The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR – Q&A

The understatement of the year for me personally is that I am excited to play Skyrim in VR. Its announcement came without expectation a day after a few friends and I were discussing how well it would work in VR. Then the same week, Sony announced it at their E3 event. Mind blown.

Now I am counting down the days until I can explore the world of Skyrim under the headset, something that, no doubt, has to be experienced and cannot fully be described.

Andrew Scharf, Lead Producer at Bethesda Game Studios, was kind enough to answer some of our questions regarding their work on Skyrim and VR in general. Check out the answers below.

You guys just exploded into the VR scene, seemingly all of a sudden. Why now and what made you decide to port some of your stronger titles to VR?
ZeniMax and Bethesda Softworks have been at the forefront of VR development for years, even before we first showed a prototype of the technology in May 2012 with a cobbled-together headset and DOOM 3 BFG running in VR.

As part of that broader initiative, BGS has been exploring VR for a long time. VR felt like the next logical step, where we have this technology that can allow players to feel completely immersed in our worlds, and games such as Skyrim and Fallout are perfect fits.

First and foremost, we wanted to experience Skyrim in VR and see it for ourselves. Once we put the headset on and looked around Skyrim’s landscape at scale, it was a no brainer. We had to do it.

In terms of Skyrim, why did you decide to premiere the VR version on PS VR?
We want to bring Skyrim to as many players as possible, and PS VR is a very accessible platform which allows us to do just that. We wanted to start by bringing Skyrim VR to the living room.

When we started breaking out design specifics, so much of how Skyrim already works lends itself to VR. Being able to equip any weapon or spell in either hand, dynamic objects in the world that can be picked up and moved around, riding on horseback or on the back of a dragon, the whiteboard was filled with great ideas that we couldn’t wait to see working in VR. With that said, we continue to look at additional platforms and opportunities for Skyrim VR.

What were some of the initial challenges in porting something as huge as Skyrim to VR?
PlayStation VR games need to be running at 60fps at all times, otherwise it can be an uncomfortable experience for the player. We’re working with a great team at Escalation Studios, who are among the best VR developers in the industry and with their help, we were able to not only get the game running smoothly, but redesign and shape Skyrim’s mechanics to feel good in VR.

It’s definitely a challenge figuring out the best way to display important information in VR. Take the World Map and the Skills menu for example — we wanted to give the player an immersive 360 degree view when choosing where to travel, or viewing the constellations and deciding which perk to enable.

For the HUD, we needed to make sure important information was in an area where the player could quickly refer to it, while also preventing the player from feeling claustrophobic by being completely surrounded by user interface elements.

Now that you’ve achieved a successful port of two giant RPGs to VR, Fallout included, and have developed a workflow for the task, do you foresee doing the same for some older titles such as Oblivion or Morrowind?
We’ve definitely learned a lot, but as far as what future titles we will or won’t bring to VR, that remains to be seen. For now our focus is on launching and supporting the VR versions of Skyrim and Fallout 4.

Were there any visual sacrifices that had to be made in order to port the game to VR aside from the expected resolution dip?
The most significant visual change is that the game is only in first person. That allowed us to focus much more on the experience of feeling like you’re in combat, casting spells, riding on horseback, shielding yourself from dragon flames. If anything, the simple act of being inside the world of Skyrim at scale is an intensely unique visual experience.

This one has been asked a lot: Since both games are running on the PS4, is there a way to migrate saves from the PS4 version of the game – in order for fans of the PS4 version to continue their adventure and not have to start over? If not, can you explain why this may not be possible?
This is something we’ve talked about with Sony and would like to look into further, but prior to launch we’ve been focusing on the Skyrim VR experience as a fresh start for players.

On Locomotion – There was a lot of backlash from your reveal back at E3 because of the teleport locomotion used in demos. I was pretty confident when I told folks that you guys only did that because it would be demoed on the floor with people of various levels of VR tolerance, so you played it safe with teleporting for the demo. But I figured that you always intended to add smooth locomotion with the Move controllers for the full game. Is this true?
There were a bunch of options we were considering from the very beginning of development. We wanted to ensure that people who were susceptible to VR motion sickness could still experience the world of Skyrim comfortably, so we focused on new systems we would have to add, like our teleportation movement scheme, to help alleviate any tolerance issues first.

Was the smooth locomotion technique used in Skyrim developed by your team, or did you guys research successful locomotion methods used in other VR games?
There’s a good number of us here who spend a lot of time playing VR games and see what works well and what doesn’t, but ultimately it came down to figuring out the best approach for us.

There were unique challenges with Skyrim that we had to iterate on, from having both main and offhand weapons, the design of the PlayStation Move controllers, long-term play comfort, and ultimately, making sure you can still play Skyrim in whichever playstyle you prefer.

What were the challenges of migrating twin-stick (or mouse) controls into the Move controllers?
The twin sticks were actually the easy part to figure out. Left analog stick is movement, which is controlled by the direction of the PlayStation Move Controller in your left hand (or right hand if you toggle “Left Handed Mode” in our options).

Right analog stick is Look/Aim traditionally, but in VR with motion controllers, looking and aiming are controlled separately since you can look with the PS VR headset itself and aim with either of the Move Controllers – depending on what weapons/spells you have equipped. Swinging a sword, casting spells, using a bow and arrow all work the way you would expect if you were using your own hands.

Are there any particular mechanics from the original game that have taken a hit because of VR controls? For example, shooting a bow while walking with the Move controllers?
We’ve found that using the DualShock versus the PlayStation Move Controllers translates to different play styles that work best for each.

Some of the major advantages of using the PlayStation Move Controllers are that you have the ability to nock and fire bows quickly and accurately, lean around corners to peak at targets, fire two different spells at separate targets, precisely control where you pick up and drop objects, and in general be able to interact with the world a little more naturally.

Those who intend to play for a longer session may just want to relax on the couch and play, which is where the DualShock controller shines. Almost all of the controls are the same as Skyrim SE, except you’re using the headset to look around and aim.

Given the choice, what would you have added to the Move controller to achieve exactly what you would have liked in VR locomotion?
It was up to us to find a way to take everything you should normally be able to do in Skyrim using the Move Controller and have it feel natural, and I think we were able to achieve exactly what we wanted. I feel really good about our locomotion options. At the end of the day it’s a balance between player comfort and immersion while exposing options to allow players to adjust and make their VR experience feel best for them.

What was it like working with the PS VR headset?
Sony has great support tools for VR which helped us problem solve and reach our performance targets. The headset is easy to put on and take off and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. My coworkers appreciate having lots of opportunities to sneak up and mess with me while I’m playing the game, it’s definitely been a fun platform to work on.

How do you feel about VR’s future?
Optimistic. There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem when it comes to getting a large number of quality content for people to experience in VR, and our goal is to provide a way to be able to spend hundreds of hours in a world that we (and our fans) love, in a whole new way. We’re hoping that with the launch of our VR titles this year, it can help tilt the scales and we’ll start seeing more larger-scale content being created.

Do you guys have plans to continue VR support in 2018?
We’re excited by VR and we’ll continue to look for ways to support and bring Skyrim and Fallout to as many headsets as possible, as well as controllers where it makes sense, and will continue to look into expanding our games’ reach as much as we can.

I am very grateful to Andrew and the team at Bethesda for taking the time to answer these questions for us. Skyrim marks an absolute first in VR. It is the first 100+ hour RPG in VR with a gigantic open world to explore. And I for one cannot wait to lose hours to this frozen world once again.

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