Writing the Skyrim Legendary Edition Guide

David Hodgson (in-game, below) is the lead writer of The Skyrim Legendary Edition Guide, which  marks his 92nd strategy guide since 1996, and eighth guide working with Bethesda. Read his interview about working on the guide and then head to PrimaGames.com to read another perspective from co-writer (and BGS designer) Steve Cornett.

So what exactly IS the Skyrim Legendary Edition Guide, then?

Well, by now you’ve seen the frankly ludicrous (but factual) charts and statistics regarding the latest (and final) version of our strategy guide for Skyrim. This edition is designed to function as a massive and complete reference book filled with officially approved content for the Legendary game.

What are the differences between this and the previous editions of the guide?

The first book was chunky enough, at 656 pages. The Revised & Expanded Edition weighed in at a whopping 864 pages, and included all the Dawnguard and Hearthfire content. As for the Legendary Edition? Well, the book has been redesigned slightly (we had to leave extra space at the inner edges of each page for visibility when bound, which tested the limits of what an actual binding can take), with an all-new body font that’s more readable and bigger (especially in the Atlas sections). This added some pages to an already-obscene total. We’ve also added all updated information (such as new difficulty levels), and merged all Training, Bestiary, Inventory, and Quest content into one specific place. We also placed Dawnguard-related locations more accurately into the Atlas. Oh, and we added the entirety of the Dragonborn DLC, including Quests, maps, Atlas locations, collectibles, and pretty much everything else. You’re essentially getting the Legendary version of the game in book form.

How did you go about writing it?

After completing the Fallout: New Vegas guide two-and-a-half years ago, I was approached to write a guide for Bethesda. I thought about it for a nanosecond, and said “yes.” On May 10th, 2011, I received the first build of the game, and spent five months creating the first book, along with my co-authors Steve Cornett and Steve Stratton. Mr. Stratton is an old comrade-in-arms (we worked together on numerous previous guides, like the Twilight Princess book), and he handled the Atlas information for all the Holds, aside from the Capitals and Secondary Locations. Mr. Cornett, who is an integral part of the development team over at Bethesda, offered copious battle strategies, quest-wrangling, item charts, a wealth of background information, and consistent support that you simply don’t get from many other software developers. I’m proud to be associated with Steve and his eye for detail.

How difficult was it to write?

Initially panic-inducing. I remember looking at my calendar after four weeks, and realizing I hadn’t figured out where more than a tenth of everything was on the map. So I concentrated on writing the quests, of which I counted 368 (Legendary Edition). These were instigated first, with a cavalcade of Bethesda documentation to help me figure out just what was going on (as I was working from a build where everyone was sporting the same head texture). The first time around, the quests took two months alone to complete (these were sent to each designer to double-check for accuracy), after which I concentrated on making the Training as easy to follow as possible, and Bethesda began to offer advice on character archetypes, and correct my mistakes (in the crafting section especially). Bethesda supplied a deluge of stats for the Bestiary and Inventory, and then I checked in on Steve Stratton who was doggedly wandering through the different holds, writing up every cave, crypt, and dungeon he could find. As all of this was going on, I was approving maps, tracing the hold boundaries and numbering every map location without missing anything (correction; I was numbering every map location, missing one, cursing, renumbering, and reviewing all the interior maps that were streaming in from our cartographers).

Then Steve Stratton almost lost his mind counting up all the collectibles, traders, skill books, and other material for the Atlas. I then wrote all the Hold Capital and Secondary Location text, and took every single screenshot. Bethesda had also been approving the design for the guide, after which I started to see pages coming in. I checked them for accuracy, made sure the text was just small enough so that anyone over the age of 40 needed to squint to read it, answered all the copyeditor’s queries, played the game for well over 700 hours, added glossaries to all my chapters so the Indexers didn’t throttle me, and then slogged through the laid-out book with the designers to fill in page number references and correct any mistakes.

Then I looked at my calendar. It said “October.”

What was your favorite part of the project?

Aside from the first time you come over that ridge and walk down by the White River rapids to see Whiterun for the first time? And the countless other moments of excited panic when you realize you’re out of potions and magicka, and that Giant just won’t let up with his bone club? I think in terms of seeing the guide come together, it’s when the World Map was completed, and my computer almost broke trying to open the file. When I asked for the map to be accurate “down to the individual tree”, I didn’t expect Sonja Morris and 99 Lives to follow my request to the letter. But that’s one of the reasons why I’m so proud of this work; we treated the subject matter with an almost fanatical reverence. We wanted readers to open up the guide looking for information on (for example) Movarth’s Lair, and end up researching the entire hold of Hjaalmarch; which mimicked the way the game works, essentially.

Anything you wanted to include but couldn’t?

Once you’ve written around 790,000 words over 1,120 pages (which works out at 4 cents per page, or 0.00006 cents a word if you purchase the Collector’s Edition of the Legendary Guide for full price), you have to feel the guide is pretty complete. In terms of a physical book, there’s literally nothing more I need to add to this book.

