Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Alec Meer)

but which mountains are best?

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. I celebrated if one of the bands I like got a single in the top 10; I took it very personally if they failed to. Because enough of my peers had also not loved whichever band of posturing men-with-guitars it was, society was in ruins. Is that, perhaps, how some Skyrim fans feel at news their beloved RPG has been toppled by GTA V as the game with most concurrent users ever on Steam, if you exclude Valve’s own games? And are GTA fans celebrating that their prized cars’n’murder game has claimed another scalp? … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

The classic RPG question is who do you want to be? , and here The Elder Scrolls games have always been on strong ground. In the case of Skyrim, it s how you go about answering that sees the magic emerge. Partly it s the game s vast open world, but there s also the playful take on the subtle and not-so-subtle expectations built into the genre. More than anything, though, it s that Skyrim is a fantasy about freedom—an icy, brutal freedom best explored with blade in hand.

Skyrim s underworld—with its Dwarven ruins, huge chasms, and secret passages—plays with the experience of space in a way few other games do. Because the world below ground is crafted with such care and attention, each step I take in the world above becomes that much more meaningful. Skyrim never feels flat. It feels like there s a mysterious portal or mad Daedra lurking under every hill.

Beyond the setting, Skyrim s approach to fantasy trappings also strikes fresh notes. It succeeds in making me care (again) about the intricacies of ancient weaponry, odd bestiaries, and the oh-so-serious ways of a dominant culture—in Skyrim s case, the Vikings. Even following in the footsteps of Morrowind and Oblivion, Skyrim excels at making the familiar seem strange and interesting once more.

So, in this installment of If you like… , I ve picked out some non-games that share Skyrim s disorienting geography, its mostly-medieval sensibility, and its affection for all-things Nordic. And also, of course, big bloody swords.

Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are few other imaginings of pre-modern life that capture the dark and brutal potential of such a time quite like Valhalla Rising. Played by the silent but effective Mads Mikkelsen, (who currently stars as Hannibal in the TV series), we follow the journey of a warrior named One-Eye and his encounters in a world reeling from religious fanaticism and the selfish pride of rival chieftains. Sounds like a typical day in Skyrim to me.

As you can probably guess from the trailer above, One-Eye s solution to most problems involves astonishing acts of sudden violence. But Drive director Winding Refn s film doesn t ignore the philosophical problems that a world built on blood and death brings to the surface. What if hell is a place we make for ourselves and can never escape? But setting aside its stylish surrealism, which saw the movie described as a medieval Apocalypse Now, Valhalla Rising also works as a beautifully-shot, incredibly slow burn, adventure film with an effective, if gruesome, interpretation of the hard-bitten solitary warrior mythos.

The Death Gate Cycle, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

The death gate cycle

The seven-volume Death Gate Cycle takes Weis and Hickman s talent for fantasy world-building, so evident in their genre-defining earlier work on Dragonlance, and turns the dial up to 11. In a way reminiscent of Skyrim s tendency to always push me to look below the surface, the Death Gate Cycle universe is anything but flat. Following a cataclysmic event, earth is remade into four distinct realms, each primarily built around a single element—air, water, fire and stone. These planets feature floating continents, mysterious machines, and yes, dragons.

We again see the introduction of elves, dwarves, and men, as well as other races, but they are so defined by their geography—and the conflict this creates—that these familiar archetypes still resonate. One of my favorite images appears in the second book and deals with Pryan, the fire planet. On a world bathed in constant sunlight, endless jungle forests have grown and created an almost unimaginably thick layer of vegetation. The actual ground has become a legendary place of wingless dragons and massive caverns the dwarves carve out of moss instead of stone. Survival in this environment then becomes a compelling force that drives the narrative the story.

The Death Gate Cycle is a series to lose yourself in.

Trollhunter, directed by Andr vredal

This 2010 Norwegian film selects a piece of mythical Nordic fantasy and drops it straight into the modern age. What if there really were trolls roaming the hills and highlands of Scandinavia? What would we have to do about them? Trollhunter unveils its story in the style of a found-footage documentary. It s a good approach for the subject matter, as the film is brilliant at simulating the dread of this what-if encounter and also not taking itself too seriously.

So if you ve ever had a good read through Finn s Troll Slaying manual or maybe lived through a bad moment with one of the beasts somewhere outside Winterhold, you may crack a smile when you see how a more modern hunter tackles his troll problem. Along the way you also get a nice tour of Norway s misty valleys, dark forests, and icy plateaus.

