Some characters in the mod are symmetrical. Gorr, for instance, is for the most part a classic brute. He doesn’t think, he acts. His arms look like two anacondas swallowed a rack of bowling balls. His stomach is built like a cello, with its heavy, earthen laugh. The warhammer on his back isn’t designed to make peace, just leave you in pieces. Don’t fuck with Gorr, is what I’m saying.
Still, I can’t help but add a few softer touches. He’s sensitive to the plight of the mudcrab, and hypersensitive about his stew. The larger projection – the size, the strength, the personality – attempt to characterize Gorr, while the smaller strokes – the warmth, the sensitivity – are there to humanize him.
I’m a sucker for that sort of juxtaposition, characters who embody all the things we expect and yet still find ways to surprise us. It reminds me of Spencer Murphy’s photo of Katie Walsh. In spite of the mud-stained uniform and battle-worn stare there’s something bright about this photo, something inscrutably feminine. Which is surprising given we aren’t shown any cleavage.
So it’s not exactly strange to me that one of my favorite lines in the mod has nothing to do with NPCs of the interesting variety. It’s about a vanilla Breton whom I first mistook for the leader of a swarthy group of pirates, the de facto Captain of the Red Wave. She even had a cool fucking name. Her name was Sabine Nytte.
She was shorter by half, but stood taller than all. She was a giant.
For me, Sabine as a character mirrors the compromise open world games have to make. Vanilla NPCs are an outline, just detailed enough to provide an illusion of depth. Engaging them is like reading a book where half the lines are redacted. It’s not that players don’t have the imagination to fill in the blanks, it’s that they shouldn’t have to. So, to help rectify this, what mod NPCs like Salty-Throat do is add depth in a way that is true to the vanilla character. By telling Sabine’s story and that of the Red Wave, he makes them all a little more interesting.
That isn’t an indictment of Bethesda. Ironically, their resources are far more limited in this respect than a mod author’s, for one simple reason – they can’t use volunteers. Like Sabine and Gorr and dirty Katie Walsh, it makes for an intriguing juxtaposition. If you compare the budget of Interesting NPCs to that of a DLC, it isn’t shorter than just half. It’s exponentially smaller. Yet it’s because the actors and composers have been generous enough to donate their time that the end result is what it is.
All of this I suppose is just another excuse to thank the people involved in this project. Their resumes may be small and their credits may lack stature – but when you look at what they’ve accomplished – it’s hard to say they’re anything but Giants.