Zenimax unveils how keeps were created to make battles exciting for defenders and assailants.
The three Alliances of Elder Scrolls Online battle within the region of Cyrodiil around fortified keeps. They are critical to each side's war effort and the Zenimax team couldn't just create art straight away when creating the keeps. They had to meet technical requirements: destructible keep walls, siege weapons and large numbers of player characters on-screen.
The actual layout of the keeps was very important. It had to allow for multiple stages within the battle and combat mechanics needed to be taken into accounts, like knockbacks, gap closers and area abilities.
Traditional multi-floor constructions didn't work very well due to the bottlenecks created by stairs and small passageways. They wanted both an outer and an inner keep, so the team moved to a single-floor approach and provided locations within the inner keep to give an height advantage to the defenders.
The keeps' designers used real-life medieval fortifications for inspiration to create floor plans that made sense in the terrain. All keeps are different: some take advantage of the natural defense offered by the landscape; large structures, like those guarding Artifact Gates, are not the same as outpost-style keeps. Knowing the kind of fortifications you’re up against is needed for a victorious assault.
To claim a keep, attackers need to occupy two flagged locations for a period of time. At first, the team considered putting a powerful NPC to dispatch but discarded the idea as it would encourage players to rush at the NPC instead of actually fighting other players.
The planning part is crucial. A party can destroy the front gate, blast the outer and inner keep's walls, or even all the walls and doors. When the keep is claimed, the damage isn't instantly repaired. Undoing the destruction takes resources and is costly, adding an economic side to the war.
At this point, most of the great multi-stage sieges were designed. The basic approach would be to cut off the keep’s supplies by claiming its resources first, assault the outer walls and then the inner keep before driving out the remaining defenders. The team is already prepared to answer to new strategies.
Art-wise, while working on strategies and building floor plans, the layouts were built with simple geometry with no finished art. The designers and artists then spent a long time in Oblivion looking for inspiration which they found in the Colovian architecture. Some Oblivion ruins were even rebuilt and are standing keeps in TESO!
After layout and art design, the team focused on balance, deciding the number of people needed to claim a keep while taking into account players sneaking in during less populated hours. NPC guards were added to provide a minimum defense. They appear once a keep is claimed, providing backup and a chance to rest for the victorious party. Their health and damage, along with the strength of walls and doors, continues to be adjusted through testing.
Guilhemette "Whilhelmina" Giacopazzi