I just finished installing WordPress 5.0 and I’m getting used to the new editing features. So far it seems reasonable enough, although I have to wonder why they’re leaving three inches of white space to the left and right of the editing “blocks” (and I won’t even get started on this idea of blocks instead of a regular word processing interface). That much white space looks wrong to me, but it’s a minor quibble. I’m also having to find certain features that have been moved, like the Featured Image (that lovely picture of the Delorean at the top of this post), and the Preview button (still haven’t found that yet . . . wait, just found it . . . and it’s not working, so ah, that’s not good). GUI interface changes are always a pain in the ass. But not able to preview? That’s a real problem.

Well . . . and I find a ton of posts about it not working to preview or publish documents. Very not good. People are suggesting checking the php.ini file, or htaccess settings, or wp-json. And sure, those may be the “fixes” for each individual’s problem, but a large swath of WordPress users are using it so they don’t HAVE to do those things. We have hosting sites that give us the ability to install WordPress, and then we log into WordPress and pick a template and post stuff. We’re not interested in being web site managers, we just want a decent looking site that works without having to pay someone to keep it running.

The new editor itself is wonky. It’s like they thought people would prefer something that is more like a web-design program than a word processing program. Perhaps for web hosting sites that run their client’s websites on WordPress this will work, but for the individual creators who picked WordPress as a simple way of creating a website that looks professional without much work, this was a horrible choice. The previous editor took its GUI cues from word processing programs, which made it a breeze for people to figure out. There’s going to be more of a learning curve for the new editor, and I already see tons of people bitching about it and hating on it. I have to wonder how much usability testing they did with a broad cross section of users, and not just web designers or their own staff.

So much for Gutenberg (the new editor), I bid you adieu.  I’ll stay on the new versions, though, because I’m nervous I’ll mess up the site if I roll back to the previous version of WordPress, and other than the above issues, it appears to be running fine. Instead, I installed a plugin to revert Gutenberg back to the old editor, which I like better anyway. I get what they are trying to do, but people are used to editors that look and feel like a word processing program, not more like a web-design application. The beauty of WordPress is that it is relatively simple for anyone to use who is coming from a background of electronic document creation to use. I wasn’t looking to be a web designer, and now I’m considering whether I need to start reviewing other packages (Drupal, etc.). Hey WordPress, if you’re reading this, I’ve been pushing your product for years to individual creators because of the intuitive editing interface. Rethink your changes, this is a bad direction for the average person.

This, my friends, is a perfect example of how you can fuck things up and break shit by modifying it. And leads me right into a conversation about Skyrim and modding. Sweet!

When Skyrim was released, I bought it right away. I’d been excited for the game for a while, and was not disappointed. I think I played through it twice over the next six months, both times completing all quests and side quests. While I admit there is a certain repetitiveness to quests, the underlying stories were different enough that it felt enjoyable.

But when I pulled the game out again to start playing over a year ago (the wife was playing all the time on the PS3 in the living room and I was tired of hearing all those familiar and wonderful sounds), it felt bland to me. There was more I wanted to do that the original game hadn’t offered. I had all the DLC that they’d produced (Dawnguard, Hearthfire, Dragonborn) but even the added content wasn’t doing it for me. Most importantly, the default homes in the game you could buy or build were lacking features I felt were critical to my continued enjoyment of the game. Namely: I want to show off all my stuff!

Behold! My stuff!

So began my quest to mod Skyrim. By the fall of last year, content producers had created literally tens of thousands of mods for the game, everything from complete overhauls of the game style, to mods that revamped the graphics, down to mods that added one little item for kicks and grins. I spent hours looking at houses and trying a few, and then my interests expanded to include graphics changes, gameplay changes, item additions, fixes to the core game, etc. I installed, uninstalled, tested hundreds of different mods over the time between then and now, and even reinstalled the game a couple of times (modding Skyrim can be frustrating, so please research how to do it well before you start, its far too complicated for me to explain and there are folks who can guide you through it much better than me; I’ll only say the core of this is to set up a separate folder for the mods and to NOT install them into your default Skyrim folder under the Steam folder).

Lake Haven

This all began with looking for a better home. Initially I was swept away by these huge and detailed castles that one particular modder had been creating. My favorite was Riverwood Keep, which was not the biggest and grandest of the castles, but had a really nice feel to it. However, such places soon became… ah… well too much really. So many rooms, so many new attendants, a little bit of a cheat in terms of a “teleport home” spell it came with (and some of these houses have HUGE cheats involved, like allowing you to level up your character quickly, which I prefer to avoid). He’s put out another one called Knight’s Rest recently which is even better than the others, and I still highly recommend them.

But I settled on these two as my favorites: Elysium Estate near Whiterun, and Lake Haven, north west of Falkreath. Both had a very Nord feel to them, with just enough space for displaying special items, as well as the usual enchanting, alchemy, smithing stations for crafting. Lake Haven became my favorite more recently, though, for being on a lake and having a guest house for followers. If cozy, warm Nord architecture is your preference, you can’t go wrong with either of these, but if you want something different, there’s more then enough home choices to keep you happy for a long, long time.

Speaking of followers, you really need a mod like My Home is Your Home to begin taking advantage of them. You can bring different followers to your house and tell them “this is your home now” and they’ll live there with you. You can even set sleep/work schedules for them so they’ll pretend to be busy when you’re around. You know, just like in real life! It does sometimes get annoying, though, when they say all the usual repetitive messages like “I am your sword AND your shield.” And a half dozen of them are saying it at once! And don’t forget your horses, there’s a great mod to allow you to have multiple horses in your stables, called Immersive Horses. You can even leave your horse at home and then whistle for one of them when you’re far, far away, and they’ll show up in a second or two.

Other mods I like which add flavor without making major changes to the game (you can look these up yourself): Immersive Patrols (adds more wandering bands of soldiers – empire, stormcloaks, thalmor – who will battle each other; Cloaks of Skyrim, because everyone should have a cloak; Immersive Armors, which gives you lots of new flavors of armor to collect and choose from; Populated Towns and Cities, to make the world feel more lived in; Interesting NPC’s, to make more people for you to interact with who have interesting stories and sometimes give you new quests; Birds of Skryim, with tons of new birds flying and getting in your way on the ground (seriously, birds are like the hulk of Skyrim, they can push you around); Unique Uniques, which give all the unique items and weapons in the game new looks which is awesome; even Run for your Lives, which convinces the towns people that just maybe they should get under cover when a dragon attacks instead of, you know, letting the beastie eat them. Oh, and Unread Books Glow and Unlimited Bookshelves are two must haves for any serious Skyrim book collector.

Crimson Archer armor, from Immersive Armors mod

As time went on, my modding interests expanded. Now I began to look for stuff that added to the gameplay. More quests, more places. Some of these are really, really good, as good as the original game. I was particularly struck by the quality of The Forgotten City, a dwemer story line that takes you to a city hidden beneath the earth to solve a mystery. Apparently this can be done in several different ways, making it a replayable adventure, which is sweet. But the quality of the writing was excellent, as were most of the voice overs, and I have to hope the person who made it went on to a career in game design and level creation.

Helgen Reborn is similarly great. Now the poor city that kicks off the adventure in Skyrim gets a makeover that would make HGTV jealous as hell. Love it or leave it? Hell no, fix it and move back in. Another place where level design shines I have to admit, and some of the side missions are fantastic.

I really fell into mods that revamp old favorites, like the Towns and Villages Enhanced mods, which remake the look of the various holds. Whiterun in particular was beautifully done, with new trees making the city feel like it was built in an old forest.

Sunrise in Whiterun, from the Towns and Villages Enhanced series

Ars Metallica is a mod that revamps smithing, allowing you to melt down items to make ingots from and some other changes. There are also mods that let you build a farm, or a mine, and collect profits from these endeavors. All of these were still sidelines to the main game, though, additions rather than gameplay changes.

I should also toss in a comment about graphics now. I totally revamped the graphics of the game with mods, from the lighting effects to the way water looks. I added a climate mod that made much more realistic weather, and a cloud mod that gave clouds real weight and feel to them. I did all that because these days I have a computer with a graphics card that can easily handle the load, though, so if you’re on an older system you might want to think about it first before you make those changes. Mods can slow down load times significantly, and graphics mods more than others. They’re also wonky to install when you get to the really good ones (the kind reflected in some of my images). I’m currently using Relighting Skyrim (light sources are light sources, not light coming from everywhere), Enhanced Lights and FX (better looking lighting), Enhanced Lighting for ENB – Lite (revmaps all the ways light looks in the game), Vivid Landscapes (better looking rocks and such), and Pure Waters (water looks like real water, its amazing)

Cloudy day, with mist wreathing the mountains
Letting the days go by, letting the water hold me down…

 

Light beams in a draugur-infested tomb
Let there be light… but only where light should be, otherwise shadows

But now we’re into mods that really change game play entirely, and there’s two I want to mention. The first is Alternate Start – Live Another Life. This allows you to start the game in an entirely different way. You can begin as a member of the thief’s guild, or a lost soul who is wandering through the woods. I found that when I started a new game after my last rebuild of Skyrim and used this, it completely changed my relationship to the game through the first twenty or so levels. After that, I began to get back into the routine of taking on various side quests and missions and it started to feel a bit like old Skyrim again.

Until I installed Legacy of the Dragonborn, which the wife found. Now I’m no longer playing old Skyrim. I’m the guild master of an explorer’s guild, joining expeditions to find lost treasures and bring them back to the special museum in Solitude we’ve established for this purpose. There’s places for every conceivable item you can imagine, whether it came from the original game or one of hundreds of mods folks have written. There’s a library for books, an armory for, well, armor and weapons of course, and a safe house for me to live in with my wife and a few followers. The guild house is outside overlooking the harbor of Solitude from on top the cliffs, and I’ve even earned an airship that belongs to me to use to travel around the world (there are only a dozen or so places it can be guided to, though, and you never get to see it move, it’s a fast travel sort of cut to the next location).

Explorer’s guild hall and my airship, with steam rising from the hot springs we soak in after our adventures

There are side missions for this, little quests and bigger ones, that all tie into the guild process and building things out. You get new followers in the form of guild members, you get substations across Skyrim that tie back to the central location, and best of all you get sorting chests that divvy up your spoils and do it right and well. The person who scripted all this worked hard to get it done right, and did a pretty damned solid job all around. I can imagine something like this must have taken hundreds of hours to put together, but it’s worthwhile content that absolutely blows me away.

The number of mods are endless. Once you get past the ten thousand mods made by people whose interests run towards naked bouncing breasts, the amount of great new content is staggering. I’m running around 79 mods (not include the three official DLC mods that Bethesda created) and have only touched on what I’ve added to the game to make it more enjoyable. From legible road signs to animated dwemer lifts, from a mod that lets you knock on a door instead of breaking into every house to one that makes the map view clear and legible, you can find stuff that will make Skyrim new for you again.

Now excuse me, I’m off to find yet another magical item for the guild. We’ve still got a TON of empty displays that need to be filled. Dragonborn? Meh, I’ll get around to that some day…

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