It's truly a love affair when a team sets out to recreate one game, in its entirety, in another game engine. That's most certainly the case for a number of 'The Elder Scrolls Renewal' teams who are recreating Morrowind in the Skyrim engine under the name 'Skywind', and Oblivion in the Skyrim engine under the name 'Skyblivion'.
These teams want to make sure that newer players get to experience these classic Elder Scrolls games in all their glory with more up to date textures and mechanics. Whilst Skywind is still the bigger project, Skyblivion is fast picking up steam and the team is both hard at work recreating the world of Cyrodiil in the newer engine, and actively recruiting mod authors, coders and texture artists to help complete the project.
We got to chat to a number of the team to find out how things are progressing, what they are up to and what we can expect from the final release.
Hey guys, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to have a chat with us. Would you mind introducing yourselves and letting us know what your role is on the project?
- Rebelzize: Hello Nexus Mods, my name is Kyle or Rebelzize and I manage the PR and recruitment for the project. Furthermore, I manage and help organize the landscaping department, concept department and interior design team.
- Gorgulla: Hello, My name is Adam or Gorgulla, I’m the lead texture artist for this project and the web developer behind skyblivion.com. I handle the texture department where we are working on enhancing the textures in Skyblivion.
- Greavesy: Hello, my name is Connor or Greavesy. I mainly focus on the development of the UI, although I help with the other departments now and again. I began with porting clothing and fixing other models for Skyblivion and then went onto the UI after a while as most clothes are now ported.
- Monocleus: Hello, my name is Alex, I’m lead tech developer for Skyblivion, I started to poke at this project around 2012 and have built most of the tools which we are using right now for building Skyblivion.
- Aerisarn: Hello, my name is Edoardo, I’m lead Creature developer for Skyblivion, but I actually came from the Skywind project and developed the skills and tools required for this project while I was there.
So I guess the first question should be, why have you chosen to port Oblivion into the Skyrim engine?
- Rebelzize: Well the original port was created by our lead developer Zilav a few years back, after the port was perfected and made more stable people slowly started to join the project and tried to help out where they could. I was one of these people in late 2013 and have been with the project since. For me personally, the main reason behind working on the project was for my eternal love of Oblivion.
Being able to bring my favorite Elder Scrolls game to a new generation and reintroduce it to older fans like myself is something I am happy to invest a lot of time into. And come on, who doesn't want to run around in an updated Cyrodiil.
- Gorgulla: There are different reasons behind this, one of them is that the Skyrim engine is more modern than the Oblivion engine, and in 2016 Bethesda released Skyrim Special Edition which improves the engine even further. This makes it possible for us to make a more beautiful game that can handle more resources efficiently. This includes dense landscapes, better lighting, models, and textures. Second reason is that many might ignore Oblivion for the reason that it’s getting quite old compared to recent games and Skyrim. This may give many users the chance to try the game.
- Greavesy: I chose to join this project due to my love with Oblivion. Skyrim was a good game, but Oblivion was the first game I played in the Elder Scrolls franchise and seeing Oblivion back in 2015 on the updated engine was amazing to see so I had to volunteer and put my modding knowledge to good use.
- Monocleus: When my colleague Zilav started to play with Oblivion as an experiment, I thought it was a really cool idea to try to make it work as I really loved the Oblivion world and felt it could be a really enjoyable experience to play it on a much better engine, besides, I thought of it as an opportunity to challenge my tech skills and learn new things.
- Aerisarn: I was never actually able to enjoy Oblivion (even if I bought it on day one) due to continued crashes/CTD when I tried to play it. When I heard about Skyblivion project, I thought that it was a perfect testbed for the workflow that I was using to create new creatures for the Skywind project.
Are you all known under a development studio or are you all just creating this project under the TESRenewal project banner?
- Rebelzize: We are proudly flying under the TESRenewal banner.
Do you have an expected release date as yet? Or some idea as to when a publicly playable version will be released?
- Rebelzize: We refrain from giving out any release dates to avoid disappointing people in the future when we can’t make the deadline we promised. I can tell you that the mod has only been in active development for a little under 2 years and that for the first time we are really starting to see a lot of pieces coming together.
Would you mind giving us a quick breakdown as to how the project started? Was it quite a low key affair to begin with that has slowly garnered momentum?
- Rebelzize: It started as a cool idea by our lead developer Zilav who decided to port Oblivion to Skyrim late 2012. At the time it was very buggy and missing big chunks of content but impressive enough to catch the eye of a handful of people in the Elder Scrolls community. Soon after Monocleus joined the project and started creating more tools that allowed us to more accurately rebuild the world of Cyrodiil in its new shiny engine. This process would take another 2 years before we had a stable base game we could really work with.
2015 is where the mod first started picking up a little speed and after the release of 2 more teaser trailers in 2016 we finally had a decent developer team backing the project. Currently, we are making more progress every day and with multiple departments working at the same time, we can now see the end of what has been a long and bumpy ride.
You’re having to create every asset afresh, how do you keep track of everything that is being worked on, what has been completed and what you have left to do?
- Rebelzize: Well unlike Skywind we aren’t recreating EVERY single asset, there are two reasons for this. 1. We don’t have the amount of 3D artists that Skywind has (by far) and 2. Unlike Morrowind, some of Oblivions assets hold up fairly well, and every asset that we re-use (after slightly improving it) saves us a lot of time.
Flora has technically been completed but we are still adding onto and enhancing our current flora assets because we aren’t 100% happy with the quality and diversity yet. Other than that we have partially finished some of the weapon sets, certain pieces of architecture (castle walls), tools, clothing and miscellaneous assets like beds and potions. With the few 3D artists we currently have, I think that we have, here and there, finished almost one of every type of asset that you can come across in the mod.
- Gorgulla: At the moment there aren't many texture artists active in this project. The current structure we have isn't optimal, but I’m going to improve the file management service further on our server where it will be easier for our devs to find, change and upload assets.
- Monocleus: What is important to understand here is that this project didn't get much love up until recent times, and as such, most of the work around it was mostly playing with what we had already. Basically, the idea is that we try to set stuff to run in-game, and then we replace things which we already started due to more and more talented people joining our ranks.
How many people do you have working on the project at the moment?
- Rebelzize: At the moment we have 20 active developers (myself included) and 2 concept artists.
What are some of the challenges when it comes to organising such a large community project and how have you managed to overcome them so far?
- Rebelzize: Since I have the most experience with this I could write a book about all the issues and difficulties community driven projects like these face, but for the sake of the article I will keep it short and sweet.
The biggest issues for a project of this scope is the fact that you are working with people from all over the world, this means I have to deal with multiple time zones. During the weekend, for instance, I tend to sleep in, so I stay up late to discuss landscaping with a mostly American landscaping team. The timezones are nuanced but not the biggest issue for a project this scale. The biggest issue is the fact that we work on this project in our (sometimes) limited free time, we all have lives, a job, a family, education and this often leads to the temporary or permanent disappearance of project members. Because we don't have everyone's home cell/personal address there isn’t much we can do about this besides messaging them on various forums and social media in the hope they reply. Most of the time this doesn’t happen and we lose days, weeks and sometimes months of work.
How do you all communicate and keep abreast of everything that is going on?
- Rebelzize: In the past, we used our forums to communicate but since the launch of Discord we have moved our interactions there, so far it has resulted in the project picking up a lot of speed because of the simple fact that we are now able to communicate much easier and even voice chat if needed.
What would you all say is the hardest part of your roles within the project?
- Rebelzize: Hardest part for me is keeping my department's organized and deciding/discussing what artistic visions fits the different regions of Cyrodiil, but since I'm weird and I enjoy doing that I'm going to say rejecting people's applications to help out with the project. I’m a nice guy so when you have to tell someone they aren’t skilled enough at the moment to help us out I always feel a little bad, especially when they fight me on the decision.
- Gorgulla: The hardest would be the difference in techniques and styles that we have, We do have good communication and we give each other tips and tricks on how to do something better and more efficiently. In the end, we just want to have the best quality that we can achieve together.
- Greavesy: When I started to learn the UI and how it was made for Skyrim it was difficult and now after a few months it’s gradually gotten easier with the knowledge I’ve gained. Another difficulty we have to face is that our artists in this department have different styles, so we have to find a design we all like and can all work with.
- Monocleus: There are two main things we’re struggling with in terms of the tech department. First, actually tidying tools we’re using and making sure they click with each other so that actually working with them isn’t too painful. This partly connects to number two - most of the tech things in this project were done by 2-3 people, and now that we have recruited more talented engineers to help us out we need to make sure that everyone can work on the tech challenges we have and feel comfortable doing so. That involves knowledge sharing, tools setup, workflow organization, etc.
