Postcards from Morrowind

Foreword: This article takes place in a Morrowind heavily modifed over the vanilla install and was inspired by one of my best friends playing it again and describing her experience in conversation (Hello, Sarah!), and also heavily influenced by an ongoing Game Diary written by one of RockPaperShotgun’s four founding members, Alec Meer. I’ve stuck fairly closely to Alec’s list of Mods, albeit tailored to my own desires, but have used one or two more I thought would be useful. I’ll mention these where applicable. Alec’s continuing diaries provide fascinating reading for those seeking a more journalistic interpretation of the enormous range of experiences the practically unparalleled game-world Morrowind has to offer. By contrast, I intend this article to be nothing more than light amusement and a minor showcase of the amazing things the talented and dedicated community has made available for this old classic. Enjoy.

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By far the most undeniably astonishing modification you can make to Morrowind is to unleash the Morrowind Graphical Extender (MGE) upon it. The default game, being a product of the time when computers were not so powerful as today, relies on some very close fogging to keep frame-rates high, hiding everything beyond a certain range as if you are perpetually surround by a thick cone of the stuff. For a world as imaginatively designed as Morrowind this can be extremely frustrating. The MGE utility removes such frustrations. Behold!

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Sunset, looking west from a hill not far from Maar Gan, in the Ashlands region.

Fans of Morrowind’s sequel, Oblivion, are well used to such sweeping landscapes thanks to the new technology developers Bethesda designed for that game. But to see them in Morrowind really does take the breath away. EVERYTHING you see here can be travelled to, including that Dwemer (Dwarven) ruin poking up on the right-hand side of the horizon. Another great feature of MGE is that it can apply better shading and lighting effects – you’ll note the blood red splashes of colour to the left of the snapshot, caused as the setting sun reflects on the water. What’s also enormously exciting it that I’ve had to use the LOWER settings of this mod to get an acceptable frame-rate on my six year old machine at a paltry (but still anti-aliased) 800×600 resolution. Imagine how much better it would look on a modern beast PC!

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A massive Silt-Strider stands ready to transport passengers around Morrowind, on the southern edge of Balmora. Early-morning mists still cling sleepily to the surrounding hills. Aww.

Another of MGE’s capabilities is to apply a blur effect to distant landforms, leading to a faintly romantic depth-of-field effect perfect for fantasy games such as this one. The patches of light you can see above are the product of another mod, Lights300, which applies much more realistic and dynamic lighting conditions to exterior and interior environments and other sources. Interiors look SO much better than the bland ambient lighting the game shipped with, although it does take some getting used to the now-pitch-black caverns, tombs and dungeons! Torches, lamps and lighting spells become vitally important for any intrepid explorer, introducing a much-needed note of real trepidation as sudden frontal attacks from the gloom test nerves and loosen bowels…

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Ahem. Yes, I paid a visit to the House of Earthly Delights in Suran, but only on official business for the Fighter's Guild, I assure you. You can put your hands down now, love. My weapon won't be leaving its sheath this time...

Speaking of human bottoms…this lively, somewhat seedy tavern in Suran benefits hugely, not only from the lighting mod bathing everything in flickering red light, but also from the Better Bodies mod (also Better Faces, Better Hair, etc), an enormous improvement over the rough, gawky, low-poly character models supplied by Bethesda back in 2002. When this young naked dancer completes her spin she is ENTIRELY anatomically correct (and quite deliciously so), meaning this is possibly the only shot (out of the 783 I seem to have taken) that I could show you without me and my blogging being summarily drop-kicked out of the WordPress community. Thankfully, the ladies of Morrowind don’t go in for ‘brazilians’, a practice I’ve always thought makes women look like plastic Barbie dolls anyway. Hurrah for realism!

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Silt-Strider travel agent, Selvil Sareloth, stands watch atop his lonely boarding platform, cheerfully reciting the company sales-mottos to each and every passer-by in his trademark throaty growl: "We make a special run, just for you. Same low price". Drives the ladies wild, so I'm told.

A noteworthy feature of this particular shot (apart from the re-textured surfaces: Morrowind Visual Pack v3) is something we geeks like to call HDR lighting, another fabulous ability of the now legendary MGE mod that seeks to emulate the way lighting contrast is handled by human eyes, the way our irises open and close to adjust to less or more light coming in. This shot perfectly encapsulates the glaring band of brightness that often occurs between grey skies and dark landscape. Taking this shot reminded me very much of the most prominent form of what we laughingly call ‘weather’ in my home town of Aberdeen, which also boasts one of the highest rates of suicide in the North-East of Scotland. Coincidence? I’m not a great believer in it.

