The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Engine Details

I think many people wouldn’t even care if Skyrim was still on the engine that ran Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas (including myself) but that engine is aging quickly and is not up to par with today’s releases. A new engine would benefit the game greatly, not just in its graphics but in other areas as well. Bethesda recently ran down some details on the new engine, which is called the Creation Engine.

Bethesda Studio’s creative director Todd Howard tells Game Informer:

The big things for us were to draw a lot of stuff in the distance so we have a really sophisticated level of detail, more so than what we’ve had in the past for how things stream in and how detail gets added to them as they get closer to the camera…Because our worlds are so big all of the lighting has to be dynamic…That’s something we had a little bit of in the past with shadowing, but not on everything. Now we have it on everything. It just makes the whole thing a lot more believable when you’re there”

The new engine and middleware also allows more realistic foliage and how it reacts to things like wind. Since Skyrim is located in the North with high elevations, it is more prone to snow than Cyrodiil. Luckily, the new technology also allows precipitation to fall in a realistic manner.

While the AI in Oblivion had daily routines and you’d catch them stopping for lunch, returning home and other activities, the improved Radiant AI technology will give NPC’s more realistic tasks throughout the day such as chopping wood, running logs through the mill and carrying goods through the town.

The AI will also now react to your actions. For example, if you’re nice to an NPC, he may not care as much if you break into his house at night and may even offer you a place to sleep.

Bethesda also utilizes Havok’s new Behavior technology, ridding Skyrim of the stiff and awkward character animations that plagued the last three games running on the old engine.

“We looked at a bunch of [animation solutions], and this is about the tippy-top state-of-the-art stuff out there,” Howard says. “I think we’re the first real big game to use it.”

Bethesda is using this technology to create better character and creature animations, making transitions from walking to running more natural. It also allows the game to better balance combat in the first and third-person perspectives by adjusting the timing values for swings and blocks depending on your perspective. We definitely have made a significant jump in how it plays [in third person perspective]“. This is great news as the third-person perspectives in Oblivion and the two most recent Fallout’s were awful.

This more fluid animation technology also allows Bethesda to drop the unrealistic close-up shots when in dialogue. Now, the camera stays in the same perspective used during combat and exploration, and both players and NPC’s are free to look around while engaging in conversation. This means that NPC’s will no longer awkwardly stop whatever they are doing to have a chat with you and may continue to engage in their day to day activities while talking to you.

Quests have also been reworked in a new system called Radiant Story to provide more realistic random encounters. Many quests are still completely governed by Bethesda, but the Radiant Story system helps randomize and relate the side quests to players to make the experience as dynamic and reactive as possible.

Rather than giving you a string of unrelated tasks, Radiant Story tailors quests based on who your character is, where you’re at, what you’ve done in the past, and what you’re currently doing. For example, if you’re really good at a particular skill, like one-handed weapons or destruction spells, a stranger who knows of your reputation may ask for training, challenge you to a duel, or beg you for a favor that will require you to show off your skill.

“Traditionally in an assassination quest, we would pick someone of interest and have you assassinate them,” Howard says. “Now there is a template for an assassination mission and the game can conditionalize all the roles – where it happens, under what conditions does it take place, who wants someone assassinated, and who they want assassinated. All this can be generated based on where the character is, who he’s met. They can conditionalize that someone who you’ve done a quest for before wants someone assassinated, and the target could be someone with whom you’ve spent a lot of time before.”

This system also helps with those dastardly players who accidentally (or not) kill quest-givers before you initiated the quest. In Skyrim, if you kill a shop owner who had a few quests to offer if you spend the time to get to know him, his sister may take over the shop and offer the quest that was formerly ascribed to him. However, the sister will recognize that you killed her brother and may try to get revenge on you.

Skyrim is already looking and sounding amazing and there’s still lots of time for development and polish. This is probably the one game I’m looking forward to the most this year. November 11th can’t come soon enough! Let us know what you think in the comments.