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Adding custom assets to Skyrim: Beginners Guide
By Vermilion Wlad
This guide will help to kickstart you into Skyrim modding and will point you to resources and way of putting custom assets ingame.
With the introduction of the paid mods for Skyrim Workshop, I think it’ll be nice to provide some guidelines on how to put your custom asset in the game and publish it on the workshop. This guide will not be explaining how to create 3D models or textures and will just explain the pipeline of getting your asset into Skyrim and working. You can find lots of tutorials on how to create 3D assets via Google or on Youtube.
You’ll need to browse to your skyrim/data folder and open up the archive you want to extract. We’ll need Skyrim – Meshes.bsa so we could extract templates for our assets.
If you want to create armor, you can extract default bodies from actors folder, armor from armor folder and weapons from weapons folder respectively.
Now we want to import the extracted assets in our 3D software of choice, we’ll need NifTools (http://niftools.sourceforge.net/wiki/NifTools) for that. There are plugins for 3dsmax, Blender and Maya. You’ll need to download NifSkope too, but we’ll use it a bit later!
Nif plugin is self-explanatory and if you don’t know what this all means, just leave everything as it is.
And just like that, the asset is in your 3D software! I’m going to use it as a size reference while creating my own item. We’ll also create an armor piece because there are some specific kinks for armor, weapons or npcs.
Notes on Creating Your Custom Asset
There are tons of ways to create 3D assets, the most popular and probably the best one is to create a high-poly model in Zbrush or similar, retopo it and use the lower res version ingame. That’s what I did.
Be aware that Skyrim supports a number of materials for one asset, so if you want parts of your item to have a different material plan ahead and separate them.
Now, when baking normal maps, make sure to set Y- and turn tangent ON.
Now, before we skin and export our meshes, for the texture breakdown: Diffuse is your color texture (yourtexture.dds). Alpha contains opacity. Normal is your normal map (yourtexture_n.dds). Alpha channel contains spec map. You can also have an Env Map(yourtexture_m.dds), it doesn’t need an alpha. There’s also a glow map, and probably some more, but we won’t touch that for now and just use three above.
Getting the Wearable Ready for Export
Now, first, let’s get on exporting the armor piece, in our case it’s a hat.
In Skyrim armor might have two variations for 0 and 1 weight slider, basically a thin and thick figure, armor can also have different female and male versions, plus you need a world model with a collision mesh. Not to mention variations for races.
Good thing our hat fits all and for the sake of our tutorial we’ll focus on wearable version and world model.
Let’s start on the wearable version first. I’m going to import an existing helmet and dissect it so we’ll know what’s needed for our hat to work.
As you can see, the wearable helmet is skinned and has BSDismemberSkin Modifier applied.
While the skin modifier is self-explanatory, Dismember modifier is unique to Skyrim and allows you to assign selected polys to a dismember group which will be removed ingame depending on equipment. For example, if you’re creating an armor, setting Forearm and Calves group will make them disappear ingame when you equip gauntlets or boots.
In case of our hat we don’t want the head to be removed when we equip it, so we’ll use “Skyrim, Hair Slot 1“.
First we’ll skin our hat to the NPC Head bone and then we’ll apply our BSDismemberSkin modifier. Select everything and then select the dismemberment group.
Now we can delete the iron helmet and export our hat as .NIF file!
Setting up the World Model
Now you’ll want to save your scene, remove BSDismember and Skin modifiers, delete the NPC Head bone. We’re going to create a world model!
We’ll position our hat on the ground near 0,0,0. World models needs not to be skinned, but now we’ll need the collision mesh!
Clone your item and rename it to bhkConvexVerticesShape and apply bhkRigidBody modifier. Select the material, bounding volume and set layer to Clutter.
Now navigate to Create – Helpers tab and select NifTools in the drop down menu. Create bhkRigidBody, delete 001 at the end of it’s name.
Set the material, select our bhkConvexVerticesShape via the Add button, set Layer to Clutter and Motion System to Box. Uncheck Allow Transformations. You can set mass and friction and so on, but we can and will change it later on, so you might as well don’t touch it.
Now you can export it, make sure to check Hidden Nodes and Collision at the export dialogue.
Fixing up NIF Files
Now that we have our two .NIF files we’ll start up NifSkope.
Load up your wearable model and let’s take a look at what we’ve got in NifSkope. On the left there are blocks, on the right your model and under it are block properties. In our case there are NiTriShape and NiNode inside the main node. NiTriShape is your mesh, it contains actual mesh data, material data and in this case dismemberment data. NiNode in this case is the head bone, we won’t touch it.
First thing we will do is right click NiMaterialProperty – Block – Remove Branch. It’s here because we assigned a material in Max and it’s a leftover. Now we will delete BSLightingShaderProperty. This is the property Skyrim uses for defining the material. Why are we deleting it though? It’s simple, since we just started with Skyrim and there’s too much properties we’re going to take an easy way in and copy this branch from another item!
Open up another skyrim item that you could’ve extracted from the archive at the start and copy the BSLightingShaderProperty to your item under NiTriShape.
You’ll also notice that the existing hat has NiNode as it’s main block, unlike our BSFadeNode, so we’ll double click our BSFadeNode and rename it to NiNod.
Your block list should look something like this:
Navigate to BSTextureSet and open up Textures drop down under the Block Details. You’ll see the paths to diffuse and normal maps. Change them to your own paths.
If you navigate to BSLightingShaderProperty and scroll down the Block Details a bit, you can see that you can change the specular color, glossiness and so on.
