According to Bethesda’s vice president Pete Hines, the Skyrim Special Edition came about because of Fallout 4. Since the two games use the same engine, Bethesda Game Studios prepared for Fallout by moving the engine across to current-gen consoles. After Fallout was done, much of the technical work involved in remastering Skyrim was also finished.
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Hines was speaking to Official Xbox Magazine, and the interview is available to read on Games Radar.
The Skyrim Special Edition is an exception to Bethesda’s general rule of not revisiting older games. The Dishonored Definitive Edition is another, "but that was a unique case where it was a new IP at the very end of the last generation of consoles," says Hines. "So remastering it and bringing it to this gen wasn’t a ton of work and it made a lot of sense given the proximity of those two."
The Skyrim Special Edition "was more about the work that Bethesda Game Studios had done in the early days of getting ready for Fallout 4 on this generation of consoles," says Hines. "Moving the Skyrim engine and doing some work to run it on this generation of consoles just to see how it worked, and so forth, before they started doing all their Fallout stuff. It’s the most recent thing they did.
"Plus the mod support on consoles that we did for Fallout 4 - being able to bring that to Skyrim seemed like a pretty cool idea."
Don’t expect this to become a trend, however. "These things take time, it takes effort and manpower. Generally speaking, our approach has usually been that instead of spending all this time on a thing we’ve already made, why don’t we instead spend that effort on something new, or on the next version of that thing?"
Elder Scrolls fans have been clamouring for a remaster of one of the older games, but this explains why it was Skyrim, rather than Morrowind or Oblivion, which got the nod.
So now, Bethesda continues to look ahead. Last we heard, Bethesda Game Studios - the development arm of the giant publisher - is working on three major games, including the next Elder Scrolls. The other two have not been detailed, but seem to be entirely new. As a publisher, Bethesda are working with other developers on several more titles, including Dishonored devs Arkane on sci-fi thriller Prey.