PC Gamer

For the past few Junes, right before one of the busiest gaming weeks of the year, we ve taken a moment to imagine the E3 press conference that PC Gamers deserve. It s become one of our tiny traditions (along with Chris questionable behavior in survival games). Mostly it s an excuse for us to publish something entirely detached from reality before we fly to Los Angeles and publish every scrap of gaming news and opinion that our bodies will allow. It s therapeutic to daydream about Gabe Newell materializing atop a unicorn through a fog of theater-grade dry ice to announce Half-Life 3.

We get valuable stories, videos, and interviews out of E3—you can imagine how handy it is to have almost every game-maker gathered under one roof for a few days. But it s no secret that the PC doesn t have a formal, organized presence during E3. Generally speaking it s the time of year when Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo jostle for position about who can create the most buzz. Despite being a mostly exciting few days of announcements, E3 has never given the biggest gaming platform in the world an equal place at the table.

That s our collective fault, not E3 s. One of our hobby s greatest strengths is the fact that there isn t a single owner. The PC has no marketing arm, no legal department, no CEO to dictate what should be announced or advertised. And thank Zeus for that. The fundamentally open nature of our hobby is what allows for GOG, Origin, Steam, and others to compete for our benefit, for the variety of technologies and experiences we have access to—everything from netbook gaming to 8K flight simulation to VR.

Everyone involved in PC gaming has shared ownership over its identity. One of the few downsides of that, though, is that there isn t really a single time and place for PC gaming to get together and hang out. We love BlizzCon, QuakeCon, DreamHack, Extra Life, The International, and the ever-increasing number of PAXes. But there s something special about the pageantry of E3 week, its over-the-top showmanship, its surprises, its proximity to Hollywood. And each June, even as we ve jokingly painted a picture of PC game developers locking arms in a musical number, we ve wanted something wholly by, for, and about PC gaming.

Well, hell, let s do it.

For the past few months we ve been organizing the first ever live event for PC gaming during E3, The PC Gaming Show. Tune into our Twitch channel on Tuesday, June 16 on 5 PM and you ll see a spectrum of PC gaming represented on stage: a showcase of conversations, announcements, hardware, trailers, and other stuff that makes PC gaming great. We ve been talking to everyone we know, big and small—if there s a game or developer you want to see—tell us! So far, Blizzard, AMD, Bohemia Interactive, Boss Key Productions, Paradox, Dean Hall, Tripwire, and more have signed up to be a part of this inaugural PC gaming potluck (Paradox has promised to bring nachos), and we ll be announcing more participants as we lead up to June 16. And hey, the endlessly friendly Day[9] is hosting. We love that guy.

We re sincerely, stupidly excited about this. The PC gaming renaissance we re all living in deserves a moment of recognition during the biggest gaming expo of the year—it s about time! Listen in on Twitter and on our Facebook page as we share more details leading up to June.

PC Gamer

[Update: Despite Bethesda publishing this post defending paid Skyrim mods only an hour ago, the program has since been pulled from Steam following discussions with Valve. The original story can be found below, we'll have more as it breaks.]

To put it lightly, the rollout of paid Skyrim mods on Steam hasn't been without pain. An awful lot of people think mods should be universally free, a point they're making by gumming up the works with silliness; others have objected to the relatively small slice of the pie—25 percent—that mod makers will earn on the sales of their creations. But Bethesda says its early discussions with Valve confirmed "quite clearly" that allowing mod makers to earn money on their work boosted both the quality and the quantity of the mods available to gamers.

"We have a long history with modding, dating back to 2002 with The Elder Scrolls Construction Set," it wrote in a new Bethesda Blog post. "It s our belief that our games become something much more with the promise of making it your own." There are downsides: The availability of mods is one of the reasons Oblivion was re-rated from T to M, "costing us millions of dollars," it continued. Even so, "while others in the industry went away from it, we pushed more toward it."

The initial discussions between Bethesda and Valve actually began in 2012, and right from the outset it insisted that the Marketplace had to be open rather than curated. "At every step along the way with mods, we have had many opportunities to step in and control things, and decided not to," it wrote. "We wanted to let our players decide what is good, bad, right, and wrong. We will not pass judgment on what they do."

The post confirmed that Valve gets 30 percent of all mod sales, which it described as "standard across all digital distribution services." Bethesda itself takes 45 percent, and the mod makers gets the remaining 25 percent. But it denied that the relatively steep take represents some kind of "money grabbing scheme," noting that mod sales, even during the past weekend when Skyrim was free, made up less than one percent of its total Steam revenues. At the same time, while the 25 percent cut "has been operating on Steam successfully for years," it left open the door for adjustments, saying, "If it needs to change, we'll change it."

Most people don t know, but our very own Skyrim DLC has zero DRM. We shipped Oblivion with no DRM because we didn t like how it affected the game

As for the long term impact of paid mods, Bethesda acknowledged that there is the potential for damage but said most of the implications are positive. "Not only do we want more mods, easier to access, we re anti-DRM as far as we can be. Most people don t know, but our very own Skyrim DLC has zero DRM. We shipped Oblivion with no DRM because we didn t like how it affected the game," it wrote. "There are things we can control, and things we can t. Our belief still stands that our community knows best, and they will decide how modding should work. We think it s important to offer choice where there hasn t been before."

Our own Tyler Wilde gave some early opinion on the good and bad of paid mods last week, and we also published a guest editorial on the matter from a modder earlier today. Meanwhile, Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman and Gabe Newell have weighed in on the matter, but despite their positive takes the petition demanding an end to paid mods has climbed to more than 130,000 signatures. Offering choice is good, but this is clearly going to be a hard sell for both Bethesda and Valve. 

PC Gamer

[Note! I wrote this column on Wednesday due to having a shortened week. So, this was written before all the recent controversy over paid mods for Skyrim. And, it just so happens, the creator of this mod is Chesko, same creator of the now-removed paid Art of the Catch mod. Do I have great timing or what? Anyway, this is still a neat (and free) mod. You can grab it from the Nexus.]

There's something oddly enjoyable about camping in a game. Walk off into the woods, erect a tent, build a campfire, and sit and gaze at the flames as the world around you slowly grows dark. It's serene, comforting, and a nice change from all the dragon slaying and dungeon crawling.

Skyrim has a few camping mods already, most notably Frostfall, which brings a harsh and challenging survival theme to Skyrim. The Campfire mod, however, is more about simply creating an immersive and enjoyable camping experience.

Through the use of some new survival spells, you begin by gathering materials like deadwood, branches, and stones (bring a woodsman's axe with you). You don't have to manually hunt around for materials—I kinda wish you did, actually—but you select the item you want to gather, and then you're told how much you found. A little time passes each time you search, to represent your gathering efforts.

Once you've done some gathering, you can place your campfire on the ground in front of you. It'll be a fragile campfire, which won't last long, but by adding kindling to it, it'll level up into a better campfire, suitable for a few hours of cooking. Feed some more fuel to the fire and it'll grow bigger, providing a comforting warmth that will give you a bonus to skill gains for the next several hours. Your followers can also join you in sitting by the fire.

In addition to campfires, the mod comes with some camping gear, like tents and tanning racks (these were in Frostfall as well, I believe). Campfire also has backpacks that dynamically represent your camping gear. For instance, if you have a bedroll, cooking pot, and axe, you'll see these items on your back. How cool is that? While Campfire is not currently compatible with Frostfall, it sounds like the next version of Frostfall will support it.

You can use Campfire without SKSE and SkyUI, but as always, those two mods will enhance your experience and allow you to customize your settings. Interestingly, you can also download a devkit for Campfire if you're interested in creating your own custom camping gear. There's even a few tutorials to help you get started.

PC Gamer

In yet another sign that the universe is unfolding as it should, yesterday's announcement that Valve will now allow modders to sell their creations on Steam has led to an influx of "protest mods" with high prices, low content, and some admittedly amusing descriptions.

Take, for instance, the Extra Apple mod, currently priced at $35. It does exactly what it promises: adds an extra apple to the counter in The Bannered Mare. Or the Rubbish Bucket DLC, which provides a bucket for your rubbish—or at least it will, when it's done. Currently it's in Early Access, and instead of a bucket it's just a pile of wood on the floor. But you can put your rubbish on it! As long as you've installed the Rubbish Mod, that is, which will set you back another $3.

And there's the Literally Nothing mod, which speaks for itself.

