Blackmarch (not to be confused with Black Marsh) is new sub-region within Blackwood, for Skyblivion’s new landscapes most of the new regions that neighbors another province will get a Border Gate, just like Skyrim introduced. The one thing we wanted to improve upon compared to Skyrim’s border gates was uniqueness. Blackmarch is the sub-region in Blackwood that houses the Blackmarsh border gate named Fort Bulwark.
As you can see from the image Blackmarch holds a forest of dead and burnt trees, I originally intended it to be a barren plain with trees that had been chopped down by the Guards on the wall in order to be able to see any folk trying to sneak into Blackmarsh, problem with that idea was that when you go out of your way to make a large area look empty on purpose it’s extremely difficult to successfully pull off and not have the player look at the area and say “These place looks unfinished”, this was a skill I knew I had to work on for longer before I try it, so I thought to myself ‘What about a burnt forest’ maybe the legion burnt the trees down to be able to see better like I said previously although that just seemed like a very nonsensical thing for them to do since a forest fire would be a hard thing to control, maybe they burnt the forest down due to bandits hiding in them, like that story Alfred told Batman In the Dark Knight, again sounded too drastic. I got really attached to the look of the area being burnt, it added a much-needed creepy portion to Blackwood that I really wanted.
A solution was found in a very un-likely place The Princess Bride, I was watching it one night and it came up to the bit where they were traversing the Fire Swamp, it had plumes of fire erupting every few seconds, I just realized that was indeed a real thing in certain swamps, methane gas, it seeps from the earth in pockets and sometimes bubbles up from the water and most importantly to me, it sometimes ignites.
It was clear to me this was the route to go, to instead have a forest fire be accidental or a natural occurrence and not on purpose. I did what I mentioned previously and imaged the player navigating the burnt down forest, how would we convey to the player how the fire broke out, perhaps we could have a few flames coming from the ground just like in Princess Bride, but that didn’t seem like it was clear enough to me. I perhaps thought maybe I could get one of the effects guys to make some gas-like effects for me. Then I suddenly remembered that Skyrim already has a gas effect in it and not only that, it’s flammable and reacts whenever the player is either wielding a torch or using a fire spell. When things like this come together it’s a clear sign to me that it’s the way to go. I found the trigger boxes and placed them all over the area. In the video below you can see how hostile it can make Blackmarch appear.
When it came to Fort Bulwark’s location, I was extremely lucky in how everything came together. I first got the concept for Fort Bulwark that you can see above and one of the things I asked for the concept was a gate guarding a mountain pass, one of the things I didn’t ask for was the waterfall you can see at it’s end, an addition that I was extremely open to and excited to execute. I decided I was going to place the border wall roughly in the middle of Blackwood with a road leading to it logically, the road towards the end would become more ruined and scorched as it entered Blackmarch Forest. Since this border gate was in a burnt forest, I realized this was an opportunity to save some time as well. Instead of having to later on down the line place guards on the wall and create schedules for those NPC’s I thought that maybe this border wall could be abandoned due to the ruin it’s fallen into and not having enough men to repair or man it during the Oblivion crisis, this also meant that the wall would get it’s unique look of being scorched as well, this would also mean however that it deviate slightly from the initial concept although this wasn’t an issue.
Remember how I said I was extremely lucky in how Fort Bulwark came together? Well the reason I say that is because originally I referred to Fort Bulwark as Blackwatch, it seemed like a fitting name for the border gate that would watch over the pass into Black Marsh but one day I was looking at the interactive map of Cyrodiil on the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages and I noticed a Fort that I didn’t recall working on nor seeing, Fort Bulwark, I looked for it in the Cell View window within the Creation Kit and could not find it so I referred it’s page on the UESP and realized that It was a fort added in by the Knights of the Nine DLC, we currently don’t have the Knights of the Nine content in our build yet due to wanted to focus on the base game first. As you can see from the image below it couldn’t be more on the exact same spot as my border wall that I’d just built. At first, I thought this was a problem and that I’d maybe have to completely move the wall and mountain pass itself which would have been a huge pain but then I realized that maybe when the time came for us to add in the Knights of the Nine DLC I could maybe make Fort Bulwark a part of the wall and have it look even larger, out of curiosity’s sake I decided to look up the definition of a Bulwark and I couldn’t have been more happy with what the definition was:
bulwark (plural bulwarks)
- A defensive wall or rampart.
- A defense or safeguard.
That’s it decided, Fort Bulwark it is.
As creepy and drab as the Fort looks it holds a beautiful sight behind it’s walls, even though the walls shape itself deviated from the original concept I did not want to part with the waterfall behind it and I got to work making the Blackwood falls. The falls ended up being surprisingly intricate to make and the end result ended up consisting of 80 separate meshes not counting the cliff and rocks meshes that the waterfalls were made to flow over, since we don’t have the tools to simulate the water falling and colliding with the cliffs on the way down I had to use so many separate meshes to approximate how the water would react if it were a real volume, below is the video of the final result of Blackwood falls, it was great fun making it and I definitely feel as though I grew as a level designer in doing so.