Category: "UESP"

On The Importance of Setting Expectations (And Sticking With Them) - Part 1

  10:31:35 pm, by AKB   , 972 words  
Viewed 12906 times since 07/31/13
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, UESP

As I was browsing through our collection of maps when I noticed something was a bit odd with almost all of them. Mainly, their names. I had trouble finding any that had the proper naming scheme that we use for images (as described on Help:Images). This was quite the issue, as we have well over one-thousand maps, and not much in the way for commonly used naming standards. Sometimes it's just an incorrectly capitalized word, and sometimes its because it seemed to predate anything resembling site standards. Regardless, it leads to us having a ton of things with either odd naming schemes, or are just clearly incorrect. And this agitates me, when I see the maps for Skyrim more or less all with standardized names that support site standards, and I see anything younger being entirely messed up.

Maybe its because I've spent a lot of my time working on Skyrim recently, so I have grown accustomed to us largely keeping file naming under line, but I still wondered why it bugged me. Why should it? We had less of an idea of what we were doing, a lot of those maps are over a half-decade old! The site has changed a lot since then. And sure, it would take a lot of work to correct, but but then I realized why my time editing our Skyrim section has caused this to irk me. It's because I can type out the file name for essentially all of the images in the Skyrim namespace without a need to look them up. People spent a lot of time ensuring they follow a specific standard, and as such, other people are more likely to follow it naturally, as well as making the mistakes less time consuming to clean up and obvious. The reason is because once you build up an expectation for something, going without it is hellish. Familiarity is one of the greatest comforts in life, and I wasn't getting it.

The Point in the Post Where We Start Talking About the Games, and Not Minor File Naming Issues That I am Positive No One Else Cares About

You don't have to look far too see how this is true. In fact, you can find numerous examples of this throughout the Elder Scrolls series. Let's pay attention to the out lash over what I feel was a logical alteration, making Alchemy something you can't do on the fly in Skyrim. In Skyrim, you were reliant on clearly marked Alchemy Labs for your potion-making needs. This was a departure to how this skill worked in Morrowind and Oblivion. This is ignoring the shift from having to use a stationary Potion Maker in Daggerfall to the alchemy system featured in Morrowind. Because who seriously bothered with alchemy in that game?

People got used to the relatively quick way potion-brewing worked in Morrowind and Oblivion, so something as simple as saying you have to be in one place to make potions changed how the game was played for a lot of people. I understand this aggravation, but I also get the reasoning behind the change. Does it really make sense to be able to do alchemy, what is supposed to be a precise science in the ES universe, in a second in the middle of a monster-infested cave, or at least doing that without a sturdy surface for all of the equipment? No it doesn't. It also made more sense when taken into consideration for the other things you could craft. As an example, consider Enchanting in Oblivion, which could only be done in the field if you had a Sigil Stone. However, this was ALSO a change on how Enchanting worked in Morrowind. In Morrowind, it could be done wherever you wanted, just like Alchemy. So you could say that each hero has grown increasingly incompetent after the Nerevarine. I know that almost all of the older Elder Scrolls fans certainly already say that.

Now that I think about it, more and more examples of little and large mechanics have changed from game to game. Armor sets simplified, weapons removed, skills eliminated and merged, the drastic changes to the dialogue system, the removal of open cities, the removal of horses, the addition of horses, the addition of horse-mounted combat, the removal of spell crafting... the list just goes on and on. I could name examples all day. I'm not saying that changing things is bad, but it can be so aggravating that it hurts just to think about it. It's why you see people modding in skills like Acrobatics back into Skyrim, so they can have that sense of familiarity back. It also has something to do with the fact that movement in Skyrim is absolute crap now that all the athletics skills have been cut, the only way to get some advantage is to take the Sneak perk Silent Roll, and that's just ridiculous. "Oh, look at me! I'm so stealthy! Watch me do somersaults wherever I go! This was definitely a wise use of a perk point!" I'm just saying that when the Altmer are the fastest race in the game due to them being slightly taller than everyone else, and no other trait being relevant to this, you have issues.

