Gaming Trend Editor Holly Hudspeth got to sit down with The Elder Scrolls Online Art Director CJ Grebb to discuss the upcoming Chapter, High Isle, which releases on June 6th 2022. We’d like to thank CJ Grebb and the team at ZeniMax/Bethesda for always including us in their ESO coverage! Without further ado, let’s jump into the Q&A!
Holly Hudspeth: What real life locations did you and the team use inspiration from, and did you visit in person? Specific cities or locales would be great to hear about!
CJ Grebb: The writers and designers of the Year of the Bretons had suggested that we look to the beautiful islands in the Mediterranean for inspiration when thinking about the Systres Archipelago. That was all we needed to get started. We particularly fell in love with the stark limestone cliff faces of that region, and how lovely those colors meld with the green grasses that often cover the hills and valleys.
Holly Hudspeth: Can you tell me more about the steps in the process for designing an entire race and their landscapes from the ground up?
CJ Grebb: We try to give each zone in ESO a unique feel, and this almost always begins with scouting real-world locations and cultures as a first step. Once we land on a location, our Concept Artists begin assembling images to create an inspiration board that will guide them as they begin creating speed paintings and other fast gestural works of art to show to me and the rest of the team.
It’s a conversation that continues until everyone is satisfied that the direction fits the story we’re trying to tell. From there, the unique assets that we think we’re going to need are broken into individual tasks by our intrepid producers. The concept team begins concepting, and as those concepts are approved the fixtures and biome teams get started modeling, painting, sculpting, etc. Meanwhile, the producers keep an eye on the schedule and make sure everything is proceeding on-time and on-budget.
As these pieces come in, level designers have already assembled plans for the content areas, which our worldbuilders then begin crafting in-engine. While all of this is going on, the figure team has begun creating new creatures, mounts and other fauna, as well as assembling new appearances and gear. Tech artists create any new rigs to complete that effort. We also engage outsourcers for some of this work, and a team of outsource managers and tech artists watch over that process and help us stay on track.
As the content begins to come into focus, our visual effects artists and animators begin to create the unique items required of them for the new adventures, and we meet regularly with the zone lead and the entire content team to see the progress, make sure we’re catching any potential problems as early as we can, and make sure the schedules are being adhered to.
All of this generally happens as all the teams I’ve mentioned above are simultaneously fixing bugs discovered by our awesome QA team, pivoting to account for story changes and refinements, and putting the finishing touches on the previous update’s content that is often about to launch.
It’s quite a whirlwind and depends on an amazing group of incredibly talented artists.
Holly Hudspeth: The Bretons and the area of The High Isles seem to have a hint of a medieval feel, what made you guys decide to go in this particular direction?
CJ Grebb: The Bretons have traditionally filled the role as the classically medieval race in the Elder Scrolls universe. We had already explored this idea in the base game with High Rock and the adventures there, so we needed a twist on the established architecture and armors that fit in, but would also give us a new look and feel so the Systres could feel unique. We landed on Germanic medieval castles as inspiration for our new architecture and adapted some shapes and ideas from that region’s medieval armor as a launchpad for some of the new motifs as well.
Holly Hudspeth: Were there any funny bugs or issues in the process of creating this new content? We love to hear fun stories!
CJ Grebb: The Ascendant Lord seems to have a penchant for standing with one leg propped up against a rock or other conveniently elevated platform. We’ve had more than one conversation about how much Captain Morgan is “too much” Captain Morgan.
Holly Hudspeth: What is your personal favorite type of landscape to design? As far as look and feel…more high fantasy, or more dark and foreboding, more natural? What do you like to work on in your down time and personal free time?
CJ Grebb: My favorite is always whatever we’re working on right now. That’s a cliché answer, I know, but it really is true. The more excited and engaged with the current project we are, the better it turns out in the end.
Holly Hudspeth: What was your favorite area of the new content to design?
CJ Grebb: There is a faction of ancient Bretons we meet in the new chapter, and I find their backstory really interesting. I can’t get too spoiler-y, but their culture is set to play a larger role in future content, and I’m excited to see what the art team creates for them.