Lordbound is an expansion mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, developed using its native tools, the Creation Kit. Lordbound is an international collaboration between alumni, young industry professionals and experienced modders, with twelve people actively working on the project. The mod will be DLC-sized, with two main questlines, four new factions, a new, large overworld as well as plenty of sidequests and dungeons.

I joined the team in February 2016 as a level designer and worked with the Lordbound team until late May to create three new dungeons for my graduation thesis. For my thesis, I researched and later tested ways of adding new types of player interactivity to Skyrim dungeons, particularly focused on smaller-sized dungeons. None of the dungeons I created were straightforward in their design – I experimented with puzzles, new types of enemies and other interactive elements. After the completion of my graduation project, I continued to work with the team, creating more exterior and interior locations and to help with the integration of my previous work.

My main priority throughout this project was to ensure that any new elements I created would not increase existing development costs. This is important because of several reasons; most importantly, when Skyrim dungeons are developed, only quest-dungeons and other large levels can be allocated enough development time to leave room for custom elements like setpieces, puzzles, bosses and other unique assets. Each of these elements might require additional work from artists or programmers, complicating the development pipeline, and will always demand more work from the design team. At the same time, these elements are required to make each level distinct and interesting, as well as exciting to play through. For smaller-sized dungeons, which almost serve a role of filling in gaps of content, this is simply not feasible to do. As such, they need to be created more quickly and efficiently.

The solution to this problem are level design templates. Setting guidelines and using conventions to work with during development will greatly speed up production time, while also allowing artists and programmers to create modular setpieces which can be used multiple times throughout the game. Each of the dungeons I created are based on a new template. For those familiar with Skyrim, the templates and their dungeons roughly break down as follows:

  • The first dungeon is a Nordic Draugr dungeon, where one central room connects to several seperate branches. By solving puzzles throughout the branches, the player can unlock access to the final treasure room. This dungeon also toys with player expectations, ambushes and unique boss fights, which are aimed at making each branch feel different and interesting.
  • The second dungeon is a Dwemer dungeon, with an even stronger focus on puzzles, as well as interactive environmental puzzles. The player has to use a certain type of magic spell to destroy parts of the environment to progress through the dungeon, and use those same mechanics to solve a large puzzle at the end. Additionally, the dungeon experiments with custom enemies which are weak to certain types of attacks, encouraging a more slower, tactical approach.
  • The third dungeon was simultaneously created to be used as a city-space and as a playable dungeon. After clearing the dungeon on request of a group of refugees, the group will move into the dungeon and use it as a small city hub where players can receive quests and barter. This poses several challenges in terms of level design conventions, and was an attempt to create a new type of level in Skyrim without using any new assets, including scripts.
  • To measure the success (or failures) of my endeavours, I organised several rounds of playtests, where participants would play without outside assistance and fill in a survey afterwards. The focus group included players who had no experience with Skyrim at all, players who loved Skyrim and players who had played Skyrim and did not like it. Their responses were extremely interesting, and led to very valuable results. All of my work is documented in my thesis, which was very well received and graded highly by an assessment panel of industry professionals.

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