Because of anticipated burnout, wrist aches, and the unusually large volume of questions, I’ve set aside this Saturday to post my answers to as many of your queries as possible. We’ll probably start with Skyrim next week.
Da Mage asks: Considering Oblivion’s other guild storylines, do you feel the more action-adventure MQ that they went with was the right choice over the proposed politics storyline?
The sluggishness of conveying complex topics through slow, deliberate voice acting, the orientation of Oblivion towards fast-paced adventure rather than ideological intrigue, and the overall amicably goofy tone its art style and physics convey meant that it was a very good idea to stick with a nice neat fantasy plot rather than a sprawling drama on the order of Daggerfall.
Note that even Skyrim‘s clash-of-ideologies storyline is told mostly through scripted visuals and in-universe components: things like Stormcloak patrols and public executions do most of the work of conveying that a civil war is going on intractably in the background.
Grey Cap asks: Do you think that the switch (from Morrowind) to a bland, standard fantasy skin was necessary for the franchise’s growth? Or could the developers have kept the weird and allowed the new style of gameplay and storytelling to carry the sales?
That’s a really tough question, one I’ve heard asked many times before–one that’s inevitably loaded with the biases of the responder. So here’s my biased response: yes, the game had to migrate to a broad approachable fantasy setting to reach mass appeal. Morrowind‘s style of alien transport was very good at getting a medium-sized devoted audience, the sort who would generate the day-one sales that allow for Oblivionesque productions in the first place…but the problem with the truly alien is that it alienates. By its definition, it drives away potential sales. It’s totally survivable to market a niche product to an eager and devoted fringe, but that does not represent the kind of franchise growth Bethesda clearly wanted.
Maybe nobody anywhere is as crazy about Cyrodiil as some of us are about Vvardenfel. So what? They’re only trying to make us buy each game once. When Skyrim came out and it was grey snow and grey snow zombies I grumbled, I pined, I bought the videogame. “Somewhat boring” is rarely a dealbreaker in AAA videogames.
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