The topic of this Blog is to reflect on my experience of making my very first level mod using the Skyrim Creation Kit, and how I can make use of the tool to make future levels for the purpose of adding to my Portfolio. Due to this level being made as a learning piece rather than a serious level design piece, it will not be featured formally on my website but you can download the mod for yourself on Steam Workshop and play through it for yourself!
This dungeon was made using Bethesda’s official tutorial as a guide.
Layout Building in Creation Kit for the first time
Using the Pre-Built Assets to build the Basic Layout
Basic Layout and Asset Variance
The first thing I did to make the level was building rooms using pre-built assets that fit the Nordic Ruins and Caves. While building the parts of the dungeon that used the Nordic Ruin assets, I used the same assets for floors and walls but then learned about using the Find and Replace tool in Creation Kit to make the walls in each and every room look more diverse instead of repeated use of the same asset. While the repeated use of one wall allowed me to create the basic level layout, replacing walls to use different variants allowed me to get a bit creative with the level layout.
An interesting tenchique I learned from building the basic layout of Warlock’s Temple, which can be applied to any future Level Design project, is the use of environmental transistions, like the one pictured below, which uses a combination of two different environment types to subtly transition the player from one theme to another.
Man-Made vs. Natural Environments
Working with man-made environments and natural environments provided very different challenges, not just because the assets provided were very different to each other in terms of appearance and scale. With the Nordic Ruin theme, I could get away with using square/rectangular room layouts and add the detail from there. On the other hand, the Cave segment of the level required a basic shell, built in a similar way to Nordic Ruin rooms, but I needed to make more use of additional wall, rock and cliff assets to create the illusion of a more naturally formed environment as opposed to a man-made environment which is cleaner in nature.
While doing the initial level layout, I made a handful of mistakes such as the accidental use of icy assets. This was easily fixed by using the Find and Replace tool on the offending asset and making it the non-ice version.
Cluttering the Dungeon
Placing environmental props and loot into the level was challenging. This was due to a very high selection of assets. Keeping to themes simplified this and provided creative boundaries to work with.
I went overboard with prop placement where environmental storytelling was very inconsistentm in addition to placement mistakes such as Chests facing the wrong way. The video below shows these issues very well.
Placing Levelled loot was an interesting challenge. Instead of using a set item, I could set up the item to provide the appropriate loot for the player character’s level. I went through the same process with the Chests.
Setting up Traps, Enemies and the Nav Mesh
Tripwires and Pull Chains
The Tripwire trap required me to use a trap cell made by Bethesda with it set up already. This mean I could place the trap into the level without worrying about setting up the functionality. This was similar with the Draugr encounters in the cave, despite not being a trap.
For the Pull Chain door shown below, I needed to make use of Activate Parents on the portculis. This meant that pulling the chain would open the door. This was a more manual process but it taught me about linking objects together to give them functionality.
The image below shows a Bandit enemy, levelled to match the player character’s level, with a set partol route that moves back and fourth. This made use of Linked References between the Bandit, the patrol markers and interactable objects in the room.
Working with the navigation mesh was an interesting challenge. For the majority of the dungeon, I made use of an automatically generated navigation mesh. This created areas that were messy, meaning the navigation mesh needed cleaning.
I made the navigation mesh by hand for the cave. While it wasn’t necessary, this allowed me to learn how to build navigation meshes manually for situations that required it in future.
Level optimisation was a fun technique to learn while making this level. This was using the blue volumes shown below which renders the rooms while the player is in it. While it helped with the level’s performance in the game, it also really helped me to break the level down into separate rooms.
The use of portals (the black rectangles pictured below) allowed me to link the rooms together and give the player a partial view of what’s ahead of them. If the player goes through a portal, the new room is rendered in while the old room is partially rendered.
Lighting and VFX
In the Entrance Room
Learning Lighting and VFX in Creation Kit was an interesting experience. In the man-made rooms, such as the Entrance Room, I made use of torch lights, campfires and dust particle effects to create some ambience that reflects being inside an ancient ruin while being lit up for the people using it as a base.
In the Cave
For the Cave section of the level, I decided to have a single light beaming in from outside while using a swirly mist effect to add to the atmosphere of an area full of undead creatures.
Linking the Dungeon to the World
After building the dungeon in full, it was time to link it to great big open world of Skyrim!
For the sake of making the level easy to access, even for newly made characters, I decided to build the dungeon’s exterior outside the village of Riverwood, the first populated village that the player character should head to after escaping from the dragon at the start of the story.
Linking Exterior to Interior
I used a door object feature to set which location the player travels to, allowing them to enter the dungeon. The yellow markers pictured below shows this.
Fast Travel Setup
The “M” marker is a Map Marker which is responsible for adding the dungeon to the world map. The Red Character marker is the player’s location on fast travelling to Warlock’s Temple.
Shown here, the Map Marker adds the dungeon to the world map for Fast Travel.
In the end, learning Creation Kit has taught me a good lesson in modular level design. It’s also introduced me to using a wide range of pre-built assets.
While Warlock’s Temple is messy from a Level Design perspective, it has really helped me to get to grips with how to use Creation Kit. From making this dungeon, I can now take better advantage of creative limitations using naming conventions. I can also use what I’ve learned to better plan combat encounters, puzzles and traps.
It’s clear to me that I can now make much better levels with the foundations of Creation Kit under my belt, but there’s still a lot more to learn. From here, I can make mods with more solid level design instead of being a tutorial piece.