Skyrim Quest: The Hustlers of Whiterun

The large cave section

The large cave section

The Hustlers of Whiterun is a new quest for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The story and objectives revolve around the elimination of a group of bandits that have been stealing livestock and other animals from farms near the city of Whiterun. The quest is picked up by the player from an NPC in the city – a farmer affected by the hustlers – who asks for assistance in eliminating the bandit group. The player is directed to a suspect who has information on the whereabouts of the bandits and after some ‘persuasion’ agrees to tell the player where they are.

This quest uses modified sections of the exterior landscape of the original Skyrim game plus a whole new interior section.

Below is a gameplay excerpt from the exterior section of the quest.

 

 

Development Process

For my first full quest in Skyrim I wanted something that contained many elements of Skyrim’s quests and world in order to showcase some of the techniques I could use and also so that players could have a varied and interesting experience.

The finished quest, therefore, will use elements such as scripted dialogue with multiple paths, exterior and interior sections, npc persuasion, boss battles and unique quest rewards.

 

The bandit camp

The bandit camp

A location just outside Whiterun was chosen for the exterior sections of this quest for a number of reasons:

  • Whiterun is the first major city that new players visit and therefore the quest is easily accessible to most people.
  • Players can fast travel to Whiterun and be within easy reaching distance of the quest.
  • There are farms on the outskirts of Whiterun that provide a suitable location that ties in with the story (that of bandits stealing livestock and animals).
  • Behind the farms is a mountainous backdrop which provides a good location for the exterior of the bandit’s lair.  I wanted to imply that the bandits hadn’t been around long (which gave a reason as to why the player hadn’t come across this quest before) and therefore they were using the closest and most convenient shelter they could find, in this case an abandoned mine in the nearby mountains.

 

The location of the camp outside Whiterun.

The location of the camp outside Whiterun.

The exterior section.

For the exterior part of this quest I chose a location that was a little way up a large mountain directly behind the farms of Whiterun. I didn’t want to choose something too close to the farms as this would break a key story element; that the farmers whose livestock was stolen did not know who was behind the attacks and where they were based. I also wanted the journey between quest giver and the first bandit encounter to be a bit of an adventure but not too far away to be pointless and laborious.

I chose a location slightly off a main road up the mountain so that it would be easy for the player to find their way yet still remained convincing as a secret hideout.  This location also provided a nice vista that took in the whole of Whiterun and the surrounding landscape.

I initially cut my own dirt road straight up from the bottom of the mountain to the bandit’s camp.  This actually created an incline that, although walkable, was far too steep for the player to navigate and could lead some players to believe that it was not the correct route at all.  It also produced the effect of stumbling right in to the bandit’s camp before a player was even aware of it.  This was not desirable as it meant that players who played stealthily would be unable to sneak up on the camp, as before they were even aware of it they would be detected before they were able to prepare.

I decided then to cut a location off the main road that would provide a more manageable, shallow incline which would not only be easier to navigate but also give the player time to prepare for the encounter with the bandits at the camp.  I also provided an alternative route in to the camp to add more variety and allow players to react strategically to any actions of the bandits.

Part of the process of the creation of this exterior section involved making it look natural.  I had changed the original landscape around there fairly drastically and it therefore had to look the part.  I placed road sections down which had to be carefully blended in to the landscape and surrounded it with shrubbery and rocks which had a two-fold effect of producing a natural landscape and creating a natural path to help the player subconsciously navigate to the camp.

During this whole process I was conscious of the thought process that players would be going through as they approached the camp.  I wanted the player to be aware of the camp in plenty of time so that they were able to prepare their approach.  Yet I still wanted to provide plenty of cover around the camp so that players would not be instantly spotted by the bandits.  This resulted in a lot of tweaking of aspects such as the amount of vegetation around the camp, the AI pathing the bandits would use and the incline at which the player approached.  I placed large trees around the outskirts of the camp entrance which provided enough cover that the player could use while sneaking or to avoid being shot at when detected.

The view of Whiterun from the bandits’ camp

The view of Whiterun from the bandits’ camp

Approaching the camp

Approaching the camp

Once the general layout of the landscape was complete I placed the essential static props that would make up the camp.  This started with the mine entrance that would lead to the interior section of the quest.  I placed a fire in the middle of the camp which acted not only as an appropriate set piece but also as a good early warning sign that the player was getting close to the objective.

The camp itself was littered with the standard trappings of Skyrim bandit camps: a chest, some barrels, Nordic tents and a spit-pot roasting frame.  I also placed a couple of animal cages with dead dogs inside.  The evidence of caged animals not only confirms to the player that this is the correct camp for that quest, but I was also hoping to a elicit an emotional reaction in the player by suggesting that the bandits mistreated and killed the dogs.

The path leading to the bandits’ camp

The path leading to the bandits’ camp

The exterior also required an appropriate nav mesh to facilitate correct AI pathing.  In Skyrim, the nav mesh also holds data on areas of cover which I tweaked to determine the best points for the AI to defend themselves based on the obstacles in the area.

AI Pathing

I wanted bandits in the camp to look natural in their surroundings and so I set their paths and actions appropriately.  I made sure the timings between movements and actions were not too uniform to look robotic and unnatural, yet they had enough repetition so that the player could accurately predict their next move and react accordingly.  I wanted to create points where, from a player’s perspective, the bandits were placed in both advantageous and disadvantageous positions to the player.  This encourages strategic thinking and correct timing on the part of the player which makes for more interesting gameplay.  The advantageous positions were mostly when the player is out of a bandit’s sight range or is at a safe distance, and the disadvantageous positions were the opposite of that.  I created points in the AI pathing therefore that moved the bandits to different areas of the camp and to points where they would change direction.  I also mixed this up a bit to look more natural by making some of the bandits more erratic than others.

Editing the exterior nav mesh

Editing the exterior nav mesh

The interior section

For the interior, I wanted to create something reasonably compact but with still enough content to keep it interesting.  The story suggests that the hustlers are only a small group of bandits so I want their hideout to reflect that.

In terms of the space itself, it’s a mine so naturally it’s made up of small, confined spaces.  I wanted it to be punctuated, however, with the occasional large cavernous room or deep abyss.  This will keep the environment more interesting for the player both aesthetically, and in terms of the way combat is conducted in different sized areas.

Towards the back of the mine will be the bandit leader; killing him will complete the main part of the quest.  However, I don’t want the player to have to run all the way back through the mine to exit.  So, in usual Skyrim tradition, I’ll be creating a door near the bandit leader’s room that will quickly lead to a door that exits near the front of the mine.  That door will only be accessible from the back, preventing players entering the mine for the first time going through it and straight to the bandit leader’s room.

Mine entrance

Mine entrance

The interior sections were decorated with clutter and furniture to bring them to life and keep with the theme of a lived-in lair.

The shot below is of one of the largest rooms.  It’s important for me to give a player choice and therefore this particular room features various methods of dealing with the bandits before exiting on the other side.  I wanted to cater for all possible classes and even to offer the player an almost pacifistic option.