Making games, we are often reminded, is hard, with development frequently being derailed by the most preposterously unpredictable things. Behold, for instance, the newly revealed story of Skyrim’s iconic cart ride, and how it was, for a time before release, routinely thwarted by a particularly stubborn bee.
The full tale was recently recounted on Twitter by 14-year Bethesda veteran – and now solo indie developer – Nate Purkeypile, who served as senior world and lighting artist during the creation of Skyrim. “That intro is famous now,” Purkeypile wrote, “but back then, it was just that one thing that we had to keep working and working on forever.”
According to Purkeypile, the cart ride was particularly prone to mishaps during development because its bumps and bounces toward Helgen were physically simulated (“Why you ask?,” he adds, “Good question.”) – meaning environmental objects carelessly strewn about the place had a tendency to make the vehicle behave unpredictably, sometimes causing it to fly off the road. As the developer puts it, “The cart had a path it wanted to follow, but that doesn’t mean it was a path it COULD follow.”
“Well one time,” Purkeypile’s story continues, “the cart starts to shake violently and all of a sudden WHOOSH! [it] goes up into the sky like a rocket ship. Like WAY up there. Something was telling that cart to just fuck right off and to get off that road. The thing is, it wasn’t happening every time. Nobody knew what was going on at first.”
Enter Skyrim’s bee. Ordinarily, bees populating the world just buzz around innocently until an adventurer swipes one to make an alchemical potion, but an early bug was preventing players from interacting with them. One collision tweak later, the problem was solved, but unbeknownst to its tweaker, another had been created in the process.
Skyrim’s bee wasn’t just collision-capable now, it could also collide into things, turning the previously innocuous insect into, as Purkeypile puts it, “an immovable force of nature”. That, as you might imagine, caused something of an issue when a moving, physically simulated cart was introduced to the equation. “The cart wanted to move down the road,” Purkeypile elaborates. “The bee did not want to move. So up the cart goes!”.
And there, unfortunately, ends this amusing glimpse into the creation of one of gaming’s most iconic scenes, leaving readers to imagine the fate of Skyrim’s superhuman bee for themselves. And while Purkeypile is no longer at Bethesda – his current solo project is described as an “open-world horror metal game” – at least some of the original Skyrim team remains. What’s more, as luck would have it, a number of them are sharing further insights into that iconic opening this Thursday, 19th August, to celebrate the game’s 10th anniversary. The recollections will be part of a special half-hour QuakeCon panel, with things kicking off at 10pm in the UK.