Rebelzize is the lead for the Skyblivion project and has been working on Skyblivion since 2013. In this blogpost he will be talking about what goes into managing a project such as Skyblivion and some of the challenges he and the project has faced since its birth.
Some of you know may already know me as Rebelzize or Kyle Rebel. I am a recent Business Management graduate from The Netherlands who has a soft spot for video games and an addiction to modding said games.
For the past couple of years, I have been managing the Skyblivion project to ensure we stay on course towards our first public release. This task has grown more and more complicated over the years, but I have never been one to back down from a challenge which brings us to present day.
Getting Hooked on Skyblivion
Back in 2013 I stumbled upon the Morroblivion forums and noticed someone was fiddling around with complicated tools to trying to convert Oblivion’s game data to Skyrim. This experiment was nothing concrete at the time and seemed to be more about testing the tools that were being used to work on Skywind. Despite that fact something inside me ignited when I first read the title, Skyblivion, and my brain almost imploded thinking about the possibilities of such a project. Oblivion in Skyrim’s engine… wow.
At the time Skywind had been in development for about a year and was the sole focus of the Morroblivion team. I was handling the PR side of things for Skywind and had helped organize the forums in the background. Nobody on the forums seemed to pay much attention to the Skyblivion branch and word in our chats was that it would not be worth the time to turn into anything concrete. I couldn’t let it go however, with Oblivion being my favorite game the thought of a successful Oblivion remake kept gnawing in the back of my head and eventually I gave in and send the two guys working on this “experiment” a message to see what the deal was.
These two guys were Zilav and Monocleus(called Ormin at the time), two likeminded individuals with a knack for creating Elder Scrolls modding tools(TESEdit) and hacking away at complicated conversion methods respectively. As talented as they are Skyblivion was unable to become anything more than an idea without proper direction and some form of management.
Our First Milestone
After introducing myself and asking around to see what would be needed to make Skyblivion happen the list I got back was rather large and quite intimidating. Nonetheless I started mapping it all out on our forums as you can see down below:
After another chat we concluded that the priorities were to finish navmeshing and facegen. For those who are not familiar with these terms they mean the following. Navmesh is a collection of polygons that tells an actor where it can walk. Facegen on the other hand is simply the data files that determine what an NPC looks like, since we are remaking Oblivion we thought it was important for the NPC’s to look similar to their counterparts from the original game.
With our priorities in order my first big organizational challenge would be to find a way to distribute and track facegen claims. The reason for starting off with facegen as opposed to navmesh was so that I could start with something manageable. You see, Oblivion had 2663 interior locations alone that needed navmeshing and on top of that a world map that was almost twice as big as Skyrim which needed navmeshing for almost every cell on the map. The number of NPC’s on the other hand were just over 1000 and took a lot less work and experience to complete. A good place to start and practice managing a team of modders from around the world I thought to myself.
So now that we knew what we were going to do it was time to organize and get to work. Previous experiences taught me that this is the order of things that should be followed as opposed to work first and organize later. This meant that the first step was to divide the facegen tasks into manageable sections and have a system in place to keep track of who works on what. I am a firm believer in KISS(keep it simple stupid) and as such I simply divided the facegen claims into alphabetical letters and assigned the letter one by one to people who volunteered.
The system itself was simple and crude but it worked well. The person in charge of A worked on all NPC’s whose name started with an A, easy enough. Now that we had a system in place the biggest challenge which has repeated itself throughout the project’s life cycle, was finding volunteers.
Back in 2013 we didn’t have massive Discord servers, modding subreddits, facebook groups, name familiarity or volunteers flooding our website, so I had to get creative in finding minions to feed to the Skyblivion machine. This is the point where I first started uploading Skyblivion and Skywind videos to my YouTube channel to showcase the mods and redirect people to our forums.
This turned out to be a pretty good move as my YouTube channel at the time already had a few thousand subscribers and the community was quick to share it around forums such as nexusmods.
After a few weeks of recruiting we had a whopping 2 volunteers who started working on recreating the beautiful Oblivion faces we know and love. A few more individuals joined the projects in the following months and slowly but surely our NPC’s began to shape up nicely.
As mentioned earlier we did not have a Discord server at the time and although the forums had a chatroom this was only for Skywind developers, so all communication was done through our forums. It was not perfect, but we made it work. The biggest challenge with this however was that it often took days or even weeks to get a response to your question and on top of that it was easy but comments to get lost in the many posts that were shared on our forums. Looking at how things are done nowadays with Discord and audio/video calls I feel a bit sorry for our younger selves.
To give you al an idea of the time and effort that went into our very first milestone I’ll leave you with the following. In the end we had a total of 6 volunteers working on creating facegen for 1000+ NPC’s and it wasn’t until April 25th 2015(almost 1,5 years after starting this task) that the last facegen claim was finally completed with the last claim being finished and submitted by Rovan3011.
Our team was tiny, resources were limited but we made up for this with persistence and got it done.
This first major milestone wouldn’t have been completed with the help of our facegen team. As such I want to once again thank Rovan3011, Hanansk16, bigbobblehead, Wiseling, Bobafett131 and JJUSA12 for their hard work and dedication. We haven’t forgotten about all of you ?
Writing this first part of a series of blogs that will be covering managing such a large project brought back a lot of fond memories. At the time I had no idea what I got myself into and how the project would evolve over the years but looking back I do not regret a thing. So far, the project has cost me 7 years of my life, but I learned so much and met so many fantastic people along the way, how can I not look back fondly?
Managing the project has always been a challenge and different time periods had different obstacles that needed to be overcome. From 2013-2015 not being taken seriously and the lack of experience managing an international team led to me making mistakes, but I learned some valuable lessons which I would like to share with you all.
For starters don’t let others dictate what you can and can not do. If you are anything like me you are crazy enough to take on a monumental task that will test your will, patience and persistence. Along the way people will tell say you can’t do it, that you should quit and that you are wasting your time. But we do not have to listen to them. Don’t get me wrong, we all have limits and sooner or later you will learn what your limits are but it’s important that you don’t let others dictate them for you. To make a long story short, step one is to trust yourself, you can do this. It won’t be easy but, in my experience, the best things in life never are.
Step two to becoming a better person or in this case project manager is to realize and accept that you are not perfect and that you can learn from the people around you. Listen to the advice of your peers and find ways to apply both their advice and the lessons you learned throughout development. This allows you to become a better person and your project or organization to thrive.
With that I will end this first part in a series of blogposts. I hope you all enjoyed this blast to past and are looking forward to more as there is plenty more to cover. In the next part we will be reflecting on the last monumental task before Skyblivion turned into what it is today, navmeshing.