Back in 1996, Noah Berry was floored by the beauty and texture of The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall - something that led him to the doors of Bethesda after graduating with a degree in Fine Arts. As an environmental artist on both Morrowind - and now Oblivion - it's his job to make the land of Cyrodiil as real as technology will allow.
Our thanks to our pals on PC Zone magazine for this interview.
So what are you up to at the moment?
Noah Berry: These days, towards the end of Oblivion's development, I'm spending the bulk of my time trying to finesse and optimise any and all environment artwork I've created before we begin to freeze game assets. Cyrodiil's landscape is a vast swath of land and it's no small task making sure that every bit of it is lush, dense and as polished as it can be. I use any remaining time I may have in the evenings to try and lovingly squeeze in last-minute detail art and polish. These small additions (anything from a colour variation to small ambient wildlife) can be quite rewarding to implement, as they add much more life and richness to gameplay spaces.
Did you go on trips to local woodland before you started designing the trees and forests?
Noah Berry: Real-world excursions are integral, at least in the initial stages, to designing and building landscapes for a game like Oblivion - so there are several local parks and forests that our art staff have visited to digitally photograph flora and fauna for use in the game. Most of my own forest and landscape research comes from a large reference library I've been compiling, which contains hundreds of photographs of visually striking realworld locations and settings. These always serve as great artistic inspiration and as an invaluable reference when building landscape art.
How do you go about designing Oblivion's flora? Do you use realworld tree species, or do you 'invent' new fantasy varieties?
Noah Berry: It was intended from the beginning that Oblivion's landscape would have a more tangible and realistic flair, especially when contrasted with more exotic Tamriel/Morrowind locations such as Vvardenfell or Black Marsh. So naturally, we rely heavily upon real-world species and varieties of vegetation. This said, many of the plants and trees we've created are fantastically exaggerated for the sake of atmospheric and other-worldly effect, plus there are many unique lore-specific trees and plants only found in Cyrodiil. The Oblivion planes are a different matter altogether however...
So how much of what you do hits the editing suite floor?
Noah Berry: Since our game worlds are generally so vast and require so many things to occupy them, usually very little - in terms of raw assets - gets cut from the final game. We try to create and hone as much art and content as we can before time runs out. That said, more is not always better and we do keep watchful eyes on which aspects are perhaps hindering the final gameplay experience. Occasionally, ideas or art will get abandoned due to technical or time constraints, but not to worry, as the mantra commonly heard around here says: "Next game!"
Finally, what's your favourite sort of tree?
Noah Berry: I'm quite partial to evergreens and old-growth forests with towering cathedral ceilings. I find the distant canopy, spacious and subdued reverb and sunlit-dappled fern understory very aesthetically pleasing. I'm by no means a tree-hugger or an overly dramatic and extreme conservationist; I just find forests very pleasant to the senses and soothing to the soul. They're still creepy at night though.