Skyblivion is a mod that’s very easy to explain: it’s aiming to bring the entirety of The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion into the engine used by The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim.But the reality isn’t that the team of volunteers making it simply wants to upscale the 2006 game we already know – they want to make the dream version of the game that Bethesda’s developers had in their heads back when they came up with Oblivion.
In a way, the Skyblivion team is treating Oblivion like a sketch, and painting in new details drawn from a number of sources.Seen in a recent dev diary , areas like the city of Leyawiin have been fully redesigned based on unused Oblivion concept art, bringing to life ideas that could never be realised in the original game.Others, like the Fall Forest, have been expanded and enriched with more foliage and areas of interest, with the Skyblivion team guessing at what the original designers might have aimed for with more technological grunt at their disposal.
This mixture of realising unused ideas and adding modern sheen to areas left fairly basic is part of the Skyblivion team’s philosophy.“We are definitely taking some creative freedom here and there,” project lead K Rebel tells me over email.“If we didn’t, you might as well replay the original Oblivion.Rest assured, though, that we are approaching this as fans of Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls games.”
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“Our cities, interiors, dungeons and environments are larger and filled with a lot more detail than anything in Oblivion, and in many cases Skyrim too,” K Rebel continues.“This already feels like we added some ‘cut content’, as I’m sure the original developers would have loved to create a bigger and more detailed world, but in the end were held back by the technology of the time.
For example, a lot of the fortresses from the original Oblivion were singular towers, which in a lot of cases we have rebuilt into actual fortresses that are inspired by the stories you can find about them.”
It’s not just the world that will see those improvements, but the game’s mechanics, too.“Our approach to this project is similar in a lot of ways to any other AAA game’s development cycle.We focus our efforts redesigning areas of the game that need it the most, such as environments and unique weapons.Nobody likes finishing a long questline only to receive a generic sword, or exploring through empty forests.”
For the initial release, at least, there is a line being drawn on what can be added, though.
The first goal – and one the team’s been working on for many years already – is to bring to life a new version of the original Oblivion, while keeping its basic make-up intact.“Anything else that wasn’t part of the original game won’t be touched until after our first public release,” K Rebel explains.“We have recovered a big list of [cut] quests, for instance, but unless our questing department has time to spare before the release these won’t be added until later.”
That goes for the original game’s DLC, too – the 1.0 version of Skyblivion will include the team’s take on the base version of Oblivion, so don’t expect to be able to use the infamous horse armour right away.
Even while still in development, Skyblivion feels like a fascinating mixture of homage and fan fiction, resulting in something that doesn’t sit totally comfortably in either camp.I ask whether K Rebel sees this game as designed for those who already love Oblivion, or those who never played it: “It depends.
I think that people who have recently played through Oblivion will be able to really appreciate Skyblivion on a new level, as they can clearly see how much work has been put into remaking this game.On the other hand, I think a lot of people, including myself, would kill to be able to re-experience Oblivion for the first time again – and on top of that a version of Oblivion which has much improved environments, better unique weapons and is overall a less janky and buggy experience (although a lot of this jank is what gave Oblivion its goofy charm).”
Of course, the worry that hangs over any project like this is that, no matter the good intention, a developer or publisher might see it as theft rather than tribute.Thankfully, the Skyblivion team doesn’t see trouble on its horizon.“There has been some contact with Bethesda, but projects like these are in a bit of a legal grey area,” K Rebel admits.“Bethesda allows us to do what we do but won’t openly support it.
Having that said, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a number of Bethesda employees, some of which even worked on Oblivion, and they had nothing but kind things to say about our project, which has been very humbling to say the least.A takedown is something I can safely say I never see happening.”
The last major question is when we might be able to try Skyblivion for the first time – and it’s really the only question K Rebel can’t give me an answer for.The project lead explains that the team has an unwritten rule not to promise a date, but that they are working on a public road map to make the road to the finish line a little clearer.
It’s a fair answer (if a slightly unsatisfying one for those excited by the prospect of the mod) – this is a team made up purely of volunteers, working on the game in their spare time.
It’s a mammoth project, and one that K Rebel says takes up practically all of their spare time.So why take it on? In a way, it seems to be that making the dream version of Oblivion is, in itself, the dream:
“I think once you get to a certain age, everyone is going to try and chase their childhood.When I read comments on our updates I think that’s something that our ‘fans’ are the most excited for – reliving a memory from the past.For me personally though, the project started out as a dream to work on my own game and make it what I wanted it to be.This soon grew into a massive project that we want to work on together and are able to make it everything we want it to be in an Elder Scrolls game.We may not get paid for our work but it’s a really unique experience to be able to work with like-minded individuals and work purely on something out of love and passion.”
Skyblivion is looking for volunteers to join its development team – you can sign up here , or follow the team on Twitter ..