Modding Interview – Beyond Skyrim

We’re starting the new year with a all-new Skyrim modding interview. This time around we’re talking to Will Hillson, part of the Dark Creations team. A post-grad student in the UK, Will is an integral part of DC’s ambitious project known as “Beyond Skyrim”.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

And last but not least, here are a selection of screenshots from our cutting edge work on new regions:

Thanks for the interview!

Reader Comments

  1. Holy B’s!!! I know exactly what I’m doing after work tonight! I’m downloading this mod for sure! Then I’m going to find a way to help contribute!

    • They don’t have anything released yet, but the Bruma area is looking to be released in the not too distant future. Go ahead and look around their forums and see where you might be able to help, and apply

  2. Awesome interview! Projects like this one are just epic, as a huge fan of TES, I can’t to explore other parts of Tamriel in amazing Skyrim engine and all perks that go with it. 🙂

  3. It’s called Tamriel Rebuilt, it’s been a project since at least Morrowind and it never gets done because projects of this size rarely do. I will believe it when I see it.

    • Really…. ? -.-‘

      Okay, I’ll give in. No. Not any of this will be on consoles, since it’s a mod. Or.. Several mods so it seems.

          • Uh that’s a crock of crap. It is possible to release to console. If it wasn’t then Hearthfires, Dawnguard, and Dragonborn would not have been released to the 360 and PS3. There’s a format that Bethesda uses to save then import to console. XML is also used to save games to import to console.

          • StormKat2035, Microsoft and Sony won’t allow for mods on their console. So no, it’s not currently possible. Todd Howard has talked about wanting it and talking to Microsoft and Sony about it, but as of yet, it’s not happening.

    • No, sadly the console versions are unable to load mods. They can only use official DLC/Patches from Bethesda and don’t work with player created mods.

    • Mods aren’t available on the 360, no. Though I usually buy Elder Scrolls on the console, I ALWAYS make sure to pick up a PC copy as the mods tend to truly make the game. Bethesda’s far too eager to abandon games and stop making expansions for them. 🙁

      • larry,
        I know what you mean….I remember they claimed they would “Support Skyrim more than any other ES title”…..yeah, we got 3 DLC packs for all releases instead of 1…woohoo….
        I have been watching this mod develop, and participating in the forums on the website and can only say that the dedication and talent brought in by this community far outshines that of official development team. Bethesda would benefit from joining their efforts and supporting the efforts. It would benefit us all.

  4. I find it hard to properly describe this this project and how it is progressing. At a time when the words “Awesome” and “Epic” are common descriptions for everything, this “Mod”, if you can even call it that still; is Truly Awesome and Beyond Epic. Godspeed to all those involved!

  5. Been following this off and on for a year or so now. I can’t wait for Bruma to come out, and eventually, the whole world of Tamriel! Glad you guys(DC) are still working on this!! Can’t wait!!

  6. Please tell me ‘Beyond Skyrim’ is not going to be similar to ESO with its ‘PVP’ & ‘MMO’ formats. I purchased ESO but have never played it because of this. I have loved playing all of your games up to that point, getting immersed into the story, fighting against others on the internet does not appeal to me, i reckon there should be other types of games for that sort of thing.

    • This is a mod, not an online game.
      So the gameplay should be similar if not exactly the same as skyrim, as this is a mod for that game. Just like your usual mod you always find over at nexus or steam workshop.
      This mod wasn’t even developed by bethesda.

  7. Is there anywhere to donate to this endeavor? I may not have the time not skills to help out on this amazing project directly, but would gladly donate some funds for its continued development.

  8. Wait…why is there a hobbit hole in High Rock? lol. But really, phenomenal work. This is one Skyrim mod (series of mods?) that I can’t wait to play.

    • Those are completely different than our project. Those are to recreate the previous games in the Creation Engine. Ours is to create “Beyond Skyrim” as of the current timeline. No duplicate NPCs, quests, etc. It’s completely new. It’s a creation, not a recreation.

  9. this is amazing, i hope you utilize quests. i have already explored all that skyrim has to offer, and truly cannot wait until i have the opportunity to play. where will i be able to play. even as a beta tester for you guys, i have a machine that can handle it, and i am willing to give you explorers feedback! you have my email address…

  10. Wow, hope this makes it al the way to the end.
    Maybe the makes will be rewarded with a Bethesda position ?
    They are obviously talented. 🙂

  11. Beautiful stuff as always gents. Looking forward to seeing the Bruma release come to fruition after years of hard work. Hope everyone is doing well over at DC!

    Cheers friends!

  12. I’m just excited to see what these amazing people are doing. I hope it becomes playable. If not it was nice to feel excited, and get to view their work. I wonder how long before they release their sountrack?

  13. @stormcat

    You obviously don’t understand what it would take for Bethesda to port this over to consoles. I’ll give just a few examples:

    This mod is being designed with the power of modern gaming pcs in mind. The texture quality is way higher, the world spaces are multiple times bigger, most of not all of the cities are being incorporated into the world space so there’s no load screen at gates, each province are planned to have at least a similar amount of quests/scripts as the game Skyrim, new animals/monsters, new armor, etc. Every thing is planned to be at least as detailed as Skyrim was. The old consoles just simply wouldn’t be able to handle it.

    But let’s say they, after a long period of time, could optimize it well enough to be able to run on the old consoles. They’d have to do it for every province, bug fixing, each province being a bigger project than Skyrim.

    By the time they finished with that, they could’ve been half way through a new title. And because this is an open source community project, they couldn’t even charge for it.

    And after that, people would be bugging Bethesda to port over other mods to the consoles. Which they couldn’t possibly keep up with.

    The only way they could, is if they implemented a way for users to port mods to the console version, which wouldn’t be allowed by Sony and Microsoft.

    Sony and Microsoft want a closed garden ecosystem for their consoles, which has it’s pros and cons. The pros are a stable experience guaranteed though the life of the console generation, the cons being the banning of anything that could possibly jeopardize that; ie user created game modifications.

    TLDR: Consoles will never have user created DLC/mods, if you want mods for Skyrim or any other game, get a PC.