10 Things You Never Knew About Skyrim’s Development

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has earned (to quote a Skyrim character who is quoting an Indiana Jones movie) “fortune and glory” since its release almost 10 years ago. In that time, it won high or perfect reviews from major gaming outlets and accrued dozens of awards – including several ‘Game of the Year’ titles.

Skyrim was in the works before it was even officially in development, as Bethesda mulled over where it should go after Oblivion. Not to mention that it was still being improved, patched, and added to for years after the release date. In such a long history of game development, there are bound to be a few good stories from behind-the-scenes.

10 The Theme Music Sounds Like 90 People, But It’s Actually 30

Todd Howard envisioned the Skyrim theme music sung by a choir of barbarians. Though one generally imagines barbarians screaming war cries, rather than singing, Jeremy Soule was determined to bring Howard’s vision to life. He was the composer for all of Skyrim’s music; he’d worked on Morrowind and Oblivion too.

Ultimately, Soule decided to use a 30-piece choir and layer it three times to achieve the effect of 90 voices. Around the time of Skyrim’s release, there were false rumours circulating that the song was sung by real monks.

9 There Are Over 60,000 Lines Of Dialogue

When players have heard “Let me guess- someone stole your sweetroll?” a million times by the time they’ve finished Skyrim, it’s hard to believe that the game had 60,000 unique lines of dialogue, but it’s true! All that dialogue was only voiced by 70 people, hence the characters who have a suspiciously familiar voice to someone two towns east…

Some of the quotes from the game are pure gold, in no small part due to their delivery. Among the ranks of the voice actors were three Academy Award nominees, and the voice casting director was Timothy Cubbison, who has since worked on Guild Wars 2, Destiny, Life Is Strange, Prey, and Tomb Raider.

8 They Learned From Fallout 3

It’s heavily debated whether Skyrim or Fallout 4 is the better game, but Skyrim came out far before Fallout 4 – it even took some development cues from its predecessor, Fallout 3. This occurred in lots of ways, since, once Fallout was finished, many of the people who’d been working on it switched to work on Skyrim.

However, one of the earliest influences that Fallout had on Skyrim’s development was in its planned DLCs. Todd Howard admitted that he felt as though releasing so many DLC for Fallout 3 had been chaotic. Instead, the Skyrim team devoted its time to just a handful of DLCs that had much more content.

7 Oblivion Was Boring

From the start, Todd Howard, the executive producer, wanted to make some major changes to what they had done with The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. He found the open world in that game to be uninteresting and not diverse enough, which drove his vision for Skyrim’s topography. One way they did this was by abandoning a system that automatically generated landscapes.

It’s ironic, then, that Elder Scrolls fans are currently fawning over Skyblivion, a fan remake of Oblivion using Skyrim’s engine. The team behind that mod are porting Cyrodiil, with all its quests, locations, and characters, into Skyrim for the Dragonborn to explore.

6 The Races Were More Important

In Skyrim, the player gets to choose from one of ten playable races. One of the tricks behind Skyrim’s development was how to make the races more important to the player’s experience without restricting them too much. Todd Howard was adamant that this be achieved because Skyrim’s story includes more racism than past games, and they wanted these story beats to have an impact on the player’s understanding of the world.

Ultimately, the team landed on altering the dialogue of some characters depending on the player’s race. For example, the city guards will have different things to say to an Elf or a Khajiit than a Nord. Some fans loved the nuance this freedom brought to their roleplaying, while others found it too far beyond their suspension of disbelief to understand why Ulfric Stormcloak could allow a high elf to rise so far in the ranks of his military.

5 Eight Times As Many People Designed The Dungeons

In the previous Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, only one team member at Bethesda designed every dungeon. For Skyrim, a team of eight people was assigned to build the sprawling draugr tombs. As the Dragonborn, a legendary figure, players were often tasked with descending into these dungeons to find shouts, dragon claws, or other loot.

So, the design for each tomb couldn’t bore gamers, nor be so difficult that they weren’t accessible to everyone. By the end, those 8 people designed 150 dungeons.

4 Less Tolkeinism, More Realism

Ten years after its release, Skyrim is still one of the most gorgeous games on the market. When it was in development, the team designed Skyrim’s world with (what they called) “epic-realism” in mind, rather than their previous approach, which they dubbed “classic.”

They felt as though Oblivion was a generic interpretation of the familiar western fantasy ideas, and wanted to think outside the box to create something that would really excite the players. In a real world with fantastical elements, the team could develop unique enemies and conflicts to match.

3 The Language Was Developed With The Music In Mind

Bethesda’s concept artist, Adam Adamowicz, and senior designer Emil Pagliarulo, built the language in Skyrim. 34 unique runic characters were created to make up its alphabet, and Pagliarulo was very aware that they’d want to use the language for their theme song, and wanted it to rhyme in English and in its own tongue.

Rather than other fantasy series, which have actually gone so far as generating full languages for their fiction, the Skyrim team needed something to build gameplay around: the shouts. So, the dragon language was more “hieroglyphic” in design, with runes indicating a particular word or feeling, rather than something that could be incorporated in a sentence.

2 They Might Have Waited For The Next Generation Of Consoles

When Bethesda started working on Skyrim, directly after finishing Fallout 3, they wrote out a list of design objectives that they felt they had to meet for Skyrim. Todd Howard has said that they achieved those goals and more during the game’s development, but that if they hadn’t been able to, they would have waited for the next generation of consoles to release Skyrim.

Skyrim was initially released for the Xbox 360, so the next generation of consoles would have meant waiting until the release of the Xbox One, Wii U, and Playstation 4. It’s hard not to wonder what might have been different, had they worked on the game for that long.

1 The Holds Were A Way To Ensure Diversity

The open-world of Skyrim is nothing if not diverse. The player can journey between frozen tundras, lush forests, and populated cities in a single sitting. The map is divided into 8 holds, ruled over by a jarl, and the jarls are led by the King based out of Solitude. Each capital city has a varied size and level of prosperity.

As it turns out, the hold system was developed part-way through Skyrim’s production as a way to ensure diversity throughout the world. Each hold could be topographically unique compared to the others, with its own economy and citizens, so that the team could have the best of both worlds; large swaths of land were much the same, but there was also diversity in the whole.

Next: The 15 Coolest Paths To Take In The Skyrim Live Another Life Mod

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Gabrielle “Belle” Huston is a writer and long-time game-player based in Ottawa, Canada. She’s played video games for at least as long as she could write, and vice versa, which has led her to work for nerddom sites like The Gamer and the International Geek Girl Pen Pal Club. As a current undergraduate student of journalism, she’s seldom away from her computer. Belle uses what little free time she has to play Battlefront 2 with her partner, work toward that 5-star rating in Animal Crossing, and wonder when the new Dragon Age installment is coming out.

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