"Hey you, you're finally awake", are words that so often come a moment before disaster. In Skyrim, it's supposed to be scripted disaster, of course - a cart ride followed by an axe that very nearly frees your head from your body, and a close-shave with a dragon. But for many players, they don't make it off the cart before the damn thing becomes possessed, spinning endlessly and throwing it's passengers away. There are a lot of reasons for why this on-rails sequence sometimes goes awry, but it turns out it was a problem during development too, when a single bee derailed the whole thing.
Former Bethesda artist Nate Purkeypile took to Twitter this week to explain that, even in development, Skyrim's opening cart ride was a bit of a menace. He said that, as the cart is physically simulated and on rails, there were all kinds of things that could cause it to "freak out". From stray rocks to physics bugs, "the cart had a path it wanted to follow, but that doesn't mean it was a path it COULD follow."
"Well one time, riding that cart yet again, the cart starts to shake violently and all of a sudden WHOOSH! The cart goes up into the sky like a rocket ship. Like WAY up there," Purkeypile said. "Something was telling that cart to just fuck right off and to get off that road. The thing is, it wasn't happening every time. Nobody knew what was going on at first."
That was, until they realised the cart was crashing into rock-hard bees. The bees were a little buggy, you see, and for some reason players couldn't pick them up. The devs implemented a fix, adding collision that both allowed the bees to be picked up, and also collide into things - including carts on rails.
"That bee was an immovable force of nature if it ever happened to cross the path of the cart," Purkeypile added. "The cart wanted to move down the road. The bee did not want to move. So up the cart goes!"
Don't mess with the bees, I guess. I hope somewhere there's still a build of Skyrim with all-powerful bumbles. They deserve it.
Inspired by Purkeypile's thread, another former Bethesda developer, Joel Burgess, revealed some more Skyrim development history too. For a long time, players have shared the idea that if you follow a fox in the game, they'll lead you to treasure. Turns out, there's some truth to that, but the devs themselves initially didn't know what was causing it.
Among Skyrim players, you'll occasionally see this tip: if you see a wild fox, follow it and you'll be led to treasure.— Joel Burgess (@JoelBurgess) August 18, 2021
Sometime shortly after shipping, we saw this going around online, and an informal investigation started. Who made foxes do this?!
In Burgess' thread, he explained that Skyrim's AI use something called "navmesh" to navigate the world. Navmesh kinda turns everything into triangles, with big wide open spaces (like a forest or the plains) creating a small number of big triangles, while camps and more detailed areas would have a large number of small triangles. Now, foxes are programmed to run away from players in Skyrim, with the goal of getting 100 triangles away.
"You see where this is going? The Fox isn't trying to get 100 meters away - it's trying to get 100 *triangles* away," Burgess said. "You know where it's easy to find 100 triangles? The camps/ruins/etc that we littered the world with, and filled with treasure to reward your exploration."
Skyrim seems to be full of happy little accidents. Though, for the developers I suppose the bee thing didn't make them that happy at the time.
Still, these stories are great to hear. Purkeypile puts it pretty well at the end of his thread: "Game development is hard. Every time you fix one thing, you might be breaking another. This is especially true about open world games. Yet, that interplay of all the systems is what ends up making them all super interesting."