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  • Role: Researcher/Level Designer

  • Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

  • Editor: CreationKit

  • Genre: Puzzle/Adventure

  • Development Time: 500h/2016

  • Game Type: Singleplayer

  • Designed and built the level to shippable quality, using an emotion-centric approach

  • Implemented from scratch innovative gameplay mechanics, based on guilt and sadness

  • Planned and scheduled thesis milestones, from initial research on the topic, to development and paperwork writing

  • Conducted playtest sessions, gathered data though online survey and performed data analysis for iterations and artifact’s result evaluation

Thesis Overview
Emotion-Centric Design: An Innovative Approach to Video Game Development

While market expansion challenges developers to create deeper experiences, the growth of the industry also allows them to experiment with different development approaches. Along those lines, emotional design emerges as a very successful approach to Video Game development, establishing the game’s intended emotions as its defining aspect. This project utilizes the Emotion-centric design combined with a play-centric approach to create a level in order to elicit feelings of guilt and sadness through gameplay. Moreover, this thesis examines the game elements that contribute to emotional attachment, providing guidelines for future developers as well as future research on the topic.


Aiming to contribute to the medium’s emotional spectrum, the thesis artifact consists of a level, called “Ixion & Reus”, for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, developed iteratively with Emotional design.

I documented the development process and the data gathered from playtests into this journal, which contains the complete thesis paper.

Level Overview

The thesis artifact, “Ixion & Reus” is a single-player, 3rd person-perspective, side quest level for The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC), which provides an exploration-based gameplay different from the original game. In this level, players take the role of Ixion, a brave farm boy, followed by his faithful dog companion Reus, in their emotional journey to survive the threats of wild nature. Traversing hostile scenarios such as Nordic mountains, ice caves and Dwemer ruins, players need to combine the abilities of both characters in order to make it back home.

In order to build the artifact, I used a base mod called “Playable Children PLUS” – this mod, made by Kristoffer, provides children as playable characters, which is a non-native feature in Skyrim. Thank you for making your work available for the community!


As Ixion, players start the quest in the boy’s farm, waking up in his house. Along with Reus, they engage usual situations at the farm. After, they go on a travel with Ixion’s dad to downtown with the goal of buying some important articles before the Winter comes. However, during their passage over the mountains, a wild bear attacks the group. Ixion’s dad is able to kill the beast, but only at the cost of his life. In that process, Ixion passes out –  waking up hours later, in a snow storm, with the dog’s barks. Trying to avoid the storm, they get trapped in an ice cave, which dangerous secrets they must disclose in order to find their way back home.

  • Use Emotion-centric design to craft innovative gameplay scenarios

  • Deliver a unique emotional journey, evoking guilt and sadness through gameplay mechanics 

  • Establish a strong attachment between players and the main characters

  • Create a non-traditional gameplay style in the context of Skyrim, based on the cooperation between Ixion, the boy, and Reus, the dog


Players are able to control Ixion directly, walking/running and jumping around with him. However, they are not able to attack at all. In addition, they can interact with elements in the environment and command Reus using mouse buttons. The dog has three different behaviors:

  • General behavior: Reus follows Ixion around

  • Left mouse button (sniffing/searching): Reus explores the area, stopping by any interesting element within a certain range –  traps, important items, buttons – activating them if that is possible. 

  • Right mouse button (come back): Reus runs back to Ixion, getting close to him – used specially to bring Reus back after a sniffing command, as it cancels the former

Players can also interact with the dog by pressing ‘E’, which allows them to check the dog’s state and pat it on the head, cheering it up. I added this mechanic later, based on feedback.

Tasks Breakdown

As this thesis’ author, along with the wise guidance of my advisor, Michael McCoy, I was responsible for everything – from topic research, original planning, to development, iterations/adjustments, data gathering and analysis, as well as documentation. In terms of development, I had to implement from scratch a lot of the desired functionalities, using Creation Kit’s scripting language. I also did all the level design work, from paper concept to final polishing, including some sound design needed for the mechanics. I had to iterate on the puzzle elements several times in order to make sure everything was coherent and conveyed the gameplay properly. Finally, I crafted the whole artifact (mechanics, map, etc.) based on some fundamental concepts on emotional design and the psychological traits of guilt.

To navigate in each session, click on the buttons below! 





  • Test early, often and with a diverse pool of players

  • Music and sound effects play a key role on emotional attachment

  • Non-Playable Characters must have personality, soul

  • Importance illusion of choice for players

  • Initial overscoped project (even after cutting it) led to crunch

  • Project topic naturally requires more time than what was available

  • Editor’s choice – AI limitations and lack of animations

  • Analysis Paralysis

  • Innovative and engaging gameplay within a traditional game world

  • Established emotional attachment, eliciting sadness through gameplay

  • Editor’s choice – powerful scripting tool and large amount of assets

  • Downscaled the level early enough to make it feasible

Mini Postmortem
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