BigBizkit: It has been two years since the release of Enderal, and hundreds of thousands of users have been able to explore and enjoy its diverse world by now. However, to those who have not yet heard of it, how would you describe Enderal?
Nicolas: Enderal is a total conversion – that is, a stand-alone game based on Skyrim and the Creation Engine. It features a 60+ hours dark, mature story with psychological horror aspects, and an immense game world to explore, ranging from lush forests to snowy mountains to tropical beaches. We also revised or expanded most game mechanics and added new ones, such as small survival elements.
Regarding its overall feel, many people described Enderal as the middle ground between games like Dragon Age or Skyrim. I think the description fits.
As you would expect from a total conversion, Enderal is very different from Skyrim. What would you say are the key differences when it comes to story and atmosphere?
As mentioned above, the story plays a far more important role in Enderal than it does in Skyrim. We value emotions, believable characters, and profound themes a lot and try to translate that into an open world RPG. The result is, we believe, a story that is less sprawling and more linear, but more emotional.
?In Enderal, players gain experience points and have to invest them in their character as opposed to Skyrim’s “learning by doing” concept. What prompted this particular design decision and what would you say in general are the core differences between Skyrim and Enderal when it comes to gameplay?
One of the reasons we decided against Skyrim’s learning by doing system is that it takes away a lot of control we designers have over the player’s character progression. Experience points that can be earned through combat, questing and exploration are a lot easier to keep track of and control, which, in return allows us to balance encounters and challenges a lot better. This ability to track player progression is even more critical considering that, in Enderal, enemy power doesn’t scale with you. Another reason was that we’re a bit old school and simply prefer EP-systems over learning-by-doing systems.
Enderal also changed Skyrim’s skill-based perk system to a more old-fashioned class system, where there are nine classes that each contain perks for multiple skills as well as two to three unique “talents,” activated abilities that replace Skyrim’s shouts. For example, the Infiltrator combines the “Rhetoric” (Speechcraft) and Sneaking skills, and its two talents allow the player to silently teleport behind an enemy or throw a blinding powder that enables him to disappear. There are a lot more gameplay tweaks and changes, but they are too much to cover here – give it a try and see for yourself!
The world of Enderal is a bit smaller than Skyrim, but a lot more diverse featuring everything from dense forests, jungles, and deserts, to huge cities and snow-covered mountains. What was your design philosophy behind the different regions and Enderal’s world in general? Do you have a favourite region?
Our primary goal was to create a world that feels handcrafted and entices to explore. We don’t believe in procedurally generating game worlds – they feel generic, and, more important than that, soulless. We play-tested a lot and tried to add as many vistas, encounters, and environmental stories as we could so that the game doesn’t only incentivize exploration but also rewards it.
I love all regions, but my personal favorite has always been the Heartland, a lush, mixed coniferous forest in the center of Enderal. It has an old-school wildness to it that makes me want to wander around there for hours.
? ?Development had started before Skyrim was even released meaning that you guys played Skyrim for the first time with your project already in mind. What were some aspects of Skyrim that stood out to you and that you thought you could expand on in Enderal?
Good question! We definitely saw lots of potential in the new, Nordic setting, even though we expanded on it. Back then, the vast, open tundras and massive mountains of Skyrim were something we hadn’t experienced before in a game, and we wanted to achieve a similar sense of awe in Enderal. We also liked the new perk system and the fast-paced and dynamic combat and magic system. Though fun, combat had always felt somewhat clunky in Oblivion and Morrowind.
Before Enderal, you already had a substantial total conversion mod to your name - Nehrim: At Fate’s Edge. How would you compare the development process for both projects? What lessons that you had learned from your work on Nehrim were you able to apply?
To think big, but stay reasonable. It may not sound motivating, but since SureAI’s inception in 2003, we saw an endless number of exciting and ambitious total conversion projects crash and burn, and most of them due to overambition. Most people don’t know this, but even Nehrim was on the verge of failing for several times. Only through significant cuts, we managed to get it done.
