The completed level design document can be found here:

Welcome to the first of my final project blog post! Throughout the course of this project, I will be creating a level modification for Elder Scrolls: Skyrim(2011), within Creation Kit(2012), with a focus on player choice.

Whilst playing through Skyrim, multiple times of course, I would always build my character around stealth and archery as for me, this was how I enjoyed playing.
However, with this play style, a major issue surrounding most dungeons that stood out to me, for a game that’s all about choosing how you want to play, was that they were too linear.
This may not have been such an issue if it weren’t for the fact that, when building for stealth and archery, the armour you tend to wear is more for improving sneak, archery and other non-defence stats. This means that if you face off against an enemy wielding a 2-handed weapon, you are likely to die when they hit you.
Given this, I always found myself playing dungeons the exact same way, I would fire an arrow from distance, run back, further than the AI would come searching for me, wait till they weren’t searching, fire another arrow, rinse and repeat until I had cleared the dungeon and looted all the valuables.

Reading through other players experiences, it became apparent that this is a view shared by multiple people. (Jett, 2012; TES Alliance, 2013) This is one of the reasons that I have elected to focus on player choice whilst developing this level.

Before diving in and creating top down maps or blockouts, I started creating a level design document that includes all of the major components of the level and quest.
This is to help me keep track of everything from quest completion requirements to the type of architecture that will be featured in each location. Throughout development, only minor changes may be made to the design document. This is to keep the project within scope.

Writing the Level Design Document

A note on the documents contents: In my final project proposal, the list of contents was as shows:

  • Overview
  • Level Theme
  • Mood boards
  • Objective
  • Narrative
  • Enemies
  • Environment
  • Puzzles

Specific sections for Narrative and Mood boards are not present as they have been merged with other sections. Enemies has now been expanded to be Characters, with enemies being a sub component.

The Quest

To begin with, I started to design a location and, due to my lack of technical skill with Creation Kit(2012), a very simple quest that would not only motivate the player to reach the end of the level, but to choose how they go about it.

When designing the quest, to ensure that it was entertaining, not just a string of “this happens… and then this happens” and to make the player feel like they are having an effect on an otherwise linear quest line, I have adapted the “But and Therefore Rule” by South Park creators (Weller, n.d.).
This rule is put in place so that the story events are reacting to other story events rather than an event happening purely because the designer wanted it to.

The quest begins with a courier delivering the player a note, requesting the player to go to a specific location. Once they arrive at the location, the player will find a small house. Upon entering, an old man will approach and speak to the player.
It is at this point that the player will be informed about about the mission (retrieving the weapon) and, different routes they may take and that the castle environment will be hostile (contain multiple traps).
Due to a large amount of Skyrim(Bethesda Game Studios, 2011) dungeons being non-linear, I wanted to make it obvious to the player from the get go that this is a level where they can choose their approach and execution.

Figure 1 – A decision scale

One of the most important things to remember when creating engaging player choices is that they every choice must have consequences. (Fullerton, Hoffman and Swain, 2004)
Every player choice should be measured using this decision scale to determine it’s level impact. If the impact measures “Minor” or “Inconsequential”, they will be unnecessary and add nothing to the players experience.

Once the player has reached the castle, they will have multiple options available to them, whether they want to run in the front door, alerting every nearby enemy or if they prefer to distract the enemies and sneak in the sewer entrance, they can.
One thing that I wanted to make sure didn’t happen, was that I didn’t want to force the player to fight a boss. This was always a huge frustration, when you get to the end of a dungeon in a stealth build only to be locked in with a boss that can defeat you in 2 – 3 hits. Instead of locking the player in, I want to give the player a decision, based on risk and reward (McMillen, 2010). If the player wants to face the boss, they may burn through their healing, mana, stamina potions or other items but in return, they will get valuable loot from the body.
On top of this, they will also obtain a key from the body to get the weapon, removing the need to pick the lock, that will be required if playing in stealth.

After retrieving the weapon, the quest triggers the “Return to Quest Giver” task. After returning to the Quest Giver, you are asked to give him the weapon.
Keeping player choice at the front of my mind when designing the quest, I didn’t want the player to go through all of the effort of obtaining the weapon only to have it taken away from them. The player will be given an options to either hand the weapon over or lie about it being destroyed, the latter will give a greater reward if successful, but it will require a high speech skill.

Once a player has picked an option, the quest will come to an end.

