The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review &
Interview with Ray Lederer (Concept Artist)
PS3, XBox 360 & Windows PC
After drooling over the collector's edition
strategy guide, I open up my copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and dive into it headfirst. I quickly learn in the beginning of the
game that I'm a prisoner that's been sentenced to death and before being
executed, an exciting and terrifying scene takes place, really
showcasing early on the true magnitude of pure awesomeness that is this
game. Before I know it, I'm jumping down into a burning building,
swinging swords, and looting bodies during all of this chaos. I won't
spoil the fun introduction for you, so allow me to dig elsewhere in this
vast world of vivid scenery and seamless game play.
literally had to just stop and just look around for quite some time at
random points in my first few hours of playing Skyrim. Simple things
like water and trees amused me to no end and are complete works of
finely detailed art in this game, as is everything else. Shadows are
cast everywhere, the sky is a beautiful thing to behold, and you could
even see the stars peeking through the clouds at some times. While I
decided to do some hardcore mountain climbing, I looked over at the sky
and saw one of the most stunning things in my early experience with
Skyrim – the Aurora Borealis.
many things catch my attention as I wander around the map – different
climates in the various sections, wind picking up particles on the
ground and blowing them away, random animal skulls in the middle of
nowhere, and countless other things that make this game just feel as
massive as it really is. The only minor downside I came across was while
mountain climbing; I got stuck every so often and would have to re-load
if I absolutely could not get out. Other than that, the mountain
climbing is a lot better in that you can climb much more steeply, and so
you have a lot more freedom on where you can go.
On the fighting side of things, I find the more creatures I come across
the more I want to play with different weapon combinations that are now
at my disposal. In Skyrim you can dual-wield weapons, dual-wield magic
to make more powerful versions of it, use sword and shield, single- and
double-handed weapons, and so on.
one thing that I have yet to feature in my reviews, for a bit more
insight into the game being discussed and as a bit of a real treat, is
an interview! I asked concept artist Ray Lederer some questions about
this pure monstrosity of absolute colossal proportions, his involvement
in the project and how he was lucky enough to be a part of it, fun
little things about the art work for this game, and some differences
between Skyrim and Oblivion. Here are those lovely questions and
Shael: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get your start
on doing artwork, where did you progress from there?
Ray: I've been drawing for as long as I can remember. My first
credited professional work was with FASA and WEST END GAMES doing
Mechwarrior and Star Wars interior illustrations for pen and paper RPGs.
After that I worked at a CG start up a school friend of mine began. When
that imploded a couple of years later, I managed to land a job in the
video games industry in Boulder, Colorado of all places. Not exactly the
Mecca of game development to be sure but the most gorgeous, inspiring,
and fun place I've lived. I stayed local there for a good 8 years
jumping from studio to studio as a generalist artist who could animate,
model, texture, and of course draw. I began to seriously burn out and
considered leaving the video game industry all together because I simply
wasn't happy as a generalist production artist. I'm an illustrator,
designer, storyboard, and comic book artist at heart and concept art is
a perfect way to scratch that itch. In 2006 I landed my first full time
concept art position at Gas Powered Games in Redmond, WA. A couple of
years later I landed here at Bethesda Game Studios.
How did you land a job at Bethesda Softworks, and what have you been
working on with the company?
R: It was a bit of good timing and luck. I was looking for work
in late 2008 when my friend Adam Adamowicz who I knew from my Colorado
days and was the sole concept artist here at Bethesda, said I should
apply. He's the one who did all of the brilliant work on Fallout 3. With
a good recommendation from Adam and my friend Chandana Ekanayake who was
my AD at GPG and a former BGS employee I got an interview. I was a
little nervous at first since there are not too many studios to fall
back on out here if this didn't work out. My fears went out the window
when I met Todd, Matt, Istvan, and the rest of the crew. I knew this was
a great crew and a well-run studio as I'd seen some pretty glaring
examples of how not to run a studio in my past. I haven't looked back
since and don't regret it for a second.
Around how many people were involved in the artwork alone for Skyrim,
and roughly how much of what we see in the game is a result of your
R: If you're talking the entire art team I think it's around
25-30 people. I'm not actually sure to be honest but it's a decent sized
team of truly gifted art ninjas we have here. As for the concept art
team it was just me and Adam for 98% of the stuff. We'd also contracted
Massive Black to help us out with a few things in which the brilliant
Wes Burt contributed some designs. I got here about a year into
development so I'd guess around 40%(?) is mine. We've got the walls
filled with art in our pit and it only scratches the surface of what
we've done. Between the 2 of us we've got enough to fill 3 Art of Skyrim
S: What are some of the major differences between Skyrim and
Oblivion? What are some new things people can do in-game?
