ESO: Summerset is home to many dangerous and amazing beasts, but none as majestic or powerful as the gryphon. In this feature article, learn about these winged wonders and some of the unique challenges the team faced creating them for Summerset.
As rare as they are ferocious, Elder Scrolls Online's gryphons can only be found on the isle of Summerset, and the monsters are held in high regard by the local High Elves.
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“The symbol of the Aldmeri Dominion is the eagle, and since gryphons are a combination of eagle and lion, symbolically they're important to the High Elves just on that basis," explains ESO's Loremaster, Lawrence Schick. “To some extent, the High Elves look at the gryphons and see things in them that they admire about themselves: pride, beauty, strength, and wisdom."
While few in number, gryphons can still be found nesting in Summerset's wilds, and should you encounter one in your travels, we recommend flight rather than fight. Of course, not all of the island's gryphons are aggressive. Some have been trained to fight beside their High Elf masters, such as those ridden by the Welkynar, who develop a special magical bond with their gryphons from birth. In addition to the gryphon-riding knights of Cloudrest, a tame (but still ferocious) gryphon named Sunnawel also protects the southern coastal city of Sunhold.
UNIQUE BY DESIGN
When designing Summerset's gryphons, Concept Artist Lucas Slominski wasn't satisfied with the way the creatures are typically presented in fantasy.
“In a lot of the traditional depictions I've seen of gryphons, they seem to be direct portmanteaus of an eagle and a lion, with various body parts from each crammed together," says Slominski. “As a result, you get this strange mishmash of fur and feathers, mammal and avian, and it doesn't feel very believable as a cohesive creature."
For ESO's gryphons, Slominski believed the beasts needed to have some logic behind the way they look in game.
“Instead of approaching gryphons as a literal combination of two creatures, I started from scratch, envisioning a winged, four-legged predator, evolved for flight, and with traits you'd also happen to find in big cats and birds of prey."
For reference, Lucas looked at the anatomy of lionesses, cheetahs, golden eagles, and the long-crested eagle (which helped inspire the Gryphon's head plumage), and he even found renderings of feathered dinosaurs that were helpful when it came to feathering the beast's legs.
“I started by adapting feline muscular anatomy to accommodate shoulder-mounted wings and an avian neck, and then invented a believable toe arrangement for the gryphon's feet that would preserve the clasping talons of an eagle while still allowing for fast and nimble movement over land. I also felt it was important for our gryphon to be completely coated in feathers, rather than the half feather, half fur arrangement often shown on traditional gryphons."
The uniqueness of Summerset's gryphons can be found in their feathered tails and legs, designed to help the creature fly and make tighter turns when closing in on prey, and in its regal head and ears.
“My favorite parts of the gryphon's design are his prominent lynx-shaped ears. The ears help to incorporate some much-needed felid influence in the gryphon's head shape, and even more importantly, they add an endearing charm of predatory beauty that I still can't get enough of."
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BRINGING LIFE TO BEASTS
When you encounter a gryphon in ESO: Summerset, you'll find them to be especially agile and dangerous foes. Able to strike from the ground or while soaring in the air, these monsters force you to always keep your head on a swivel and eyes on the skies.
It was this double threat and need for a transition from air to ground combat that made gryphons such a challenge for ESO's Monsters Team to build.
“Gryphon development combined what we learned from the Firepot Spider and Wraith-of-Crows in Clockwork City," says Sean Wicks, ESO's Lead Encounter Designer. “From a design standpoint, the challenge came from making it fly and stop flying efficiently, so that the transition feels natural and does not render the creature unthreatening. This allows the fight to change as you progress and makes the creature feel more alive."
Because ESO's gryphons fight and can be fought both on the earth and in the skies, it needed more than twice as many animations to look good in both states and transition believably between them, and the team spent a lot of time discussing their approach and collaborating with the animation team to achieve this.
“As a six-limbed creature, the gryphon also has more bones than we're used to working with, so our technical artists had to prove it out and make sure it would work in our game while simultaneously making the creature easy to animate."
A (MONSTROUS) TEAM EFFORT
It goes without saying that it took a massive amount of collaboration between many different teams to create the winged beasts you can find in Summerset today.
Once the team decided they wanted to build a gryphon and received the Loremaster's approval, the lengthy process of bringing the monster to Tamriel began. The team started with Lucas' design and concept art, and then moved on to its basic 3D sculpting and animation reviews.
While this was going on, the team's designers figured out how they wanted the creature to actually move and fight. This meant both its in-combat abilities and actions as well as what it's doing before players engage it.
“The design team scripts all of its abilities and behaviors using an existing monster to create a prototype that's generally representative of the final experience," explains Wicks. “They also consider how the creature thinks and request animations for anything the player will see it doing outside combat."
With a proxy gryphon complete, the team's technical artists then worked with animators to rig and skin it, building any controls the animators needed to animate the new beast efficiently based on its design. Once they had the basic animations, the visual effects artists ensured everything the creature does is accompanied by an appropriate effect both in and out of combat.
“This includes things like elemental magic, gouts of blood, whirling dust, footsteps, and ribbon trails," explains Wicks. “We all pay careful attention to area effects to make sure the visuals match what happens to the player."
The Audio Team then created all the necessary sounds for the beast so that players are able to understand when something is about to happen and enjoy satisfying impacts and ambient noise.
Once completed, the team moved on to testing and iteration, and they created variants for the different types of gryphons you can encounter on Summerset (including those in the Trial, World Bosses, and the ones simply roaming the wilds). Finally, the team tested the monster on the PTS and watched how players engaged with them to make any final fixes and balance tweaks.
“All in all, the work of many different people was required to deliver what we see today," says Wicks. “And, of course, we want to improve on what we've done to produce impactful and unique monsters in the future."
WATCH THE SKIES!
There can be no doubt that the gryphons of Summerset are some of The Elder Scrolls Online's most unique and imposing monsters. The winged beasts took a considerable amount of time and effort for the team to get right, but the result was a creature that both represents the power and majesty of the High Elves while also being a challenging and fun part of the game. Have you encountered Summerset's gryphons during your time on the isle?
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