We’re almost done with this one! Now you might’ve noticed that our hat is a bit tad too bright in the preview window. That’s because we need to fix a couple of things still.
Click on NiTriShapeData, if you scroll down the Block Details a bit you may see that BS Num UV Sets is equal to 1. Due to a bug in NifTools or something like that, it’s setting it to 1, but it should be set to 4097. Now, under it, you might find a property called Has Vertex Colors – yes. If you double click yes, it’ll change to no and our hat will stop being so bright! You may use vertex colors in skyrim, but we don’t need them in this instance, so we turn them off. Now the important thing is after changing the Num UV Sets is to click on Spells in the top menu, select Batch and click Update All Tangent Spaces.
And that’s it for the wearable version, we can save in our skyrim/data/meshes/ folder. Now let’s get on the world model. Our gnd model will have BSXFlags, Collision Shape and NiTriShape. World model should be BSFadeNode, so leave it at that.
Now let’s repeat some steps from wearable version and delete the material and BSLightingShaderProperty under NiTriShape. Copy BSLightingShaderProperty from other world model (they usually have gnd at the end of their name).
Important: If you decide to copy the property from your wearable version make sure to uncheck SLSF1_Skinned under you BSLightingShaderProperty – Shader Flags 1 or your model will be invisible.
Set BS Num UV Sets to 4097, set Vertex Colors to No and Update All Tangent Spaces. Now let’s fix up our collision mesh.
The easiest way is to open other similar item that is already ingame and see what values you should put in.
Open up, bhkCollisonObject then open bhkRigidBody and click on bhkConvexVerticesShape. We’ll set material to SKY_HAV_MAT_CLOTH and radius to 0.03, so our item wouldn’t be floating.
Move up to bhkRigidBody, scroll the properties down a bit, set mass, set both Unknown TimeFactor to 1. Set Motion System to MO_SYS_SPHERE_INERTIA. Solver deactivation to SOLVER_DEACTIVATION_LOW and Quality Type to MO_QUAL_MOVING. And really important part, scroll up a bit, open up Unknown 7 Shorts and set last 4 to 0 (the last one is 0 anyway).
Now we can save it.
Now, navigate to where you saved your hat, name your wearable hat yourhat_1, copy it and rename the copy yourhat_0. Now, you’ll have 3 files.
Time to put the textures in!
I’ll save the diffuse and normal map as DXT5 .DDS files and put them in the folder is set during our editing of meshes with NifSkope.
Turning Your Asset into an Ingame Item
Time to launch the Creation Kit! Click on the Open icon, check the Skyrim file and click OK. Click yes To All for all warnings that pop-up.
Now, since we’re new to Skyrim modding, let’s just use an existing armor as a framework for our custom one! Navigate to ArmorAddons in the Object Window and find an armor that’s similar to yours. For me it’s probably MageHoodAA. Right-click it and select Duplicate. Wait a second for list to reload and double-click the duplicate.
First we’ll need to change the ID, then we need to select our custom model for both male and female characters.
Click on Select – Edit and navigate to your custom model!
Now we’ll do the same for the female model and press OK.
Creation Kit will ask if you want to create a new form, press NO and then YES.
Now navigate to Armor under Items in Object Window.
I’ll find the Mage Hood and duplicate it. We need to do basically the same thing we did for the ArmorAddon. Change the ID, change the name, set the custom models.
Now under Models list, delete the existing model, right click the list and select New.
Using the filter find your ArmorAddon we set up earlier and press okay.
Press OK again, NO to create new form and YES after that.
Our hat is ready! But how can we access it ingame? There are number of ways, but the easiest one is to create a new containter and add our hat as loot. Navigate to World Objects – Container in the Objects Window, select a container you like and duplicate it.
I duplicated a dresser. You need to change the ID, maybe rename it, remove whatever loot there is by right-clicking it and selecting Delete.
You can add new loot to the container by dragging it directly from the Object Window. Navigate back to armor, find your hat and drag-and-drop it to the loot list.
Press OK, NO to creating new form and then YES.
Now we just need to put the dresser somewhere in the world. Select the world space, double click the cell you want to place the container in, and then just drag and drop the container into the world.
That’s it! Save up your mod and launch skyrim to see if it worked!
Yer a wizard Harry!
PREMIUM CONTENT: Weapon NIF Editing
Now for a weapon I’m going to do something a bit different. I want the teeth to have a different material, so I’m going to detach them as a separate object.
Now we still need to set up the Collision Mesh much like we did for the hat, but we need it for both the 1st person model and the world model. I’ll skip it here, since it’s the same process, but we’ll jump ahead to the NifSkope.
Now, if we open an existing weapon that is already ingame, you might notice there’s a number of new block. BSInvMarker is used to define the position and rotation of the item in the inventory preview.
NiStringExtraData is really important and sets how your weapon is sheated. You might want to copy these values from the similar weapon.
Now, since we separated the teeth before exporting, they’ll be under their own NiTriShape and we can give them their own BSLightingShaderProperty!
Now you can set up cubemap and env maps for each object.
Here's what texture goes where: The rest is pretty similar to what we did for the hat. You need to set up the first person model, the ingame object, set-up the paths to your models and make it all accessible in the game.
Publishing the Mod
You can publish your mod from the Creation kit. Just start it up, click on the Open button, select you mod, make it an active file, enter the data and press UPLOAD button. CK will suggest that you need to set up the archive, click YES.
Drag your textures and meshes into the list
and fill out the rest of the information. The Mod Title, a description, 512x512 preview image and appropriate Tags.