PC Gamer

Only the greatest warriors wear a nipple hat.

Did you wear the Colovian Fur Helm? If you played Morrowind you probably did. The Colovian Fur Helm is a piece of armor you can easily get at the start of the game it literally falls out of the sky for you, being worn by a wizard whose spell doesn't work as intended and you'll probably keep it for a while. At the start of Morrowind decent helmets are hard to come by, especially if you're cheap. The downside is that the Colovian Fur Helm looks like a big hairy nipple. No matter how badass the rest of your armor is, topping it off with a hat that makes you look like one of the Coneheads will ruin your ensemble.

I thought about that hat recently when I was watching Hearthstone designer Ben Brode answer criticisms about the recently added Purify spell, which players have called a bad card. Actually they've called it worse things than that, but let's stick with bad. Some players actually like winning with bad cards, Brode explained, before going on to discuss its potential for use in a non-competitive fun deck . Long past the point where it was a liability, I wore that silly Colovian Fur Helm because I'd started thinking it was funny defeating ghosts and monsters while wearing a conical nipplehat. It was bad, but that's what made it perfect for me.

Plenty of games have items in them that prove unpopular with players. Maybe they're equipment in an RPG, cards in a digital card game, guns in a first-person shooter, or power-ups in an arcade game. They could be ugly. Their stats could be terrible. Most players may shun them, but they still serve a purpose.

Guns & ammo 

James Lopez, producer on the Borderlands series, provides me with the excellent names of several guns from Borderlands 2 that players considered bad: Flakker, Bane, Fibber, and Crit. They all had their moments to shine, however, as there was an ebb and flow to the popularity of guns in the games some were popular right off the bat but some were 'undiscovered' for a while until the community found things that made them special , he says.

The Flakker for instance is a shotgun that shoots multiple explosive projectiles. They detonate at medium range, making it almost worthless against distant or nearby enemies. Plus, it fires very slowly. While the Flakker seems underwhelming for a weapon of 'legendary' rarity, it does have its uses. The sniper character Zer0 can combine it effectively with his Rising Sh0t ability, which lets him earn bonus damage for a short duration after every successful attack. The amount of bonus damage increases every time you hurt an enemy, so a single good shot with the Flakker can max out that bonus, after which you switch to a better gun to make use of it.

The Bane on the other hand is a submachine gun that drops your movement to a crawl and constantly shouts at you. When you shoot it screeches like Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber making the most annoying sound in the world, and it announces every reload by bellowing Reloading! Even taking it out it will make it announce Swapping weapons! Dropping the in-game volume to zero won't prevent it from ruining your eardrums, either. And yet there are people on YouTube using The Bane to defeat Borderlands 2's endgame raid boss Terramorphous the Invincible.

Borderlands is an unusual case in that most of its guns aren't unique like the Flakker and Bane, but procedurally generated. They combine effects in randomized ways so you might end up with a sniper rifle that reloads almost instantly or a pistol that shoots burning bullets. It creates variety and depth, Lopez explains, as well as the possibility of the user getting a one of a kind gun that nobody else will have. You might pick up two Maliwan fire SMGs of the same level but they re not going to be the same. And it might turn out that one is more your play style than the other, and the one you don t like might be perfect for someone else in your party.

When you do find a unique gun in a Borderlands game, something with a name like Good Touch or Teapot, you know it's special. That inspires players to figure out why a seemingly bad gun exists instead of chucking it aside like the disposable randomized weapons Borderlands games are full of. As Lopez puts it, Giving them names creates a theme about the gun, a connection to how you got it, and can also inspire the community to learn more about it through forums, videos, wikis, etc.

Should more guns have voice acting? Probably not.

The drone & the skullcap 

At the other end of the spectrum from Borderlands and its millions of guns is Assault Android Cactus, a twin-stick shooter in which each of its playable android characters only has two weapons. Some are regular fare like a flamethrower or a beam laser, but the android named Aubergine wields something different: an indestructible drone called Helo that causes damage in a circle and controls like a fishing rod. Hold down fire and the drone moves further away from her; release and it's reeled back in.

Aubergine is the most divisive character in the game, says developer Tim Dawson, some people dig her, but a lot of players couldn't get their head around controlling her Helo drone while moving. She was meant to be an out-there character and push the envelope in terms of twin-stick shooter mechanics, but because she takes so much more work to get good at, plenty of people never did.

The drone has advantages, like being able to cause damage to enemies while you hide behind a wall, but it's tricky to get used to compared to more straightforward tools like the shotgun or the drill. Not many players bother getting to grips with Aubergine and her drone.

Aubergine's drone weapon sets her apart from most twin-stick shooter characters.

Even so, I'm glad she's in the game, Dawson says, she came about from realising our weapon designs were stagnating mid-development and sitting down to brainstorm something off the map. She's not only a good character for players who stick with her, but her existence in the game challenged us to make later weapons like the Railgun and Giga Drill more distinctive.

Assault Android Cactus also has power-ups that appear regularly throughout each level. Each power-up initially appears as a red Firepower boost (adding hovering guns to your arsenal), but if it's not picked up immediately will transform into a yellow Accelerate boost (adding movement speed as well as slurping pick-ups toward you), and finally a blue Shutdown (sending enemies to sleep). The fact that players can choose which of the three power-ups to collect by timing it right inspired a vigorous debate on the game's forum over which was best.

Accelerate came off worst of the three by a fair margin. Despite boosting speed, decreasing damage taken and pulling battery and weapon orbs in, some players began actively avoiding Accelerate, says Dawson, seeing it as a wasted opportunity to grab one of the other two power-ups, both of which had more overt offensive potential.

Cards with negative and positive effects are chosen less, but fit certain playstyles.

In the choose-your-own-adventure card game Hand of Fate, each of the player's items is represented by a card that becomes that piece of equipment and appears on your avatar when combat begins. They fall down on you like rain, if rain was made of helmets and axes. Though Hand of Fate is a very different game, just like Assault Android Cactus and its Accelerate power-up, players prefer equipment that has overt offensive potential .

According to its creative director Morgan Jaffit, Something we notice a lot is that people generally prefer items with direct effects, rather than those that act on another system. A good example there is Skullcap of Prophecy, which reduces your cooldowns if you kill an enemy with a weapon ability. There's a lot going on there for a player to think about how often do they kill enemies, how often do they get to use weapon abilities, how does reducing cooldowns help them, etc.

The Skullcap of Prophecy can be part of a powerful combo when used with weapon abilities capable of finishing enemies off, reducing the cooldown on the ability that triggered the Skullcap in the first place in a repeatable loop. Most players don't bother with it, however, preferring to use gear that increases damage directly or doesn't require a decent weapon to synergize with.

Gear that has negatives as well as positives generally gets picked less than items that are a straight benefit. Morgan Jaffit

Likewise, gear that has negatives as well as positives generally gets picked less than items that are a straight benefit, says Jaffit. Forbidden Armor give you bonus damage resistance, but stops you being able to heal. People tended to just wear slower, less effective armour instead of dealing with the downside.

And that's up to you. Choosing not to use items that handicap you whether they provide some balancing advantage or exist simply to let you challenge yourself or fit a specific theme you're roleplaying is a choice that's yours to make. But even if you do make that choice, the bad items you avoid still serve a purpose. As Jaffit says, you always need contrast. No single item is 'good' in the abstract, you need other items to compare them to.

If every card in Hand of Fate or Hearthstone was perfectly balanced for use with every playstyle, there would be no thrill to finding ones that suit you. If the power-ups in Assault Android Cactus were the same you'd never race dramatically across the level to grab the one you like, and if every gun in Borderlands was useful at every range and in every situation you'd never switch between them and find the perfect moment to bombard some bad guys with a shotgun that shoots exploding swords.

Even beyond stats, items with no value can be imbued with purpose by passionate fans. In Dark Souls, one of the starting gifts, a pendant, does absolutely nothing. Why would anyone pick it over a key that unlocks doors throughout the game? Fans of Dark Souls labyrinthine lore speculated on how the pendant might fit into the mythos until director Hidetaki Miyazaki revealed that it was basically a prank. But by then it had served its purpose, making Dark Souls just a little bit more mysterious.

One man's trash...

That Colovian Fur Helm served a purpose too. When I finally sold it in favor of wearing something made of enchanted green glass, I felt like a proper hero for the first time, not that joker straight off the boat with the pointy head.

I would have missed the Colovian Fur Helm, but fortunately the shopkeeper I sold it to was so impressed he put it on immediately and continued wearing it for the rest of the game. Everybody's bad item is valuable to someone.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of one of the greatest roleplaying games ever made. Set in a world so vast that you could combine almost every open world game released since and cram them all into one of its regions, and allowing the freedom to buy real estate within that world, it remains one of the grandest games of its type.

