• Modding Legends: Interview with Ngugi

    The Mighty Ferrit

    "...I've been honoured with the Opifex, that implies you're a modding master, in general or at least any certain area, but in honesty I consider myself a jack of all trades who simply know some about much, hehe; and I don't mind to share, with a humble honesty, that no one is born with their skills, and that will, joy and endurance is what pull you through to fulfill ideas and visions."

    Well first off I suppose, how did you first come to find TWC?
    It begin with a bit of an irony. I have played TW games since the first Shogun, but never got involved in any communities throughout the years. The existence of mods was close to unknown to me, and tended to be coloured by a feeling that mods was something most about cheating or at least make the game something else than it was intended to be, that felt quite the same. Ha!
    Then in the summer of 2010 I thought I had seen a video for a R1 mod once, that made the game into a Middle-earth game, and an old dream of Tolkien's legendarium in a TW game was true. This was when I found TWC, since my research brought me upon Third Age: Total War.

    I had actually skipped Medieval 2, as I found I had played M1 so much that the period wasn't very compelling to return to, but went and bought it directly, just for TATW. That was back at v1.4 and for the rest of the year I played it and payed no interest to the forum, missing the arrival of v2.0 and v2.1 in the meantime.
    Now, as I got better at the game and got a lot of tales and questions stacked, it came to mind that it would be interesting to see what other players had to say about the game. Returned and for some weeks I just lurked, reading threads and getting information, discovering there existed submods to boot, my my!
    At the discovery of the mod War of the Silmarils I just had to register, so that I could express my delight that I would be able to fight in the First Age too soon! Still waiting, by the way. Said and done, I pestered their thread some, as many "excited noobs" tend to haha, as well as found that it was a remarkable site.
    In about all other forums I had joined there had been a harsh atmosphere, hostile to newbees, but not so here. Folks were helpful, friendly and had a lot of fun together - I had found my spot on the web.

    What initially inspired you to begin modding?
    When I joined TWC I knew I would never be able to mod, it seemed incredibly hard and complicated and I understood nothing of it!
    I like to remember that I was pushed into it, as a chick is pushed out of the bird nest to learn how to fly - but, that is only half the truth.

    The reason I began to mod at all was the quick realisation that it actually was easier, and no doubt faster, to learn how to do some stuff myself, than to post an idea in the hope that someone else, with the capacity to do it, would read it, concur that it was a good idea, and then actually devote his or hers time to make it come true!
    TATW loadscreens at that time had most quotes from the movies, that repeated so often it got boring. A person had made a quotes-mod that took actual Tolkien lines, which appealed to me. But they often proved so long that they got very hard to read, unless you had a really large widescreen, reported by many. The modder himself cared nothing for that, as he did have a very large widescreen, which annoyed me even if I suffered little. There were only two files required, and looking into them the coding was simple and obvious, a mere matter of text editing, so I thought that "This I should be able to pull off".
    Said and done, I made my own quote submod with lines chosen to fit normal screens, and the joy over seeing users appreciate it proved great (the mod expanded up to 850 quotes at end, and is part of TATW).

    From that I started making event cards, as basic Photo Shop-editing I knew from before, for another submod I released. All really uncomplicated, while an attempt to edit religious unrest got stuck because I understood little about coding in general. Then the real turn point came, unexpected.
    Many who visit the Third Age section know me now as a scholar in Tolkien's mythos, and I am utterly proud that I am referred to as a loremaster. So not when I joined! Then I had read Silmarillion many times, but had it not in firm memory, nor read LotR more than 2-3 times and other books at best once. While participating in lore discussions at the forum I concluded I was more interested in "what Tolkien actually wrote" than peoples "I think it's like this", so I started to look into the books. Making the quote mod naturally helped me a lot, hehe!
    Noticing my knowledge about Middle-earth
    the modder Minas Moth and the leader of the submod MOS, Hero of the West, invited me as lore consultant. For some months I followed the ongoing projects, giving lore (and a player's) input, improving my own insights how the game operates, until Hero' one day dropped by and told me he wanted me to take up the soundmodding of MOS, as that would give us an edge.

