The Altered Scrolls, Part 13: IPISYDHT#4

By Rutskarn Posted Saturday Oct 31, 2015

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 112 comments

It’s hard to see how Oblivion could have ever gotten a fair shake. Halfway between two paradigms, the end product of an earthshaking hypetoberfest, it’s a huge credit to the game that anyone still plays or likes it in retrospect. And really–the game’s heart goes a long way. Whether or not it makes any sense or includes any interesting gameplay from moment to moment, it’s startling how much charm Bethesda could coax from four or five overworked voice actors and a few simple scripting tricks. They set themselves up with outlandish story hooks, bright colors, a camera that zooms right up on rubber-faced NPCs and lets them mug their way through scenes, and a huge pool of assets repurposed every possible way (in this game, painting easels alone provide: quest items, quest rewards, an easter egg, a doorway, a worldbuilding prop, background clutter). All this to ensure that the game’s energy, preserved at the expense of more thoughtful mechanics from predecessors, is spent going forward–never in circles. There’s always something worth finding the next room over.

I hope you’re beginning to see how every Elder Scrolls game since Arena can be viewed as the first “recognizable, modern” entry. Daggerfall crystallized the canon and brought staples like guilds and skill-based leveling to the franchise. Morrowind introduced custom-tooled storytelling environments and wonderfully responsive 3D, without which the exploratory and dungeon-crawling aspects of the game would have remained too abstract and repetitive to hook the player into the world. Oblivion fashioned from whole cloth the infrastructure of scripting, NPC invulnerability, quest arrows, and voice acting that has defined the moment-to-moment gameplay ever since. It’s hard to point at one of these titles and say that’s where the revolution happened–and it’s perverse, then, that this is exactly what I’m planning to do for Oblivion.

If it seems like my coverage of the level scaling and quest systems in Oblivion has been a little mild, it’s because, well, Oblivion is a little mild; it’s just that it happens to be mild in a very significant sort of way. It’s not until Skyrim emerges as a point of comparison that it becomes clear just how important Oblivion‘s subtler changes really are. More to the point: it’s not until Skyrim that Oblivion is outed as a successful experiment in creating a new genre of open world game.

I’m going to turn over to Q&A now. Ask any questions about Oblivion–or one of the other games, if you missed your chance back when–and I’ll write up my answers as soon as I can and link to them from the next post. Expect the first round answered by Monday morning.


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112 thoughts on “The Altered Scrolls, Part 13: IPISYDHT#4

  1. Tuck says:

    Is this not a question?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Is this not an answer?

      1. MadTinkerer says:


        1. drkeiscool says:

          It is not a question, for you do not have a question mark.

        2. Michael says:

          Careful with that. Everything starts normal, and then you go full Descartes. Never, ever, do that.

          1. overpoweredginger says:

            On a scale of 1-Am, how Descartes are you?

            1. Michael says:

              I give it 3 out of God decantations. :p

            2. MichaelGC says:

              Like it! :D

              On a scale of 1 to Am, reckon probably the square root of minus-one.

              What’s that? “Imaginary?” Hmm. No comment…

  2. Da Mage says:

    So if you read into the history of Oblivion’s development you’ll see that originally the Main Quest was going to involve uniting each of the cities to fight against the daedra threat. Full of dialogue, politics and characters. The council at White-Gold tower would have been a major player in the story. Obviously this was all scrapped for the Martin story, the only holdover being the second battle for Burma where you could go and recruit all the other cities for extra men.

    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?

    1. Benj says:

      That sounds like a whole mess of fun. I would have way preferred that.

      1. Viktor says:

        I’d agree, but this is Oblivion. The concept is NEVER as good as the execution.

        1. Syal says:

          That sounds exactly like Morrowind, which was okay but not great.

        2. Michael says:

          This is a recurring theme with the games since, at least, Morrowind.

          In Morrowind, Dagoth Ur was supposed to be gradually building an army of sleepers, and as the clock advanced, start expanding the ashlands, claiming small settlements as he went. Probably including assaults in the major cities as the story progressed. Though, I’m a little fuzzy on the full details.

          Da Mage mentioned the stuff with Oblivion. Which, honestly, I don’t remember hearing about before.

          With Skyrim, there’s a lot of cut content in the Civil War which included full quest lines for capturing each city, a dynamic economy that was affected by the war and damage caused by the conflict, holds being recaptured by the enemy after you’d claimed them, and even the possibility of being on the loosing side of the war. There were also supposed to be unique quests that would further differentiate the Stormcloaks and Imperials. Off hand, I know the Stormcloaks were supposed to be able to recruit Giants into their ranks (Stormcloak giants, and fragments of the quest scripting remain in the game files).

  3. Grey Cap says:

    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?

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      I won’t argue against any statement that setting X in game Y could have been more interesting, since interest is probably the most difficult to measure and subjective value of any human experience. You could have made Morrowind more “interesting” by including, say, aliens. Or you could have given the humans a third eye on their heads. Would that increased strangeness have necessarily made the setting better? Probably not.

      I very much feel that post-Morrowind titles are only ‘bland’ on a superficial level. Even in Oblivion, the lore is still much more fascinating than your stock fantasy world(and I say this as someone who does NOT like Oblivion). Yes, the terrain and buildings could have looked more distinct, but that wouldn’t have altered the lore in any significant way or, in my opinion, changed the tone of the story or overall feel of the game. And I think going forward to Skyrim, the world is even more interesting than Oblivion. Sure, we as a western culture are more familiar with norse mythologies and terrain than we are, say, southeast Asia or any part of Africa, but that doesn’t mean that “familiar” is the same as “bland.”

      In any case, there’s no guarantee that lightning would have struck twice if they had chosen to keep the arcane aspects of Morrowind intact for the series. The new strangeness they could have invented in this hypothetical scenario simply been vexing and banal rather than fascinating. After all, was the creative team behind Morrowind the same as the one for Oblivion? Would the new team be just as adept at it? I would be shocked if that were the case, given what we received.