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This coy minx steadfastly refusing to share her surname with me was discovered hiding her great beauty under the bushel of a local Imperial Cult office. I did try to coax a little softness out of her, but she weathered my attentions with the kind of measured patience only the truly beautiful learn to wield when being pestered by those of lesser attractiveness. Bitch. Still, I've dated religious women before and they always tend to clash badly with my Heathen ways. Perhaps this was for the best.

My last snap of the day showcases another of the great mods Alec had selected for his Morrowind adventure: MCA, or Morrowind Comes Alive. MCA adds hundreds more NPCs to the game, making the world feel more, um, alive than the default game, which often tended to be a sparse, lonely experience. Now we have bands of bandits roving the badlands, shoppers shopping in the towns and villages, and many gorgeous and startling additions like the one pictured above. I once encountered a pleasant, blue-skinned Dunmer (Dark Elf) woman outside a Daedric (Demon) Ruin who had the most amazing wings upon her back but, to my eternal regret, I had not packed my camera on that trip. I also found a Lay-Preistess in Vivec who bore a stunning resemblance to my good friend, Suzanne. But when I later returned, camera in hand, she was nowhere to be seen…

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If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’ve enjoyed putting this together so much I may do this or something similar one day soon! If you fancy trying the mods you can simply google for them, read the lists of links Alec has diligently placed within his precis articles or, if you have some time, why not sift through this fairly mind-boggling  list? Please be careful, though. Spending hours looking for the right dresses to put into a game means you may be taking it all too seriously, and – if you are aggressively masculine like myself – might lead to some decidedly uncomfortable moments of self-awareness.

Keeping Pidgin aloft

I’ve been chatting a lot on Facebook recently. For the few lingering hold-outs in igloos and mud huts that aren’t aware, Facebook comes with its very own tiny little chat facility. The Good: If a friend is logged into Facebook, you’ll see their name appear and then have the option of opening a tiny chat window in which you can both converse in real-time via the magic of your keyboard. The bad: that’s virtually all the chat window does. You can open it up to full screen to avoid the claustrophobic feeling of typing into a postage stamp but that’s really the only feature of note. No personalising the font. No saving message history. No customising your contacts. A smiley icon or two, but hardly an exhaustive list. The chat box functionality has obviously been targeted at short, concise conversations, as opposed to two people determinedly putting the world to rights.

Poor old Pidgin was becoming superfluous.

In these heady days of social networking I can count on one hand the number of friends I have that still use Instant Messaging (and even then, only rarely), even with Pidgin’s handy facility to connect to multiple IM protocols: AIM, GoogleTalk, ICQ, MySpace, MSN and many more. I have Pidgin set to run at system startup so it’s generally there, ready to use, whenever my PC is on (Unless I shut it down to free up system resources for Gaming). And yet all too often that small white box in the lower right quadrant of my screen was empty, unused and somewhat forlorn. I was giving serious thought to retiring the poor thing.

Thank the stars, then, for a plug-in that integrates Facebook chat into the superior Pidgin client! I love that solving problems on PC’s is often as simple as asking the right questions of a search engine. 🙂

Pidgin

Usage: Once you’ve installed the plugin, simply add a new account using your Facebook login details and you’re ready to go. As soon as someone logs in to Facebook they’ll appear in Pidgin’s main window neatly categorised in your contact list; Pidgin creates a permanent entry for new contacts although I’d advise entering an alias ASAP – if you close and reopen Pidgin for any reason you’ll be left with FB’s default reference codes, eg: 541109887.

I’m still working out exactly how this integration works within Pidgin. If I come across any useful tips or pointers (the website documentation doesn’t explain much beyond installing the thing) I’ll let you know.

Plants vs Zombies!!! YouTube Trailer!!!

I don’t know what it is…but I must have played this song for myself over two dozen times already. I think it’s the litle sunflower’s singing voice; she’s adorable, moving the song well past the paltry word ‘catchy’ and into some strange universe where music directly reprograms your brain’s neural wiring.

Have a listen, but don’t blame me if you’re sneaking out of bed at 3am to fire up the PC for one more blast:

(Incidentally, this video is the highly imaginitive marketing effort for an upcoming PC game. Find out more here, particularly if you can’t get enough of Solitaire, Peggle or Bejewelled. You can even make your own Zombie Avatar!

Battlestar Galactica: Grief Counselling

As a drama in the fullest sense of the word, Battlestar Galactica delighted in making its cast of characters share more than few cross words with each other…

…which segues nicely – and not at all in a crude and grossly contrived way –  to a Crossword (geddit?) created to give us bereft BSG fans something other than endless repeat viewings of the DVDs to hold on to. Find it HERE (click the capitalised word, folks), from the lovely geeks at UserFriendly.org

And, sniff, there’s more chat and reminiscences…HERE. Sniff.  *runs off to cry manly tears*