Interview: Skyrim Rocks

This week members of BGS pointed me to a fascinating read at Geo-HeritageScience — a blog from London resident, Jane Robb. With Bachelor and Master’s degrees in geology and years of work in the geoscience field (she current works  as a Communications Officer at Geology for Global Development), she definitely has a thing for rocks.

But she also enjoys spending free time playing videogames. During her adventures playing Skyrim, her passions collided, and she began to hypothesize about the location of specific rock deposits across the game’s regions. Here’s an excerpt from her post:

Here are the eight different kinds of rocks found in Skyrim. Not all of them are actually real however so the ones I will be discussing today are iron ore, gold ore, moonstone ore and malachite ore. Some notes: malachite is actually an ore in itself (of copper) and you do not get an ore of malachite; moonstone is a mineral and corundum is real (a mineral) but is found in Blackreach which is underground and cannot be shown on the Skyrim map.

“Here are the eight different kinds of rocks found in Skyrim. Not all of them are actually real however so the ones I will be discussing today are iron ore, gold ore, moonstone ore and malachite ore. Some notes: malachite is actually an ore in itself (of copper) and you do not get an ore of malachite; moonstone is a mineral and corundum is real (a mineral) but is found in Blackreach which is underground and cannot be shown on the Skyrim map”

Be sure to read the whole article at her blog, and then come back and check our our interview below. Modders should take particular notice!

How did you come to play Skyrim? Does your geology background factor into the games you choose to play?

I was initially introduced to the gaming world by my boyfriend several years ago as before I had never touched a console. I was instantly hooked. I mainly loved watching him play but then along came Oblivion. My boyfriend recommended it to me as he knew I loved fantasy (I read lots of fantasy novels and watch films) and I fell in love with the game. Needless to say I was then totally excited for Skyrim to come out, and completed the game and the first DLC in half the time it took him to play!

I have to say, I love it when I see geology in games. For instance in Fallout, I was always trying to peek at the geology, but loved the textured of the concrete and tarmac equally. I also find myself looking at the geology in films as well — recently having gone to see The Hobbit I found myself analyzing the geology of some of the sets — I can’t help myself!

Skyrim really blew me away with the scenery. It was a whole new experience from Oblivion and you could tell the designers had really taken time to make each area from scratch. This makes it much more interesting to play, and allows you to immerse yourself in the gameplay much more.

Your blog post provided a pretty intriguing hypothesis to the location of specific ore types in Skyrim. At what point in your playthrough experience did realize, “this all makes sense!”?

Well, the post is a transcript of a 9 minute stand-up set I did at an event called Science Showoff in London in January. (It’s basically an open-mic night for science-y people to stand up in front of a geeky crowd and tell funny stories about the science they do.) The idea of mapping the geology of Skyrim was something I had been considering for a long time, and Science Showoff seemed the ideal way to kick-start the project. Because of this, my time limit for actually interpreting the geology of Skyrim and delivering it to a live audience of 100 people was pretty limited, so my ‘research’ was actually not done in-game and instead I used the Skyrim Wiki which has so much useful information — as I say in my blog post, all I had to do was ask the right questions.

This meant that I chose carefully what and how I was going to approach the project: I limited the mapping to use of a few ore types and only looked at the places that they were most abundant (i.e. one location). I really didn’t expect it to all make sense though. Towards the end of making my presentation I just had that ‘holy crap! It’s actually working out’ moment and was pretty relieved because this was going to make a much better stand-up set than I imagined! I was also pretty impressed with Bethesda, thinking they must have had someone on their team giving scientific advice but, kudos to them, they didn’t and instead just had a totally awesome crack-team of designers who worked really hard to make it as realistic as possible.

Next step: actually going through all the locations of the ore deposits (and other rocks) and making a more detailed map as well as taking into account in-game geography.

From a geological perspective, have any of our other games (or anyone else’s games) perked your curiosity?

Well, as I mentioned Fallout is great for the scenery, and the post-apocalyptic nature of the game adds a new level to the geography of the area. Red Dead Redemption is also a beautiful game. Because this is also derived from a ‘real’ place, there could be some great in-game real-life comparisons to see how well the real geology can be modeled. Also Minecraft would be a good game to map, mining is obviously integral to the game, so I am sure using Minecraft as a learning tool through gaming would also work.

What interests me the most is using these games to actually teach people about geology and the scientific process. Video games are a great medium for getting people excited about things in a fun way and reaching out to totally new audiences to science. I have had so many comments from people on my blog saying how they either didn’t know know or hated geology until they read the post, and now they realize how interesting it can be. Honestly, science can be fascinating and I think games are a great way to show that to people without having to be too ‘in your face’ science communication.