      1. Grey Cap says:

        Sure, the lore is still Elder Scrolls weird, and I like that. But (and this is subjective) when I play the game, I never feel as if I’m primarily interacting with the lore. Moment to moment, it’s the immediately evident aspects of the world that shape how I interact with it. Superficially bland is still bland in at least one way :D

        And the thing about Morrowind is that it’s not weird for weird’s sake (although I like that too, you should check out Zeno Clash). It builds up its own sense of place from its own foodstuffs, its own monsters, its own unique architecture, et cetera.

        Which I believe requires a larger investment from the audience (takes more time and effort to buy into the giant crab house than it takes to understand a gothic cathedral); hence my belief that making the world more easily digested (superficially bland) has lead to better sales.

        1. Da Mage says:

          Post-Skyrim the really deep lore is pretty stuffed up. Basically Bethesda has started putting “cool moments” and storylines ahead of established lore. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to re-write really old obscure lore, except that they often replace really interesting lore, with a simple handwave one sentence.

          For example, looking at the implementation of Keening in Skyrim. If you just want to consider that a throwaway ‘easter egg’, then how about the city of Winterhold. Previously was an important mark in Skyrim, now just a few wooden huts and the College. I also fully expect them to AGAIN, rewrite what the skeleton key does in the next game, since they can never decide on it. And the whole Elder Scrolls thing is getting out of hand. Oblivion had one in the thieves guild as the ultimate prize and to undo Daedra magics. Now Skyrim has 3 of the damn things, each of them with a separate all powerful, but very specific use.

          I know this is a bit of a rant, but it is so frustrating to play Skyrim as someone how has read much of the lore, see them overwriting parts and just think “But if they had used the original lore, this detail would have been better anyway”.

          1. Michael says:

            To be fair, the Keening thing is actually pretty useful as a frame of reference. We already know from Oblivion that the Dragonborn are a little different from normal. And then with Skyrim the entire demigod thing gets rolled out.

            It doesn’t directly contradict what we’ve seen of the Dragonborn before, and it fits with the idea of Tiber Septum as this hero of myth.

            Throughout the game, we see that magic doesn’t quite affect the player character the way it should. Sure, you can electrocute them, or set them on fire. But when it comes to more complex magic, things get weird fast.

            The player character in Morrowind can become a demigod, and can even pick up immunity to Keening, like that. But, for the Dragonborn, that’s a natural part of who they are.

            Skyrim has a lot of issues, but one thing that’s really interesting, is how the world reacts to the player when you realize you’re not playing a standard fantasy chosen one. You’re actually playing a fantasy superhero with an ever expanding repertoire of powers at their disposal.

            It’s not that the issues you’re talking about don’t exist, though. They do. It’s just that Keening isn’t, exactly, one of them.

            1. Da Mage says:

              I am happy to accept that Keening is a bit of an easter egg, but if you do the quest for it, you give it to a regular NPC that wields it just fine (though he ends up killing himself through an experiment). I would simply put it down to a quick easter egg, rather then try and justify it in lore.

              Also, if you want to start going into some really deep lore, The Neveraine of Morrowind is also referred to as being dragon-born. The Lost Prophecy (which the MQ has you fulfill) states:
              From seventh sign of eleventh generation,
              Neither Hound nor Guar, nor Seed nor Harrow,
              But Dragon-born and far-star-marked,
              Outlander Incarnate beneath Red Mountain,
              Blessed Guest counters seven curses,
              Star-blessed hand wields thrice-cursed blade,
              To reap the harvest of the unmourned house.

              In game the NPCs just assume dragon-born means that you were born in the Imperial Empire, as without any dragon’s around it’s pretty hard to prove that you are Dragon-born.

              1. Michael says:

                There’s actually two ways to read that line. I mean, you’re right, a lot of people do read this to assume that the Neravarine is a Dragonborn. The alternative is that the Neravarine is “marked” by a Dragonborn. That is to say, selected specifically by Uriel Septum (who is a Dragonborn).

                It’s also possible the uncapped magical potential of the Neravarine is another possible manifestation of the Dragonborn. I mean, I’m guessing here, but it’s plausible, and fits. We do know there’s some differentiation between them from the flashbacks in Skyrim.

                1. Blackbird71 says:

                  I’m afraid that grammatically the second interpretation doesn’t work, due to the way that “marked” is hyphenated onto “far-star”. This indicates that “marked” it is tied to that one phrase alone, and not both parts of the line.

                  1. Michael says:

                    Yeah, I dug up the text on the wiki, and it is hyphenated in game.

                    Though, something else that immediately sticks out is that Dragonborn is usually expressed as a single compound, rather than hyphenated. I don’t have the setting’s etymologies internalized enough to know if that’s significant or just something that Bethesda changed in Oblivion or Skyrim.

                    In game it’s suggested that dragon-born just means from elsewhere in The Empire. If having the soul of a dragon is supposed to be a non-hyphenated compound, then it would support it. If it’s that the writers changed their mind on something later, it doesn’t matter.

                    There is another element supporting the idea that the Neravarine is a Dragonborn; that they reincarnated. Or apparently did. This is not a normal part of most Tamerillic religions. Most run with the idea that you die, go to aetherius, and that’s it. They don’t usually come back. But, here we have the Nerevarine returning. The one thing we do see that can pull that kind of back from the grave stunt easily are dragons. Dragonborn can’t do that in the same way, but it’s not a huge stretch to assume their souls can. Since, you know, soul of a dragon, body of meat and treasure.

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      Cyrodil was previously described as Roman architecture in a jungle. That means leaves by the shitload, and I remember Shamus mentioning during Fallout 3’s Spoiler Warning that Oblivion used ghastly numbers of polygons for what simple plants it had, to the extent that there were mods simplifying them substantially for weaker machines. So the main reason to change it could have been technical, then leaving them with a fairly generic setting.

      1. Andrew_C says:

        Ah yes, and their 1000 polygon rocks, when all the consoles and graphics cards they targeted supported normal mapping.

  4. Neko says:

    What did you think of Shivering Isles? On one hand it breathed a cool interesting new environment into the game that was otherwise suffering from “bog-standard medieval fantasy landscape syndrome”. On the other… Honestly, I never got around to finishing it. It was very pretty but it didn’t seem like it had any depth. I kind of figured out the spoiler before I even got to it, and lost interest.

