Experienced Points: Bethesda Doesn’t Need a New Engine

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Nov 21, 2018

Filed under: Column 126 comments

My column this week is about Bethesda’s reputation as a bug factory and why replacing their game engine wouldn’t fix that.

Bethesda Doesn’t Need a New Engine

This is not to say their engine couldn’t use some work. Their stealth AI is embarrassing by today’s standards. Their physics engine is prone to ridiculous mishaps. The level-load that happens between interior and exterior locations is pretty anachronistic. The triggers for starting quest events and conversations feel like they’re governed by a random number generator. And of course the games have always been prone to crashes.

And then there are the problems that aren’t really the fault of the engine, but are nevertheless pervasive in their games. The texture resolutions are hilarious inconsistent in a way that wastes tons of graphics memory but also leaves important scenery looking blurry. The heads all look like potatoes. Sound levels are random and many locations lack a soundscape.

And so on.

The important thing is that there’s no point in attempting to modernize their engine without first addressing the systemic problems with their development process. Honestly, if anyone else ever figured out to make a Skyrim-esque experience Bethesda could find themselves in serious trouble. The only reason they get away with this is because they’re the only studio that can offer this kind of gameplay.

 


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126 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Bethesda Doesn’t Need a New Engine

  1. Infinitron says:

    Other studios are already creeping on Bethesda’s turf. They are’t hitting the same numbers yet, but if they keep at it they’ll eventually get there.

    Bethesda has a really strong first-mover advantage because they were making these games back when everybody else was still trying to produce WoW and CoD killers, but nothing lasts forever…

    1. Redrock says:

      Other studios are already creeping on Bethesda’s turf. They are’t hitting the same numbers yet, but if they keep at it they’ll eventually get there.

      Not really, no. No-one does that sort of interactivity on such a grand scale, and no one is actually trying to make it, as far as I cant tell. Open-world games? Sure. Lots of interesting quests? Of course. Great writing? You betcha. But being able to pick up every piece of clutter and build a junk pyramid atop an NPC’s head? No one does that, except for Bethesda. I mean, Divinity kinda sorta comes close, but they draw a lot more inspiration from tabletop RPGs. Bethesda’s offering is still completely unique and would likely remain that way.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        That’s still true of their older games, but Fallout 76 doesn’t even have NPCs. And Fallout 4 is only a couple steps from being a mediocre Far Cry game. Not sure when they’re planning to make a new Elder Scrolls that isn’t just an MMO expansion. They seem to be headed in the direction of every other survival crafting multiplayer sandbox in existence, and even the early access indie titles in that genre are improving rapidly. They’re moving further from their own niche and toward things that are already popular.

        1. Fallput 76 doers have NPCs, just not any human ones. Recordings and notes and robot NPCs are the quest dispenseres from what people have said so far..

          Also. I don’t mind crafting stuff. I’d love to build my own castle and surrounding town in Elder Scrolls 6.

          One of thew expansions of Dragon Age Origins let you “rule” in a throne as a Grey Warden and do some fort/castle improvements.
          Pathfinder Kingmaker while a broken mess let you build a town/citadel, and rule as a king.

          If Elder Scrolls starts you off with nothing and let you gain titles and ranks and build from a small hut to a fort and castle and small town and take the surrounding lands, I would go nuts for that.

          1. Jabberwok says:

            Not saying that building a castle isn’t fun, but the point is that you will find an increasingly vast number of games that let you do that. And Bethesda is following the trend. This seems likely to put them in competition with more and more similar games. You can already find dozens of open world fantasy crafting games on Steam. Of course, there are so far a lot fewer on console, but I imagine that will change. And while crafting and building games may be less common on console, there are still more and more high quality, simulationist open world games, like the new Zelda, Phantom Pain, or any Far Cry game.

            Basically, Bethesda is moving away from the one thing they’ve been good at for decades (massive, detailed single player RPGs in persistent worlds) in order to follow the herd that grazes in the wake of Minecraft. They aren’t going to be able to set themselves apart from the competition as much as they used to.

            Of course, it may be that that won’t matter for a long while. Larger budgets and brand recognition could keep them riding along on their own coattails for years to come.

