The Altered Scrolls: Q&A, Part 2

By Rutskarn Posted Saturday Feb 27, 2016

Filed under: Elder Scrolls 78 comments

Gilfareth asked:

What I'd like to know is how you think Bethesda approached dual-wielding when they finally put it in, given they weren't too excited about it by your reckoning. I'm also curious how else they might've implemented dual-wielding if they'd have added it at other points in the franchise (what would dual-wielding in Morrowind have looked like without a janky mod to do it?)

I have no idea if they were enthusiastic about it or not. I think it only became a design priority because there was significant and consistent fan investment in the idea, but that doesn’t mean the devs didn’t have fun with it.

Dual wielding would have been antithetical to Morrowind‘s combat–fighting in that game, with its predictable strokes and static footwork and and grounded aesthetic, wouldn’t have allowed for the round arcs and balanced twirls that give dual wielding its balletic appeal. What’s more–and you can trust me on this–both attacks would have been keyed to the primary mouse button in a continuation of Morrowind‘s firm “nothing should feel particularly good” policy.

I’d argue it wasn’t until Oblivion that the game felt up to having two weapons at a time, and once that happened, there was no particular reason not to besides the development effort involved. Tell me it’s impractical to attack with two swords at once and I’ll point out that swinging a mace at an unarmored man, wielding a battle-axe with a head as big as a pig, and bringing a dagger to an ogrefight are all choices that are ludicrous by conventional martial logic–and key to heroic fantasy. Dual wielding feels individualistic and cool, and therefore heroic, and therefore as though it should be effective. Why shouldn’t it be?

Da Mage asked:

Unlike almost most RPG series, The Elder Scrolls has never really had a morality scale, and apart from quests in Morrowind, most quests only ever have a single solution. Would the next Elder Scrolls game benefit from such a system? Even if it was just a system that forced some player-choice to be designed in quests.

If you’ll indulge an anecdote:

When Arvind first demoed our game Unrest at a convention, he had people play as Tanya the peasant girl. Her chapter presents a singular problem with no easy solution and a dozen nested complications: how should she react when betrothed to her childhood bully? In addressing the issue Tanya is presented not only with various perspectives, options, and appeals to safety–economic, social, and physical–but the reality that nothing she can choose is safe and nothing she can do will make everyone happy. Somebody has to be disappointed. Somebody may get hurt. And if she’s really unlucky, none of it might matter at all.

One player sat down and worked through the introductory dialogues with apparent interest. Upon coming to the first real choice–the first chance to express an opinion on what Tanya is going through–he stopped. He read the dialogue choices a few times. He seemed surprised. Then he said to Arvind, “All of these seem reasonable. Just tell me which one’s Paragon.”

I don’t like morality systems.

I don’t have a problem with quests presenting one unambiguously good and one unambiguously evil solution. I don’t have a problem being told if I’ve made the “right” or “wrong” choice. Fantasy is as good a place as any to play with (or just wallow in) uncomplicated ideas of good and evil, so there’s no point getting snippy about karma meters in and of themselves. The real problem is that when you introduce to your game a prominent scale of Good and Evil, few titles resist the urge to make everything about that system. In other words: if your game only has Good and Evil points, every choice ends up being about Good or Evil. Never Honor or Compassion. Never Safety or Freedom. Never Happiness or Peace, Crunchy or Smooth, Love or Friendship. There’s nothing wrong with unity of theme, but if you’re not doing anything with that theme, interesting variety is usually preferable.

Bioware’s Paragon and Renegade were very conscious attempts to break out of the pigeonholing I’m talking about; the whole point was to replace one specific qualitative judgment with narrow scope and loaded definitions with a broader, murkier tension. While Good/Evil morality systems come down to helping others versus being selfish, Paragon and Renegade choices can manifest as a wide variety of political, personal, and tactical choices. Quest writers can come up with all kinds of varied situations and be confident Paragon/Renegade can be used to describe the player’s options–somehow. Which is the new major problem. The categories are so broad that almost nobody will identify completely with either label; someone taking each wacky new space opera situation in turn and choosing whatever feels best is unlikely to consistently support either brand. And it turns out, “not consistently supporting either brand” is something the game outright punishes by taking choices away from you.

If you make every decision in Mass Effect by acting however feels most natural for your character, you’ll end up with a weaker character than someone who makes all decisions based on which color the text is. You need to specialize in Paragon or Renegade to unlock all possible choices–and specializing specifically means ignoring the full range of possibilities already available to you. And even if this explicit warning not to betray the brand wasn’t incentive enough, the implicit message in color-coding the choices is that playing a consistent character means picking one consistently. If you present philosophy as a broad dichotomy, you encourage people to make exactly one choice very early on, and all subsequent times they reinforce that choice, whatever the circumstance, amount to rote confirmation. So, no, I’m not crazy about the idea of Bethesda adding this sort of thing to their games. It’s not needed to implement or enforce a policy of player empowerment.

Even setting my unquestionably crotchety feelings aside–I’m always happy to have branching quests, but Bethesda features these rarely or or else in severely limited capacities. I’m fine with that. Elder Scrolls games are mostly about exploration anyway–they used to be about exploration and actualizing a character through build, but the second part, while by no means absent, is minimized of late. I rarely feel that core experience is impacted when I do get to make an interesting decision, so there’s not a lot of point in wasting effort on it.

Da Mage also asked:

Has Bethesda starting using their combat as a crutch to avoid making content? As the combat systems as gotten better, more and more quests have devolved into dungeon slogs. Will this trend continue, or do you think they will move back towards more dialogue based quests again?

