Game Design Students Unveil Modification of Acclaimed “Skyrim” Video Game, Help Enhance Curriculum

A collection of stills from Skyrim: Apocrypha

Where the awarding-winning video game, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim ends, the University of Baltimore’s COSC 497: Special Topics in Game Design course begins.

During the Fall 2012 semester, the class of 28 Univeristy of Baltimore (UB) Simulation and Digital Entertainment bachelor’s degree students at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) made it their mission – and their curriculum – to develop and launch a modification of Bethesda Softwork’s acclaimed 2011 release, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The modification course, offered exclusively at USG for two semesters, has seen such success that UB has moved to incorporate it into the standard Simulation and Digital Entertainment curriculum and make it a required course for the degree program.

Game modifications, or “mods” as they are known to the gaming community, consist of extra gaming content created by the general public or a third-party developer after a game is released by a company. Modifications are developed using a selection of tools and documentation released by the propriety owner, allowing fans to create mods that can become widely played online and help contribute to the overall popularity of a game. Mods can include new characters, levels, weapons, music, story-lines and more.

The area of Moonshadow in the Planes of Oblivion, home to the Daedric Princes character, designed by Jake Clayman and Jeremy Reid

Experience for the Future

Although challenging, the experience will prove valuable to students looking to break into the competitive Game Design industry. Not only do students acquire a professional-grade portfolio piece, students will also come to employers equipped with real-world experience pertaining to teamwork, rigorous deadlines, documentation, and communication.

“Students in this class walk away with an excellent portfolio piece that illustrates both their individual talents and their ability to work within the larger context of a unified project,” said Brian Doyle, instructor for this year’s modification course, in addition to last year’s pilot class which took on the highly popular puzzle game, Portal by the Valve Corporation.

“This is a critically important skill for employers in the gaming industry because they often have dozens or even hundreds of people working on the same game world. Each team member's work must fit the design, art, and style of the project as a whole,” Doyle explains.

A shot of the Blacklight Interiors for Imperials area, designed by Colter Hasfurter

More to the Story

The mod developed by COSC 497 this semester, Skyrim: Apocrypha, builds on the original fifth installment of The Elders Scrolls open-world role-playing game series by starting its story progression at the end of the "Skyrim" storyline. In "Apocrypha", the player character, a newly-freed prisoner, sets out on a quest to free his master encountering several supernatural beings in the setting of Apocrypha, an actual location established in The Elder Scrolls series by Bethesda Softworks. The character moves through levels designed or modified by UB students, incorporating vivid imagery such as glistening glacial caves, elaborate stone tombs, and dim ash pits.

“The level design courses are significant additions to my body of work because it's an excellent opportunity to participate in a large-scale team environment that has a definite finished product at the end of the term,” says student, Mandi Parker, a current intern at ZeniMax Online Studios in Cockeysville who served as the Producer and Loremaster for the project, as well as one of five level-design team leaders.

“The amount of work required for this class far exceeds any of the other individual courses in the department, but it's worth it; by the end of the course, everyone has participated in a finished, polished and professional project and they should be proud,” she adds.

During the course, students are divided into teams mimicking real game development studios with roles in art and design, writing, producing, and even voice acting. And that’s just to get the game going. Like any product, developing a successful modification requires students to practice skills in public relations and marketing as well as quality assurance and tackle a daunting list of technical bugs – proving that with all this hard work, modification is no game.

Learn more about the project at

View the Skyrim: Apocrypha trailer:

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