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Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences

Student Work Spotlight

Mod Squad: SDE students create an entirely new level for popular video game Skyrim.

Students in the Simulation and Digital Entertainment program at the Universities at Shady Grove offer players a new level for Skyrim, the 2011 Video Game of the Year.


Watch the trailer for the Apocrypha mod, designed and developed by UB students in the B.S. in Simulation and Digital Entertainment program.

Want more? See another excerpt on YouTube.

In a game design course during the fall 2012 semester at the Universities of Shady Grove, Brian Doyle, lecturer, led 28 students in UB's B.S. in Simulation and Digital Entertainment program in devising a mod—a video game content modification—called Apocrypha for the 3-D role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which weaves a story and takes place in a world marked by magic, war, epic battles and dragons.

This mod was the outcome of a group assignment in COSC 497: Topics in Computer Science, which offers students the opportunity to explore cutting-edge technologies in an effort to keep up with the quickly changing facets of the video game industry. Last fall, Doyle's special topics class at USG focused on game-level design using the Skyrim Creation Kit, professional software tools that Bethesda Softworks, the company that produces Skyrim, released to allow students to design and build their own levels, script their own quests and then literally insert them into the game.

"It essentially allowed us to play in BethSoft's sandbox using the same professional tools that their employees used to create the game," says Sonny Moxley, one of the Apocrypha designers and the students' PR lead. Moreover, two Bethesda Softworks employees who worked on Skyrim visited the class to teach the students how to use the Creation Kit as well as how to approach the mod.

Although most mods are quite small, perhaps adding a building in a remote location of a world or changing the way something looks in the game, Apocrypha is large in comparison. It has many locations and quests that take players to realms usually not reachable in Skyrim. The student designers planned and built various levels consistent with the Skyrim story and brand. While they used professionally developed visual and interactive elements that came in the Creation Kit, they also designed entirely new elements to fit the unique story of Apocrypha. These new levels and elements went through quality-assurance testing before they were finalized.

"The Apocrypha project taught the students to work together as a team in both small and large groups, take and give constructive criticism and to work with the professional studio tools to create something completely new but that still works within the lore of the existing Skyrim world. It was a great experience," Moxley says. Students intend to make the mod available for free to players in online modding communities such as Steam, ModDB or Skyrim Nexus.

Read more about Apocrypha and follow their work on Twitter.