A Fool In Morrowind: Précis, Take 2

By Alec Meer on June 22nd, 2009 at 11:54 pm.

Alright – let’s make this precious. Upon my first introduction to my impending Morrowind diary series, the resulting slew of comments threw up two important mistakes on my part. Number one, the Giants mod is a really, really bad idea. Number two, I’d totally overlooked the vitally important (in the beauty stakes, at least) Morrowind Graphics Extender. After a hard day of farting about with ESM files, I’ve finally got what – I hope – is the ideal Morrowind build for my planned journey of cheerful incompetence. Beneath the cut, a more or less complete list of the frightening number of mods I’m now running, and a fairly stunning before and after comparison. Without a doubt, the goodly men’n'well-let’s-be-honest-it’s-pretty-much-all-men [oops, apparently there's a ton of female Morrowind modders, and now it appears some people hate me. Sigh.] of the Morrowind modding community have done jawdropping things to this olden RPG.

From the first attempt at this, the following remain:

Better Bodies – which, primarily, adds joints to the game’s otherwise rigid torsos, and some nicer textures for people whose clothes you’ve nicked. There’s a choice of whether to leave them totally nude or with some tasteful underwear. I’ve gone for the latter, because I’m afraid of sex.

Better Heads – Those blurry porridge-faces get a bit of sprucing up. Also applies to the player models, not that you get to see your own face outside of the tutorial (I don’t think?)

Morrowind Comes Alive – This is a good’un. It throws in a crapton of wandering NPCs into the world, so it’s not the underpopulated robo-land it is out of the box.

The Wilderness Mod – Similar to the above, but with angry animals. This means I’m probably going to get attacked by a tiger eventually.

Real Signposts – Crisp signpost textures get me hard.

Added to that is this little lot:

Slartibartfast’s Texture fix – gets rid of the jarring seams between textures, making for a far more organic-looking world.

Better Beasts – doing for our four-legged friends what Better Bodies does for the bipeds of Vvardenfell.

Better Clothes – yeah, guess. Means cloth bends to the new joints of Better Bodies, mostly.

Enhanced Sky – surprisingly, this actually renders realistic foreskins on all male Khajit. Or maybe it enhances the sky textures. I forget.

Ren’s Oblivion hair – ooh, wavy.

Vality’s Mods – add most of these and you’ll end up with a frightening amount of vegetation (forests evolve from skeletal shrubs to towering glades) and a capital city that looks like it’s part of the landscape it’s set within, as opposed to a smidgen of aesthetic discordance from the out-of-the-box version.

Where are all the birds going? and Water life – incidental wildlife for the skies and seas of Morrowind. Surprisingly evocative, plus it meant I stabbed a duckling to death within my first five minutes of play.

The unofficial Morrowind patch and the unofficial Morrowind code patch. These fix things I don’t realistically expect to ever notice, but hey, they sound important.

The jewel in the crown is the Morrowind Graphics Extender. This ongoing project overhauls the visuals significantly, from draw distance to anisotropic filtering. I wasted something in the region of four hours today trying to get the latest version to work, but eventually had to settle for two iterations back. Sounds like I’m missing out on quite a bit of goodness – including HDR and animated grass – but at least I now get widescreen resolutions and anti-aliasing.

As well as that, I’m running the Morrowind FPS Optimizer. Not to optimize my framerate, as frankly it’s beyond redemption after all that stuff I’ve piled into the game (I seem to have stabilised it at somewhere just shy of 60FPS by being brutal in the MGE settings, but the epic view distances are sadly denied to me), but for the field of vision option. Without it, I end up zoomed weirdly close into my conversation partners; with it, I crackle with widescreen power. On my 1920×1200 monitor, I set the FOV to 100.389. You’ll need to turn off Novice mode to set the FOV, incidentally.

Net result – some visual wierdness, but all-told a far better-looking game. You want proof? You can’t handle it. Oh, alright:

From this

To this

(Click for big’uns).

Clearly, it’s a major aesthetic change as well as a technological one, and that’s often something I’m resistant to. In this case, my feeling is Morrowind is so obviously graphically fudging it out of the box that the new look isn’t sacrificing much of what was intended, but I’m quite sure others will feel differently. I feel a lot more inclined to explore this new world than the original, certainly.

, .

86 Comments »

  1. Sajmn says:

    And to think I’ve never even played Morrowind, which seems a shame considering how much attention it has gathered. But then it can be hard to get oneself to play such an old game without nostalgic glorification.

  2. Serondal says:

    Okay that top picture , the face of the dark elf, is NOT in the game as it comes from the box :P So you went from slightly modded to fully modded, not from normal vanilla up.

    Also even with all the mods it still looks like crap, I’ll stick with my Oblivion thanks :)

    Someone told me there is a mod for morrowind that adds Oblivion’s combat , might look into that.

  3. Samuel Bass says:

    That’s one tiny cow. Did you add the “Minibeasts” mod?

  4. Adventurous Putty says:

    Whatever mod added the sheep I’d get rid of. Other than that, you’ve picked ones that seem to maintain the aesthetic feel of the original game while “upgrading” it somewhat.

    Good job!

  5. sinister agent says:

    Why are you apparently being mugged in both shots? Is there a Moss Side mod?

  6. Kadayi says:

    Looks pretty good. I recall that a guy who did some of the character modelling for one of the Unreal games did make some updated face textures. I’m not sure if they are in that big old face pack you’ve already gotten, but they might be worth checking out.

    Found a link:-

    http://planetelderscrolls.gamespy.com/View.php?view=Mods.Detail&id=2034

    There was also a rather funky mod that added the ability to keep track of where you’d visited on the map and make notes, which was quite invaluable. I believe this is it:-

    http://www.morrowind-oblivion.com/interactive_map.php

    Its been a while since I played MW. I’m not sure whether its Vista compatible etc. Give a go though.

  7. Svenska says:

    Cow? Thought it was a sheep.

    So, I assume that my old lappy wouldn’t be able to run all of the mods that you are? If not, what would the important ones be?

  8. Paul B says:

    If you look at the bigger picture, it’s got an udder and two horns, so I therefore pronounce it a cow. Good, let’s get the important questions out of the way first ;)

  9. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Finding and installing mods for Morrowind is arguably part of the game.

  10. fdsgdshdhsdh says:

    The Graphics extender Doesnt work with the steam vversion which is kinda lame

  11. Svenska says:

    K, it’s a cow.

  12. Finalfrog says:

    My piece of advice is save every 5 minutes, and I’m not talking quicksaves. I’m talking keeping a rotating stack of 30 or so saves which you rotate through in case something crops up and you don’t notice for half an hour. Someone built an awesome tool for just such purpose which functions entirely automatically…for Oblivion. There is no such tool currently for Morrowind due to the fact that you can’t save a game by script. I made a little reminder script which might help save your saves.
    Link- http://planetelderscrolls.gamespy.com/View.php?view=Mods.Detail&id=6915
    Hope that helps.

  13. Serondal says:

    Save the game every 5 minutes? That’s pretty cowardly. I bet you save the game every time you fight something slightly dangerous just to make sure you don’t die, and save the game just before you go into situations where you’re extremly likely to die (I.E. never since in morrowind your character is a god very quickly)

  14. solipsistnation says:

    Is there someplace to download a giant pack of pre-installed mods, from somebody who has already sorted out the weird interactions between textures and stuff? I set up a bunch of mods the other day, and while it’s playable, there are some odd errors on startup and I think pieces are missing… I did find mention of a massive morrowind mod pack from some somethingawful goons, but I can’t get to the link and couldn’t find it linked in elsewhere…

  15. PatriotMan says:

    Morrowind is likely my favorite PC game of all time. Downloading mods was probably my favorite part of the game. I also enjoyed that someone as arguably retarded as myself could customize it quite easily with the editor.

    Was it the Morrowind Framerate Optimizer which allowed you to turn on infinite view distance?

  16. undead dolphin hacker says:

    @Serondal

    You save the game every five minutes so when it crashes unceremoniously due to all the mods you have installed, you have a very close backup.

    @solipsistnation

    I downloaded it, it’s fully functional but really bad. Almost every square inch has some new poorly designed dungeon or town full of insanely overpowered items.

    The modpack is more a proof of concept to try and cram as many mods into Morrowind without causing any conflicts. Quality of the mods is not considered in the least.

