Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"But, even in the west, the Rainmaker vanishes. No one needs him anymore.": Linkblogging at the end of Skyrim?

This isn't going to be a really massive update: I do have big plans for this site I'm busily working on behind the scenes to set in motion and I have a major blog project unrelated to this one I'm currently scrambling to get into a reasonably presentable form. But, there was one piece of recent game industry news I absolutely had to say something about.

As I'm writing this, Bethesda has just announced the cessation of development on and support for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. While minor patches will continue to be released for awhile, Dragonborn, the expansion pack that returns players to Solstheim, the remote northern island first seen in the Bloodmoon expansion for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, will be the last piece of official Bethsoft DLC for Skyrim. It's a more than fitting end for the game, but the announcement has left me with somewhat conflicting emotions.

The news has been difficult for me to deal with for a number of reasons. For one thing I have a habit of intentionally not beating many games: When I was young I somehow got it into my head that if I beat a game, then that was sort of the end and I couldn't enjoy it any more. This is of course silly: I've played through Super Mario Bros. alone a frighteningly incalculable number of times over the years without it ever becoming trite or hackneyed and I've gotten 100% on Metroid Prime and Alice: Madness Returns at least four times apiece. I continue to play SSX Tricky over a decade after its release in spite of the fact there is literally nothing more for me to unlock or accomplish that physically exists on the disc. Even Skyrim I must have played through at minimum a dozen times already if for no other reason than how often I've had to start from scratch thanks to corrupted saves brought about by mods conflicting with each other and even the official DLC packs and updates. But the fact remains I remain, at least subconsciously, uncomfortable with the finality the end of a video game signifies.

And The Elder Scrolls is different from other video game series. More than any other game I can think of, each TES outing relies on the dynamic interaction between players, developers and the physical game itself. Tamriel is a game world that on every conceivable level works under the assumption that it will be shaped by each of these forces working cooperatively-The world of Skyrim exists only because they collectively want it to. It could be convincingly argued this is true of any video game, possibly any work of fiction for that matter, but The Elder Scrolls is overtly, textually *about* this at a basic, fundamental level. And among Elder Scrolls games Skyrim means something very special, at least to me. It's too early for me to say exactly what, but it's something.

As a result, even though the end of Bethsoft support for Skyrim certainly doesn't mean Skyrim will necessarily cease to exist, there is still a palpable sense of loss to be felt here, at least for me. Yes, Skyrim is now fully in the hands of the ever-vibrant Elder Scrolls mod community, who continue to amaze me with the absolutely unbelievable things they can do with the game and who will most assuredly continue to support it for many years to come (there are even still modders supporting 2006's Oblivion and 2002's Morrowind to this day), but I still can't help but feel one of the engines of creation has run down and a major sense of creative drive is no longer with us. It feels like part of Skyrim, and a very significant part, has died.

This is neither the time or place for me to go into great detail about exactly what Skyrim has meant to me over the past two years: There's far too much for me to say and I'm still not entirely sure about how I'm going to go about saying it (nor am I, for that matter, terribly confidant I can put it it into words at all), but I do fully intend to make Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls series as a whole the subject of a major, large-scale project of mine at some point in the future. What I do want to do with this space is take a little time to gather some initial thoughts about the game's legacy and how the world it's helped create will live on, even without Bethesda. Unfortunately, I don't have a ton of my own at this time. What I do have is access to some very touching things I've read from other people. I suppose that makes this entry little more than a glorified linkblog, but that's all I've got right now and I would highly recommend checking out each of these articles regardless. They're not explicitly about the end of Bethsoft support for Skyrim, but they all feel oddly fitting in the wake of it. Sometimes things work out that way, as if the gentle touch of the ideaspace is subtly reacting to our collective zeitgeist.

Sky above.

Voice within.

Wind guide you.

-Arngeir of the Greybeards

Skyrim is unique among contemporary so-called AAA video games, and likewise Bethesda is unique in terms of studios that put out AAA games. Destructoid's Jim Sterling noticed this too, and sat down with them for a very frank and candid interview about the state of the modern video game industry, its overall sustainability, and how games like Skyrim show the way forward. I'd actually go even further and say that Skyrim, and the larger Elder Scrolls work as a whole, might actually be wholly unique in all of pop fiction. It's certainly consistently proven itself to be the one exception to pretty much every rule I can come up with for franchise Soda Pop Art.

Eurogamer has an extensive, and very beautiful, interview with Jeremy Soule, the composer behind the soundtracks for, among many others, Secret of Evermore, Guild Wars 2, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In it Soule talks about near-death experiences, the spiritual dimension behind his music and his inspirations. He also muses on music's ability to allow us in some ways to channel those who came before us and speaks not of “composing” but “transcribing” and makes the act of writing and listening to music sound like an almost transcendental, magickal experience. Those who've read the entry where I name-check Avital Ronell as one of my favourite philosophers will know this is a statement that speaks to me. I think Soule might just have it figured out, and I feel similarly about video games. Soule also spends some time talking about the Kickstarter project to fund his first symphony, The Northerner, which will be an extension and continuation of the themes and stylings of his soundtrack to Skyrim. While The Northerner won't be The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim II, I do find it telling that a guy with the kind of mind and list of credits Soule has felt moved and touched enough by Skyrim to revisit it in a work of this magnitude.

The Northerner is due out this September at the earliest, and you can hear a musical sketch of what it might sound like here.

Finally, Skyrim itself might be given new life via the Oculus Rift, quite possibly the single most exciting thing to come out of the current video game industry climate. Indie developer and YouTube user Cymatic Bruce has gotten Skyrim running on the Rift and recorded a video to show us his first impressions. I've already spoken at great length about how much I'm looking forward to the Rift, and I won't lie and say Skyrim wasn't one of the games I've been most hoping to see in VR. Up until now though I had assumed that was only a pipedream. Even if no new content were to be made for Skyrim, experiencing it again on the Oculus Rift would be like playing an entirely new game.

As fancy and as technically fascinating as the Oculus Rift is though, the key thing it contributes to Skyrim is the same thing the mod community and The Northerner do: It reminds us of and continues to reinforce all the thoughts, ideas, emotions and experiences the game stands for and has allowed us to share between ourselves these past two years. Bethesda's involvement with it may be over, but things like this might just ensure that Skyrim lives on not just in the hearts and minds of its people, but because of them.

The eruption of Red Mountain was caused when the meteor Baar Dau crashed into Vivec City following the disappearance of Vivec, despite the efforts of Morrowind's best mages.

-From Lore-Based Loading Screens, a featured mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim