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AusGamers Todd Howard Skyrim Video Interview and Transcript
AusGamers was given special access to the main squeeze at Bethesda Game Studios, Mr Todd Howard, to talk all things The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Read on for what he has to say about dragons, the mod community, PC and consoles, as well as not locking you out of the game when it ends...
AusGamers: Ladies and gents welcome back to AusGamers. You’re here with Stephen Farrelly and I have a very special guest with me today - Mr Todd Howard from Bethesda Game Studios; thanks to the fine folk at Bethesda for organising this for us.
Todd, obviously [Skyrim is the] buzz of the show -- I saw it in Utah [prior Bethesda event]. Two dragons at the end this time? Was that put in this demo specifically or was that a procedural thing? Because you were talking about that in Utah.
Todd Howard: We did... for this demo we have scripted their arrivals to make sure that we’re getting dragons on the screen and after that they do their own thing. So we did want to show another type of dragon -- the frost dragon -- so we set it up where once you killed one, the other one would come in (sometimes they overlap a little bit). But we wanted to show that because there are a lot of new Shout powers we wanted to show here at E3 -- absorbing the soul and doing all that.
AusGamers: Is there only those two dragon archetypes?
Todd: No, there are more. We’re not talking about that yet, but there are other ones. I don’t want to say the exact number -- we’re still messing with it. There aren’t a lot, but there are more.
AusGamers: Now let’s step it back a bit, I want to talk a bit about Creation Engine. You guys have been demoing the game on Xbox 360, is there any particular reason why you haven’t shown the PC version? Because clearly that would be the higher end.
Todd: Yeah it does, obviously the PC version looks better. It has higher textures, it can run much higher resolution and a lot more graphic features. We tend to show it on 360 so that it’s a good baseline for people to look at. So when they then see the PC version it’s going to go up. We’d rather do that than have people see the 360 later and it takes a step down.
We’re really excited with how it looks on the 360 and the PS3. So we do author the art the same for all the platforms, it’s just that they render it differently. Also for things like this [tradeshows] -- I don’t know if people realise -- but as a game developer, the 360 is just much easier to show it on, from getting it started, to showing it, to controlling it, it’s just much easier to demo on logistically.
AusGamers: Okay, now going from Gamebryo to Creation, what was the outset goal for you guys, in terms of the features that you wanted and the stuff that you didn’t want anymore -- the kind of hang-ups that you had. What was the process going forward?
Todd: Well we came off of Fallout 3 and we’re always moving our own technology forward. Whether that’s using a piece of middleware or doing AI or things like that. We had a pretty big list of what we felt the 360, the PS3 and the high-end PCs could do, and it wasn’t like we said “we’re going to re-write the engine”; we just sort of started with “okay, let’s do this to the graphics; let’s do this to the gameplay”.
We started hitting that hard right after Fallout 3, so I’d say after the course of the next year and a half it turns out we’d re-written all of this -- look how it looks; we’re not using this anymore; we’re not using that anymore. So that’s when we actually decided to brand it; we should call it something of our own.
But it wasn’t from the get go “we’re going to re-write the whole engine”. It was a priority list and we ended up re-writing more than we thought we were gonna, but it worked out.
AusGamers: You always support the mod community as well and I know that this is going to have mod tools out of the box.
Todd: For download, not in the box.
AusGamers: Right okay, yeah.
Todd: In case people look in their box and they’re like “what?”.
AusGamers: Obviously the PC community really enjoys that a lot, but have you thought about giving that level of access to the consoles?
Todd: I have yeah. I think our PC mod community is one of the things that is great about our games. We’ve always supported it and we want to continue to do it. But a lot of our audience is on the consoles so they’re not experiencing that. So we have talked to Microsoft and Sony; “how do we do this?”.
The good news is that those things have started to happen with games like Forza 3 and sharing all your car stuff or Rock Band’s a really good example, where you can make your own tracks where you’re authoring them somewhere else then you’re uploading them to the 360.
There are still a lot of issues to solve with... because these aren’t instances like a song or a car you know, you could download a mod that destroys your game and we can’t have that. So we’re still... we have not solved -- even on paper yet -- how to handle security; how do we handle not messing up your saved games and things like that.
So it’s not going to be solved for the game’s release, but it’s something that we’re going to continue to look at because we think that it’s an awesome part of the game that the majority of our audience isn’t seeing.
AusGamers: Is there any opportunity going forward to actually take some of the PC mod stuff and port that to console for console players?
Todd: It actually works. If you have a devkit console you can take the PC mod files, put them on your Xbox and they work. They actually worked in Oblivion, Morrowind and Fallout 3. For all of those games, I can take the PC mods and put them on my Xbox. We have one system so we just need to figure out the logistics of: How do we get it there? How do we secure it? How do we make it safe? It’s something that we would really like to do.
AusGamers: Well that’s tantalising and pretty cool for the console players out there.
Todd: Yeah, it’d be awesome. Here’s this awesome thing and we’re not doing it right now. What do you think of that answer? [laughs]
AusGamers: Sticking with the mod community for a quick second. Is there anything that you guys added to Skyrim that was taken from Oblivion mods or even Fallout 3 mods that just seemed to work that you guys maybe hadn’t thought of before?
Todd: There’s a bunch, in terms of... it’s nice when they’re creating so many things and then they’re voting so you can see what’s popular. We do look at a lot of the popular ones to see how they change the game balance because that’s fairly easy to do. Sometimes they’re adding dungeons and adventures, so we take less from that, it’s more about how do they change health/damage ratios or this, that and the other.
