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The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online: Creative Director Interview

After our recent hands-on, we talk to one of the minds behind the franchise's MMO transfer - creative director Paul Sage.

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You have stated before that you are targeting both the fans of the series, as well as the fans of the MMO genre. Has it been difficult finding a way to meet the expectations of both audiences?

I think we have such high demands for ourselves as a development team, and we represent both those audiences internally, so there was a series of steps we took to, to say: "What are the things we as developers want to do, to make a great Elder Scrolls RPG, and what are the expectations that will be common amongst the MMO crowd?"

So we had this big exercise, where we wrote down what we wanted from the game as MMO players, and what we wanted as Elder Scrolls players, and it was amazing where those things synced up. That's where we started to lay the base of the game down. So I don't know if it's been difficult, as much as it has been an interesting exercise in trying to find the "good game", and from there, making the baselines meet.

Have you been forced to make any concessions, in order to make certain mechanics fit within the gameplay?

There are definitely things that won't work in a multiplayer setting, as they will in a singleplayer setting. For instance, you can't just kill every NPC in the world, because then there'd be no NPCs for anybody to meet, so I don't think it's necessarily concessions, so much as it's one of those things that is different from a normal Elder Scrolls singleplayer experience to the MMO.

We also have to be a lot more strict with the game's economy, as in how we introduce items into the world, how we introduce gold, and those types of things. Also, realtime physics are much harder to model, when you have litterally thousands of players online at one time. Those are the kind of things you have to take into account, when building any kind of massively multiplayer game like this.

The Elder Scrolls Online

With the huge success of the series on current-gen consoles, it certainly made sense that TESO would find it's way to the PS4 and Xbox One. How has it been, developing an MMO of such scale on the new consoles?

So, I'm going to give you my opinion first, which is that it's been really cool in a lot of ways.

Development wise, the two big challenges are making sure that the communication works well, since MMOs kind of rely on communication, and when you have hundreds of people, how do you get them to communicate with one another? Secondarily, making sure the controls were developed to suit the platform they're on, whether it's PC or console. You want to make sure that no person who's playing on any platform they choose feels like: "Oh, these controls were obviously developed for this other thing". You want to make sure they feel good and tight. I think those are the two big challenges.

I also think that there's something really cool about being able to get in the game and play with the controller as a console player, and as a PC player, there's something great about playing with keyboard and mouse as well.

TESO was originally rumored to be a free-to-play title. Now that it has been announced that the game will be subscription-based, do you feel confident that it can compete with the many free-to-play games on the market, especially on next gen consoles?

Not to sound flippant, but I think people play, and are drawn, to quality games. I'm not saying that free-to-play games aren't quality games, what I mean more to say is that our commitment to our game has a lot of value, for the money that people are going to spend. I also think that, when people see the updates we have coming post-launch, and when they see our commitment to providing that quality service and content, people will see that they are getting a lot of value for the dollar they are spending.

The series has always had a very rich lore, and fans of the series have grown accustomed to finding and reading books in the game, that tell stories about the deep history of Tamriel. With the game taking place prior to the events of Oblivion, will we be witnessing any of the events we have read about first hand? Will any prominent historical characters make an appearance?

Absolutely! You will see lots of the places mentioned in the lore books, from all of the other Elder Scrolls games, even things that have been rumored about. Certain things that go on in the Bosmer homeland, and one of my favorite references, where we talk about the battle of Glenumbra Moors, which players actually get to experience. Mannimarco is also making an appearance in the game. He's one of the major characters, and even if it isn't a direct reference from the books, that lore still pervades the game throughout. It's been a lot of fun, to be able to take that lore, and put it into the game.

TESO has always been an outstanding singleplayer experience. Now that I can experience it with friends, it seems all the more promising. However, with so many players sharing the same space, how do you ensure that the players' experience isn't disrupted by abusive players?

There's actually a very definite tiered leveling of this. One of the things we do, as developers, is that we try to avoid putting in systems which are prone to abuse. It doesn't mean that you are always going to succeed, but it is certainly your intent. We have things like secure trade, which wasn't such a common thing in the early days of the MMO industry, and as mentioned earlier, players can't kill important NPCs, in an attempt to ruin the experience for other players.

We also have a lot of in-development things that we do, that today are almost common in the industry, that really reduce the amount of ability for other players to grief.

The secondary tier is in our chat. Any time you open up a chat, you will have players trying to annoy other players. You can ignore players, and if need be, the third tier is for when you need to escalate things, where our great customer service department, put in place on day one, have the ability to remove problematic players. In the end, a healthy community helps drive a healthy game, and we want to make sure we are commited to that.

The choice and consequence system seems very interesting, but how do you ensure that it doesn't break the immersion, when for example my player sees a group of rescued refugees, when my friend doesn't?

Getting the immersion right is obviously critical to make the story really stand out, so in these areas where you don't quite match what someone else has done, I think the consequences are strong enough for you to have an impact, and at the same time they are weak enough to where you won't say: "Hey, let's go meet at the refugees I saved earlier". There's obviously going to be a little bit of dissonance, but it is there in order to draw the players in, and make them feel their choices matter and count, which I find extremely important, especially in an Elder Scrolls game.

The Elder Scrolls Online

Are there any larger consequences to be found from choices made, like villages being destroyed for some, and not others?

You might see something of that magnitude, but when you do see it, you'll see it at the end of the cycle of that area, versus a place you will be returning to frequently. We want to have that grander impact, but again we try to reduce the separation between players. However, we do acknowledge that some separation of the experience between the players will take place, mostly because it is part of the fun, when you make your own individual choices.

What kind of instances can we expect in TESO. Will there be dungeons for larger groups, such as raids? Will there be open world encounters?

We are going to have public dungeons, that are more geared towards two players, and four man dungeons, which we internally call instances. Finally, at launch, we'll have what we call adventure zones for larger groups of up to twelve, and we'll be releasing more details on those zones a little bit later. The latter might be compared to what people usually call raids, but they are a little bit different than what people are used to. They are still a lot of fun to play with a number of other players.

Will the be cross faction cooperative elements?

Right now the factions are pretty restrictive, so I don't think that you'll be seeing a lot of cross faction cooperation right away.

How does TESO handle gear stats in the game? Will armor and weapon stats be the end all be all of character success, or will it depend more on ressource management?

It is really supposed to be a combination of both, including your own ability to position and move in combat, and of course block. So there's a realtime element, being you moving around, blocking, dodging, all of those things, then there's your ressource management, which include health, magicka and stamina, and how frequently you use your abilities, and finally there's your stats, and all three of these elements combine to form the core of the combat.

This means if you are solely a numbers person, it will surely aid you, but you can still get beaten by someone with worse gear, due to their ressource management skills, and how they handle movement and blocking.

Finally, the most important question: Will there be dragons?

[laughter] No, there will not be dragons. Although they do exist, this is a time period where the dragons are not present in Tamriel.

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You can read our latest hands-on impressions here.