In November 2004, a group of Elder Scrolls forum dwellers came up with the idea of gathering questions from other forum users and submitting them to Bethesda Softworks, in the hope of getting a few answers that were not found in any of the interviews that had been done by gaming magazines, richer in detail and more specific.
Questions were submitted by forum users, and the ones that received the most votes and seemed most interesting were selected, regurgitated and reworded several times in order to get the best result, the most information. Many forum users helped. Belwar had the original idea and both he and Anghardel organized this unparalleled act of community action.
Hopes were high, but expectations were limited. Everyone sort of assumed that Bethesda would not answer most questions, argueing that it was too early to dispense such an amount of details to the TES community just now. About a week after submitting the questions to Pete Hines, Bethesda's PR guru, the answers were posted to the Oblivion forum on the TES board. The amount of detail exceeded even the interviewer's wildest dreams.
The questions, posted to the board by Pete Hines, were answered by Oblivion's Executive Producer, Todd Howard.
1. Will Oblivion retain Morrowind's linear quest concept for the main quest, or will it be possible to approach this from many different angles, changing the final outcome in the process?
Overall, the main quest is more linear than it is wide-open, but it does have sections where the actual goals for you become more open. As much as possible, we try to allow you to finish each quest in as many ways as possible. The actual very end is the same no matter what you did to get there. There are little things we can do well with our kind of game, like get this item from this character especially now with our new AI system where even something that simple opens itself up for tons of different gameplay options.
2. Altering the level of difficulty in Morrowind and it's expansions was very simple. You slid one generic bar up and down and it increased or decreased the difficulty of some aspect of the game. In this next installment of the Elder Scrolls series will players have more control over specific aspects of the game?
Unknown right now, we do plan on having a difficulty slider that affects how easy and hard the game is. But how it does that has not been finalized. I'd be interested to hear peoples opinions on that one. Would they like separate damage sliders vs skill use sliders? Good one for the fans to chime in about.
3. The TES series has always offered the player other options besides the main quest and side quests. Will Oblivion expand on that concept and offer other activities/professions?
I'd like to think we're expanding that idea. There is tons to do other than the main quest, and we hope that we've got a better handle on what kinds of things the player may want to do and how to deliver that. I don't know if I would say expand as much as improve the concept of freeform gameplay.
4. The population in Cyrodiil, the assumed main setting for Oblivion, is said to be thousands upon thousands. With such a small NPC bank, how do you plan on emulating this massive crowd?
With the number of NPCs we have (around 1000), it's dense. It's an insane number for us to pull off, so I can't say were at-all concerned with the number of characters in the game. If anything, it's too many, but we always do that. All of our lore is obviously written as ideal, to say X province or city has so many people, but you can't always actually pull that off on screen, or even store it, so you try to create a scale that feels good in game, that plays well and is fun. So the scale of the terrain and the number of NPCs is always geared to the gameplay more than the lore saying how big or small something is.
5. In regards to the new Radiant AI system, it has been stated that NPCs will be able to think and react independently of scripts. Does this mean that a player could order an NPC to do something (if in the position of a guild head, etc., or perhaps find a random unscripted quest due to independent NPC actions?
Yes, we can do those things. I'm not saying they are in there, and were toying now with watching NPCs do things and how we can really get the player to affect that or have more fun with it, or even see it. So I won't give specific examples right now, but we'll be trying some similar things in places. I can tell you that our goal for the Radiant AI was the Fargoth quest in the beginning of Morrowind, which took some heavy scripting to get Fargoth to behave well, sneak around, steal the ring, put it in the stump, and such. Our early goal for the Radiant AI was that kind of thing just happening, without any scripting. And it works - which is great. But if we didn't tell you what Fargoth was up to, you would have never noticed, or it would have looked really odd. Anyway, thats the stage were at, we have the behaviors, and we're trying to maximize the players perception of what's happening.
6. The armorer skill in Morrowind was limited to repairing objects; the bus 'stopped there'. Do the developers plan on expanding the abilities of this skills in Oblivion, and if so, how?
One of the things we're not ready to talk about.
7. In Morrowind beast races we're restricted by their physical attributes from utilizing closed faced helms as well as boots, and we're not given a boost in hand-to-hand attacks based on their claws. What, if any, special rewards are going to be awarded to beast races in Oblivion, to balance this lack?
Well, Oblivion handles those races differently in many respects, so I can't really talk yet about specific perks and such. Suffice to say, each race will have it's own perks, and they should all balance well.
8. How do you expect the Oblivion Magic system to differ from Morrowind's?
Another item, we're not ready to go into detail on. But I can tell you that we felt Morrowind magic was too weak, in terms of being able to use it as your sole way of playing the game. That was really a reaction to Daggerfall, which was too magic heavy. Anyway, our goal is that you could play the entire game just using magic, and have that balance the same way combat or stealth does. To really be successful playing Morrowind, you had to use weapons, and we want to avoid that.
9. In Morrowind it did not matter where you struck an enemy in melee combat; a hit was a hit, and the damage was determined independently of where your blow landed. In Oblivion will the point of a weapon's impact, on both armor and flesh, factor into a more or less devastating attack?
It won't. We did have that in Morrowind for a while and found it just made it too action heavy. That if you were good at it you could easily go for the head and really kill people. And on the converse, if NPCs could do it to you and you would die faster. I think with this game, your characters appearance is almost as important as your stats, and some people simply like their characters look without a helmet. So we treat armor rating as one number for your whole body and the damage is based on that.
10. A developer recently stated, on the forums, that sneaking was going to get some 'tender-loving-care'. Is there anything you would be willing to share with us about these changes at this time?