    Still, if, like me, found guilty pleasure in those crappy fan-made Quake 2/Tribes maps of yesteryear that were so ridiculously unbalanced and crazily overambitious and overdesigned, it might be worth a look.

  17. undead dolphin hacker says:

    “It” being the Something Awful pack.

  18. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    This is certainly not a frightening amount of mods, least not for an Elder Scrolls game.

  19. Vinraith says:

    I have to agree with Dorian. The last time I ran a Morrowind game it was with a load of 40, and even THAT is light by the standards of some aficionados.

  20. Tyraa Rane says:

    The Morrowind Code Patch he mentioned basically negates any need to save like an OCD hypochondriac. Without it, a heavily modded MW was pretty unstable, mostly due to local reference conflicts. (Google it if you like. The explanation’s pretty complicated.) The MCP more or less sorts said conflicts, which puts a stop to a lot of CTDs.

    That said, I’d still save often; even with the MCP, Morrowind still likes to throw up all over itself every now and then. (Either the engine bugs out or a mod does.) Every five minutes is excessive, though, IMHO. I tend to go more like every half-hour/45 minutes, if that.

  21. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Blerg. Doesn’t look like Morrowind.
    It IS a large aesthetic change. People seemed to freak out at the alien starkness and try and add lushness and coweep (or is that sheecows?) and wolves and things, but, like, it’s meant to look like that. You are meant to have those weird dog things and grubs attacking you instead of standard fantasy staple. Leave your comfort zone people! Be challenged!

    I’d seriously consider the cliff runner removal mod though. Those things just got boring really fast.

  22. Feintlocke says:

    Nice little mod list. I got a lot of mileage out of Oblivion but for some reason I started a million and one characters in Morrowind and rarely got past the starting village. I may join you in this little endeavour.

  23. IvanHoeHo says:

    Actually, could you also put up a picture of the ecm load order, so that us lowly peasents could hope to follow your footsteps one day? thanks.

    Oh, and one thing that broke the deal for me for Morrowind (and others) was the lack of fidality of the fights. It was fine when I was observing the action from the sky, but it’s just too jarring from first person perspective. Hope this changes my mind!

  24. unclebulgaria says:

    Anything that gets rid of Cliff Racers will do the job. Seriously. Try it without. Thank me later.

  25. sinister agent says:

    There’s no need to nuke cliff racers if you get a mod that makes them spawn less/act passive unless disturbed. One of the first mods I’d install with Obliv or Morrowind would be one to stop the 100% creature suicide rate.

  26. Noc says:

    More like Morrowlost amirite?

    . . . sorry.

  27. Kobzon the Dunmer Potion Factory says:

    Start playing already!

    …and ditch the pink anime wigs. Better Heads comes with nice hair, no need for anything else.

  28. Taillefer says:

    You link to Vality’s mods, but your screenshots don’t show you using the grass mod. It’s amazingly well done.

    The Ambient Sound Effects mod is also great. I use that and turn the music off, for extra immersion.

  29. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    For games where I’m worried about long-term savefile corruption and retention (e.g. Dwarf Fortress), I use the source-code control tool “git”, turning my entire savefile directory into a version-controlled tree. Then I just run a script that commits everything (assuming there are any changes) every minute or so. git is pretty good about handling binary changes in a space- and time-efficient manner.

    It doesn’t solve the problem of actually remembering to save frequently, but it does solve the problem of rotating save slots. You only need one, since any prior savegame is accessible.

    (Granted, I don’t know how easily accessible they are, since I’ve never had to go back to an old save. It’s been more for insurance thus far.)

    (And yes, I know DF has a seasonal backup system, but sometimes I want more frequent than that. Plus, seasonal autosaves overwrite your last manual save. Yes, even though they end up in a different directory, they overwrite-then-copy, rather than saving direct.)

  30. solipsistnation says:

    @Wisq: I bow to your nerdity. That’s a pretty cool solution. I hope perl is involved somewhere, or python.

  31. malkav11 says:

    Oh lord. Morrowind is hardly “so old” – it’s what, a 2001 game? That’s practically a baby. And the unique aesthetics handily make up for any incidental oldness of the 3D (which is, at any rate, past the “never looked good to begin with” stage of 3D tech). No nostalgia required.