It is The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall [official site] and I have loved it for two decades.>

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

There s a bit near the beginning of Uncharted 3 where protagonist Nathan Drake evades a police entourage by clambering up a drainpipe and onto a roof. The building overlooks the city s skyline and, while it s dark, the mass of light that radiates from the metropolis sprawled out in front of him lets him see for miles. It s a wonderful moment, but, while impressive, quickly feels bogus.

You see, in games like these you often can t actually reach the panoramic vistas, the gorgeous rolling hills, or the far-off knife-edge cliff faces, but are instead too quickly funnelled off down the next linear pathway towards the next foregone conclusion. You hardly have a chance to properly enjoy each moment of reflection before the story is moved on, and this makes me sad. (Incidentally, it looks like players will have the chance to sample the above and play many other PlayStation 3 exclusives on PC in the not so distant future if you d like to see what I mean in this instance.)

Conversely, having spent the past week ebony armour-deep in SureAI s Enderal a Skyrim total conversion mod whose scale almost matches that of its source material I was reminded of what draws me to games like these in the first place. Against games like Uncharted, it s not their open-ended quests, nor is it their divergent missions; their multitude of weapons and characters, or even their sprawling maps what I love about open-world games is simply knowing it s possible to explore their arenas from corner-to-corner, to pore over every inch of their sandboxes, or to delve into each one of their nooks and crannies.

Finding the highest accessible point in the map is the first thing I do when dropped into an open-world environment, before I pick a certain spot out in the distance and try my damndest to make it there alive or, more times than I care to admit, die trying and revel in whichever wildlife/scenery/baddies I encounter along the way.

From a practical perspective, besides facilitating these hands-on moments, trekking to and from these vantage points allows for a better understanding of the map itself. Truth be told, though, there's something I find wonderful about knowing that particular small patch of land, that dilapidated farmhouse, that seemingly abandoned island that I can spot from aloft my perch can be reached and explored, just because. There might be nothing real merit there on arrival and there's often not but I delight in the fact that in these games it can be done.

In Skyrim, I first discovered the Oghma Infinium book by stumbling upon Septimus Signus outpost after spying it from atop the College of Winterhold s roof; in New Vegas I meticulously planned an ambush on Caesar's Legion from the mountains located to east of their camp; in The Witcher 3 I climbed the Kear Trolde bridge in Skellige just so I could jump off into the water below because, well, why the hell not? There is, after all, no wrong way to play games.

I ve played and enjoyed the entire Uncharted series, and many games like it, but I ve found my fondest moments in games over the years have stemmed from the ones I ve created myself; the off-script set pieces and the moments of sheer randomness. Perhaps you could call it a problem with authority, but I like being able to roam where I want, when I want and spotting such places from the peak of a mountain, bridge or magic school is the best means for it.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

A final version of Enderal: The Shards of Order [official site] has been completed and can be downloaded for free now. While ‘Enderal’ sounds like it could be something made by a United States pharmaceutical company, it is actually a massive total conversion mod for Skyrim, not just adding new weapons or turning it into a survival game, but creating a whole new RPG using the raw materials of its parent. A German version was recently released but now you can get it in English. Disgusting, verminous English.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Five years in the making, hobbyist studio SureAI has now released the English language version of Enderal: The Shards of Order, a total conversion mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Off the back of its multi-award winning Oblivion total conversion Nehrim: At Fate s Edge, Enderal is easily the small studio s most ambitious project to date one which not only offers players an entirely new playground to explore; but also a host of new characters to interact with, 30 hours-worth of campaign to plough through, and some completely overhauled systems to tinker with.

Naturally, the mod s release was marked with a launch trailer:

Last year, we caught up with a few members of the SureAI team to learn about the making of the mod which is a relatively long but interesting read. Expect more words about of Enderal: The Shards of Order at some point later this week, however learn what Jody Macgregor thought after spending 20 hours wandering its sprawling bounds last week.

Step-by-step details regarding how to install Enderal: The Shards of Order can be found on the mod s official site or via its ModDB page.

PC Gamer

The best part of Oblivion mod Nehrim was when I turned into a kid. In flashback I explored the village my character was born in from a first-person perspective lowered to child-height, then watched it burn down to rubble. It wasn't even part of the main storyline, just a sidequest, but it was still affected by who I was and where I came from. It's a clich backstory for a fantasy hero to have, but seeing it play out made me feel connected to it.