Now that I have successfully incorporated a cleverly hidden implication that Altmer are terrible, I think I'm going to get back to this at a later date. I've just barely scratched the surface here. Not that I expected to wrap this up in a single afternoon on a topic as broad as "Things That Have Changed From One Point in Time to the Next", but you get my point. Tune in next time for more minor gripes about petty issues within a video game series! It's basically all I have going on.

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Elder Scrolls Online - The Task at Hand

  12:46:16 pm, by AKB   , 1385 words  
Viewed 89157 times since 02/18/13
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, UESP

As someone who has been one of the main supporters of the concept of us having a blog, I find it odd that I've never taken the time to ever write a blog entry for the blog that I've so thoroughly supported. Ever. I've encouraged others to do so, but I never actually sat down and did it myself. To finally quiet my suspicion that I've been rather hypocritical when it comes to this section of the site, I think it's about time I write about something. So let's talk about something else I've been thoroughly ignoring for a better part of a year after initially showing the interest to take the lead in UESP projects relating to said thing. I am of course referring to the Elder Scrolls Online.

The Elder Scrolls Online was bound to be a rough subject for us. Not because we won't be able to write about it, but because we aren't sure how we'll write about it. While at its core it appears that its shaping up to be a fine part of the ES franchise that we know and love, it is still an MMO. MMMOs are significantly different beasts to the normal, primarily single player RPGs (Battlespire and Shadowkey being the reasons for the 'primarily') we've dealt with in the past. It's about time that we start to look at some of the major issues that will eventually cause a ton of arguing in the near future. So without further ado, let's begin.

VIPs - Very Important Players
It's an odd fact about MMOs that sometimes in a game with millions of players, one of them will become infamous (I can't think of a single case where a player became famous in an MMO community without that bothersome 'in') enough that they draw ire from the entire community, and eventually from sources outside the game. I'm talking about people like "Cursed You", the username of a Runescape player infamous for being instrumental in the discovery of a way to attack other players outside of PVP zones, or just take one of the dozens of major scammers who ripped off thousands of dollars of real money from players in Eve Online (random example). Players can earn such a reputation that we should document them, right?

Well, that's the issue. We've never allowed documentation of people who are famous members of the community before, so this is going to be quite a point of contention amongst us. An example of this already happening would be all of the people asking if we'll bother to document who becomes the Emperor in the PvP element of ESO. And while I don't think those people will really matter for the most part, there may be times when we'll argue about allowing documentation about a specific person.

The simplest solution will be to just deny documentation for anyone who doesn't earn an extreme amount of attention (as in, news sources outside of the game take interest in the story), but there is certainly going to be quite a few scuffles about where we draw that line. Of course, sometimes the player isn't as important as the incident we create, which incidentally leads into my next topic...

Extraordinary, Player Created Events
Who doesn't remember the Cursed Blood Incident? The player created plague on the land of Azeroth? If there is one thing players love more than anything else, it is finding a way to utterly break a game. When you happen to do that in a world populated by millions of other players, well, all the better. There is a real possibility that we'll see events such as that one happen in ESO, and we need to figure out a fair way to deal with them. ES players have quite a history for odd behavior that attracts quite a deal of attention (take the dreaded 'arrow in the knee') gag as an example, and ES games are infamous for their bugs. When the two collide, we might have to document the results.

As of now we've been pretty much ignoring memes and the ilk in the ES community, but I think that we might have to rescind or at least change our policy when it comes to these things. While it might mean we'll have to make a reference to the obsession with murdering the Adoring Fan (in the General namespace most likely, to keep that nonsense far away from our game documentation), but it may be a better alternative to simply ignoring these events entirely. I can't even think of any mention we give to the controversy surrounding the reclassification of Oblivion by the ESRB from 'T for Teens' to 'M for Mature'. That was all over the news, virtually everyone heard about it, and we didn't give it any attention. Yes, it goes against our normal instincts to ignore stuff like that, but the fallout for ignoring these events may be worse than giving in. We are still a fan site, and there is little a fan loves more than seeing how awesome their fandom is (I guess shipping would beat out that, but that's off the topic at hand). Of course, if we start to act more like a fan site, that might mean a few other changes to our regular operations. Mainly when it comes to our involvement with the community.

