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Pure G.O.L.D. - Oblivion Plugin Develpment

It's a bit too-little-too-late to the Oblivion mod party. However, I have been doing some plugin development of my own, and decided it might make for an interesting Blog entry if I post up a list of the kind of stuff I've done.

Geldon's Oblivion Late Development

Description
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The goal of this Plugin is address what I considered to be issues with the original design. As a first person RPG, an experience, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion performs quite well. However, As a game, as something you play, I've found that there's a number of tweaks and improvements that could be made to improve the overall thrust.

A secondary goal is to attempt to keep the game relatively "pure" that I'm making not adding any additional content. Thus, this plugin only modifies existing Oblivion assets, and will be compatible with any plugin that is developed to add to the existing game instead of making similar adjustments.

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PROBLEMS SOLVED:
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The following are presented in a "Problem/Solution" format. If you were expecting to be surprised with the changes done, then these may be spoilers to you. In that event, read at your own risk.

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PROBLEM: The monsters encountered in Oblivion often lacked variety. For example, I might enter a cave to find it's entirely inhabited by imps. As I take down one imp after another, I'm left wishing that there was more variety here.

SOLUTION: I revised several of the more heavily used spawn tables. These modifications introduce greater variety, a possibility of multiple spawns, and improved scaled difficulty.

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PROBLEM: When taking down Stunted Scamps and Clannfear Runts, they never seemed to have any useful treasure. Why no scamp skin? Why no Clannfear claws? I understand these are lesser challenges and so do not deserve the full reward, but there should be something.

SOLUTION: There is now a chance you will find Scamp skin on Stunted Scamps and Clannfear claws on Clannfear Runts.

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PROBLEM: Aside from getting close enough to read the name, there's no visual way to determine the difference between tougher versions of the same kind of foe. For example, a Skeleton Guardian versus a Skeleton Champion.

SOLUTION: I changed the "scale" of the foes that work on a tiered system to have a size difference in accordance to their place on the tier. The tougher the foe, the greater the size. When they're standing next to eachother, you can definately tell who the nastier foe is. Modified foes include: Ghosts, Liches, Skeletons, Wraiths, Zombies, Goblins, and Clannfear.

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PROBLEM: Rats are wimps but look huge. Imps and Goblins seem a little large.

SOLUTION: Again, I changed the scale setting. Rats, Goblins, and Imps have been shrunk for purely cosmetic reasons. Now it really looks appropriate when a rat goes down to a single hit.

NOTE: This might make them a bit harder to fight at a distance, but perhaps these lightweights need all the help they can get.

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PROBLEM: I noticed that Frost Atronachs tend to get stuck in caves sometimes.

SOLUTION: The "scale" setting again. Frost Atronachs have been shrunk. True, that's not quite as fearsome looking, but I'll take functionality over cosmetics any day.

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PROBLEM: Revisions to the spawn tables made Imps and Fire Atronachs show up more often, but they're really not all that challenging at higher levels.

SOLUTION: Imps have been coverted into being scaling creatures. Both Imps and Fire Atronachs and Imps have been given a higher potency fireball attack that kicks in at their higher levels.

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PROBLEM: I was looking at the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Wiki combat tips, and I notice that the writer said that power attacks simply aren't worth using. This is because they keep you off guard for too long.

SOLUTION: Power attacks have been increased in potency. Default power attack damage has been increased from 2.5x damage to 3.0x damage. Most trained power attacks types (left, right, backwards) have been increased from 2.5x to 3.5x. Trained forward power attacks, being easy to land, are at 3.0x damage. Trained standing power attacks, intended to be the most damaging, do 4.0X damage.

NOTE: In application, I found there's a pretty good tradeoff even with these minor boosts. Higher scores tend to be too powerful.

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PROBLEM: Another thing I noticed in the UESW combat guide is that blocking is mentioned as something that should be done "very sparingly." Considering that there's a whole skill dedicated to blocking, there should really be an incentive to do it instead of simply dodge all the time.

SOLUTION: Blocking has been made more effective. Maximum block skill and a shield allows up to 90% of damage to be blocked as opposed to the default 75%. Blocking with a weapon is 75% as effective as a shield as opposed to the default 50%. Blocking unarmed is also 75% as effective as a shield, equal to a weapon... it's a game balance thing, but you can consider this simply focusing on using your hands (and gauntlets) for defensive purposes. There is no reduction in blocking skill score applied for blocking without a shield.

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PROBLEM: In general, Oblivion combat is very slow, especially at lower levels before enhancements come into play. I find myself hacking and slashing away at foe dozens of times, or loosing dozens of arrows, before they fall. This is even at lower levels with maximum fatigue.

SOLUTION: The base weapon damage multiplier has been changed from 0.5 default to 1.5. This should increase the amount of damage you inflict (or have inflicted on you) with weapons by 300%. Combat has just become a lot faster and furious.

NOTE: At lower levels, 3x damage seems to be just about right, going from 18 hits to down a simple foe to a mere 6. However, at higher levels, a two-handed weapon using foe is extremely dangerous.

The AI seems to have difficulty reacting quickly enough for this pace in combat. That does seem sort of heroic, I wonder if that's a good overall improvement or if it made the game too easy? Tastes will vary.

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PROBLEM: The tweaks to weapon damage causes melee combat to go a lot faster, but now Spellcasters are left being unable to sufficiently compete.

SOLUTION: Significantly boosted the maximum magicka gained from intelligence. PCs gain 4x their INT from magicka (previously 1X). NPCs gain 4.25x their INT from magicka (previously 1.25X). All around magicka regeneration has doubled.

NOTE: The effectiveness of mana-granting birthsigns has been relatively decreased by this change. A good idea for enhancing them would be to grant some additional magicka regeneration for taking The Mage or Apprentice. To an extent, the Atronach is compensated simply by there being a lot more spells thrown around now.

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PROBLEM: A lot more magicka is going to take forever to regenerate on its own.

SOLUTION: Magicka regeneration rate has been doubled, but not tripled.

NOTES: You'll note the desparity of the maximum magicka versus regeneration adjustments here. It's a deliberate rebalancing of Mages in order to encourage careful use of spells. Mages get a lot of power up front, now more than ever, but if they waste it they're in danger of being quickly dispatched due to the melee balance change.

Magic, in general, is kept balanced through the minimum skill requirements to cast spell. All boosting base magicka did is allow spells to be cast more often before the mage is tapped out.

Magicka restoring potions are relatively less effective but, on the other hand, Mages could afford to be a bit dependant on them. An overall positive shift in balance.

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PROBLEM: Sneak attacks were never very effective at higher levels and are now quite ineffective at lower levels due to the changes made to power attacks.

SOLUTION: The later sneak attack damage multipliers were adjusted.
* Novice remains at default: 4x melee, 2x marksman
* Apprentice was actually scaled down slightly: 6x melee, 3x to 2x marksman
* Journeyman raised from 6x to 7x damage melee, 3x to 3x marksman
* Expert raised from 6x to 8x damage melee, 3x to 3x marksman
* Master damage raised from 6x to 10x melee, 3x to 4x marksman.

NOTE: This change predated the general tripling of weapon damage. I've done a little scaling back, but only testing will determine if that was enough. To an extent, I think a player deserves a one-hit kill if they're successful at sneaking, as even max skill will tend to be detected quite a bit. Certain Chameleon/Invis exploits break the balance, but that's not a problem I introduced.

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PROBLEM: Dark Elf ancestor spirits lose all practical use as you level past them. Considering this is a once-in-24 hours power, it could afford to be more effective.

SOLUTION: Ancestor spirits scale in potency up to level 25 now (previously level 6) and have tiered frost spells.

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PROBLEM: The "stock" spells (ones players can purchase off NPCs and use) are generally pretty bland and boring.

SOLUTION: Stock attack spells have been tweaked to be more useful and have more situational emphasis. Current changes include:

- Damage spells are set up on varying damage over time patterns depending on the element: Shock is instant, fire applies over 5 seconds, and frost spells apply the most damage over 10 seconds.
- The convalescence line is now touch-based (for greater potency) and has a small area of effect associated with it.
- Touch-based damage spells have also taken advantage of the free 6-range-or-less AOE.
- Protect Other has been changed to a Journeyman-level spell of higher potency, duration, and area of effect.

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PROBLEM: Bound (summoned) Armor is incompatible with the different pieces. Some are light armor, some are heavy armor.

SOLUTION: Bound Cuirass and Bound Greaves are now classified as light armor, bringing them into line with the rest of the set.

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PROBLEM: Alchoholic Beverages. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing, it seems.

SOLUTION: Alchoholic beverages have been rebalanced to be useful. Some function as a way to convert one type of statistic to another. Others function as a temporary boost. In some cases, it's possible to drink yourself to death.

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OBVIOUS FIXES DONE:
These things are simple fixes that aren't really overriding problems but bothered me.
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CreatureWraith1Weapon stats corrected. Previously, this creature was the runt of the litter.

Hil the Tall teaches alteration, he says so himself. Don't give me any of that, "Illusionists like to lie about their profession" stuff.

The Pale Lady seemed remarkably berift of vampire dust considering she is one.

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UNRESOLVED PROBLEMS:
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PROBLEM: There's still more changes to spells to be done. For example:

SCALE OF DIFFICULY: Medium. This will be an ongoing fix. Some ideas include:
* Differing uses for different summons, perhaps make summons scale within a balanced range with more costly ones having a higher level tendancy.

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PROBLEM: There's still more racial and birthstone tweaks that could be made in order to make them viable at all levels.

SCALE OF DIFFICULY: Easy. Just a matter of figuring out which changes would be appropriate.

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PROBLEM: While the changes to weapon base damage should have boosted the effectiveness of NPCs using weapons, NPCs not using weapons are likely inflicting as pathetic of damage as ever.

SCALE OF DIFFICULY: Medium. I'll need to do some further investigation into this, but it's possible that most non-weapon using NPCs were already tweaked to do way more damage than the player.

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PROBLEM: Hand-to-Hand is offensively screwed.

SCALE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy. I just need to decide which direction I want to go with this: Greater damage than weapons, or really good at depleting fatigue?

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PROBLEM: You go from entirely hidden to completely exposed too quickly when sneaking in Oblivion.

SCALE OF DIFFICULTY: Hard/Impossible. I'm afraid that mechanic that puts some time between being hidden to revealed never made it into the hardcode. Instead, detection seems to be instantanious, and the on-screen eye indicator is misleading.

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PROBLEM: Spawn tables can still be further modified.

SCALE OF DIFFICULTY: Medium. Since I'm restricting myself to not having new kinds of creatures, I can accomplish this through introducing a greater number of lesser creatures and modifying leveled lists to not automatically spawn the highest level creature. Perhaps sadistic things like spawning multiple nether liches at extreme levels.

Having reconsidered my earlier spawn tables, I think the best way to balance it would be to come up with a challenge rating for each mob, based off of overall hitpoints and perhaps damage potential, and just have equivilent challenge rating scaled to level.

By about level 20-25 the player character will be essentially maxed, but probably looking for increasingly better challenges, so keep scaling the challenge rating up to about 50.

To create variety, multiple spawns of lesser monsters are permissible, but don't overuse it as they're generally easy prey.

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PROBLEM: Junk cluttering up the player's inventory and seeming generally worthless.

SOLUTION: Stick prices on zero cost "junk" items. Just because it's worthless to you doesn't mean it's worthless to a merchant.

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PROBLEM: I agree with the idea of making glass and daedric less common at higher levels, but not removing them from common mobs entirely. Perhaps arrange that only 'bosses' have the best armor and weaponry.

SCALE OF DIFFICULTY: Medium. I'll have to tweak all the boss mobs in the game to draw from a seperate loot spawn table and have none of the common mobs draw from those tables.

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PROBLEM: Elements seem underutilized. Perhaps put implicit elemental weaknesses on all appropriate mobs.

SCALE OF DIFFICULTY: Medium. Yes, I can modify existing creatures to have weaknesses easily enough. The only trouble is getting the player to realize it's there, as the engine does nothing to tell you that you've landed an especially good hit.

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PROBLEM: Shopkeeper stock never seems to be all that useful. Perhaps give shopkeepers inventories about 5 levels above the loot the player can find.

SCALE OF DIFFICULTY: High. It's a pretty major revision of some extensive tables. I'm not even sure it'll work as I intend it to.

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PROBLEM: Highest level imps should have a scaled spell.

SCALE OF DIFFICULTY: Medium. I'm not entirely sure if it's pulling spells from the LeveledSpell list based off the imp's spell skill or the player's level right now.

<--- End Change Log--->


I'll upload it if anyone has any interest in playing this mod but I'm pretty sure that most people are quite content with a glut of other mods, particularly Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul. I'm not running that thing because (to a distinguished gaming connoisseur like myself) it has turned into a real amoeba of about 10% good ideas, 20% bad ideas, and 70% pointless crap (e.g. Like I really care you re-skinned a shield.) G.O.L.D. represents my preferred flavor (although it's far from addressing all that offends about Oblivion).

This brings me to the central reason why I actually posted this: it is interesting to see just how much obvious game design problems Oblivion was released with that people (players and reviewers alike) were willing to overlook. This change log barely chips the iceberg. Playing through it today, I can't help but notice a million middling things that Bethesda could have done to make this game that much better, many of them being quite simple. E.g. How about showing when shop doors have just been unlocked?

Another game I've been playing lately is Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. If you can overlook the generally glitchy state of that game, it blows Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion out of the water in game design aspects. The combat is much more tactile, the whole interface feels a lot more like you're there, and the spells feel like spells. In Oblivion, most of the spells feel like tools for performing mathematic adjustments.

In the end, what Bethesda really did well with Oblivion is create an open-ended and good looking world. However, what really fishes in the players is actually the narrative of the story. I base this judgment in knowing that Oblivion totally loses me once the plot runs out. The world screeches to a halt: no longer a living and breathing thing. I would like to say I could fall back on the gameplay itself, and that's where my Plugin comes in. It tries to correct that Oblivion's gameplay is, at heart, quite simplistic and underdeveloped. My plugin development is doing what it can but there's only so much you can do without hardcode support.

A game as open-ended as Oblivion yet as fun to play as a debugged Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. I might buy that. Throw in backup dynamic plot development and you've got a deal.

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