Transforming into a werewolf in Skyrim is awesome. You turn into a massive, incredibly powerful beast. You run on all fours at incredible speeds. You're strong enough to stagger giants with one swipe of your claws. Your howl is so terrifying even monsters will turn and flee. The ability to become a werewolf is one of Skyrim's most memorable features.
But it almost wasn't. Skyrim's werewolf was originally going to be a normal human body with a dog's head on it. That's it.
To celebrate Skyrim's 10th anniversary, one of Skyrim's character artists, Jonah Lobe, talked to nine other former Bethesda developers who worked on Skyrim. In an hour-long video, called “You're Finally Awake,” they discuss a number of topics about the development of the celebrated RPG, including a section dedicated to the less-than impressive original concept for the werewolf, which was just to use a regular character model but pop a dog's head on it.
“That was always absolutely hilarious, that it was gonna be people with dog heads and totally normal bodies,” Nate Purkeypile, world artist, says in the video. “And everybody was gonna be all scared of them. Meanwhile you have some druggie cat guy hanging out in the city and everyone's fine with them.”
“It was horrible,” says Skyrim character artist Dennis Mejillones, who wanted to make the werewolf into a “big time power fantasy” for players. His ideas were met with a lot of resistance from other developers on the Skyrim team. “The fear was, it would break a lot of shit,” he says. “And it did break some stuff.”
Take the way the werewolf runs, at great speeds on all fours. It moved so quickly it out-ran the game's ability to load in the world and scenery, which was a big problem. Mejillones says an animator, Jeremy Bryant, came up with a neat trick of using a change in the player camera's zoom to make it look like the werewolf is running faster than it actually is to avoid breaking the game.
Although not everyone on the team was happy with having to find ways to make the werewolf work in Skyrim, Mejillones says he had one important champion in his corner: Todd Howard.
“I remember the first time we showed it to Todd as a proof of concept, and he was like, 'This is fucking great,'” Mejillones says. “And people were like, 'But—' and he was like, 'No, this is going in.'” So long, dog head. Hello, werewolf.
You can check out the werewolf chapter of “You're Finally Awake” right here on YouTube.