That part of the game is working great, really good stuff we've been spending more time on recently. Emil Pagliarulo, who worked on the Thief series, has been working on that, and its much more realistic, using light and shadow and how you are moving. Its always been tricky for us because you have physical things affecting sneaking, and then abstract things, like your characters skills, so I think we're getting a better balance of how that plays out and giving the player feedback on if they can be seen, and NPCs searching for you and you can hear them say things like I know you're here somewhere kind of stuff.
11. What options will there be for the player who wants a home? Will we be able to purchase or own one or more, and to what extent do you expect the player to be able to modify this home?
We have some plans, but we're not ready to talk about that either.
12. Could you give the fans any information regarding the behavior of water--eg. flowing and making puddles--and if it will be able to be above or below "0" level?
Sorry, can't talk about that yet. Yes, there will be water, and yes, it will look and behave great.
13. Will Oblivion return to the location based music concept apparent in earlier installments of the TES series, with dedicated music for dungeons and different aspects like timing and weather?
More on that later, but it's bigger and better than we've ever done. Really excited about the music and I can't say a word yet.
14. What changes can we expect in the CS? Specifically, can you say anything about modeling and texturing, the dialogue editor, or the scripting language?
Modeling and texturing will still be done in StudioMax, and not our editor. The dialogue and scripting system have been wrapped into a new quest system. Once you see it, you'll never want to go back to the old way. Quests are really collections of data in the editor you can manipulate as a whole, and turn big things on and off and track the state of a quest. It really has a workflow that's a lot closer to how you design a quest on paper. There are a lot of other new features, but the core world building in the Construction Set remains like Morrowind with cells and object references.
15. Will interior and exterior cells be separate in Oblivion as they were in Morrowind? If so, will creatures other than the player be able to enter and exit these interior cells?
Yes, they are separate, and yes, any character or creature can walk between them. And it happens constantly with the Radiant AI.
16. Are there plans on utilizing the entire viewable map area this time, including the water areas as places of interest and underwater quests?
I'm not sure what this question is asking. The entire map we create for the game is open to you, just as it was in the previous games. We do have a border to it, that you can't go out of, but thats obvious. In terms of water, we do limit it actually. We find that spending a long time underwater isn't really that fun. Plus combat underwater always has odd issues. So we do use underwater stuff, but we intentionally keep it to short exploration things, such as finding a new area or item, and keep the amount of underwater combat down.
17. Those of us who are explorers wish to know how you are planning on implementing a border for the map (province). Will this be similar to Morrowind's infinite ocean?
There is a border you basically hit an invisible wall and the game says you've reached the edge go back. So no, there is not infinite water. Cyrodiil is surrounded by the other provinces, so we have to do a border. As much as possible, we try to make this a physical barrier, like a mountain, but that just looks odd sometimes, so we go with the game message. But because you can now see so far, we've had to build miles of landscape into these provinces, because even though you cannot go there, you can stand on a mountain and see there.
18. Can you give examples of the extent the Havok engine will allow players to interact with the environment?
Havok is by far the most fun we've had working with middleware. The depth it can add is amazing, especially to a game like ours, where we have so many items around. So anything you can pick up gets havok. Also, our artists can create areas of the world that react to physics, such as doors or chains that hang from the ceiling. We've been having a blast lately shooting arrows into things and watching them react. So from a visual standpoint, such as bodies falling down stairs, or books and plates flying around, it is fantastic. From a gameplay standpoint, we're just starting to work those elements into things like our dungeons. One thing I can say is that the telekinesis magic is getting an all-new level of cool. More on that when we start talking about magic.
19. What audience is Oblivion going to be aimed towards; Specifically, what do you believe the final ESRB rating are you working towards?
Our audience is game players who love fantasy and great games. As far as ESRB rating, I don't really know, and to be honest we don't shoot for one or another. We said this with Morrowind as well: We make the game we want. If it's M, so be it. There's a certain tone we want to the game and mature situations. There's also going to be a realistic amount of blood. Nothing crazy, but enough to make it really feel like you just hit a guy with a sword. That may get us an M, it may not, I don't care. You didn't ask, but I know nudity is an issue with fans because it was in Daggerfall and such. That's something I wouldn't do even if we were allowed to. I think it distracts from the tone of the game. Maybe I'm still too immature (note from Pete: I can vouch that this is, in fact, the case), but when I see breasts in a movie, I still yell boobies!.
20. And lastly, considering that every piece of new information is being scrutinized heavily by the TES fan base, how much weight does the online community have with the decision making process?
The people who've bought and played our past games have a huge amount of weight, because ultimately, that's who were making the game for. But keep in mind, we've sold millions of Elder Scrolls games, and 99% of the people who've bought our games are not online talking about them. We get phone calls, we get letters, we do our own surveys to see what they like and don't like. So we're at no loss for fan feedback.
And believe it or not, we read it all. We read the forums all the time, we read all the letters, all the reviews and all the surveys. We also spend a great deal of time looking at other games, and other fan communities to see how those games are received. I can honestly say our fans are the best I've seen. I've come to realize that our games have become as much a part of our fans lives, as it is of our lives, and that does create a bond and a responsibility to do something we are all excited about.
There are obviously some issues that fans discuss where they simply don't have all the necessary info for us to really do exactly what they want. This goes for many things regarding Oblivion, because its still in development, and people are forced to discuss things they haven't seen. But with regard to our past games, where the experience is there for you to play and see and comment on, feedback on that really drives us to create the next game and make it even better more than anything else.