To clarify, these mods are not actually available for purchase just yet. As Valve explained yesterday, new paid mods must first be posted without a purchase option, in order to give the community time to examine them and call out any abusive or stolen content. And while some of the mods in the queue appear legit—Light Armor Clothing, for instance—the bulk of them seem intended to make a statement; some, like the Micro Transactions mod, even include a link to the petition calling on Valve to drop paid mods altogether.

A few of these mods are funny, but they also have the potential to gum up the works. Some are obviously not meant to be taken seriously, but with others it's much harder to tell: The Chicken Companion, as an example, is literally a chicken wearing a Dragonborn helmet. It looks legit (and awesome!), but... well, it's a chicken in a Dragonborn helmet. You tell me.

The maker of the Rubbish mod said it took him about 30 minutes to learn enough of the Creation Kit to get the job done, then add the items and upload it to Steam. That's not an especially heavy investment of time, which means that if enough users are sufficiently committed to the cause, they'll be able to bury the system with crap in relatively short order. Bethesda stated that neither it nor Valve will be curating the mods for sale on the workshop. While they may be relying on the community to flag objectionable mods, in the end, they may have no choice but to step in and police the mods themselves.

PC Gamer

The creator of Art of the Catch, the paid Skyrim mod that was removed from Steam earlier today, has posted a lengthy message on Reddit in which he says he didn't "steal content" to make the mod. In fact, while he acknowledged that using content from the Fores New Idles in Skyrim mod without permission was "a bit crappy," he claims that Valve told him specifically that creating a mod dependent on another mod's content would not cause any problems.

The mod maker, going by the name "Chesko," wrote in the post that Valve invited him to take part in the rollout of the paid mods program about a month and a half before it went live. He knew there would be backlash, but he also believed that "there was an opportunity to take modding to 'the next level,' where there are more things like Falskaar in the world because the incentive was there to do it." And while he wasn't happy with the 25 percent cut being offered to modders by Valve/Bethesda, he decided to take part because "it was an experiment I was willing to at least try."

The complexities of modding, compressed by the tight deadline, led to "a lot of questions surrounding the use of tools and contributed assets, like FNIS, SKSE, SkyUI, and so on," he wrote. Because of that, he reached out to Valve to determine what was and wasn't permissible, and was told, "I am not a lawyer, so this does not constitute legal advice. If you are unsure, you should contact a lawyer. That said, I spoke with our lawyer and having mod A depend on mod B is fine—it doesn't matter if mod A is for sale and mod B is free, or if mod A is free or mod B is for sale."

That's where things start to get murky. Instead of contacting a lawyer, as it now seems he should have, Chesko went ahead and and built the Art of the Catch mod, which requires a separate, free animation package that contains an FNIS behavior file.

"Was this a risky, perhaps bold, thing to go ahead with? Yes. Was it a bit crappy of me? Also yes," he wrote. "But it was a risk I took, and the outcome was largely dependent on the FNIS author's reaction to the situation. He was not happy, so I took steps to resolve it. I did not 'steal animations' or 'steal content'." He added that he's been in contact with Fore, the maker of FNIS, and that they've smoothed things out.

But he's also been in contact with a lawyer from Valve, who clarified that, in accordance with policies outlined yesterday, the mod, and Chesko's other work, will be marked as unpurchasable but will not actually be removed from the Workshop, despite his demand that it all be taken down completely.

"He stated that they will not remove the content unless 'legally compelled to do so,' and that they will make the file visible only to currently paid users," he wrote. "I am beside myself with anger right now as they try to tell me what I can do with my own content. The copyright situation with Art of the Catch is shades of grey, but in Arissa 2.0's case, it's black and white; that's 100% mine and Griefmyst's work, and I should be able to dictate its distribution if I so choose."

For now, Chesko's work, minus the Art of the Catch, remains available on the Skyrim Nexus.

PC Gamer

Chesko's Fishing Mod is now the holder of a dubious record: it's the first paid-for Skyrim mod to be removed from sale.

An early test for Valve's unique policing methods, the removal came off the back of claims Chesko and aqqh — the fishing mod's creators — were profiting from the work of fellow modder Fore without the latter's permisison.

See, the fishing mod used assets from Fore's New Idles in Skyrim — fine in the world of free mods, but not something that's kosher in the world of for-profit modding.

Screengrabs were, of course, grabbed before things went quiet on the Workshop page:

And since then — well, see for yourself: the mod is gone, and there are just a few confused people milling around, wondering what this brave new world of paid mods holds for them.

