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SabreCat's post following is what started this thread. SabreCat is a new member with great ideas.
- STEP admin
I found STEP after several Google searches for "essential Skyrim mods" and "Skyrim modding FAQ". I was bowled over when I did discover it--the rigorous approach to producing a Skyrim experience that's stable, optimized, bugfixed, and true to the spirit of vanilla Skyrim, is exactly what I was looking for!
That said, there is always room for improvement in a project like this, so I'd like to share a few of my frustrations trying to follow the guidance of STEP 2.2.6, and ideas for how those frustrations could be mitigated. Take this in the spirit intended: "This is awesome, but it could be EVEN MORE SO."
1. The steps of STEP are not in sequential order.
I struggled mightily with understanding just what I was supposed to do with respect to the HRDLC. The Skyrim installation guide has an HRDLC tab, which talks about a mod to install, but it branches from a point in STEP where the user hasn't even installed any mod managers. I wanted to try "Repair the HRDLC textures," since my machine qualifies for baseline STEP at best, so I followed that link. It took me to an anchor talking about "Vanilla Extracted" folders and similar, which turned out to have been discussed earlier in the overall guide about DDSopt, which had not been previously mentioned following along with STEP.
The very acronym STEP suggests a step-by-step experience. It's fine and to be expected that there are a lot of steps--that's not my issue. It's that I can't proceed down the page line by line doing things, but instead have to wander and research any time I make a decision.
Suggestion: Make the flow of the page something like this...
- Install Steam & Skyrim (link to detailed steps, starting from the beginning where the user hasn't installed the game)
- or Reset Skyrim to Vanilla Install (link to detailed steps)
- Optional: Install and Optimize HRDLC (link to detailed steps, starting from claiming the free DLC and installing optimization tools)
- Set Skyrim Launcher Options (link to detailed steps)
Two principles to my suggestion: (1) Make the main STEP release page a barebones outline. Introductions and so forth are fine, of course, but I should be able to easily copy-paste a list that represents actions to check off. (2) Include links to details at every turn, and have those links take you to the beginning of that sub-process, not somewhere in the middle.
2. STEP includes a great deal of extraneous commentary.
Technical details about the why and how different tools function is interesting, and important for the modder who seeks greater expertise and a deeper understanding of the guts of Skyrim and of mods. However, the kind of information that user wants is so much noise for the user who just wants a how-to on building an awesome Skyrim experience. It helps to know that a BSA is a compressed folder and that unpacking them improves performance; that much explanation can curb any "why the hell are they making me jump through this hoop?" reaction. I don't, however, need to know the intricacies of what a mipmap is, how many different resolutions of textures exist, and exactly what mistakes Bethesda made in packaging up their game. Those things just slow me down in getting to the how-to information I really want.
Suggestion: Move those things to sidebars and deeper links wherever possible. Approach each paragraph from the perspective of your most typical user, and ask the hard question "does this really need to be here?" Be ruthless!
3. STEP isn't making full use of its standardized terminology.
"Baseline STEP", "Performance STEP", and "Extreme STEP" are brilliant. I want to give them hugs and buy them presents on their birthdays. But there are places where STEP rehashes the differences between these approaches and makes the user choose from them over and over again.
Suggestion: Use your established schemes wherever you can! That is, get all the discussion of VRAM and whatnot into that choice, up front, and never talk about specific system requirements ever again or elsewhere. There should not be a separate discussion of VRAM in my best buddy the HRDLC guide, for instance, just Performance STEP: do this, Baseline STEP: do that, Extreme STEP: do this other thing.
4. STEP muddies the waters with unnecessary decision points.
I'm mainly thinking about the mod-manager question here. Choose a mod manager solution and stick with it, relegating the other options to "here's how to tweak the STEP process for this other MM" pages. No "if using Wrye Bash, do this" in the middle of some other piece of setup procedure. If an optional process requires a specific mod manager, make that clear at the beginning of the page about that optional process, not halfway through.
Does all that make sense? I'm still working through STEP installation, so I will no doubt come up with further ideas. If so, I'll add them in further posts here!