Today’s ESO Live was brought to us from the homes of Gina Bruno (Community Manager), Jessica Folsom (Senior Community Manager), Leamon Tuttle (Loremaster) and CJ Grebb (Art Director).
They began by introducing the guests. Leamon Tuttle is the Loremaster for the Elder Scrolls Online. He’s had the good fortune to write a number of awesome characters including Augur of the Obscure, Drake of Blades, Xukas, Revus Demnevanni, and Sotha Sil.
CJ Grebb is the Art Director for Elder Scrolls Online. He coordinates between content and writers and make decisions about what the artists put into the game to try to make it look as good as it can. He’s filling very big shoes. CJ is also the “voice behind ESO – whenever you guys hear someone heckling us, it’s CJ”.
We have this new zone coming up, we have Western Skyrim coming, we have Greymoor coming. Talk a little about this region.
LEAMON: Very excited with Greymoor, players will have the opportunity to go to Western Skyrim. In our time period, 582, it’s broken in two, Eastern Skyrim which is ruled by Jorunn the Skald-King and tied up in the Ebonheart Pact. We’ve spent a lot of time there. Now we get to go west, towards the Druadach mountains and into Western Skyrim, which comprises Hjaalmarch, Haafingar, and Karthald – a new hold which is only about 5 years old. They are ruled by King Svargrim who is – maybe not paranoid, but standoffish about what is going on to the East. He sees all these alliances between Jorunn and their traditional enemies, the dark elves, and getting a little antsy. His kingdom is really cool – the people of Western Skyrim tend to be really hardy – “Nords’ Nords” – they are all about hard living and Sovngarde and fighting and drinking, all the things which make a Nord a Nord. You’ll get to walk through the streets of Solitude, see a lot of locations you remember from TES V, there’s all the Nord stuff going on. But also underneath, bubbling beneath the surfaces, there’s the vampire threat.
CJ, can you talk a bit about the art direction for this zone, for Western Skyrim and Blackreach – the colour choices, the geographic elements, the architectural designs, I know a lot goes into this.
CJ: As you might expect, we were pretty excited to hear that we were going back to Skyrim with all the tricks we’ve learned artistically in the years since the game was launched. To get to do Solitude was super exciting. When the writers presented us the concept for the chapter and we saw that it was going to be this above and below thing, that we were going to do some overland in Western Skyrim and we were going to get to go to Morthal, to do Labyrinthian, to do Solitude, we were super excited. And then they said “40% of the zone is going to be in Blackreach and you can do pretty much whatever you want down there.” So we were over the moon. We got to do Western Skyrim and do a real legitimate version of 800 years ago Solitude, and then we got to go underground and go nuts. And so the above and below, this light and dark aspect, which is reflected in the story as well, is where we centred ourselves in terms of where the art went and how the thematic things that we were working with all went.
I love the art direction of this zone and it both feels new as well as very reminiscent of playing Skyrim.
CJ: Yeah, we had an interesting line to walk, we wanted people to feel nostalgic, we wanted people to be able to walk around the zone and think “oh, I know this road, I’ve been on it, I’m going to do to Dragon Bridge if I keep going this way”. But we also had the opportunity to think about what it was like 800 years prior to Skyrim: the Empire wasn’t there, they weren’t occupying it yet, so let’s make the design of Solitude reminiscent but the walls are definitely going to be Nord in design. And make all those influences pure Nord, and straight Nord, get into the beer drinking and the rollicking.
LEAMON: There’s a big art challenge there, as CJ says, because a lot of the things you see in TES V don’t exist in our time period. A lot of that stuff is Septim Era fortifications, and that’s something we worked hand-in-hand with the art department about. “What should be here if this fort isn’t? Was there a fort there before?”
CJ: Yeah, we did that with Snowhawk, because we didn’t have any plans to put anything big there like there is in TES V, but we wanted to put something there because obviously the location is strategic, and it felt that there should be something here, right? So let’s work with the writers and work with the worldbuilders to put something there to mark it. We know that there’s going to be something really cool there down the road, so let’s put something there that establishes that timeline, that this was always recognised as a cool place to be.
You can walk around Western Skyrim and it does feel very familiar, but then you go down into Blackreach and it’s a whole different vibe down there. Very dark, very glowy.
CJ: We were overjoyed when we realised they weren’t going to put a lot of restrictions on what we could do. It could have been pure blue mushrooms, right? But we were given the leeway to say maybe other caves have different looks, maybe blue mushrooms isn’t the biome that pervades throughout the entire area. So we got to do purple crystals and aeonstones. I won’t spoil anything.
LEAMON: Yes, it’s crazy to think about when you go into Blackreach for the first time in TES 5, it’s already really overwhelming. But then we got talking and thought “well, how big actually is Blackreach? Is it just limited to that?”. “No man, it’s waaaay bigger than that!” And that gave us the opportunity to do a lot of interesting stuff.
Cool. So how did all of this that we’ve been talking about: the lore, the history, the look, the feel, the colours, the art direction – how did that help inform the aesthetics of the Collectors’ Edition and the items you decided to include in it.
CJ: It all went back to above and below. That was kind of our touchstone for everything we wanted to do. So we always wanted to do something which had two aspects, or two sides, or a dark and a light, or a reveal from one thing to another, which would speak to the “Hey, we were above ground in Western Skyrim, now we’re below ground in Blackreach.” So that was what we thought about, and we wanted it to be different. Almost every aspect of the Collectors’ Edition this time is a bit different from what we’ve done before, in honour of that difference between the above and below.
It’s interesting that you say that, because we tailored it to the ESO fam. We really kept in mind the players who get the Collectors’ Edition every year, and that’s actually one of the reasons why it doesn’t include a disk because most of our players already have the game. [Only most?]
LEAMON: Physical media’s dead! [laughs]
GINA: Oh, Leamon. I still buy boxes!The vampire lord statue, inside its packaging.
What’s the process behind creating a physical Collectors Edition? Things like the statue or the coins, how do they get created and who’s involved in that?
CJ: It’s spread over such a large team. The statue, for example – when the decision is made that we’re definitely going to do a physical Collectors’ Edition this year, let’s think about a statue – then a process gets started where all the concept artists – we have a lot of departments in the art department for a game as big as ESO. It’s concept and biome and fixture and figure and technical and animation, and there’s just so much, it’s an enormous team. They’re all super talented. Please go to the credits of the game to look at the names of all the people who work on this game, not just for the art department but for everybody, it’s an amazing team – I’ll stop ranting.
But it starts with concept artists, we’ll do a concept jam where everybody gets together, they’ll all throw up concepts for “hey, here’s what a cool statue would look like”. We knew we wanted to do a vampire lord, because as soon as we got permission to do vampires and vampire lords that was going to be the thing. Then the process after that is to choose a concept piece, do a low res proxy, so we can test the animation poses. Then while that is going on, we start to Zsculpt the high res portions of it. For the statue specifically, 6 different people probably worked on that sculpt. It was Barry Enrico on the body sculpt and the armor and the wings, Kevin Johnson did the blood magic swirl on the base underneath, rigging was Raphael, posing was Jay… and all those people have to come together, and it goes through a lot of approvals, it gets sent out to everyone so everyone can see it. They knocked it out of the park.
Wow, that’s a huge group effort. I didn’t know that many people were involved.
LEAMON: Everything in game development is, man. There is nothing that happens in game development that doesn’t involve a ton of really passionate, talented people.
It looks like a lot of thought went into all the items, too.
CJ: Yeah, and some of the ideas come from PR and the Marketing side of things. We didn’t know we were going to do coins until they proposed “Hey, people love these coins that we give away, why don’t we put coins in the box? We’ll make new versions of these three older coins and then we get to do a new coin for Greymoor” and that was really, really cool.
The coins have always been really, really popular. We started giving them out during the live events when the Morrowind chapter was coming out. We’ve done them every year since, and they’ve become a tradition at our live events.
CJ: I had no idea they were that popular until Jordan in Marketing let me know.
LEAMON: And the ones in here are bigger.
So why don’t we start talking about the logo itself, the Greymoor logo.
GINA: I think it’s my favourite this year. No offense to the previous ones that we’ve done.
CJ: So we wanted to have a logo that locks step with Skyrim’s logo. We wanted it to be simple, a very recognisable shape, we wanted it to speak to the game succinctly. Not to look like the Skyrim logo, but that they sit side-by-side. Like the statue, we do a logo jam where all the concept artists get together and sketch out ideas, and we choose one that we think has the most potential. We liked this one because we realised there is a parallel with the wolf being the symbol of Solitude, the story involving werewolves and vampires, we started to combine those ideas. We wanted it to be a little vague at the same time, we didn’t want to give vampires away right away, we wanted to insinuate it, and when this symbol popped up everybody loved it.
As soon as I looked at it, that is definitely the wolf from Solitude. And the two things going down remind me of vampire fangs.
CJ: There’s all sorts of symbolism going on there that I can’t talk about without spoiling it. Talk to me later in a little while and I’ll spill the beans on everything that’s going on.
Leamon Tuttle with the outer box of Greymoor Collectors’ Edition.
They then progressed to unboxing the Greymoor Physical Collectors’ Edition.
CJ: Right away the sleeve is part of that dark and light, above and below thing. We wanted people to remember Skyrim, we wanted to go with snowy themes and icy themes, provoke that imagery.Leamon Tuttle with the inner box of Greymoor Collectors’ Edition.
CJ: But as soon as that sleeve comes off, voilà – we’re in Blackreach, we’ve got the cave walls, we’ve got the symbol of the vampires. I won’t say their name.
I recognise some of those symbols and maybe the map too, right?
CJ: Yeah, the map – if anyone remembers the cute little maps that we sent out to influencers at the end of last year, that map is the map they got sent. And of course we’ve actually filled in some of the symbols that were a little more esoteric on the maps they got. So you’ll see the symbol for the Wolf of Solitude is there, the symbol of Morthal is there, and then a load of witchy/vampirey writing going on as well.The “very important” instructions for getting the coins out of the box.
LEAMON: First I open the box, and take note of this thing on the top – instruction manual – very important.
JESS: Yes, we’ll touch on this later. Don’t throw it away – very important!
GINA: What is it instructions for? It can’t be instructions on how to open the box because you just did it.
LEAMON: Someone like me probably does need instructions on how to open the box. But this is how to get the coins out.
CJ: No one gets into these things gracefully, ever.Greymoor map by Joe Watmough.
CJ: Like previous years, we did a map this year. Like previous years, this was Joe Watmough’s design, he is super talented. But we were talking about how we wanted to be different. It’s not as light and airy in design as previous years, this year we were doing dark and gothic, and we wanted to respect the above and below. So you hold it this way and you’re looking at the Nord side with the lands of Western Skyrim, and flip it 180, now you’ve got the vampire side and you can see the map of Blackreach there. The vampire lord statue, out of its packaging.
CJ: So here we go with the vamp lord statue.
GINA: It’s pretty heavy, too.
CJ: Yeah, we wanted it to have two parts which are telling a story, so once again, always have two aspects to anything. What we came up with was obviously the vamp lord is there, resplendent and powerful, but we also wanted to honour the idea of blood magic that plays a rather big part in the story of Greymoor. So the idea came that with this swirling blood magic base coming around, and the figure artists really blew me away with every time they showed me a new iteration, and I was super picky about it. They really, really delivered. Great effort.
So this statue, like all of our Collectors’ Edition statues are very unique. The Mephala one was pretty dark in colour, this one has a unique painting, even the Dwarven Colossus was very metallic. What were you going for with the look on this one?
