Our epic preview coverage The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim continues with even more details. In Part 3 of our First Look we had the chance to see Skyrim’s first d …
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Vice President of Bethesda Softworks Pete Hines has issued a challenge to potential parents everywhere. If your child is born on the game’s release date – 11/11/11 – and you name them Dovahkiin – the protagonist’s title – you will receive… an unknown reward. He adds that Friday was the optimal time to conceive if you wish your child will be born on that day and therefore eligible to win a prize.
The quest was announced on the Bethesda blog, with an entertaining disclaimer and a mock screenshot.
“Any reward for completing this quest will not ultimately justify the potential teasing your child could — and probably will — endure over its lifespan. Bethesda Softworks is not responsible for your parenting. You may gain experience points for completing this quest, but you will not care at 3am on a work night. Completion of this quest may also result in decreased desire to play video games and/or function as a human being. Consult with your friends before embarking on this quest; while it may not start in prison, it probably ends there.”
Dovahkiin means dragonborn in Skyrim’s made up dragon language. In the game, this language is imbued with magical power, and can be used in Dragon Shouts to attack enemies. This is not the case on playgrounds or in real life. For naming your child that, you’d expect horse armour at the very least.
For more on Skyrim, grab a copy of the latest issue of PC Gamer UK for our massive preview feature.
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In game development, the visual improvements, non-player character AI
tweaks, and new storytelling philosophies are all for naught if the
base activity the player performs the most frequently is uninteresting
or unrefined. In the case of an action role-playing game like The Elder
Scrolls V: Skyrim, those activities are swinging swords, shooting
arrows, or casting spells at the myriad bloodthirsty enemies rushing
toward you in foreboding dungeons of Tamriel. Aware of the combat
shortcomings and exploits players used in Oblivion, the developers at
Bethesda Studios went back to the drawing board to forge a new direction
“We wanted to make it more tactile in your hands,” game director Todd
Howard says. “I think if you look at our previous stuff I sometimes
equate it to fighting with chopsticks – you sit there and swing them in
front of yourself.”
Bethesda’s solution is a new two-handed combat system that allows
players to equip any weapon or spell to either one of their character’s
free hands. This flexible platform opens up countless play styles – dual
wielding, two-handed weapons, the classic sword and shield combo,
ranged weapons, or even equipping two different spells. Switching
between loadouts on the fly is made easier thanks to a new
quick-select menu that allows you to “bookmark” all of your favorite
spells, shouts, and weapons for easy access.
Taking Up The Blade
Repetition can be a game developer’s worst enemy. As players move
through the world slashing at enemies thousands of times, the gravity of
the action dissipates to the point where it becomes as thoughtless an
exercise as flipping a light switch. With Skyrim’s combat system,
Bethesda wants to restore the visceral nature of hand-to-hand combat.
The first step? Changing the pace of the close quarters battles.
In the early stages of development, Bethesda watched fighting videos
to study how people react during melee battles. The team found that most
encounters featured more jostling and staggering than was present in
past Elder Scrolls titles. Using the Havok Behavior animation system,
the team is more accurately mimicking the imbalance prevalent in melee
combat by adding staggering affects and camera shake. Don’t expect
button-mashing marathons where the attacker with a bigger life pool wins
the war of attrition. If you’re not careful on defense you may get
knocked around, losing your balance and leaving yourself exposed for a
damaging blow that can turn the tide of the battle. Knowing when to
block, when to strike, and when to stand your ground is key to
prevailing in combat.
“There’s a brutality to [the combat] both in the flavor of the world,
and one of you is going to die,” Howard explains. “I think you get very
used the idea that enemies are all there for you to mow through, but it
doesn’t seem like someone’s life is going to end. We’re trying to get
Nothing drives this brutality home more than the introduction of
special kill animations. Depending on your weapon, the enemy, and the
fight conditions, your hero may execute a devastating finishing move
that extinguishes enemies with a stylistic flourish. “You end up doing
it a lot in the game, and there has to be an energy and a joy to it,”
As with Oblivion, players have several options for melee combat. Your
warrior can equip swords, shields, maces, axes, or two-handed weapons.
Specializing in a particular weapon is the best way to go, as it gives
you the opportunity to improve your attacking skills with special perks.
For instance, the sword perk increases your chances of landing a
critical strike, the axe perk punishes enemies with residual bleeding
damage after each blow, and the mace perk ignores armor on your enemies
to land more powerful strikes.
A good offense must be accompanied by a good defense. To make
defending a less passive activity, Bethesda has switched to a timing
based blocking system that requires players to actively raise their
shields to take the brunt of the attack. If you hold down the block
button, your character will attempt to execute a bash move. If you catch
a bandit off guard with the bash while he’s attacking, it knocks him
back and exposes him to a counter or power attack. Players can block and
bash with two-handed weapons as well, but it isn’t as effective as the
shield. Warriors who prefer the sword-and-shield approach can increase
their defensive capabilities with shield perks that give them elemental
protection from spells.
Bethesda also smartly changed the pace at which characters backpedal,
which removes the strike-and-flee tactic frequently employed in
Oblivion. In Skyrim you can’t bob and weave like a medieval Muhammad Ali
as you could in Oblivion. Players can still dodge attacks from slower
enemies like frost trolls, but don’t expect to backpedal out of harms
way against charging enemies. If you want to flee, you must turn your
back to the enemy and hit the sprint button, leaving you exposed to an
attack as you high tail it to safety.
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We’ve been rolling out as much information as we can about Bethesda’s new role-playing game throughout this month, and our readers seem to be as excited as we are about the potential of this great-looking title.
As a little thank you for following our coverage throughout the month, we’ve put together a couple of desktop wallpapers. Feel free to download one or both of them (in the size of your choice) from the links below.
We also wanted to let you know that there’s more to come. We have some exciting new gameplay details and glimpses into the Bethesda studio coming next week. Check back in the coming days and you’ll find a dedicated article on the combat of Skyrim, including Bethesda’s exciting dual-hand approach to battles. We’ll have a video about the talented art team and the work they do at the studio. In addition, watch for a focused piece on Skyrim’s completely overhauled user interface and menu system, and how it differs from what you remember in Oblivion.
Need to catch up on the rest of what’s going on with Skyrim? Explore our game hub by clicking on the image below.
Thanks again to all our readers, and a special thank you to the folks over at Bethesda for all their hard work on this project we’re all so excited about. Enjoy the wallpapers, and have a great weekend!
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Many aspects of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will feel familiar to longtime fans. The exploration of a vast open world, first-person combat, and interacting systems of melee, magic, and stealth are all tent pole ideas within the franchise. However, Skyrim introduces something new into the gameplay mix: dragon shouts. This special new set of powers stand apart from the existing magic system, offering a broad range of powerful effects. The ability to attain these abilities is unique to your hero in the world, and the path to attaining them is a quest in itself within the larger tale that unfolds over the course of the game. Dragon shouts give the player the same overwhelming might that drives the resurgent dragon population, and the same source of power that launched the last line of emperors.
“It’s in the lore,” declares game director Todd Howard. “It was like the classic barbarian battle cry. I’m not sure if it showed up in a book in Daggerfall, but it’s definitely mentioned in this pocket guide to the empire that we did for Redguard. It was the idea that the Nords had these battle cries, and they would shout at their enemies.” As the team at Bethesda began to design The Elder Scrolls V, they latched onto this little piece of mythology, and the way it could tie back to the dragons – powerful creatures that had been absent from the world for thousands of years.
Quickly, elements of the fiction began to fall into place around the dragon shouts, much of which was already firmly entrenched from previous games. The dragonborn are a unique group of mortals, gifted by the gods with the same power as the dragons. To be trained in the art of the dragon shouts, also called the Voice, dragonborn individuals travel to Skyrim in order to climb a great mountain called the Throat of the World. At its peak they reach High Hrothgar, where an ancient sect of powerful Voice users named the Greybeards train them in their art.
