The Geology of Skyrim: Project Impossible?

So I was touring the (video gaming) world of Skyrim again recently and discovered the area just south of Lake Yorgrim was particularly interesting with prolific hot springs. In Skyrim, Fallout and Red Dead Redemption I have also been particularly impressed with the simulated scenery. Bethesda should get a nod of approval from (extra) nerdy geologists of the world, and of course Rockstar.

It makes me wonder how exactly have they made these games with such great scenery? In Oblivion (the immediate prequel to Skyrim) the scenery was pretty dour, with much of the rocks and grasslands just the same set of pixels repeated until the horizon with little detail (and lots of pop-up). But Skyrim went further than just making the detail a little more interesting, they apparently made every area from scratch, putting an overwhelming amount of effort into the look of the game, and it paid off. I was impressed.

With the rise of Gamespot UK’s new franchise ‘The What If Machine’ exploring the extent to which science in video games is mirrored in real life, it is emphasised how much background research the makers of games must do to make them awesome. So, does this translate to how scenery is presented in games?

I was talking to one of the geology curators at the Natural History Museum recently who is an avid fan of the Elder Scrolls (of which the Skyrim game is a part of) and was amused to discover that he actually tried to make a mod (modification) for the game where you can become a geologist. As players of the game will know, you can mine ores in Skyrim, and if you subsequently visit a blacksmith you can use what you have mined to improve or make new weapons and armour. Take this a step further and you can make a mod to mine other minerals, be a geologist who looks at the landscape to decide where would be the best place to find iron/copper/gold/zinc and so on. Pretty cool, if you are a massive geek.

I also recently stumbled across a blog which had a post detailing the geology of Middle Earth. They had even made full geological maps and implied the kinds of tectonics that would have created the landmass. Wow.

It got me thinking: what if we could make a geological map of Skyrim?

If someone really wanted, I bet a mod could be made that turns this into an educational venture, where kids can play awesome role playing games where they fend off elder dragons, hunt for the lost Galdur amulet and (if they have no soul) then also submit to the Daedra god Molag Bal in order to get an awesome weapon (yes, I did get the weapon); while at the same time mapping the geological landscape and produce a working geological history of Tamriel (of which Skyrim is a province). Nice.

I think that this idea is totally workable as a real educational tool. The British Geological Society have recently released a couple of Apps for the iPhone/iPad, where you can find out what the geology is in your area, or the soil type under your feet. Now that is geology becoming up to date, so why not expand this further?

So, if anyone feels like this would be a fun waste of their time, knows if something similar has already been done or even how Bethesda went about making the scenery – then I would be happy to hear from you!

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17 thoughts on “The Geology of Skyrim: Project Impossible?

  1. All very interesting! As a student I remember the odd geological map exercise based on Middle Earth, it good to see that interest is still there and the original mapping has been revised/re-interpreted recently I’m sure you could get a PhD out of this… the field work would be interesting…maybe something like Cainozoic orcs of the Mordor Plate – it would have to be written in Elvish of course! Incidentally, the British Geological Survey also has an augmented reality 3D geology app – it just needs an interesting video game storyline to add to it 🙂

  2. I was thinking about mapping out the hydraulic systems of Skyrim. It would be neat if the game incorporated elements like flooding into the game play. It shouldn’t be too difficult (just a bit time consuming) to figure out peak stream flow after one of the rain storms and topographic map any particular basin. Some factors may need to be fudged (what is the infiltration rate in a virtual world?) but even those can be based on similar environments in reality. Like the geologic map of skyrim, this could also be an interesting project for an extra nerdy player who has some experience with modeling programs. It would be difficult because questions like if it rains near riverwood would it be raining in dawnstar could not really be answered. So not really a project for a geologist, but certainly some hydrologists could get invested. Either way, earth sciences in video games sounds like fun to me!

  3. Pingback: I’m Looking for an Expert Skyrim Modder with a Passion for Science | Geo-HeritageScience

  4. Pingback: The Geology of Skyrim! | Geo-HeritageScience

  5. This is great! I’m currently studying to be a High School Earth Science teacher and this is EXACTLY the type of thing I would want to integrate into my classroom. If you develop any more information about this mod, let me know!

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