CJ: Yeah, we wanted the treatment to be different. While we were doing all of this work on the statue, we were also doing the beginning work on the Antiquities system. And everybody was super jazzed about that. It was a lot of artwork. And so we thought let’s lean into it, let’s make this look like an actual artifact, like an ancient object, something which would have been discovered using the Antiquities system. So we went with this ancient bronze and give it a patina, like this thing has been sitting in the earth for a couple of hundred years, and some archeologist just pulled it and brought it back to a museum. And now you can display it in your very own home.
GINA: And this is based on the vampire lord that you see in game, right?
CJ: There’s a couple that you meet, it’s safe to say.
LEAMON: So vampire lords in ESO are kind of the apex, the highest manifestation of what a vampire can be. It’s got all the predatory instincts which come from Molag Bal’s bloodline, and they’re all manifest in this super scary batlike creature which is significantly stronger, faster, and more powerful than lesser vampires. They’re really, really cool. Like you said, we’ll see a couple over the course of the year in Dark Heart of Skyrim.
JESS: Would you recommend an adventurer go toe-to-toe with one?
LEAMON: Uh, well, you know the player’s pretty rad, they’ve gone toe-to-toe with dragons. But a vampire lord is no less dangerous, they’re really, really scary in their own right.
JESS: If I’ve counted right, this is actually our 33rd explorable zone in the game.Leamon with the Greymoor coin.
Leamon showed us the Elsweyr coin, with the Mane on one side, and Jone and Jode on the other. Then the Summerset coin with Queen Ayrenn on one side. At this point you need the instruction manual to get out the other two. The Vvardenfell coin has Vivec on one side and the Tribunal on the back. The brand new one has High King Svargrim on one side, and the Wolf of Solitude on the back.
LEAMON: This is cool for people who have been with us for the duration, man, it’s a really neat reminder of all the places we’ve been. Just looking at it is bringing back memories.
Then Leamon and CJ answered questions from the official ESO forum.
From Aliyavana: In the revamped vampire quest, Lamae Bal explains that she has created her own type of vampire lords to explain why we can now turn into one. She calls us the term Blood Scion, is a Blood Scion a term exclusively used to describe the type of vampire lords Lamae Bal created?
LEAMON: So we should clarify, blood scion isn’t the same thing as a vampire lord. It is an entirely different manifestation of vampiric power that she was able, through her mastery of the vampiric bloodline and very strong ritual powers as a priestess, was able to weave and create a new thing. It’s not like Molag Bal’s vampire lords, it’s just different. So the blood scion is created through her manipulation of the bloodline and then going through the Rite of the Scion which is part of the new Vampire quest. So when you participate in her Rite and attain her dark blessing, then you obtain the power to become this super awesome super-vampire.
I did see a question come in on chat. Did Harkon exist within ESO’s era?
LEAMON: We don’t talk about the Volkihar vampires much at all. We think they are a really interesting clan with plans taking place. Serana, Harkon, all those guys, the Volkihar clan in some form exists during our time frame but we don’t talk about them.
From Gaius Marius: Before Greymoor as far as we knew Falkreath and Whiterun were a part of Western Skyrim per a Meet the Character and an outfit description. However in Greymoor, Whiterun and Falkreath are confirmed to not be a part of Western Skyrim’s Kingdom. What changed that caused Whiterun and Falkreath to leave? Has them leaving made Svargrim more paranoid?
LEAMON: There’s a lot to it, and good on you for doing all your research there. You’re right, Falkreath and Whiterun were nominally part of Western Skyrim. But Falkreath is in all sorts of trouble right now during our time period with Reach invasions, a transition of leadership – if you’ve played through our Falkreath dungeon you’ll see what’s going on there, and whether you’ve completed that dungeon or not, Svargrim is not there, he isn’t helping out. The new jarl will probably have to renegotiate the terms of that arrangement.
As far as Whiterun is concerned, Whiterun is also nominally part of Western Skyrim but as a central, border hold between the two kingdoms, they have a serious vested interest in preventing major conflict between East and West. Just like during the Stormcloak-Imperial Civil War, they have to pay both sides to a certain extent to prevent the battle from just consuming the centre of the province. It’s a messy time. The holds closest to Solitude, Svargrim exerts more control on those, but as you get further afield, things get more messy.
