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?
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.
Video games are guilty of reflecting humanity's more violent nature at times - and it's easy to see why when our screens are filled with nameless marines and musclebound maniacs eager to destroy every living thing in their path. As in reality, the virtual worlds we inhabit contain a wide array of human expression, ranging from violent combat to peaceful cooperation. Some players are taking things a step further though, opting to lay down their computerised weapons and adopt a nonviolent, pacifist approach to their virtual endeavours.
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.
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.
In 2006, the Bethesda Games Studios team that brought fantasy RPG The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion to life comprised over 300 people. In 2013, in an interview prior to the launch of Watch_Dogs, Ubisoft managing director Pauline Jacquey said that a typical open world action game requires between 400 and 600 staff to make it happen. In 2012, Warren Spector claimed "over 700 people around the world" were working on his then upcoming project Epic Mickey 2. Big games require big studios, it seems.
Spiders weren't always an issue for modder Cory Ferrier. Before the age of seven, they hadn't bothered him whatsoever, until an unfortunate encounter at the zoo kickstarted his condition. He's now in his late teens and although not something he'd consider 'crippling', his fear extends to similar insects like crickets and cockroaches. As he suggests, the onset of his phobia has negatively impacted his enjoyment of video games - particularly against the increasingly realistic depictions modern technology throws at him. Role-playing games are playgrounds of constant torment.
How often have you gone back to a game you thought you'd exhausted, only to find it full of prospects and potential? In a fallow period for vast open-world RPGs, a lazy visit to see my Skyrim house opened more than furniture filled with hard-earned goodies. Nostalgia took hold and prompted a look at my open quests list, and from there I was picking up the threads of a game that had laid dormant for a good 18 months.
My name is Robert Florence, and we are going to have a fight.
In Dawnguard, you can become a Vampire Lord. If you choose to, that is. Hours in, you'll face a choice - do you want to be a Vampire Lord or do you want to join the Dawnguard, the vampire hunters? You'll hear about the new content through Skyrim's guards, who tell you the Dawnguard are recruiting. The content will be available early on in the Skyrim game, but the real meat won't begin until level 10.
In our E3 demo, we're already hours into the Dawnguard expansion, and we're a level 29 Vampire Lord. We're in a tomb with a woman called Serana, who's either a vampire or had a very late night, judging by her red eyes. The quest we activate and follow with her has us summon stony steps to a place called Soul Cairn. It's an eerie, otherworldly place that's almost black and white. Skeletons and ghosts and ethereal balls of light roam around, and lightning strikes around us. Serana, it comes to play, is a very important part of the puzzle to find an Elder Scroll - the main quest - and to thwart the Tyranny of Sun prophecy that will wipe the vampires out. We'll leave the spoilers there, not that we got much further in.
A Vampire Lord is different to a vampire in the normal Skyrim game. You shape-shift to become a Vampire Lord, a bit like becoming a Werewolf, and you can Revert Form if and when you like. A Vampire Lord has two arms and two bony wings that have sprouted from its gnarled and twisted back. It's a devilishly cool look. The Vampire Lord is primarily a caster, similar to how the Werewolf primarily uses melee. The Vampire Lord can hover and walk. When hovering, the Vampire Lord uses magical attacks. When walking - a state changed by clicking the left analogue stick - the Vampire lord swipes with its clawed hands. Holding down the left bumper has the Vampire Lord flap its wings and fly-sprint, and the effect can be sustained for a relatively long time. The Vampire Lord can also walk across water by virtue of its hovering.
Dara O Briain is the fast talking Irish comedian known to us for his passion for video games, a hobby he sends up frequently during his renowned stand-up routines. O Briain also hosts satirical telly show Mock the Week, and this evening he'll host the GAME British Academy Video Game Awards (BAFTA) - a post he's filled every year since 2009.
My latest trip back to Skyrim didn't start with a dragon attack. It started with homework. Specifically, sitting down with a pen to watch a couple of hours worth of YouTube videos created by Bethesda, with the goal of transforming its Creation Kit from "Oh my god..." to "Oh, I see!"
Is my save playable again? This is the question PS3 owners will be asking themselves as they slot their Skyrim disc back in and download the latest patch.
We've had our say. You've had your say. But what about the people who made the games? What were their favourites of the year just ended? Yes, it's that time of year again, when we pester our favourite creators for their reflections and then watch them show us up with their witty and insightful explanations.
Did you know that there's a new Mission: Impossible film out this Christmas? I had no idea until the other day. I assume they must have masses of advertising running for that on TV, in cinemas, online and "outdoors" (I eventually spotted it on a train station poster), but despite spending most of my life hanging off the digital world like a conjoined foetus, somehow its existence had passed me by.
Every Sunday we dust off an article in our archive that you might have missed at the time or we think you'll enjoy again. On the eve of Dark Souls 2's PC release, here's Rich Stanton's take on the differing styles of storytelling at work in the original game and another great RPG of the year it came out, Skyrim. This article was originally published in December 2011.
Updated: Obsidian's Joshua E Sawyer explains memory management issues affecting Fallout: New Vegas that sound very similar indeed to what is happening with PS3 Skyrim.
There are big games, there are massive games, and then there are this week's two banner releases.
This week marked the fifth anniversary of the release of one of my favourite Xbox 360 games ever made.
Viva Pinata was a cute and cuddly game where you planted seeds in a garden and then looked after the friendly animals who popped in to investigate the trees and plants that grew from them. There were 60 varieties to attract, each more delightful than the last, and as their ranks swelled you could sacrifice some to attract other, more exotic species in their place.
Of course, this week also marked the fifth anniversary of the emergence of another famous Xbox 360 series.
There are dragons! Unlimited dragons, purportedly, and I probably should have chased one of them down in my three hours with Skyrim. Instead, I got distracted by crafting swords. This may not have been ideal journalistic practice, but it does speak to what Skyrim really is, as opposed to what all those dramatic trailers present it as.
You would imagine that getting to play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the first time is an enormous pleasure, but let me tell you a secret: it is not.
It began, as ever, with a leak. With just hours to go until Microsoft's absurdly lavish... Wait a second, this is last year's intro. Oh well, it turns out it still works: where last year we heard about Kinect before we'd even donned our space ponchos, this year we knew about Halo 4 and several new Kinect sequels before Don Mattrick even had a chance to start educating us about "growth and innovation".
Pretty much every openworld game presentation I have ever sat through has included the bit where the developer points to something on the horizon and remarks that you can actually go there. In the old days this used to be a unique and exciting possibility, but over the years the thrill has worn off. Nowadays we just nod politely.