Hanstholm Village (oblivion mod)…

Hanstholm Village (oblivion mod) after the break…

Hanstholm Village (oblivion mod)…

As the old saying goes, the key to a successful business is “Location, location, location.”

Hanstholm village, a mod for the video game “Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion” (“Oblivion” for short), is a village that is in about as inaccessible a location as someone could make it short of needing to access the game console in order to reach it.

Nestled near the border North-west of the city of Cheydinhaal, Hanstholm rests so high up in the mountains that one fears of getting a nose bleed upon arriving. Thank goodness for the much-maligned feature called “Fast Travel” that lets the computer do the walking for you (as long as the location is marked on your map first, of course) because, quite frankly, walking there naturally might not be worth the effort.

Made by “Luckylewis” in 2007 (Yes, 2+ years ago), this mod features a nordic architecture like that seen in the city of Bruma. All the amenities of a town are here – Armor, weapons, ingrediants, alchemy equipment, a bed, your own house… These amenities are nice considering the seclusion & inconvenience of actually travelling here.

One of the nice aspects of the village is that everyone appears to be functional. A sheep farmer, for instance, sells meat. That seems logical enough. A merchant near a mine sells pickaxes. That also seems very reasonable.

However, underneath some of the nicer touches, Hanstholm also shows it’s age & lack of design competency.

First, this entire village was built on a crudely-manipulated cliff with just enough land to fit some of the buildings onto it. The Inn, for instance, is slightly hanging off a sharp incline. The church has an unnaturally jagged land pattern behind it in order to fit that structure into the village.

If the topography of the land doesn’t quite mesh with reality, some of the more basic aspects of the village doesn’t mesh with it either.

Near the church is a skooma dealer. That’s right – A skooma dealer… In the middle of nowhere… In a tiny village. Does the village condone this activity?

How can they not know of a skooma dealer when the dealer is RIGHT THERE… Next to 2 NPCs called “Skooma Addicts”? How much money can a skooma dealer make on a small, isolated village?

The concept of “stores” is fairly basic – People walk in, buy things & then leave. If enough people perform the buying activity, the store merchant makes a profit & can afford a living that doesn’t involve back-breaking farming or carpentry. In such a small, isolated village, though, how are any of these stores supposed to make a profit… At all? It’s one thing to see a well-stocked magic store in a city that is located on a major road. However, I walked into a

magic store here in Hanstholm that was selling black soul gems. A blacksmith was selling Dwemer armor! This is entirely unrealistic! How are these merchants getting such extravagent merchandise & affording to sell them in such a tiny venue? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The town has a mine & so perhaps the concept was that this was a mining town. In mining towns, merchandise was plentiful but horribly expensive. However, the mine itself is so small that only a few people from the town could mine inside of it. Also, there would be a lot of miners except for the few houses that are in the total village.

In such an isolated, inhospitable area (We are at the top of a mountain, remember?) someone has had the dedication of building a very nice church. Although there have been architectural feats before (How many islands far off of a mainland have a towering lighthouse?) these feats had a purpose. People built a lighthouse on a small, rocky dot of land to make sure that ships didn’t beach themselves against the rocks or shallow waters. What purpose does a large church have in this small village?

If there had been a diary or books or something that a player could find in this village to explain some of these in-game design decisions, then perhaps some of the more minor decisions could become acceptable. Yet, there are no such books – All of the books seen are of the generic variety already found in the standard game.

The non-player characters (NPCs) are not very helpful if you want to communicate with them. They contain no unique conversation topics despite having unique names. Admittedly, they have routines – For instance, a farmer gets up out of his bed & goes out to farm on a small plot of land.

Although I took heart that someone had designed a village with farming, the farm was decidedly too small to support the entire town. Granted, the real-world ancient city of Machu Pichu, situated high atop a mountain, was not self-sustainable either – Despite an ingenious “mountainside” gardening technique, it’s gardens could barely sustain one quarter of that city’s population. Machu Pichu’s answer to it’s food problems was simple – When you’re a city, you can simply buy the food. Machu Pichu was surrounded by farming communities that were more then capable of picking up where Machu Pichu’s own gardening left off.

Up until now, I’ve described a town mod that is just… OK. It has flaws but, if you really wanted a town mod in the middle of nowhere, this would more then adequately fulfill that desire. Unfortunately, more flaws were to be revealed & these would eventually become the true “deal-breakers” as to whether to keep this mod on my hard drive or not.

Whether I deal with a mod that is only 5K in size or one that is 500 megs, I expect a certain amount of proficiency in it’s design. Just like speaking with someone, you have the reasonable expectation that the person you are speaking with can reply in words you understand & place those words into sentences that can also be understood. You may not have used those exact words yourself, you may not have phrased the sentences as they were spoken to you but you can understand both the words & the sentences that the words form.

In Oblivion, all objects have what are called “meshes.” Take a soccer ball, for example – The “mesh” for a soccer ball would be the ball itself. The mesh is not responsible for the color or how it behaves, just it’s shape & how detailed it is.

When a mesh does not appear in Oblivion when it should (sort of like skipping class or staying home from work), a big yellow symbol surrounded by an exclamation mark appears. There’s no mistaking this symbol – When you see one, you know it’s there.

Unfortunately, in this mod, there are a number of these “missing mesh” symbols. One is behind the skooma dealer. Two others are in the armor store & the soul gem store. More were found in some of the residential houses, which leads to the next point…

All of the residential homes are locked, including a home that is apparently meant for your own use! Either someone has to be a good lock-picker, have some good lock-picking spells or simply use the “unlock” command in the console. Or, of course, there has to be an in-game reason for why a small, isolated village in the middle of nowhere feels compelled to lock their doors, even in the daytime when everyone is out & about. Those pesky skooma addicts! They probably sneak into the houses to steal stuff for their fix!

Houses are one of my major pet peeves in mods because most mod designers can’t understand that you need to match the outside cell of your house with the inside cell of that same house. Matching these two cells up adds to the realism & immersiveness that your mod conveys to the player. Walking into a shack & then walking around inside a mansion breaks that immersiveness & reminds the player that they’re just playing a game.

In the mod, most of the houses simply don’t match their insides & their outsides. It’s just horrible – In some instances, a house only has one fireplace on the outside but on the inside, there are two fireplaces… But not even on the same wall as the “house” on the outside! Roofs are slanted differently in some houses & some houses just underestimate their size on the inside. Wow. There were a lot of examples of inconsistent architecture & it was very embarassing to view.

However, the real surprise was when I realized that the mod author had simply copied some interiors to apply to different houses. That’s right – I encountered the same (or virtually the same, save for a prop or two) interiors for four different houses! Calimaninde’s, Autronius’, Snagam’s & Adime’s houses were all the same on the inside save for one or two props! The same could be said of Agricola’s, Throknolf’s & Roggva’s homes having all of the same architecture. Wow. Just… Wow. Talk about phoning it in… And I’m not even mentioning some of the other stuff I found like this…

So, is this mod a keeper? No. Not even close. This mod is going to get deleted off of my hard drive really quick.

I have nothing against villages in isolated places. What I do have are villages in isolated places that simply don’t make any sense! This mod has to start over from the beginning – Put more farming space in, less buildings, more humble buildings with matching interiors & exteriors, a way to simply use your house, unique dialog for the NPCs, get rid of the skooma people… I don’t know… It sounds like a whole different mod if you strip away everything that you need to change. However, I want THAT mod on my hard drive instead of this mod. Sorry.

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