Nehrim was German mod team SureAI's total conversion for Oblivion, released in 2010. Since then they ve been working on Enderal, a total conversion mod for Skyrim, and it begins with something similar. I'm a kid on a farm and my first quest is take a message to Daddy . The sun is shining, birds are wheeling in the bright sky. It's gorgeous. I take the first of many screenshots immediately. Things turn dark after this idyllic start because of course they do, but it's an immediate reminder of Nehrim at its best, making you feel like the world and your character existed before you clicked Start New Game.

After that I'm a grown-up on a ship to the theocracy of Enderal, choosing my face and race from a selection of half-breeds that will mark me as an outlander for the rest of the game, though none are as exotic as the cats and lizards you can choose in most Elder Scrolls games. The journey from here to Riverville, your typical fantasy starter village, is a tutorial that introduces new characters who then introduce new concepts and quickly clear the deck to make way for the next batch. I get knocked unconscious and wake up in different locations so often it's disorienting, but I guess travelling to a new country should be. It's a trick Enderal will recycle a lot.

These tutorials kick off a game where some things remain standard Skyrim, like the controls and physics, but other things feel alien. Fast travel has gone, although in a nod to Morrowind's silt striders there's a network of giant four-eyed birds called myrads who take you from place to place for 25 pennies. There are also teleport scrolls and within the gigantic city of Ark signposts let you jump from district to district. (Even with those signposts, I see a lot of loading screens whenever I go anywhere in Ark.)

Leveling skills by using them has been replaced with an old-fashioned experience point system. At level-up you earn points that can be distributed into skills by reading appropriate books, which is why I have spent all my money on books about lockpicking. There are also trees of perks to unlock, combining abilities familiar from Skyrim like rolling while crouched with new ones like Focus, which reduces the cost of spellcasting for a duration, and Flashpowder that blinds enemies.

These talents replace Skyrim's dragon shouts. My old favorites sneaking and archery are augmented by a talent that increases my critical chance for a short time while hidden, and a new set of elementalism abilities power up certain spells, turning the fire and lightning that shoots from my hands into a clutch move that can win most fights.

Most, but not all. Like Nehrim, certain parts of Enderal will not be suitable until you're higher level. After arriving at the city of Ark the main quest became too much for my level 9 character and I had to find side quests until I could get back onto the main track. Since each quest is rated out of four stars for difficulty it's easy enough to find simpler missions.

If you saw Enderal's trailer you probably noticed the main quest's plot has a lot in common with Mass Effect. An apocalypse that came to previous civilizations is returning for yours, but through researching how they failed to prevent it you might be able to succeed. The Precursors are called Pyreans and the Reapers are High Ones, but it's familiar stuff so far. That's OK since it's not like it was a very original plot even when Mass Effect told it, and telling a story well matters more to me than originality.

Other mods that add new characters and quests, like Falskaar and Descent Into Madness, have been a fun way to see strange new places, but their writing and voice-acting remind you they're fan-made works. We criticize Skyrim for re-using voices and only having a few memorable characters, but other mods have made me appreciate how hard it is to get that stuff right. Not every bit of dialogue or plotting in Enderal is perfect, but so far it's better than anything I've heard in other mods.

Though there's a fair bit of tutorial to push past, now I'm eager for each twist of its tale and invested enough to be worried about the fates of its characters. My mercenary companion has an easygoing cynicism that's charming, the swearing sorceress reacts to each disaster with honest fury, even a passing art gallery owner sounded so genuinely defeated by the disinterest of her cityfolk I was happy to take on a job for her.

I'm playing a pre-release build of Enderal's translation so not everything is perfect. I've met a man in a bar who spoke German, and some of the signs and posters around Ark are untranslated as well. Nehrim was entirely voiced in German with only English subtitles, so a fully voiced English localization is a huge additional task they've taken on. Sure, no one can agree how to pronounce the name of the goaty local monsters the Vatyr, but it feels churlish to pick at individual flaws when the overall standard is so high.

I've done the textbook journey from a small village to a big city, solved a mystery with the convenient visions I've begun having, and earned a riding donkey named Whirlwind whose legs kick out with adorable clumsiness at high speed. The tone is slightly grittier than Skyrim this is a fantasy RPG where having special magical powers means also having a fever that might kill you, most of the potions you find have turned rancid, and the roads are lined with crucified skeletons. But in spite of its differences, moment-to-moment I feel like I'm playing Skyrim again.