            1. Gethsemani says:

              The thing is really that Bethesda’s flagship titles are not really ditching anything while moving to implement popular features. Ever since Oblivion, the flagship titles have become more expansive, with more gameplay options, but very rarely have they taken features out (and let’s not have the “it is dumbed down”-discussion, while features have changed they have not been removed). Fallout 4 is pretty much unique in that you can do all the traditional Bethesda stuff, ie. roam an open world, follow a main quest, get a ton of faction quests from various factions, build a pile of light bulbs four stories high etc., but you can also build settlements with a relatively powerful tool that is more at home in a survival game then an open world RPG.

              Bethesda shines at this. Apart from Rockstar, no one delivers the kind of massive open worlds that Bethesda gives us, and Bethesda are the masters of the playground open world. No game gives you the freedom to mess around in the open world while providing meaningful content the way Bethesda games do. Fallout 76 should not be seen as another flagship title, rather it should be considered a game like Elder Scrolls Online, an ambitious off-shoot of Bethesda’s main fare. In that perspective, Bethesda are not really slipping, they just made a relatively poor side project, ambitious though it might have been.

              1. Jabberwok says:

                Morrowind came out in 2002, Oblivion in 2006, and Skyrim in 2011. No new flagship title in the series since then. If we do not consider other entries to be their actual games, I suppose you are partially right. But in my opinion, games like Fallout 76 and ESO suggest a gradual change in priorities. Especially when taken together with the changes that have been made in their flagship titles….

                “Ever since Oblivion, the flagship titles have become more expansive, with more gameplay options, but very rarely have they taken features out (and let’s not have the “it is dumbed down”-discussion, while features have changed they have not been removed).”

                I realize your parenthetical was an attempt to head this off, but I don’t think this is true. The Elder Scrolls series has gradually been gutted of what makes it an RPG rather than, say, an ARPG or a crafting game. And comparing Fallout 3 to 4 sees similar changes in design. Oblivion has a great deal less dialogue than Morrowind, and Skyrim has even fewer dialogue choices than its predecessor. Fallout 4 switched over to Mass Effect’s abysmal dialogue wheel. Skyrim removed all but 3 character statistics, and completely removed any interplay between stats and skills. I didn’t play Morrowind, but any one I know who did saw Oblivion as a step backwards in the RPG department. Skyrim included only a small fraction of the spells available in Oblivion, and removed the ability to create spells yourself.

                Call this change, or dumbing down, or removing, or whatever, doesn’t matter. They are moving towards simplifying RPG mechanics. Considering that every AAA game now feels the need to _add_ RPG mechanics, we’re getting closer to the point where these two design philosophies meet and become the same thing. Sure, we can say that there is still dialogue in Fallout 4. It hasn’t technically been removed. But it has certainly changed to be more like its competition.

                Bethesda used to make persistent, reactive, contiguous RPGs (emphasis on the RP). It’s possible that they still will. Maybe they’ll put out another ES game eventually that will make me change my opinion. I doubt it. Until then, what they do put out looks like a priority shift to me. And as it’s getting easier and easier for small developers to deliver open world gameplay, I find that there are an increasing number of ways to get my fix of whatever it was ES used to provide.

                “No game gives you the freedom to mess around in the open world while providing meaningful content…”

                “…meaningful content…”

                Just going to point out that this is highly subjective. As I said earlier, well-crafted open worlds are no longer a rarity in the AAA space. It’s not just Bethesda and Rockstar. We’ve got franchises like Just Cause, Far Cry, Zelda, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Monster Hunter, Metal Gear Solid, etc. And all of those have much better low-level gameplay than anything Bethesda has ever put out. ES and Beth’s Fallout have always been mediocre action games in the best of times. Whether they still provide more meaningful content is hard to say.

                1. I like Skyrim and it’s Heartfire DLC, same with Fallout 4 and it’s settlement stuff. But apparently I’m liking it wrong?

                  Bethesda always changes stuff for each game, testing stuff out. Is it possible that maybe you outgrew BGS’ games?
                  You mention Zelda several times here, but myself I find Zelda boring and childish with flat textures everywhere, never saw the appeal. It was (is?) also a Nintendo exclusive and I don’t do console stuff anyway.

