First Time in Skyrim: Environmental Storytelling Exploration

One of the classes I decided to take as an elective for my graduate thesis was a junior level course in Interactive Storytelling. The course covered several topics, but one particular issue I enjoyed was a rather short section on environmental storytelling, the act of depicting a scene or tale using only the player’s surroundings. During the section, we discussed many amazing examples of environmental storytelling including the now near infamous example present in the original Bioshock. It was these ideas of banners, food, and happiness destroyed that were in all our minds when we were assigned the task of building our own examples of environmental storytelling.

This room from 2K Games’s Bioshock is a perfect example of environmental storytelling and is often cited by professions.  Thanks to for the picture.

In an effort to test my knowledge of the Skyrim Creation Kit, I decided that I should use it for the assignment. Here is what I decided to build. The player takes on the role of a town guard who has been called in to check on Gregor, a citizen that has not been seen in a nearly a week and some of his friends have started to grow concerned. The player arrives in Gregor’s house and finds it unlocked. Stepping inside, the player is greeted to a typical, apartment for the area. The kitchen is furnished rather simply as is the rest of the apartment, but something catches the player’s eye. Under the kitchen table, the player finds a bloody dagger. Near the dagger is a discarded note, which turns out to be a writ from the local tax collector explaining how a majority of Gregor’s property was seized a few months ago to pay for his family’s excessive debts.

Entrance to Gregor’s house, designed to look shabby but still feel welcoming.

Bloody dagger and writ of tax.

Wandering into a side room, the player discovers that the room has been made into a child’s bedroom. Everything about the room seems relatively welcoming and nice, but then the player spots the over turned table and the vase. What could have possibly caused this? If the player is observant they can also find a weak poison of paralysis. Curious… and concerning.

A child’s bedroom and obvious signs of struggle… worrying.

Continuing into the master bedroom, the player can find a number of interesting objects, but the items of note are two wedding rings and another note. This time it is a letter, a response to what can be assumed was marriage request from Gregor. The father of the girl Gregor desired to marry apparently heard of Gregor’s loss of status and riches and not only forbade Gregor from marrying his daughter and mocked him for even asking.

Signs of a lover’s heart broken.

Heading out of Gregor’s bedroom, the player finds several books have been knocked off their shelf and that several candles have been knocked from their table. Judging from their arrangement and the book of gods underneath, it can be assumed that the table is actually supposed to be an in home shrine to the local deity. However, where is the idol that is usually in there center? Just as the player begins to wonder about this, they spot a bloody splatter on the wall leading into a storage room. Following the trail, the player soon discovers another blood splatter and a hidden door. With no other options, the player heads down into this new section.

A shrine disturbed.

Bloody breadcrumb one…

and bloody breadcrumb two.

Heading down the ladder, the player finds themselves in some abandoned basement. Gregor must have discovered this place and used it for his own purposes. The area is small, just two rooms, so it does not take long for the player to find the body of a teenager in the room that opens on the right side of the hallway. The room smeared blood caused by what looks like a brutal beating.  The weapon of choice, the shrine of the city’s local deity lying in a pile of dirt, blood smeared across its sacred face.  Judging from the several skulls that sit on the shelves around the room, it is clear whomever killed the teen in room has been doing this for a long time.

The last room in the basement is at the end of the hall and is filled with the final pieces of this morbid puzzle. The corpse of a middle aged man lays impaled by a sword on the floor.  In one corner an alchemy table with several vials of paralysis for stunning, a basket of sweet rolls for luring, and several knives for finishing the deed. The only other thing in the room is Gregor’s journal that tells of his slow spiral into depravity. The first death was an accident, a drunken strike levied too harshly against a brat’s face. However, the others were all thrills, finally something he could fight and be stronger than. Something that couldn’t overlook and ignore him based on the actions of his traitorous and parasitic family. He kept their skulls as memorials to his success. Though as the days went on, Gregor began to delve into the good book of the local deity and soon began to find peace in it. Yet, he could not stop. This latest child must have somehow managed to get away from him before nearly escaping. Bloody and scared, the child ran and eventually made it down to the cellar. Gregor, acting purely on anger and desperation, grabbed the shrine and used it to finish his victim off. Distraught at what he had done, Gregor must then have committed suicide in an effort to gain some salvation from the deity. His final destination, only the gods know.

The actual designing of the levels were pretty straightforward. I tried to figure out interesting things that a player could find to follow the story then built the apartment according to those needs. Below you can find two aerial views of each level of the apartment. Admittedly, the basement level was supposed to be a bit larger, but out of wanting to be economical space wise, I shrunk it down to just the two rooms.

An aerial view of the first section of the level.  Small and definitely overly well-lit, but still manages to spur curiosity.

An aerial view of the first section of the level. Small and definitely overly well-lit, but still manages to spur curiosity.

The second part of Gregor's house.  Dark, dank, and hidden, the perfect place for sinister deeds.

The second part of Gregor’s house. Dark, dank, and hidden, the perfect place for sinister deeds.