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Skyrim players are taking screenshots to dramatic new heights

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

One of the most popular RPGs ever released, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, is on sale right now for $4.99 through Steam. Even though it was released in 2011, the game's graphics still hold up, which has led to a flurry of artistic screenshots scrambling up the ranks on Reddit.

While none of them came from the game engine itself, they are nonetheless beautiful works of art.

Skyrim screenshots rose to prominence with the work of Dead End Thrills, who carved a niche for himself by tweaking game engines to produce stunning, art quality screenshots in-game with a modicum of post processing. The latest fad is going a step further, taking Skyrim stills into Photoshop and dramatically altering the look and feel of the scenes.

The first set of photos, from Redditor ProtologolusX, turns Skyrim into a rich oil painting. It smudges out the detail of the textures, removing many of the deep crenelations from arms and armor and smoothing out faces to simulate the creamy elegance of an oil painting. The results are simply beautiful.

The second set of screenshots gives Skyrim a watercolor overhaul, with even lower detail and very heavy brush strokes. Those who played The Elder Scroll 4: Oblivion may remember a certain quest, called A Brush with Death, that pulled players into a painting to fight off a series of trolls. The entire game world changed in that quest, with everything from the skybox to the skins on individual enemies resembling a painting come to life. It was a brief quest, but provided some of the most stunning visuals in the entire game.

YouTuber insane0hflex, in response to the oil painted screens, took the same style that he used to produce his 2012 video and expanded it into a wonderful set of watercolors from all over Skyrim.

While there is a mod in development that approximates the oil painting filter in motion, there is not at this time a complete overhaul that simulates the watercolor effect. But they do make for beautiful screensavers.

Update: It looks like Skyrim is back to its regular price of $19.99.

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