While Nehrim tried to make a completely different RPG out of Oblivion, one closer to the Gothic series, Enderal seems like a slightly better-looking, slightly more linear, slightly lower-powered Skyrim. It has a desert and there's a grimy Undercity beneath Ark and people swear, but its mountains, spiders, and lockpicking minigame are all pure Skyrim. It's the most ambitious mod I've played yes, even compared to the one that turns dragons into Macho Man Randy Savage not because it's different to Skyrim, but because it's of comparable quality. I liked Skyrim plenty, and having more of it is very welcome.

Look for a full review of Enderal next week, and follow the SureAITeam on Twitter for updates on the English release coming soon.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Mark Johnson)

Mark Johnson is the developer of Ultima Ratio Regum, an ANSI 4X roguelike in which the use of procedural generation extends beyond the creation of landscapes and dungeons to also dynamically create cultures, practices, social norms, rituals, beliefs, concepts, and myths. This is the first in a four part series examining what generating this kind of social detail can bring to games.>

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

Skyrim doesn’t feel old enough to have a shiny new edition with enhanced bells and whistles, but that’s exactly what’s coming on October 28th. It’ll be released on current-gen consoles as well as PC, and if you own either the Legendary Edition of the original, or the base game plus all DLC bought separately, you’ll receive a free upgrade to the new hotness. You can see it below.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

A mushroom towers above you, reaching for the sky. The place feels familiar, but the light has changed. Plants have taken root in previously barren land, new rocks jut from the earth like gnarled fingers. It s the same, but different a place inspired by what came before. A complete remake and re-imagining of Morrowind, in the words of Brandon Giles, one of the lead developers of the ambitious community project Skywind. The mod aims to draw players fresh and old to the world of Bethesda s 14-year-old RPG.

Skywind had its inception in 2012. The seeds can be found in Morroblivion, which ported Morrowind s content into Oblivion s engine. Once the project came to an end, some leftover team members decided to attempt a similar feat this time using Skyrim as their base.

It wasn t until late into the following year that the project evolved into what it is now, Giles says of the Elder Scrolls Renewal Project, of which Skywind is a part. [We] aspired to do something greater than a mere port of Morrowind. No one really knows the exact point that this switch happened, but I think as we got more and more talented individuals on board, we really broadened our horizons and looked to make something much more special. Since then the vision has only grown.

Skywind s global team was brought together by a love of the Elder Scrolls series. They re all volunteers, and their ultimate reward for the thousands of hours invested will be the finished project itself. The challenge they have set is to take a classic and renovate it, improving it graphically and bringing the world s density, life and interactions up to the standards set by today s open-world games.

The team, though scattered, has clear lines of management. Tasks are chopped into manageable chunks and assigned by the development leads. Countless spreadsheets are assembled in order to keep track of the various tasks and deadlines. The driving force is a small core team, working with and managing the vast array of people who have volunteered their time.

These team members all share the same broad vision for Skywind. Morrowind is a game that now shows its age. The locales feel barren and sparse compared to modern achievements, the fog-cloaked horizon is a stark contrast to the immense draw distances we re now accustomed to. The team have to address this disparity, filling in areas of the world with new content. This act of creation in a game so revered comes with its own difficulties the additions must merge seamlessly with the established world. Skywind will include the story and quests familiar to Morrowind players, but some carefully constructed new missions have been added. The ultimate aim is that new content should be indistinguishable from the old.

Modifying a classic is no easy task, and the team must tread carefully when deciding on additions. Every idea goes through a vetting process. When someone has a new suggestion, and they re serious enough about it, they write up a detailed plan and share it with the rest of the team, Giles says. Everyone leaves comments and suggestions and we work from there, and if it s worth implementing, we ll put in the effort to make it a reality.

Additions are rigorously scrutinised to ensure that they meet the same high standards across the board. The gatekeepers of quality are several industry professionals, who are lending their expertise partly because of a deep love for the Elder Scrolls series, and partly to work on a project that s free from corporate oversight.

Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games. These team members have been followers of the series since the start, and are able to draw from their own deep knowledge of the world, as well as consult the extensive wikis and other reference sources. They are essentially historians historians with the advantage of being in direct communication with the creative mind behind a large part of the world and lore of Morrowind, former Bethesda designer Michael Kirkbride.