“In the lore, Tiber Septim was the first main emperor. He could shout. His way of the Voice was unmatched,” Howard explains. “He is the original guy who walks the seven thousand steps and talks to the Greybeards. And the idea is, at that time, that they were so powerful they had to have all the villages flee for miles. This little kid is walking up this snowy mountain, and all these people are packed up and they’re walking down and away. Because they know the kid is going up to talk to these guys, and when they talk there’s going to be avalanches.”
The ability to use the dragon language already exists in the fiction, called “Thu’um.” The concept roughly translates as “The Voice.”
Tiber Septim would use the dragon shouts to lead his troops into battle and unite Tamriel under one empire. Hundreds of years later, the Septim line has died out, and no other dragonborn have been seen for many years. That is, until the hero of Skyrim arrives on the scene. “There are other people in the world who can use the dragon shouts, but it’s very rare. It’s like arcane knowledge. It used to be done more in the past,” Howard explains. “The Greybeards know it. But your ability to absorb the dragon souls and do the shouts on the level that you can is beyond them.”
In the game, players will guide their hero to learn ever more powerful dragon shouts, and then use these arcane powers to supplement other combat and magic skills. Upon defeating a dragon, Skyrim’s hero absorbs the soul of the fallen creature, which fuels his ability to learn a new shout. Later, players can search out long lost walls covered in dragon script. Upon these walls, individual runes stand out to the hero because he or she is dragonborn. “There are these words of power, and if you learn how to say them right, they have a powerful effect,” Howard says.
Over time, players will build a vast arsenal of shouts: over 20 complete shouts in all, each with multiple words that must be gathered from different places around the world. “There are three words for each shout, and there are three levels to them. The amount of time you hold down the shout button is how many words come out,” Howard continues. “It becomes a bit of a collection mechanic – to collect all the words.”
Next up: Creating the language behind the dragon shouts
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Concept art plays a key role in designing games, helping studios visualize and craft the world before it ever gets put into code. As development continues, the art team continues to refine the aesthetics of the world and its characters, providing images to inspire the team and the outside world alike.
Lots of concept art at Bethesda is created by hand from scratch, such as the piece pictured at the top of this article. Artists summon these images from their imaginations, and the scenes and situations they craft are used by the rest of the team as they shape the game.
In addition to this approach, Bethesda employs another method to craft art for the game by completing paint-overs of existing screens to create a new piece of art. In essence, it is concept art created in the opposite direction from normal — from a final in-game asset into a artistic visualization of the moment from the game. Bethesda was kind enough to give us a glimpse into this fascinating process, but our version is sped up so we can see the whole creation process in one brief video, complete with a new piece of music from Skyrim composed by Jeremy Soule.The concept artist creating the piece is Ray Lederer.
For more on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, including extensive interviews with game director Todd Howard, details on the game’s new engine, and the ability to translate the back cover of this month’s Game Informer, visit our Skyrim hub, linked from the image below.
Enjoy the video!
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The Xbox 360 launched in November 2005 with a handful of titles, but it wasn’t until The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion released in the following March that gamers truly understood the power of next-generation consoles. The vast and impressively detailed open world of Oblivion won over critics and gamers alike with cutting edge graphics, high dynamic range lighting, and the innovative Radiant AI technology that endowed non-player characters with decision-making abilities and daily routines. Taken in combination, these technologies created a fantasy setting that felt more alive and vibrant than any role-playing predecessor.
In the five years since Bethesda last visited Tamriel, the studio honed its chops with the post-apocalyptic hit Fallout 3. Many of Fallout’s technological refinements carry over to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but Bethesda Studios has also developed and contracted a suite of technological tools that allow the team to reach far beyond anything they’ve done before.
Though Skyrim’s Nordic setting is a more rugged environment than the Renaissance festival feel of Oblivion’s Cyrodiil, the new setting isn’t lacking in breathtaking views. To create a diverse country filled with steep mountain passes and dense forests, babbling brooks and violent waterfalls, glacier coastlines and snowy tundras, Bethesda went back to the drawing board and rewrote every major system powering the gameplay experience. The result is the newly dubbed Creation Engine and Kit.
“The big things for us were to draw a lot of stuff in the distance so we have a really sophisticated level of detail, more so than what we’ve had in the past for how things stream in and how detail gets added to them as they get closer to the camera,” explains Bethesda Studios creative director Todd Howard.
