Skyrim Foxes Treasure

Former Skyrim Dev Explains How Foxes Unintentionally Lead Players to Treasure

For years, Skyrim players have known about how foxes would inexplicably run towards nearby treasure, but with no official explanation as to why. Following a recent explanation on how the game’s opening scene was almost ruined by an immovable bee, another former The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim developer revealed the secret behind how wild foxes in the game take players to loot-filled areas. More importantly, he also explained how the mechanic was actually completely unintentional, and emerged due to unrelated level and AI design.

Capy Games studio director and former Bethesda developer Joel Burgess explained via Twitter how the rumor of foxes leading players to treasure initially started post-launch. “Sometime shortly after shipping we saw this going around online, and an informal investigation started,” Burgess states. However, no one had confessed to adding the treasure-hunting mechanic. Burgess had even dug around in the game’s code, trying to find out who or what was responsible for the behavior.

Turns out, the answer was a combination of Fox AI and something called “navmesh”—a sheet of invisible polygons laid over the world used to tell AI where they could and couldn’t go. When a fox meets a player, the game tells it to run away a certain distance, in this case, measured by the number of polygons (or triangles) between it and the player. Out in the wild, the navmesh is loose and simple, made up of huge polygons. However, camps and caves—which generally have loot and other treasures—tend to be made of a large number of smaller polygons.

This means that, for a wild fox trying to put as many “polygons” between them and the player as possible, these areas are highly attractive to the fox AI. “Foxes aren’t leading you to treasure – but the way they behave is leading them to areas that tend to HAVE treasure,” continues Burgess “because POIs w/loot have other attributes (lots of small navmesh triangles).”

Burgess concludes “Emergent Gameplay is often used to describe designed randomness, but this is a case of actual gameplay that NOBODY designed emerging from the bubbling cauldron of overlapping systems. And I think that’s beautiful.”