Enthusiasm can only take you so far, however, and the attrition rate among Skywind s voluntary team is high. The success of the project has been that, out of a number of people who have offered to help, you get one that really sticks with the project, Darren Habib, one of the team s veterans, says. I ll put a rough figure to it: out of every 100 people that join up to do some tasks, only one person will actually carry on to progress the project.

Lore masters also pick over any suggestions with a fine-tooth comb guaranteeing that everything fits within the universe set out by the Elder Scrolls games.

The bulk of development is therefore handled by the core team, but they still want the project to remain as open as possible. They leave the door open in order to attract unique individuals able to contribute. Burnout is high true of any voluntary project but the team understand this, allowing people to take breaks when they need them. They have managed to keep morale high with their continuous communication and recruitment. Everyone is kept in the loop and made to feel a part of the community.

The legacy of the original game released back in 2002 the third in the Elder Scrolls series still casts a long shadow. Its weird world is filled with wonders, from magically crafted mushroom architecture to the sprawling waterway-filled city of Vivec. Morrowind captured and continues to capture the hearts of its players.

The action mostly takes place on the island of Vvardenfell, which today stands out as delightfully alien compared to other locations in the Elder Scrolls series. All of Bethesda s worlds have had their quirks, but none have had nearly as diverse a landscape as that found in Morrowind. Each region feels fresh and different, its architecture and landscapes drawn from different inspirations.

The first Elder Scrolls games, Arena and Daggerfall, presented players with huge worlds, using random generation to map out and stock their myriad dungeons. Morrowind broke with tradition; Bethesda opted to create a smaller, more detailed, world than its predecessors. Throwing out the random generation, the game s designers hand-crafted every section of the world. This painstaking approach proved a massive undertaking, but the payoff was worth it. The developers love and attention shines through in the design of every location. From the caves of skooma-smuggling bandits, to the tombs cobwebbed with history linked to actual families in-game.

Post-Morrowind, there have been two new main Elder Scrolls releases: Oblivion and Skyrim. These build upon the foundations laid down by Morrowind, inevitably changing aspects of it as well. The strength of Elder Scrolls games especially Morrowind has always been believable world building and focus on exploration, says Max Fellinger, Skywind s game mechanics lead. Skyrim shifted away from this to present a more streamlined reward-curve, based mostly on dungeon-crawls.

The team faces the challenge of deciding which new features from Skyrim should carry over to Skywind and which should be consigned to history. They have to determine how best to retain the feel of Morrowind while keeping any improvements made by the new game. Abilities such as shouts, tied specifically to the Dragonborn protagonist, have been removed completely. In general, Skyrim felt more focused on player skill, like modern action games, while Morrowind focused on character skill, like a classical RPG.

For instance, contrary to the implications of its first-person action combat, Morrowind used the classic RPG dice roll to decide what happened in a fight. Your sword might hit an enemy s flesh, but it was a behind-the-scenes number that decided whether or not you did serious damage. It s a system that lacks responsiveness. Skyrim has far better feedback, because it s driven more by the player s actions than their character s stats.

However, as a result, Skyrim is more uniform when it comes to the character builds of its players. There are certain core abilities and skills that almost everyone upgrades, while others are largely ignored. Morrowind encouraged players to have more freedom in their choices. There s no single correct build. Some balancing issues remain, but in general players have a wider range to choose from.

Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced.

The challenge, then: how best to fix Skyrim s problems without recreating Morrowind s unresponsiveness? The developers have a balancing act on their hands, merging two disparate systems into a cohesive whole. Their approach has been to strip down the Elder Scrolls and other RPGs to their core, and find out what makes them tick how the gears of their various systems mesh together. Ultimately, the team want to craft an experience that brings back some of the systems of classic RPGs, giving players the freedom to build a character in whatever way they want.

In Morrowind s original release, dialogue was largely confined to text boxes, with only a small percentage of it voice acted. Skywind again aims high. Its ultimate goal is to have all lines of dialogue fully voiced. Our biggest challenge is the sheer number of voice actors we re going for, voice acting lead Ben Iredale told me. Unlike Bethesda s situation, where they focus on a smaller cast of actors covering the majority of lines, we re looking to have a pretty massive amount of unique voices to cover the roughly 40,000 lines of dialogue that are in Skywind. We think it is worth the extra effort especially since it is one of the benefits we have as a community project there are so many dedicated fans ready to lend their voices.

