Useful tips for worldbuilding
I posted these tips on my own forums for my team, but felt that they might be worth posting as an article just because others might find the information useful for making their mods better, or easier to make.
Almost all things in the game are set to a base of 8 units or a factor of 8. Meaning that any grid size you use above 8 should be a multiple of 8, and anything less than 8 should be a factor of 8. Common sizes would be 8, 24, 32, 64, 128 (roughly 6 feet), 192 (9 feet), 256 (12 feet), 512, 1024. Additionally, 1 may be needed for finer adjustments, and 12 (the only exception) for figuring the maximum distance for steps. Most static pieces are based around 64 or 128 units, but can be worked with easily when using a grid of 32.
One common mistake people do when defining interiors is that they rotate the interior meshes to match the rotation of the exterior meshes. While this isn't an issue if you're working on an angle of 90, 180, 270, it can cause some difficulties when working with other angles, and if a grid is needed to position other statics. This is where northmarkers come in. What a north marker does is it allows you to define north within that cell. Meaning that you can build the cell at that normal angle, and just rotate the north marker to get the compass working right.
When working with cave pieces, it is important not to rotate any of the pieces with a designation A, B, C, or D at the end. These pieces are all variations of the same shape, just with the textures oriented differently. By matching them up in the orientation they are when placed in the cell, the textures from one piece should match up well with the other pieces. Essentially, all Piece A's have a wall on the same side, all piece B's have a wall which is 90 degrees clockwise to A, piece C is 90 degrees clockwise to piece B, and same with D to C, and A to D. Corner pieces change the direction of the wall.
Rotated group statics (fences, walls, other multi-piece objects)
In keeping with the whole issue of the grid and rotated interiors, exterior pieces like walls don't have the same benefit, so need to be planned differently. Even using a grid of 1 can often lead to gaps between statics when those statics are rotated to a non-90 angle.
The solution to this is to first, do a rough fit of all the pieces of the fence or wall in place, rotating to match the area you need to work with. The idea is to get a fairly accurate count of how many pieces are needed for the area you are working on. Don't worry too much about minor gaps, you will be moving all these pieces later so that you can make use of the grid.
Once you have all the pieces placed, take a quick note of where all the turns are in relation to the area then select all the pieces of a straight section including the corner pieces. Move these pieces away from the area, and even change height if land or statics are in the way. You will want to rotate all these pieces individually to a 90 angle and turn on the grid. Now, with the pieces at a 90 angle, the grid will allow you to match up all pieces of the wall without any gaps. Just move one piece of that section onto another, and continue until that section is done.
Next, while keeping that section where it is, go back to that area, and select the next section of walls. You will want to rotate these as well to match both the grid and the orientation of the first section. Then, using the grid once more, fit the pieces of the second section onto the first. Continue this process until you are done with all the pieces. Once done, select all of the wall pieces (why it helps to assemble them in the air), and move them back to the area you wanted to place them in.
Now that all the pieces are fitted together without gaps, you can rotate the whole group to match the rotation you had previously. Make sure that if you ever need to change any of the heights of this wall, that you do so only when the grid is turned off.
Alyied Ruin Exteriors
The ruin pieces can be rather tough to work with as most of them have a pivot point a long distance from where any part of the mesh is. The reason for this is because most of these statics are radial (or circular) in nature. The trick to getting all these radial pieces to line up is to use a method similar to what was done with the fences.
First, set your grid snap to something large, like 512. This will make it easier to have all the pivot points in the same place. Next, drop several pieces at the same spot, and move them into the sky. You are working in the sky in order to position these pieces without landscape or other statics getting in the way. With the grid and angle snap on, move all the pieces so that they have the same pivot point. Tower and inner ring pieces are the inner most circle, and fit around both the tower floor, and the spiral stair pieces. Outer ring pieces fit around the inner ring and column pieces, and are needed if you plan to use any of the stairs. Stair walls and centers blend with these outer ring pieces. Rng walls, and wall dividers act as the outer circle.
All of these have a common pivot point. For working with the variations (A, B, C, D) start off only using A, since this tends to be the most complete. Rotate and duplicate this piece as needed to fill whatever circle is being worked with. Once you have all the pieces in place, use the search and replace feature to change the A pieces to other pieces (some additional rotation is needed).
When you have most of the portion arranged, turn off, or change the grid snap, select all the pieces, and move them back to where you want it on the ground. You can also rotate all of the pieces as a set while they are still selected. If you have multiple circles you want to have, just do the same process with each. Connect them together once all the circular portions are done, and make whatever changes are needed to the landscape.