    1. Elric says:

      I think the Shivering Isles expansion is the best part of Oblivion. It felt to me a little like playing a rich, creative world like Morrowind within the Oblivion engine.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What?No amusing story from some random point in oblivion adventuring?

  6. Henson says:

    What’s your opinion of the switch from a keyword-based dialogue system to a system where your PC’s dialogue is fully written, given how these systems work in an ‘Elder Scrolls’ game? Would certain changes have to be made to the ‘Elder Scrolls’ formula to make one or the other approach more viable?

  7. MrGuy says:

    What does it feel like for the player character when the entire world around them shatters in a game breaking bug? Is it quick and painless, or is it a soul-shattering taste of hell? By playing Oblivion, am I willfully participating in the endless ritualistic torture of not only my player character but also everyone else in the world? Am I a deranged, angry god to them? Do they fear me?

    Also, I’m going to California in a few weeks. What would you recommend I order for my first Del Taco experience?

    1. MichaelGC says:

      From what I can gather, it’s less about quality and more about quantity. That’s to say, for the avoision of culinary disappointment the ordering mindset should perhaps be less focused on what it is you’re getting and more on how much of whatever-it-is you end up with. (There are also technical aspects such as the calories/cents ratio, but that’s probably not the sort of detail you want to be bothering with your first time.)

  8. kikito says:

    What is your opinion on the “portals to the daedra dimension” (or whatever they were called)? I personally found them a bit repetitive and boring, but the loot they provided was too good to pass.

    1. Will says:

      “Oblivion gates”. There are seven of them (at least, they go to one of seven different worlds””obviously there are many more gates than that), so if you make any concerted effort at closing them, they will get really repetitive and really boring very quickly. Of course, they’re all boring and repetitive anyway because they’re all going to the Deadlands, which is just sort of a boring, bichrome (lava and dirt) place.

      1. Mersadeon says:

        I think the worst part is that eventually, they become so common that they are in seeing distance from each other, and even after closing them, part of the “frame” sticks around. It makes for a very ugly landscape.

      2. Michael says:

        100 spawn locations. A hard limit of 50 spawns per game. A few hand placed spawn locations that are 100% reliable. 7 gate worlds… yeah, something’s wrong with that design.

    2. Kestrellius says:

      My opinion is aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

      Seriously, screw those things. I like Oblivion, and I will defend it, but the gates are just bad.

      Thing is, they’re played as these sort of exploratory mini-sandbox things where you have to run all over the place and scour everything looking for loot, and that just…doesn’t make sense. You’re in enemy territory, specifically in the sections of enemy territory currently designed to set up an assault. You should not have time to pick spiddal sticks and puzzle your way out to that island with a flesh pod on it.

      They should have been handled as these frantic, combat-intensive, but brief linear dungeons, with endless swarms of daedra constantly coming at you. (They also should have scrapped the hilarious giant spikes. I mean, the aesthetic isn’t horrible; they’re just so…huge. It’s impossible to take them seriously.) Of course, in order for that to work they’d have had to fix the combat, but really that wouldn’t have been hard.

      1. Michael says:

        Ironically, the biggest problem with combat is just enemy sponginess. Once you turn that down, combat gets pretty entertaining, if simplistic. It’s just that each individual enemy wears out their welcome.

        Which means, a kind of old school doom/diablo style swarmed by monsters rampage where you’re carving through endless hordes would have worked very well.

  9. el_b says:

    so oblivion is a little like halo 2? its the experimental middle ground between better games that lets the devs play round with new systems and technology.

  10. kaljtgg says:

    How much did you mod the various games and did you feel that once you did, the game improved in a significant way?

  11. Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve been playing a bit of Skyrim recently, and it’s incredible just how much it feels like Oblivion. It’s very much the same feeling that you get switching from Arena to Daggerfall, with the feel of the game the same, but with various tweaks to add and improve.

    Having Fallout 3 in between the two games probably helped quite a lot, the comparisons are easy to see and while they brought ideas from the Elder Scrolls series into their Fallout game, they’ve also used that experience to help shape Skyrim (and no doubt Fallout 4 will be similar).

    Despite that, you have to remember that at release Oblivion was heralded as a masterpiece, full of 10/10 scores and GOTY awards. All of the criticism about the voice actors, speechcraft system, those misshapen faces, the scaling system and so on, happened after the hype had died down and people had time to actually play the game for a good length of time. It’s rare to see a game go from being so lauded to so criticised, more so than any previous game in the series.

  12. Zak McKracken says:

    Am I the only person who, for a split second, sees the word “dipshit” in the title of each of these articles?

      1. Steve C says:

        I will forever now think of these Scrolls articles as Rutskarn’s Dipshit articles.

    1. Shamus says:


      The process:
      1) Every time I see the title, my brain reflexively assumes it’s an anagram puzzle and begins searching for solutions.
      2) DIPSHIT is the top search result.
      3) Wait. That’s not a valid answer. It doesn’t contain the letter Y.
      4) A few milliseconds in, my conscious mind finally joins the party: THIS IS NOT AN ANAGRAM PUZZLE. STOP THAT.

      And then thirty seconds later, the process is repeated.

      1. Michael says:

        Well, there is a Y in “dipshity” so, that’s an option. A very weird option.

    2. Jarlek says:

      What does IPISYDHT stand for anyway?

      1. MrGuy says:

        I Played It So You Don’t Have To.

        1. Michael says:

          I keep thinking it’s a C0DA type thing, and forgetting it’s an abbreviation. :\

  13. RCN says:

    Shouldn’t Oblivion’s greatest triumph be it’s modding tools? For the first time in the series it seemed like modding was something that was planned for, and with that Bethesda cultivated a rich and extremely dedicated modding community like very few other games have. I think that the most important thing to take from Oblivion is, that for the first time, your experience could be customized with almost exactly what you want from the game.

    I, for once, can’t stand the level scaling in any capacity. And the modding community for Oblivion has just as much solutions for the level scaling as it has adult-oriented mods, which is saying something.

    1. Will says:

      “Shouldn't Oblivion's greatest triumph be it's modding tools?”

      Morrowind’s were pretty much exactly the same, so probably not. Oblivion had a somewhat more vibrant modding community just by virtue of having a much wider audience, but modding support was pretty much exactly the same as its predecessor.

    2. Raygereio says:

      Shouldn't Oblivion's greatest triumph be it's modding tools For the first time in the series it seemed like modding was something that was planned for

      Bethesda released a toolset for Morrowind as well. What did Bethesda do for Oblivion that they didn’t do for Morrowind?

      1. Nidokoenig says:

        I only have experience with Morrowind and Fallout 3, but the latter is easier to use than the former, and my experience with the GECK probably helped me get into modding Morrowind when I may have given up if I’d started with Morrowind. Ease of use and availability(internet speed increases, etc) have breakpoints that increase uptake substantially.

        1. Michael says:

          Strange. My recollection was that the Morrowind editor was far more stable and user friendly than the one implemented in Oblivion. I mean, it could just be that we were doing different things with it.

      2. RCN says:

        I dunno, never felt that Morrowind had much to go on in modding.

        Then again, I never felt the need to mod Morrowind, so maybe that’s the culprit.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Oh the Morrowind modding scene is (was?) big. Lots of content mods, decent number of mechanics mods. Don’t know how the modding tools compare to those in later TES games or FO3/NV.

    3. Nidokoenig says:

      Aren’t the modding tools just a slightly tarted up version of what they use internally? It strikes me that this would be how they manage to handplace so much stuff, writers and level designers and others doing the easy stuff as they want it without having to write a description, forward it and check the result, so the programmers can focus on actually tricky stuff. Releasing it to the public is the clever idea, but there’s plenty of precedent for that.

      Of course, there’s plenty of nasty jokes to be made about the Bethesda team being incompetent enough that any tools they can use have to be simple enough for a monkey to use, which no doubt helps the popularity.

      1. King Marth says:

        There are always internal tools for adding content to games, especially 3D games, for precisely the reason you mention (and what Shamus mentioned in the last Good Robot article): Long spans of time between tweaks are what make people go for “good enough” over “right”.

        However, the difference between an internal tool and something released for public consumption is an order of magnitude more work – it’s annoying if an internal tool crashes, but the person who can fix it is within walking distance and can patch it in under an hour. They also probably don’t know how to design good UIs, but even on a big title there’s way less people working on it than will eventually play the game, so artists just need to suck it up and memorize whatever icon was slapped in for ‘move’ this time, and learn how to recognize a quaternion as the number you need to select to open up hacked together rotation tools. Dev machines are hulking monstrosities of computational power and memory to do large compilations, so who cares if the tool you have running on the side takes ridiculous amounts of memory, if it takes the time of programmers (who must already know the internals of the game’s engine and thus can work on new features) to optimize away this problem that isn’t a problem? All the content files you’re working with will be fully formed and correct or there is something horribly wrong, so ugly crashes to desktop are the expected and useful case if parsing hits a problem (in the tool and the game itself). Features change over development as gameplay refines, so I guess more buttons need to go somewhere; not where they’d make sense for a new user, why would you disrupt the memorization you forced on the poor artists earlier?

        All of these are fixable! It just costs time and therefore money. You make the tool in the first place because it makes game-making cheaper, and making something to do that isn’t too expensive (though making a tool usable by anyone other than yourself personally is another rough jump). It costs a lot more to both raise the tool to sellable standards and officially support people putting arbitrary modded content into your game engine with just the hilarious flying tiger bugs and not the crash-and-corrupt-saves bugs.

  14. Genericide says:

    I’ve played my share of Oblivion, so I’ll ask for opinions instead. What are some of your favorite quests in Oblivion? What are some of your least favorite?

  15. Mersadeon says:

    What is your opinion on the introduction of pregenerated traps in Oblivion?

    1. Michael says:

      On the one hand, they do make the early game more interesting. Instead of simply checking chests to see if they’re marked “traped” you need to keep an eye on your environment. For places like the Alyied Ruins, that improves the dungeon crawl a lot. Especially for stealth builds.

      On the other? They wear out their welcome around the 20 hour mark. There’s a few that do make fighting in a specific room or hallway a lot more interesting. The floor tiles that will rocket up into spikes come to mind. But once you start recognizing what to look for when checking for traps, they just become kinda tedious.

      Also, some of the traps are just tedious. The spike and claw traps in the Oblivion Gate worlds come to mind. It’ll get you once because you don’t know what you’re looking for. Maybe twice. But after that, it’ll get you because it’s almost impossible to avoid taking damage to, or because you got distracted. Which, just isn’t good design.

  16. tzeneth says:

    What was your favorite quest in Oblivion? Whether you take that as to complete or to examine or story wise is up to you.

  17. Darren says:

    What’s the deal with the voice acting? Sure, there are a handful of actors playing (almost) every role, but that could apply to any number of games. Oblivion and Skyrim are distinguished by having the actors use the same voice for every character of a given race and gender combination (I believe the lone exception is Linda Carter voicing both the female Nords and female Orcs). It’s really strange.

    What role do mods seem to have in the creation of sequels? I noticed that many mods that I sought out in Oblivion wound up being features in Skyrim.

    Where does Fallout fit into this equation? Fallout 3 is a very different beast from Fallouts 1 and 2, and between Oblivion and Skyrim it is obvious that a number of systems were ported into, updated for, and then exported from Bethesda’s take on the classic franchise. If Fallout is not the Elder Scrolls, is it still suitable to use as a case study for the purpose of the Elder Scrolls’ mechanics?

    1. mhoff12358 says:

      Y’know, beyond people joking about Fallout 3 being “Oblivion with guns” I’m suddenly realizing how little Oblivion -> Fallout 3 -> Skyrim discussion I’ve heard. Lots of FO3 versus FONV, and lots of Oblivion versus Skyrim, but nothing really tying them all together.

      1. Andy_Panthro says:

        I wrote a comment above about how I’ve just started playing through Skyrim and it’s surprising to see how similar Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Skyrim are, and you can see how they’ve made changes over that time. Arena to Daggerfall was like this, but Daggerfall, Morrowind and Oblivion all feel quite different.

    2. MichaelGC says:

      Wonder Woman was in Oblivion & Skyrim? Cool! I had no idea.

  18. Phantos says:

    Who was your favourite character in Oblivion?

    Mine was Porkchop from the Arena. I wish you could take that little oinker with you all around Tamriel, like an Elder Scrolls equivalent to “Dogmeat”.

    I even drew fan art of him. :D

    1. Hal says:

      I don’t recall his name, but there is an orc “noble” who fancies himself a gentleman, and his speech is filled with malapropisms. I dream of turning him into a DnD character, but it seems impossible to replicate spontaneously.

  19. Zombie says:

    I don’t know if you’ve answered this before, but which of the games up to Oblivion would you say were:

    A)What was/is your favorite/least favorite of the Elder Scrolls games

    B)Which one would you say was the “best” overall as a game

    C)Which would you say is the best Elder Scrolls game

    1. Zombie says:

      After re-reading what I asked, I meant to say “up to Skyrim”, not Oblivion.

  20. Distaff Pope says:

    Okay, perhaps this is just nostalgia talking, and maybe I shouldn’t bring up Skyrim until you’re on the Skyrim part of this series, but a lot of the quests in Oblivion just feel so incredibly fun and memorable. Off the top of my head, I’d point to the latter half of the Thieve’s Guild questline, Whodunit?, the murder investigation in the starter city, the whole story with the count of Skarsgard, Whodunit?, that quest where you go into a painting (not good, but memorable), that other quest in Skarsgard where you deal with a mentally unhinged lunatic who sees conspiracies everywhere, quite a few Dark Brotherhood quests like that one where you sneak into a guy’s house and drop a deer head on him, Whodunit? obviously, so many Daedra quests (Molag Bal’s, Namira’s, that party Daedra’s where he wanted you to crash a party and streak, Sheogorath’s), that most dangerous game pastiche, and of course, Whodunit?

    Meanwhile, the memorable quests for Skyrim feel a bit… lackluster. The Dark Brotherhood questline was fun and memorable (I’d even say that the guild’s main quest was better than the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion’s main quest), but the rest of it just feels like an excuse to do dungeon raiding.

    While writing this, I noticed a lot of the memorable quests in Oblivion were the ones that skimped on combat in favor of talking and exploration, and a part of me wonders if the move to a better combat system resulted in the quality of Skyrim’s quests suffering? Why did Bethesda move to these less engaging and memorable quests?

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      My personal theory is that it’s scripting. Oblivion is heavy on that, it was a new thing and someone just said “we need X filler quests for the Dark Brotherhood storyline” and then let people go wild. I’m willing to bet a lot of those were just fun ideas for a story and experiments with the engine along the lines of “could we make it so that…”

      Skyrim felt more focused on production values and particular scenes or set pieces. Not that it didn’t have strong moments of its own but it feels as if the devs expected the “awesome dragons” moments and the “civil war” dynamics (which largely got scrapped) to carry the game.

    2. Sartharina says:

      Skyrim’s quests ended up lackluster because the original design was supposed to be procedurally-generated and reactive to what you’d done before (The vaunted “Radiant Story” system). Unfortunately, they were trying to get it to work all the way through to late in development, it never actually worked in a satisfactory manner, so they had had to gut it, leaving only a few trace remains. And then they were out of time to make GOOD quests.

  21. Decius says:

    Across The Elder Scrolls games, the quest rewards don’t include ‘experience’, since the leveling mechanic doesn’t use that concept. How do you think that changes the quest design and incentives to complete quests, and in what ways are those changes notable to the design space and play space?

  22. SoranMBane says:

    A question about the series overall; from what I can gather, an inordinate number of Elder Scrolls players never bother to finish (or sometimes even touch) the main questlines of these games (for example, only 28% of Skyrim players on Steam have the achievement for beating the main questline). Why do you think that is, exactly?

    1. Michael says:

      To be fair, 28% completion rate’s pretty normal. Most people don’t stick with any game long enough to finish it. Compare that to The Witcher 3’s 26.2% completion rate, XCOM’s 26.9%, or really any game. Most games will fall someplace between 25% and 30%. With, obvious exceptions for games like Civilization, that focus on quick matches, rather than full campaigns.

      With short games (under 10 hours) you’ll see a much higher completion rate. Saints Row: Gat out of Hell has a completion rate around 50%, and I think Spec Ops: The Line’s completion rate is ~60% (but, it’s a little hard to tell with that one).

      So, the basic idea is, a lot of players only spend about 5 or 6 hours with a game. After 10, the number starts dropping sharply. Though, I don’t have hard numbers on how that progression works.

      A really good place to see this is MMOs, ironically. You can wander around lowbie zones in most MMOs, and get a krill sample of how many players you’re seeing (keeping in mind a few endgame players will be wandering around too). Then, go to late game zones, and repeat the process. You’ll go from crowds to virtually empty. (Ignoring a few MMOs that are specifically designed to avoid this, like The Secret World, Star Trek Online, or DCUO, which specifically lump beginners and veterans together in zones.)

      1. Andy_Panthro says:

        Yeah I’ve read similar things where game devs are aware that many players will never complete a game, but there seems to be no really good way to fix this issue.

        I’ve played a bit through Dark Souls, and I’m at a point where less than 15% of players on Steam have reached (Got the Lordvessel, 14.5%; and Rite Of Kindling, 13.8%). I’m pretty stuck at this point, and there have been various frustrating bits before here so I’m not surprised it’s so low. However, there’s still quite a lot of the game to go, I don’t feel anywhere close to completing it (and probably wont, given my lack of ability in skill-based games).

        Obviously for that game the solution can’t just be to make it easier, as the game itself is designed around player skill and mastering the game. Water this down and you begin to lose the niche that it has carved for itself.

        It’s also about maintaining interest in the game itself, making sure the player comes back and wants to finish. I’ve just had a look at The Walking Dead, which goes from about 81% for the first chapter of episode 1, to 41% completion for episode 5 chapter 8. There’s a slow but noticeable drop from chapter to chapter, episode to episode.

        It’s probably better for developers to make those big games anyway though, since those people who never complete the games are still buying them, perhaps just to experience some of the great experiences that they provide, and/or to be part of the conversation when that blockbuster is released. After all, these days you can always watch someone else play through it if you want to see the ending.

        1. Supahewok says:

          I don’t really view this as an issue, though. Who cares who beats a game? The more pertinent question is whether the player had a fulfilling experience whilst playing. Some people need narrative closure, others don’t. There’ve been some games that I’ve only played halfway or three quarters through, and had fun, but didn’t feel like finishing. I had my fill of the gameplay. I don’t regret my time with those games. I didn’t need to finish them.

          Not to mention games we buy that look good on the cover but we discover aren’t our cup of tea a couple hours in.

          Plus I wonder if those statistics are for all owners of the game, or just those who’ve actually begun playing them. Lots of us have backlogs of games that we may have had for years but have never gotten around to. I’ve never gotten around to playing To the Moon, despite having it installed for 2 years. Am I included in its 19.8% completion rate? I hope not.

          1. Michael says:

            It used to be that, yeah, if you owned the game you’d be calculated into those. Now you need to have actually played the game in. I’m not sure when the change was made. But, used to be, you could see that only about 85% of people who buy a game will ever actually start it. Now, you can see that about 5% of people who start a game will never actually play it. Which… I mean, it’s interesting kind of.

            Between one in ten and one in twenty players gets distracted and wanders off between launching the title and actually clicking “new game.”

            You can get this from all of the basic, “here’s a free achievement for the kitty” achievements that some games include.

            For instance, Dark Souls 2… the achievement for finishing character creation runs at 90.5%, and the achievement for getting smeared across the environment like a toddler’s spaghetti is 89.6%.

      2. SoranMBane says:

        Well, all that doesn’t really explain the people who play hundreds of hours of a given Elder Scrolls game and yet barely touch the main storyline at all. That’s the kind of behavior I want some insight into.

        1. Michael says:

          I’d say that this is kinda unique to Elder Scrolls, but I don’t think that’s true. There are always people who will inhabit a game, and just wander around poking things and licking walls. When it’s a linear experience like a shooter, then they’re going to be finishing content, but when it’s an open world game like TES? Yeah, they can just run off and do their own thing. I mean, the original Fallout patched out it’s original time limit (I think it was 500 days) because players were actually running out the clock, just wandering between the settlements and “living” in the world. The Elder Scrolls games facilitate that kind of play better, by giving you a lot of different storylines to chase, rather than needing to follow this specific line.

          That said, because they specifically cater to that, “go out and just RP being in the world” feel, they are going to attract players who are specifically looking for that kind of an experience. In a way that something like Dragon Age or Bound By Flame won’t.

          Ironically, one of the things that pissed off a lot of TES fans about Elder Scrolls Online were the very prominent main quests in each faction. There were players who honestly expected a kind of thowback to the old sandbox MMOs, and when they got their hands on the finished product, they were pissed.

          1. Supahewok says:

            Yeah, I’ve found that some people absolutely need structure in their games and some people need absolute freedom, with a spectrum between. The latter find playing Minecraft and Terraria very rewarding, and like to make their own fun in sandbox games, while the former are baffled by a lack of concrete goals and stick to the quest lines.

            Most folks fall somewhere in between, but by their nature of self-reliance and assertion, the players who like to do their own thing are more likely to talk about their experiences on the internet, and I think that leads to a false perspective of the audience for these games. Most of the people I know personally play sandbox games by the book, but you’d never know that people like that exist based off of reading the comments here and elsewhere on the Internet.

            Edit: I’d like to add that I’ve noticed that coders tend to fall more into the freedom camp. I’d guess because that’s the kind of personality good coders tend to have. And obviously this blog is skewed toward coders, and a lot of the same people who code here seem to be in the freedom group.

            1. Michael says:

              This could be as simple as creative people prefer games that allow for more player agency. But, I don’t have any data to back that up.

        2. chiefsheep says:

          I don’t know about insight in particular, but for me some people play games to be the protagonist in the as-written protagonist’s story, whereas others want to be the protagonist in their own story.

          For me it’s the latter – I love stepping out into a world and doing my own thing at my own speed in my own order. The main quest in all the Elder Scrolls games has always been “something I’ll get to if I run out of other fun and interesting things to do.” Oddly then, it almost becomes the last bit of the game I’d consider doing, let alone actually doing, because it’s just another quest, no more or less fun or important than any of the others.

          Maybe compare and contrast Skyrim with Dishonored – in my mind the former has a ton of quests, one of which is a “main” quest, whereas the latter has a “required” main quest with a bunch of optional side quests.

    2. Blackbird71 says:

      (Disclaimer: I’ve only played Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion – of these, I have only ever completed the main quest of Daggerfall)

      Personally, TES games in general have so much open content and exploration in them that you can spend a lot of time just getting lost in the world and enjoying the experience (disclaimer: I’ve only played Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion). The “main quest” in these games is often a beeline to completion, and if you go straight through it you miss all the amazing stuff along the way.

      Plus, the near-infinite modability of these games often distracts me – I will get part-way into the game, and encounter something that I decide could be better with a mod or two, then I get sidetracked by the meta-quest of finding the perfect combination of mods for that particular play-through. I’ve probably logged more hours modding Oblivion (and modding the mods) then I have actually playing it.

      Of the three TES games I have played, I have only ever completed Daggerfall. Once. Before that, I had played it with many different characters for hours far beyond my ability to recall accurately. Once it was done, I thought “that was nice”, then I created a new character and began exploring and adventuring all over again.

