The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion Interview
By Kurt Knudsen
GamersHell: As the game gets closer to launch, many are wondering: what will the minimum and recommended system specs be?
Bethesda: We’re currently putting together test cases for our minimum and recommended system requirements. We want to provide realistic specs that we’re sure will be able to run the game, so that’s why we’ve taken our time and waited until we’re sure all our optimizations are in place before really testing the heck out of our min spec machines.
GH: How are area transitions handled? Is the entire game world cut up into cells which load upon entry like in Morrowind, or is it a bit more seamless this time around? As an example, will there be loading times as you move from one part of the Imperial City to another? Will cities be completely separated from the "wilderness" parts of the game, in that when you enter them it takes you to a loading screen, instead of being able to enter like you were able to in Morrowind?
B: The world is structured similarly to Morrowind in that the interiors and exteriors are separated into separate “worlds” by loads. In addition, major cities are now walled off and separated from the “wilderness” by a load. This allows us to dramatically raise the level of content density for areas. We originally had cities out in the main exterior world, similar to Morrowind, but found the sacrifices in visual quality and density that we were having to make to maintain a seamless exterior experience were too great. However, there are about 25 settlements that exist out in the wilderness that use the Morrowind model.
GH: With the new TES: Construction Set, will things like the Radiant AI, quest, and NPC creation make the construction of fan content more difficult? Many fans are a bit overwhelmed. Do you think people will still be able to jump into the system and make their own NPCs and other content without too much trouble?
B: With great power comes great responsibility, and usually a bit of a learning curve. The Construction Set this time around is even more powerful than it was in Morrowind. We’ve added a lot of functionality – tools for mass-scale object and heightfield manipulation, lots and lots of AI functionality, and a host of improvements to the tools for dialog and quest creation. All of this equals extra data and extra functionality for the end user to play around with. On one hand, extra stuff is good news for modders who want to dig deep into our systems and create, but it also represents more to learn for a new user trying to get a start on creating mods. We hope to include much better documentation this time around than we did in Morrowind.
GH: Morrowind had a number of conflicts when various mods were loaded. With the refined Construction Set, a new engine, and the content releases expected for the 360, will the same problem be seen in this game?
B: I don’t believe there were any cases were conflicts between mods were necessarily the fault of the Morrowind Construction Set. Opening up your game to modding is going to invite people to try some crazy things, and almost by definition, crazy things are going to cause conflicts. The editor is great at spitting out warnings if you’re trying to do something that is going to cause problems, but at the end of the day the responsibility of evaluating what mods to load lies with the end user.
GH: There have been many circulated articles floating about the internet regarding the features Oblivion will have, and this has been the state for a while now. Will there be any new, official information about features coming soon, and possibly previews of different areas other than the ‘escape from the dungeon’ intro?
B: We like playing our cards close to our chest, but there will certainly be new previews and features on the game as we get closer to release. Magazines and websites are coming in for some hands-on time with the game, so you’ll see more content hitting the media soon.
GH: Many features from Daggerfall that were left out of Morrowind seem to be returning. Can we assume this is more the TES title getting back to its roots, rather than going the way of other titles that began on the PC, and found their way to the console?
B: We evaluate the risk and reward potential of each feature on its own. Simply loading up our buckets full of features for no other reason than the fact that they were in old games is just inviting feature bloat. I think we made very smart choices during the design phase of Oblivion about where to distribute our effort. As a result, we’ve brought back features from Daggerfall like horses, and greatly expanded the concept of NPC schedules.
GH: You have previously said the game will contain 9 cities, and 25 villages in Cyrodiil itself, but the community was wondering if there are any "settlements" or cities in any other areas, like for example inside Oblivion?
B: Oblivion will contain a great many sights and sounds that are worlds away from anything you’ll find in Tamriel. To get the details of what you’ll find there, you’ll have to play the game.
GH: Regarding the nature of Oblivion; is it going to be random and chaotic, or static and fixed? Can the same portal take you to two different places? Will places change with additional visits?
B: The plane of Oblivion itself is something we’re going to keep the wraps on right up through release to avoid spoiling it for players. Suffice it to say that it’s pretty much a complete inversion of everything that’s nice and pleasant about Tamriel, and an amplification of everything evil.
GH: Many of the creatures in Morrowind attacked you on sight, even though they were not diseased or naturally offensive. Will the creatures in Oblivion be true to their nature? Will a wolf attack the player on sight, or only attack if driven by hunger? Will a bear avoid the character or will he assault the second he sees the character? Is a rat going to try and take a bite of you, even though your character may be able to strike down gods?
B: We have both aggressive and passive creatures in Tamriel. Creatures that we intend to be aggressive will be aggressive no matter what. We can also set up creatures that will run from you on sight, such as deer, and creatures that will ignore you unless provoked. The level designers and world artists set up values for the creature’s AI when they’re populating their areas, so you will see a variety of behaviors across the land.
GH: On the game's maps, will there be pointers for previously visited, or quest-related areas? If I wanted to visit a specific place in the wilderness again, but was afraid I'd forget the way to it, would I be able to set a note on the map?
B: Once you discover an important location like a dungeon or settlement, it will automatically get added to your map. You can then revisit it at any time by clicking on the icon in your map interface and fast traveling there. And yes, you can set your own marker on the map as well.
GH: Could you tell us how the alchemy skill has been changed?
B: There are a ton of changes to alchemy from Morrowind, both on the formula side of things to address and prevent exploits, and on the gameplay side. Ingredients each have four associated magic effects that can be mixed into potions. This time around, the effects are hidden, and only revealed when you reach certain skill levels of alchemy. Collecting different equipment also plays an important part, as each individual piece can have an effect on the final effectiveness of the potion. Also new and exciting is the ability to mix up poisons that can be applied to weapons for a one time bonus. It’s great for stealthy characters looking for that single shot kill.
GH: How will the journal be handled in this game?
B: The journal in Oblivion operates similarly to the revised Morrowind journal, in that you can sort your quests by open vs. completed, and it can show you all journal entries relative to a particular quest with a single click. We also have a separate tab in the journal where you can set your “Active Quest.” This is the quest that will have its associated markers appear on your compass.
GH: What is it about oblivion that makes you excited?
B: What gets me most excited about Oblivion is seeing other people’s excitement about it. The level of anticipation that we’re seeing for Oblivion is like nothing we’ve ever experienced, eclipsing even Morrowind by far.
GH: Oblivion seems to be the largest and grandest undertaking Bethesda has attempted. Many games come to mind that were hyped so much, the expectations for it were too great for the game to fulfill. Are you worried that the same could happen here? Do you think the game will give its fanbase what they expect, and hope for?
B: We’ve had a number of people from outside the company come to play the game – press members writing previews and a few focus groups. They were all enthralled with it. We tried to take one reporter out to dinner after a long playing spree, and he had us bring him food at the office just so he could keep playing. It would probably be folly for me to answer this question by throwing out my arms over the World-At-Large and proclaiming “Yes, we will absolutely please everyone!” But, I do believe Oblivion will be a landmark game when it is released, and I think people are going to be very impressed with what we’ve been up to for the last few years.