    Me? I didn't knew how to do that! Hero' told me he believed in me, and in a typichal stupid manner of mine I felt flattered and thought "If he believe in me, I might: I try!". For two weeks I sat with tutorials, this was much more complicated than anything I had done before, and banged my head against the wall, until suddenly a unit shouted what I wanted him to say...
    Eureka! I was so freaking glad I didn't know what to do. Think I jumped up and shouted some myself. That rush settled my path as a fully devoted modder, haha.

    What aspect of modding do you enjoy the most?
    I could give one answer to that, but it would not be to give you the full picture. Because the question are actually two: what kind of modding do I enjoy most, and what do I most enjoy that come with modding?

    The aspect of modding in itself that I enjoy the most is no doubt the final compilation of things; in my case it may I have done a little (or loads of) coding here, a little script tweaking there, crafted an image or two, added a sound effect and then start the game to see that part of the mod come together in the game, the fruit of all labour working and coming "alive". It is a great feeling, that invoke new energy and inspire to need deeds!
    And while I somewhat still consider sound modding my department, I'm nowadays most devoted as general coder, and what pirmarily drive me is the matter of balance.
    In such a large project as DCI: Last Alliance as I currently work on it is obvious how key game balance is. In a campaign or in a battle alike. It do not matter how many good looking units there are, how smart scripts are in, how splendid it sounds, how strong or weak the economy prove or how cool battle maps there are, if the game is not properly balanced it soon will prove itself and it will not be fun for long. Then the modder have failed the players, and his/hers own creation, as I view it.
    It has forced me to countless hours of unit stats & prices calculations, and stress-tested campaigns, but when I can say that things are, not equal (as in 'same for all') but non the less equitable (as in weakneses and strengths compensated for), I'm as most delighted!

    The aspect of what I enjoy around modding is no doubt the top blokes I get in contact with and work with. There are many splendid people who you get aid from and aid, from sharing experience and knowledge to co-operation to fulfill a common goal. I'm always in favour of a small, tight team rather than a large when I mod, as I deem it can work more efficiently, and that a team is a work group and not a "social club" - that is what "social clubs" are for - but it do not mean we're not having loads of fun. Facing challenges and successes together, there's always laughs and friendship that goes with it.
    Indeed, had it not been for my brother-in-arms and good friend Withwnar, whom I worked with for years now, I would never endeavoured on such projects I've been into or are working on, and each day I visit TWC firstly in the merry hope we're to discuss something new or old!

    And by that same token, are there any parts you don't enjoy/find more difficult?
    Beside Crash To Desktop with no tip in the crash log, when you have not made a back up for a long time, haha?
    No, personally what I care the least for are units. The last thing I care for in a mod update is if there are new units, unless for balance reason. For anyone who worked with me that may sound odd because what units been concerned I'm all over every detail, from general concepts to opinions about helm designs, belt buckles and cloth colours, but that's just part of my sense for quality and the knowledge that to for most players it do mean a lot. Still I can't model or skin for my life hehe, I simply code them into the game and handle their stats etc.

    But what I seriously dislike most is to have to help players with bugs. Sounds terrible of me, no? But the reason is far more utilitaristic: I hate that players suffers the problems of bugs and errors!
    My target is always that the players shall have a painless experience, no problems, no bugs, no point where they have to feel that it's not a solid game but "a mere mod" that can't hold up against official games (not saying those are by any means trustworthy because they're official, Rome 2 release anyone?).

    Do you have any advice for would-be modders?
    I have a few tips that I'm most glad to share with anyone interested to start modding!

    - Do it!
    Do not be intimidated that it might appear complicated or hard. No one of us who mod today were born with our skills, we all began sometime knowing as much or little as you. There are lots of tutorials to guide you, read them, and lots of experienced people who can provide input when you get stuck, talk to them!
    The Mod Workshops are your haven, go there!

    - Begin small.
    This is an important tip. Often we see someone starting with the aim to create a large mod directly, but a large project demands lots of different kind of skills. The normal result is that you soon get stuck, as each area of modding take time to learn by themselves and during that learning periods there will be challenges, resulting in that people tire and give up. It is much better to single out small changes you want to see, do that, make small mods first, and learn step by step. Each new progress will provide additional understanding of your game and engine, experience that will make new tasks easier to take on.

