Modding Skyrim’s Very Design Philosophy


Everybody’s playing The Witcher 3 right now, and that’s great. It’s my most anticipated 2015 game, but unfortunately I won’t be able to buy or start playing it for some time, probably weeks. In the meantime I’m replaying the first two Witcher games and trying to finally get Skyrim off my plate. I’ve already written about my first forays into modding Skyrim, but that was mostly about why I started modding the game. Now I’m starting to like how a handful of light gameplay mods have significantly changed my experience with the game.

Basically, I’ve tried to eradicate the parts of Skyrim that make it what some might call a “GPS game.” Almost every big game these days has some magical GPS indicator in its HUD that tells you exactly where you need to go next in order to progress. People make fun of it by posting fictitious Battlefield box arts that are nothing but a “follow” icon. Developers really want to make sure you never ever get lost. A long time ago I did a blog post about this specifically in relation to Skyrim.

Previously I said “Sky UI” and “Alternate Start” were the two most important mods I’d installed for Skyrim, but the two next to that are probably “Skyrim Interface Makeover” with certain settings, and “Even Better Quest Objectives.” The former has a bunch of different settings to change the interface, one of which completely removes waypoints from Skyrim. The problem with this is Bethesda very much designed the game around waypoints. There is often no way for players to figure out where a quest objective is without looking at the waypoint. Thus, someone made the quest objectives mod where they rewrote over 200 quest descriptions in Skyrim to actually describe where you’re supposed to do them. These two mods along with some more attention paid to other elements of the world make the whole experience feel a lot more organic and somewhat similar to the way older games handled objectives.

Normally the game might just tell me to simply “speak to Maven Black Briar” and give me a waypoint that magically gives me her exact position in the world 24/7, like somebody put a tracking device on her. I modded this away and now have the objective “speak to Maven Black Briar in Riften.” I now know she’s in Riften, and if I’d been paying attention to the game up to this point I’d know that’s where she lives. From previous interactions I also know she runs multiple businesses in that town, so I should look for her at one of them. Eventually I find her upstairs in a bar. It’s a small change but it requires me to be a lot more mentally engaged in the game.

What’s funny about this situation is Skyrim’s world has tools to allow players to navigate it organically. It has road signs, businesses are marked with billboards, books often describe locations in detail, and sometimes a character will describe a location (or mark it on your map which makes enough sense). Bethesda wants its world to feel real, but doesn’t really want to make players treat it as one.

Bioshock has the same problem. If you need to know where to go you can replay an audio recording, look at a map, read pathway signs, and read billboards. Instead however you’ll probably just end up looking at the quest arrow on the HUD and the giant “GOAL” sign on the map.

I get why waypoints are there. Some people need them or would at least rather have them there. That’s fine. I just don’t like it when a game is completely designed around needing these artificial helper systems. If what I’ve heard is correct, Witcher 3 was designed around players being able to find their way organically, with waypoints and other helpers added on top for people who prefer them.


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