- Aerisarn: Mainly the diversity of the tools to be used. In about a year of developing, I had to use more than 10 tools in about 5 different coding languages and face issues not only with community-developed tools that were malfunctioning due to poor community development but also bugs and inconsistencies in commercial products. Of course, that goes along with the difficulty in recruitment and training of new volunteers
Character progression is handled differently in Oblivion, possibly preventing a direct translation of that mechanic into Skyrim. What can we expect?
- Rebelzize: Well our aim is to not only recreate the world of Tamriel but also the true Oblivion experience, in order to achieve this we plan on bringing back as many mechanics we know and love from Oblivion. Most of these are still in a very experimental phase and others nothing more than a thought at this point. For instance one of my favorite features of Oblivion was the ability to quick cast spells, this was perfect for me since my favorite playstyle since Morrowind was that of a spell sword (who preferably wields a shield too). We don't have anything implemented to bring this mechanic back but one of our tech wizards has assured me that he already has a good idea on how to re-implement this mechanic in Skyrim.
At the end of the day we will try our best to bring back as many mechanics and features from Oblivion as we can but whether or not they will make it into the final mod depends on how well we can implement them (nobody likes a broken mess).
Oblivion is well known to have a lot of characters, but only 13 voice actors, leading to some amusing conversations where an NPC’s voice will change half way through. Is this something you are fixing within Skyblivion?
- Rebelzize: As much as we would love to re-record every line of dialogue by talented voice actors at this point in time that doesn't seem like something we are able to do. For the time being, we can manually fix broken voice acting lines where possible.
Jeremy Soule’s original Oblivion soundtrack is one of the best OST’s of all time, what are you doing for the music in Skyblivion?
- Rebelzize: We are using Mr Soule’s original soundtrack, and on top of that are adding new pieces inspired by his work. At the moment we don't have anything that's in a finalized state yet but with the likes of Fredrik Jonnason I believe we are in good hands.
You’re currently porting it to the original Skyrim, do you have plans on also releasing for the Special Edition version?
- Rebelzize: There are certainly plans and if everything goes as smoothly as we hope upon release, Skyblivion should be supported for both versions of the game.
- Aerisarn: We don’t have tight plans, but we’re looking into it. Bethesda had to do some changes and we couldn’t resist looking at them, so I think the core team will attempt a port in the future. Right now we’re focused on plain old Skyrim development
Have you had any copyright issues? For example, creating all of the Oblivion books?
- Gorgulla: We avoid using any type of samples online as we are very strict about no assets being used from anywhere other what’s made in our team. Texture wise we make different patterns for our team to use and recreate. As for books, they are ported from Oblivion and remade with enhanced paper textures and covers such as a leather texture for example.
How about the text that goes into each book? Are you recreating that from the original books within Oblivion?
- Gorgulla: All the books that exist in Oblivion will also exist in Skyblivion with all of its content. The text itself is ported from the old oblivion.esm into the new ESM that exists in Skyblivion, therefore making sure that every single line is included.
Has there been any contact with Bethesda at all?
- Rebelzize: Some time ago Matt Grandstaff (Bethesda Global Community Lead) joined our forums, he told us that as long as we are using assets from their game, we aren't allowed to post anything regarding our projects in their official forums. He also mentioned that if we plan on replacing existing meshes and are currently using non-replaced meshes as placeholders it would leave more room for us to discuss the legality of the project.
Essentially we are allowed to work and distribute the mod but as long as the above is still an issue we can't be endorsed by Bethesda. Now to show some goodwill on our side, the installer included with Skyblivion will check if you have a legitimate copy of Oblivion installed on your PC, this is a hard requirement, without it the mod won’t be installed.
On top of that, our (ambitious) aim is to remake and enhance all the assets that we have currently ported from Oblivion. Hopefully, this will be enough to get the approval we need from Bethesda.
Is there a lot of crossover between renewal teams? Is there any sense of competition?
- Rebelzize: We have a few people who work on both projects like Mangaclub, aerisarn and myself. As TESRenewal’s smallest project, we get made fun of a little from time to time, this is usually directed at me since I also do the PR for Skywind and I like to boast and talk about Skyblivion a lot in our Skywind chat room. All in good fun though.