    - Looking for a team? Provide a good example.
    If you want to gather a team for you mod, do certainly not await a team to be assembled before you begin to work. Instead, start on your project, craft what you may, so you can display that, showing other people who know what they do that you are honest in your intentions and ambitions, that you do not intend to use them to do the work for you. To aid someone who got started and showcase that he/she will go through with an idea, that is how you appeal to your fellow modders who all do this on our free time.
    Likewise, by showing you have capacity, other existing teams can notice you, and may welcome you to them, if that is your desire, perhaps aiding a mod you like already!

    - Problems! Problems?
    When you start to mod, you will find that you time after time experience problems and crashes. This is not a bad thing, nor do it mean that it's impossible or modding is not for you - on the opposite, it is a natural part of learning and experiencing problems and overcoming them will you give you great experience. Trust me, I think I've learned almost as much from screwing things up, starting over and finally understand what I did wrong, as from tutorials, hehe!
    So be patient, endure - make back ups all the time - and you'll come through!

    Out of all your modding work, what are you most proud of?
    I do not need much reflection to say the WIP submod DCI: Last Alliance, that's for Dúnedain Counter-Invasions, bringing the players of Third Age: Total War till the great war of the end of the Second Age. The scope and quality of this mod have exploded as excellent modders joined me and Withwnar, all bringing their expertice and pushing the goals of the game sky high, far beyond anything I ever intended when starting!

    But if I must say something released it would be it's predecessor DCI: Tôl Acharn, that first added the Jihad-mechanics for good Men in TATW, to counter Sauron's Invasions (crusades), and to which Withwnar created a script that allow factions of another culture (religion) to join in counter-invasions. I still halt when I get by a Let's Play and see it contain the submod, and tend to follow them just for the fun of hearing players react to the submod itself, the little quests and the main feature.

    What does the DCI-Last Alliance submod entail?
    When there is someone new to the project I usually start by referring to the first Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings-film, the prologue, where the story of the Ring is retold, as everyone seems to remember that epic battle between the armies of good Men and Elves against Sauron and his hordes at the slopes of Mount Doom - and then I conclude: That is the game we are making!

    It is an overhaul of Third Age that set the game at the end of the Second Age. While the map is the almost the same, and many factions may appear equal, we have gone the extra mile to give a brand new experience, since the start in 2012. Most units are or will be replaced by new crafted models and beasts, the unit stats and recruitment system is new, created for this mod, there are loads of advanced scripts to either keep the player on his toes or allow the player to save his realm, 2D, ancillaries, uncountable lines of text and lore, custom heroes in battle as Elendil, Gil-galad and Galadriel, and so if goes on.
    In short we want to, and I dare proudly say succeeded in to, provide the players with something intriguing and fresh, a no doubt hard challenge but balanced and fair, and a game people hopefully shall love to come back to over and over again.
    For those interested to know more, or have questions, our official thread with many previews and sneak peaks can be found in the submod section of the Third Age-forum.

    How did you come to receive the Opifex and how does it feel to be recognised with such an award?
    Oh, answering that would be to spoil my favourite joke when someone ask about it: "I'm more surprised than you are", hehe. But an honest reply is proper, for those who voted or spoke for me.
    First off, I never expected to receive the award before I was proposed for it. I mean, look at the wizards and troopers who got it before me! Their limit breaching discoveries, top notch works, tireless aid in the Mod Workshop, created tools and writen tutorials - I did not thought that I fitted into that category.
    Apparently I was wrong, and while I would still argue I do not excel in any specific area, the whole of my modding contributions on TWC, my own mods, my support to fellow modders and mods over the years (in the TATW forum rather than the Workshop though), my tutorials and my encouragements to folk to start to mod, combined made me worthy in citizens eyes.
    I am utterly glad and grateful for such a recognition, it is the equivalent of an Oscar reward for film, and who knows what is right words for that experience? But I can say that I am especially grateful because it made me value my own efforts and contributions, in a manner that I had not before!

