Skyrim's Modular Approach to Level Design

In case you're curious about the tools and techniques used to build the levels of titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Fallout 3, you'll probably want to read this Gamasutra blog post from Bethesda's level designer Joel Burgess (also available on his personal blog).

While the article contains some developer-oriented jargon, it should be far from impenetrable for people with a minimal familiarity with game development, and offer a precious insight into Bethesda's workflow and philosophy.

Here's a snippet:
When you get down to it, I do not believe our team could have built Skyrim except through our decision to explore and embrace workflows like the ones discussed here. We're driven by a desire to explore our worlds via their creation, always aware that the time we spend polishing every edge off one idea takes away from what we could be doing with another, and the thing after that. We've said before that the worlds of our games are their own main characters. Those worlds come to life before our very eyes during development.

Don't mistake these workflows for a compromise into which we have been forced. Rather, these are choices we have made in order to make the scope of our games possible while maintaining a working culture which keeps us happy and harmonious.

Because while I don't believe our team could have built Skyrim any other way, I also believe that no other team could have made Skyrim. Other teams could have made a game like Skyrim, and perhaps have spent more time or money, or worked with more people, or embraced different ideologies. But any of those games would have been a different one that what we created, and we're proud of the games we've made.

At the end of the day, the games you create - the art you put out into the world - is an expression of yourself. If you're working as part of a team, however, that art isn't just an expression of your own self, or even many individual selves. It's an outward expression of your relationships, and who you are as a group of people. And these relationships are perhaps the most rewarding thing you'll develop in your lifetimes. It's worth finding techniques that help grow those relationships and in turn improve the games you can make together.