- Monocleus: I wouldn’t say we do compete against each other, as we’re in different situations and besides, we have respect for each other team’s work. Also, some of us sometimes help with some tasks for Skywind, too.
- Aerisarn: A bit of crossover, and, in my opinion, no competition at all; I’d say collaboration, mainly in the tech to be used and in developing skills for the tasks to be done by both the teams.
How many hours do you think have gone into the project so far?
- Rebelzize: I’ve been with TESRenewal (at the time Morroblivion) since early 2013 but in all honesty I don’t want to know.
I go through my email and YouTube videos every single day to answer questions about the project which usually takes me about an hour. On top of that I spend at least 2 hours discussing ideas and visions of the project with other members, this alone costs about 3+ hours every day. In the end its all for a good cause and there is no better feeling in the world then seeing the time I have put into the project pay off.
- Gorgulla: It’s hard to say how many hours. Some days I can spend more than 5 hours a day while still having a job working for 8 hours. Personally I don't mind the time, I enjoy being part of the project and I like seeing results.
- Greavesy: Like Gorgulla said, it’s hard to say how many hours in total but on Steam i’ve clocked 96 hours using the Creation Kit and 200 hours testing what I have currently created. I guess that gives you an idea on how long i’ve spent.
- Monocleus: From my side, I recently had counted to five months assuming full time job, so around 800-900 hours.
- Aerisarn: I’m afraid to count them, actually, but my work is focused on tools and tech so these hours are split between all the Tesrenewal projects.
We have a huge community of mod authors within Nexus Mods, is there anything that we can do to contribute to the project?
- Rebelzize: YES! Most of our recruits come from Nexus Mods, like ClefJ, AceeQ, Mangaclub and many others. Hopefully a few more mod creators will be interested enough to volunteer to help out with the project after reading this article.
So you’re looking for some more people to help you with the project, please give us a few more details and let us know a bit more about what’s required. I’m sure there will be some people within the community that would love to help.
- Rebelzize: We are currently still looking for landscapers, interior/lighting artists, texture artists, CK experts who could help with mechanics like spellcrafting, and 3D artists who can work on misc objects, armors, weapons, environmental assets or architecture.
If you fit this general Description or think you can help in any other way please fill out this volunteer form: https://discord.gg/ZYmpMkt
We will get back to you through Discord as soon as possible (might take up to a week depending on the amount of new volunteers)
- Gorgulla: We are looking for texture artists that can help with:
Creatures such as the skeletons and ogres.
Clutter such as furniture.
Flora such as grass and trees.
Clothing, clouds and water.
- Monocleus: We’re also looking for talented engineers who can help with our tools. Language wise, we’re writing C++, Python and PHP here. We especially need people who have background in data parsing, compilers and advanced reverse engineering.
- Aerisarn: Some Animators to refine Oblivion creatures would be nice. While Oblivion could live with about 6-8 animations per creature walking cycle, Skyrim has a median of about 10-12, greatly improving the feeling of smoothness.
Well, thank you all very much for your time. It’s most appreciated, especially considering how busy you all are! Before we go, is there anything that you would like to say to the community over here at Nexus Mods?
- Gorgulla: Thank you all for reading this. We appreciate all input we can get and make sure to join us on our public discord to chat with us. I would also like to thank Nexus Mods for their fantastic community and staff.
- Rebelzize: I would like to personally thank everyone at Nexus Mods for giving modders and mod users a platform to share and use other people's creations.
On top of that I would like to give a little shoutout to some of my favorite mod makers: Gopher, Vurt, hothtrooper44, Arthmoor, Sheson, Chesko, Brumbek, jjc71, anamorfus, isoku, Shurah, ModernStoryteller, AlexanderJVelicky, essenthy, Elianora, KINGPIX, Vorians, QuarnAndKivan, DarN, nuska. On the off chance that any of you end up reading this I want to say thank you for enriching our gameplay environments for the better. This last part goes to all mod makers as you are the reason games like Skyrim, Oblivion and Morrowind are still alive and kicking after so many years.
- Monocleus: I’d like to thank everyone involved in the modding community - modders and players alike - who truly bring life to the TES world and hope it will stay like this for as long as possible. You guys rock!