  23. Cyranor says:

    Its been ages since I played Morrowind and I had trouble sticking with it so never played it much beyond a few hours so I can’t remember if this was true then but in Oblivion and especially Skyrim the “cities” always seemed terribly small. Is this due to the scripting the put into Oblivion where they hyped every character has its own goals and motivations that required the cities to be so small? I just always found it a little immersion breaking to go to a “city” and find it had 30 people in it. Yes I could follow and interact with each one but it always seemed so small. This seemed even worse in Skyrim where you were supposed to have this civil war going on and the biggest a battle ever got was 20 guys vs 20 guys. Is this just a weakness of the engine where it can’t script more than 40 or so people at once without slowing down? Either way it just ended up making the game seem smaller to me.

    1. Decius says:

      Morrowind has similar sized cities, but they make them seem bigger by having lots of houses and NPCs that aren’t involved in any quest or plotline and lots of environmental storytelling that you can stumble across that uses characters that aren’t in the game.

      Having a city with 100 houses you could explore would be cost-prohibitive and frankly boring. Image FO3’s minefield, but without the minefield and taking 10 times longer to explore.

      1. Da Mage says:

        Morrowind also only had 1 ‘city’ (vivec), most of the places you’d visit were just small towns and even fishing villages. Vivec was huge compared to the rest of the places, so it felt fine. In Skyrim and Oblivion, every place was meant to be a city, so the scale felt…

        1. Blovsk says:

          I think a lot of the charm to the cities in Morrowind was that they were all worldbuilding over your standard ‘we need a Blacksmith, a mage, a temple, a lord to give you quests and twenty houses’…

          The giant crab shell of the Redoran, the twisty levitation-based towers of the Tel’vanni, the little camps of the Ashlanders, the imperial-ised flat cities of the Hlaalu, the gloriously medieval keep of Ebonheart, the Dwemer ruins, the ghostly haunts of house Dagoth with their furniture all over the shop… they all felt different, were very different functionally to explore and all conveyed the character of the people who lived there and the story of what had happened to Morrowind before you arrived and what your role was as someone uniting all of these.

          And then all the factional quests amplified that wonderfully. And the main story was really good at giving you hooks to push you into taking on slightly harder and more hostile areas while getting you to learn about all of that stuff.

          By comparison, Oblivion’s cities didn’t really tell you any stories. Even Skyrim’s ones are lacking diversity next to Morrowind, though the landscape is really very good and there is a bit of it with Windhelm vs. Solitude and the Dwemer city.

        2. Couscous says:

          I think part of it is that it feels like there is nothing but the main cities in Oblivion. In Oblivion, there were 10 villages, but only a few had quests associated with them in any significant way. Hackdirt, where you will probably kill most of the people, and that village with all the wacky people as part of the Sheogorath quest were the only ones that felt like they had any sort of thought that went into them. Morrowind had you actually doing more stuff in places like the starting village. In Oblivion, most players will start out in the Imperial City compared to starting out in a small village and being able to be impressed by the size of Vivec later.

          I think another huge difference is that they feel isolated because the player can see parts where the cultures are meeting like an imperial fort next to a bunch of weird Telvanni mushroom buildings and every town didn’t feel like the only town like that in the world. Oddly, even Vivec had Molag Mar looking a lot like one of Vivec’s island buildings.

          Looking at Morrowind’s map shows me how good they managed to make a map smaller than Oblivion’s map feel pretty dang big. They make use of a ton of twisting roads, islands, and valleys you can’t just ignore until you get powerful enough to just have a ring with a permanent enchantment of levitate on it.

          Oblivion has fewer roads because they expect you to just follow the compass (a nice feature). This makes it feasible to take the shortest route, and the world is not designed to make taking a straight line not really easy except for mainly the northern mountainous region. I remember places where it would have made sense to have roads leading to them not having any roads leading to them. The main part where there is a decent amount of roads outside of the ones between cities is in the harder to navigate mountainous area in the northern part of the map.

          1. Michael says:

            Another major thing that makes Morrowind feel bigger than Oblivion is the lack of LoD data. It’s such a small thing, but the fog makes the place feel huge. It’s actually kind of a shock to go back to Morrowind, with mods that add LoD rendering. The entire place is much more compact than it looks in the vanilla game. I literally never realized that Balmora is basically wedged up against the coast, and a couple of the Telvanni settlements are actually visible to one another. But, when everything turns to an impenetrable fog in 50 feet, the world feels huge.

    2. Andy_Panthro says:

      It’s a limitation of how they’ve built the game. With each NPC having a routine, dialog or whatever, it makes them more resource-intensive. They also have to take into account the variety of consoles and PCs that it has to run on, so they can’t have too many NPCs at the same time in the same location.

      With this in mind, you would think they would make everything full of smaller-scale experiences and in areas with low population density (much of Skyrim is like this, outside of the cities and set-piece areas).

      I’m reminded of a particular set-piece in Oblivion, where you assist a city in taking down an Oblivion gate. The city sends out a handful of guardsmen to assist you, and you attack a handful of daedra. It never has that epic feel that it looks like it should do, it fell quite flat for me.

      In my recent play of Skyrim, similar set-pieces are present when fighting dragons, and although this is handled better it’s still not great. The entire introductory sequence didn’t work very well for me for this reason, it felt very similar to Kvatch in Oblivion.

      1. WJS says:

        Are you talking about the opening sequence at the very beginning of Skyrim, or when you first fight a dragon? If the latter, I completely agree, but the former I thought they pulled it off OK. It’s been a couple of years, but I don’t think you were under attack the whole time, which naturally gives the impression that there’s more going on than you can see. (This is pretty common, you can give an impression far beyond what you actually show if you know what you’re doing, and IIRC they managed to pull it off OK there)

  24. Kavonde says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t talk much about the main story, Ruts. Oblivion’s main plot is, essentially, a second-person tale. You aren’t the hero, you aren’t even particularly important beyond your role as a toadie, and the climax of the game sees you escorting the real hero so he can do his big dramatic sacrifice. Was this an interesting way of telling a stock fantasy story–putting you as the protagonist’s (admittedly extremely competent) sidekick–or was it a dumb, de-empowering mess that rendered all of your character’s accomplishments meaningless?