R: In my opinion the difference between them is night and day.
Mechanically it's similar, because it is after all an Elder Scrolls
game, but the similarities end there. It's a little less Renn-Faire and
a little more Motorhead. Right away you'll notice the world is far more
lush and varied. Walking into the night and seeing the 2 moons partially
obscured by drifting clouds and shimmering aurora borealis stretching
all the way across the sky, while low dense fog slowly creeps through
craggy mountain peaks and dragons roar in the distance, it's just
breathtaking. I want to just camp out there and enjoy the view. My
screenshot folder is filled with beautiful snapshots of the world like
that. It's everything I love about Colorado and the Cascades turned up
to 11. With monsters! The level of detail is insane. I'm helping to test
the PC version of the game and with the settings all cranked up it is
the most epic and beautiful game I've ever played. I'm pinching myself.
I have never been so proud of a project I've worked on in my life.
Would you like to share any other fun tidbits about Skyrim that people
may not know about?
R: I cannot share anything new about the game but I will say
this: To anyone who thinks the Art of Skyrim book will not worth the
price of the CE you may be in for a surprise. We saw the prototype of
the book the other day and it is big, beautiful, and PACKED with as much
as they could cram in there. Not only is there concept art but there are
beautifully rendered character models, props, and world art. There's
something for everyone and it's a stunningly produced book. The layout
and design is second to none. The Alduin statue is absolutely stunning
as well. I think anyone who picks up the CE will be really happy they
did. It's beautifully produced and the highest quality CE I've ever
seen. My only hope is that eventually we do a retail version of the art
book to sell.
there you have it! I, like Ray, also hope that there will be a retail
version of the art book. The mind-boggling amount of detail that went
into the game could then be fully appreciated by many more by seeing the
original art work that went behind it.
Moving on to some other fun aspects of the game itself, one thing that I
do love is the new way that lock picking works. Instead of the
frustration of dealing with the tumblers, you now literally feel around
the lock using two your picks, moving each individually carefully until
the lock rotates and opens. If you rotate them more and more to where
they won't open, the controller also vibrates more and more until the
tension results in the picks breaking. Another change in Skyrim that I
really like is the fact that the music doesn't seem to abruptly change
when danger is near.
I feel that element of surprise when coming up on
something like a snow bear is more fun than hearing that moment of
silence then the music change going, “Alright, there's something around
here somewhere, where is it… Oh, there it is.” Now instead of that it's
“OMFG there's a big freaking bear charging down this mountain at me!”
The music does end up changing, but it's a lot smoother of a transition
between ambient sound and the dramatic battle soundtrack than the very
obvious change. And even if it does seem a little abrupt to some, it
sure doesn't to me, especially when compared to Oblivion.
Speaking of creatures charging and attacking, a word about the combat. I
think the combat in this game runs a lot smoother than in Oblivion, and
I mean a lot smoother. The way that you're able to change up your magic
and weapons is a breeze to deal with, and I love the incorporation of
showing finishing moves on enemies at some points, giving beautiful
takedowns their moment of glory. No matter what type of fighter you are,
you will be able to play exactly the way you want in this game. The area
of skill points had a major facelift as well. Whatever style you play,
that is what your character will become. Want to be more of a thief
type? Then play like one. Fighter? Mage? Those skills increase as you go
along and use them accordingly, and as you level up you choose different
perks in each skill section, shown as colorful constellations that you
gaze up to for guidance.
Something I'm sure people are really waiting to read about is the topic
of dragons in Skyrim. It is no surprise that there are dragons, and that
as you kill them you absorb their souls and gain powerful magic
abilities called shouts, so that's not spoiling anything. One thing I
wasn't prepared for when I saw the trailers and YouTube videos of game
play was the sheer perfection of these beasts. It is a thing of beauty
to watch a dragon fly around, land, shoot a stream of fire at the people
trying to kill it, and the digression of its ability to fly as it gets
injured, seeing more and more blood as it's near death. The sounds that
you hear while fighting dragons, other creatures, and just all of the
audio in this game is quite impressive and clearly has been shown as
close attention to as every other aspect of this epic work of art.
Another word about sound is that the voice acting has definitely
improved leaps and bounds from the last game, giving yet another huge
example to add to the things Skyrim has nailed.
could write all day about all of the finer aspects about improved races,
cultures, things you could do like cooking and other jobs, alchemy, and
other fun things, but I'd rather keep playing! So go play it yourself to
learn even more! If you are sitting on the fence about whether or not to
get Skyrim, get it. It is worth it a million times over. The amount of
time you could spend in this game is practically endless. The only
potentially bad thing is that you could lose sleep because you won't
want to stop playing.
Sit back, relax, and let's play!
Sr. Writer Impulse Gamer