After doing some further gameplay to explicitly test the physics of Skyrim, I felt the need to do some background on the physics engine at hand. The engine, which many of you have probably heard of before, is the Havok physics engine. This is a collision-based physics engine that focuses on the dynamic interaction between any given body (bodies of mass, that is) and other bodies, resulting in (mostly) realistic interactions. This engine is popularized in major titles, such as the Assassin’s Creed series, the Halo series, Starcraft II, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and many more. Those moments where you blow something up and little parts of it are scattered across the land are brought to you by Havok.
Satisfied in my thirst for knowledge (and a growing fanboyism towards the Havok system), I continued my physics abuse. Though my next point may not directly refer to the physics, it was fascinating nonetheless: weight. The game has a weight system built in to punish the player for taking too much loot, forcing the player to make value-based decisions on what to hold and what to drop. For example, if I’m at max weight (starting base is 300 units of measurement), and I decide to pick something up and it puts me over, I have to drop something to bring me back down to an even max (exactly 300) or under. If I stay above the max weight, I receive a significant cut to my movement speed. As all gamers know, movement speed is crucial to all games, and being slow is usually a bad thing.
One time, I was at 300 weight because I’m brilliant and didn’t level up my carrying capacity. Or, at least I thought I was at 300. No, I was at 300.1. That one-tenth of a weight measurement (I’m guessing lbs, but I’m really not sure) was the deciding factor between running and waddling. So, I looked in my inventory and saw a potato that managed to sneak into my gear. After tossing the potato, I was back to maximum movespeed. I suppose this is the modern rendition of “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, referring to things piling up and being too much to manage, but in this case referring to a potato that encumbered the great hero of Skyrim.
Curse you, cumbersome potato. I hope some sabrecat ate you.
My point, though, isn’t to avoid potatoes. My point is that the game, regardless of your vast strength, has an entertaining quirk (a necessary one, at that) where a simple potato can hold your hulking hero back from sprinting along and saving some estranged NPC from a dragon or a bandit. Also, there are various renditions of my potato story, including, but not limited to: Butterfly wings, mushrooms, salt, carrots, troll skulls, and your spouse’s homecooked meals.
Potatoes aside, there are some really neat mass interactions in Skyrim. My personal favorite is with the spell Telekinesis. Telekinesis lets you pick up an object within a set range and pull it towards you. However, you can also throw the object and watch the physics engine freak out in ways akin to the murderous mule cart. You see, the Havok engine, to the extent of my knowledge, registers velocity in a very sensitive fashion. If I were to pick up a goblet with Telekinesis and drop it, it would bounce a little, roll on the ground, and eventually come to a halt. If I were to throw that goblet into a pile of baskets, however, the baskets would register no resistance and scatter across the room as if a grenade were tossed at them. For those of you who have the game, I thoroughly recommend abusing this, as it is extremely entertaining and is a good way to grind levels. It’s worth mentioning that baskets are not the only potential victims, making me think that these collisions and their hilarity is fully intended by the Bethesda crew.
So far, we have a murderous mule cart, plump potatoes, and goblet grenades. What’s next? Being clubbed by a Giant.
When a Giant attacks you at early levels, it will instantly kill you and send your body hurdling hundreds of feet into the air. This is a pretty amazing collision interaction: The Giant, which is about four or five times larger than you are, slams its club onto your head, causing the force to course through you. Instead of diffusing into the ground, the force comes back skywards, sending our hero on a quest to the moon. There isn’t much more to it than that the physics engine only accounts for terrain when the Giant misses, at which time a temporary crater is formed. Otherwise, the terrain about as absorbent as a tissue in a pool.
I think that about wraps it up for the majority of Skyrim physics. However, there are more interactions that are worth noting, but the gameplay experience itself is much more gratifying than explaining them. For example, when a dragon lands, the controller and camera shake. Makes sense, considering the dragons are massive. Another interaction is with instant-kills with a bow and arrow, which propel the enemy backwards. It’s really more gratifying to do than to explain, as you get a great sensation of power and success by plowing some poor villain back into last Tuesday with a well-placed arrow.
- M. B