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The NEW New Direction of STEP
This is an update of our previous article in order to modify some of our existent language and intentions to be more consistent with the new direction we have actually found ourselves heading. Our 'old' new direction has changed a bit, due to the reality of mod list structuring and compatibility patching among different mod-build guides relying on a common, 'precursor' mod list (the original intention of "STEP:Core"). The advent of Skyrim SE has further complicated and interrupted progress, so we have re-scoped our path forward to conform to these changes and realizations.
A Brief History
A lot of people may be under the impression that STEP is stagnating, since it is not continuously updating its mod list or rigorously testing potential 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 represents 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 a small handful of people. Granted, we had several others on board in the beginning and continue to get much-needed support from some key individuals --without whom, we would never have made it this far.
As a result, the STEP Guide updates and our attention to modding and mod testing largely took a back seat to site and community development. One way that we sought to mitigate the ever-mounting problem of maintenance overhead was 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 over various guide versions) 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 STEP-independent modding guide authors like, Neovalen and his "Skyrim Revisited" and DarkLexyLady and her "Legacy of the Dragonborn" as well as some Fallout and Oblivion modding guides to quench the appetite of the masses who expected STEP to evolve beyond a basic guide and into the "dream build" that we all had envisioned it would be. In a way, the work of these independent guide authors and STEP's hosting platform have 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 beginning modders, 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 these independent modding guides.
The Advent of Step 3.0
In the midst of all of this uncertainty, the STEP team decided to enhance but simplify our own guide creation and update methods while facilitating guide contributions of independent mod authors. On top of that, we wanted to extend our infrastructure to support additional games much like the Nexus has done over the last decade. This allowed us to begin work on our revised modding-guide infrastructure and website, which we have branded "STEP 3.0." Due to our latest guides having been v2.x.x, STEP 3.0 is our 'reboot' of the project into its next phase, including a new website powered by custom guide-building software and updated forums.
In October, 2018, the "STEP "1.0" website went down due to a server issue that was never identified or resolved. This resulted in the site being completely down for the better part of two weeks, which left a lot of our members and visitors in a lurch while we moved to a new host with better servers and completely rebuilt the server/software infrastructure (unofficially, we claim the current state of STEP as "STEP 2.0"). This emphasized our need to ramp up development of our new service model and website, as well as, implement fail-safe server redundancies and devops pipelines.
Abstract On the New Direction
Previously, we had envisioned a STEP:Core mod build that would form the basis of all of our hosted mod-list guides. STEP:Core would be extended by the STEP Team into a comprehensive and aptly named STEP:Extended mod-list and guide in alignment with the STEP:Mandate. STEP:Core would also be extended by independent mod authors into their own custom builds according to their own visions for the game(s). We called these custom extensions 'Packs'.
While the original new direction remains essentially unchanged, we have decided to get away from the term 'Pack', because:
- STEP:Core is no longer being considered as a stripped-down STEP Guide but rather as a modder's resource situated as a base component(s) in a mod-list lineup for the applicable game. As such, it will only contain the most fundamental and recommended mods and associated compatibility patches that apply to any mod build for that game.
- Mod Picker enables us to define a core mod list that can be copied by would-be mod-list authors and expounded upon. This enables those authors to situate the core build or any of it's individual components anywhere in their mod list to allow the flexibility needed to maintain compatibility among mods in their varying mod lists.
In short, we are abandoning the original 'pack' concept and pack guide-building engine in favor of a Step core 'build' modder's resource, largely because Mod Picker will be our new mod-list-building 'engine', and the new Step CMS will be our new mod-guide-building 'platform'. Neither of these resources either recognizes or relies upon the pack concept, and both can easily work with the Step core build as a basis from which to create any mod build and guide.
With this, we are also abandoning the term 'Extended'. STEP 3.0 'core' guides are now STEP Core Builds. STEP 3.0 'extended' guides have dropped the "extended" from the name and will now be referred as STEP GameName Guide (i.e., STEP Skyrim SE Guide).
Introducing STEP Core Builds
A practical "core" mod list would consist only of resources and patches applicable to any, specific game's mod list. Thus, a Core mod list cannot realistically, itself, be a comprehensive modding guide, but rather a convenient mod list resource from which all applicable STEP and community-created guide authors can rely upon; a convenient building block in creating a comprehensive mod list and accompanying guide. In this way, a 'core' mod list, in and of itself, behaves more like a modder's resource. Thus, we have taken our previous Core Guides in a new direction coined STEP Builds.
Builds will consist of only mods that fix bugs and inconsistencies and provide enhancements to existing game features. These Builds can be used as a foundation for creating any potential new expanded mod lists and accompanying guides. Would-be guide authors who meet these requirements can apply to have their Builds hosted on the STEP 3.0 website. If approved, guide contributors will have access to our CMS to edit and maintain their guides, and will be provided custom forums for support of their guides.
Introducing the new STEP Guides
STEP 3.0 will have only one official guide per game. These guides are no longer tied to the old 'pack' service model and, thus, are meant to be complete modding guides to their applicable games. In whole, the new guides will be similar to the previous STEP:Extended Guides; however, their scope has been slightly expanded to include mods that may have been limited by the original 'pack' model, due to potential for downstream load-order or asset conflicts.