emptied purse at my side. I looked up, furious, to see a goblin on the crest of a nearby hill, grinning like a stuck pig. He made a rude sign and ran off towards a larger fort structure. I was furious. I had to get on my hands and knees and pick up two-hundred septims from amongst the long grass. When the last coin had been retrieved I was shaking with anger. Goblins! I was going to make that filthy creature regret its little prank. Of course, once I got inside the fort I couldn't quite tell which of the many goblins inside had insulted me -- they all look alike, don't you think? So I killed them all, just to be safe.

I'll give you a discount on the map because of the blood-stains, but in all other respects, you'll find it's of the quality you're used to.

-- Mera

P.S. - X marks the spot. That indicates there's a loot chest at that location. T, unsurprisingly, stands for trap.





Here's a library of my previous work.



THE LOREMASTER
This week's Loremaster is Xui'al


A History of Anvil and Piracy

by Horatio Gargonath and Eulius Finnus

Several hundred years ago, during the years of terror when the Camoran Usurper forced himself upon Dawn’s Beauty, the western Cyrodiilic town of Anvil was little more than a collection of uncivilized murderers, thieves and barbarians. Criminals and malcontents preyed upon helpless travelers and merchants along the western coast of Tamriel, and an important stopping point for them was the town of Anvil. While now Anvil is a town of pristine alabaster and an important trading port, as well as Cyrodiil’s only direct access to the Abecean Sea, it was at one point little more than a collection of huts, with no semblance of order.

Eventually, a façade of order sprang up, although it wasn’t controlled by the Empire. At this point Haymon Camoran was ravaging the entirety of Tamriel’s west, destroying the pristine forests of Valenwood and spilling blood upon the sands of Hammerfell, preventing the Empire from allocating the necessary resources to combat the increasing pirate threat. By this point a powerful pirate organization was formed. Known as the “Red Sabre”, they continued to terrorize the shipping lanes, bringing destruction and death to all that met them. Their leader was a provocative and vulgar man known as Torradan ap Dugal. He had the astounding ability to organize these brigands, and as a result they proved to be the greatest sea threat to the war against the Usurper.

Cyrodiil could no longer bring in supplementary troops and supplies via the seas, as the menace continued to rise in the Abecean Sea. It may seem foolish for a group of rough criminals to simply assault Imperial vessels, often under the command of seasoned Altmer captains, but fighting the Usurper had stretched Imperial lines thin, and large, well defended armadas were simply unavailable. Finally, after years of exhaustive fighting and a great deal of lives lost, the Usurper was defeated. With the Imperial Navy already mobilized, the Elder Council thought it prudent to secure solid access to the Abecean Sea, should another conflict arise.

A young commodore was chosen to engage and defeat the bold criminals that plagued the western coast of Tamriel. Fasil Umbranox had shown a great deal of skill and bravery during the war with the Usurper, and since his fleet was in the best working condition he was the one chosen. The initial battles with the numerous pirate ships proved utterly disastrous for the pirates. While they had experience thieving and pillaging, they had no experience in combat. Conversely, the sailors of Fasil Umbranox had seen plenty of combat, and easily brought the criminals to justice under the prevalent waves of the Abecean. Umbranox’s ultimate goal was to retake Anvil, but he also had to protect the seaways and couldn’t pursue this goal immediately.

After almost four years of chasing and destroying pirate vessels, Red Sabre or not, the commodore was able to close in on the Black Flag, the supposed ringleader's ship, in the Anvil harbor. Incredibly confident, Umbranox transferred over his entire fleet’s compliment of battlemages to his flagship. He then proceeded to enter the harbor and engage the Black Flag, alone; his fleet either landing soldiers on shore or holding out in the distant harbor, to prevent the pirates' escape. Dugal was also confident, but wise enough to know of commodore Umbranox’s exploits, and attempted to hide rather than fight. Umbranox predicted this, and used the mercurial power of his battlemages to send a large amount of rock tumbling down the hillside, crushing and destroying Dugal’s flagship. All hands were lost, but this did not satiate the self-assured young commodore, as even though the leader of the Red Sabre and most of their fleet and crews had either been destroyed or brought to trial, Anvil remained a small settlement for malcontents and the scum of society.

Having already landed a small force, Umbranox gave the order and burned Anvil to the ground, killing the populace that was unable to flee into the hillsides, where they would never amass into a large enough group to plague the law-abiding people of Tamriel ever again. Umbranox was then named Count, and began the construction of a proper settlement. The lawful, orderly city of Anvil is what sits upon the remains of burned-out villainy today. In a final act of defiance to sea-faring criminals, Umbranox had his castle constructed on top of the rocks that had crushed his rival, Torradan ap Dugal.


 
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