Creating a level mod that feels like a seamless part of Skyrim.

In 2017 I wanted to work with AAA assets inside an AAA title to get the best comparable experience of level designing for an AAA game. My intention going into this project was to follow the design of the main game but also bring in some new ideas, like a little DLC. I decided that Skyrim is a perfect choice for these goals because the modding tools are so robust while being exactly what Bethesda used and the modding community is so lively.

  • Level Design
  • Mission & NPC Scripting
  • Lighting & Environment
  • Narrative
  • Creation Kit (Skyrim)
Team Size
  • Solo
Alternate view of hot spring waterfall

I went with an underground hot spring waterfall as the main set piece, inspired by a hidden fall at Fairmont Hot Springs, and it was initially going to be just a small dungeon camp. My ideas started running as I was making the level though and it eventually expanded into a full fledged mission with multiple enemy encounters, custom treasure with a teleport mechanic, a hectic boss fight and a story of a paranoid man trying to unearth something that should have stayed buried with another plotting to overthrow him.

This level can be downloaded at Nexus Mods and the install instructions can be found there too. Please check it out!

The boss room, with the boss on his throne
Looking up the boss room with the boss seated on his throne.
Level Features

It’s important in Skyrim to let different builds and play styles shine in their own way and not favor just one way to do things. The level encourages this in various ways, such as giving tight areas for melee characters and large areas for long range attacks, or moments where stealth focused classes will have less problems because charging in will cause some of the NPCs to block off easy access to them by raising a drawbridge.

The level also sets up opportunities for emergent story telling and uses prop dressing to add to the story. One memorable moment was a werewolf caged behind some bars and you have to set it free to gain access to the next area. There’s a story behind that werewolf and it adds to the background of a couple of the other characters in the dungeon. The player also has options on how to deal with the werewolf, such as sneaky one can use it to attack the bandits in the map instead of fighting it, which completely ruins their plans on safely getting rid of it.

The overall map is linear in design to capture the progress of the bandits’ long, focused dig to the end of the cave and to keep the scope simpler as I was learning the engine. I also used prop dressing and notes to encourage player curiosity and find out why these bandits are doing all this digging. It builds up tension, that it must be something very important and some cave-ins at the end reveal to the player what it is that they seek.

I gained plenty of new technical experience while working on this level to completion that I normally would not have exposure to in a smaller indie level: I worked with the nav mesh system, made dialogue conversations and choices, scripted events and AI with the proprietary Papyrus language, utilized the quest system, made patrols and idle states for NPCs, and made unique spells to name a few.

After completion I was quite pleased with the results and the skills gained in the process. I hope you’ll enjoy it! If you would like to read more technical details of the development of this level, check out the postmortem in my blog.