Playing a New Part in the Fandom
The UESP has been for years widely accepted by ES fans as a generally great guide for ES lore and quests. We might have to start emphasizing our involvement with the fandom in the years to come. This means playing a more active part in updating the community on ES news, keeping tabs and taking part in Elder Scrolls related events, and being an active part in the path the games take themselves. That last one in particular will be a hard one. I'm talking about things like player guilds. With ESO coming out, we probably should form one for the game. The main issue with that being that our reputation in the game may very well help or hinder the site, so this may easily become one of the hardest things we'll have to deal with if we do it. Even more importantly, we must remain active for the course of ESO for the whole 'playing a more active role in the ES community' thing to work. This also means playing a more active role outside of the games. As in, being a bit more reliable for things like interviews and call outs to the fans by the developers.

To be entirely honest, this is the subject I know the least about, and I believe the ignorance is somewhat shared by my fellow editors (or that just might be me projecting my own mental incompetence on those fine fellows). This is likely going to be something we'll have to learn to do together to make it work, so it's best we iron out what our role will be in regards to the community surrounding ES is going forward. We will of course remain a game and lore guide, but we might have to apply more of a focus to the part Elder Scrolls plays in our world.

In Summary
The UESP will and must remain largely the same as it has been for years, but we also have to start looking to the future. While the UESP has been practically a boulder for the ES community over its run, I think its time for us to try to be a rock and roll with the course the developers are taking the series (by the Nine, that comparison fell apart rather quickly). The developers are taking the series in strange, new directions, so we must learn to adapt to those changes ourselves. This isn't the first time they've branched out of their rut, so we might as well learn to do the same. I predict we'll see more regular ES content in the future (more regular content for the games, new books, possibly a movie, or even a regular comic series or television run. Basically, we should prepare for anything related to ES in the future as we simply don't know what they'll do), and we have to be adapt for this.

The War on Speculation

  11:28:33 pm, by Kalis Agea   , 565 words  
Viewed 34815 times since 10/25/11
Categories: UESP

This is going to be a quick blurb about something that been bothering me about UESP as of late: the popularity of taking speculation and guesswork as fact.

We're all guilty of it, in one way or another. We love to believe what we desire to believe. But, unfortunately, UESPWiki (or any wiki for that matter) is not a part of Wishful Thinking Land. That's the dominion of the forums and other sites for TES discussion. A wiki, however, is intended to serve as a catalogue/encyclopedia of factual information. I often find myself feeling in the mood for speculation and wishful thinking (lately is a good example) and I typically channel that into fanfiction and writing in general as well as music. And I would like to be able to say (don't quote me on this, because I'm most likely wrong) that I haven't added speculation or guesswork to UESP in a while now (at least a few months).

Now, as a patroller I'm slightly biased towards this and perhaps treat it a little harshly (I do apologize if I come across as rude to anyone; I mean well!); thus my ideas on how to deal with this may be slightly extreme or just plain laughable (which is why I'll refrain from posting them here on the blog for now). However, my personal opinion is beside the point -- the fact remains that speculation and guesswork is not welcome on the wiki, although it is welcome on the forum (I myself typically refrain from even entering the forum, let along making use of it; I'm just going off what I gather from other people's posts).

One of the most famous (and, for me at least aggravating) pieces of speculation currently circulating in the Elder Scrolls community is the concept that we will be playing as a relative or descendant of the Emperors. This is based off of the fact that the Emperors are once or twice referred to as the "Dragonborn". My typical refutation of this stance goes like this: the Emperors were called "Dragonborn" as a reference to the Amulet of Kings that was an heirloom to them. In TESV: Skyrim, however, "Dragonborn" refers to being literally born of the blood of dragons; the Septims were not born of Dragons. Hell, Uriel and many of his predecessors weren't even related to Tiber Septim! The contexts are completely different. Therefore, the word "dragonborn" does not necessarily tie the Emperors to the protagonist of Skyrim.

