We have two developer diaries for you today - one in video form from Wheeze, talking about the Archon team and some of the things that we've been up to recently, and one in text form from myself, Arkaash, that will form the majority of the body of this update. I talk about some of our design choices when it comes to gameplay content and about the dungeon that I am currently working on, Kumano - a Tsaesci Temple. My diary can be read below; Wheeze's video is embedded in a link at the bottom. If you would like to see more 4K screenshots, head on over to our website at Archonent.com
Hello! Since this is our first time doing one of these dev diaries, I’ll take the time to introduce myself. My name is Arkaash, and I’m one of the co project lead of Luftahraan. I’m also the lead writer, but this diary at least is focussed on level design. For a little more background, my real name is Sam and I work as a Software Engineer.
For the past couple of months, I have been working on Kumano, a Tsaesci Temple that has sunk beneath the waves near Luftahraan. The Tsaesci are a vampiric, serpentine race from the continent of Akavir, and the monks that built the temple stayed behind on Tamriel after the treaty of amnesty signed with Reman I Cyrodiil as a result of the battle of Pale Pass.
The Temple of Kumano was mostly left alone by the citizens of Luftahraan, partly out of superstition of its foreign inhabitants and partly because the monks mostly kept to themselves, studying the history and magics of Tamriel and enslaving and sacrificing any intruders to whatever powers they held dear.
Depending on the path that they take, the player may be sent to Kumano in the main quest, venturing into its damp halls in search of exotic artefacts required to placate the Gods of the Cynosure, the religious institution in Luftahraan. The player is accompanied into the temple by Davyn Llervi, a pre-eminent Dwemer Scholar in Luftahraan who also has some rudimentary knowledge, and a great deal of interest, in the Tsaesci.
Now, everyone who has ever played an RPG of any sort will despise escort quests - Davyn is in the dungeon to help you out with some of the puzzles inside the dungeon and provide insights into the history of the place and the Tsaesci, not to be a liability. To that end, he will not take part in any combat, staying away from the fighting. He will only move forward when he has something to comment on or to investigate something in an area that is safe. In this instance, it was more important for me to make sure that the player doesn’t get annoyed by the presence of Davyn than to ensure total realism. In fact, if the player would rather have him stay out of the way completely, they can tell him to remain by the entrance to the dungeon - he will then only move forward then when his presence is required and the area is safe.
One of the most interesting, and challenging, things about creating Kumano has been the lack of a Tsaesci Tileset beyond the very rudimentary offerings from Sky Haven Temple. Unlike most dungeons, which are created from the Nordic, Dwemer etc. tilesets provided by the vanilla game, I have had to improvise most of the architecture in Kumano from a variety of different tilesets. This lends it a very unique appearance when compared to other areas in both the mod and vanilla Skyrim, and will hopefully make the player feel a little outside of their comfort zone.Besides the obvious points of interesting level design and enjoyable encounters, there are two main things we’ve aimed to focus on in Luftahraan’s dungeons - interesting boss fights modeled on those in games such as World of Warcraft and Diablo, and puzzles that require a little more thought than the standard Skyrim pillar-rotating affairs.
Designing boss fights for use in Skyrim is actually quite a challenge - there are a lot of seemingly simple things that form the staple of many other boss fights that simply cannot be done due to engine limitations - things such as dynamically expanding effect zones are just not possible. Aside from some things like that, mostly to do with particle effects and animations, a surprising amount is possible with the papyrus scripting language - an opportunity that I feel Bethesda missed a trick with. With a little bit of thought and quite a lot of time fighting with Papyrus (it isn’t the most well-behaved of scripting languages) it is possible to create interesting boss fights that will be something completely fresh and new for the unsuspecting player.
Much of the same can be said for puzzles - all sorts of interesting situations can be created with some objects and Papyrus. The danger with puzzles, though, is that not all players have the patience or the ability to solve them. It can be quite a fine balance between catering for the players that want a challenge and those that don’t. The puzzle in Kumano has two parts. The first involves solving a selection of riddles to find a way to open a secret door, and the second is both a riddle and a logic puzzle - the riddle provides a hint in the solving of the actual puzzle.
Now, these riddles are based heavily on Elder Scrolls lore and aren’t always easy - they are meant to provide a challenge to the type of player who would enjoy puzzling through something like that and coming to a solution. For everyone else, though, Davyn steps in to help. He knows more about the history and geography of his world than most players will, and he will gladly offer the player a fairly sizeable hint for any of the riddles they are having trouble with. If you get really stuck, he will go so far as telling you the solution. This way, players who want a challenge can ignore Davyn and get stuck in themselves, and players who just want to go ahead and kill something can let Davyn do all the hard work for them.
One other issue that I didn’t expect to have to worry about when working on a dungeon is Skyrim’s RAM limit. Since Skyrim is a 32-bit game, it can only make use of just over 3 gigabytes of RAM - if it goes above this limit, it immediately crashes to the desktop with no warning. This usually becomes an issue in exterior cells when the player is using a large quantity of graphics enhancing mods. However, the last room in Kumano houses both the main puzzle and a section set aside for loot - it is quite a large room that has several sections on different levels, that can all be seen from one another. Because of that, it is not possible to use room bounds, the usual means of optimisation in dungeons, meaning that the game must render the entire area at once. Due to a combination of issues, most of which stem from having to add detail manually rather than it being provided by the existing tilesets, the number of objects the game must render, for a while at least, started causing Skyrim to exceed its RAM limit and crash when the cell was loaded. In order to avoid this problem I have had to go on a trimming spree across the cell, removing any objects that only contribute in a minor way to minimise the amount of detail the game must load at once - not something I thought I would need to do in an interior cell.
And a couple more screenshots for good measure: