The Dovahkiin, resident quest jockey of Skyrim, receives a letter by courier. Written in a stylish cursive, the letter describes The Forgotten City buried deep within Dwarven ruins. In it, a character called Cassia begs for the player to journey to this ruin. Unfortunately, Cassia’s brother disappeared when investigating the ruins, and she wants someone of the Dragonborn’s caliber to find him. The title of the letter is “Riches beyond imagining,” with Cassia repeating the phrase at the end. Many quests in The Elder Scrolls 5 promise treasure, but the hook for this one is unique. A chance to both explore Dwarven ruins and find incredible riches is a compelling one.
Interestingly, this experience of The Forgotten City mod is completely different for future players in the standalone game. In Unreal Engine, boasting prettier graphics than its Creation Engine mod predecessor, the story is divested from Skyrim entirely. While this higher fidelity standalone title does look fascinating, it had none of those elements when it took Skyrim‘sfanbase by storm. All of the incredible things The Forgotten City does, time loops, multiple endings, and open puzzle solutions, were all in the mod. Throughout the years, The Forgotten City won three “Indie of the Year” awards. Accolades like these demonstrate the powerful storytelling possible in mods. The Forgotten City’s mod origins are evident in the game’s design, worldbuilding, and narrative stylings.
The Forgotten City’s RPG Mechanics Come From Skyrim
One of the big draws of The Forgotten City as a murder-mystery puzzle game is the open gameplay approach it encourages. Players can charm their way to deductions, utilize stealth mechanics to gather information, or cleverly manipulate the time loop to win. “Winning” also means multiple things in this game: There are a range of different endings possible in The Forgotten City, and these can found using different roleplaying mechanics. This approach undoubtedly arises from the game’s origins as a Skyrim mod.While the newer title’s setting is a lost Roman City, that was not always the case.
When The Forgotten City was a mod for The Elder Scrolls 5, players entered the Dwarven ruins with their character. This meant players also brought their own playstyles with them, including any approaches to roleplay their characters were built for. Having to navigate this narratively alien city, lost to time and Dwarven magics, using the limitations and abilities of a Skyrim player character makes for a unique quest.
Another aspect that distinguished The Forgotten City as a mod was the use of the time loop. This interacted with Skyrim’s quest system in a fun, meta way. Every time the time loop resets, the quest prompt for the mod pops up again as “started.” This puts the player and their character on the same page in terms of knowing what will occur if certain events happen. While vanilla Skyrim players can effectively travel back in time using quick saves, this mod is a fantastic narrative use of a time loop.
Award-Winning Transformative Writing
The Forgotten City’s standalone incarnation has garnered many awards from various events across the years. However, the title won its first award when it was still a mod. In 2016, the Australia Writer’s Guild awarded the mod with “Best Screenplay” in the “Interactive Media” category, a landslide achievement for what was a transformative work within a different intellectual property.
What it proved above all else is that the work of mod authors can and should receive proper industry recognition. It seems fitting that the standalone version of the mod is set to release this year, as it is Skyrim’s 10th anniversary. Although it is not a standalone game, Portal Reloaded also released this year. This title also focusses around a time loop mechanic, and is a mod for another bestseller of 2011, Portal 2.
Bethesda’s Creation Club, The Forgotten City, And Author Rights
Nick Pearce, the developer of the original mod, called the upcoming game “the story we always wanted to tell.” He is the original mod’s mastermind, and the creative director of the new game. While the game does look fantastic in its new setting, it is possible that more than just artistic vision influenced the move to a standalone title. The mod originally accrued over three million downloads. Unfortunately for Pearce, there was no way to monetize these downloads for many years. When a mod is as complex as The Forgotten City, a mod creator wanting compensation is understandable.
The Bethesda Creation Club was a plan instituted by the developer that allowed for mod monetization. Although part of that went to Bethesda, it was still often more profitable than other funding methods for modders. It was also highly unpopular among consumers. Many fans criticized Bethesda’s Creation Club policy, viewing it as monetizing mods on consoles for its own gain.
This was, however, not a belief that some mod authors shared. Nick Pearce in particular supported the plan. In a blog post on the topic, the developer remarked “the fact that somebody enjoys their work doesn’t diminish their right to charge for it.” This statement was in response to many Bethesda customers arguing that mods, as passion projects, should be free.
Pearce’s statement was not exactly popular among the Skyrim mod fanbase. It is no surprise, then, to see The Forgotten City becoming a standalone game. This way, Pearce can charge for the game, and the 3 million free downloads of his product can act as a very powerful proof of concept.
How A Mod Got Support From The Australian Government
It seems that this proof of concept was enough for the Australian government. Modern Storytelling, Pearce’s development studio, will release The Forgotten City in collaboration with Victoria Film. This company is an Australian State Government agency that assists the digital media sector. In 2019, The Forgotten City shared in over $170,000 dollars from Film Victoria’s Games Release Program. The guidelines for the Program lists several eligibility requirements.
As the organization funds the game’s release and distribution, there needs to be a proof of the game’s potential. The product requires “compelling artistry, gameplay, and technology.” Furthermore, there needs to be evidence of the team’s cohesiveness, and proof of the project’s appeal. Of course, having over 3 million downloads as a mod is quite good proof of appeal. Interestingly, having a mod form of the game also brings with it a fully working tech demo. Evidently, this was enough for Film Victoria. The Forgotten City started as one of the best Skyrim mods. Without this background, it might never have become what it is today.
The Forgotten City releases in Summer 2021 on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.