LOTD Plus https://lotdplus.com Skyrim SE Modding Guide Fri, 20 Dec 2019 10:03:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 163268444 On Wabbajack… Follow-up https://lotdplus.com/2019/12/20/on-wabbajack-follow-up/ Fri, 20 Dec 2019 10:00:35 +0000 https://lotdplus.com/?p=2354 Now that Wabbajack has had a bit more time to mature and after a fair amount of prodding from a member of the community whom I trust, I finally decided that it was time to do a more technical, less emotional review of their offering. It is undeniable that Wabbajack has had a polarizing effect […]

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Now that Wabbajack has had a bit more time to mature and after a fair amount of prodding from a member of the community whom I trust, I finally decided that it was time to do a more technical, less emotional review of their offering. It is undeniable that Wabbajack has had a polarizing effect on our community and, for better or worse, isn’t likely to go anywhere any time soon. But at this point in the game, how much of the flak is justified, and how much is just drama? Before digging into the real review, I want to take a moment to discuss some of my thoughts from the previous article.

Necessary Time Commitments

Maintaining a guide, whether manual or automated, is undeniably a massive undertaking. No matter how you break it down, guides are a colossal timesink that is predominantly under-appreciated. Speaking for myself, I currently spend roughly 45 hours per week working on my guide in some form. To maintain the stable, quality guide users expect, I have to spend a considerable amount of time testing updates, writing patches, and researching the best way to do every little thing that I pass on to my users. Since I maintain private servers for my guide, as the userbase grows, I also have to deal with server stability issues, updates, and constant optimizations.

Many, if not most, users have a full-time job, likely working roughly 40 hours a week. There are only 168 hours in a week. Could you justify working 40 hours at your job, only to spend another 40+ working effectively for free even before taking an automated guide into account? Most people probably couldn’t handle that.

Control

Beyond the time restrictions, one of my most significant issues with Wabbajack has always been control. This issue is a two-part problem. First, if I am not maintaining the guide, I have to rely on a third party to represent my work, goals, and brand faithfully while also providing support for their installer (more on the support issue later). Realistically, this will never happen. Guides are always complicated, but guides like LOTD Plus are especially involved. I will never fully trust a third party to represent that with any degree of accuracy.

The second aspect of control lies in the distribution system itself. In this case, we’re talking about both Wabbajack and how it distributes modlists. In the early days, this was a big sticking point for me. When Wabbajack was distributing each modlist as an executable, I couldn’t justify what I saw as a potential security vulnerability. Thankfully, recent builds of Wabbajack at least partially rectify this issue.

Opting Out

One of the most visible disputes between mod authors and the Wabbajack dev team has been in the viability of an “opt-out” system. For whatever reason, not every author likes the idea of their mods inclusion in a modlist of any kind. While this is an issue that I fundamentally disagree with, I do believe that it should be their choice to opt-out if they wish to do so. Early problems notwithstanding, the Wabbajack team has tried to resolve this issue through the use of a blacklist. While this isn’t a perfect solution and is undoubtedly exploitable, it is a good-faith attempt at fixing the problem. The sad fact is that there’s no such thing as a perfect system that will please everyone every time, but I am satisfied that they have given mod authors the option to the best of their ability at this time.

Support

Much like maintaining a guide, supporting one is a nearly full-time job. This is the single most important reason I initially “opted out” of providing an automated version of my guide; I simply couldn’t justify the extra support load. If a third party makes the modlist, then the support is provided through the Wabbajack Discord server. At face value, this presents another problem that goes back to the “branding” issue I mentioned earlier. Users like to “go to the source” for help, meaning that if I wasn’t providing official support, but a third party had released a modlist for my guide, users seem to gravitate towards the official support channels despite us not providing the modlist or support for it. Thankfully, the Wabbajack team has acknowledged this challenge and their server repeatedly reminds users to ask support questions on their server only.

Conversely, this means that trying to run both a manual and automated version of the same guide doubles the support load. Yes, this can be offset to some extent through “minions” who are trusted to provide help to users, but that requires having trusted users who are knowledgeable enough in the first place. This also falls into the category of “you asked for it” and if a guide author chooses to provide both options, they’re also choosing to accept the responsibility of providing support for both.

