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Skyrim YouTube retrospective celebrates 10 years of being Dragonborn

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake.”

Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

Skyrim’s 10-year-anniversary was in November. Yes, that’s 10 whole years of dragon shouting through Tamriel, riding Shadowmere up rocky ledges, conjuring Atronachs, becoming over-encumbered with loot, losing Lydia repeatedly, and definitely getting to the final boss battle. And a new YouTube retrospective “A SKYRIM DOCUMENTARY | You’re Finally Awake: Nine Developers Recount the Making of Skyrim,” celebrates that 10-year-anniversary by digging into the game’s development.

In this 53-minute video, released on Dec. 4, character artist Jonah Lobe featured nine developers, including himself, that worked on Skyrim. Together, they give new insights into the game’s creation and how it turned into such a massive cultural influence. The mini-documentary also shares new stories about early ideation, level design (from dungeon lighting to city layouts), and character animation — including showing off lots of concept art for environments, creatures, and critters.

None of these developers still work at Bethesda, but all of them had meaningful reflections about their time working on Skyrim. Lobe interviews Joel Burgess (level designer), Lianne Cruz (animator), Salinee Goldenberg (video editor), Dennis Mejillones (character artist), Nate Purkeypile (world artist), Rashad Redic (world artist), Jean Simonet (programmer), and Mark Teare (FX artist) and chronicles their individual contributions and camaraderie.

“None of us knew how the game would turn out, but we all knew that it might actually be good if we all just gave it our best,” Lobe says, in the video’s introduction.

Digging into these new Easter eggs, and learning more about the storied game’s development, is a truly delightful experience. The YouTube feature shares the design process behind the werewolf, as well as the fact that the design for the giant is based on Lobe’s dad. (“I didn’t want the player to see them as monstrous, I wanted them to look gentle,” Lobe explains.) This is far from the only real person developers used as a design cue — certain character classes were based off of colleagues and friends.

The featurette also acknowledges Skyrim’s contributions to meme culture. This includes NPC movement — with NPCs famously moving jerkily and pacing in place — which has become a meme on TikTok, along with the trend of putting baskets over merchant heads in order to steal their wares.

There’s no arguing over Skyrim’s influence and impact. Since its launch in 2011, the game has gone on to sell tens of millions of copies. The sheer number of contemporary consoles and platforms you can play Skyrim on is a testament to the game’s staying power. That’s not even mentioning the enveloping presence of the game’s memes — in 2011, it was basically impossible to wander a few paces without someone fus roh dah-ing at you, or claiming to be an explorer like you, before taking an arrow to the knee.

For many of us, Skyrim was the first game that really went there, in terms of creating a fantasy world chock-full of explorable areas and dungeons, runes and lore, and weird-ass enemies (there’s nothing like hearing a Draugr hiss behind you). I still remember walking into Fry’s Electronics (R.I.P.), and seeing that sweet, sweet endcap of PC copies — and I still treasure my pre-digitized-edition CD-ROM, even though I own Skyrim on numerous consoles now.

It was a beautiful thing playing Skyrim that first time, exploring the massive, open world of an Elder Scrolls game and enjoying real-time combat. (Morrowind fans, you know the pain of the dice-roll.) It’s really nice to revisit those worlds from the developer’s perspective, and to learn so much about the game’s creation.

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