Longswords in the 21st-century

No one talks about the combat in Skyrim in the same kind of hushed, reverent tone so many save for something like, say, Dark Souls. The game s swordplay just isn t that intricate. But Skyrim s combat still leaves me feeling great. I m a sucker for those kill-screen cinematics I guess. And with enough commitment to crafting, even one of the game s basic iron blades becomes an effective partner in all but the deadliest dungeons. The very first character I made ran around as a sort of unstable blacksmith on the hunt for the secrets to crafting Skyrim s finest greatsword.

But one thing I ve discovered recently is that I m not the only one fascinated by the potential of these archaic weapons. As you can see in the video above, the longsword is one of the central weapons in the growing practice of what are now called Historical European Martial Arts. Want to see how that dual-wield style might actually feel, well, there s a good chance you might be able to find a fencing or longsword fighting club where you could do just that. Or maybe you might want to forge your own?

For more instalments of If you like... , check out Patrick s recommendations for Fallout 3 and Deus Ex fans. 

PC Gamer

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 276. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

"It s a total conversion for a four-year-old game, read PC Gamer US s rundown of Nehrim: At Fate s Edge, when the Oblivion mod clinched the coveted Mod of the Year award in 2010. But Nehrim is so impressive that it was a contender not just for best mod, but for best RPG. Such are the lofty standards that German hobbyist group SureAI works to, its total conversion mods feel less like add-ons or additional content indolently tacked onto games post-release, and more like entirely new releases.

Nehrim received plaudits across the board, including four separate Mod of the Year accolades from ModDB. It was praised for its detailed plot, its mature political and sociopolitical themes, and its extensive landscapes.

Enderal: The Shards of Order, SureAI s upcoming Skyrim total conversion, aims to be bigger still. Enderal is almost as big as Skyrim, Nico Lietzau, one of SureAI s team leaders, tells me. There are a lot of areas to explore. In terms of exteriors, there are different climate zones: a desert, a forest, heathlands, mountains, all with different vegetation and climates, there s a lot going on. And of course there are many, many dungeons. A mod of Skyrim quality that is almost as big as Skyrim itself. And it s out this year.

We re in good hands. SureAI has been casting its modding magic since the team s inception in 2003, when a small group of Bethesda enthusiasts came together out of a common love for the freedom and atmosphere conveyed by that publisher s sprawling sandbox worlds. Having met through the German modding community amid the fanfare surrounding Morrowind, SureAI originally consisted of two teams: one working on its debut project Myar Aranath; another on a second Arktwend. Upon completion of the first mod, the Aranath team dissolved, its members fusing with their Arktwend counterparts to move forward as a united front.

SureAI may be a hobbyist group working for free, but regimental organisation and rigorous professionalism rank just as highly with the team as the standard of the games they produce. Although inspired by and running on the engines of previous Elder Scrolls games, Myar Aranath, Arktwend, Nehrim and Enderal exist in their own extensive universe, separate from those dreamt up by Bethesda. They have their own lore, their own characters, their own political and economic infrastructures, their own intricate game systems.

The group operates along similar lines to a professional development studio. Although many of the peripheral personnel work remotely around the world, SureAI is now based in an office in Munich, which houses the ten-strong core team. Lietzau notes that in conjunction with studying game design at university, he sometimes finds himself sinking 40-60 hours of work per week into Enderal s development. And most of the team treat SureAI as their main job, even though the majority of them hold down real jobs elsewhere—most of which are in and around the games industry, but some as far afield as architecture and full-time parenting.

Myar Aranath, Arktwend, Nehrim and Enderal exist in their own extensive universe

With Enderal we started planning before 2011, before the [Skyrim] creation kit was released, explains Johannes Scheer, another of SureAI s leads, and one of its founding fathers. After Skyrim we did some pre-production, where we set the scope of the project, first drafts of the story, and features we wanted to change. We do change a lot of the gameplay, as a matter of fact, and then we just work to a rough production plan.

Features are realised one by one, to see if they re still fun to play once implemented. If they aren t, we discuss and see what we can do to make it more fun. As opposed to a normal game production, we already have assets to start building levels right away, so we can start all the departments at once. We start building the world, the quest designers start working away, and once the quest script is written they start implementing it. That goes on for a long time and we try to play it as much as we can along the way.

Enderal takes place two and a half years after the events of Nehrim, and although newcomers can expect to jump aboard with little difficulty, recurring characters and nods to its predecessors await those more familiar with the lore of the series. The aftermath of Nehrim has sunk the land into civil war, forcing the game s protagonist to flee to the isolated continent of Enderal. Very quickly, however, it becomes clear that all is not well and that a red madness has taken over the minds of Enderal s inhabitants.

