“This is all weird”
That was the realisation I came to, sat looking at the front page of Skyrim Nexus. I’d been tasked with rooting out whatever strange curious the mod community had buried amongst the site’s 5,000 or so files. (This was before the release of the Creation Kit – that number is now rapidly increasing.) The launching point had been a video showing My Little Pony dragons, so I knew what manner of madness I was looking for. But there, listed as a ‘Hot File’ was a mod called Visible Windows.
Maybe it’s a deficiency in the way I play games, but throughout my time in Northern Tamriel I can’t say I so much as noticed the windows. I certainly wasn’t so upset by them as to be driven to creating a high resolution texture patch. It doesn’t end there – almost every element of the game has passed through the gaze of some modder who decided it wasn’t up to standard. Even Skeevers, with Wolgang’s Healthier Skeever mod promising a “cuter retexture.” They’re giant festering plague rats! They’re not supposed to be adorable.
And if you can’t mentally reconcile with the most trivial of mods, where do you start if you’re looking for the weirdest?
With Macho Man Randy Savage (no relation) crudely superimposed over the shape of a dragon. There’s weird and then there’s weird.
The disappointing news: with the Creation Kit tool only recently providing the keys to Bethesda’s engine, there is a distinct lack of bizarre quests to marvel at. No doubt within the year there will be full questlines to rival the brilliance of Oblivion’s raining dog mission, but for now your primary avenues of stupidity are texture and sound replacements. That’s more than enough, and my copy of Skyrim has become a frightening safari into the batshit excesses of internet pop culture.
I’ve sent NPCs flying with a dragon-powered belch, seen farms populated with decaying zombie rabbits, fought top hat and monocle sporting mud crabs and navigated the roads by the light of a Me Gusta moon. Once you’re in the mindset for it, it’s hard not to become addicted to systematically corrupting the game with a full menagerie of insanity. Encountering a saber cat to find it’s just a plain saber cat is genuinely disappointing.
Luckily there’s always a mod out there to spice things up. So saber cats have what is probably supposed to be a Pop Tart painted on them, and play the Nyan Cat song as they approach – a sort of cheerful early warning system for having your throat torn out.
Even better are the moments the mods interact to create strange emergent skits. On arriving at a giant’s camping ground and confirming that yes, the mammoths were now giant chickens, I was attacked by a troll. It was playing the Trololol song, the sound clips overlapping into a nightmarish crescendo of noise, suddenly silenced as the giant walked over and clubbed it on the head. It celebrated its victory by singing the jingle to the “Green Giant” sweetcorn adverts. Skyrim has become a very silly place.
Those sound replacement mods actually create a dramatic change to the tone of the game. Until you fiddle with it, it’s easy to miss how much of Bethesda’s world is made special through the atmosphere created by ambient noise and subtle music cues. Just a seemingly innocuous change – turning the bleat of a goat into something supposedly robotic (which actually just sounds like a tuneless ukulele,) or adding a Wilhelm scream to critical hits – makes for an alien world.
Due to the rate at which mods are now released, testing them out has become an obsessive hobby. This is helped by the Steam Workshop integration. While the Workshop site itself pales in comparison to the Skyrim Nexus, the ease of use – find a mod; click subscribe – means trying something out is a painless adventure. One day you’ll find chickens that explode when killed. The next it’ll be a merchant selling a bow that makes enemies drop special cheese. We’ve hit a critical tipping point where there’s always something new to diAlthough tcover.
The element of surprise is reduced when you’re the one researching and adding mods. What would be great is the ability to save mod playlists, which friends could download as a full profile. It’d be like ba friendssomeone’s iPod, only to discover every song on it was an Alvin & The Chipmunks cover version.
So what of the modders themselves? Why bother to make something so incredibly stupid, when most might try it out once and quickly dismiss it? The obvious answer: “because it’s funny.” But it would be a mistake to think there’s no underlying purpose. It’s similar to the theory behind game creation jams like Glorious Trainwrecks’ Klick of the Month.
The games they make are deliberately terrible, but with a childish sense of humour and MIDI renditions of such 90s classics as We Like To Party! (Venga Bus) by the Vengaboys. Similarly, these mods are a chance for people to indulge in the process of creating something for the fun of it. And if you’ve not the inspiration, time or ability to make something good, you might as well make something stupid in the hope that someone will get a laugh from it. In some ways it’s a purer expression of the craft than those who are tirelessly working to fix Bethesda’s mistakes, both real and perceived.
Away from the deliberately hilarious, spend enough time browsing through the Nexus and another category of strangeness emerges. Search for most of the game’s characters and you’ll find some mod for them. Most typically it’s to open up new choices for marriage, but some NPCs have received more… attention than others.
Take Lydia, who can be given high-heels and a skimpy nightdress, a preposterously unprotective armour set, or just a full My First Lydia (TM) dress up minigame. I’d make a snarky comment, but spending a night researching ways people have expressed their fetishes in a game pretty much nullifies your right to a moral highground. Well not entirely – I will say that for a fairly innocuous mod, “Respectful Lydia – Willing Burden Carrier” is about the creepiest name anyone could come up with.
I guess the question is what’s weirder? Someone showing off their perfect ideal of their favourite NPC to the whole internet, or this:
It’s the werechair. Obviously. There’s weird and then there’s weird.