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      Honestly, I’d prefer it if games relied less on the “chosen one” trope. It’s become quite tired by now, and it was refreshing (although perhaps not handled very well) to have someone else be the chosen one (mind you, your meeting with Tiber Septim before his assassination was apparently foretold in a dream he had?).

      1. Michael says:

        Yeah, but he had a history of prophetic dreams. The Neravarine getting sent to Morrowind was on his say so based on s dream, and (we can assume) there were many others. Which makes the player a lot less important. Uriel’s the one with the cool powers who’s been touched by fate, not the player. They’re just the royal gofer.

  25. I’ve always been curious what in God’s name prompted them to utilize what has to be the worst third party facial generation software I’ve ever seen for their game…but that’s not really what I think you were going for when ya gave that prompt.

    Side note: Apparently games are still using it today! Modern tripA shit son! The fucking SOULS series uses it! Baffling…

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      Three things you want a program to be are 1: Cheap, 2: Easy to use, and 3: Good. I assume this is either a pick two or pick one situation.

    2. Michael says:

      To be fair, I don’t think anyone’s ever looked at Dark Souls’ character generator, and managed to unleash something that doesn’t look like a horrific mutant from beyond the grave.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        Yes, but at least there it’s a feature.

    3. Raygereio says:

      Much like with things like levelscaling, or Gamebryo, gamers see a really poor execution of something and immediately jump to the conclusion that the problem is with the thing, instead how said thing was used.

      Yes, the faces in vanilla Oblivion were shitty. But that does not mean FaceGen is inherently shit. You can make good faces with FaceGen. Heck, you can make good faces in Oblivion. Though for starters you will need better textures.
      The problem with Oblivion’s faces was how Bethesda integrated FaceGen and what they did with it. And it wasn’t just a problem because the faces were ugly and/or weird looking. If I recall right, there was also problem where the engine couldn’t handle facial animations right and there would be a drop in performance. It’s why in the larger battles scenes, the NPCs are wearing masks. Bethesda seems to have fixed this for Skyrim though.

      1. Michael says:

        Not completely. Skyrim still rolls over and dies every time it tries to load more than about 50 NPCs into memory.

        1. Raygereio says:

          That’s a memory problem. Which was made worse with patch 1.9 when Bethesda broke something with how Skyrim handles memory. And then promptly cut patch support.

          The memory tweak incorporated into SKSE fixes that and provided you have enough RAM you can have hundreds of NPCs walking around. Though expect some serious performance issues once combat starts.

          1. Michael says:

            I thought the face animation issues in Oblivion were memory related as well. I mean, not, strictly, an overflow issue, but still.

            1. Raygereio says:

              If I recall right, it was a performance issue on the PC & XBox (and likely also a memory problem on the PS3).
              Something in how the facial animations worked caused the GPU to choke on the game. So if you had a ton of NPCs going from neutral go “grr, I’m angry!” faces at the start of combat, you’d have stuttering or even outright CTDs. New Vegas has the same problem pre patch 1.2.

              Mind, I could be remembering it wrong.

  26. nerdpride says:

    I actually bought Oblivion only recently (7$ with Shivering on humble indie bundle sale a couple weeks ago maybe). I guess I have a lot of the same complaints people had years ago. Not that it isn’t worth 7$ to me, I’m having some fun.

    Maybe if I were 10 years younger again I’d really like it. I guess in a couple years I’ll buy a new PC and then try Skyrim if I have some time.

    I wonder if I’d hate the combat there, too. One of the reasons I liked Morrowind is that you could just buy some scrolls with lots of frost damage to take out a few tough enemies and get some overpowered stuff early on if you know where to look. I don’t know what happens after that. Apprentice mage flower gathering? Playing with dolls? Some of the Oblivion quests do seem more exciting at least.

    If I asked Ruts a question, it’d be like “what is fun?” or something. We’ve talked a lot about the shortcomings of things and a little about uniqueness of each game and some of the good parts for each, but I’m looking for a grand unified theorem of what kind of thing I like. Go all Campster with the ludonarrative dissonance or something please. Or maybe I should ask him. Or maybe I’m the only one who can define fun for myself. Dunno.

    1. nerdpride says:

      I thought of a better question.

      Why can’t you save Patrick Stewart? I mean the Emperor, but the couple of times that I’ve gone through the start of the game, I really wanted to hear more from Patrick Stewart and/or Emperor. Disappointment with the game peaked right after he died.

      They could’ve done something neat with this for basically the same result, too. Like, if it took lots of effort from the player to save him and if there were multiple backup plans from the Mythic Dawn then people might let it slide more. The way the game sets up a scene and then takes away control can be really annoying.

      I’m not really complaining about the story. Maybe I think I like the story (just finished main quest last night). And some quests I’ve seen so far have neat writing.

      1. swenson says:

        Patrick Stewart costs money, I suspect.

      2. Michael says:

        If I’m remembering correctly, the idea was to give the world a sense of dynamic change going in. This happens with Uriel Septim getting snuffed in the opening to say, “hey, the world has just changed. You’re a witness to history, kid. Now go out there and save the world.”

        The game does this in other ways during the tutorial. Actual environmental changes, like secret passages and walls collapsing to allow access to new areas are fairly rare in the rest of the game, but the tutorial has at least 3 of them. Two in the first five minutes.

        We have a game where most plot critical characters can’t be killed, so let’s start it off by snuffing one right in front of you to mask that. It’s about setting the tone for how the game wants you to perceive it, rather than the game that actually exists.

  27. James says:

    Is the Dark Brotherhood quest in oblivion set in the manor house (i think its called summerhome) perhaps the single best quest Bethesda have ever made?

    And is Oblivions Dark Brotherhoos perhaps the best guild/group/faction beth have ever made?

    1. Michael says:

      The Agatha Christie quest? Yeah, that was pretty entertaining. I mean, it’s a pretty paint by numbers send up of And Then There Were None. But, it is enjoyable.

  28. Corran says:

    Just today I came across this:

    The Making of Oblivion –

    And there’s more:

    The Making of Fallout 3 –

    The Making of Fallout New Vegas –

    The Making of The Elderscroll V Skyrim –

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