                  I’m hoping we get to make a starbase and partly design our own ship in Starfield (I doubt we’ll have space combat with it, it’ll be more like KoTOR’s player ship), they won’t do what Egosoft is doing (with the X series).

                  You say Far Cry (5?( has better low level gameplay, maybe, but I skipped Far Cry 5 as the story/plot looked like a yawnfest to me and on more rails than the opening scene of Skyrim.

                  “Skyrim included only a small fraction of the spells available in Oblivion, and removed the ability to create spells yourself”
                  Sounds to me like you want Morrowind. But BGS already made hat game… it’s called “Morrowind”.

                  People joke that BGS repeat themselfs in their gameplay and mechanics, and that they are releasing Skyrim on yet another device., But if there is one thing BGS has never done, it’s make the same game twice.

                  I tried playing Morrowind but it felt horribly dated. Sure it might have been fun to make a spell that let me fly/jump all across Morrowind (apparently that is possible). But I did not like the way the game felt. Oblivion felt better but not ideal. Now Skyrim, it feels pretty good, the character creation is much better etc.

                  Same with Fallout series. I really can’t stand the locked isometri camera angle, and I hope inXile and Obsidian being bought by Microsoft means we can get free moving camera ala Dragon Age Origins/KoTOR.
                  I tried playing Fallout 1 and 2 and Wasteland 2, it was slow and grindy.

                  Fallout 3 was okay but it had some of the things I did no like from Oblivion (engine’s evolution was pretty similar at that point I think).
                  New Vegas was much better but it still had issues, then again it wasn’t made by BGS (just like ESO isn’t made by BGS).
                  Fallout 4 finally felt right, just like Skyrim did. Maybe a bit more right than Skyrim. I felt a improvement in the engine.

                  Now looking at Fallout 76 I see more engine improvements but a whole load other issues. Then again, Fallout 76 network stuff was done Arkane by using Quake III’s network code jury rigged into a evolved Fallout 4 engine.

                  Fallout 76 is perhaps the closest BGS has been to releasing a game that is almost the same game as before. Because it is. Fallout 76 is Fallout 4 multiplayer turned into it’s own game.

                  By the looks of the ES6 teaser there will probably be some sea travel (why else show a large coast), but there is also a lot of mountains. BGS will probably use the same changes they did to Fallout 4’s engine for Fallout 76. Which means new rendered, global weather and more in ES6. Note also that Starfield comes first so stuff and improvements they do that will be added to ES6 if it makes sense.

                  They will probably never make another “Morrowind”. While it would be cool to have a Morrowind re-furbishing using the Skyrim engine I doubt they’ll do it. The assets are too dated. BGS may revisit Morrowind, but they won’t remake Morrowind.

                  It’s easy to look at the past and your childhood in rose tinted glasses, but often I look a the games I “remember”, try to play them (if I can get them to work at all) or use a emulator and, holy hell they feel dated, to the point I don’t enjoy them. I remember the games as much better than they actually are.

                  My standards and expectations have increased a lot. For example, the Monkey Island 1 and 2 remakes are awesome, the got the voice actor back to do lines (for the first game that had none). And you can switch between the original artwork look and the remake artwork, and while I get nostalgic seeing the old pixels, I have to admit I enjoy the higher res new artwork, I can’t play the old pixelated stuff.

                  When I see the sharp angled and bland textures (in comparison) of Morrowind. I know at once that I won’t enjoy the game after a while. Maybe a ton of mods might help, but then it’s no longer the original game is it?

                  If releasing Skyrim on pocket watches, and experiments like Fallout 76 nets BGS more money to put into the budgets of Starfield, and also ES6 and Fallout 5 and just build on further on what they got I’m all for that.

                  BGS heard people complain about Fallout ¤ not being “like New Vegas”, BGS devs loved that game. Fallout 5 will include the best of all the fallout games (some of witch they are testing out in Fallout 76 BTW). So if people like or dislike certain elements in Fallout 76 that might affect Fallout 5.

                  It’s confusing though. Some said Fallout 4’s settlement stuff was too much, so in Fallout 76 it’s simplified/toned down. But people also said it wasn’t fleshed out fully in Fallout 4, so there are conflicting messages there.

