Monday, August 13, 2012

Becoming A Master

...or at least a master file.

So, over the past version or two I have slowly been considering the possibility of changing my mod from an .esp to an .esm. Or, more understandably, from a plugin to a master file. The difference between plugin and master files are as follows.

Plugin File (.esp): The standard format for mods. They modify or add content within master files while they are loaded. Their changes are not permanent and will not actually modify the .esm file. Instead, Skyrim reads their information and makes the changes inside of the game. Every .esp has a list of master files that are required for it to run. Most of them only require the Skyrim.esm Master File. However, if one were to require Dawnguard, for instance, then it would require both Skyrim.esm and Dawnguard.esm. When you make a mod with the Creation Kit, they are the format that it saves your changes in. They can be uploaded to the Steam Workshop.

Master File (.esm): Skyrim.esm is the main master file. They are what hold all of the main files which the game uses. They have higher priority than any .esp files in the load order. You can make an .esp that modifies and .esm, but you cannot make an .esm that modifies an .esp. They are the star of the solar system and all of the little .esps orbit around them. They can only be created by using modder-made tools to convert a .esp to an .esm, and they cannot be uploaded to the Steam Workshop.

So, why the extended monologue about the difference between the two? Mainly because I am currently giving a significant amount of thought to changing my mod to an .esm. This has a number of pros and cons, but I think that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.


+ Modules. I would finally be able to make all of those optional modules that people have been asking for. Some people just want the overhaul without the weapons. Some want the skills to be in the vanilla perk trees. Others want quests. Some want small optionals like a Fists of Steel perk for Light armor. Others might want a Chi system. The list goes on. Making Way of the Monk a Master File mod would allow me to make those modules. You would download the master file with the whole shebang. Then, if you wanted certain aspects changed you could either download a module (.esp) for yourself, or even make your own to use.

+ Compatibility. Compatibility issues would be much easier to solve. Instead of having to change large parts of my system to work with another mod or have them do the same thing, I (or someone else) could just build an .esp that bridges the gap between the two mods and makes them compatible. It would be totally optional and the compatibility patches would be much easier to create.

+ Teamwork. If, at some point, someone else wanted to join me on the project and help me out, then a Master File would be a LOT easier to work with. Say, for instance, that someone wanted to help me build a questline for the mod. We could 1) work together on the SAME file at the SAME time using a program made by SureAI, allowing us to simultaneously build the questline together. Or 2) one of us could make an .esp plugin for the .esm that adds a questline that is totally optional. That way you could get the main mod without having to worry about all of the issues that come with quest mods.


+ No Steam Workshop. Unfortunately, the Steam Workshop does not allow modders to upload .esm Master Files. At all. And even if it did, it has a filesize limit of 100mb. While just the overhaul would not likely meet that size limit, the modules might. Especially if they included new meshes, textures, or sounds. The normal mod has already reached a size of 72 mb. Simply adding full dialog for two characters might raise the size past the 100mb limit on the Steam Workshop. If I turned Way of the Monk into a master file, then Steam users would not be able to download the latest versions from the Workshop. I would not delete the mod, so they would still be able to get whatever version existed before the change to .esm. However, to get any later versions they would *have* to use the Nexus.


So, what do y'all think?

Personally, I think that it is worth the risk. As the creator, I want to grow this mod as much as I can without being limited by the Workshop's capabilities. However, I do not want to alienate players unless I have to. Please feel free to give me your input on the choice.


  1. I think you should go for it!
    I've run into many of the same problems you have, and Google keeps leading me to your posts.
    (Very helpful btw! You describe your realizations about the limitations/workings of the CK well.)
    I agree that creating a new Master File is the logical "next step" in the case of your mod (and the one I'm working on).
    I'm surprised that people seem satisfied with just adding new swords and side-quests through the CK.
    Doesn't anyone else want to overhaul major elements of gameplay?
    But even things, that should be minor tweaks in an object-oriented gaming engine, like revamping the skill tree seem to be unsupported through the CK.
    Using custom Master Files will drastically reduce your user base, but if your mod is dope, users will seek it out.
    Btw, if you run into any valuable resources, please post links!

    1. Thank you for your input. :-)

      Yes, creating simple, small mods has never quite appealed to me. There's a place for them, certainly, but the concept seems a bit boring. :-) Probably the smallest one I've made only added a mapmarker for the Midden, and I made that simply because I was annoyed at not being able to fast-travel there. :-D

      What mods have you made? They seem like the type that I'd be interested in.:-D

      Creation Kit being overly complicated. Tell me about it.. I was the first person to upload a Skyrim mod to the Workshop that changed the skill trees (literally a number of hours after the Creation Kit was available) and it was a pain to figure out. Since then, every time I've tried to make major changes to the gameplay, I simply haven't been able to use the Creation Kit's normal features. Most of the time I've just ended up making workarounds with Papyrus, but some of the maain features that I want to create are simply impossible without using TESVSnip.

      True, even though less people will download, I suspect that the people who do will be those who enjoy it more. If I can ever get past adding the dialogue to my follower, I will turn Way Of The Monk into a Master File for version 1.6.

      Thanks. :-) I actually just wrote a new post about finding voice actors and recording voice lines.

  2. With regards to your Monk Unarmed Overhaul Mod:

    Does the Khajit racial bonus stack with the use of the "unarmed" weapons, giving them an edge?(monk weapons or the those named "unarmed")

    Is is possible to make unarmed shields to help feel more monk like, vice running around with fist and board? Or perhaps if some of the left hand weapons could function as a shield instead. Besides having different enchantments on the different weapons, I don't see much benefit to using 2 hand attacks. Thanks for your time, sorry this doesn't pertain to the current post.

    1. Yes, the Khajiit bonus should affect both the "unarmed" weapons and the fist weapons.

      The unarmed shields are an interesting idea. I'm wondering if I could make an invisible shield that lets the player simply block with their hand. Thanks for the idea! :-D

      As for the difference between the 1-H Unarmed weapon and the Both-Handed Unarmed weapon, I'm working on that. I plan on modifying them for version 1.6 so that the OneHanded one does half the damage of the BothHanded one, which only makes sense.