If you've ever wanted to see the inhabitants of Skyrim or Fallout 4 wage war in a way that's reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings' penultimate battle, then Neil "Cosmic Contrarian" Hendry has what you need. The committed YouTuber spends much of his time creating ludicrous battles between thousands of NPCs from Skyrim and Fallout 4.
"I remember a long time ago, when I was maybe eight or nine years old, I played Age of Empires 2, and I'd use the map editor to place a lot of units down and have them fight it out in a real battle," he told me. "The map editor for that game was really innovative at the time; after creating the terrain you could fill the map with war elephants vs cataphracts as an example of the crazy stuff you could make.
"The reason I make battles as large as possible is that the more things that are going on at once, the more likely something novel or unexpected will occur," he continued.
Cosmic explained his process of turning wars into cinematic showpieces to me, which he says is "fairly simple." Using his as an example, he says he first has to test NPC types in small numbers to observe what they do in combat and make sure the two sides will actually interact with each other. Next up for Cosmic is picking a location.
"Open fields are the hardest because there is a lack of structure, so you have no idea where to put the camera," he explained. "A fort, like in the video, is much easier to film around; there is already architecture and a clear attacker versus defender perspective that is obvious to the audience—Imperial archers in the castle, with dragons attacking all around and above it."
Once he's got his location picked, he moves all of the characters into the space and makes a save file to ensure he's safe in the event of a crash. Then he's off to the races: the NPCs start attacking each other, and he rolls the camera, using dev console commands 'tai' and 'tcai' to pause the action and switch angles.
"Then when I have a good, new angle, I can resume the battle, much like how a movie is shot," he explained. "Yes, it takes forever, but I love making these videos, so I don't mind."
Since Cosmic doesn't have the control that a Hollywood director has over their movie, his angles and shots are purely instinctual. He places the camera in a nice spot, hoping for something exciting to happen. He noted that because characters in both Skyrim and Fallout 4 react in emergent ways, it makes for some "really awesome moments." One example of placing the camera in the right place at the right time comes from his video (below), in which a Minuteman jumps over a barricade "like a badass" to join the fray.
"I just do what feels right, and that seems to work well for the experience," he said.
As for how long a video usually takes him, Cosmic told me that shooting takes around nine to ten hours, while editing can take up to 10 times the recording time. The aforementioned video that stars the badass Minuteman took him 120 hours across three weeks to complete. That may seem like too much time to devote to a single video for some, but Cosmic says he's encouraged to put in the effort to make wars that people enjoy.
"The only goal I really have is to make content that people enjoy," he said. "A lot of YouTubers are obsessed with releasing a video a day or two videos a day because Pewdiepie does it. They have artificial video quotas to meet, which is fine for them, but in my experience the less videos you release the more views you get, assuming you invest your energy in one video instead of ten.
"Personally, I'd rather have one video that people enjoy instead of hundreds that no one enjoys."
In addition to his huge battles, Cosmic Contrarian spends time making "high-skill" videos that mostly revolve around him executing impressive kills in the Dishonored games. We recently reported on his latest video, in which .