  32. hoobastank says:

    Never play Oblivion. Cyrodiil was meant to be a crazy jungle filled with roman soldiers stomping through aztec architecture and they turned it into consolized mix and match euro-fantasy trash. its visuals, while technically capable, are bland bullshit. Lavaland, deciduousforestland, and snow mountains. How anyone could think it looks more interesting than morrowind is beyond me. also axes are blunt weapons and spears dont exist. &c.

  33. Larington says:

    I tried to play the game yesterday, for the first time, using the set of mods listed previously, really struggling to get into it. Quest support is extremely basic as best I can tell, and the inventory system with regards to shopping is awful, having to mouse over every item to check if it’s light/medium/heavy armour and so on is terrible, wish there was some more sorting options aside from weapons, clothing, bla bla bla.

  34. Larington says:

    Also I think I might have been spoiled by the graphical spangliness of Oblivion, even with the better bodies/heads mods for morrowind.

  35. Pantsman says:

    I don’t understand the love of Morrowind over Oblivion. I played the former after the latter. Yes, the environments were more creative and the gameplay (slightly) more complex. But the world made up (or perhaps down) for its visual panache by being far more lifeless (or is that less lively?) than Oblivion’s. All I could really hope to find in the wastes were some more encyclopedia NPCs or a bunch more cliff-racers, whose calls will forever be inscribed in my brain. The faction quest lines I played were also much less interesting – apparently in Morrowind, all you have to do to become the highest-ranking mage in the land is to work as the guild’s mailboy for a little while. In Oblivion, I had to resolve a terrible threat to the land entirely seperate from that of the main quest.

    Both games struck me as being just pretty good, competent and enjoyable titles, without any spark to make them really memorable.

  36. Antistar says:

    @Alec:

    Morrowind Graphics Extender is a royal pain to set up (especially the first time, when trying to figure out how it works). I remember it taking ages to find an HDR shader (or combination of shaders) that I liked, and that worked decently. A quick look at my own Morrowind install shows that I settled on this HDR shader:

    DX9 HLSL HDR 6

    And you’re approaching 60 frames per second? That’s monstrously high! I usually have 25-30 (or something – I don’t know; I don’t really notice anything higher than that).

    Oh – I mentioned after the first article on this, but you can see your character’s face outside the tutorial: hold down the third-person-view button and move the mouse. I did forget to say, though, that you can of course see your character’s face in the inventory screen too.

  37. ChampionHyena says:

    GRAWK GRAWK GRAWK ELDER SCROLLS MUST FIND TIME TO BASH OBLIVION

    What-EVS. Christ a-mighty, give it a rest.

    Just to throw in my entirely unwarranted two cents (or
    0.0122609 GBP, as the case may be), I’ve never been too keen on warping an Elder Scrolls game’s basic makeup. No mods to kill Oblivion’s autoleveling world or to add new races or make the facial models look better… I always played with the unofficial patches to iron out the kinks and a DarNified UI to make dealing with menus and inventory a little easier for the mouse-and-keyboard set.

    Now that Morrowind is on Steam and I can finally play it again after my discs scattered themselves to the four corners of the immaterium, I imagined taking largely the same tack. Unofficial patches, the code patch, et cetera. I gotta admit, though, them screenies shore iz pretty. I’m fearful of screwing with Morrowind’s (admittedly dated) visuals for fear of losing tha flava, but my interest is piqued now. I think I may end up toying with a few of the listed mods.

  38. CakeAddict says:

    “stabbed a duckling to death within my first five minutes of play.”

    Looking even more forward to the diary.

    And I have to agree with undead dolphin hacker, finding mods and installing them is for me around 30% of the game if not more.
    Most of the time I start with only a few graphical mods like this but when I’ve finished the game I have at least around 50 mods installed not all activated though that would mess thing up even more.

    And yeah that’s only hell of a ugly cow and I find the textures on the trees look like rock but that might just be me.
    Also.. get a mod that removes cliff racers (or at least the re spawning ones) unless you want to spend half the game killing them of course, whatever floats your boat I guess.

  39. Mr.President says:

    Never understood the Internet’s acute hatred for cliff racers. Never even thought there was anything special about them until I read a Morrowind discussion on some gaming forum months later.

    Although that may have something to do with the fact that I always played as an archer – I can imagine trying to hit one of those things with a short sword being a little tricky…

  40. CakeAddict says:

    @ Mr.President.

    I found them VERY annoying every few seconds you would hear one coming at you.. with their petrifying screams.
    Every time I play morrowind I expect to hear it.. but thanks to mods no more! yay!

    And yeah If you don’t play a archer or a mage it’s even more annoying. (why you would waste arrows on those putrid things is beyond me.)

  41. Howard says:

    All looking rather tasty. Am downloading swathes of moddy goodness as I type.

    One question. The MGE seems pretty bloody useless to me apart from fixing wide-screen issues. AA and AF have been controllable through your cards control panel for some time as far as I can see (in Morrowind I mean, not in general) and I have simply never been able to make its shader usage work. Anyone got any guides for doing this?
    Also the infinite view distance is fun but as all the building still render in at the same distance they used to it looks as if you are playing on an utterly deserted plain with its inhabitants and structures magically warping in at about 20 feet distance. Is there a way to resolve this yet so that everything renders correctly?

  42. Howard says:

    (EDIT to the above) Wait up. Seems I was using a vastly outdated version of MGE… Am now tinkering with the new one… doh!

  43. Howard says:

    (Edit to the EDIT) Sigh… except none of the newer versions are able to run under Vista. Epic fail…

  44. jarvoll says:

    Yeah, as a very enthusiastic Oblivion modder (that is, I use them, not make them), 40 is *tiny*. I believe I’m hovering around the 160-mod mark at the moment, and certainly over 100 seems to be status quo from what I’ve seen of the online community.

    While modding is definitely part of the game’s fun, I’ve experienced a couple of times that it takes me 3 full days to install the game, install all the DLC, patch it up (both official and unofficial), find my list of mods, download their latest versions, install all the helper programs (Wrye Bash, OMM), get FCOM installed and working, get the rest installed, figure out AGAIN how to get Darnified to work as I like it… by the time I actually get into the game, I’m sick of it, and I move on to something else. I’ve never actually got beyond level 10, due to this and never being able to decide among combat, magic, and stealth (and so playing 1 character of each, simultaneously). But, in the end of year holidays, I’ve committed to a full proper playthrough (after having bought a processor that can get me better framerates – with all these mods it’s *certainly* the bottleneck), so hopefully I’ll be able to properly enjoy all the work I’ve done to get an awesome mod set-up. I can’t wait!

  45. Tei says:

    IMHO:
    The second screenshot don’t look better. Sure, the character face and boy looks more highpoly, but looks more generic… lilke a indian. There are no Apaches in morrowind, but this screenshot show one.
    I will not comment the cow, nothing against it.
    But new trees look like worst than the new ones from this screenshot.
    Anyway is just a screenshot, that means *nothing*. Probably the game looks beatiful now.

    Also, I share your pain. Setting tons of mods to work togueter in morrowind can be a pain.

  46. AyeKay says:

    I remember playing Morrowind four PCs ago and setting the gfx options to minimal and still suffering groaning and juddering. I gave up when I got to Vivec because with all those buildings! and people! it became unplayable. After an upgrade I loaded up Vivec in the rain and it looked so good that I played it into the small hours without eating.

    In the intervening years without anyone changing anything it’s somehow gone from looking
    so good to looking like the dull, muddy placeholder art in Alec’s first screenshot.

    When I was a boy all this were fields you know.

  47. BarkingDog says:

    I played Morrowind back in 2001 for 6 months, finished, and never went back. Admittedly my memories may be somewhat hazy but I still recall the graphics etc being perfectly adequate without any need for messing around with mods. Solid (mad) storyline- the expansions were great- there’s just a fuckton of stuff to do. But the travel time! Fucking hell. Even with an acrobatics score made cheat-high.

    Wasn’t too fussed by cliff racers because I could always jump faster than they could fly. Cheat-high acrobatics= <3

    You can see your own face by either not touching anything for a while, in which case the game does this "since-you're-afk-the-camera-will-swing-around-your-body-for-a-bit" thing, or by pressing a mouselook button (I forget which).

