I recently sat down with Matt Carofano, the Lead Artist on Skyrim, to talk about many things including; Dawnguard, the next-generation of consoles, what’s after Skyrim for Bethesda Game Studios, loot, a new epic mount, Vampire Lords, future iteration of the Creation engine, The Elder Scrolls MMO, armored Trolls, and why you cannot change your sex or race in Skyrim.
"Yes you will be feared, hated and attacked on sight if you enter a city in the Vampire Lord form. If a huge beast walks into town that’s something the local villagers will not put up with."
Mark: Hi Matt! Thanks for sitting down with me to talk about Dawnguard.
Matt: My pleasure!
When did production begin on Dawnguard?
After we shipped the game we did this Game Jam video—I don’t know if you’ve seen it—but that’s sort of what started what Dawnguard ended up becoming. A couple guys on the team got together and were really excited for Vampires, so they made a prototype of the Vampire Lord. We were like “Oh that fits in really well!” We want to expand and add to the game to make it better, and Vampires were something that we really hadn’t told a good story with—hadn’t really developed much—so we wanted to focus the DLC [Downloadable Content] on that. We just wanted to do a good job and make it the focus of the DLC.
Creating additional content for a AAA game like Skyrim well after it’s shipped doesn’t appear to be the norm in the industry. Does this speak to the culture at Bethesda Game Studios? Do you think future DLC is going to develop this way too?
When we were looking to do the Dawnguard DLC we were just looking to see how we could make the game even better, how we could add to Skyrim but tell this specific story. It was something we didn’t plan when we were working on Skyrim, it actually happened afterwards. You know, we kicked around a lot of ideas so we could see what would be a good fit. For future DLC maybe we’ll do something like that again.
Did Bethesda Game Studios learn anything from the development of Skyrim proper that was incorporated into the production of Dawnguard?
Well I guess the focus was “Hey let’s tell a new story and sort of react to the game”, so a lot of the additions to Dawnguard are things we thought we should add to Skyrim. We have some new encounters like the addition of the new high level dragons and the Dragon Bone weapons you can forge. We really wanted to expand the high level stuff too. Skyrim just took off way more than we expected and people are still playing it a ton, so we just wanted to give them some additional content.
Plus we’re looking at the Vampire Lord form because that would offer a way to play the game differently. So now you can jump into the story and play as a Vampire Lord or join the Dawnguard hunters. So you can experience the rest of the game as a Vampire or with crossbows. So yeah we added a lot of new content to the game.
Will Tamriel have a reaction to me if I decide to become a Vampire Lord and venture out? Will the townspeople and guards flip out?
Yes you will be feared, hated and attack on sight if you enter a city in the Vampire Lord form. If a huge beast walks into town that’s something the local villagers will not put up with.
"The Dawnguard stuff has new light and heavy armor, new weapons, you can have a new type of dog companion, [and] an armored troll to come fight with you."
There seems to be a lot of really great new content in the Dawnguard DLC with the whole new storyline. You can choose between becoming a Vampire Lord or joining the Dawnguard faction, however it also sounds like there are things being added to Skyrim that really have nothing to do with the Dawnguard storyline. For instance you mentioned the additions of new dragons and the ability to craft Bone weapons with Smithing. I’m curious about the other vocations or existing skill trees? Did they get additions as well?
We tried to add a bunch of things to the game to just make it…better. We looked at it that way, but also as “Hey how can we tell this interesting story about Vampires?”, however we added things based on fan feedback too. For instance we added a character to the Thieves Guild who can change your appearance. So let’s say you’re tired of playing your character after all these hours, you can go to him and change all your facial features and hairstyles.
Can you modify your race?
We don’t allow you to change your sex or race because that’s just too important to your characters history. It’s just something fun, something extra we could add to the game for the people who want that.
Was there ever a consideration to add another guild to the game?
Well the story of the Dawnguard is about the size of one of our faction quests, so we sort of view it as “Hey you can join the Vampires or the Dawnguard!” If you decide to help the Vampires you can end the tyranny of the sun—you know block out the sun—so they can come out at night and be more powerful. Or you can join the Dawnguard and become a vampire hunter. You’ll be able to build up the Vampire hunters’ base as you recruit new members, build crossbows and even get an armored troll to come along with you to fight against the vampires. So you get both sides of it that way.
Is there anything else from the 2011 GDC Game Jam video that’s included in the Dawnguard DLC? I know mounted combat was in the sizzle reel and that just got released right?
Yes mounted combat just went up via a patch just recently. We wanted to add that so the player could use one-handed and ranged weapons while riding a horse. You know it makes it easier while you’re getting around the world.
