Last week, I published a post in which I proposed a fairly drastic paradigm shift for the guide. My proposal turned out to be a fairly polarizing issue which led to a fair bit of discussion amongst the staff, the conclusions of which are outlined below. However, before we get into that, one of the things that we have discussed at length is the need for transparency. Much of the discussion which happened over the last week could have been avoided if I had properly explained my goals. As much as I got wrong in how that was handled, I did get one thing right; LOTD Plus might be my guide, but it's for the users. With that in mind, consider this post my promise to you that LOTD Plus will always keep our community in the loop from this point onward.
NEXT and the Widgit Platform
Although few remember it, when LOTD Plus first launched, we were a STEP hosted site. It didn't take long for me to realize that a guide as complex as ours should not be a wiki, and the idea for a hosting platform for guides was born. That platform is called Widgit, and LOTD Plus was the first guide to use the initial prototype. Since then, Lexy's guide has migrated to my platform as well. Over the last few months, I have been working on improving the quality, stability, and security of Widgit, and I'm almost ready to launch the first stable, public beta of the platform.
The NEXT edition of the guide has been arguably one of our biggest successes to date. It has made my life as the guide maintainer much simpler, and it has given the community a glimpse into what happens behind the scenes to keep the guide running. Those adventurous users who have used the NEXT edition thus far have been an invaluable help in ensuring that new users have the simplest, stablest experience possible and I thank them for it. But progress requires a guinea pig, so NEXT is the first test case for the new Widgit platform. This means that until I'm done migrating it to the new platform and am confident it won't fall apart the first time someone visits it, NEXT is temporarily feature-frozen. Don't worry, we'll get all you masochists ahead of the game again soon, I promise.
Using Lexy's as a base gave us probably the best foundation I could have asked for. The work done by Lexy and her dev team gave us one of, if not the most stable guide for Skyrim today. However, LOTD Plus was never intended to be "Lexy's Plus." Somehow, I ended up stuck in a proverbial rut and never got around to taking the guide further than upgrading her work. While that does give you a good, stable experience, it doesn't give you the experience I've promised since day one. My community deserves better and for that, I apologize. And, without further ado, it is my pleasure to announce the future of LOTD Plus!
Using the current state of the guide as a baseline, my staff and I have started a project to overhaul every aspect of the guide. We will be examining every aspect of the game, and reviewing every mod that affects them to create the best possible guide built from the best possible mods, even if we have to create some of them ourselves. Until this project is concluded, the guide will be in a semi-feature-frozen state. We will continue to update the mods currently in the guide, but won't be putting much, if any, effort into adding new features or changing anything. Starting last week, we began that process by defining a set of guidelines that will serve as a minimum standard for all mods included in the guide going forwards.
Holds should not feel cookie-cutter. If I travel between two cities in the real world, I would experience two completely unique cultures, the same should be true in-game.
NPCs should not be mannequins. Too many mods don't differentiate between "NPCs" and "clutter." That isn't cool, NPCs are people too and shouldn't just be window dressing.
Cities should accurately reflect their cultural identity. In vanilla Skyrim, visiting Solitude is no different than visiting Markarth; no one town stands out in any way other than vague architectural direction. Visiting the capital of Skyrim should feel like a memorable experience the first time you do it, visiting Riften for the first time should leave you feeling like everyone is out to get you, and so on.
Followers must be lore-friendly. Our definition of lore-friendly means that followers must be a race that already exists within the Elder Scrolls universe.
Followers must be voice acted. Followers who are completely deaf-mutes are incredibly annoying and immersion-breaking, at least until someone creates an intentionally deaf-mute follower who communicates with sign language.
Followers must have a personality. Every person is unique, and every follower should be too. They should have their own opinions, their own style, and their own objectives.
Followers must not be slooty. While we don't maintain an explicitly safe-for-work guide, LOTD Plus is not tailored to the "adult" community, and never will be. Your followers are joining you in combat, not vying for Miss Tamriel.
Followers must have a sense of direction. Not everybody plays Skyrim the same way, and the guide should acknowledge that. If every follower is a sword-and-board warrior, we are doing a disservice to many of our users.
Survival, Difficulty & Loot Overhauls
Overhauls must be consistent. The added challenges of these overhauls are one of our biggest selling points, and the game should reflect that ideal. Overhauls should be consistent no matter where you are in the world or the game.
Overhauls must feel natural. We are trying to build a better Skyrim, not a more complicated one. Yes, some things should feel like a chore, but only because they are a chore, not because they're poorly written.
Magic & Skill Overhauls
Must be reasonable within the confines of Skyrim lore. Yes, this is a fantasy game, but some fantasies don't belong in Skyrim.
Must be balanced. Neither the player nor any NPC should have an unfair advantage solely due to access to magic or a given skill.
Graphics & Textures
Quality must come first. We push the idea that we are creating the best, but we can't do that if we aren't using the best.
LOTD Plus was built specifically with high-end computers in mind. As such, all textures must look clean on 1080p and must not be just upscaled.
Should provide a cohesive visual experience. The world should feel natural and flow in a logical manner.
The above guidelines are a good start but will continue to evolve for some time. Shortly, we will be adding a page to the site which formally outlines our standards for mod inclusion. However, in the meantime, our overhaul is already well underway. Last week, my staff and I compiled a list of every mod that touches Solitude and began the process of reviewing them. Thus far we've cut the list in half, and we are further refining it every day.
Since day one, we have had a choice: decent NPC AI, or the ability to customize the holds. The existing AI solutions make assumptions about what exists where, which is a fair assumption. No matter how good our modding community is, there's no feasible way to guarantee 100% compatibility with every other mod. However, I'm not willing to settle anymore. I was a mod author long before I managed a modding guide, and there's no good reason that I can't fix the AI problem other than plain old laziness. As such, we have decided to build our vision of Skyrim under the assumption that we will be dropping ICAIO when the holds update is finished and a viable custom solution is built. This gives us the flexibility to build you the Skyrim you deserve without artificial constraints. Except for the Legacy of the Dragonborn mod itself, no mod in our load order can't be replaced if a better option exists or we can write one. This won't be a quick and easy project, but it will result in the best possible game we can build, and I honestly believe that this community is worth it.