Skyrim s world often comes close to a place that feels like home. At least until a guard tells you, yet again, about how their previous career as an adventurer was brought to a close by an arrow to the knee. Idle banter can make or break immersion in virtual worlds, especially those that support hundreds of hours of exploration.

For Skywind, Iredale says that a team of writers have crafted 9,000 in-game conversation lines between NPCs, giving each character their own essence of personality. The final release will include priests discussing the 36 lessons of Vivec, and merchants arguing over prices little touches that breathe life into the world.

On release Morrowind was praised for its vision and fully 3D world. Time has not been so kind. Its once vaunted graphics are now showing their age. Giving Morrowind back its beauty is a major objective for the Skywind team they want to recreate the world with all the bells and whistles we ve become accustomed to in modern games. This is no walk in the park: the team have to rebuild the world from the ground up.

Interpreting the low poly models and textures is one challenge, according to Aeryn James Davies, Skywind s lead artist. [It s] practically impossible without going back to the drawing board and looking at pre-3D concepting by the original team. We went back to the original concepts of Kirkbride and others and reworked it from the earlier stages. The 3D representation of 2D concepts are always limited by the technology of the time. Fourteen years is a big difference in processing power.

The evolution of videogame graphics in the intervening time has given the team the chance to make something really special, building on the ambitions of what came before. The redesign ranges from equipment to landscapes, with a particular focus on ensuring each area of the island has its own distinctive feel.

We felt that each region of the game deserved its own unique set of assets and textures to expand on the exotic nature of the original, says lead landscape designer Giles. As a result, each area looks and feels much different than from before. Any Morrowind purist might be upset by the new changes, but we really wanted to do something different instead of just adding shinier texture work and remodelled objects. There have been countless fans who have commented on videos or screenshots of the game saying it looks and feels exactly as I remember! so I think even with these major changes, the charm and spirit of Morrowind has definitely carried over to this new design.

Azura s coast is just one of the regions undergoing a dramatic change. It was originally sprinkled with menhirs, but the Skywind team have transformed it into a landscape filled with striking basalt formations, quietly betraying Vvardenfell s volcanic roots. An overhaul of this scale could have been a disaster, but it s handled with care by the team changing the visual identity of the region while staying true to the heart and soul of Morrowind.

The team s ambitions aren t restricted to improving the variety of the landscape, either. They re aiming to make Skywind s graphical quality in its entirety exceed that of Skyrim itself now almost five years old. The team feels able to do this because their focus is solely on the PC. Where Bethesda had to take ageing console tech into account, Skywind s developers are free to concentrate on a single, more powerful platform.

The mod itself remains without a release date the general feeling being that it ll be done when it s done. Still, there s confidence that it will, eventually, be done. In the years since the mod s initial reveal there has been the constant worry that it might end up as vapourware all stylish screenshots and video, but never making it to a final release. It s a consequence of the team s open development. Professional studios only reveal projects after years of work. Skywind has been in the wild since day one. Viewed this way, their progress in the last four years has been remarkable from a group of volunteers.

The project inches ever onwards, getting closer to its release, but there is still plenty of work to be done and new volunteers are always welcome. The team have a lot riding on this a lot of people to please but each and every one is convinced they will deliver what they have promised. They probably won t have to resort to using magic to get there.

By Edward Bals.

PC Gamer

The good folks at The Elder Scrolls Renewal Project have released a new Skywind trailer that shows off some of the latest work that's gone into bringing the great Elder Scrolls RPG Morrowind into the great Elder Scrolls engine Skyrim.

Everything shown is but a small fraction of work done on Skywind over the last few months, the YouTube description states, noting that the video is taken from a private developer alpha and, as such, is subject to change. Music, voice acting, sound effects, quest implementation, bug fixes, etc. couldn't be shown properly in this video, but are being developed alongside the visual progress.

It's a gorgeous trailer, and the prospect of playing a version of Morrowind that doesn't look like it was hot stuff 14 years ago is powerfully appealing. But I can't let it go without leveling some sort of complaint, and in this case it's the music: Nice enough as a generic RPG tune, but it's really got more of an Oblivion vibe than Morrowind. Other selections from the soundtrack are definitely more on-the-money, though: You can listen to bits and pieces courtesy of Soundcloud.

There's still no word on when Skywind will be ready for release, but you can follow along with the development (and join in if you're so inclined) at tesrenewal.com, and read our recent feature on the modders who keep recreating Morrowind right here.

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