The New Direction of STEP
A Brief History
... well, maybe not that brief ... but relevant ;)
A lot of people may be under the impression that STEP is stagnating, since it is not continuously updating its mod list or imposing overly-stringent restrictions on new mod additions. Although, these trends are accurate, the reasons behind them may not be clear; therefore, we are presenting this article to inform the Skyrim modding community about where the project is heading and some of the challenges that we have been tackling in getting there.
First and foremost, STEP is a modding methodology. It began with TheCompiler as a PDF guide on the Nexus and has since been presented in the form of guide with a wiki and forum structure wrapped around it. STEP has historically been updated in fits and spurts, with active development on the mod list, mod testing, version releases, etc., followed by long periods of seeming inactivity. However, behind the scenes, the STEP staff are hardly inactive. We have been focused on site and content development to support the STEP Guide/forum structures and some challenges in maintenance. Most notably, forums maintenance is a lot of work that cannot be put off (otherwise, things fall into disarray ... this is how forum communities are, although ours is more mature than most). Wiki development and the learning curve associated with using our wiki are also challenges for many members. For our staff, the challenge is refining the interface to maximize user friendliness. Consider that the vast majority of all of this work has been accomplished and maintained by three people (Farlo, stoppingbyfornow and me, z929669). Granted, we had several others on board in the beginning and continue to get much-needed support from other key individuals, without whom, we would never be where we are now (shout-out to TheCompiler, techangel, rootsrat [aka Elenear], WilliamImm, Kelmych, kryptopyr, torminater, Aiyen, Solist, EssArrBee and our mod testers).
As a result, the STEP Guide updates and our attention to modding and mod testing has largely taken a back seat to site and community development. One way that we have sought to mitigate the ever-mounting problem of maintenance overhead has been to define a rather strict STEP Mandate. This helped us to weed out a big chunk of mods (and the work that comes with adding, updating and maintaining them in the context of the Guide) so that we could focus more on infrastructure and communications. Unfortunately, the Mandate has also been a bit of a hindrance for people that want the STEP mod list to expand. Over the course of our struggle to maintain the STEP "engine", others have expressed a desire to simply get on with modding Skyrim (remember, the reason that we are all here in the first place?). Thus arose from the turmoil, Neovalen and his "Skyrim Revisited" ... a guide to quench the appetite of the masses that expected STEP to evolve beyond a basic guide and into the "dream build" that we all had envisioned it would be. In a way, Neovalen's work has kept the interest of some of our most senior community members. We always have new members and users that are interested in STEP as a rather prominent starting point for modding beginners, but some of the more advanced modders --who have patiently waited for STEP to evolve along with them-- may have grown somewhat disillusioned and --luckily for us-- have found solace in Skyrim Revisited and this monumental, single-handed achievement.
In the midst of all of this uncertainty, the three of us (Farlo, stopping and me) decided --through many live voice communications and meetings with thoughtful individuals of this community-- that the only way to give the community the modding guide that it wants and to satisfy our urge to improve the community infrastructure (both of which are required for growth) was to create a STEP:Core Guide that is relatively stable and easy to maintain ... something relevant to everyone with respect to a mod build. In addition --and here is the beautiful thing-- we would rely on the community (e.g., active modders with "GTD" like Neovalen) to "feed the beast" so-to-speak. This allows us to work on the modding-gude infrastructure, community-building, recruitment of staff help, and general administration whilst facilitating the advancement of guide development (and guide diversity). We are calling this concept "STEP:Core with 'Packs'", and we are and have been planning implementation now for some time (with a few hiccups regarding our extended team's communication ... sorry for that). Following is our formal introduction and detail about STEP moving forward.