                  “Horizon: Zero Dawn, Monster Hunter, Metal Gear Solid” are console games, and Playstation exclusives? And Just Cause is what PUBG devs “think” their game is. But I find the Just Cause games a tad bland, just like Far Cry 5. THe best Far Cry IMO was Far Cry 3, Vaas is the best villain I’ve seen in that franchise. First two Assassins Creed games was okay, the rest just “meh”.

                  Kingdom Come Deliverance is the exception, it seems really fun but it’s medieval semi-historic fantasy so not really my thing.

                  It may not be just Bethesda and Rockstar for you, but for me it basically is. Unless BioWare turns things around with Dragon Age 3 (or 4 or whatever it’ll be called) and Mass Effect erm 4 or 5 (damn it BioWare, don’t mess with the titles).

                  Obsidian and inXile’s future games will be interesting but Microsoft budget and dev support won’t kick in for another year or so, which means that new games from those two studios under new parent ownership won’t kick in until 3-4 years from now (2022 if lucky?), I can’t wait to see what higher production values can do for future games from those studios.

                  1. coleusrattus says:

                    Great post, and it shows the “problem” quite well: A change in target audience.

                    I for one came into the Bethesda games as an old school RPG player. I loved Fallout 1 and 2 and I loved Morrowind.

                    With Oblivion and Fallout 3, they did not offer “improved” sequels of the games I enjoyed, but rather simplyfied versions that catered to a whole new audience that I wasn’t part of anymore.

                    And with every subsequent title, they moved away more from what made those games special to me, and a choice few others, to cater to a vastly bigger, thus more profitable audience. Makes sense business wise.
                    Still leaves us old-school fans behind and causes bitterness in us.

                    And concerning the “they already made those games”. True, but just as you said, some things don’t hold up too well if they’re brought out of nostalgia into today. Which is depressing in it’s own right.

                2. Decius says:

                  Morrowind has the single most complex skill/stat/levelling system of any big hit game.

                  Lots of people complained about that complexity. Because it was complex there were unintended ways to trivialize the game (be an alchemist, make potions of fortify intelligence; or spend a few hours grinding athletics between naps to get strong fast)

                  Oblivion had a slightly less complex system, they ‘fixed’ some of the things that having lots of freedom in a complex system allowed, and they decided that designing spear animations was too hard. Some people still complained that it was too complex; all of the people who complained that it was simplified were dismissed as saying “they changed it therefore it sucks”, because Oblivion was at the time and might still be the game with the second-most complex character system in its class.

                  1. EmmEnnEff says:

                    And yet, all that complexity goes out the window as soon as you put two and two together, and make your first intellect stat buff potion.

                    There’s complexity for the sake of complexity, and there’s well-designed systems that produce complex results. It’s a spectrum. Most of Morrowind’s mechanics are a lot closer to the former, rather then the latter.

            2. “increasingly vast number of games that let you do that”

              That are similar to Skyrim, Dragon Age Origins, Pathfinder Kingmaker? Because those are the only ones of note I’ve seen in the last 15 years.
              I’d love to browse through this vast number of games (I’m being sarcastic, but I’d also love to look through such a list).
              I’m not talking about medieval castle simulators or stuff like those. They have no quests or story/plot lines.
              And as you may have noted, the three examples above are high fantasy (elves, dragons, etc).

              1. Jabberwok says:

                I’m talking about sandbox survival crafting games, the style of game that Bethesda seems to be heading inexorably towards. Just go on Steam and do a search for those tags. There are a ton of them, but off the top of my head, you have things like Savage Lands, Ark, Legends of Ellaria, Rust, Planet Explorers, No Man’s Sky, and Boundless. Two of those are straight up medieval fantasy. Then there’s other first person, open world, medieval games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance. And if you’re including an isometric party-based fantasy RPG in your list, then I’m not sure what your criteria are. That isn’t much like anything Bethesda makes, but if you’re looking for those, you’ve got Divinity: Original Sin 1 and 2, Tyranny, Pillars of Eternity 1 and 2, and The Age of Decadence. In first person RPGs, we have Legend of Grimrock and The Bard’s Tale 4. Not to mention the huge number of MMOs offering experiences increasingly closer to playing an Elder Scrolls game. This is just off of the top of my terrible memory. And I pass over open world crafting games in my Steam queue almost every day because they all look too similar. If you want to go back through the last 15 years, the list will grow even longer. And none of this is including any of the AAA titles I already mentioned.

