If you've been around for a while, you may remember how in November 2004, a group of fans organized on the official Elder Scrolls Forums set out to organize an interview of their own, asking all the en-detail questions no gaming magazine ever asks. A lot of questions were gathered in a multitude of threads, were rewritten, rephrased and condensed into a whole by a party of volunteers, and finally submitted to Pete Hines, Vice President of PR and Marketing over at Bethesda Softworks. After only a week of waiting, the answers came in and it was far more than anyone ever expected.
Now, nine months later, a new fan interview has been organized and conducted by Anghardel67 and many other dedicated fans again. Personally, I think this one is at least as exciting and informative as the last one. Here's hoping this becomes a tradition for future games and expansions! Thanks to everyone involved with writing, gathering, styling and finalizing the questions, and the fine folks of Bethesda Softworks for taking the time and effort to make this happen!
Note: Like the first time around, the questions were forwarded to Pete Hines and answered by Elder Scrolls: Oblivion Executive Producer Todd Howard.
1. What improvements have been made to the Enchantment/Enchanting system, visually and logistically, since Morrowind? What of the Magic system as a whole?
Well, visually it's all new of course, and with shaders we can make the items look really nice when they are magical. But we haven't gone over the top. We try to keep it subtler, so you don't get bothered by the effects while you are wearing them. So the general effect we use is a light edge glow, like the lighting plays off the weapon or object different.
Logistically, we've changed how magic items work in two main ways - one, you don't "cast" them like in Morrowind. They just "do" it. Anything you wear is constant effect, and affects you while you wear it. Weapons affect whatever target you hit with them. So you would never have a weapon that does something to you, the user. The other big change is that these items do not recharge on their own, you must do it. So you use soulgems to recharge items, or can get them recharged in town. You use soulgems in the game mainly as a way of recharging you items, as opposed to making them. You do find lots of filled soulgems now as treasure, and can also fill your own through soultrapping.
Other things, hmmm. Enchanting is no longer a skill. We felt that was too unbalanced in Morrowind. It is now more like Daggerfall, where it is a perk of gaining rank in the Mages Guild. It is something you have to build up to, and then you can make your own magic items. There is another way to make your own magic items before that though, through Sigil Stones found in the planes of Oblivion. These are magical stones that come with an effect on them, actually two effects, and you can use them to place that effect on a weapon or armor piece of your choosing.
The magic system has so much more in it, that it would take me 100 pages to answer it all.
2. Is the combat system best suited to individual, or "group" combat? Might NPCs work alongside each other and employ tactics which utilize each of them in a joint strategy? To what scale can we expect to see battles taken?
First we made it one-on-one, and made it perfect for that, and then we added layer after layer of group behavior. So it works well in both, though it plays very differently obviously when you have so many guys attacking you. And yes, there are several very large battles in the game, and those are the ones we've been tweaking, as things get really out of control during the big ones. The actors know how to flank, when not to use ranged attacks (they kept shooting their friends in the back), when to back off and cast buff spells, and more.
3. Can you share more with us about the skills available in Oblivion; what may have been added, removed, or merged; skills perks; how *many* major/minor skills our character may choose?
I think the whole list will be announced soon, and we always change it with each game to get better game balance. So 21 was the magic number for us for skills, as it allows each of the 7 main attributes to govern 3 skills. Also, we try to make each skill have meaning, so less is more when it comes to that. We never hit perfection there, but it's better this time. For instance "Long Blade" and "Short Blade" are just "Blade", so now you have one skill that allows you to use more weapons, and you get a better balance for the player when choosing between say, "Destruction" and "Blade". We really trimmed back the weapon skills and combined them, so that it played better if you chose all of the weapon or combat ones. That was an area in Morrowind where you really lost out if you majored in all the weapons at once. In Oblivion, you choose 7 majors, and then you have 14 minors. The 7 majors are the ones that affect your leveling up. It plays out much better than our previous systems.
4. In magic-based duels (mage-vs-mage), will the NPCs involved employ a more 'intelligent' strategy than what we saw in Morrowind?
Absolutely. Spell duels are common and very cool.
5. We're aware that RAI gives schedules and desires to individual NPCs, but how will RAI work on a larger, social scale? For example, how might an NPC work in a guild environment, based on both its own goals, as well as those of the guild it is a part of?
It doesn't work on a grand scale like that. We give the individuals of the guild goals that match with what we know they should be doing. But since they have ownership rights and are friendly automatically with others in the guild, we do get nice behavior from guild NPCs as a group.