The protagonist begins to have surreal and disturbing dreams in which he happens upon the theocratic Order of Enderal. He learns of Cycles —passages of civilisation which see its citizens live, prosper, and then miraculously disappear without trace. It s all very dark, but Lietzau makes clear that s it s not as black and white as it may first appear on paper. It s not as simple as putting rest to a demon army which The Order appears to represent—rather Enderal s plot is to be multi-faceted, ominous, and complex with no immediately obvious friends or foes.

What makes Enderal different from Skyrim besides this surrogate storyline? Perhaps the most obvious transformation is the mod s overhauled class system, which itself adopts a modified version of SkyUI, the community-made improvement of Bethesda s user interface. Basically the intention was to make a class system which is more traditional, but still has all the advantages of a sandbox skill system, says Lietzau. While in Skyrim you could basically skill every perk that was there, in Enderal you have nine classes and every class improves two skills. You can specialise in two, perhaps two and a half classes. That means you kind of have to commit yourself to a path, and we did this to create a sense of identity for the player.

Another significant change is the omission of Skyrim s signature Dragonshouts. Given that Enderal s protagonist is not the Dragonborn, this change is hardly surprising, but it will change the feel of the game. Special skills known as Talents stand in the place of shouts. Every class has two Talents that can be unlocked via the assigned perk tree, which allow the player greater variety in combat. In developing these, the player s combat style will ultimately reflect their class.

Levelling up in Enderal is different to Skyrim in that SureAI has completely disabled the native learning by doing protocol, instead allowing players to gain traditional experience points by killing monsters, completing quests, exploring locations, and possibly even by being witty in dialogue scenarios. Once the player has a certain number of experience points, they can level up. A single Skill Point is also provided at this stage which can be transferred to the class tree, and thus work towards buying the player new Talents.

There are also Learning Points and Craftsman Points, adds Lietzau. Learning Points can be used to advance your skills with trainers—it s a little different from the trainers in Nehrim because in Enderal you can buy books from trainers, meaning you don t have to go back every time you level up. Instead you can buy, say, five books that train your one-handed skill, but you must have the Learning Points to consume them.

A precise shot from the hero s bow ignites the oil, toasting everything in the vicinity

Players also have Craftsman Points, which operate in a similar fashion. While we thought things like speechcraft in Skyrim were hardly ever used—players tended to consider points too precious to use on things like this—in Enderal you can use your CPs to increase your crafting skills, or your speechcraft skill. I think it s also safe to say that this system makes crafting and skills like speechcraft a lot more useful.

These are major, cultured changes and it s easy to get bogged down in the finer intricacies without seeing them firsthand. To put things into context, SureAI demonstrates Talents in action. By pulling from the Trickery and Vagabond disciplines respectively, you re able to combine a flask of oil with a flame-tipped arrow, so I watch as deep within a dingy catacomb SureAI s player character smashes a jug of oil against the floor, catching an unsuspecting enemy s attention in the process. The enemy charges, only to slip on the oil spill and tumble to the ground. A precise shot from the hero s bow ignites the oil, toasting everything in the vicinity—enemy included.

This mix-and-match mentality echoes the Plasmid system of BioShock, and Lietzau assures me a vast array of combinations await keen conceptual connoisseurs. He admits that it is also possible to sneak your way through dungeons, avoiding foes whilst hugging the shadows—but when there appears to be so much scope and so much potential in this nuanced combat system, why would you not want to get your hands dirty?

My conversation with Lietzau and Scheer eventually leads me to two burning questions I have to ask. Firstly: if this is a game rooted in Skyrim, aesthetically, if nothing else, do SureAI think they ve made a better game?

Scheer laughs, almost as if he s surprised that I ve asked, but at the same time surprised that it s taken almost an hour of chatting for the question to come up. Well I d say we definitely succeeded in delivering the same standard of quality, he offers diplomatically. Enderal plays like a triple-A roleplaying game and this is something we re very proud of. In terms of if it s better—that really depends on the player. As I say, we have a different focus, the focus on the whole world just feels different. I think it s up to the players to determine if they enjoy it more or less than Skyrim but I think we definitely succeeded in making something comparable to Skyrim.

I m not surprised by the conservative response. First and foremost these guys are Skyrim fanatics, and it would be uncharacteristic for them to criticise their core inspiration. Nevertheless they re clearly very passionate about their own game. They ve worked incredibly hard on Enderal—and on all of their projects—and know that the best way to definitively answer the question one way or another is to release the game into the world and let the public decide.