On reflection, I don’t agree–or at least I don’t agree with how the trend is perceived. Arena was all dungeon slogs and Daggerfall was the granddaddy of dungeon slogs. Morrowind had a lot of social quests because they were cheap and easy to make when you don’t need to hire voice actors or make NPCs move, but it, too, was well stocked in dungeon slogs. Only Oblivion had a lot of high-effort and interesting urban quests, and for all the crap I talked about its combat, I don’t think Bethesda shared my viewpoint–I think they were as cocky and prepared to lean on it then as they were with Skyrim. They probably felt like they could have made all of their quests dungeon crawls–but they didn’t.

Why did they focus on dungeons in Skyrim? Probably because they decided people liked those better.

Christopher asked:

Where do you think the next one is going to be set?

Before we answer that–probably the most pressing question on the fandom’s mind–it’s useful to look at how Bethesda approaches designing a gameworld.

Creating a setting from broad strokes to nitty-gritty details is a heroic proposition, especially when you’re coordinating hundred-plus unwieldy teams of artists, writers, game designers, and quest leads. You need to make sure all of the elements join into one cohesive whole–and you need to make sure that happens on time, difficult to do even when your gameworld coincidentally looks like the part of the world where your offices are located. If you’re wondering why more big-budget games don’t come up with crazy unique settings, this is why; even hiring creative people doesn’t guarantee they can share their vision with one another well enough to put out something that looks and plays well.

Post-Morrowind Bethesda’s approach to team coordination is straightforward and just a little bit disappointing: they find a few central big ideas, something the entire preposterously large team can rally around, and make almost everything speak to these elements. That’s why the setting for Fallout 1 is a pastiche of wild westerns, 1950s sci-fi, 1980s comics, 1990s grunge, terrible psychotropic post-apocalyptic B-movies from every era, and anthropologically focused 60s hard sci-fi–and then, once Bethesda got the project, the setting became a distinct striping of 1950s America and post-apocalyptic movies with “excessive patriotism” thrown in as the game-defining wildcard. It meant the game could grow much more practically complicated while feeling cohesive, but it also meant a lot of the subtlety, interplay, and potential for interesting contradiction was lost.

Similarly to Fallout 3, it isn’t hard to reverse-engineer Skyrim‘s palette: Viking north. Romans. Dragons. So much of the game’s mechanics, art direction, and story hinge critically on these three elements alone. If Bethesda is going to set TES6 in a place known for being bizarre and inscrutable, like Akavir, Valenwood, or Elsweyr, they would be very hard-pressed to make these places something other than the sum of a few carefully-chosen parts–and thus, inevitably, less novel than they should be. Nothing kills mystery and wonder like laborious repetition.

If forced to guess, I’d bet on TES6 being set in and around the Thalmor capital. I expect the core aesthetics to be those introduced in Skyrim, plus one carefully chosen fantasy or geographic element. My second guess is the Black Marsh–it’s a pretty easy-to-define location that has one established and overarching new element, the Hist, that everyone on the team can grasp and build around. I wouldn’t be super happy with either of these, but I would respect the company for working within its strengths–even though I think this is one area they could stand to improve.


From The Archives:

78 thoughts on “The Altered Scrolls: Q&A, Part 2

  1. Rutskarn says:

    I don’t normally talk about my Patreon on Shamus’ site, but if you’re looking to get into some of my fiction but don’t want to jump into a long series, I’ve just launched the first in what will be a three-times-monthly brand of Patreon-exclusive adventurer short stories with new characters and settings every issue.

    It’s called Dead Adventurers. The first story is already available to backers.

  2. Tuck says:

    Swinging any of these at an unarmoured man is ludicrous? I don’t follow your logic.

    1. Dave says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but my impression was that maces were mainly used as a way to damage soldiers in heavier armour, because the force of the blow would travel through plate/mail and still break bones, where a sword would bounce off, doing minimal damage.

      So I believe the logic is that against an unarmoured foe, you’re wielding something heavier than a sword (and thus slower and more tiring to use), but not actually getting any benefit over a sword, because you don’t need to do damage through your target’s nonexistent armour. Kind of like wielding two swords: sure, you can do some damage, and maybe win, but there were easier ways.

      1. Tuck says:

        A mace is more about simple weight and force, rather than specifically for busting through armour — they pre-date the production of armour for some thousands of years, after all. Low maintenance and production cost no doubt played a part later on, too, as maces can be cast and don’t need to be smithed. They are also easier weapons to use, and thus require less training.

        If you’re comparing them to a blade, a sword might often cut or slash but not disable (even if it cuts to the bone). A mace hit will often break bones because the force is concentrated in a smaller area.

        But my point is really that hitting an unarmoured man with a mace will still do more damage than hitting an armoured man with a mace.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          And slicing an unarmoured man ten times with a sword, before he can hit you once with his clumsy mace is still going to win you the fight.

          Plus, being unsmithed isn’t a property that only maces have. A simple axe is something that is:
          1. unsmithed
          2. uses less of that precious, expensive metal than a mace
          3. can be used for non-combat things after the fight

          1. Michael says:

            Well, that’s hyperbolic.

            It might not look like it, but maces were anything but “clumsy.” Actual warhammers were a little larger, and heavier, than the claw hammers you’ve got in your garage, and they would still, seriously, mess people up. Maces were a little heavier than that.

            The maces that Tuck linked are pretty agile weapons, or would have been in the right hands. More so than an axe, even.

            Think about it this way, if it was really that useless a weapon, to the point where someone couldn’t use it to kill their opponent, why would they keep making them?

