A 10-year-old debate among The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim fans has finally been ended, courtesy of a former Bethesda developer that worked on the game. This week, Bethesda surprised fans with the reveal of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Anniversary Edition, the latest re-release of the game for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X featuring a boatload of new content. That said, this wasn't the only surprise Skryim fans got this week. Taking to Twitter, the aforementioned developer, Joel Burgress, finally confirmed the suspicion of many fans, which is that foxes do lead players to treasure, but not by design.
In a lengthy Twitter thread, Burgess explains that when players began to debate this theory not long after launch, the game's dev team quickly launched an "informal investigation" to deduce who made foxes do this. That said, what this investigation found was that nobody did this. Not only did nobody confess, but there was nothing about it in the game's scripts. So what was happening? Well, the team eventually figured out it involved an AI navigation technology called Navmesh, "an invisible 3D sheet of polygons that is laid over the world, telling AI where it can and cannot go."
"In most situations, you're seeing AI decide what do to (run at player, hide in cover, etc), use navmesh to make a path, and navigate along that path," said Burgess. "Foxes are no different. But their AI is very simplified: they basically can *only* run away. If you spook a fox, it flees. So foxes flee. Why would they flee towards treasure? This is where it gets interesting."
"If you're close to an AI, it's in 'High Process"' or the fanciest, CPU-intensive pathfinding. It uses the full navmesh and will do things like line of sight and distance checks. To contrast, there's also 'Low Process' - used for stuff like NPCs walking a trade route across the world. These are only updated every several minutes, and position is tracked very loosely. The bandit stabbing your face, however, is running nav stuff many times per second. There is a sort of 'Medium Process' for characters nearby, but who didn't need the complex pathing of combat. Because of the way the fox's AI worked (always be fleeing!) it's basically ONLY using this process. This is where an understanding of how Skyrim uses navmesh comes in. Swaths of the outdoor world have simple navmesh. You don't need to add lots of detail in a space with basic topography, little clutter, or a low chance of combat. So wilderness = small number of big triangles. When you stumble across something like a camp, however, navmesh gets way more detailed. Added visual detail means added navmesh detail, and if we're placing NPCs of any kind, we also tend to add even more detail. So Points of Interest = big number of small triangles. You see where this is going? The Fox isn't trying to get 100 meters away - it's trying to get 100 *triangles* away. You know where it's easy to find 100 triangles? The camps/ruins/etc that we littered the world with, and filled with treasure to reward your exploration. So foxes aren't leading you to treasure - but the way they behave is leading them to areas that tend to HAVE treasure, because POIs w/loot have other attributes (lots of small navmesh triangles) that the foxes ARE pursuing. To players, however, it's the same thing."
Alright, so inspired by @NPurkeypile's bee post yesterday, here is one of my favorite bits of Skyrim oral history - the myth of the treasure fox.
I've told this story before in talks/etc, but I don't think I've shared it with twitter. Here goes. pic.twitter.com/7uaUlbpmQ8— Joel Burgess (@JoelBurgess) August 18, 2021
Burgess goes on to note, that none of this was intentional, but is simply the product of the bubbling cauldron of overlapping systems.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available on just about every modern platform you want to play it on, including the latest PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo consoles, plus PC. Whatever platform you choose to play it on, be sure to follow each and every fox you see.