    What are your future modding plans?
    To finish the project I'm working on now, naturally, but beyond that? I am really not sure.
    A big project require a lot of time, years, and I am quite sure I will not endeavour into something else like it after DCI:LA is done, but considering support that project actually will not prove done even if the game is finished - that is something some modders I have seen forgot.
    That I consider myself finished will presumably disappoint many who have asked me to take on the First Age and finish a mod set in it, but I doubt I will have the energy for that, and currently feel I leave my TWC legacy with LA.
    Perhaps there will be some minimod to fix something that peak my interest, or even some minor campaign mode to set up, but next to that I'll most be around aiding fellow modders at need, sharing the merry spirit of the Ferrit!

    Is there anyone you'd like to mention whose influenced or helped you with your work?
    Beside those who have been already mentioned, there are a few I from the top of my head would like to name:
    - King Kong, obviously. Not only because of his matchless work that I love, but because he learned me about the value of sharing your created work with other modders. Not before we had a fight about it, haha, but we ended it friendly, and I remain greatful towards him for that lesson as well as all else.
    - Ishan and Gigantus, two mainstays of the Mod Workshop. Tutorials, resources or replies to questions asked, they have helped a lot.
    - And then I have worked with countless great folks along the way, now and before, as Curufin, Araval, ElvenKind, Earl of Memory, MIKE GOLF, Stylix, smoesville, Emperor of Hell and Veteraan. Revealing the value of a trusty partner by your side, in my book.

    Aside from the modding is there anything else you've been involved with on TWC?
    Since I so soon after joining the site started to mod that occupied my time and I never got involved in, or felt interest for, other organized activities save one: I have for 2½ years been the local moderator for the Third Age-forum. Nowadays with Arachir Galudirithon by my side, while originally appointed by my old friend StealthFox.
    And this task I intend to manage, encouraged by King Kong as late as last year to keep it up, for as long as I deem myself needed and I can uphold my duty.
    It's a friendly neighbourhood at any rate, so it's mainly a matter of moving posts and threads right, and now and then, when I close a thread, I may post my signature He-man video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dJolYw8tnk

    On a more serious note, how did the ferret come to be?
    The Ferrit, yes, this crowd-pleasing mammal, who I with little doubt fear is more beloved than I am!
    It is whispered he is the spawn from a ferret and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, who met a drunk night out on town. Is that true? Well, I can tell that he have the megalomaniac Napoleon complex of a 1,4 feet claw equipped semi-pink fur ball, speaking for such a great heritage.
    He and I first met during my teenage years, and we hung around since. He provide me many laughs (who can not be glad to see that face?) and good adventures, while I help him not fall into too many of his own pits, in his attempts to conquer the world, so he can fight his enemies: the marsupials.
    At end, he will be around TWC as long as I am, and, may be guessed, longer than so.

    Looking back at your past few years on TWC are you surprised to see how much you've accomplished?
    That's the word, or "amazed" is perhaps even more spot on. I have a good memory for sensations, and the image of being new to the forum is still strong in me, I'm still only recently getting to realise that I am certainly not a 'new kid on the block' any longer, and are doing those things that I once though of as mysterious "computer magic".
    And since so much is done just as you go, and work is either fun and then time go fast, or work is boring but that labour you forget and thus not added to my mental understanding of time passed, I'm indeed surprised. Own work, shared work, forum activity and my TATW TWC-comics etc., so much done, yet there is now also four years passed, so I guess that also make sense? I'm getting older, haha.

    How does it feel knowing that, for all intents and purposes, you've retired from modding?
    Oh lord, no, my modding To Do-list is currently long and weighty! While we work for a full release of DCI in 2015, meaning we'll try to get all planned content solved this year, I do not see that my modding endeavors will end for another year or two afterwards. I'm proud it's a very solid mod, with now no crucial issues and almost no big challenges left that we know of (while laberous task are multiple, as always hehe), yet I am not so green I underestimate that there's always updates and patchwork to do - for some time at any rate.
    See, my aim indeed is to be able to say 'This mod is done/finished', I consider a mod that operate with no intended goal beside to keep on develop for the sake of development itself is a project without a true vision, and without a vision my heart can not be devoted. Also, 'finished' not because there's no team or energy any longer and it dies (as seems to be the only fate most people believe a mod can face), but because I want us to reach the point where we find that we have made the game we aimed for, the game we wanted to play and a game that can be said, proudly, to need no further changes.
    Changes requested still, because there will always be such, that will have to be a task for the modders and submodders of tomorrow, hehe.