Moving On

When I first started exploring the newer, more mature version of Wabbajack, the same friend who prompted me to do so was kind enough to link me to the Wabbjack GitHub. As a long-time developer and major supporter of the open-source community, the simple fact that Wabbajack is released under an open-source license was a huge plus in my book. But, because Wabbajack is an executable, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with installing it just because someone said it was safe. As such, I spent the last week doing a full audit of the Wabbajack codebase.

Since the majority of the users who care about this post are probably fairly non-technical, I’ll take a moment to explain just what it means to do a code audit. A code audit in its simplest form is a line-by-line review of all of the code that makes up a program looking for anything that is malicious, broken, or in opposition to best practices. In the case of Wabbajack, this meant reading through just under 20K lines of code.

The reality is that no software is perfect, and Wabbajack is no exception. I actually managed to find a technical bug in their contributing documentation for which I provided a fix before I had even successfully run a test build. Ironically, this means that in the strictest sense I contributed to Wabbajack before even using it. That said, my audit revealed a few bugs (all already known and being worked on), a few things that could probably be done better, and a few things that I simply would have done differently; but nothing that I would consider a security risk without user intervention. Sure, it’s possible to modify the source and redistribute a “bad” copy of Wabbajack, but the same is true with any software. Always download software from an officially sanctioned source!

I will say that, in my opinion, the Wabbajack interface is unnecessarily clunky, but that comes down to personal preference and growing pains more than a technical problem.

On Community

Perhaps the most important aspect of any open-source endeavor is its community. When I first joined the Wabbajack Discord server, I will readily admit that my expectations were slightly less than ideal. I had my own pre-conceived notions derived from past experience with individuals in the community and the very public issues that Wabbajack experienced in the early days. However, I have tried to keep a relatively open mind since day one despite my personal issues, so I gave them a chance. I was (and continue to be) pleasantly surprised.

Despite the knowledge that I have historically been against Wabbajack, they were welcoming and even the lead dev happily sat down with me and spent a decent chunk of time going over my concerns. Many of the key community members will readily acknowledge that their ideals are, at the moment, a gray area at best and they are walking the razors edge trying to keep everyone happy. This is far from the “my way or the highway” attitude I was expecting. Even better, several people have readily agreed with my opinion that user should, if at all possible, understand how a modlist works under the hood and not just blindly rely on an installer.

The Future

So what does this mean for me? I still can’t say that I’m “on the bandwagon,” but I will say that Wabbajack itself has come a long way in a very short period of time. I ended my previous post with a list of decisions I had made regarding installers as a whole, and I see no reason not to do the same for this post.

  • I will still not provide official support for any third-party installers for my guide(s)
  • I still acknowledge that automated installers are most likely the future of modding, and I do believe that users have the right to do what they wish with anything released under an open-source license
  • I will never pull any mod that I have written or am a development lead on solely due to its inclusion or possible inclusion in an installer

Additionally, I’m adding the following new decisions specific to Wabbajack:

  • I would politely request that no third party create a modlist for my guide(s)
  • There is a reasonable chance that in the future (once my hosting platform is stable) I will choose to provide a modlist for at the very least LOTD Plus itself

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On Wabbajack and Similar Installers https://lotdplus.com/2019/11/03/on-wabbajack-and-similar-installers/ Sun, 03 Nov 2019 17:32:24 +0000 https://lotdplus.com/?p=2207 Note that the following is my opinion, and it is completely possible that an exception will be made in the future if/when Nexus ever gets around to finishing an "official" system, on the condition that it actually allows authors to opt-out of inclusion.

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Note

Now that Wabbajack has had a bit more time to mature and things have cooled down a bit, this post is being superseded by an updated, more technical review. While the Wabbajack team has addressed many of my early issues regarding the platform, my initial decisions haven’t changed… but it’s only fair that I give them a fair, less-biased review.


Since it’s been brought up (again), I’m posting this as an announcement and pinning it for future reference. Note that the following is my opinion, and it is completely possible that an exception will be made in the future if/when Nexus ever gets around to finishing an “official” system, on the condition that it actually allows authors to opt-out of inclusion.

In regards to Wabbajack; Lexy and I both reviewed Wabbajack when it first came out, and both came to the same conclusions. In short, we both “opted-out” of supporting it for a variety of reasons. For me, the single biggest reasons come down to time and control. Right now, I put 30-35 hours a week into developing and maintaining LOTD Plus. Lexy is at about the same point with Lexy’s LOTD SE. I’m about to be increasing that to around 40 hours a week because LOTD Plus will be supporting both UNPB and CBBE builds. That’s a full-time job that I’m not being paid for, and that doesn’t even cover the countless hours I already spend helping users, working on the website, or answering questions.

As the author of the guide, I know every mod that is in my guide almost backwards and forwards. I know which mods affect each other, which play nice, which require cleaning, and what needs a compatibility or conflict resolution patch to function properly. But, I have neither the time nor inclination to add (and then maintain) a Wabbajack build. If a third party chooses to do so, I can’t force them not to, but I also choose not to provide any support for it. This goes back to my second point… control.

Obviously, LOTD Plus isn’t available through Wabbajack (as of now) in even an unofficial sense. However, I’m also staff on Lexy’s Discord, and her guide _has_ made an appearance on Wabbajack unofficially. Being effectively a third-party, I’ve gotten to watch how that unfolded and I can tell you that I don’t want to see the same thing happen here. In short, the relationship between Lexy’s and Wabbajack is cordial, but not overly friendly. Both sides have clearly stated that support must be run through the Wabbajack Discord and yet, for a long time, we got users constantly coming to Lexy’s for support. That’s support we couldn’t provide because we had little time to learn a tool that we had no interest in using. In fact, we told people so often that we didn’t support WJ that we finally created a bot command to do the talking for us! (same command works on our server, it’s !wj)

This, in my opinion, is the fundamental issue with installers. As a guide author, I’ll never completely trust a third-party to effectively translate my instructions. I’ll also never be able to justify sinking the time into setting up, maintaining, and supporting an installer myself. As such, I’ll never be able to guarantee what is being installed on a users’ computer (to their point of view, on my behalf), and therefore will never be able to provide truly useful, relevant support.

Even beyond that, there are two more critical issues with Wabbajack itself. Namely, the attitude of its developer, and the method of delivery. Several mod authors, most notably the entire USSEP team, have asked politely to “opt-out” of being included in modpacks. The Wabbajack team flat out ignored their request and included their mods anyway. The USSEP team then chose to rework their distribution method into a self-installing executable to make it harder to include in a modpack. The Wabbajack team decompiled the installer and started distributing the actual mod. This can be considered not only a breach of trust worse than ignoring their wishes but in many places in the world an actual crime.

Similarly, their distribution method is awkward at best. By requiring users to download through their Discord, they are making it appear that they are the official avenue for support. However, virtually all modpacks are actually created by third parties. This leads to a “fracturing” of the system, where users expect support on their Discord, and when they don’t receive it immediately, they turn to the next obvious place… the support for the guide itself. Unfortunately, that leads back to the support issues mentioned previously.

So the end result is that I made the following decisions:

  • I will never provide support for anyone who chooses to use an “installer” version of my guide(s)
  • While I don’t personally like the idea of platforms like Wabbajack (beyond the above issues, I believe you should understand what you’re installing and not trust a random third party), I will acknowledge that some people do and I have no right to tell them they can’t use them
  • If someone decides to write an installer (be it Wabbajack or not) for any guide I have written, I will ask them to clearly indicate that I will not provide support for it
  • I will never pull any mod that I have written or am a development lead on solely due to the possibility of it being included in an installer

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The Gift of Charity https://lotdplus.com/2019/09/12/the-gift-of-charity/ Fri, 13 Sep 2019 00:17:31 +0000 https://lotdplus.com/?p=1721 I’ve been considering jumping on Patreon for quite a while. Actually, I started thinking about it before I’d even chosen the name LOTD Plus for my guide. Back then, my guide was hosted on STEP and simply called Evertiro’s Legacy of the Dragonborn Special Edition… basically taking a page from Lexy’s book. When I finally […]

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I’ve been considering jumping on Patreon for quite a while. Actually, I started thinking about it before I’d even chosen the name LOTD Plus for my guide. Back then, my guide was hosted on STEP and simply called Evertiro’s Legacy of the Dragonborn Special Edition… basically taking a page from Lexy’s book. When I finally decided that STEP wasn’t the right home for my guide and chose the name LOTD Plus, the need for financial assistance became more apparent, but it still took quite a while for me to pull the trigger on Patreon.

But why Patreon? Because I love modding, but modding is nearly a full-time job! Right now, I’m a freelance developer. This means that a good chunk of my time (ideally) is spent working on projects for clients. This also means that my available time for modding is frequently sporadic and quite unpredictable. Being able to bring in enough money from donations allows me to treat modding as if it was being done for a client. Effectively, the more I can bring in, the more time I can dedicate to creating new mods and maintaining the guide, and the better the end results will be.