            1. Kestrellius says:

              Well, because they’re useful against armor. I mean, not that I know that much about medieval warfare, but based on the lines of reasoning here, that would be the answer.

              1. Michael says:

                It’s not going to do anything to armor if you’d never live long enough to use it. Which is the fallacy I was responding to. I’m honestly not sure where the idea that maces were slow and ponderous comes from, but it keeps coming up.

                When you’re looking at a weapon, you need to ask the simple question of, “could I win a fight with this.” If it’s literally too heavy to get between you and an opponent who’s trying to turn you into human goulash, you might need to rethink it as a weapon.

                Which is why, when you do see the impractically heavy weapons, usually they were display pieces, designed to convey the idea that their owner was more badass than they actually are. Sorta like that friend/acquaintance/weirdo who keeps a Katana on their wall. …or that sawfish sword which was doing the rounds a few months ago.

                The idea that you’d use maces to get through armor? That was real. The idea that a mace would weigh more than a compact car, and crush armor like an empty soda can, if you could bring it to bare? Not so much.

      2. Syal says:

        Swinging it if you have it in your hand already is fine. Choosing to bring it instead of a faster weapon is suspect. Never using any other weapon is ludicrous. But generally if someone uses a mace in a fantasy setting, that’s the weapon they use in every situation.

        (Forget the sword, just take the mace’s head off and you have a metal pipe.)

        1. Somniorum says:

          Very much as Syal says – I don’t believe at all that Rutskarn’s point was that these weapons could not be effective killing-tools (even a dagger could kill an ogre potentially)… it’s just that, realistically, when people are expecting to fight certain foes, in certain forms of combat, they adopt different weaponry. Many different armies throughout history could easily have equipped their forces with loads of maces (and some did), but very many of them *didn’t* because these weren’t always that practical against the particular foes they believed they were going up against, or weren’t useful for the ways they organised their forces… or simply didn’t match the technology and materials they had available (look at the Hussite wars, fought mainly by peasants on the one side, who utilised a large amount of weaponry which was modified from farming implements, amongst some others).

          Similarly, aristocrats heading off to fight silly duels to the death with one another generally didn’t fight their duels with maces or, for that matter, pikes – they developed lighter weapons that were practical for unarmoured, fast, single opponents and fighting techniques that suited this situation.

          Or, more simply said – the right tool for the right job.

          1. vdeogmer says:

            Don’t forget, if your dagger is ogre-slaying, it will give you +9 against ogres.

          2. stratigo says:

            Ummm… A mace is a perfectly fine murder weapon. In fact, reality is probably opposite to what you think. A dagger is better than a mace for killing a dude in plate armor. You want to grapple and stick your easily maneuverable blade into a a gap in the armor more then you just batter away at the armor.

            1. guy says:

              No, maces are strongly preferred for use against heavy armor. Even when they can’t break the armor, the impact force still gets transmitted. Finding a gap to get a dagger through is a rather difficult prospect if your opponent is not obliging enough to hold perfectly still.

              1. IFS says:

                I think you missed the statement about grappling, while if you’re just hitting them then obviously a mace is preferable but it was a legitimate tactic (to the point of being included in martial arts manuals) to grapple an opponent wearing heavy armor and finish them with a dagger. Armor does restrict movement to an extent (which can make wrestling more difficult) and significant gaps (the armpit being a notable one) do exist.

                1. Echo Tango says:

                  So what’s the guy in armor doing while you’re trying to grapple him? Not slicing your neck with his sword? I’m assuming your ass is not in armour, because then he’d just be bashing you with his mace that he intelligently brought, while you clumsily try to grapple in bloody armour.

                  1. IFS says:

                    A sword or mace is too long to be used as effectively in a grapple, and of course you would be wearing armor yourself, it would be stupid not to. Now of course the dagger is not going to be your primary weapon (that would be just silly, it lacks reach among other problems), usually that would be a sword or perhaps a mace, but it wasn’t especially uncommon for armored combat to end in a grapple and your nice big sword isn’t going to do much in that when you can’t manage to properly swing it hence why you have your dagger.

                    1. Echo Tango says:

                      He’s not going to let you get into a grapple. He’s going to slice you open first, because he’s not using a stupid dagger.

                  2. IFS says:

                    Man you really aren’t getting the part about there being historical precedent for this. You can search around on the internet for it yourself if you don’t trust me.

                    (replying here because it won’t let me reply to your later message)

              2. Michael says:

                It really depends on the armor. The tighter the articulation, the less openings there are to poke holes in its wearer. But, the other side of this is, the tighter the articulation, the less freedom of motion the wearer has, and that is far more vital.

                Running a dagger, or even a sword tip, through the joints was a real thing. More than that, the dagger was the preferred method of executing fallen opponents. The idea was, you’d open up the bascinet, check the face, figure out if this was a noble that could be ransomed, or just some random dude, and then, if they weren’t worth ransoming, you’d snuff them.

                This is, incidentally where the idea that honorable combat requires you see your opponent face to face. It wasn’t about things being fair, it was just about making sure you didn’t accidentally wax someone who would be more valuable as ransom.

                All that said, yeah, the mace was specifically designed to deliver as much force through the armor as possible.

        2. But a sword has to be pretty heavy anyway in order to be an effective weapon, otherwise it can’t keep enough momentum to – er – do its awful and gruesome job properly. A mace is probably a bit heavier on average, but again – to be an effective weapon it can’t be too much heavier than a sword or else the person carrying it is going to end up being killed by someone who is unarmed because they’re more mobile and –

          I was going to start into a whole thing drawing on what little I remember about different types of weapon and what they were used for in different times and places, but honestly I think Rutskarn is pretty right where he’s said it runs counter to the type of power fantasy they’re trying to create in Elder Scrolls. If you want your player to feel good about travelling the land stabbing / arrowing guys, then you really want to steer clear of the realities of combat as much as possible.

