Confessions of a Deluded Dreamer

truancyfactory is a scrapbook of completed mods, work-in-progress projects, fragmentary tutorials, game design articles and infrequent blog entries devoted to the art and science of game development and modding. Most of my work centers around The Elder Scrolls IV and V: Oblivion and Skyrim, and Fallout 3, though I have done a bit of modding for other games and engines as well, including UT3/UDK, Unity, and the BGE (Blender Game Engine). Years ago, I also had a brief dalliance with the TGE (Torque Game Engine). So, yeah, I've been around, but I'm not like a pro or anything. :P

If you're looking for one of my mods, download links and forum threads can be found for my released mods on the appropriate pages. I don't have nearly as much time to work on all of these various projects as I would like, so things are probably going to remain in a WIP state more or less indefinitely. If you want to contact me for some reason, click on my name at the bottom of any page.

So what's my story?

I first got interested in the idea of game design about the mid to late '90s. At the time, I was pretty much completely ignorant about computers, math, science, or any of that stuff. I was trying to become a writer at the time (still using an electric typewriter) but found myself stuck with a bad case of writer's block. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the words to do what I wanted them to do: no matter how many words I used, or how I arranged them, I couldn't get them to create a virtual world that was persistant, that could be explored at leisure. You see, words are great at telling stories, at moving people from point A to point B through narrative or instruction, but they are not good at describing environments with photo-realistic accuracy, or for creating environments that the user can explore in any order they desire. What I really wanted to do was lead people through the minutely detailed landscapes that populated my imagination, to share with them some of the interesting places that I'd been, and let them talk to some of the interesting characters that I'd met there.

I'd already tried my hand at the fine arts and quickly realized that I was never going to be a great artist like Dali or Ernst, or even a good comic book illustrator, so I sort of felt trapped by the medium I had chosen to work in. It just wasn't doing it for me and I didn't know how to change it. This stalemate resulted in a persistant form of writer's block that dominated my waking consciousness: I wanted so badly to create, but felt powerless to create what I wanted to. It was around the time of this existential dilemma that the Internet started gaining in popularity and I think something about surfing the web in those dimly lit web site cafes, or donning the uncomfortable virtual reality goggles for the VRMs that had started to appear in some of those cafes, that sort of twigged something for me.

Now, I like video games as much as the next guy, but prior to that moment of realizing that the global virtual world was fast approaching I would never have considered myself a gamer. I barely ever played games. I didn't even own a console or PC that could play them and aside from a few Vic 20, Commodore 64 and Sega Genesis games played in my youth, I had very little experience with the medium. In fact, I had almost no experience using a computer and didn't even know how to use a word processor or set up an email account. I was about as computer illiterate as they come!

Having absolutely no idea how to go about creating a game, I sort of pushed the idea out of my head almost as quickly as it came to me: it was far too unrealistic and ambitious, so I didn't even see a point in pursuing it. It would have made as much sense for me to become a professional athlete or medical doctor as it did to make video games since all of them were equally outside the ken of my experience. But the impact of seeing the world wide web and experiencing virtual reality first hand had left an indelible impression on me: I decided that, at the very least, I could learn how to make web pages and create my own web site. (Hey, waddaya know, it worked!)

I spent the first couple years of my burgeoning interest in computers learning how to make simple web pages like this one, all hand-coded in Notepad in HTML and CSS (which I still do to this day, though now I use Notepad++). Now, I'm a very thorough, detail-oriented sort of person, so I learned how to use every single tag in existence in HTML 4.0 and even had a web site with a huge table detailing all of the tags, providing links to the W3 standards, etc. This taste of coding excellence (not that I was excellent, but that the fare was delicious) combined with my growing confidence with computers eventually lead me to try my hand at a real programming language. My first stop was BASIC, but didn't last very long. I quickly promoted myself to C and spent a couple of great years learning the ins and outs of the syntax.

After years of working with computers and learning how to program and familiarizing myself with the field of game development, I evenutally realized that I was going to have to bite the bullet and learn C++. I spent a lot of time trying to teach myself Windows programming, Allegro, OpenGL, SDL, DirectX and other things but felt like I wasn't getting where I wanted to go fast enough. By this point, I had gotten a better job and bought myself a PS2 and XBOX and had a bit more gaming experience under my belt. One of the games I bought for the XBOX and fell instantly in love with was Half-life 2, by Valve. At this point, even though I still spent all of my time teaching myself web design and C/C++ programming, I still didn't have any PC games and didn't really understand how games were made at a higher conceptual level. By chance, I happened to stumble across Erik Guilfoyle's Half-life 2 Mods for Dummies and it was like the sky opened and God reached down and smacked me in the face. You mean you can create 3d environments by using an existing game engine instead of creating the entire thing yourself in C++?! Sweet revelation!

I bought the book and went out and bought myself a copy of HL2 for the PC and took off on an entirely new stage of my journey. And the results were unbelievable! I couldn't believe that within a few hours I had a small virtual world up and running on my own PC, one that I could shape any way that I liked and share with others. My first mod was a small house filled with headcrabs and zombies and was an exhilarating experience. Source modding was were I first really encountered the concepts of level design, texture art, creating 3d models, and optimising your game for performance. As much as I enjoyed creating levels in the Hammer editor, I found the other aspects of HL2 modding to be a little over my head. It seemed like to do anything else, you had to be a pretty good C++ programmer, which I wasn't. Fortunately for me, it was around this time that I really got into a new XBOX game: Morrowind.

After trying and failing at many HL2 mods, I decided I would look around at other modding platforms. Since I was playing Morrowind at the time, I thought I'd look into that engine, but since Oblivion had already been released by that time, I decided to skip Morrowind and go directly for Oblivion. (I still have never done any Morrowing modding and just bought a copy of the game off Steam a week ago.) I bought a copy of Oblivion GOTY and managed to get it working on my six-year old mid-range PC. (Though it would only run on low settings, even with a graphic card upgrade and extra RAM.) Ever since that fateful day, I've been hooked. (Ok, not totally hooked: I have dallied with the Fallout 3 engine, and still do, from time to time.) Since then, I have created a few released mods, a very early beta for a total conversion for Oblivion, and numberless unfinished mods, models, textures, etc.

Although I have been modding since about 2008, I am definitely not an expert in any one field and fall pretty much squarely into the category of 'jack-of-all-trades': I have done modeling, rigging, skinning, texturing, animation, level design, scripting, and sound effects all at a very basic level. I also spend a great deal of time helping out in the forums, contributing to wikis, writing tutorials, creating promotional material for mods, and drawing concept art (pretty rudimentary at best). And I still write, from time to time, too. Although I have worked with others on team projects, I primarily work independently, pursuing my own concepts and solving modding puzzles that appeal to me personally. For me, at this point in my development: the sky is the limit.

I see tremendous potential in this medium: it combines some of the coolest features of cinema, graphic novels, digital imaging, sound design, and interactive story-telling. But making games is only the beginning: making art, now that's something to strive for. That is why I got into this whole thing, after all.

Aliases

I can be reached on many forums under various names: TheMagician, on the Bethsoft forums, TES Alliance and CS Wiki. Truant on the MaPZone forum, GECK wiki and a couple other forums. Yithian on ModDB. Feel free to pm me with any questions or comments about the site or any of my mods or tutorials.

Last updated March 29, 2012

© 2009-2011 Dave Finch

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