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Skyrim’s cheese-house architect and clutter curator brought their powers to Starfield

The story of how one modder became a developer 

An image of an space explorer in Starfield. They’re walking on a planet in a spacesuit is looking up towards another planet on the horizon. Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

The cosmos in Bethesda’s Starfield contains wonder, adventure, and also a whole lot of junk — literally. A mission to a deserted research station might turn into a nonstop trinket-grabbing spree where players pick up every other mug, vial, and pill bottle left on a desk or lab table. As it turns out, space and its many technological edifices contain a veritable treasure trove of just random stuff. Much of this stuff was put there by Starfield developer Emmi “Elianora” Junkkari.

Prior to working on Starfield as a contract worker, Junkkari already made a name for herself as a veritable curator of clutter. She created mods that added stunning redecorated locales to games like The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim and Fallout 4. These include Tel Aschan, a beautifully cluttered mage tower home in Skyrim’s Winterhold, a city with no homes available for purchase in the base game, and an army bunker in Fallout 4. She also put a house made of cheese into Skyrim.

Over the years, Bethesda’s games have nearly become synonymous with their modding communities. Games like Skyrim owe modders everything from new and more complex gameplay to vital quality-of-life features. But Bethesda’s game development process has also become increasingly entwined with fan labor through programs like Creation Club, which allowed modders to create additional content for Skyrim and Fallout 4. Bethesda has hired developers from Creation Club, like Junkkari, for contract work.

An image of a house made entirely of cheese in Skyrim. Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks via Elianora/Nexus Mods

Junkkari told Polygon she never thought she would ever break into the video game industry. She worked in IT and other service positions, until one day she downloaded a mod for Skyrim. In 2016, she published her first Skyrim mod and eventually went on to publish dozens of other mods that renovated the homes in Skyrim and Fallout 4. Eventually, Bethesda invited her to join Creation Club, where she did contract work for additional content until joining Starfield’s development team as a contract lighting artist.

“Given my specialization, it’s so easy to jump on board, because you basically know where to find things. And I would talk with the team and I was like, ‘Do we still have this feature that’s in Fallout 4?’ And they were like, ‘Wait, we had that in Fallout 4 but we don’t have that now?’” she told Polygon via video chat. “I would bring in a new perspective, because I’d already worked on the older titles, and I had had the freedom of modding, because when you make mods, you can do whatever.”

In her role, Junkkari continued to develop work in line with her output as a modder. She made small interiors from scratch, and worked with templates where she would add walls, structures, and all the clutter to finish a space. But there was still a learning curve moving from modding to developing the game. ​

“Bethesda doesn’t have static clutter, and that’s sort of my staple. When I make player homes, I want everything to be static, because your companion is just going to barge in and knock everything over. [...] I couldn’t do that with either Starfield or the Creation Club. And there were restrictions, like you had to match the clutter and lighting with all the vanilla style. You need to match the feel and look of the rest of the game. You can’t just go crazy or do something that modders can.”

An image of a shelf with assorted items placed on it. There are books, a container, and a helmet. Image: Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks

And while working as a developer is more restrictive in these specific ways, it also gave Junkkari a chance to refine her skills.

“It’s taught me a lot of new ways to do things, instead of just doing all the same stuff that I always do,” she said. “I am so much better at lighting now. If you look at my Fallout 4 mods from before and after I was a lighting artist for Starfield, they are a lot more ambitious after I spent time with Starfleet lighting. So you can definitely see an improvement in the way I view everything.”

At time of publication, Junkkari’s contract is up, and she told Polygon she’s working a more “mundane” job. Still, she wants to emphasize the validity of modding as a means to get game development experience.

“I want people to really understand that this is a valid and good way to get a head start into the video game industry, right? Work with tools. Do your part. Complete projects. One of the major things that has pushed the way forward is that I was able to complete things.”