This leads me on to my second question: as a hobbyist outfit working for no pay, how do they manage to work so hard, and yet stay so motivated?

It actually works pretty well for us, Lietzau says, but in general, non-commercial projects are always very hard to realise because people lose their motivation so quickly if they re not getting paid for it. If people don t depend on it, some can be really unreliable. We ve had a lot of bad experiences with people coming into the team and promising to do a lot of stuff and have then just left. We now have very complicated application procedures, so that doesn t happen too often, but it is very hard to keep people motivated.

He pauses for thought. For us it works because first of all, through the years of development, most of the people who are not committed leave anyway, so the rest remain. We re also very tight and work as a team, and we try to keep everyone—even if it s someone who has just applied—involved in the process, because it s important to feel as though you re contributing something of your own—especially when working non-commercially. This keeps people motivated for a long time.

For those familiar with Nehrim, it may come as a surprise to learn that SureAI had in fact envisioned an even more ambitious project than what came to be. Ultimately they were governed by limited time and resources. Nonetheless, Nehrim set the bar extremely high as far as total conversion mods go, not least for themselves and successor Enderal. ModDB has preemptively awarded their Skyrim conversion Best Upcoming Mod for the last three years running, all before even a sniff of a release date.

Even now that tentative 2015 date isn t nearly as specific as it could be, but given SureAI s track record, not to mention the quality of what they ve shown off so far, Enderal is almost certain to make good on it. Should this be the case, SureAI s plan is to make the jump to fullyfledged professional independent development studio.

Until then, developing a game based on Bethesda s game engine and legacy, SureAI are standing on the shoulders of giants. But they re doing so wearing a damn flashy pair of Daedric boots.

By Joe Donnelly

For more Skyrim mods, check out our round-up of 50 of the best.

PC Gamer

Skywind is an ambitious mod that aims to recreate Morrowind in Skyrim's engine. A new update to the as-yet-unreleased project means better landscapes, new assets, new weapons and more—all of which is showcased in this new video.

Don't be fooled by the version number. 0.9.6 would normally suggest we're close to the magic 1.0. Here, that's not the case. "As goals changed," explains the trailer's description, "we realized there was so much more to do than initially thought. 0.9.5 came out in October, and there is a lengthy gap between each major update. These versions are not an accurate representation of overall progress towards a release, but instead milestones to keep track of. When we have more information on a beta or a release, we will let you know."

See more from Skywind by following this link.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Graham Smith)

Bethesda have a press conference planned for this year’s E3 – their first ever – which means it’s likely they’ve got more to talk about than merely some new DLC for The Evil Within or a new trailer for Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. What will it be: Fallout 4? Elder Scrolls 6? Wet 2? I hope it’s Wet 2.

And not solely> because I don’t want all the hard work of the Skywind mod team to go to waste. Come see their latest trailer, which shows some of the most recent modelling and environment work that’s happened in their efforts to port Morrowind to the same engine as Skyrim.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

The default field of vision in Quake—yes, Quake, the groundbreaking Id Software shooter from 1996—was 90 degrees, an angle nowhere near the roughly 180-degree field of view that Wikipedia says normal humans possess. It also proved rather limiting in multiplayer conflicts, in which being able to see the people who are trying to kill you is an important part of preventing said killing. The Fisheye Quake mod went a long way toward rectifying that problem, but it suffered from issues of its own in the form of some pretty severe screen distortion.

It's a problem that's taken nearly 20 years to solve, but now, in the new millennium, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a modified version of Fisheye Quake called Blinky. Its goal isn't actually to bring better situational awareness to Quake, however, but rather to demonstrate a "proof of concept to put peripheral vision into games," without requiring VR goggles.

Blinky employs the Panini projection, "a mathematical rule for constructing perspective images with very wide fields of view"—read more about it here—to recreate a much wider field of vision in games while maintaining a reasonably natural appearance. "To use non-standard projections like Panini, Blinky first snaps multiple pictures around you to form a Globe of pixels," creator Shaun Lebron explained. "Then it projects all those pixels to the screen using a Lens. You can enable a Rubix grid if you wish to visualize the mapping."

Blinky is implemented in the Quake demo linked on the Github page, and it actually works quite well: There are a number of projections to play with, but the default setting betrayed only a slight distortion at certain viewing angles that very quickly became effectively imperceptible.