  48. BarkingDog says:

    Oh also slightly disappointed by how the combat wasn’t challenging or fun once you acquired decent gear and understood how to do things. The main joy for me was looting, doing interesting quests, looting, exploring- and, of course, looting.

  49. Wulf says:

    And these pictures…

    I realise why my whimperings about art-direction fall on deaf ears now, and I thought Alec would have known better. All you need is a basic grasp of visual cohesion, elements that fit, and how to put those elements together.

    For example, in the first shot, thoe trees are correct, they’re a little barren but they’re swamp trees, and Seyda Neen is in a swampy area (lots of swamp in Morrowind in general)!

    Look at this: http://www.wildnetga.org/albums/photos_1046/2007cnp_PIC00006.jpg

    The trees in Morrowind look a little barren by coomparison, but they still look like a very basic representation of the right kind of trees for that swampy atmosphere. They could do with a bit of fluffing up and prettying, but they are swamp trees. Bethesda is shit at some things, but they understand visual cohesion.

    The latter shot…

    It makes me want to whine and whimper, it really does. I mean, if I’m not mistaken, aren’t those the kinds of trees one finds in temperate ones? I may be stupid, and I’m sorry if I am… but it just doesn’t look like it fits at all.

    And and and… the end result is that we have an image that looks like it’s filled with oak trees… oak trees with vines hanging between them.

    fffffffffffffffffffffffffff

    Doesn’t anyone else see that? The trunks are too wide.

    I go on a lot of rampages about visual cohesion, most of you have probably seen one or two — such as how I twitch and cower at the lack thereof in Diablo III — and I don’t do it just for the fun of it. I’m hoping I’ll open eyes, here.

    Look at he first shot too…

    I may just be a fool here, but that really doesn’t right to me, comparing the width of the character with the width of the trees to get a sense of relativity, it becomes obvious. Now, if you want to turn Morrowind into a temperate zone, that’s fine… but with those wide-trunked-yet-short temperate zone trees there, having the fog and the vines accompanying that looks… silly.

    I had this problem with the modding community too, not so much with the modders but with those who used the mods, who’d present a horrible mish-mash of visual inconsistencies and egotistically say it was better than Bethesda could do.

    The thing is… some of them were right.

    There were people who could put together a visually cohesive package and it would look incredible, because they’d have a good eye for what fits and what didn’t. It’s like cooking and having a decent palette, and if someone threw sliced bananas onto a cooked dinner, most people would react badly.

    And temperate zone trees in a swamp is sliced bananas on a cooked dinner.

    The only part I find galling though is that it’s presented as if it’s better than the original. Example: “Net result – some visual wierdness, but all-told a far better-looking game.” If Alex had just said that he wanted to go in a new direction and threw stuff together, fine… but to say it looks better…

    So we go from ‘this’, which looks ancient but at least has a sense of visual consistency, to ‘this’, which is so jarring it actually makes me twitch.

    Ideally I’d say to keep the bananas out of the cooked dinner, but people won’t do that because they like throwing random junk together and without any sense of taste (and even Wassily Kandinsky had a better sense of style than most gamers, it seems), but at least have the good taste to not present it as better than the original.

    Because as long as the original that presents something cohesive and fitting the environment, and the upgrade doesn’t, then the original will be better because stylistically it looks more believable.

    Drop the trees though and you miiight just have something there.

    Unless you chose to animal farms and brick fortresses in the middle of swampland (even the Holy Grail made fun of that!), which is another instance of ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff.

    This’ll probably be seen as a troll, but it’s not, it’s really not. The original Morrowind had a antastic look to it, and a brilliant atmosphere, and it’s so easy to break that. What I’d love to see is modders take what Bethesda did and upgrade it visually, rather than taking it in a whole new direction.

    Because usually that whole new direction sucks.

    Love the mods that don’t mess with the graphics, though.

    Also: Lush, bright green grass around marshlands… ffffffffffff

  50. mister_d says:

    Good points Wulf. I think these kind of mods diverge too far from the original art direction, and it tends to end up looking a bit hodge-podge.

    But hey, to each his own. If people want to pile tons of ‘stuff’ into their mods, then so be it.