The problem with adding this type of thing to the wiki is once it's there for any amount of time, it may begin to be regarded as a likely possibility, despite the fact that it is unfounded guesswork. That is the reason that posts like these make me so petulant. It is, without a doubt, an overreaction on my part; but hey, it's just natural. So please, unless you want me to go berserk on you, please refrain from adding this to the wiki and instead discuss it on the forums.

As a side note, I do promise to work on my impatience with these types of editors. One of the reason I've been slightly inactive on the wiki as of late is that I've been taking time to cool off and relax. With Skyrim coming up, I need to be refreshed and have at least some semblance of patience.

Hacking the ESM/ESP Files

  09:55:49 am, by   , 472 words  
Viewed 46487 times since 03/10/11
Categories: Programming, UESP

If you obsessively read everything on UESP you may have noticed one or two cryptic posts like this and this lately. What are these ESM and ESP files, and why are Daveh, Nephele and I trying to pull them apart?

Take a look in your Oblivion program directory and you'll find a few different files. There's Oblivion.exe itself, which is the main game engine itself. In the data directory you'll find several ".bsa" files. This seems to stand for "Bethesda Softworks Archive" and each one is a compressed file containing the graphics textures, sounds, speech and meshes (the files that define what makes an image solid). You'll also find Oblivion.esm and, depending on how many plugins you use, several ".esp" files. These are Elder Scrolls Main and Plugin files, and contain information about NPCs, weapons, armor, quests, places and so on, as well as information about the landscape. In other words, these are the files that contain all the information we need for UESP.

The file format was created for Morrowind and evolved a little for Oblivion. It's also used in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, and has changed a little more for those games too. At the moment, the assumption is that a similar format will be used for Skyrim. This is partly down to wishful thinking, but then again as the files are purely about data storage there's no reason to change a winning format to radically.

Each file consists of records arranged in a huge list for Morrowind, and into something a little more like a tree for the other games. A record is made up of a label ("ARMO", "NPC_", "CELL", etc) and several fields that provide the data. You can get more information about the format for Oblivion here, although it's quite technical and slightly out of date.

So why do we need to hack these files?

Simply, there are too many items to create them all by hand with any degree of accuracy. That means we have to get our bots to do it, but NepheleBot and RoBoT need data to work with, and the only realistic way of doing that is by pulling it directly out of the game files. Using the Construction Set would reintroduce a manual component that would lead to mistakes, and looking at the files and getting information by eye doesn't always work because some of it's compressed and it would be a really, really awful job anyway.

To give you some idea of scale, for Oblivion and its official plugins, there are 1,277,347 records with a whopping 4,682,059 fields. Try sorting through that lot by hand.

Come 11 November, while you're enjoying playing the game for the first time, spare a thought for those of us who will be digging into its guts to bring you the best information we can!

Predictions for Skyrim and UESP

  05:41:57 pm, by Nephele   , 1058 words  
Viewed 63949 times since 09/25/11
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, UESP

I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what I foresee happening on UESP when Skyrim is released -- beyond the obvious points, such as that UESP is going to get alot more traffic. These thoughts are in part based on what I witnessed when Shivering Isles was released -- which was the last major game release for UESP. However, SI hardly compares to Skyrim, because SI was only an expansion and therefore didn't introduce any new game mechanics.

As an aside, for those who may have wondered, the release of Oblivion doesn't provide us with much as far as an example for what to expect with Skyrim. Not that I was active on UESP when Oblivion came out; I first discovered UESP a couple months after Oblivion's release. But I do know that UESP had only recently converted to a wiki when Oblivion came out. Even by the time I started editing, the site was pretty minimal, at least compared to where it is now. Templates, screenshots, redirects, help pages, style guidelines, site policies -- none of these were in place yet. Anonymous editing was first enabled months after I started editing -- and, for the record, no, that didn't mean that there was a dramatic increase in vandalism, badly-written content, or unwanted content.

So, back to the future.

1. UESP is facing alot of competition. When it comes to Skyrim, UESP is starting from square one, just like every other wiki being set up to cover Skyrim. People are going to choose which website to read based primarily on google -- and at this moment UESP is doing pretty poorly on google searches related to Skyrim. Fewer readers means fewer editors. Which means less new content, and therefore even fewer readers, etc. I'd like to see UESP do well -- and not just for the sake of UESP, but for the sake of the Elder Scrolls community as a whole. Having as many editors as possible work on the same wiki means that the community has one good, comprehensive website -- instead of a half-dozen incomplete websites with overlapping (but inconsistent) content. If UESP wants to be the primary Skyrim wiki, we're going to have work aggressively towards that goal.

2. New content will be added very quickly. I'm guessing that by November 12th people are likely to have posted (minimal) walkthroughs for the majority of the game's quests, and basic desccriptions of nearly every place -- if not on UESP, then on some other Skyrim wiki. My guess is based upon how quickly content was added for SI: one day after the game's release, the quests page already contained a walkthrough of the entire main quest.

3. Most of UESP's regular editors will disappear. We all want to play Skyrim, plus we'd all like to avoid learning any spoilers about the game. And for most of us, playing the game doesn't mean rushing through the main quest in 30 hours; it means spending hundreds of hours exploring all the random corners of the world. So those editors who buy Skyrim are going to be too busy to visit UESP for several weeks. Those who don't have the game are going to actively avoid the Skyrim namespace. I'm not trying to blame anyone or make anyone feel guilty -- it's just human nature, and it needs to be taken into account when anticipating how Skyrim's release will affect UESP. I'd also love to be proven wrong!

4. New editors / anonymous editors will be responsible for most of the new content. It's just a natural consequence of points #2 and #3. Although UESP's regular editors are unlikely to be rushing to add to the wiki, there are other people who enjoy being the first ones to post information online about a new game. Those editors will be the ones who are most active on UESP starting November 11th. Even though the new editors are likely to have little wiki experience, it doesn't mean that the new content will all be a horrid mess. For example, look at the history of an SI quest such as The Cold Flame of Agnon. In three days, it was transformed from an unformatted dump to a proper quest page -- incomplete, but properly laid out and properly written. Nearly all the work was done by anonymous IPs and brand new editors, such as Jrtaylor91 (whose first UESP edit was on that quest page).

5. Fact checking of Skyrim content won't be possible -- at least not at anywhere near the level we're used to for other games -- for many months. The most obvious problem is that initially none of us will know the quests or any other game details. But beyond that there are a couple of other issues that might not be so obvious.

  • We don't know when the Creation Kit (aka Construction Set) will be available. Without it, we can't do any of the quick fact checks we're used to -- for weapon damage, gold values, dialogue,etc. We won't even know how to take in-game values, such as weapon damage, and convert them to base values -- will weapon damage be affected by skill level in Skyrim and, if so, what's the equation?
  • We won't understand of the new game mechanics. For example, if editors disagree over the reward for a quest, we won't be able to resolve the question. Is it a levelled quest reward -- but how does levelling work in Skyrim? Is it a random reward -- again, how do random lists work? Is the reward dependent upon other factors that are a new feature of Skyrim, such as Radiant quests? As far as we know right now, two players could have different experiences for nearly any detail of a quest. So how do we figure out whether edit X is adding incorrect information to an article? Eventually -- 2012? -- we'll hopefully start to get a handle on the range of possibilities (although it took a couple of years to understand various nuances of Oblivion's levelled lists). But we'll have to write most of the site's web pages before then.

There's no way to know until a couple months from now what really is going to happen. But these are some of the issues going though my mind when I think about how UESP can start to prepare for Skyrim's release.