          1. IFS says:

            Real weapons, swords included, are surprisingly lightweight compared to how they are often portrayed in games. Speed brings a lot more force to a blow than weight after all and soldiers would have to carry these things for a while so being too heavy would exhaust them quickly. Honestly I don’t think a mace would really be much heavier than a sword it would just have more of its weight in one spot (the mace head) as opposed to a sword which generally aims to be more balanced so as to be more able to cut.

            1. Joe Informatico says:

              Exactly right. Plus, swords weren’t just metal clubs or wedges, they were very sharp.

              1. Huh, people assume swords are heavier than reality? I grew up with plastic swords and until I’d encountered real ones I always assumed they were super light. Well there you go.

                1. Raygereio says:

                  That is the popular fiction view.
                  It’s same with armours. The general view is that it was super heavy and so bulky you couldn’t move in it. While in reality, the average modern soldier carries around about the same amount of weight. And – provided the armour was well-fitted – you could do cartwheels in it and certainly get into your saddle without having to be hoisted up by a crane.

                  These misconceptions seems to have started somewhere in the late 19th century. Personally I always liked the imagine of some out-of-shape renaissance historian trying to wear a plate armour, and then declaring all plate armour was rubbish because he couldn’t fit his far belly into one.
                  Basically it’s one of those “facts” that float around in the public consciousness that everyone blindly repeats, but are just plain wrong. Like how people thought the world was flat before columbus. Or that we use only 10% of our brain. Stuff like that.

                  1. Michael says:

                    Actually, you’re almost exactly on point for that. A lot of the perceptions for the weight of swords and armor does come from antiquarians picking up examples and extrapolating.

                    Not so much in the, being unable to cram themselves into it, but having difficulty moving around? That happened.

                    The second part, specifically with swords, were antiquarians looking at parade swords, and thinking these were representative of blades as a whole.

                    Parade swords were highly ornate, and generally impractical weapons designed specifically to look good while on display. They do get into the 20lb range, but, they were also never intended for use in combat. They’re the medieval equivalent of a gold plated AK; showy, but not the kind of thing you’d actually want to take into combat.

                2. IFS says:

                  Oh yeah, especially with regards to video games. Just look at how much Skyrim’s different weapons and armors weigh for example with the clear upward trend of heavier = better. Plus you get absolutely giant weapons shown off in some fiction which only adds to the perception.

      3. Joe Informatico says:

        It might transfer concussive force through mail armour. Plate not so much. The use of a mace or hammer there is as a can opener. Sword blades won’t cut through plate armour, and later plate got really good at deflecting arrows, bolts, and thrusting weapons, so a variety of other methods arose to deal with plate armour: specialized polearms with hooks and points and hammers, knocking the guy down and trying to force a Rondel dagger into the gaps of his armour, or bashing at his plates with a mace or hammer until it caved in and made a hole. Of these options, the mace and hammer could be wielded from horseback, hence their popularity with knights and men-at-arms.

        (In extremis, a longsword could be used as a hammer–e.g., wield the sword by the blade and bash the enemy with the crossguard–or the wielder could use half-swording: grab it by the blade and hilt and use it like a dagger or short spear to try and stab in gaps. But one of the other options would be preferred.)

        Maces weren’t actually much heavier than swords, it’s just that almost all the weight was in the head, while a sword’s weight was distributed more closely towards the wielder’s hand. Thus maces and hammers could deliver much harder blows, but they weren’t as nimble in the hand (recovering from a mace swing takes a bit longer than recovering from a sword thrust or cut) and they weren’t very good for defense–no crosspiece or hand guard. You wouldn’t want to wield one unless you had very good gauntlets and arm protection, and if you’re wearing that much armour, you’re probably expecting to face opponents with similar armour, and that’s why you need a mace. If you’re not expecting to face armoured opponents, you’d carry a sword, because it’s better against unarmoured enemies and you can comfortably carry it at your side. It’s harder to just wear a mace at your hip all day because it’s not very comfortable.

        1. Tuck says:

          Everyone here is talking about medieval combat. Maces entered combat a long time before swords or armour existed, in the form of stone mace-heads. My point was simply that the use of maces against unarmoured opponents is not, as Rutskarn asserted, “ludicrous by conventional martial logic”.

      4. Avenger93 says:

        ok we need to stop with the friggin “maces were made to bust up armor” falacy. Yes, they are effective at that role, in some capacity (more on that later). You also know what? Maces have existed for centuried before even the first bronze armor was a thing that existed. Why? Because caving someone’s skull in tends to be a preety definitive end to said someone. Also because combat is not allways about killing you enemies, but sometimes you want them captured, and a sword can’t do much capturing jimmy. A mace to the leg on the other hand … good luck trying to run after that. The reason swords became a thing is because they started as status symbols. A mace can literaly be a rock strapped to a stick, it was a crude buy effective weapon, where a sword spoke of wealth and importance. As warfare started evolving and it became evident that the best tactic was ironicaly not running into arms reach of your oponent to stab/cut/hit him with any blunt implement, but rather poke him dead from meters away with a large pointy stick, while also preferably having a shield to protect from those pesky cowardly archers, it also dawned on humanity that no mattter how well disciplined the spearwall, by laws of averages someone will make it through it, or the spears will eventualy be broken. So the need for a shorter weapon that worked like a spear appeared. Enter the stabbing short sword. But all this time maces never left the picture of warfare as the cheap weapon of the grunts and what you bust out when you want a new batch of slaves captured. Even though armor wasn’t really a concern at the time (even roman plate was just a torso piece, the arms and legs were easily cut-able and the neck had 0 protection). Maces did surge to the fore as a preferable side-weapon (or even main weapon) when armor technology got to the point of the full chainmail and plate armor, however an important distinction is needed here: The war-maces of medieval times were not really the blunt instruments of old times. They more resembled a mining pick than anything. And you know why? Because this might shock you, but remember those suits of full plate? yeah you don’t wear one over street clothes. You wear one over a layer of wool padding and leather which you wear over a set of cloth overalls. And guess what the cushiony leather padding does to impacts. Yeah it absorbs disipates them. Maces as the normal person imediatly visualises one (large round ball of metal on stick) were surprisingly bad at dealing with an armored foe. You could stagger him with a blow to the head, sure, but that worked if you hit his head with anything. What became popular in those times was the war-pick (esentialy a mining pick with one of the sharp arms removed) because it focused the impact and was esentialy a piercing weapon rather than a blunt one. Blunt force trauma was still the domain of capturing and maiming, while the true force of killing was still to pierce you oponent from as far away as possible and swords were still perhaps the least effective tool of the battlefield and again more status than anything else. It’s fun to think of swords as such a widespread weapon and imagine them as the definitve mainstay of profesional troops in medieval times because hollywood loves them and they look pleasing. And it’s funny to also see maces as a slow brutish weapon of the savage barbarian to be put down by our glorious knight in this week’s latest medieval fantasy film. But the reality is a bit more … shall we say uncinematic? First off, maces never weighed more than a sword. If anything, most maces weighed less than a sword of similar lenght. Why? Either the haft was wood which lowered weight considerably or the haft was metal but hollow, which again lowered weight considerably. Where a sword is basicaly one giant slab of metal with some wodden bits for the handle. Most longsword weight somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5 to 2 kgs with claymores going up to 3 kgs and two-handers going as high as maybe 4 kgs tops for battlefield weapons, while an average mace is a 1kg maybe 1.5kgs tops head and pommel with a irrelevant haft. Food for though huh? Maces are lighter than a sword, but they are hobbling weapons rather than straight killing ones and as a strictly defensive tool worse at that (no crossguard to protect your hands and catch an enemy blade). And they were just as effective versus armored targets simply because armor was not something you slapped on your naked skin, you had to wear a quite significantly thich layer of leather and wool padding underneath it, with cloth overalls underneath that which means the impact force of a normal mace may dent the metal of the armor, but all you would wind up with was maybe a bruise. Ok, aditedly more than a sword bouncing off harmlessly, but still not a relevant battlefield injury. What did make maces and blunt weapons in general relevant as armor killers was not their ability to kill you oponent. It was the ability to damage his armor, dent the joints so they restrict his movement, make tears and holes into it, than you then exploited with a short fast staby weapon (like say a shortsword or a dagger) to poke him dead. The one armor type maces did work wonders against was the far lighter chainmail armor, which did not require the same supporting leather undersuit a plate did and thus was generaly worn over only thin cloth or maybe leather underclothes, which meant not much was there to stop the full impact of the mace.

  3. Sarachim says:

    “. . .terrible psychotropic post-apocalyptic B-movies from every era. . .”

    Mad Max would like to have a terse, emotionless word with you.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The Canadian Film Nerd Society* presents: A non-comprehensive list of films whose influence is felt in Fallout 1 that aren’t Mad Max: A Written List: Part One:
      – Teenage Caveman
      – Night of the Living Dead
      – Le Dernier Combat
      – Fist of the North Star
      – Hardware
      – Akira
      – Cherry 2000
      – Hell Comes to Frogtown
      – Death Race 2000

      * Canfinersoc, for short.

      1. Doc says:

        Ahem: A Boy and His Dog, would like to speak with you…

  4. Content Consumer says:

    “I wouldn't be super happy with either of these”

    What then would your preference be? Anything in particular you’d like to see, and/or anything in particular you’d like not to see?

    1. Corsair says:

      My ideal would be Hammerfell for the initial release, with a major expansion covering a Redguard invasion of the Summerset Isles. (Naval combat strongly approved of.)

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        In Favor. The Redguards are my favorite. Alas, they’re probably low on the list because “Redguard” is already a game.

        1. Fists says:

          I think Hammerfell is one of the more likely, Redguard wasn’t a major game and it wasn’t recent. I would rule out the homes of the beast races, not having many human faces around probably wouldn’t work with the move towards ‘accessibility’ . Valenwood, well the only way to write a story about a hobbit is to get them as far away from the shire as possible. I think High Rock and the Summerset isles are too small and densely populated, they’d have to put in more development of urban areas which isn’t great in the gamebryo engine. Plus it would be harder to make it “The biggest game yet!”.

          Hammerfell makes a good setting for outlaws and regional conflict, the base population is human but having a mix of races won’t go against the setting and they share borders with the two most recent games so there’s plenty of room for cameos and references.

          That said, I would prefer to see more of the beast races, maybe conflict across the Elsweyr/Cyrodil/Black Marsh border so there’s variety and human faces.

          1. Content Consumer says:

            You might be right about Elsweyr and Black Marsh re beast races vs. men and mer, but there are a lot of good possibilities there nonetheless.

            Valenwood is also a strong possibility in my opinion, mostly because someone at Bethesda really likes cannibalism and insists on including it in all their games of late. :)

            You’re also probably right about High Rock too, and particularly about the drive to make bigger and bigger areas to traverse (not incidentally spreading content just a little thinner each time).