One of the ones we liked early on in Oblivion is someone made a mod that made the bows a lot more powerful but you couldn’t shoot them as fast. So they just felt better and you felt more powerful instead of shooting over and over. So that was one of the things where “oh, we need to do that in Skyrim; it needs to work like this”. So the bows... the one we show is a lower-end bow -- you can pull them back faster -- but the higher-end bows, they take longer to pull back and when you shoot they do a tonne of damage.
AusGamers: Okay, that’s cool. Now as far as the gameplay goes, the Radiant Story system sounds amazing but it’s a little bit hard for some people to wrap their heads around.
Todd: Yeah, it’s hard to explain. The best way to explain it is, it’s the tool that our designers use to make quests. When they make a quest, they can make something specific. Like “this guy” is going to give you “this quest”. So every part of the quest, we call them “roles”, the people in it; the places; the items; those are all roles that the designer can fill out, either specifically or then conditionalised. So instead of “this guy” you can say “I want a guy in town who likes you a lot”, or “I want dark elf in town who hates you” or “I want a dark elf tavern owner who doesn’t know you”.
You can conditionalise all of those roles and you can look at what the player has done. So you can say... a good example is: I can give you this quest, and usually it takes place at this other dungeon -- to get this item. Well I am -- through the quest -- going to change the role of that dungeon; conditionalise it for... you haven’t fought high-level undead in a while, “Is there a dungeon nearby that has high-level undead?”; I’m going to put the item there and the guy [quest-giver] says, instead of pointing you to that dungeon, he points you to that this dungeon. Those kinds of things, if that makes sense.
But even for us, it was hard to wrap our heads around. We just built the system then we messed with how we were going to use it. Now it’s honestly a kind of light touch in the game. We don’t want people to notice it.
AusGamers: Is there a reason that you felt compelled to guide players to areas that they hadn’t been to or anything like that? Is it just so that they can see all of the assets that you’ve put into it?
Todd: Well, we want to try make things more interesting, but we were inspired by... in Fallout 3 we wrote this big script that would generate random encounters. So when you walked down roads, sometimes you would get encounters and we conditionalised the script for what you had done. And we were just inspired by that in terms of what we should do.
AusGamers So like the Talon company, if you’d killed enough of them and they are going to come after you a bit more?
Todd: Things like that or once you hit The Enclave now Vertibirds are landing. There are a couple of other examples based on quests you had finished where things would happen. So we really liked the end result of that and wanted to systemise it for the game [Skyrim].
AusGamers: Now you’re also concentrating on the northern area of Tamriel and obviously the Nord race is really tied into this and that’s the guy that you’ve been showing off. What’s the thought process for players that don’t ever play as the human characters and don’t care about that lineage for that particular race? What are you doing to invite them to becoming Dragonborn as well and does the game-world react to different races based on them being Dragonborn?
Todd: Well no matter what race you pick, you are Dragonborn. We’re kind of showing this guy because he’s very on-the-nose for the tone of the game so that people can understand it easily. But you can be any of the races; you can be an Argonian lizard who is Dragonborn and sorry I forgot the other part of the question... oh how do they react? It’s mostly a flavour thing. There’s a little bit of, this is a little bit harder, you can’t do this with a race but only a little bit -- it’s more dialogue flavour than anything.
Then you do have different powers based on which race you pick. So your skills start out differently, then each of the different races has their own powers, like some cool special abilities.
AusGamers: Now you didn’t touch on the guilds much out at Utah, but during the presentation here there was a bit of talk about it. Is there a specific number of guilds? Can people expect what they’ve had in the past in other Elder Scrolls games?
Todd: Well the three that we’re talking about and the three that we’re focused on are the companions for the warriors, the Thieves Guild and we’re using the College of Winterhold for mages because those are the three main archetypes that we want to pay off on. There is other stuff in the game. I don’t know if or when we’re going to talk about that honestly, but there are other groups in the game but they’re not as big as those factions.
AusGamers: Now last question -- and this is kind of a weird convoluted one. So I know you can’t talk about DLC but based on what’s come before it’s definitely going to happen.
Fallout 3 and New Vegas are really good examples of this: at the end of the game, if you’d finished it and you bought DLC... sorry, when you had finished the game before the DLC came out, you couldn’t just go back and continue to explore. Are you guys going to lock the player out when they complete this game?
Todd: No. No, that was a mistake, yeah. We were really confident about that, then the game came out and we heard pretty loud and clear that was not what they wanted. So we’re not gonna do that again. No, you’ll definitely be able to.. when you finish the main quest you can just keep playing.
And you mentioned DLC. We would like to do DLC; we don’t have any specific plans yet, but they’ve been really successful and we like making them. So right now I can say that we’d like to do less DLC but bigger ones -- you know, more substantial. The Fallout 3 pace that we did was very chaotic. We did a lot of them -- we had two overlapping groups -- and we don’t know what we’re going to make yet, but we’d like them to be closer to an expansion pack feel.
AusGamers: One last super-quick thing -- I mentioned this in Utah, but I’m just going to remind you. When you kill a person in their house, you should be able to...
Todd: Sleep in their bed, I remember you asking that. It’s on the list, I remember that. It’s not done yet, but it won’t be a DLC. We’re gonna do it.
AusGamers: Just put that on the record as well [laughs]. Alright, thanks so much for that Todd, the game looks fantastic.
Todd: It’s good seeing you again, thanks for coming out.
AusGamers: You too. Cheers.