As many people use the heightmap editor to do much of their landscaping work, few take notice of how effective the landscaping tool is, in and of itself once you get some basic methods down. The first complaint that people have with the landscape editor is usually the speed of movement, with the normal settings, it can take quite a bit of time to raise land above water level, never mind making a mountain with it. But, I remind you, this sensitivity is just a setting in the CS, and not something you have to deal with as is.
In the preferences, movement tab there's a little box "Landscape movement" "sensitivity multiplier". This is part of the key to making the landscape tool effective. The default setting is 0.50, but change it to a setting of 3 or 4, and you're making a very large difference in height rather quickly. Use a higher setting for basic massing or a rougher terrain, use a setting of .2 to 1 for more precise adjustments.
The other component to this tool is the edit radius. Large radius for larger areas, smaller radius for more detail. Use the falloff % to control how round the area around the center of the circle is affected. A low falloff makes the center of the circle move a bit more than the edges, a high falloff makes things a bit more flat.
Between adjustments in these 3 settings and the flatten/soften toggles, you can get a fairly large, detailed, varied, landscape done quickly and easily.
Occasionally people who are working ask about how to make roads that don't have grass poking through. The answer to this is fairly simple if you think about it in a real world kinda way. Most roads in real life are not just large paving stones placed upon the grass, they are made up of layers.
The same concept works rather well in Oblivion. First, consider what ground and road textures you are using. This is primarily so that the work you do blends well with any other textures that are in the area. Next, find a texture for that area that looks like either dirt or small rocks, this will be your under-layer. Double check its entry in the CS in the Object window, Miscellaneous > land texture to make sure that there are no grass entries linked to that texture. Once you have that, set the opacity in the landscape editor to 45, and paint the dirt/small rocks everywhere you want a road, painting slightly outside the edges of that road. The easiest way to do this is to use a radius setting of 3 for this step.
If you don't see the texture very well along the edges, that's the idea. The added benefit to this method is that it usually ends up blending the road into the environment a bit better. When you've finished with a few cells worth, change the radius setting to 2, the opacity to 85, and select the road texture. Now paint the road texture in the center of the rocks you laid out just now. Now, provided everything was done right, there should now be a clear road in front of you with a small buffer to either side without grasses. For an added effect, you might want to go back into the CS, set the movement sensitivity multiplier to .2, open the landscape editor, change the radius to 1, and ever so slightly, lower the parts of the land in the center of the road, just a little bit.
What this does is that it makes the road a bit concave, giving it a more worn, used appearance. The method of using a dirt or small rock texture also works rather well under buildings and large structures for much the same reason as it does with the roads, it helps remove the grasses immediately around, or under a building, hopefully removing some clipping in the process.
Northmarkers and interiors
Often, people are unsure how to setup northmarkers so that even though the interior is not rotated, it points the same direction that the interior would indicate. Northmarkers are special statics (listed under the main Static heading) that tell the game which direction is north when in an interior. If you rotate this static, when in game, north will be the direction that the arrow is pointing.
The trick to getting the arrow to point in the same direction as your interior is pointing requires a little bit of creativity. First, go to the exterior of whatever the interior is. If it is a small interior, like a house, select the static which makes up the house. If your interior is something more complicated, like a cave, select the door on the exterior. With only that object selected, go up to Edit in the top menu bar, and select "Copy Render". Now unselect the object, and load up the interior space that you want aligned. Find your entry door. When you have found your entry door, go back to edit -> paste render. Please note, DO NOT select "paste in place" as this will make the imported object have the same exact x, y, z location as what you copied it from, rather than just retaining the rotation.
Often, doing this can cause other, more serious issues with your interior if used improperly. You should now have an exterior static in your interior space. Do not be concerned about any clipping between meshes, this exterior mesh is only for reference. Without rotating the placed mesh, drop a northmarker into the scene near the placed mesh. Now, select both the placed mesh, and the north marker using Ctrl+Click.
Now comes the tricky part. With both objects still selected, zoom out enough to see the entry door to your interior, you may reposition the exterior static mesh as needed to see. Again, with both objects selected, rotate them along the right axis (right click+move) until either the exterior mesh lines up with the interior mesh, or until the doorways point in opposing directions. Your interior is now aligned, deselect the northmarker, select the imported mesh, and delete the imported mesh.
If working with an interior that linked from another interior, or if using doors for reference, make sure you know which direction the door is pointing so that you get the rotation right. There are other things you can use to figure out the rotation needed on the north marker, such as using an xmarker heading that faces the exterior door, instead of either static, but the method explained here tends to be the easiest to work with since all you are doing is matching the shape of the exterior with that of the interior.