Is there a small team already working on the second DLC for Skyrim?
Right now we’re completely focused on Dawnguard. Everyone is working on this. Once it’s out we’ll see how it goes and see what could happen in the future.
This is one I was asked to pass on to you from several fans: How much loot, or rather, how much additional stuff is being added to the game?
Well there’s the full set of Dragon Bone weapons. <Thinks> We give you a lot of gear on the Dawnguard side. That helps balance out the Vampire Lord’s abilities. The Dawnguard stuff has; new light and heavy armor, new weapons, you can have a new type of dog companion, [and] an armored troll to come fight with you. On the Vampire Lord side you have a whole new perk tree and we also added a whole new perk tree for Werewolves too. That’s another feature we added to the game even though it’s not part of the [Dawnguard] story. We wanted to make the Werewolves more interesting, more playable for higher levels, so we expanded on that. There’s a lot of stuff in the game.
Oh ok, so there is no specific perk tree for the Dawnguard hunters?
That’s right. Yeah they’re Vampire hunters and more gear based. They’re focused on gathering followers and building up their base.
Did I see a new mount in the Dawnguard trailer?
Yes! So in the realm of Soul Cairn—the realm of trapped souls—you can get a miscellaneous quest to find the Skull of Arvak. He’s this lost horse who’s been taken over, turned undead in this realm. So if you find his skull you can ride him all around and even back in Tamriel.
I just want to be clear on this: The player will be able to ride Arvak back into Skyrim? The player will also be able to transform into the Vampire Lord form in Skyrim?
Yes you can play through the entire game as the Vampire Lord.
Not too long ago I was watching the Fallout 3 documentary and Todd Howard mentioned Bethesda Game Studios was looking for something to do in between Elder Scrolls games. I’m curious if that is still the game plan for you guys? Are you thinking about Fallout 4 after Skyrim?
Well honestly we’re so focused on this DLC. Then I’m sure we’ll be making some more DLC in the future, and then after that we’ll see what happens.
There’s a new wave of consoles on the horizon and as the Lead Artist at Bethesda Game Studios I’m curious how you think a Fallout or Elder Scrolls game would benefit most from that transition?
<Thinks> In our games we try to throw everything into it at once. We try to make a game so you can play however you want, you can try a bunch of stuff out, have a bunch of quests going, so obviously new hardware would allow us to do even more of that. You know speaking purely from the art side of things, just having more memory! It’s something we always have to fight with. We’re looking at higher resolution characters, models and textures. It is going to look tremendously better because of the jump, but we’re really really happy with the current generation consoles with what we’ve been able to push and get out of them.
As we transition over to a new generation of consoles, I’m curious if Bethesda Game Studios has any plans to build an entirely new engine from the ground up? Update the existing Creation engine, or perhaps utilize the latest IDTECH?
We’re really happy with the creation engine. We remade every aspect of it for Skyrim and it’s a really good base for us to do the types of games we want to do. So I suspect, going forward, I don’t know what we’re going to end up doing. This engine has been really good for us and [The Elder Scrolls games]. I mean everything is brand new from Fallout 3.
So you guys might build up from the existing Creation engine? Is it modular in design so you guys can just pull out different systems?
Yeah, I mean it’s sort of all up to what kind of things we want to focus on to change, but we have a lot of control over this engine and what we would like add it to. Every system was rewritten when we went from Fallout 3 to Skyrim so we could develop it further if we needed to.
Speaking of technical advancements, does Dawnguard bring any new modifications to the Creation engine?
No there aren’t any new technical changes to it, but we had to have a lot of code support for some of the new spells and power, like the Vampire Lord form. That’s a lot of programming time to get all these new features working for us.
With the development of The Elders Scrolls Online, I’m curious if there were any stipulations made by Bethesda Game Studios to make sure it wasn’t too much like your Elder Scrolls games? Did you sit down at all with Zenimax Online Studios and say “Ok you cannot do X, Y and Z” or “Do not make it a first-person game”? I imagine you folks would like The Elder Scrolls to retain its identity right?
Honestly we gave them complete freedom to develop the game the same we would want to work on our game, so we could make the choices we would like to make. They’re a really talented group of guys and they know MMOs really well. MMOs are a really different type of game than the ones we make, so we’ve given them the freedom to make the kind of game they think is going to be a great game. We’ve kept in contact with them along the way. They’ll ask us about lore or things like. You know “Hey does this fit the art style for this race?” In general we answer a few questions here and there, but we let them make their own decisions. I think it’s going to be a really good game.
So no real guidelines were given?
No, not too much.