"I hope to apply this to modern graphics using frame buffers for environment-capturing and pixel shaders for projection. It would be interesting to see its impact on performance," Lebron wrote. "If this modern method is performant enough, I think Panini/Stereographic could easily become a standard for gamers demanding wide-angle video. But if it is not performant enough for live applications, I think it could still prove useful in post-processed videos using something like WolfCam. For example, spectators could benefit from wide-angle viewings of previously recorded competitive matches or even artistic montages."

PC Gamer

Elder Scrolls games never die. Instead, they're polished and retextured forever—kind of like Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her, only without all the rotting.

Morrowind Rebirth, the long-running Morrowind overhaul mod has posted a single screenshot of its upcoming 3.0 release. It offers a taste of the improvements planned for the Imperial stronghold of Ebonheart.

In case you're suffering a bout of the nostalgia, here—courtesy of UESP—is what vanilla Ebonheart looks like.

That's quite the improvement.

Morrowind Rebirth overhauls the visuals of the third Elder Scrolls game, and adds a bunch of new weapons, items, creatures and fixes. You can see a round-up of its existing features courtesy of the trailer below.

The 3.0 release is due "soon".

PC Gamer

Skyrim is weird place filled with ice wraiths, giant spiders, werewolves, and skeletal dragons. It could always stand to get a little weirder, though, so why not start filling the world with walking, talking, humanoid creations made of wood? You can assemble these wooden people yourself with the Craftable Followers mod.

Start by subscribing to the mod in the Steam Workshop. Once you've loaded the game, find Anise's cabin, a small shack southwest of Riverwood. Head inside, pick the lock on the cellar's trapdoor, and look for a book on Anise's table. Grab it and read it, then head back outside, where you might find Anise in a foul mood. Like a lot of uptight Skyrim citizens, she doesn't like having her home broken into.

Breaking and entering is nothing to lose your head over, Anise.

Visit a forge: this is where you'll be building your new wooden pals. In the crafting menu, scroll down to 'Misc' to find the list, and note the necessary ingredients. You'll need firewood, of course, and often things like leather, linen wrap, wheat, some plants, and possibly a few weapons or armor, depending on who you want to build. You can chop firewood at mills, gather wheat on farms, buy leather from blacksmiths, and find linen in general stores or by killing the undead. You'll also need some soul gems, which you probably have dozens of anyway.

Your new friends come with their own basket for easy storage.

Once you've got the goods, build someone. They'll appear in your inventory as a scroll, so select it, use it, and presto! You've got a new best friend. You can craft bards, merchants, farmers, mages, or warriors. You can build a trainer as well, and while they can't personally teach you anything they can at least sell you a selection of skill books.

If you plan to build more than one wooden ally, I'd suggest starting with a crafted lumberjack. He carries around 1,000 pieces of firewood, so if you build him first you won't have to do any more chopping. It's a little ghastly: from his perspective he's essentially carrying around a bunch of dismembered limbs, but he seems fine with it, so why should you object?

Why build one wooden follower when you can build TREE? Ha ha! Ha.

If you want to get even weirder, you can craft a wooden bride or groom and get married, though I'd be mindful of splinters on your wedding night. And, if the sight of your creaking creations walking around makes you wish your own body was made of wood instead of boring old flesh and blood, no worries. By starting a new character (or using the 'showracemenu' console command) you can actually play as a member of the Manakin race, as the mod calls them.

Now... how long should I make the nose?

Talk to one of your creations, and you'll get the same options as when you talk to any of Skyrim's followers. You can invite them to come with you, dismiss them, or have them hang around a particular spot waiting for you. Keep this in mind while dragging them off to fight monsters: your new pal is made of wood, which comes with a natural weakness to fire. On the plus side, they're immune to poison and disease, and don't need to worry about breathing during extended underwater dives.

I spotted this mod on Kotaku. Thanks, Kotaku!

PC Gamer
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Graham Smith)

Ah, Morrowind‘s Sheogorad region, famed for its mushroom trees, its frigid waters, its, uh, rocks of Dela’thur and the brutish, erm, winds of Velopis. And elves. I bet it’s got elves in.

Look, so, Morrowind is one of those games I never really played. RPGs are my blind spot, especially anything pre-2005, so my posting this has nothing to do with residual affection for Bethesda’s weirdest world. Instead, it’s because a remake of it might prompt me to go back to it, and because whenever I post a video of Morrowind-in-the-Skyrim-engine mod Skywind, you all make such lovely cooing noises about the old game. So watch, coo, and stoke the fires of my, er, uh… Karap r?

… [visit site to read more]


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