Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's New Engine Explored
Written Tuesday, January 18, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
In an interview with Game Informer, Bethesda's creative director, Todd Howard talks about the new Creation Engine that it's utilising for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, covering everything from increased draw distances to close-up detail and dynamic lighting. This is all in a concerted effort to make the world that much more believable and tangible, and it turns out the developer has more than a few tricks up its sleeve.
First of all, Skyrim's rugged, Nordic-inspired landscape will be diverse, taking in treacherous mountain passes, deep forests, gentle babbling brooks, glacial coastlines and snowy wilderness. All of these environments came as a result of Bethesda's hard work to rewrite every major system that powered Oblivion, which resulted in the Creation Engine, allowing for incredible draw distances and intricate detail.
“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,” said Howard.
In enhancing the detail, Howard also notes that the interplay between light and shadow is also a factor in achieving a feeling of believability: “Because our worlds are so big all of the lighting has to be dynamic. 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.”
Aspects like the trees have even been taken into consideration, with Bethesda ditching SpeedTree middleware previously used to create forests, in favour of its own overhauled foliage system, which allows artists to animate branches with their own individual weight and animation. So a stormy, windy environment will have violently shaking trees, accentuating the sense of danger in adverse conditions. There will also be a full precipitation system to complement this, with rain and snow falling and collecting where appropriate.
Elder Scrolls' Radiant AI is also being improved significantly, imbuing non-playable characters with more unique personalities and behaviour that makes sense within the context of the world. People will no longer simply loiter in the streets, but will have proper routines, with a range of tasks that fill their day. NPCs will also react to you in a more realistic way, so a friendly NPC might offer lodging if you barge into their home during the night, for instance. Each NPC will also react to your actions, becoming more hostile or friendly, depending upon how you behave.
Bethesda is also using Havok Behaviour tech to ensure character movement looks natural too, so a range of animations will ensure that jogging, walking and running look right and the transition between the movements is more seamless. “We looked at a bunch of [animation solutions], and this is about the tippy-top state-of-the-art stuff out there,” Howard says. “I think we're the first real big game to use it.”
This increased subtlety in the animation means that the third-person stuff won't look so silly this time around too, Howard confirms. “We definitely have made a significant jump in how it plays [in third person perspective],” he says. This increased nuance in the animation also means that Bethesda has been able to do away with the up-close dialogue exchanges, keeping the game's perspective while characters might continue with a task while occasionally turning to engage you in conversation. You'll still be able to move around during these exchanges too.
Finally, the Radiant Story system will help in randomising quests, with Bethesda making them as dynamic and reactive as possible by tailoring missions based on your character's progress. “Traditionally in an assassination quest, we would pick someone of interest and have you assassinate them,” Howard says. “Now there is a template for an assassination mission and the game can conditionalise all the roles – where it happens, under what conditions does it take place, who wants someone assassinated, and who they want assassinated. All this can be generated based on where the character is, who he's met. They can conditionalize that someone who you've done a quest for before wants someone assassinated, and the target could be someone with whom you've spent a lot of time before.”
Also, if you should kill an NPC who might have issued you with quests, their sibling might take over and still allow you to pursue said quests. However, they may still be aware of your actions and attempt to exact revenge later on. Skyrim tracks friendships and grudges like these to generate some of its missions, which will exist alongside encounters in the wilderness with creartures like mammoths and wolves. Like Red Dead Redemption or Fallout, it's a jungle out there in Skyrim.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim releases on November 11th, 2011.