What’s the mod all about? Find out below…
Can you give a general overview of Beyond Skyrim and where the mod project currently stands?
Beyond Skyrim is a series of interlinking mods which will ultimately allow players to visit other areas of Tamriel within the Skyrim engine. Assets for each new region are being painstakingly created from scratch, including architecture, creatures, weapons, landscapes, textures and objects created by our artists and modelers. We pride ourselves on our fidelity to Elder Scrolls lore, and our ultimate aim is to create a player experience which will fit together seamlessly with Skyrim itself, allowing players to continue their existing character’s adventures in other lands, or perhaps even sidestep Skyrim’s story entirely and experience what the rest of Tamriel has to offer.
We have made three years of progress towards this goal, though of course there remain many challenges ahead. When we started back in 2011, we had little more than ideas and determination. While similar mods had been conceptualized and even released for previous Elder Scrolls games, we’re in uncharted territory for Skyrim. As we move into 2015, we have built up a well-developed and cohesive community dedicated to our goals, in which our veteran members can actively train newcomers and continue to grow the project. Both our technical and artistic foundations are now firm and we are working hard to implement the quests, characters and stories that will bring this expanding world to life.
The project seems pretty ambitious… how much time is being put into the project?
It’s difficult to give a precise estimate, since our community depends entirely on volunteers working in their free time, which is of course a variable commodity. As a result of this a degree of membership “cycling” is necessary, as different individuals become able to contribute more or less, depending on their other commitments. At the last count, Beyond Skyrim had more than 50 active members, although the amount of hours each of those can contribute will continuously change based on their personal circumstances. Some members can work only a few hours a week, while others put in almost as much time as a job. At a minimum, thousands of hours have collectively been put into the project so far.
We’ve become increasingly adept at managing and coordinating a highly flexible membership base. It’s necessary to break down some tasks like landscaping regions into smaller units, which can be worked on by individuals as they become available. We’ve found that taking many very small steps produces the most consistent rate of progress overall.
On your FAQ, you mention the project includes several modding teams – care to give any shoutouts?
The two largest groups within Beyond Skyrim are currently the teams working on Cyrodiil and High Rock. They are the oldest and most developed of the projects, and the closest to producing release-quality content. Cyrodiil in particular has gained a reputation for attracting high-caliber 3D artists eager to create their own interpretations of classic locations from Oblivion, some of which will be centre stage in what is likely to be the first Beyond Skyrim release: the region containing the Cyrodiilic city of Bruma.
Although much remains to be done on the asset front for High Rock, it has made great strides in landscaping, and is within sight of completing our first pass for the entire landmass of the Province. I think that it’s safe to say that many of the hardest challenges for both these projects have now been passed (which of course isn’t to say there aren’t more still ahead). We also have teams working on Hammerfell, Morrowind and various other smaller projects, although they are currently at a less advanced stage of development. But progress has accelerated recently and we can expect to hear much more from them in the coming months.
As for individual members, there are too many, contributing in too many ways, to mention them all. But there are a few I would like to single out, not simply for their own work, but for their dedication to raising the bar of quality of Beyond Skyrim as a whole. In the field of 3D art, I should draw attention to Markus Liberty, who has constantly set new standards for himself in making architectural models, and inspired others to produce assets to match this quality.
Among landscapers, we are greatly indebted to Wellpapp, not only for his phenomenal output but also for his generosity in sharing his hard-won expertise with multiple projects.
And on the soundtrack front, mention must be made of Xae and Guin, our two Lead Composers, who have forever raised our expectations for the original soundtracks that will accompany our project. Check out a sample below…
With The Elder Scrolls Online having a more sweeping look at all of Tamriel, have you been taking any inspiration from the game for the modding project?
ESO has of course been a big inspiration to our project, since it filled in a lot of gaps which had previously existed in the lore. However, much of this has taken the form of backstory and helping inform the history of the regions we are making. After all, there is a gap of more than a millennium between the events of ESO and Skyrim, and cultures rarely stay static for long. There’s also the fact that ESO uses a different map scale to Skyrim, so we’ve had to be selective about what we can include. Many of our locations will take a look at the after-effects of the stories within ESO rather than directly reproducing them as they appeared in ESO.
We’ve been having a lot of fun imagining ways in which the stories and characters of ESO have faded into legend with the passage of time. How biased local historians have converted the complex 2nd Era politics into fables about good and evil. Or how quests performed in ESO have cast long shadows over the intervening years that the player never intended. Skyrim players won’t need to have played ESO (or Oblivion or Daggerfall for that matter) to understand the events of Beyond Skyrim, but there will be plenty of nods and references which veterans of those games will recognize.
What other modding projects have you worked on?
I first caught the Elder Scrolls modding bug when contributing as a writer to Tamriel Rebuilt in 2008. After that, I became involved in the still-ongoing Black Marsh project for Elder Scrolls 4, where I soon found that my main talents lay more in administration. Since the Dark Creations website was founded in 2011 I’ve been involved in the running of the site and helping a great variety of Skyrim modding projects organize their hosting and forums.
What’s been your biggest challenge to date with the project?
Beyond Skyrim’s biggest challenge was, hands down, the creation of our Tamriel topographical map. This has formed the basis for the height maps on which all of our projects are built. Nothing else would have been possible without it, and it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Although there were plenty of sources to draw on, even before the release of ESO, such as the in-game maps from Elder Scrolls II-IV — these were produced to fit wildly different scales and graphics. And of course, we wanted the end product to look as realistic as possible, which meant all the LOD at the borders joining up seamlessly.
Integrating all that information from different sources, and trying to deduce what all the rest of Tamriel would “really” look like at Skyrim’s scale, was both a technical and artistic mountain to climb. It meant figuring out ways to circumvent the hardcoded limits to the distances the game engine could render, and spending hours poring over the most obscure of Elder Scrolls lore references for clues about the landscape. On both of these fronts, we’re deeply indebted to a man known to us only by his username of Morcroft Darkes, who was responsible for many of the technical breakthroughs (as well as the hard slog) that made the final map possible.
Anything else you’d like to share? New screenshots, trailers, etc?
Our most recent trailer (shown at the top) was created as a celebration of our third anniversary since the founding of Beyond Skyrim. It shows a selection of our landscapes and locations from across Tamriel, from the moors and citadels of High Rock, to the swamps of the Nibenay Valley in Cyrodiil, as well as glimpses of more exotic locations such as the Alik’r Desert in Hammerfell and the far eastern island nation of Roscrea. It also features footage of some of the new creatures that were custom made for Beyond Skyrim in action.
A second trailer which we have also released recently, takes a more in-depth look at Country Bruma, the northernmost region of Cyrodiil, which is our current priority candidate for the first Beyond Skyrim release: