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What was it like programming Skyrim?

Programming's not always just about trying to keep the frame rate from chugging. As lead Skyrim systems programmer Brett Douville explains, it's about relationships and self-care too.

It’s been five years since The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim launched, and since then the way open-world games are made has changed so much. Bethesda Softworks has gone on to release Fallout 4, and companies like Ubisoft and CD Projekt Red have built their own templates for creating vast, open game spaces that rival the size of Bethesda's fifth Elder Scrolls RPG. 

But despite how far open-world games have come, we at Gamasutra were curious, what was it like working on Skyrim? With the release of Skyrim’s special edition that brings the game to PS4 and Xbox One, we decided to invite former Bethesda Softworks lead programmer Brett Douville in for a conversation about programming the game. 

As seen above, the chat was particularly illuminating, since as Douville explained, the best language a programmer can know isn’t any coding language, but as he puts it “English”—meaning just having the ability to communicate with other team members and translate game design concepts into code and back. 

It turns out that even while Skyrim proved to be a huge programming challenge, it was also a lesson for Douville and his colleagues to just figure out how to take care of themselves and work together as a team. 

Be sure to watch the full talk for some inspiring (and occasionally very technical) anecdotes from Douville’s time with the Skyrim team, and subscribe to our Twitch channel for more regular developer interviews and gameplay commentary. 

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