Also, and I think every modder who has worked in a team can relate to this, you have to plan and think differently when coordinating a non-commercial project. We learned to never entrust new team members with important tasks right away, even if they are motivated and talented. For most people, modding is a pastime, and there are virtually no ramifications from abandoning a project halfway-in, so you’ll always find people bailing out unless you’re very lucky. Though most probably have good reasons to do so, there’s a good chance they won’t tell you and just disappear silently, leaving your project plan in shambles.
Finally, and this goes hand in hand with the previous point, always maintain an atmosphere of creativity and excitement. These are the fuel of any modding project, and as soon as a team member feels like they can’t “realize their dreams” in your project, the chances are that he or she will drop out soon.
What is very striking about Enderal, is that the mood it sets is darker and at times more sombre than Skyrim’s, and that the storytelling touches on more mature themes. Can you tell us a bit about that in particular, and what your inspiration, in general, was when writing Enderal’s storyline and quests?
Nowadays people have very different definitions about what “mature” means – for me, it’s less about gore and sex rather than about dealing with certain topics and the way in which the game presents them. At its core, Enderal deals with the topics of inner demons and the “perpetual nature of human conflict,” with a twinge of psychological horror. We don’t shy away from touching upon risqué subjects and want our stories to get under peoples’ skins, make them feel something and maybe even think about some of the topics we address. At the same time, we put a lot of effort into shaping believable, three-dimensional personalities who are more than just quest-givers or plot devices and who the player will remember and grow to like, loathe, or even love.
As far as inspiration is concerned, the foundation of Enderal’s plot is heavily inspired by Jungian psychology, as odd as it sounds. It’s hard to explain without spoiling too much of the story. Of course, we also got inspiration from a myriad of games, books, music, and even real-life events, but these are a lot harder to pinpoint.
0yx86JRbTnQAn essential part of creating an immersive experience is the sound and music design. Enderal comes with its own set of UI sounds (for e.g. level ups, or completed quests) and a unique soundtrack. Can you talk a bit about what went into composing the soundtrack and what the inspiration was?
(Answer by composer Marvin Kopp)
All in all, composing Enderal’s soundtrack took about four years. We started with two major, juxtaposing themes (“Black Light” and “Towards the Horizon”) that represented the dark and the hopeful side of the narrative. From these two themes, the other pieces grew organically – first, the exploration pieces, then battle tracks, then character themes and music for specific events and story moments. Since we didn’t have a big budget at hand, we mainly used virtual instruments and a sprinkle of live recordings. An expensive garage band, so to speak.
I drew most inspiration from the story and the level design. Other composers who inspired me are Hans Zimmer, Jeremy Soule, and Tom Twyker.
As most huge projects, I understand that you had to cut a lot of content from the release version of Enderal for various reasons. What were some of the things that did not make it into the final release due to, let’s say, engine limitations?
The real-time flight system!
We had developed a complex scripting system that would have allowed the player to travel through Enderal on the back of a Myrad, WoW-style. We had to cut it because the engine just couldn’t handle loading and unloading areas this fast. That didn’t come easy.
Also, we would have loved to have a proper, in-game menu for Enderal’s new class/perk system. We tried modifying Skyrim’s beautiful perk menu, but couldn’t find a way to remove the obsolete skill trees, and our attempts at coding our own menu failed due to time reasons. Finally, we meddled with creating cutscenes in the first months of development, but, though possible, the process just turned out to be too time-consuming without the right tools.
? ?It has been around ten years since you started development, and two years since the release of Enderal. That is a lot of time to reflect on. How satisfied are you with how Enderal’s release went? How did the reality of the release and reception compare to your anticipation during the past years of development?
As a matter of fact, SureAI has been around even longer – the founding fathers, Johannes and Dennis, joined forces back in 2003.
All in all, we’re very happy with the release. Up to this day, around 2 million people downloaded Enderal (counting the most significant portion of downloads via our website), and if only half of them played it, we’re humbled. Also, it really struck a chord with some people who have remained loyal fans ever since – there’s plenty of fanart, fan-fiction and even some covers of our bard songs or original soundtrack. Furthermore, almost half of the Enderal team are now full-time game developers, some in leading positions.
Personally, what moved me as a writer the most were some of the mails we got from people who were deeply moved by the story and some of its characters. If you work on something for as long as five years, self-doubts always find their way into your thoughts, ranging from “this won’t be as good as we think it is” to “this project will be a complete disaster!” I know it sounds cliché, but the reactions of some fans made it all worth it for me.
Let’s move onto what the future holds for both fans of Enderal as well as SureAI as a studio: In early September you launched your very own Steam Store Page for Enderal. Could you tell us a bit about what that means for players?
Mostly, that installing Enderal will now be easier than ever before – one click and that’s it. We also have our own directory now, so that your (modded) Skyrim and Enderal won’t become entangled. We also added achievements for those who like them.
You have also announced a brand new DLC for Enderal called “Forgotten Stories” which, as I understand it, will feature loads of content that was initially cut from Enderal’s release - among other stuff. Can you tell us a bit about “Forgotten Stories”, how it will fit into Enderal, and what working on it was like?
As you said, Forgotten Stories aims to add all the content we had to cut due to time reasons. Among it are two sprawling, non-linear guild questlines that allow the player to join the Golden Sickle, a merchant’s guild in Ark, and the Rhâlata - the enigmatic cult ruling the Undercity. There are also around twelve side-quests that take place in previously quest-free regions or deal with neglected story strands of the main game (hint to Enderal players: The Veiled Woman).
7Ocpwvp35RsThere is also a plethora of gameplay improvements and additions, such as new classes, revised and improved crafting mechanics (every non-combat skill now has an actual impact on the game-play), new spells, new talents, et cetera. We fixed hundreds of bugs and drastically improved performance and crashes.
Working on it was both exciting and a challenge. As I mentioned before, many of us are now professional game-devs, so it wasn’t always easy to allocate time. On the other hand, it was inspiring and motivating to experience the anticipation some Enderal fans felt for the add-on. A lot of Forgotten Stories also felt like polish, which is my personal favorite in any work – the chores are done, now all that remains is to make it better.
Enderal is currently available for Skyrim Classic and Legendary Edition. Are there any plans to eventually port it to Skyrim Special Edition? Do you think Enderal could benefit from the engine improvements in Skyrim SE?
We’ve toyed with the idea, but we won’t start before releasing the last patch for Forgotten Stories – we just can’t afford the time to patch Vanilla Enderal and SE Enderal at the same time. The benefits, however, would be substantial, not only concerning graphics but also performance. We’re definitely considering this.
You guys might be most famous for the total conversion mods Nehrim and Enderal, but you also released a standalone game in early September called Mad Restaurant People. How would you describe the game for those interested in trying it out?
“Mad Restaurant People” is a game developed by one of our members, Dennis Weich, an external coder, and Marvin Kopp, who did the soundtrack. It’s basically a little experiment they created to familiarize themselves with Unreal Engine 4. In “Mad Restaurant People,” the player takes on the role of a waiter who has to serve an evergrowing number of customers in time before they get angry. The further he progresses, the more obstacles he faces, such as rats, drunk people, and fires.
Last but not least: is there anything else you would like to share with our community about Enderal, SureAI, or future plans?
If you haven’t tried out Enderal yet, we’d be honored if you did when Forgotten Stories comes out! Also, I (Nicolas) am currently working on an episodic, spin-off novel that explores the mercenary past of one of Enderal’s main characters, Jespar. It’s set in Kilè, a tropical island archipelago inspired by ancient Mesopotamia, where Jespar is hired to uncover the cause of a strange, preternatural coma the country’s richest man has fallen into.
The first chapter will become available on my Patreon page when Forgotten Stories comes out. Patronage isn’t required to read it.
A big thank you to Nicolas from the SureAI team for taking the time to talk to us. As always, if there's an author or mod project you'd like to know more about, send your suggestions to BigBizkit or Pickysaurus.