From Olauron: Is there an exit from Blackreach to Forgotten Vale? Why are we seeing Vale Deers in Blackreach and who has eaten them to extinction (in Blackreach) in the following eras?
CJ: An excellent question!
LEAMON: Darkfall Caves is a tangled nest of caverns and all sorts of messy caves that in all likelihood somehow connect down to Blackreach. And as we all know, in Blackreach there are all sorts of beasty critters that are all about eating delicious Vale Deer. Also as we see in our chapter, wayward hunters, some surface dwellers, have made their way down to that area as well. The bizarre pelts and nutritious meat… [laughter]. We don’t say what happens over the course of the years, but clearly their range was very diminished by the time TES V comes along.
From ElenaVolkihar: Why do vampires grow stronger when they feed in ESO, if in other TES games they get stronger when they starve?
LEAMON: So again that gets back to what we were talking about before with Rite of the Scion and the way that Lamae Bal has manipulated vampirism to meet her ends. For those of you who’ve read about her, Lamae Bal hates Molag Bal, and any way that she can stick her thumb in his eye is something that she’s going to do. The way that vampirism works in previous TES titles, vampires feed, you know – she wants vampirism to flourish and in trying to establish that, she’s created this Rite of the Scion that encourages vampires to go out there and be vampires, engorge themselves on the blood of people she wants eaten to spread their corruption across the land. It’s a different type of vampirism, but that’s one of the cool things generally in Elder Scrolls as well, vampirism is not, within the context of Tamriel, a monolithic thing, there are lots of strains of the affliction with multiple clans, each of which have different strengths and vulnerabilities. So it’s pretty consistent that we would see differences in how vampirism manifests, especially when Lamae Bal has applied her ritual power to it.
From ZunaRoath: Which was the hardest creature or character to work on, ever since you began working at ZOS, and why? Explain how the teams work together, the artists and the writers, to design and make the characters and creatures lore appropriate.
CJ: How long do we have for that second part? Streaming ’til 6? [the stream was scheduled to finish at 5pm]
The first one is easy. Dragons were unquestionably the biggest, hardest monster we’ve ever put together. I came in as Art Director halfway through the creation of dragons, so I wasn’t even there for the full experience. But from an art side, the technicality of that creature, how big it was. Figuring out how to sculpt it, map it, rig it, and getting it working right – the animation rig on that thing was incredible. Then there were so many tech issues, it was all new tech that we needed to do: the strafing, the flying, projectiles coming out of its mouth. I don’t know if dragons didn’t touch a team at ZOS. Like, was there anyone who didn’t have to get their hands dirty getting dragons ready to ship.
The second part? It’s a lot of talking, emailing lore to the writers, making sure artists can email those teams directly when they’ve given them an assignment, and that goes for any artist along the chain. We just have to keep talking to people and making sure at every stage along the way we’re doing it right that we’re not breaking any kind of lore. It’s a real bummer when it happens at the end of that process and something’s wrong, and then Leamon has to come up, and he feels terrible about it…
LEAMON: I do. I feel awful.
CJ: …but that can’t go in the game, and here’s why, and we have to go back five steps and fix it, like so. We just over-communicate, and talk a lot.
JESS: I can just imagine the conversations that were happening with Blackreach. “Is this the right colour bug bile luminescence for this particular mushroom?”
CJ: It’s the first time we’ve ever done a covered open zone. This is a zone you can ride your horse in, it’s not a dungeon, so there was a lot of discussion as we were putting that together.
GINA: At work, I see you and some of the other leads, you’ll walk around literally from artist to artist reviewing things. It’s like your morning rounds.
CJ: And that’s part of the always talking process. We don’t want to micromanage but we do want to check in at regular intervals. Some departments I check in with three times a week – that’s the concept artists. I need to make sure that they’re adhering to what the content guys are writing, what Leamon is telling me about the story and the lore, what Bill is telling me about the story more. Bill Slavicsek by the way – the only guy I’ve ever worked with who I asked for his autograph. He wrote the West End Games Star Wars roleplaying sourcebook. The Mandalorian is using that stuff that he wrote. He is a big part of the Star Wars that you love.