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Welcome Home https://lotdplus.com/2019/06/22/welcome-home/ Sat, 22 Jun 2019 23:57:27 +0000 https://lotdplus.com/?p=1472 Today I am pleased to announce that LOTD Plus is officially open for business. It's far from finished, but it's stable and certainly usable.

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Today I am pleased to announce that LOTD Plus is officially open for business. It’s far from finished; who am I kidding, it’ll never be complete, but it’s stable and certainly usable. Things will, of course, continue to change as I find high-resolution replacements for the existing 1K-2K textures.

I have said it before; the fact that LOTD Plus even exists is entirely thanks to the remarkable work done by Lexy. The process of deciding to build this guide, figuring out what to call it, where to host it, and how to design it has been both an absolute nightmare, and one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had in the last few years. The simple fact that so many years after its release, Skyrim remains such a popular game is incredible, and it is that sense of dedication and community that makes building something on this scale so worthwhile.

Despite being built initially as a direct fork of Lexy’s guide tailored for high-end graphics, LOTD Plus is already starting to come into its own. Today, the mod list is ever so slightly different than Lexy’s Legacy of the Dragonborn SE, maybe seven or eight mods completely replaced or added, but there is plenty still to come. I intend to continue to use her guide as a reference for my work, and continue to support her work but, as they say, the best is yet to come!

I look forward to the insanity that will inevitably result from maintaining this guide, and hope that some of you will come along for the ride!

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It’s official, I suck at graphics https://lotdplus.com/2019/06/09/its-official-i-suck-at-graphics/ Sun, 09 Jun 2019 16:02:34 +0000 https://lotdplus.com/?p=148 I know I said I probably wouldn't post much, so this posting twice in one day thing is pretty impressive. The sad fact of the matter is that despite being a decent developer, I can't do design worth a crap.

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I know I said I probably wouldn’t post much, so this posting twice in one day thing is pretty impressive. The sad fact of the matter is that despite being a decent developer, I can’t do design worth a crap.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the site favicon. That’s the little icon that shows up in the browser tab. I used the Skyrim quest marker icon for Pete’s sake!

Since graphic design is quite obviously not my forte, I’m putting a call out to any artists in the community. If you happen to be an artist, and you want to give something back to the community, please get in touch!

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Hello Tamriel! https://lotdplus.com/2019/06/09/hello-tamriel/ Sun, 09 Jun 2019 09:53:23 +0000 https://550A67EE-A1E2-4949-A516-06A75FC4AF67 Before I get started, I want to state for the record that I have no clue where I'm going with the blog portion of this site. It may end up getting quite a bit of use discussing mods that I am considering including, new content and the like. It may end up serving as nothing more than a location to post updates to the guide. Only time will tell.

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Before I get started, I want to state for the record that I have no clue where I’m going with the blog portion of this site. It may end up getting quite a bit of use discussing mods that I am considering including, new content and the like. It may end up serving as nothing more than a location to post updates to the guide. Only time will tell.

For now, it serves to announce that I am writing another modding guide for Skyrim SE. This guide, in its present form, is heavily based on Lexy’s Legacy of the Dragonborn Special Edition guide. Before I decided to make this a fully self-hosted guide, it began its life as a direct fork of Lexy’s guide on the STEP wiki with a few personal edits. As these things go, a few minor tweaks turned into several different mods. Several different mods turned into a completely different goal. Today, I am still using Lexy’s guide as a reference, I use many of her patches, and I fully support her guide.

But what is so different about my guide, you ask? My goal is to provide both a more immersive experience than Lexy’s currently provides and an experience tailored specifically for users with higher-end PCs. While I am aware that the Skyrim engine itself eventually becomes a bottleneck to improving the game graphics, I also know that you can get a lot higher quality out of the engine than Lexy’s current setup can handle, and I want that quality!

Finally, I am going to head off one question that I am confident will be asked before anyone even gets around to asking it. In regards to providing a single self-installing zip file, or the use of Automaton, the answer is no on both counts. I don’t personally believe that the distribution of a full modpack as a zip file is ethical. Mod authors work hard to provide the best experience possible, and users should acknowledge their work. Download the mods yourself and endorse the author. Automaton, on the other hand, can’t cope with a mod list this complex at this time. If that changes in the future, I will revisit it.

For now, that’s all I have to say! I sincerely hope that you enjoy LOTD Plus!

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