Looking at places to live in games, it would be easy for the most magnificent, pompous and elegant palaces and castles to dominate any appreciation. But there is plenty of room to appreciate those residences that are tucked away, perhaps underrated, that are not major hubs or destinations and that are only subtle intrusions. Some draw a curious sense of attachment from players, eliciting a sense of pseudo-topophilia - a close relationship with a virtual land or place. The resulting effect is sometimes enough to cause the sentiment: if this place were real, I would live there.
"Come on. Lighten up. Have a whiff."
Glaives, pikes, bardiches, halberds, partisans, spears, picks and lances. Javelins, arbalests, crossbows, longbows, claymores, zweihänder, broadswords and falchions. Flails, clubs, morning stars, maces, war hammers, battle axes and, of course, longswords. If you ever played a fantasy RPG or one of many historically-themed action or strategy games, you'll already be familiar with an impressive array of medieval weaponry. The medieval arsenal has had an enormous impact on games since their early days, and their ubiquity makes them seem like a natural, fundamental part of many virtual worlds.
You're sitting in someone else's house. You can't help but look around briefly at your surroundings. Ooh, that looks like an interesting selection of books in the bookcase and what's that pad of paper in the corner for? I wonder what that ornament on the cabinet represents. Is there a story behind it? Then the person you're visiting leaves the room for a minute. There's a strong urge to look far more closely, isn't there? A completely inappropriate part of your brain would love to open a cupboard, just to see what's behind the door. Not for nefarious reasons, of course. I couldn't even say why it's so appealing. Is it just the fact that you can't see behind that door in the first place?
Every season has its own distinct landscape look, feel and characteristics. This has permeated into game design incredibly pleasingly. It is easy to think of a video game setting bathed in the bright light of summer or covered by the golden palette of autumn. However, no season is perhaps as striking, atmospheric and powerful as winter. The winter landscape of games can be so perfectly represented and impactful that they appeal to our real-world attachment to them - the crunching of snow, leaving tracks and patterns, the eerie quiet, and the different dynamic frost and ice bring to a landscape, for example. Through design, the use of aesthetics and symbolism, by appealing to our senses and by containing features that affect and change the land, distinct and brilliant winter landscapes come to life. Deliberate design and the careful inclusion of many often-underrated elements of the landscape results in powerful vista compositions, effective and realistic winter plantings, and deep use of the architecture and scale of the land, that goes beyond the aesthetic. And, while the other seasons are more colourful and verdant, winter displays the bones of the landscape, where spatial composition and layout is exposed, and underlying design and features are revealed. By merging these with robust world narratives and environments rich with magic and majesty, we are gifted magical, wintry vignettes and transported to spectacular and powerful places.
It's been six months since E3 2017, when Bethesda announced its intention to add a Creation Club to Skyrim and Fallout 4, their massively-successful mega-RPGs known for their breadth of content and emphasis on player freedom. This club would task third-party developers with producing new pieces for the publisher's two marquee games, which players could then buy from an online storefront with real money. While some decried the service as yet another attempt to introduce paid mods to the single-player gaming ecosystem, Bethesda insisted the market for free fan-made content would remain unaffected. "We won't allow any existing mods to be retrofitted into Creation Club," reads the FAQ. "It must all be original content."
Skyrim's dirty little secret is that it isn't that large. Oh, it remains fairly gigantic by the standards of other virtual landscapes, even next to its youthful imitator and usurper, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But set against what it pretends to be - a kingdom stretching from arctic wastes to the temperate south, racked by dynastic squabbles and laced with the treasures and detritus of millennia - it's actually pretty dang tiddly, a little over 14 square miles in scope.
Gamescom 2017 has offered up few exciting stories for Digital Foundry so far, but the playable debut of the Switch version of Skyrim at the Nintendo booth proved to be a genuine surprise - and the good news is, the port is looking very strong.