The Environment

Before compiling mood boards for the environment, I used a method for breaking down patterns to determine how I wanted parts of the environment to look (Hullet and Whitehead, 2010). For example, a typical use in video games and movies for sewer entrances, similar to the one shown in the design document, is for a hidden entrance or exit. As well as this, the large nordic settings shown are typically open areas with plenty of enemies patrolling. To a Skyrim(2011) player, this usually isn’t something you can sneak through, at least, not without being a very high level.

Quest Giver House

As mentioned in the Level Design Document, or LDD for short, I want the Quest Giver to feel wealthy.
To get the feeling of wealth without directly telling the player, I have used Indirect and Direct Characterization(Now Novel, n.d.) to analyse the character of Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012). I have also looked at the Game of Thrones (Game of Thrones, 2011 – 2019) series and how they portray a character as being wealthy.
In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it is not explicitly stated that Bilbo Baggins, it is however shown using indirect characterization (Now Novel, n.d.).
In Figure 18, Bilbo, who lives alone, has a rather large pantry, full to the brim. This includes multiple goods such as, wheels of cheese and barrels of alcohol which are considered to be a sign of wealth.
Figure 15 shows a scene where Bilbo interacts with another Hobbit. Throughout this scene, the difference in status between to the characters is made apparent by the clothes that the characters are wearing as well as the way that the characters speak. Bilbo is wearing colourful, fitted clothing with a vest, made from fine materials whilst the other character is wearing baggy, well worn items.

The story of Game of Thrones (Game of Thrones, 2011 – 2019) centers around a number of great families. These families are all very wealthy and this is shown through a combination of both direct and indirect characterization (Now Novel, n.d.).
Throughout the series, they use many methods of conveying a characters wealth, a few of which include being well spoken, the ability to read, well dressed, well groomed, who a character marries, combat training and wine. The majority of high class characters in Game of Thrones are often seen drinking wine throughout the series.

Consequently, to show that the Quest Giver is a wealthy individual, I will be using aspects of this analysis to build his character, looks and his home.
When creating small lists of the items found in the environments, I have based this on design boards used in concept art (Zhu, n.d.).
A small list of objects that will be used in building this environment:
– Bookshelves (Full of books)
– Fine materials (Rugs, bed covers, clothing)
– High quality furniture
– High quantity of good quality food
– Wine
– Potions of varying properties
– Alchemy table
– Alchemy ingredients

Top: Figure 2, Middle: Figure 3, Bottom Left: Figure 4,
Bottom Right: Figure 5

The Castle – Sewer

As mentioned above, I have broken down common patterns found in video games and movies (Hullet and Whitehead, 2010) to determine how certain parts of the environment should look. This lead me to Figure 4 as it is easily recognizable to the player as an entrance.
The castle is an old structure, due to this, the sewers should feel neglected, overgrowing and as though they have been neglected for years.
There will be a minimal amount of objects placed throughout the sewer, mostly used only for narrative purposes.
Objects that can will found in the sewer:
– Torches (Lighting for the enemies that have overtaken the castle)
– Crates (Used for storage and seats for enemies on watch)
– Barrels
– Broken crates and barrels
– Old chairs

Left: Figure 6, Top Right: Figure 7, Middle Right: Figure 8,
Bottom Right: Figure 9

The Castle – Interior

When designing how the castle interior should look and feel, I looked at Game of Thrones (Game of Thrones, 2011 – 2019), or more specifically, Winterfell, a fictitious castle.
The Starks, a family that reside in Winterfell are incredibly wealthy, however, a striking difference between the Starks and the rest of the wealthy families found within the show is that the Starks don’t flaunt their wealth. Families such as the Lannisters show that they are wealthy every way that they can, to a point where they even have a family motto based on gold “A Lannister always pays his debts”. The Starks are rarely seen drinking from bejeweled goblets or wearing copious amounts of jewelry made from precious metals. Instead they are often seen wearing similar clothes to other occupants of the castle, albeit, the Starks are always in good condition or drinking from iron goblets, that every one else at the large gatherings can be seen drinking from.

When designing the castle and the mage that lived there, I used this as a base for the direction I wanted this location to take, wealthy without showing wealth everywhere the player will look.
Objects that can be found here are:
– High quality but old furniture (In the bedroom)
– Old furniture
– Iron goblets, cutlery, plates etc
– Large quantity of food
– Barrels
– Crates
– Destroyed furniture (Destroyed by the cult)
– Bedrolls (Cult members will need beds)
– Cooking equipment
– Dead animals (Hunted by cult members)