6. Concerning the Dynamic Quest Compass, how might it replace the previously text-based instructions Elder Scrolls fans have become accustomed to? Furthermore, will the compass be an option which can be turned on and/or off at the player's leisure?
It's a lifesaver to us and everyone who has played it. We should have done it long ago. We use it to show you where a goal is when we want you to know about it. A good example is the first quest in Morrowind, to find the Spymaster in Balmora. Most people who played Morrowind never find him, because they don't like to read directions, they get confused and lost. Now picture him roaming around town, going to the store, eating at the tavern, locking his house at night. And you have a quest to talk to this guy, all you want is a little info so you can keep playing. He's impossible to find without this quest target. And we want you to find him, we don't want it to be a puzzle, or frustrating. So no, you cannot turn it off. Trust me, you cannot play without it, it's not distracting at all, and it's 100% necessary to find things we tell you to find. Now, we don't always give you a quest target. There are many quests where the person you're talking to does not know where something is, and you will not get one, and you have to bribe people to find out where something is, or we just want you to find it on your own.
7. Will Radiant AI be applied to creatures, and if so, in what ways? Will creatures be placed on a schedule similar to humanoid NPCs; might some work together while hunting, to form 'packs'? And to what extent can they be used by the PC to carry packages. And as compared to NPC's?
Yes, they use it in the same way, but most creatures in the game have the general goal of "killing people".
8. Have there been any changes to the list of joinable factions? Specifically, any info in the Nine Divines and/or Imperial Legion? Are there 'minor factions' outside of those listed in prior interviews, and ifso what can you tell us about them?
There are 5 joinable factions: Fighters, Mages, Thieves, Dark Brotherhood, and the Arena. You also can join the Blades, but that's ummm...secret. No to the Nine Divines and the Legion, as they have a much different role when the game takes place in Cyrodiil, then say, Morrowind. So just like you couldn't become an Ordinator in Morrowind, you can't become a Legion Soldier in Cyrodiil.
9. In Morrowind, guild involvement was minimal. Other than people calling you master, there was little that changed as you gained rank. Can we expect that to change in Oblivion? How so?
Yes, it's very different. First the guilds all have great storylines to play, but also access to powers and stuff as you rise up. That's one of the reasons you can't make magic items right away and have to raise in the Mages Guild. Membership has its privileges. Each faction also has a "recurring" thing you can do as head of the guild.
10. We know that vampires will be found in Oblivion; what details about them can you share with us? Also, will there be any types of 'werecreatures' in the game?
Yes there are vampires, no, we're not talking about them. They're one of the great things to discover and "see what happens". It's great. There are not any werecreatures in the game.
11. Besides being a faster means of travelling the world, what features can we expect to see with and from horses? How diverse might they be? Will your encumbrance or stats affect them in any way? And what will happen when a mounted character is attacked? And, aside from Horses, what other beasts may be in store for players as pets (such as the dog at E3)?
Horses are used to get around faster. I'll be honest, we were so excited to do horses in the game, but have actually found that they are useful, but not to the level we expected. Yes, you can ride around faster, and get away from mobs in the wilderness, and such. So they don't provide this overwhelming advantage to you, but they're just cool. It's something you just want to do in the game. On a pure game design level, they aren't some killer feature, but they are fun. You see them for sale, and you just have to have one. Or you sneak into the horse pen at night and steal one. That's fun regardless of the need to move faster. When people get attacked on them, they either ride away, or get off and fight. Dogs are the only other "pet" creatures we have -- but you can't ride those.
12. In what ways will the player be able to physically customize their Oblivion counterpart at character creation?
It's amazing, and mostly done through code that procedurally generates your face. You have sliders to change different parts of your character's face, and it works for every race. So you can age them, change their eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones, chin, etc. And it's not just do you want this nose or this one, it's a whole range of possibilities as the face dynamically changes based on your input. Or, you can let the game randomly generate faces for you until you find one you like. We do set limits on what you can do to keep you, or the game, from creating anything grotesque that would keep your face from looking right when you're wearing, say, a helmet. You can also chose a hairstyle, its color, and how long your hair is.
13. How are beast races being altered, based upon past appearances, traits, and possible perks--along the lines of claws giving the beast races a boost during hand-to-hand combat--for Oblivion?
They're very cool, and also work through the same face system, aging Argonians makes their colors change for example. As far as body styles, they're more like they were in "Redguard", where they walk like regular humans, even though they have tails and such. We did this to keep the same animation and clothing system for all characters, as it's one of the most insanely complicated parts of the game. The argonians are my favorite looking race in the game. They lipsynch when you talk to them in cool ways and their eyes blink like lizards. It's great. Persuasion minigame is fun with khajiits, as you have to watch their ears to see what they like as opposed to their mouths.
14. How will NPC's travel between cells, will they apear or open outside (loading) doors and step in the void?
That's something we struggled with, and we ended up fading them out as they open the door. You do not see the door open. This worked best in all our situations.
15. Do NPCs have specific animations for actions such as shopping, praying etc?
Yes, they have different animations when they kneel to pray or are buying something from a merchant or sitting to eat. The work in the fields and animate using rakes and such too.
16. What direction are you going in terms of NPC voices? As we already know there is over 50 hours of recoded dialogue in the game, but its been estimated that that only amounts to 3 minutes of dialouge per npc. Are NPC voices going to be as they were in morrowind, as in every race male/female will have a different voice, or will there be more of a variety in NPC voices?
We do them by race/sex. I assure you it's more voice then you've ever heard in a game. Some characters get lots of specific dialogue, some only get a line or two that is specific. But each NPC can pull from the dialogue for their whole race, so they can react or talk about many situations and quests.
17. How will subtitles be used with the all spoken dialogue system? And if the game has prerendered cut scenes, will they have optional subtitles? (MW didn't) What about subtitles for sound effects? What about overhearing conversations?
Every spoken word in the game is accompanied by subtitles. This includes conversations that you may overhear. You can toggle it on or off.
18. We know that there will be additional autonomous regions besides Cyrodil, including the plane of Oblivion. Can you give us a rough number about how many such places there are and how many square miles it will add? And will this be limited after the main quest? or will we be able to go there even after the MQ?
The outside game space of Cryodiil is about 16 square miles. Regarding Oblivion, and the other locals. Hmmm. It's huge. We honestly haven't added it all up. Plus many of the Oblivion areas are random, so I guess the answer is "infinite." Once you solve the main quest, no, you cannot go into Oblivion any more, as the gates have been shut.
19. What can you tell us about how water will 'work' in Oblivion? Will it use fluid physics, or be a static object set at level 0, as in Morrowind, or will there be mountain lakes and streams this time?
There are mountain lakes and we do some streams and waterfalls in areas that look amazing. We'll have screens or movies of those later on. They look insane.
20. How diverse will the music of Oblivion be? Will it change according to the environment around the Player character? Will x-box 360 users be able to use their own music?
The music in Oblivion is, in a word, fantastic. Yes, it will change based on different conditions in the game, including your location, whether you're in danger, etc. You can add music you want played in different settings and the game will include those tracks along with the music from the game.
Before too long we'll have an announcement on who's doing the music as well as a little sample for you to listen too.
21. How exactly will the weather system work in terms of detail, immersion and interactivity. Will seasons and storms be included? To what extent will inanimate objects be affected by weather (i.e. combustible objects)? Will it affect Creatures/NPCs/PC?
There are a variety of different types of weather based on the regions in the game. The type of weather you see as you travel around will vary based on these parameters. So, some parts of the world you'll be more likely to see rain or a thunderstorm, while in northern parts you're more likely to see snow. There are transition effects so that if it's a cloudy day that turns to rain it'll feel very natural. All of the trees and grass react dynamically to the weather effects. NPCs in some areas will even take cover and go inside during storms.
22. How will cells be handled this time... will you be able to create multiple exterior cells (like an improved "behave like exterior" command) and actually landscape in them?
Yes, you can do anything you want there in the editor. From saying -- I want my own sky, my own landscape, or share this landscape from another world, and more. We use that for our cities, as they are walled-off game-loads, and the city exists on the same landscape as the rest of Tamriel, but is in its own "world space." So the game has as many "worlds" as we want. So the need for the fake interior/exterior thing from Morrowind is not as necessary, though we still use it in some areas to just show the actual sky poking through the top of something like a ruined interior.
23. In a recent interview with gamespy you said modders could drop a block into the world and apply whatever material. Will this material alter the duration and volume of footsteps and will the natural environment - such as other nearby materials - contribute to that aspect as well? Will footprints be visible on some surfaces?
You can paint the landscape and set its texture, but that's the only one you can mod. The other objects you place already have the correct material properties (like rocks or sidewalks). And yes, depending on how you make the landscape, the correct foot sounds will play for grass, dirt, rock, etc. Those sounds are already tied to the textures we have. No footprints, sorry.
24. Are you now going to include comprehensive documentation (including the scripting language, game settings etc) rather than the totally inadequate documentation that was provided for Morrowind? Are there any other ways that Bethesda is going to help Oblivion modders in their work?
We have all new ways of being inadequate there - J. The modders will always expand upon and do a better job then what we provide in that area, but we will provide some.