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Codex Exclusive - Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Interview with Bethesda
Interview - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 11 September 2011, 16:27:39Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
what is this i dont even
It's a little known fact that every once in a while things pop into the Codex' mailbox apart from spam and offers to buy luxury condos in the Bahamas (such are the small benefits you get for having Coutts & Co as your private bankers). One of those things was an offer we never thought we'd ever get.
It was an e-mail.
Bethesda Softworks that is. Not the country. Or the state. Or whatever the hell those other Bethesdas are.
We don't usually get e-mails (except from people who can't work out how to get through the proxy blocker) and the fact this one was from Bethesda was quite unusual given our patchy past with the company. If you don't know, their developers used to post on our boards many eons ago. Until we started saying Oblivion sucked wasn't that good. Things sort of went downhill from there and the next thing you know they're black-listing links to the Codex on their forums, word-replacements at ESF (the Elder Scrolls Forums) are changing "rpgcodex" to "iloveoblivion.com" and then we're registering "iloveoblivion.com" and redirecting it to the codex and suddenly we're all naked standing in a field wearing our pants on our heads chanting Kumbayah, fondling squirrels again and wondering where we put the lotion.
Needless to say, it got ugly...
... for the squirrels.
Which is again, why we were surprised to get an e-mail from them. Initially thinking it was some kind of mistake, we read it again. Then we got others on staff to read it to have it confirmed. Yup, it said what we thought it did. Bethesda were wondering if some guys from the Codex would be interested in an exclusive interview with them about their upcoming Elder Scrolls: Oblivion 2: Fallout With Guns #4: Skyrim. Our interview would be with Game Director Todd Howard and Bethesda Marketing Guy Pete Hines. There was no catch they said. They'd pay for the flights (and by flights I mean they let us send them an e-mail) and we could ask them whatever we wanted. More importantly, if we didn't like what they said, we could post that too.
In other words, no deals were done. No, "you give us 9.5/10 and say it's the most awesome game ever and we'll give you some advertising" kind of situation. We could be totally legit and say what we really thought.
With that, I packed my shit up tight and trundled off to the States where I met up with baby arm at Bethesda HQ (by which I mean I sent Bethesda and Email and cc'd baby arm). The following is a transcript from the exclusive interview that followed because we're too elite for video / audio (okay, so baby arm forgot to pack the camera and our asses are far too tight to break out the Centurion Card for shit like that).
Introductions All Round
Prestigious Codex Magazine (PCM): Well, thank you very much for allowing us this honour I guess. [Baby arm: Who should we fellate?] I know the RPG Codex and Bethesda have had their differences in the past but I'm glad we can put that all behind us [Baby arm: What's going in our behind? Have they got squirrels here?]. I can't tell you how much this means to us and me personally, being a HUGE Elder Scrolls fan. And by huge fan I mean Oblivion is shit. What happened with that?
Pete: Thanks for coming. We didn't think you would.
Todd: Yeah, we know you guys at the Codex love Elder Scrolls. We've been reading. :)
PCM: So I guess on to the first question then, why Dragons?
Pete: Dragons are cool.
Todd: Yeah, Dragons are cool. But really there's been Dragon Age, then there was that odd German one.... What was that? Dracosong?
Todd: Yeah. And Divinity II: Ergo Draconis.
Pete: Ego Draconis. I played that.
Todd: Yeah, with all these games about Dragons coming out we really thought it was time we jumped on the bandwagon.
Pete: That and Dragons are cool.
Todd: Yeah, Dragons are cool.
Codex: Tell us about the level cap. It's been 45 in one of your other games but I hear now it's 50. Why?
Todd: The reason for that is because adding another 5 is very considerate. We know gamers like 50 and 50 is a round number.
Pete: Much rounder than 45.
Todd: Much rounder. It's divisible by ten for starters. So changing that to 50 really changes the dynamics of the game. It makes it...
Pete: More dynamic.
Todd: Yeah, more - much more - dynamic than it would be at 45. 45 is low. 50 really takes Elder Scrolls to that next level.
Pete: Yeah, we're taking it to the next level.
Todd: And the next level is 50.
Pete: We'll go to 55 one day but we're not ready for that yet.
Todd: I don't think gamers are ready for that yet. We're already pushing the envelope at 50 as it is.
PCM: Do you think one day games might have a level cap of 100... or maybe even, no level cap?
Todd: Don't be absurd.
Pete: Yeah, how would we market that? Once you've done 100, you can't go any higher. And no level cap? That's just... Who wants to buy that game? And how do you top that for your next game, once you've done infinite levels?
PCM: Infinity +1?
Pete: Holy shit [Pete grabbed his notepad and started scribbling some notes at this point].