We talk to those guys a lot because it’s really important at the start of the process, and then the other teams, I have weekly check-ins where they show me what’s working and where the progress is, and if I see any red flags for something I know isn’t going to fit the story, I can bring it up then.
It’s important to determine when we need a really tight concept compared to when we can have a looser concept, because everybody on that chain is a qualified artist. Sometimes we can have a looser concept because we know fixture will be able to work with that. Sometimes we have to be really specific, especially with armours and costumes that Leamon and his team are going to have to name something really crazy at some point.
JESS: Anything Dwemer [laughs].
From Cameron991: First he wanted to let us know that you all did a great job making western Skyrim beautiful and I’m so excited about this vampire storyline I have been waiting a long time for this!!!
CJ: The credit goes to a really large and talented team who worked very hard on it, in conditions towards the end that were a little nuts.Vampire Lord in ESO.
Why was the decision made to get rid of the wings with the blood scion? I know vampire lords and blood scions are not the same but that doesn’t mean they too can’t have wings!
CJ: Blood scions aren’t vampire lords. That’s a snarky answer, but it’s the lore. The lore answer is that only vampire lords have wings, and so we couldn’t put them on scions. I’ll pull back the veil, the reason that we think about scions with vampire wings is that they had them for a little while on PTS. I’m not sure what ability it is, but it had wings when it spawned. What happens is, when we do new ability lines, those guys don’t wait for the art, they just get started. So they find old effects and put them on, and say “hey, we want to do something big and splashy like this here”. The wings made it through to PTS, they probably should have been pulled before PTS.
JESS: So this goes back to checking the lore.
CJ: Yeah. We had to pull it.
JESS: So there you go, we do adhere to the lore!
From Lorkhatosh: Does Zenimax Online studio have a sort of internal design library for various races and cultures? Maybe some sort of moodboard or design/lore inspirations to draw upon when making new assets?
CJ: We save pretty much every piece of art that we’ve ever made for the game, and so that’s always a resource. We can draw on every concept over the 7 or 8 years we’ve been doing it. We’ll also do a lot of going back into the older TES games, we’ll go back pull images from Oblivion, or Morrowind or Skyrim, and put that into the sort of moodboard they’re talking about, to make sure that we’re honouring what the past is. Although obviously it’s a modern game, so we get to upgrade everything to make it look good in a modern engine.
From ListerJMC: Who’s your favourite Vampire in Lore?
LEAMON: Okay, I’m going to cheat. Can I cheat? Because he’s not really a vampire. Agromak gro-Malok. He’s of vampiric heritage. A grey-skinned vampiric heritage orc gladiator, that’s among the most metal things that we have in Elder Scrolls.
CJ: Well not being the Loremaster, I’ll go for something a bit more obvious. I like Fenn’s story from Greymoor. He’s really put through the wringer, and I think he comes out on the other side with a really cool story.
LEAMON: Yeah, people are really digging him on PTS.
JESS: I love Verandis.
From JMadFour: Will the game story and/or dialogue acknowledge, in any way, whether the player is a Vampire or not?
LEAMON: Yes. Not every single time that someone speaks to you, but with NPCs you will have the opportunity to reveal that you are a vampire, or they might give you dialogue that’s unique to you if you’re a vampire. We already have some of that in Unhallowed Grave. If you talk to Shelaria and she’s like “I don’t like vampires” and you’re like “but I happen to be a vampire”. Long story short, there are opportunities for NPCs to acknowledge it.
Next week with PC launch, there will be a Stream Team jam-packed schedule. These Stream Team members will be hosted on the Bethesda channel so you can tune in any time (except when DOOM and Fallout 76 are streaming). Twitch drops will also be active.
There will be another ESO Live next Friday when they’re running the Trial live with members of the Stream Team.