Abstract On the New Direction
One of the primary reasons for keeping STEP:Core pretty strict with regards to vanilla is that the overarching STEP project intends to evolve into a more community-driven initiative of mod 'recipes' constructed as extensions of a central core recipe (aka, STEP:Core). These mod recipes are simply extensible build instructions that we have been referring to as STEP 'Packs'. These packs are themselves extensions of STEP:Core that build on it in ways that express or support different visions of the game. Therefore, STEP:Core needs to include only what are viewed to be the most essential mods necessary to 'correct' Skyrim, serving as the common denominator for all STEP Packs (e.g., the USPs, tweaks to suit the PC interface, 'fixes' that lie outside of USP mandates, etc.). STEP Packs are where the substantive deviations from vanilla Skyrim can and will occur, depending on the vision of any given pack author. Some of the packs may be focused on gameplay changes, others on further graphic enhancements, but together they will allow users more flexibility and choice when determining their modded Skyrim experience. The real beauty of this paradigm is that ANY STEP member will be able to author their own STEP Pack and host their guide on the STEP wiki. Think of it as a 'Nexus' of mod-recipe add-ons that will serve to expand on the ideas of the Steam Workshop, the Nexus, TES Alliance, Planet Elder Scrolls, etc. as a "mod-setup-creation infrastructure" using a common set of development tools to derive a limitless expanse of potential outcomes, each with its own support infrastructure (e.g., forum threads, wiki resources, custom tools, etc.). In this way, STEP can become a completely community-driven initiative reliant on resources provided by the existing mod-delivery repositories like the Nexus. STEP will house the information on how to bring it all together ... and it is not limited to just Skyrim (but that is a story for another time). STEP:Core will provide a common, front-end Guide to modding Skyrim and articulate (via the Semantic Mediawiki infrastructure) with the community-authored Pack guides. The build interface will allow modders to assemble mod compilations complete with detailed instructions specific to mods, mod compatibility patches, Packs and Pack-compatibility solutions as well as a whole host of other relevant attributes, flags and tags for describing Packs and mods. This will be accomplished using forms on the wiki, and the result will be dynamically-created mod lists and Pack Guides that will "snap" together over STEP:Core. The result will be a series of (hopefully seamless) unique instructions for creating the particular build desired by the end user.
Examples of STEP Packs (TBD by YOU)
- Expansion Pack - A comprehensive overhaul of STEP:Core ... essentially, a pre-configured Pack assemblage.
- Add-On Pack - A Pack that focuses on a specific goal. Add-On Packs will likely be combined to create the equivallent of custom Expansion Packs.
- All built atop of STEP:Core ...
- STEP:Extended - An "Expansion Pack" that will represent the fully-modded setup as envisioned by TheCompiler and the STEP team
- Skyrim Revisited - An "Expansion Pack" representing Neovalen's vision of a complete modded setup, including all of the possible options like lighting, weather, char/gameplay enhancements, etc.
- STEP:Stealth - A stealth-oriented "Add-On Pack"
- STEP:Radiance - A lighting "Add-On Pack"
- STEP:Parallel Universe - Maybe this would be a complete overhaul of the Skyrim world ... ?
- STEP:Realism - A purist-realism "Add-On Pack" (or "Expansion Pack")
- ... and so many more possibilities.
Skyrim was originally created for the console, and while Bethesda has released official texture packs and patches to correct for the PC platform, they missed a great deal. Core STEP comprehensively enhances vanilla Skyrim for the PC in order to properly finish what Bethesda attempted. Specifically, ...
STEP:Core is about ...
- ... bug fixes and corrections to malfunctioning aspects of vanilla Skyrim.
- ... HD asset replacements in the style of vanilla Skyrim.
- ... improvements to existing content that increases the consistency of vanilla Skyrim.
- ... interface mods that improve the menus and UI for the PC.
- ... new content that is interpreted as a "should have been included" resource and remains consistent with vanilla Skyrim.
STEP:Core is a comprehensive assemblage of game "corrections" with minimal potential for conflict with downstream Packs and mods. Another way to think of STEP:Core is that it simply takes the Unofficial Skyrim Patches a step further by integrating them all along with other miscellaneous fixes and vanilla-friendly asset enhancements. It serves as a stable base for adding existing or creating new Packs.
STEP:Core is NOT about ...
- ... content that conflicts with TES lore or vanilla Skyrim lore.
- ... mods that subjectively alter or contrast with the style of vanilla Skyrim.
- ... new content that is out-of-scope with vanilla Skyrim.
- ... mods that subjectively alter gameplay mechanics.
- ... mods that have a high likelihood of having "data conflicts" with other mods.
- ... mods that have a high performance penalty.
STEP:Extended (aka: the STEP Pack)
STEP:Extended is about ...
- ... content that is consistent with Skyrim and TES lore as established by Bethesda's creators and extrapolated on by the STEP community in accordance with the Imperial Library and the UESP.
- ... continuity and qualitative consistency of all in-game behaviors and assets (e.g., sounds, graphics, models, gameplay, etc.)
- ... new content, assets and effects that "fit" Skyrim and TES lore.
STEP:Extended is a complete Expansion Pack, meaning that it is intended to complete the entire STEP modded build. In addition to adding upon the visual and acoustic enhancements of vanilla Skyrim, STEP:Extended modifies aspects of the vanilla game in terms of gameplay mechanics and may include mods that add or subtract specific functionality to yield an overall more immersive experience. It is essentially an overhaul of the vanilla game.
STEP:Extended is NOT about ...
- ... Sex mods, body replacement mods or beauty mods that unrealistically affect or digress from the ambiance of the TES series.
- ... Music replacement mods or game style overhauls.
- ... Gameplay overhauls that affect a particular play style (i.e., gameplay alterations are chosen that affect all play styles without bias).