• 19 February 2011 6:54:26

    The technology of Skyrim

    posted by Galahaut Game News
    Bethesda has revealed some information about the new technology being used for TESV: Skyrim. In a GameInformer article, "The Technology Behind Skyrim," Bethesda outlines four aspects of Skyrim's technology: the new Creation Engine, improvements to Radiant AI, a new collection of features named Radiant Story, and the implementation of the Havok Behavior system.

    The Creation Engine
    Bethesda has created a new engine for Skyrim named the Creation Engine, which will probably turn out to be the most significant aspect, good or bad, of Skyrim's technology. GameBryo may have problems, but we don't know yet how the Creation Engine will turn out.

    Little information has been released about the Creation Engine so far, but what we do know makes me optimistic. Bethesda has created the engine specifically for their games, which seems like a better idea, at least in theory, than trying to wrangle GameBryo (or any existing engine) to accomplish what is needed. SpeedTree has been replaced by a new system that allows greater artistic control over how foliage animates and reacts to the environment. Since the game takes place in Skyrim, snow is of course a necessity, and Bethesda has luckily not returned to the flawed precipitation system in earlier games (where rain and snow fell through, well, everything). Snowfall is now calculated in-game and accumulates on surfaces. The level of detail for distant objects and landscape has been improved, and dynamic lighting and shadows are now "on everything."

    Radiant AI
    Bethesda has been talking about improving the Radiant AI system, which was somewhat restrained in Oblivion. NPCs will now have real jobs or tasks (farming, mining, etc.) instead of simple sets of actions. NPC reactions have been improved to relate more directly to the NPC's relationship with the player. One example given is "a friend would let you eat an apple in his house," which certainly sounds better than every NPC throwing a fit if you touch that inkwell sitting on their desk. These changes look like they will help the world seem more alive, which is always a good thing.

    Radiant Story
    Radiant Story seems to be the feature Bethesda is most interested in hyping, like Radiant AI for Oblivion. Radiant Story is actually a group of features all related to presenting the player with more content. First, Bethesda has created a system of random and dynamically generated quests and events. You may be asked to assassinate an NPC or find an object in a dungeon, but the conditions and objects are not predefined. The game will also attempt to send you to locations you haven't yet explored. Radiant Story also functions as another method preventing quests from becoming inaccessible. In an example given in the GameInformer article, if a merchant with quests is killed, his or her child may take over the store and offer the same quests. Of course, Bethesda warns that if you killed the merchant, the child may seek revenge.

    Bethesda has also implemented an omniscient "Story Manager" which works to create dynamic events based on the player's actions. If you drop a weapon in town, an NPC might try to return it to you, or NPCs may fight over it, or maybe nothing will happen. NPCs might ask you for help, training, or a duel. NPCs you become friends with may ask for help later, or even become temporary companions. In the wilderness, you may encounter creatures being attacked by other creatures, or an NPC who directs you to a random quest.

    Some of these features do sound innovative, while others just sound like improvements to existing systems such as the "random" encounters in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. The Story Manager actually reminds me of Left 4 Dead's Director. We'll have to see how Radiant Story functions once Skyrim is released, since Oblivion's Radiant AI turned out to be substantially different from the pre-release information about it.

    Havok Behavior (Animation)
    Bethesda is again returning to the Havok system. Beyond just the usual physics people usually associate with Havok, Skyrim will be using Havok's new "Behavior" system, which allows for improved and more easily designed animations. Havok Behavior can blend together various animations automatically, such as the transitions between walking, jogging, running, and jumping, or the flow between combat animations. NPCs and creatures can become stuck in spider webs and will struggle to escape. The system is also being used for Skyrim's dragons, allowing their animations appear natural instead of "mechanical" or scripted.

    Havok Behavior is being applied to improve the dialog system. Instead of freezing time and focusing the camera on the NPC, time will continue to flow. You can look around during your conversation, NPCs may continue whatever they were doing (working, eating, etc.) or even move to take a seat.

    GameInformer did ask Todd Howard if Havok Behavior could or would be used for player mounts such as horses or mammoths, but Todd gave a non-response. We'll have to wait and see on that subject...

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