Thursday, 21 February 2019

Mods, Inclusivity and Terry Pratchett

I first met Terry Pratchett in the form of is book Guards! Guards! I was 17, just about to finish high-school and I was hanging in a library in Pinerolo, a picturesque little city surrounded by the Alps. The library was called Volare (= to flight) and at the time I was constantly checking its sci-fi & fantasy section and several times I wondered about a weird book with a turtle flying in deep space on the cover. One day, having some time to wait before the next bus home, I started reading the first chapter. Fifteen minutes later I bought the book. I continued to read it on the bus, oblivious of the motion sickness. Two days later I was back, asking the shop-keeper if he had other books of this weird British writer able to put so much comedy and so much truth in apparently simple fantasy books.

 It was the beginning of a love story and today, many dozens of novels later, I consider Pratchett one of my favorite  authors ever (up there with Camus, Borges, Tolkien and a few others). I hunted down my friends and infected them with the love for these witty books one by one. When I finished reading the books translated in Italian, I looked for French translations. The first book in English I read was one of Pratchett's.
I could go on with many more anecdotes and stories about my love for Ser Terry, but it is not really what this post it is about. The purpose of this declaration of love was just to introduce the author and my fondness for his work.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon an article on Eurogamer telling the story behind a particular Oblivion Mod which was co-created by Terry Pratchett itself. I knew that he was fond of video games and of modding, but nothing more.
Turns out that he helped in the creation of one of the most interesting companions that one could have in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Vilja, created by a modder named Emma who even voiced the many lines available for the character.
Vilji herself is a rather interesting character ("Vilja in Swedish means willpower, guts, determination. And that is something Vilja has got lots of!" claims her description) and has been developed to allow many different ways of interacting with her.

Although Emma was the main developer, while Terry Pratchett tested it and wrote seveal original lines for Vilja:

"I wish to express my sincere gratitude to a Great Grandmaster in storytelling, Discworld author Terry Pratchett.
He has been travelling Cyrodiil with Vilja in tow since the first version was released. He has not only been so kind as to brain-storm over her with me, but has also written more than 130 new chatter- and Thieves Guild-entries especially for Vilja. Several of her new features and topics originate from his thoughts. Many, many thanks!" (From the readme file of the mod)

Vilja's feature that immediately fascinated me, however is her lead-the-way function. Terry Pratchett specifically requested this function: he was suffering from Alzheimer's and he was starting to have troubles with his memory. Navigating dungeons and wilderness in the game was becoming a real challenge, so Emma, with the help of a fellow modder called Charles, worked hart to implement a function that enabled Vilja to guide the player towards the next mission.

I had never thought of this issue, and I find this solution very elegant and empowering! Finding a way to help the players using only in-game elements while at the same time making the game more realistic? Seems pretty awesome to me.

Therefore I decided to try the mod out. Only problem: I do not have Oblivion...
After a quick search, however, I discovered that Vilja has a granddaughter in Skyrim, created also by Emma and with all the functions of the old Vilja and a new story-line. I downloaded the mod, made a new character, and went immediately to look for her.

I have traveled with Vilja for a few hours, but I was captivated by this mod. Vilja is very talkative, funny and has lots of personality. Most of all, there are countless ways of interacting with her. We can ask her to talk more or to be quiet, to call her horse and ride, or to walk slowly, to help us find alchemic ingredients, to sing or just to chat a little with us. Despite of this, Viljia does not let us order her around and will be happier if we let her decide for herself a few things.

(Vilja chilling in the warm camp she skillfully prepared)

 The function I was most curious to try, however, was the lead-the-way one. Among the many options, I discovered that it is also possible to ask to Vilja to lead you to one of her favorite places, adding additional agency to the character. Curious, I immediately choose that option and Viljia started to walk down the road with my khajiit following her.

After several wolves, some mercenaries, a necromancer and a couple of bandit, we had crossed half of Skyrim and arrived in one of Vilja's favorite spots. It was a long trip, but she was very talkative and of good company. When we arrived I asked her why did she like that place so much, and she described me the beauties of the view from that particular mountain.

We were in a little abandoned wooden house, and as the night was falling, I asked her to set the camp. I did not imagine that she would have done it inside the house and the result was a little bit... cubist...
Also the best mods have their glitches!

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