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Skyrim Game

(this screenshot is the copyright of Bethesda Softworks, LLC)

Ever since I got the new Playstation 3 as an early Christmas gift this month (Thanks Dave!), I've been mostly intrigued by the one game that appealed to my inner geek for all things medieval, or fantasy related. It has a storied history in the games industry called the "Elder Scroll" series since its inception in 1994, as an attempt to portray a first person perspective in full 3-D, not too different than what players would experience in other games like HALO for the X-Box. Earlier incarnations of the series, it had graphical limitations like DOOM that evokes an old school feeling from the infamous Might & Magic RPG series which actually predates the Elder Scrolls.

But today, the Elder Scrolls series has seen major improvements in the last several years now, graphically and game mechanics wise. What I can appreciate is the reputation the title carried over time with the gaming community and it has continued to do so. I have never, to be honest, played the Elder Scroll series despite my being familiar with the franchise.

That is, until now.

For the first time, I have purchased Elder Scrolls V: SKYRIM, the most critically acclaimed role playing game of the year and going through to 2012,  if it has yet to be dethroned, which I think will be a difficult act to pull off. But I didn't just buy it out of curiosity but also to study and understand how great games tick and this is part of the work I do as a game designer/storyboard artist.

As of this date, I have managed to play the beginning parts of the game and have'nt explored it in its entirety. But what I can say is this:


The game developers at Bethesda Softworks truly did a wonderful job on this. Hats off to them. It is one of the most graphically engaging and well thought out games I've ever seen in a long time. I cannot truly cover every thing in detail about the game and there are some things I shouldn't reveal so that the new players can experience it themselves.

This game is immense and I mean truly huge in scope. There are some slight differences between the X-Box and Playstation versions, but it doesn't matter much. I'm very happy with the latter due to the 160 GB storage capacity and seamless loading. The game package comes with a Blu Ray disc, a manual and a map of the land of Skyrim.

It will, once loaded, ask for installation. After the process is completed, you're off to a good start. The game opens up cinematically in a beautiful and quiet tone as the player wakes up bound in a wagon, carried by a horse and guard, along with three other men. Their voices and the sound of the horse's trotting while I'm looking around to the trees, sky, ground and so on, is very impressive, almost as close to what others have experienced in Call of Duty, for example. The characters will begin to speak to you in dialogue that almost comes straight out of a fantasy novel. I won't reveal in detail of the beginning sequence because it has to be experienced to be believed.

I can safely say that players can customize the character to their liking during the beginning sequence, so rest assured, from racial qualities and physical attributes. It's simple and elegant. One nice thing about this game is the ability to use subtitles to read the dialogue and this can be very helpful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. They can also be turned off for those who prefer not to use them.

After the beginning sequence has run its course, I ended up in another village and had my first dungeon crawl nearby inside the mountains uphill. The character interactions in the village are very well done and follow a familiar structure that is commonly seen in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic by Bioware, or any RPGs that have that format.

But what stunned me was the game's vast nature. That means, I can go. anywhere. I. want. I can chill out in the village for a while before I head out to a destination. Or I can go somewhere else in a side quest in any order. The game definitely has a storyline built-in, which is obvious, but the sheer scale of immensity is incredible.

In the village, I could, if I wanted to, use the blacksmith's equipment to build weapons, armor, etc, provided I have the right ingredients. The same goes for an Alchemy lab. The skills can be upgraded as the character levels up. In fact, the more you use a particular skill, say sneaking around, the more the skill's level increases. If you don't use a skill for a long time, it decreases, to my understanding. Players can even equip a weapon and shield on both hands, or cast a spell that does have a certain limit depending on how much magic energy you carry. Players also have to keep in mind of the weight limit carrying items in their inventory, which the heavier the weight limit, the slower the reaction time he/she will have to the surroundings and combat.

Also, I do recommend saving the game progress time to time because you will want to.

When I experienced my first dungeon delve, I was stunned at the detail and quality of lighting, mood and shadows. And this was a long crawl to the quest objective. If you make a sound, enemies can hear you unless you sneak and they can't detect you. I could use a bow and arrow if I needed to in there or outside. That particular quest I undertook was reminiscent of a classic Dungeons and Dragons module called The Keep on the Borderlands.

Some times, when the lighting is right, you could see shadows of the enemies on the walls, even your own. It's a very cool effect. I've had to fend myself against some of the undead warriors, some who would scream in their own unintelligible language that almost sounded Norse-like. The combat mechanics do take a bit of getting used to but they work quite well, even effectively if one knows what they're doing, using the weapons to a particular effect.

Once I finished that quest, I ended up back outside, on the other side as if I was relieved to see the light of day.

The vista view while standing out from the other side of the dungeon blew me away, from on top of the mountainside. I could see mountains from all over stretching out to the horizon. Clouds moved slowly just like in real life. Cold fog brushed about. Even the water in the lake had a shimmer to it and got more detailed the closer you walked to it. You can walk or run over or around the mountains or hills, even forests in such crisp detail. When it comes to environmental detail, no other RPG holds a candle to it.

NOT even Zelda: Ocarina of Time or later versions, while there is a place for it. The game's day and night cycle works beautifully when the sun sets, revealing the stars showing up in the sky and the moon rising with the night clouds swirling about, slowly. I think I heard crickets as well. You could just stand there and look at the stars in the night-time as time goes by. There are animals or monsters in the wilderness, so one should beware when traveling. Even one can have a horse, or buy a house in a city to store your own items. It's almost like living in a virtual world.

It's that deep in layers with a lot of things involved. If you liked Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, SKYRIM is the game for you.

If you're into George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones novel, then by the gods is this game perfect for you for it does have that exact feel especially when winter is the perfect time to play it. It has a wonderful cinematic evocation.

It definitely has a feeling of living inside a fantasy novel with characters who have their own racial languages and culture which is a nice touch. The non player characters you interact with, for the most part, are proud people and if you do things right, they'll honor your presence. Some can be hired to assist you during quests. Some will slap on your back exuding the attitude of "We shall die together in pride! Down with the Empire!" as if you're given the special right to enter a pseudo-"Valhalla" after battle. Of course, the equivalent of Vahalla in this game would be the belief of Oblivion, to a degree.

As they say "By Oblivion!".

Playing this game can be a very empowering experience for those who wish to die well with pride by their blade or be part of the glory of a proto-nordic culture [addendum: Icelandic is the word I'm looking for], being bestowed by the gods to fight the good fight. It's an experience that one has to soak in without rushing through. The soundtrack is beautiful and haunting, unless you're a metal head, then by all means, turn off the game music and play Amon Amarth in the background which I think is the perfect metal band for this.

I'm a bit surprised Bethesda has'nt approached this band to provide some kind of metal ballad which would have been glorious, only as a promotional.

It is not for the faint hearted or wusses. This. is. HARDCORE.

Oh, and you do get to fight dragons in there.

I highly recommend it for those who own an X-Box 360/PS-3 and are into fantasy RPGs. For more detailed reviews of the game, I recommend looking up ign.com.

And ending on that note, as the Song of Skyrim goes:

(Original Non-translated version)

Dovahkiin Dovahkiin
Naal ok zin los vahriin
wah dein vokul mahfaeraak ahst vaal
ahrk fin norok paal graan
fod nust hon zindro zaan
Dovahkiin fah hin kogaan mu draal

ahrk fin kel lost prodah
do ved viing ko fin krah
tol fod zeymah win kein meyz fundein
Alduin feyn do jun
kruziik vokun staadnau
voth aan bahlok wah diivon fin lein

(translated version)

Dragonborn Dragonborn
by his honour is sworn
to keep evil forever at bay
and the fiercest foes rout
when they hear triumph's shout

Dragonborn for your blessing we pray
and the scrolls have foretold
of black wings in the cold
that when brothers wage war come unfurled
Alduin bane of kings
ancient shadow unbound
with a hunger to swallow the world


New Book project coming up

Say what?

You read that right. Now that it's December, I'm now in the motions of working with Cullen Nolan on his new manuscript which relates to current events of the world but in the future where terrible things happen. Military action against one nation, viruses gone amok, earthquakes abound, meteors crash, and so much more to bear witness to. And lastly, zombies.

Besides the Spy On The House Of Fitzwalter, this new book will allow the author to explore new themes and ideas. Currently, the front cover illustration for the new book is in its early stages as we hope to get it ready by early next year. I'll have more updates on it soon!


Published book cover

For the last few years, I've been assisting an independent author by the name of Cullen Nolan who runs Phoenix Tree Publishing and have been hard at work illustrating a front cover back in 2007. The story is mainly historical fiction that explores the Knights Templar mythos and the famous events surrounding King John and the Magna Carta. As a Templar afficionado, I'm quite proud of what Cullen has achieved in his work and has recently completed the manuscript into a digital book on Amazon at first.

Then, the next phase was to produce a tangible item that all of us can hold onto and look at with appreciation. Russ McIntosh, a former small press comics editor I worked with years before, has done a remarkable job on the cover design and it truly shows the wonderful use of composition and typography interlaced with the border.

As of this month, Cullen sent me this huge paperback that has finally come to fruition and I'm quite stoked to see my work on the cover. But it's not the end of the story as we plan to do another book cover for another story as well as one other manuscript project Cullen is working on.

I can't wait to get medieval again.


Art of Horror show

I have been informed that three of my graphite pieces that has never before seen by others will be, for the first time, showcased at The SPACE Gallery in Burlington, VT under the theme "Art of Horror" on October 7th, 2011 during the First Friday event. The Art of Horror explores the concept of decay, mental depravity, bloodletting and various subject matter. The pieces will be for sale there brokered by the gallery curators themselves.

It's the first show I've had in a long time since 2008 and I'm quite excited about it. It's going to be an interesting October.

For more information, they have an event Facebook page.

Also, the SPACE Gallery is also a great place to look into.

(Here are the original graphite pieces that will be put up for sale at the gallery.)

UPDATE: The artwork depicted on here are in the Gallery section on this site.