    My mistake haha, though I'm glad this isn't the end quite yet! Although four years is quite a long time to be modding, have you ever found yourself close to giving up or at a loss for what to do?
    Certainly! Most obvious after the release of every extensive work, haha! When you have given all you energy and love to a project you feel very satified once it's released, and quite drained and content, least that is so for me. Smaller projects released on the opposite tend to fuel my energy, but large projects required a breather.
    Then also, to be fair, when people complain about a work in a manner that is just negative and non-constructive, that can be quite discouraging, because I have done my best to fulfill a vision I had, and then getting a "This is crap" or alike decrease joy from sharing the work.

    At those times what's inspired you to keep on going with modding?
    On the latter I simply put in memory all those who share their enjoyment for the work produced, because you can not please all, and then the important thing is those who do are pleased with you. I do want to tell all who encouraged me throughout the years that your words have been immensely appreciated, that invoke energy to keep on pushing! And it is not a matter of wanting praise alone, constructive critisism is valued as it's a sign of interest just as much, but I must have it said so they know about it.

    On the former, that energy is drained after a larger project, time tend to lure me back. For a little while I only play again, reloading batteries, but as I play I start to note "Wouldn't it be nice if it was like this instead?" and "That would be a neat feature!", only to soon be back at the work bench, filled with new ideas that in themselves provide new incentive to produce.
    So when it have come to modding, each time I felt I was done, an old Swedish song with the chorus "Don't say No - say Maybe, Maybe, Maybe" have proven correct! That said however, I have never done anything as massive as what I'm doing right now...

    New TW games will hardly be of interest to me to start work with, because of the limitations they still have that mean I can not make reality that which I may in the engine of Medieval 2. And even if the possibilities will prove to be avilable, I doubt I would start over to relearn all over again, but think I simply will enjoy other dedicated modders work instead, so it has been for all games in Warscape for me.
    However, new TW games may have inspiring features, and those may encourage me to start new projects, to see if I may implement good ideas to this older but excellent game.

    As a modder do you find you still enjoy the vanilla TW games quite so much or are you constantly thinking of ways to improve them?
    As a matter of fact, yes I do, as long as I do not know how to mod them hehe. Or, do not use to. I can enjoy Rome 1 without thinking about editing it even if I could, because I do not usually work in it, and when I as currently play Attila I at best think "It would be neat if someone made X or changed Y" without any urge to sit down and do it myself.
    M2 games and mods are a different matter, that is my 'department', there weaknesses and strengths always make me think of the modding I could do. I still play campaigns in them on occasion, in short but intense periods, since I know the drill, before I go back modding again.

    Are there any other mods out there which you enjoy playing?
    For M2 I played The Sundering, as a result of getting recruited way back to do some sound work for them. Stunning mod that I enjoyed a lot, and came to make massive work for, and still intend to finish even if I have not devoted time to it for a long time now, in competition with other things. When I play TATW nowadays I do that with Withwnar's Submod Collection, that provide me all the features I long for in my campaigns.
    The Fourth Age-mod to Rome 1 is something I intend to enjoy after DCI is out, but it's on the future.
    For other games I never got stuck to any single mod, but tested different ones for short periods, mostly because I never played any later TW game for long, but shall say Darthmod for Empire is renowned for saving that game hehe. Shogun 2 was not my cup of tea while Rome 2 bored me quickly, but enjoying Attila I am looking forward to what will become available from the community to improve it.

    Is there anything else you'd like to say?
    Oh, time for famous last words? Makes me think of Pancho Villa who told the soldier who shot him: "It can't end like this. Tell them I said something."
    Well I am glad just to simply thank my family and friends, who endured my years in the world of modding hehe, and also say hello to all my dear friends here on TWC who have not been mentioned during this discussion, but are top blokes and make me happy to be part of this community.

    Interview by Dark Storm