You mentioned an interest in doing a geology mod for Skyrim. Any chance you’d like to share some of your ideas with our community?

Yes, I really want to do a more detailed map of the geology of Skyrim and integrate this into a mod which can show this in-game, as well as create a quest that allows you to do your own mapping project and gain a reward at the end — such as a new mineral or metal type from which to make some awesome armor. Ideally, the mod (or mods) will incorporate some more nice scenery, a cool quest and some inadvertent learning about science!

I need someone (or someones) to help me out with actually making the mod, I don’t know how to use Creation Kit, or what’s possible and what’s not with the software so some hands-on help and advice would be very welcome.

If modders are interested in helping out, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you?

Get me on Twitter @JLizRob, or send me an email janeliz.robb [at]

Anything else you’d like to share?

I would love to know what people think about learning through games, especially geology.

Thanks for the interview!

Reader Comments

  1. Not being funny but we dont want to know about some rocks or wat ever this says i know it doesnt say dates 4 the dlcs for ps3. Just come on already i bet no actually will comment in regards to this post all comments will just be about the confirmed dates!!!!

    • I as a modder and one who loves immersion am interested in this. They will announce the PS3 dates shortly. They’ve been working their but off, and this is what they get. I mean, wasn’t it before they announced it was going to be available in February, many just asked for an estimate or something?

      Patience is a virtue, I waited for games on the PC for a year and a half, and they were in worse shape than Skyrim on the PS3 ever was. It was a port by the way, and the 5th installment was just announced for the 360 and PS3. No PC release date yet. I would of waited 3 years for that game not to be buggy, and a year was enough for a mere port.

    • You’re right, you’re not being funny. If only the Internet came with a built-in polygraph so we could always know who’s trolling and who’s just dense. I know loads of science enthusiasts who are into gaming and realism mods, myself being one of them. We get super excited to see people using their real-world knowledge and research to make virtual worlds richer.

      When I first started playing Oblivion, one of the first things I noticed was how the vegetation was modeled on specific real-life plant species, all of which were clearly identifiable in the game. Rhododendron here, heather there, lavender there. If someone made an ecology-themed ES mod I’d download it in a heartbeat. That’s a whole lot more exciting and important to me than release dates.

    • Bethesda still has given us little reason to believe any DLC will be comeing to the PS3. Despite their claims that DLC will be out at some point in February. All they’ve done to PS3 users since before 11-11-11 is lie, lie lie, and lie some more. I’m not buying DLC regardless, this company doesn’t deserve anymore of my money, or anyone else’s money who owns a PS3.

    • OMG, stop complaining about those DLSs, already…
      I’m a PS3 user and I also can’t wait to play Dragonborn, but you need to be patient. DLCs are coming in February. What else do you want?

    • Yes, you’re right, you’re not being funny. I love playing Skyrim, as much as I loved delving into Oblivion. I would play the other previous titles, except I have become accustomed, or maybe spoiled, by the immersing quality of the environments. Seeing peaks that I can climb to overlook smoking volcanic hotspots in Skyrim is one of my greatest joys. The exploratory quality of Bethesda’s games has no peer, in terms of environment depth and scale. Speaking of things with incredible depth and scale, it gives me great joy to tell you I have wondered this EXACT possibility, as I crawled over mountainous areas dotted with runoff streams in search of (and often finding) gold ore. Geology was always a favorite subject, and though I never studied it, I’ve tried to keep current. I, too, thought that they must have had someone there to advise them about the placements, aside from a few incongruous veins I assumed were for player convenience or plot easement. Good luck with the mod. I think it will be a great tool to involve students and engage them with the model. Could you script NPC guides to walk them through different areas with specific stages of geological development, through a questline taking them across Skyrim? Hmm, lots of capable ways to develop this further. 🙂 Again, Good luck!

  2. I’m so glad that Jane was interviewed!! My undergraduate degree was in geology/paleontology and her blog about the geology of Skyrim made me so happy! I love the incredible amount of natural beauty that Bethesda puts into the world of Tamriel. It is great when your passion about one subject can cross into another, I feel that it makes the game just that much more enjoyable and you get so much more out of it. I definitely get lost staring at the mountains, admiring dragon skeletons, and mammoths. You can bet I’m pondering geological and paleontological questions, because that’s just the way I work. Way to go Jane!

  3. Very good post and nice interview! It’s a pretty unique and interesting take on Skyrim. I hope this mod will materialize soon, it would really deepen the experience. Keep up the good work!

  4. I think it’s a great idea to use video games to get people interested in science. Games can make science fun in a tangible way. They also provide a wide platform that can reach people who wouldn’t otherwise consider learning about science, as noted. Skyrim seems especially well-suited to geology in particular. I learned a bunch of new stuff reading your article. And I’m curious whether things are going to continue to be cohesive once you start looking at other ore locations 😉

    I wonder, though, how can the entire scientific method be utilized in a mod? The success of any scientific endeavor depends upon verification. Here’s what I’d love to see: A mod for Skyrim posing interesting and very challenging puzzles that can only be solved through hypothesis, observation, replication, interpretation and verification. Perhaps the goal should be to gather information and post it online in a forum, where “skyrimists” collaborate to uncover the mod’s mysterious! Ok, perhaps that’s just too much to ask 🙂 But I’m sure whatever you come up with is going to be really interesting. I’m looking forward to it.

  5. My comments dont seem to be making it in, but in case they’re now just being looked at before being accepted, I want to let you all know I’m an idiot. I saw a map of Solstheim and thought it was skyrim’s map connected to a new continent on the south end. I was looking at Solstheim as a whole.

    So now I’m less confused.

  6. I found this interview highly interesting. I have always loved the design of the landscapes in the Elder Scrolls Games. Since I started playing with Morrowind I was amazed at the design of the world and the attention given to the history of the world and the effort to make the game feel as real as possible. I was most excited to hear about how every bit of landscape in Skyrim was created individually. There were no shortcuts taken. Every area, every cave and dungeon was to be unique. It’s the attention to detail that Bethesda has that makes these games so important to me, that’s what lets me immerse myself in the world of Tamriel.

    The fact that the geology of the world makes sense just makes me happy like a kid on Christmas morning. Just like the (literal) books and books worth of text to be found in the books all over Skyrim, it is something that they really didn’t have to do to make a fun game, but did anyway because they wanted to make a great game.

    • I agree 110% Beth has done an amazing job on the ES series, I can’t stand when people nit-pick at Skyrim like it ISN’T a great game, sure Oblivion had this and that, but didn’t Morrowind have this and that on Oblivion, the point is, don’t whine because it’s different, enjoy it for not being a rehash.

  7. Hey, just so you PS3 users know, the DLCs are REALLY fun! 😀
    I’ve had a blast with the content and it’s useful additions.
    I don’t know when you guys will get them, but just get psyched. I wouldn’t buy Hearthfire, unless you REALLY want a child to adopt.
    Anyways, nice work, I’ve been adding immersion by the ton on my PC skyrim, but I’ve had to take a lot of it off, especially the water ones because it ends up eating all of my memory. Seriously though PS3 guys, the DLC, so much fun, I played through dragonborn at least three times and Dawnguard once(twice, with one split save, for Dawnguard and vamps)

    • Fun in short supply with ps3 version but blogs like this are interesting to pass the time as we wait.
      Depends what they have done if worth getting or not. if the patch works? if price is right?No one knows as they think its clever keeping us in the dark all time. They only give us a week to buy at half price which is nothing special as xbox has had first 2 on sale half price already. if they had released on time for ps3 i’m sure would have sale now as well anyway.
      All been handled very badly but lets hope they are true to their words this time and have at least sorted most of the main game issues out.

  8. Blah blah blah bla bl bla blah to all the users who arent complaining its obv uv all got xboxs and pcs apart from the douche who said be patient what else do u want well as i written i want just a date a confirmed a guarrented date thank you please. I dont like a carrott dangled in front of my face bethblog emaillin thinking its the dates just maybe but no its about rocks!!! Still not being funny

  9. What does this have to do with the Dragonborn for PC Pre-Purchase Release in witch im Very Happy about, so can someone explain to me in short as to what this Skyrim Rocks is about

    • It doesn’t have anything to do with the Dragonborn Prepurchase date on PC. That’s why it’s called “Skyrim Rocks” and not “Dragonborn Prepurchase Release Date Announcement”.

      • It’s about a geologist’s experience in Skyrim, looking at the landscape and postulating how certain formations came to be, and the various kinds of ore available.

  10. Just wanted to also say i have never moaned before u will not find me on ANY website complaining about the delays i just want a date. Being told earlier in the week its coming finally in febuary has got me playing skyrim again which i have completed 3 times already. I love bethseda really skyrim fallout, dishonored and rage all beast games my favorite type of games i wouldnt hate on there games at all not even the bugs just would love the dates to be confirmed just so we know ps3 users are defo getting them.