PCM: There was some criticism in Oblivion that axes became "blunt", which is to say, instead of having a separate axe skill like they did in Morrowind, they were part of the sets of blunt weapons. Have you taken steps to address that criticism? Maybe by bringing back the axe skill?
Todd: Well, you'd think "bring the axe skill back" but that's not where games are going.
Pete: Yeah, it's not where games are going.
Todd: That's right, it's not where games are going. Games are getting more stream-lined. Lots of skills is complex and people don't like complex systems with like numbers, and maths and stuff -
Pete: Yeah, I hate maths.
Todd: - Especially console gamers. So as developers, we're really taking that trend and opening up new pastures of gaming.
Pete: New gaming pastures.
Todd: Yeah. So what we've done is we've removed it. We've now combined what were the Blade and Blunt weapons' skills into just one weapons skill.
Pete: We call it "Weapons (r) (c) (tm)".
Todd: Yeah, so now gamers can increase their Weapons Skill (r) (c) (tm) without having to worry about "am I increasing the right skill", "maybe I should use a different weapon". It really opens up all the weapons to players, no matter what they choose to use.
Pete: Yeah, it's about choice.
Todd: That's right. It's about being able to choose to do what you want without having to worry about the consequences because to us, that's what gaming's about, no consequences.
Pete: We call it "Consequence Free Gaming (r) (c) (tm)".
PCM: Is this why you've decided to implement dual wielding - and the ability to cast two spells at once?
Todd: Absolutely. I mean, if there are no consequences, why not cast two spells at once? It was a great idea. But we can exclusively reveal we've decided to take Dual Wielding even further.
PCM: Really? How can you go further than dual wielding?
Todd: Thrice-wielding. I said it. You heard it from Bethesda first. No-one has done a game with thrice-wielding before.
Pete: Note that's "Thrice-wielding (r) (c) (tm)".
PCM: Wow. I am literally flawed right now. How do you come up with this awesomeness?
Todd: Oh, it gets better. See, we thought "Dual wielding is cool" right?
Todd: And Thrice-Wielding (r) (c) (tm) is cooler, right?
Todd: So what would be *even cooler* than that?
PCM: I think I know where this is doing... Quart-Wielding?
Todd: You'd think that, wouldn't you? And it's certainly logical. But here at Bethesda, we like to push the envelope so we went even further than that.
PCM: How can you go even further than that?
Todd: Well, what if you could cast ALL of the game's spells at once AND equip ALL of the game's weapons at the same time?
PCM: All of them? As in, everything?
Todd: That's right. All of them. Yes, everything you've got. All at once. Cast with one button.
Pete: We call it "Infinite Wield (c) (r) (tm)". We'll give you a screenshot of it.
Todd: So now there's a cast button and you hit it and every spell you know is cast, all at once and every weapon you have swings at the same time. It's pretty awesome.
Skyrim's Infinite Wield (c) (r) (tm)
PCM: But with the spells, what about the mana cost of that?
Pete: We removed mana.
Todd: Yeah, we removed that. We realised, what's Mana there for? It's to limit the player. It's to prevent the player from doing something and we don't like stopping our players from doing things.
Pete: We don't like that at all.
Todd: No, we don't, so we took Mana out.
Pete: We call it "Mana Free Casting (c) (r) (tm)".
PCM: It sounds like you're really getting to the heart of what makes a Bethesda Softworks game.
Pete: That should be "Bethesda Softworks Game (c) (r) (tm)". Make sure you correct that when you print or out lawyers will be in touch.
PCM: Moving on, another thing that was criticised in Oblivion was that all the characters had the same voice. They'd even change voices as they talked to you and go from "old lady" to "young lady" to "male" while they told you how horrible mud-crabs were and recommending you should avoid them whenever you can. Have you improved that at all?
Todd: Yeah, that was quite embarassing for us actually. The real story behind that... Can I say this Pete?
Pete: Yeah, we've got approval.
Todd: Okay, yeah, the real story is that the guy we paid to get voice-actors for Oblivion ran off with some money.
Pete: A LOT of money.
Todd: Yes, a lot of money. Originally, every character you met in Oblivion was going to be voiced by an A-list star. We had... who did we have Pete?
Pete: We had Patrick Swayze.
Todd: Yeah, Patrick Swayze. You can't get Patrick Swayze anymore.
Pete: Nope, you certainly can't get Patrick Swayze anymore.
Todd: But yeah, we had Patrick Swayze, Henry Winkler - though he hadn't actually confirmed - even Lindsay Lohan.
Pete: Wasn't she going to voice the Orcs?
Todd: Yeah, that's right.
PCM: So Skyrim's going to have a lot of A-Grade talent then, especially given how well Oblivion sold?
Todd: Well, in the end we realised that Oblivion had five voice-actors. And that sold buckets right?
Pete: Absolute buckets.
Todd: Right. So we thought, you know, maybe this isn't so bad. Not saying we shouldn't improve on it but we thought we could certainly save a lot of money here.
Pete: A LOT of money.
Todd: Right, so we should have more than Oblivion but we thought, there's no need to go crazy like we planned to.
Pete: And we couldn't get Patrick Swayze.
Todd: Yeah, we couldn't get Patrick Swayze, obviously.
PCM: So how many voice-actors do you have?
About the World
PCM: Tell us about the game-world. In Oblivion, you spent your time wandering around randomly closing portals that would open. What do you do in Skyrim?
Todd: Oh, we improved on that a lot. Rather than wandering around the world closing random portals, in Skyrim you wander around randomly fighting Dragons.
Pete: It's a big improvement because Dragons are cool.
Todd: Yeah, Dragons are cool.
PCM: What about the AI? Oblivion had Radiant AI which involved people staring at walls, before turning around and walking a bit so they could go and stare at another wall. What changes await in Skyrim?
Todd: Gee, that's a good question because we've spent a lot of time working on this. We really wanted to make the world feel like a living and breathing world. We really wanted to go that next level and take it to the... What was it?
Pete: New pastures.
Todd: Right, the new pastures of gaming. So we really thought hard about it and we thought, what is it that makes this world feel so real, that makes it feel so lively? And we realised, it's human waste. I mean, ask yourself where is the toilet? Ask yourself, where do these people put their crap? There's no toilet in any of the houses anywhere in Oblivion.
Pete: Or Morrowind for that matter.
Todd: That's right. None! What do they do, do they hold it all in? I mean, are they full of crap waiting to come out? So we decided we really need to make crapping a part of the Skyrim experience.
Pete: We call it "the Shitting Hierarchal Intelligence Thinking System (c) (r) (tm)".
Todd: Yeah, we developed this complex model. Basically characters in the game, the NPCs, will eat and when they get full, they need to crap. So they'll find somewhere like a toilet or if they're outside than a lake or river - or even behind a bush - and they'll relieve themselves. They basically create a prioritised list of nearby toilet locations and use the most convenient one based on our algorithm.
Pete: This is actually pretty cool. We demoed one part of a town, a slums area, and we tagged a wall as a toilet location and the homeless street guys we had, they were peeing on the walls.
Todd: Yeah, and with the new graphics engine, the wall gets stained and everything. We realised, it's the dirt and grit that make our world so real so the more we could do to add that dirt, real dirt, into Skyrim, the more realistic it would feel.
PCM: So tell us about the game's engine. You're saying you've made it darker and gritty?
Todd: Yeah. In Oblivion we really dialled up the bloom and we decided to take it back the other way for Skyrim. Now eveything's dark.
Pete: Really dark.
Todd: Like so dark you can't actually see anything. It's really cool. Very dark and gritty.
Pete: We'd trademark that but BioWare own it.
Todd: What's really cool though is how you interact with the game-world.
PCM: You've done something special there?
Todd: Oh, absolutely! You play a game these days and what do you do? You press lots of buttons and complex combos. It's difficult.
Pete: Quite difficult.
Todd: It makes games hard to get into when you have to learn all these controls so we really thought we'd improve the whole experience.
PCM: How have you done that?
Pete: Everything ends up being morphed into one button.
PCM: Which button?
Todd: The A button. So gamers who want to play Skyrim can just play, they can fire it up and they can play by just hitting the A button and they start the game by pressing the A button, when they meet someone they hit A and will either talk or attack depending on whether that NPC is invulnerable or not.
Pete: There are a lot of invulnerable NPCs in Skyrim. Killing them ruins the gaming experience.
Todd: Yeah and when you find stuff, you hit A and you pick it up. The best items you find self-equip. It's really great.
Pete: We'd have called that "Stream-lined Interactivity (c) (r) (tm)" but our lawyers are busy suing the Minecraft guy right now.
PCM: It sounds like you've hit on a winner there.
Pete: Suing the Minecraft guy? Yeah, he's loaded.
PCM: No, I meant stream-lining everything.
Todd: Yeah. Gamers can play Skyrim in safety knowing that if they just hit A, eventually they'll win.
PCM: It sounds like we're all going to win.
Todd, Pete, thank you very much for your time.
Todd: No, thanks to you guys. It's been great.
Finally, on a completely unrelated note, the Codex is pleased to announce it has signed an advertising agreement with Bethesda Softworks. Their ads should start appearing next week. We'll also be changing the site's entire theme to something a little more Elder Scrolls related, you know, those big-ass banners down both sides that you'll click and they'll take you to the game site (the kind you see elsewhere). This is in no way related to the above content item or the problems we've had of late which have caused us to seek additional funds in order to upgrade the server and help improve server load.
Thanks for reading.