            For me, I honestly don’t care much, as long as it’s southerly. Black Marsh, Elsweyr, Valenwood, even Summerset Isle would do for me – at least, that’s how I feel right now, in the midst of winter, hoping for a warmer climate.

          2. Blackbird71 says:

            “…the only way to write a story about a hobbit is to get them as far away from the shire as possible.”

            To be fair, the shire is a rather boring place, and hobbits as a rule are rather boring people. The whole point about the stories about hobbits is to take a rather ordinary individual out of what is comfortable and familiar and toss them into an adventure.

            Given the descriptions we have of Valenwood, Blackmarsh, Elsweyr, etc., I doubt that any of them could be characterized as “boring’ or “comfortable,” and to a human player, they would be anything but familiar, making them prime ground for adventures.

            Not that I expect any of these settings to be used for a TES game any time soon, but I seriously doubt that being unable to tell an interesting story in those regions to be a significant obstacle.

          3. Ahiya says:

            “the only way to write a story about a hobbit is to get them as far away from the shire as possible”.

            The genres of romance, murder mystery, social farces, literary stories and fight-against-nature adventures all argue that you are very wrong.

            The only way to write a story about a hobbit that conforms to the genre expectation of murder-hoboing across the land is to get the hobbit out of the shire, true, but frankly I’d be ecstatic for a AAA RPG that doesn’t revolve around a murder-hobo going dungeon-diving and ax-murdering.

        2. Content Consumer says:

          Oh, I don’t know… Solstheim was already an expansion, and they made a new one anyway…
          Granted, an expansion is not a game, but still I think it’s certainly a possibility.

        3. Michael says:

          Also the complaints about the Alik’r in ESO probably aren’t doing Hammerfell any favors for being the next setting.

  5. Da Mage says:

    On reflection, I don't agree”“or at least I don't agree with how the trend is perceived. Arena was all dungeon slogs and Daggerfall was the granddaddy of dungeon slogs.

    Oh yeah….I guess I completely forgot about how Dungeon focused Arena and Daggerfall was. Though Arena did have some escort and ‘take this item to this person’ sidequests that didn’t involve dungeons……though I wouldn’t say anyone played it for those quests. I don’t want to talk about Daggerfall dungeons….they chewed me up and spit me out….better that I forgot those experiences.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Having suffered through Daggerfall,I like the way Bethesda “fixed” dungeons by making them all loops rather than requiring you to backtrack after reaching the goal. A mix of clever design and a complete immersion destroying move at the same time…

      1. IFS says:

        They could just as easily have let us fast travel out of dungeons (or give us back the ‘warp to shrine’ spells from Morrowind) to solve the problem in a way that doesn’t break immersion. Hell if they really wanted to restrict exiting until you’d reached the end of the dungeon they could just disable fast travel until you’d cleared the dungeon (since they do track whether or not a dungeon is cleared anyways in Skyrim).

        1. Tizzy says:

          This sounds like a solution I can get behind. Great idea!

  6. Vect says:

    I can’t really see Black Marsh and Elsweyr as being the main locales of future Elder Scroll games since as the homelands of the Beast Races, they seem like they would easily alienate the mainstream audience that Bethesda seems to be targeting. I’m personally guessing either the Summerset Isles or perhaps a revisit to older locales to keep the games focused on the humanoid races.

  7. Mousazz says:

    Uhh… Ruts? You accidentally filed this Q&A as “Random” rather than “Elder Scrolls”.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      (Picks up d20: On a 1, I write about Elder Scrolls. On a 2…)

  8. Slothfulcobra says:

    I liked Bioware’s first attempt to break free of standard morality systems with Jade Empire better than Mass Effect’s. That was at least more consistent.

    1. Hector says:

      How is Jade Empire consistent? They *literally* couldn’t decide if Closed Fist was a deep philosophical endeavor to self-mastery through conflict and enlightenment as distinction of the being from the world, or kicking puppies.

      OK, I’m partly joking. The idea was awesome, but the follow-through just wasn’t quite there. By dividing the world into two philosophies, they ended up sticking any morally-bad action in the “evil” philosophy bin. Whereas, ironically there’s a real question about which philosophy is actually the bad one.

      1. Kylroy says:

        So much this. Especially when the core conflict is set off by a king attacking and seizing divine power to end a drought that was destroying his kingdom. Attacking the gods is an act of major hubris…but if the alternative is having thousands of people die, could it be justifiable? But he just ends up being an evil jerk with more evil jerks rounding out the villains.

      2. bloodsquirrel says:

        Sadly, your “partly joking” representation of the closed fist is still more coherent than whatever paragon/renegade was supposed to be. Open hand/closed fist had, just for starters, the advantage of being an actual in-universe philosophy.

        I mean… did Bioware know what those two words meant? You can’t just be “paragon”. You have to be a paragon of something, but the setting never gives us what that something is. There’s no code of honor or prime directive set up for us to be paragoning for or renegading against. Paragon/renegade was at its most coherent when it boiled down to “sensible person” or “idiot jerk”. The rest of the time it was completely arbitrary.

      3. Trevel says:

        I actually remember a good number of places where they gave three options: Open Fist, Closed Fist, and Jerk.

        Except Jerk gave you closed fist points, too, which broke the whole mechanic.

        1. Lachlan the Mad says:

          Although there is a subtle dig against CF players at some of those points. You can’t unlock the Viper style (the unique CF style) unless you specifically choose “Closed Fist” above “Jerk”.

          Yeah, not the best excuse, I know.