Was there a tag line for the Legendary Guide that you couldn’t use?

More leathery than a Giant’s posing pouch, and just as difficult to wrap your hands around: Prima’s Official Skyrim Collector’s Edition: Legendary Guide.” That didn’t win many kudos.

Is this the biggest strategy guide book ever made?

Good question. I know it’s the biggest one Prima has ever produced. I can’t say unequivocally, as there were some truly bonkers Japanese Virtua Fighter guides in the late 1990s that had their own gravitational force they were so immense, but what the heck; yes. This is the biggest strategy guide tome ever made. And you can count on that quote not holding up in a court of law.

Should I buy this book if I already have a previous edition?

Of course! You want the finest resource to obtain the stats, quests, lore, and maps for the isle of Solstheim, don’t you? I’ve taken 4,025 screenshots, and the reason I know this is I hand-counted them when the guide was completed. Plus, it’s nice to have a weighty tome to refer to, and a free poster of Alduin’s Wall (if you buy the limited edition hardback version), and a physical reference you can count on when that EMP bomb goes off or your internet goes down.

How are you going to top this guide?

I’m not. This is the book I’m going to be buried with.

Anything more to add?

One matter I want to make totally clear is that this tome was a group effort. Although I was Lead Author, and wrote the majority of the book, captured all the screenshots, obsessed over the maps, took all the Amazon.com criticisms to heart, and spent two years of my life fully committed to exploring the lands of the Nords, there were many fine folk offering crucial help along the way. Co-author Steve Cornett of Bethesda is top of that list; offering expert battle strategies and so much more.

Read “Writing the Skyrim Legendary Edition Guide, Part II” by Steve Cornett

Reader Comments

  1. What a great sport David Hodgson appear to be. This interview made me laugh out loud several times with all those fun and great answers! I have a Skyrim guide that I bought with the game when it came out back in 11’11’11, and since I have completed the game and all of the DLC’s I might as well pick this tome up and see what I might have missed! Cheers!

    • So are pages 513-544 on all the copies of the collectors edition of the guide or is it just me? Btw I checked it’s not a misprint those pages are actually missing and they were not ripped out unless someone managed to rip them out before it was wrapped in plastic and sent to the store.

  2. Will there be sections about the feature added by updates? For example, mounted fighting, and also the latest one, namely the legendary skills?

  3. I dont understand one thing, does this guide includes with the elder scrolls V: skyrim legendary edition, the edition that includes all the DLC’s. I really want the guide so please, someone who knows, does the guide includes to the game edition?

  4. Just thinking of writing such a massive guide and I cringe in pain huddled in a corner wild-eyed muttering to myself! It’s just incredible the writers didn’t lose the plot on writing it. What a massive effort.

    Pre-ordered two: one for collecting, one for reading (with guilty pleasure).

    450 hours into Skyrim and counting. Can’t wait for the next installment.

    PS. usual request: *cough* Morrowind remake *cough* yes? Anyone?

  5. Impressive, very well done, lets hope for some surprise Extra Mini Quest or something New in the Legendary Game when it comes.

    Heck i’ll take Dragon Armor if thats the Surprise, but more importantly, the Moot of the the New High King or Queen

    • Someone is expecting wearing a litteral dragon for armor than its hides and bones which can already be done I guess…

    • Yea,you exactly will be invited on the moot.Yet you’ll become a Emperror.In your dreams…But about +content-perhaps you’ll find some disk inside,creating skyrim and t.c…like in Oblivion 5th Anniversary Edition.
      Yea,Beth,will you release some Anniversary to skyrim?antology edition perhaps?With skyrim,oblivion and morrowind?

  6. Bethesda, will this guide feature Lore facts aswell as gameplay facts and tips? Like, how Nirn was created, or how many continents there are.

  7. Wow. Not a single mention of UESP. I guess it’s true that you hate those guys and set up the game and CS to flip them off. Well done.

    • We actually hold a great deal of respect for the folks at UESP and the efforts they’ve made. I feel confident that David and the team at Prima feel the same way.

  8. Hey gstaff, i know you guys stopped working on Skyrim, but u think we ll have more Updates? maybe new things for this epic game(99% sure we wont see it but its ok =) ).
    Thanks

      • plz update ps3’s 750p to 1080i or 1080p…with HDMI cool of course,more cool than without HDMI,but it looks like could be even cooler…i can see cubes on dragon emblem in main menu,and not only there

      • “there are no announced plans for any at this time”.. so we can hope one day we ll hehehehe.
        well, like Sypron said “the game isnt bug free” but for me this game are the top game i ever played. Thanks for the game and i hope you guys could make more Dlcs, maybe to celebrate another Skyrim birthday =)
        Good Luck all, and i accept free legendary book =) hehehe
        thanks

  9. Already making room for my hardback Collector’s Edition in time for when it arrives, but after reading this I think I may have to give the tome its own shelf =P

    I still regularly refer to the Oblivion strategy guide – there’s nothing quite like pouring over a huge manual of all things TES.