Draw distances are great for creating those postcard-worthy landscapes, but the players eyes aren’t always fixed on the horizon. To give the immediate surrounding a more believable look and feel, Bethesda increased the emphasis on the play between light and shadow on the entire world.“Because our worlds are so big all of the lighting has to be dynamic,” Howard says. “That’s something we had a little bit of in the past with shadowing, but not on everything. Now we have it on everything. It just makes the whole thing a lot more believable when you’re there.”
A lot of the environments are dominated by the untamed wilderness, which look great thanks to Bethesda’s overhauled foliage system. In previous games the team licensed the SpeedTree middleware to render the forests. For Skyrim, they’ve created their own platform that allows artists to build whatever kind of trees they want and to dictate how they animate. Artists can alter the weight of the branches to adjust how much they move in the wind, which is an effective way of, for instance, actualizing the danger of traversing steep mountain passes with howling winds violently shaking branches.
Given its northern location and extreme elevations, Skyrim’s climate is more prone to snowfall than Cyrodiil. To create realistic precipitation effects, Bethesda originally tried to use shaders and adjust their opacity and rim lighting, but once the artists built the models and populated the world the snow appeared to fall too evenly. To work around this problem, they built a new precipitation system that allows artists to define how much snow will hit particular objects. The program scans the geography, then calculates where the snow should fall to make sure it accumulates properly on the trees, rocks, and bushes.
Bethesda has another ten months before Skyrim releases, but thanks to the Creation Engine the world already looks much more stunning than its predecessors. The non-player characters also seem to be more intelligent thanks to alterations the team made to the Radiant AI technology.
The Radiant AI technology introduced in Oblivion went a long way toward making the NPCs act in realistic ways. If you followed a citizen through his daily activities, you would likely witness him or her eating breakfast, setting out to work the land, stopping by the pub for a pint after work, and then returning home to hit the sack.
In reality, the technology driving NPC behavior wasn’t overly sophisticated. Bethesda could only assign five or six types of tasks to the townspeople, and there wasn’t a lot of nuance to their actions. In Skyrim, the characters have much more defined individual personalities.
You won’t find townspeople loitering aimlessly in town squares anymore. Each denizen performs tasks that make sense in their environment. To impart the towns and cities with a greater sense of life, Bethesda has populated them with mills, farms, and mines that give the NPCs believable tasks to occupy their day. In the forest village we visited during the demo, most of the citizens were hard at work chopping wood, running logs through the mill, and carrying goods through the town.
The improved Radiant AI technology is also more aware of how a citizen should react to your actions. As you perform tasks for them or terrorize them by ransacking their home, the NPCs develop feelings about you. If you’re good friends with a particular NPC and barge into his house during the middle of the night, he may offer you lodging rather than demand you leave the premises. “Your friend would let you eat the apple in his house,” Howard says. If you swing your weapon near an NPC, knock items off their dinner table, or try to steal something of value, they’ll react with an appropriate level of hostility given their prior relationship to you.
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Last week, we revealed how the back cover of Game Informer’s February issue held the keys to understanding the teaser trailer. But what about the incredibly detailed wall over which the camera pans in that video?
The zoomed-in glimpses you see within the trailer are more than they may first appear to be. The carved images are part of Alduin’s Wall, named after the powerful dragon that serves as Skyrim’s central antagonist. Alduin’s Wall is an actual structure within the game world of Skyrim, and it plays a key part in the story of the game. It depicts a prophecy heralding the return Alduin to the world of the Elder Scrolls, as well as the history of the dragons and their interaction with humanity. Each section of the wall tells a different part of the story, and we’ll explain every area in detail. Each of the previous games in the Elder Scrolls series play a part in the prophecy.
Later this month, we’ll be digging in to reveal more about the in-game mechanics, combat, and technical features that make Skyrim shine. But today we dedicate the following feature to the role-playing and story lovers. Dig in and explore Alduin’s Wall by clicking on the image below.
For our wide-reaching overview of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, make sure and check out the February issue of Game Informer. For more online content about the game and its developer throughout this month, explore our game hub from the image below.
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