  9. Hector says:

    The more you talk about these, the less fun the games seem. But that may be because the whole series seems like it’s been, and being, boiled down to something which might not be the lowest-common denominator, but is at least pretty low and pretty common. if I were going to explain the change, it’s that however, janky, the games once were something that people made because it seemed fun. Now they are profit generators, and they are inevitably going to end up being something approachable for everyone but necessarily distinctive in any way.

    Then again, while I’m enjoying Fallout 4, I also can’t help but see the weird and unnecessary compromises. And I’m considering closely whether or not it’s realy worth buying any AAA release ever again. I quit all EA or Ubisoft games, more or less dropped Squeenix, and got badly burned by CA. So what’s actually left now?

    1. Kaspar says:

      CD Projekt RED.
      Playing through Witcher 3 at the moment, and its awesome.

      I agree that Bethesda games have been totally watered down. Sure, combat and graphics are good, but everything else feels boring and dumbed down. The sandbox is so shallow now there’s scarcely any sand left. Maybe the right total conversion mod could salvage things.

    2. Ahiya says:

      Come to the indie dark side! We may not have cookies, but game prices are much cheaper and the games are more unique.

  10. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I don’t mind the Elder Scrolls lacking a morality system. I do wish they’d give a little flexibility in the quests. My first character in Skyrim was a Redguard who came to Skyrim to kill Thalmor. As it went along, I decided that a more general hatred of being enslaved would mean he wouldn’t accept help or bonds from Daedra, either.

    Yet there are several quests where you have to do what the Daedra want, and there’s no way to back out of it. You can’t even gripe about it.

    It annoyed me especially in the first DLC, the name of which I can’t remember -the one where you go to the Island from Morrowind’s DLC, because the Daedric bond is plot required, and again -you can’t back out of the conversation.

  11. Decius says:

    I played the Tanya chapter over and over just trying to get an outcome I found acceptable.

    I never succeeded. It was far more interesting than if there had been a good solution.

    1. Tizzy says:

      I love that in a game. I wish more designers understood the power a story like this can have.

  12. stratigo says:

    I am banking on hammerfall being the next province. They mention Hammerfall incessantly in Skyrim

    1. Hector says:

      With music by special guest band Hammerfell?

    2. Kalil says:

      Yah, but the most-mentioned province in Oblivion is Black Marsh, iirc, with pretty much no mention at all of Skyrim, so…

  13. Christopher says:

    So, follow up question. When talking about how they’re going to set it, do you think Bethesda is actually capable of finding a central theme and doing it well?

    For example…what was the central theme of skyrim? What about Fallout 4? One could argue in fallout 4 it’s “family” but I’m not entirely sure about that.

  14. Abnaxis says:

    If you are still taking questions, could you talk about how mods have changed as the Elder Scrolls series has worn on, and how they have changed the appeal of the game itself?

    My impression of mods is that they have become more and more consolidated when it comes to gameplay-changing mods (because there are fewer mechanics to toy around with) for later entries–with the vast majority of players using Frostfall or RND, but nowhere near the magic or balancing overhauls I remember from Oblivion–but at the same time there is a burgeoning crap-ton of cosmetic mods for Skyrim.

    I wonder if all the streamlining done in Beth games has made modding more approachable to users? I’m not a big fan, but I wonder if others consider this a good thing?

    1. Da Mage says:

      Unfortunately not. Each new Bethesda game has even more complex modding tools. In Morrowind you’d open up a level and see how everything was was pretty easily. Now If you open up a skyrim level there is a mess of stuff that the level needs (for AI, lighting, quest markers etc) that take a while to understand. Sometimes on quest dungeons there will be so many markers that you cannot even see the level geometry properly.

      And the AI pathing tools (know as navmesh) is now just a pain to make, as it needs to be so much more complex for the AI to work properly. Back in oblivion you just put in some markers defining routes, now in fallout 3/skyrim you have to build 3D meshes (within the Modding tools) that define where cover is, where the AI can move etc etc.

      I was around in the hayday of Oblivion modding, and i can easily say that Skyrim and Fallout 3 modding never got close to the same heights. Bethesda never release 3d model exporting scripts (the modders have to reverse engineer the file formats), give almost no instructions on how the modding tools work and to often break all mods with every DLC update. Not ot mention they have a tendency to never patch the modding tools when there is a bug.

      For a company that has built a reputation on how moddable their games are, they actually just dump a striped down version of the dev tools and ignore it. Hoping the delay on Fallout 4 modding tools is because they are going to put some effort in this time…

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Right, but then you have people (a LOT of people) who have put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours in Skyrim, and my impression is that a lot of those hours have come about because mods keep it interesting. But that strikes me as odd, because there is SO much less you can do with mods now compared to before.

        From my standpoint as a player and as someone who tried to make a mod once for Skyrim, I don’t like it–but can you argue with results like that? Maybe making mods such a damn pain in the ass to create has cut down on the barrier of entry for new users-of-mods such that it’s actually increased how many people use them?

  15. I really disliked the implementation of dual-wielding in Skyrim because it did something that I think any game designer should avoid at nearly any costs–it changed which button did what. With any other melee attack configuration Mouse 1 is attack and Mouse 2 is block. With dual-wielding, Mouse 1 is attack and Mouse 2 is other attack. There is no block.

    I got so fed up with this that I actually downloaded a mod that instituted dual-wield blocking by making Mouse 1 alternate your attacks somewhat randomly. It worked fine. It was so much better than the original design.

    Takeaway: I’d rather have semi-random behavior than have to remember that different buttons do different things situationally. Because I DON’T. I always, always use ONE mode more of the time and I just flat out can never remember that the other mode exists. It takes too much effort to remember during a fight.