We're still in super-early days and teething issues like this are sure to occur, but it does serve as a warning shot to the Old Way of modding. Just make sure you've got permission if you want to sell the thing, okay?

[images from Destructoid]

PC Gamer
Gifts of Akatosh, a Skyrim mod that now costs $1.49.

Today, Valve announced that modders can sell their mods on the Steam Workshop. The program requires participation from the game's publisher (by default, most don't allow profit from user-created content), and the first to take the leap is Bethesda, which as of today is letting Skyrim mods be sold and purchased on Steam.

The announcement has not been met well. The broad reaction is that Bethesda and Valve have, to summarize, 'killed the modding community.' It's that, or ASCII art of a middle finger.

I don't think modding is dead, but there are a lot of potential problems with selling mods on Steam. As Bethesda notes in its announcement, this open market "will not be curated." Practically, I don't think a company the size of Valve could ever hope to curate Skyrim's modding scene, but I also worry about an entirely hands-off approach. The lack of curation on Steam proper has lead to some ripe garbage—including games with stolen assets—being sold to people who expect at least some baseline level of quality. I expect it to get even worse on the Skyrim Workshop. The modding scene has always shared work—respectfully when credit is given—but now that money's on the line asset theft becomes a more serious kind of theft. Then there are the crappy knock-off mods, the compatibility issues, and the just plain bad stuff. It could become a mess of differently priced versions of the same thing.

At least Steam will offer refunds within 24 hours of purchasing a mod from the Workshop. I think that time limit should be extended, though. It isn't always immediately apparent that a mod has done what you want it to do, and experimenting with them, or combinations of them, now becomes a race against your refund.

But none of this is why the early outrage has been so hot. The complaint is more philosophical than that: exchanging money feels to many like it runs counter to the culture of modding. Modding feels like it isn't supposed to be about money. Until now, it's been about passionate fans making stuff that makes games more fun, and then sharing those things so we can all have more fun. It's about taking control away from publishers and developers and making their products our canvases. It's passion, not capitalism that drives modders. And now Bethesda and Valve are inviting the rebels into the boardroom—come in here, dear boy, have a cigar—and a lot of PC gamers are looking on in disgust.

I'm also uneasy about all that, but before I raise my own ASCII finger, I want to give this a chance. First of all, we're not stopped from finding free mods elsewhere. For Skyrim especially, Steam Workshop has been about convenience more than anything. Skyrim Nexus is not gone, and having the choice to instead throw as little as 99 cents at a pay-what-you-want mod on Workshop doesn't distress me (unless, as I fear above, the original creator isn't earning from it). It also isn't unprecedented. Team Fortress 2, for instance, has not killed modding. Many of its player-made additions are fantastic, and they cost money, and the great PC gaming fortress has not crumbled and collapsed.

By paying for mods, we can directly offer an incentive to talented modders—people who have jobs and families and all kinds of things they could be doing other than making mods for us—and potentially help encourage ever more talented groups to undertake massive projects such as Endral. And, if we assume that Valve and the game's publisher take a cut (exact details are unconfirmed, but we're investigating), it could add incentive for publishers to include mod support. One of the biggest things stopping them, I think, is that the people in charge of making money can't assign a profit figure to mod tools. Perhaps now developers will be able to make a stronger case. Instead of banking on DLC, they can allow the selling of mods, and make that money with the community instead of just from it. Daybreak has taken an approach like that with its PlayerStudio.

I'm concerned with Valve's execution of this, and I don't want the Steam Marketplace to become host to a thousand 99 cent Skyrim Flappy Bird mods. I also don't want modders to get screwed, to have their free work stolen and sold, or to make so little on mod sales that the whole thing only benefits publishers. But I don't outright reject it. 

It doesn't feel right to celebrate when great modders get job offers from developers, but then balk at the idea of supporting them directly. I love a good success story, in which great talent leads to a good living, but should I be content always letting someone else provide the living while I ride for free? Now that I have the option to support modders directly, I have trouble taking the stance that I shouldn't—at best, it makes me feel like a tightwad, and at worst, unappreciative and disingenuous. So, if a paid mod is good enough, I'll pay for it, and I hope that works out in everyone's favor. And if it doesn't work, it won't take off and we'll be back to where we were yesterday. Modding doesn't need Valve to live, so Valve can't kill it.

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.

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