Archaeology doesn't get a very good treatment in popular media, and games are no different. The public image of archaeologists is dominated by pulp fantasy heroes, swinging and scrambling their way through trap-infested ancient ruins, one hand clutching a priceless treasure, the other punching a Nazi in the face. Of course, pulp heroics make for much more entertaining movies and games than Indiana Jones and the Afternoon of Context Sheets or Newly-Qualified Archaeology Student Lara Croft Spends Four Years Trying to Get a Stable Job. Even archaeologists grasp this, for all our protestations. Like lapsed Catholics who can't quite give up their patron saint, many of the archaeologists I've known would admit to Indiana Jones being a bit of a guilty role model. While writing this piece I tried to find a photo of my hard hat from my days as a field archaeologist, a promotional sticker from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull emblazoned across the back, but sadly, all record of this sartorial triumph seems lost.
In the dank underbelly of Riften, through the sewers that service the town and into the dripping cistern that the Thieves Guild calls home, is a man called Rune. He rises at 8am, stands about for most of the day until 10pm, and then goes to practise with his dagger on a dummy for a few hours until bedtime.
Hello! It's Podcast time, and we have played some gaaaaaaaames. Busy period, right? Lotta ins, lotta outs. Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1, Civ 6? Well don't worry. We have you covered for games. Not any of those games, granted, but still, testify: Beglitched! Book of Demons! Burnout Paradise!
It's early days with our analysis of the new Skyrim Remastered, with work only beginning proper on the day of release. Our initial objectives here were pretty straightforward - we wanted to get a grip on PS4 and Xbox One performance metrics after the various issues that have befallen Fallout 4, not to mention the profound problems encountered in the last-gen PS3 release. Secondly, after the release of only the most limited of comparison shots pre-launch, we really wanted to get to grips with the quality of the remaster itself. To what extent does Skyrim Remastered offer an actual improvement over the original release maxed out on PC?
Skyrim's one of those games that never really went away, but since it's back with a remaster this week, we thought it was time to take a look at the things that made it special - particularly in the light of Bethesda's next release, Fallout 4. Inevitably, there are some spoilers for both games in what follows. Enjoy!
This all seems mighty familiar. The sun splits the trees to my right while long sprawling shadows are cast over the lake; fireflies flutter overhead, close enough to be plucked out of the air; a nearby waterfall cascades from a river hundreds of feet above.
There are few things less surprising about most fantasy games than how they portray magic, which is a pretty depressing state of affairs given that magic is, by definition, the art of doing the impossible. The impossible, it turns out, has a fairly limited set of applications. By and large, it means hitting foes with elementally-flavoured balls of fire, turbo-charging your stats or zapping wounded allies back to fighting fitness, in accordance with a collection of tactical rule sets derived from the works of Tolkien via Dungeons and Dragons.
The upcoming Skyrim Special Edition adds a host of visual tweaks - as we've covered - ranging from extra foliage, upgraded shaders, dynamic depth of field, and volumetric lighting. But of course, we can already get many of these graphical upgrades right now, simply by enabling user-made mods on the PC version. After our last comparison, the question we asked ourselves is: could we match this new Skyrim release using a range of the most popular mods?
An enhanced remaster of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC this October. This new Special Edition is the first we've seen of this series on either console to date - it's a native 1920x1080 production, and based on trailer footage so far, it's also seemingly set to run at 30fps. We're promised quite a bit more though, and indeed the game borrows features from the more modern iteration of its Creation Engine, adding the rendering techniques for volumetric god rays and water shaders seen more recently in Fallout 4.
It's great news for PC crowd as well, and those who own all DLC of the original (or bought the Legendary Edition) receive this as a free update. Based on our tests, there's a visible difference between this remaster and the vanilla 2011 release, with the landscape improved by new assets; plants, mushrooms, stones and extra trees are more liberally dotted around the initial Riverwood village. A new depth of field effect is brought in too. As plucked from Fallout 4's settings menu, this allows backgrounds to dynamically fall in and out of focus depending on a player's line of sight.
Another element we noticed in matching our PC footage with this reveal trailer is that textures are identical. Bethesda's press materials offer up seven high quality BMP shots of the game - tellingly archived in a folder labeled 'Xbox One.' We've matched each of these with the PC game at maximum settings, and there's little to no difference in the quality of the texture work (barring one mountain-side near Riverwood). Assuming these are Xbox One screengrabs, it's pleasing to at least see texture filtering matches PC's top 16x anisotropic filtering setting, but the ground detail underfoot is precisely as it was before.