    1. Supah Ewok says:

      I found that thinking of it as “right-hand” and “left-hand” worked much better than “attack” and “block.” Which is consistent across melee weapons and magic, although for ranged weapons it break down into “fire” and “zoom/aim.” That’s a really common FPS convention, though.

      1. Rack says:

        Which is great except the default mapping was left click right hand, right click left hand. When I changed that it was much more intuitive.

        1. Tizzy says:

          This is what happens when you develop for both keyboard-mouse and controller. The controller does the intuitive thing, but I can understand why you would flip it on the mouse: left click is a lot more comfortable than right click.

  16. Dev Null says:

    if your game only has Good and Evil points, every choice ends up being about Good or Evil. Never Honor or Compassion. Never Safety or Freedom. Never Happiness or Peace, Crunchy or Smooth, Love or Friendship.

    Now I’m imagining a game with a 16-dimensional morality graph including all of the above. My head hurts. There’s an axis for that too.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      If it’s that complicated, you don’t use a graph, just a bunch of numbers.

      Pillars of Eternity has a system where you can gain a reputation for a variety of factors like ‘aggressive’, ‘benevolent’, and ‘honest’. So if you develop honesty, some people will believe you without you needing to supply evidence. If you develop aggression, people might be afraid of you.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I was going to ask what a modern game would look like if it chose to keep track of a bunch of different traits, and then you beat me to the punch. Good to know some developers care about this stuff! :)

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I guess Ultima setting has, theoretically, an eight axes system between virtues and their counterparts? Though they are neatly grouped into good and evil sets of eight and I don’t think the games have really explored various possible outcomes and primarily focused on oppositions. The real problem isn’t in making enough axes, it’s in making a system where they can all interact in a meaningful way (especially if we’re talking vidyagames that need to have all the content pre-created). D&D has just two axes, with five extra reference points created by making neutrality a valid option, and generally D&D based video games struggle to include alignments in a meaningful way (typically focusing on the good-evil axis).

  17. bloodsquirrel says:

    I’ll repeat what I’ve said before about morality systems:

    The lightside/darkside meter in KOTOR makes sense because it’s both a central theme of the setting *and* an in-universe phenomenon. The renegade/paragon is neither of those things, and has never really made sense.

    The important thing is to recognize what your game’s choices are about. People lump a broad range of concepts under ‘choice’, but there are different kinds that serve different functions. Some choices are designed to be interesting “what is the right thing to do?” kinds of questions. Some choices are just designed to give the player freedom. Some choices are there to let the game show that it responds to them, to give the player the sense that what he does *matters*.

    The “here’s a tricky morality question” types of choices and morality meters don’t mix. The entire point was that you were trying to make the decision *not* easily boil down to good/evil. Telling the player “btw, you did the evil thing” afterward is counterproductive.

    Morality systems work great with “freedom to dick around” types of choices. Fable wasn’t (mostly) concerned with hard moral questions. It was about rolling through town and killing everyone you saw if that’s what you wanted to do. It was also about being as responsive to player behavior as possible, and would have been almost non-functional without a morality meter to help give some consequences to your actions.

    I’m fine with morality systems when they actually represent something. Baldur’s Gate had a “reputation” mechanic, which served an actual purpose: it let the game give a broad response to the player being either particularly evil or particularly good. Good party members would leave your party if your reputation got too low. Fallout’s karma meter served the same function. Those work because they’ve got a very specific scope, rather than being some sort of broad meta-judgment on player behavior.

    But you can also make an RPG work fine without them. They’re not the only tool in your chest for validating player choices. The Witcher 3 wouldn’t have been improved with a morality meter; Geralt’s behavior is already most set on a position on the good/evil scale, and it’s more a question of how he goes about things. The game responds on a more granular level to individual choices.

    So I guess I don’t see why Elder Scrolls needs a morality meter. It wouldn’t be based on any existing theme or element of the setting. It would involve the kinds of choices that the game doesn’t usually let you make, aside from stealing or attacking townsfolk. It would require a kind of responsiveness to it that’s at odds with the games’ largely static content (“So you’re telling me that you just about single-handedly won the war for Ulfric, killed the dragon that was going to destroy the work, you’re the archmage, and you’re currently dressed in armor that you crafted yourself out of dragon bones and carrying daedric weapons? Pft, whatever, noob, this is the Brave Companions! You’re basically crap until you’ve done a quest or two for us.”).

    At most, I could see them expanding their bounty system a bit. Make it a bit harder to keep paying off fines, so that maybe you eventually have to deal with just being an outlaw and treated as such. That could even be worked into the story or local setting.

  18. Ander says:

    Viewing the fantasy genre across media, what does the Elder Scrolls series offer the audience–what itch does it scratch–that cannot be satisfied by a Dragon Age or, in other forms, a LotR? This is from someone who does not enjoy Elder Scrolls games but does enjoy Dragon Age-style games and LotR in print and movie.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      In essence? Freedom. Dragon Age is set in its’ story, you are a Grey Warden/Hawke/The Inquisitor and your trials and tribulations in order to save the World/That town/the World is what defines those games. The Elder Scrolls, meanwhile, has no problem with you running off and turning yourself into a collector of wolf pelts in Cheydinal or the nightly Streaker of Whiterun. The main story is there if you want to play it, but it is a very small part of the game (some 10% maybe of overall content, if you are being generous) and the world is yours to play around in.

      There is no other game that gets even close to the level of player freedom that Bethesda offers. Yes, all that freedom also means the game is more shallow, but the freedom to just walk where you want and see what you find more then makes up for it for those of us that like the series. For many the mods also take care of that shallowness.

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