Skyblivion developer interview | ‘The biggest challenge of my life’

We speak to the Skyblivion mod chief Rebelzize about horse armour, paintbrush glitches and more.

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We speak to the Skyblivion mod chief Rebelzize about horse armour, paintbrush glitches and more.

For the past ten years, a team of volunteers have been working to recreate Bethesda’s Oblivion inside Bethesda’s Skyrim. They call the project Skyblivion. The long-suffering developers made waves last week when they announced a release date for Skyblivion. Slated for 2025, the titanic project finally has an end in sight. I spoke to Rebelzize, the Project Lead, to find out more.

After a scientific poll of zero Oblivion fans, I found the question they would most like Rebelzize to answer is: will there be horse armour?

Rebelzize: Yes! One of our artists REALLY wanted to make it. Usually, I say no to these things because we refer to it as scope creep, which basically sums up anything that would slow down releasing the base game, but in this case, their puppy eyes got the best of me, and I said sure.

A relief, to be sure. Oblivion’s Horse Armour DLC has been variously described as “released for both the PC and the Xbox 360 on April 3, 2006” and on sale for “$2.50”. A cornerstone of the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion experience, fans will be reassured by the puritanism at the heart of this project.

Next, the paintbrush glitch. For those who aren’t in the know, the expansive 2006 RPG game could be completed in just a few minutes with ONE SIMPLE TRICK (game developers hate him!).

In the province of Cyrodil, paintbrushes are exempt from the laws of gravity. Better still, they can support any amount of weight. By combining these two facts, canny players worked out you could build a paintbrush staircase and literally jump into the game’s finale.

I asked Rebelzize if the paintbrush glitch would carry over into Skyblivion.

Rebelzize: No, but a few easter eggs are dedicated to the classics. I’m sure we will run into our own bugs, though, with it still being a Bethesda game engine.

No paintbrush glitch? It’s enough to send you to the Skooma den. Isn’t that abandoned house awful?

Next, I wanted to know if Skyblivion would be a like-for-like remake or if it would contain new features.

Rebelzize: It will have new features, reworked features and missing features. At the end of the day, we work on a different engine, so you simply can’t get everything to work as in Oblivion. Spellcrafting, underwater combat and on the fly alchemy are some mechanics we have been able to restore, for instance. Others, like the speech minigame, have been reworked in some way, and for the time being, quick casting is not something we can support.

It’s impressive to see the lengths to which the Skyblivion team will reintroduce old mechanics. This is far from a simple reskin. It must be said, though, I can’t imagine how the Oblivion dialogue wheel, which perfectly captured the phenomena of human interfacing, could be improved upon. I present my evidence below:

Given the scope and scale of Skyblivion, I was keen to hear of the team’s biggest challenges.

Rebelzize: Time. A team of full-time developers made this game [Oblivion] over five years and were getting paid for it. Managing a large-scale operation on the basis that everyone works on it as a hobby in their free time will probably be the biggest challenge I will have to deal with in my lifetime. Some part of me won’t miss the stress and late-night calls that come with it.

One of the benefits of Bethesda’s enormous budget and extended development period was an advanced artificial intelligence system. Hopefully, the Skyblivion team will retain that hyper-human feeling NPCs of the original game.

If, and hopefully, when Skyblivion meets its 2025 release date, the project will see completion after 13 years of development. The team consists of dozens of volunteers, including 3D artists, department leads, Navmesh makers and many more.

Clearly, there is a burning passion fuelling the fires of this unpaid engine. I asked Rebelzize what inspired him to embark on the journey.

Rebelzize: It was a mix of “I will never work in the gaming industry so fuck it lets do it myself” and simply because we can. Other projects like Skywind, Morroblivion and Beyond Skyrim had already been around for a few years, but for some reason, no-one wanted to do Skyblivion. I did.

Hopefully, the impressive work of Rebelzize and his team will prove his pessimism about working in the games industry wrong. After all, Bethesda are no strangers to procuring talent from the modding community. Last year Bethesda offered contracts to three developers working on the Fallout London mod, two of whom left the project to commence work with the gaming giant.

Todd Howard, I once made a cool map in the Age of Empires II scenario editor if you’re reading this.

The ambitions for Skyblivion are epic in scope. The team aims to recreate all of Oblivion’s quests and has hinted that there could be some new ones too. They will restore cut content and allow players to travel between Cyrodil, Skyrim and Morrowind. And if that’s not enough, they’ll recreate all of Oblivions DLCs – including horse armour, obviously.

Skyblivion doesn’t come in for praise because of its ambitions – but because it is seriously working to deliver on them. The team has showcased a wealth of content, from flashy trailers to extensive hours-long streams demonstrating how fleshed out this mod is.

Where the team have chosen to make changes, they are the right ones. The stilted Oblivion gate sequences of the original game are set to be reimagined. The uncanny valley facial movements have been overhauled. The 50-odd forts copied and pasted across the original Oblivion landscape have been replaced by bespoke constructions. The attention to detail is so acute that Skyblivion has remade the game’s original eight carbon-copied goblin clans into visually distinct groups with their own tribal regalia.

In their herculean efforts, they have made adoring fans of us all.

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