                Though in fact, if we DO go back fifteen years, the number of competitors Bethesda had in either the open world or RPG genres was negligible compared to today. And that is my point. RPGs in particular have only recently enjoyed a resurgence in the mainstream. I can’t think of any that I played back around the time Oblivion came out.

                1. Mediveal or survival sims is boring trite.

                  And I said I did “not like” isometric games. Kingmaker was mentioned as it was almost bearable, but it was so buggy that my hype died very fast after longplay reviews started rolling out) (note that by “longplay reviews” I mean reviewers that has completed the game, in this case the game had a broken ending.

                  Rust has no story or plot does it? No NPCs to talk with, no dialog choices etc. Fallout 76 is no rust clone but to me it’s boring. I fail to see any similarity between Fallout 4 and Skyrim and games like rust or even Fallout 76 itself. Note that Fallout 76 is not Fallout 5, BSG are going to make Fallout 5 still. But if you are hankering for Fallout 1/2 then it’s not going to be that.
                  And ES6 will not be a Morrowind clone. ES6 will be a evolution from Skyrim with traits and ideas found in Fallout 4, Fallout 76, and Starfield added to it.

                  I’m fully prepared for the eventuality that ES6 will be not something I’ll want to play (just like Fallout 76), but I’m not gonna pretend to know what all others like nor try to tell BGS how to make games or what games to make. If I don’t like the game I’m not gonna get it and they’ll loose me as a gamer, I’ll move on or replay their old games, as simple as that.

                  “The Bard’s Tale 4” the new one? That’s a loading screen fest, buggy, and it has a cardgame combat system.

                  It’s a shame the Fable franchise died, it was flawed but you did get to act like a king in one of those games (3rd one?).

                  BGS likes to tell stories, they’ll never do survival or sim games. Just check out Oxhorn on youtube, he’s doing lengthy video after lengthy video now on Fallout 76 and the lore he’s finding in notes, recordings and by talking to NPCs (robots). How much lore do you find in those other survival games?

                  I’m more concern about whether we’ll ever see a Grand Theft Auto VI or if we’ll just get a Online v2 thing (in which case, I’m out).
                  I’m even more concerned about EA and the future of the Star Wars franchise, will there ever be a single player CRPG again like KotOR? I fare there won’t, at least not with EA holding the game license for Star Wars.

                  And don’t get me started on MMOs, if you thought I was longwinded already… ho..boi…

                  1. Jabberwok says:

                    Okay, sure. We’re just talking about your personal tastes now. You claimed earlier that there were no notable games like Pathfinder Kingmaker released in the past 15 years, which is very, very untrue. You not liking a game doesn’t wipe it out of existence. And it’s fine to have your own tastes, but it’s not really relevant to what I was getting at. You yourself just said that you don’t see any similarity between Skyrim and Fallout 76. Bethesda’s releases are changing, and the industry as a whole is changing at the same time. Whether any individual person likes the alternatives to ES doesn’t really matter. I’m just pointing out that there are more alternatives than ever before.

                    Plenty of survival and sim games have ‘lore’ in them, btw….

                    Not sure how old you are, but think back to the early days of the Elder Scrolls series. Almost no one was making open world games. The closest thing would have been isometric RPGs. If you wanted a large 3D world to explore, there just weren’t alternatives. That is most definitely no longer the case. And then in the mid-2000s, there were even fewer options for new RPGs, while Bethesda’s releases were gaining popularity (Bioware would be the main competitor, but they had already moved away from sandbox designs in favor of streamlined story-driven campaigns with very little in common with traditional CRPGs on the mechanical side). That’s also no longer the case. Fast forward to today, and there are plenty of titles on offer in any of those genres, both AAA and indie. Meanwhile, Bethesda continue to alter their designs based on modern trends that others are following. There is just more competition than there used to be. Whether you personally played or liked those other games is immaterial. The point is, they exist.

                    1. You used a interesting phrase “notable games like” which is the key issue here. If they where notable I would have known about them and played them.

                      Since I can barely recall a few of them shows that either, they where so boring/bland they where forgettable, or their marketing or public acceptance was so low that I never heard of them.

                      Problem is I’m a story carnivore, I gobble that shit up. If it doesn’t have interesting stories I usually stay far away from them.

                      And yeah, my taste is what does matter. After all I don’t play games I don’t like, who does? (besides reviewers).

                      Also, don’t bring age into this. Usually when somebody does that, the one bringing age up turns out to be way younger than the one they talk down to. I can tell you that my gaming experience predates the existence of the world wide web itself and that games which consisted of only text (text adventures) was a daily thing.

                      Building your home/camp/settlement and being the boss of it is a nice direction I like, and I hope BGS goes further in that direction.
                      In Skyrim (and Oblivion if I recall correctly) and in Fallout 4 you end up the head of the factions (or close to it). I really like this,

                      The only flaw to this with BGS games is that being the head of a faction has little impact on the game world/game play.
                      This is probably due to how disconnected these are from the gameplay. In Fallout 4 they tried to make this have more impact (you have to betray one or two of the other factions) and make your faction progress tied to the main story.
                      This may have caused the main story to suffer but the faction stories/quests are pretty awesome.

                      You can end up cratering (or not) a large central part of the landscape, you can turn the airport into a mess of twisted burnt metal.

                      These are things they do that I think are in the right direction, they just need to fully follow through with it. They have a build up of you becoming the head of/leader (or almost) of a faction, but they don’t make you a King.
                      I wish you could have become the Mayor of the city or something. ES6 will lend itself better to the player becoming the King.

                      Starfield I hope will let you become something similar (leader of a world/planet?) but I’m also totally fine if they go a different route. If they end up making a spiritual successor to Mass Effect 1 but with “more RPG” that would be amazing (see, I’m not just a one note penguin).

                    2. Jabberwok says:

                      “Also, don’t bring age into this.”

                      I did not mention age as a criticism, only to point out that I couldn’t be sure whether you would’ve had personal experience of what the market looked like around the time Bethesda was releasing games like Daggerfall or Morrowind. But that’s not really important anyway, so I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

                      “You used a interesting phrase “notable games like” which is the key issue here. If they where notable I would have known about them and played them.”

                      Once again, in the realm of isometric RPGs, you only mentioned Pathfinder Kingmaker. Now you seem to be claiming that you haven’t heard of Divinity: Original Sin or Pillars of Eternity. You cannot claim to be knowledgeable about the genre and be unaware that these games exist. That is baffling to me. I’m sure there are many gamers that have never played anything except Call of Duty and Battlefield. If they claimed that those two games were the only important FPSs ever made, they would just be wrong. I am not saying you need to be aware of everything that comes out, but your personal lack of knowledge is not a reasonable metric for notability.

                    3. Nessus says:

                      I’d recommend the “Shadowrun”* games by Harebrained. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t been brought up already. More in the mold of Bioware’s RPG style than Bethesda’s, but if you’re a “story carnivore” they’re intensely rich.

                      *IMO skip “Returns/Dead Man’s Switch” and go straight to “Dragonfall” and/or “Hong Kong”. R/DMS is okay, but it’s very much a prototype compared to DF and HK.

                  2. Decius says:

                    Longplay reviews from people who finished the game already are of rushed playthroughs.

                    But to be fair, Owlcat’s use of an stealth paid beta was a dirty underhanded trick.

        2. Jeff says:

          Fallout 4 didn’t even seem to do the “NPCs do things even when not loaded” that Shamus mentions.

          The “remember item placement” was also really dumb, in that they seemed to make no distinction between items, furniture, or building parts, so you’d walk into an area and have items fall through furniture or floors. If they made the distinction, then it was loaded in a really dumb order.

          1. SKD says:

            They actually addressed that point in the NoClip documentary. IIRC part of the problem they had to overcome to create a multiplayer world was that the engine only loaded the few cells around the player while a multiplayer world like FO76 would need all cells to be loaded and running at all times. So they basically had to start by refactoring the Creation Engine before they could even start building the world.

            It is actually easy to witness how cell loading worked in Bethesda Fallout games prior to FO76. Just find a place where you can see long distances without interruption. Use a max zoom scope to scan the world and you can see the lack of detail and lack of AI spawns in unloaded cells. I was playing Fallout 4 recently and ascended to the top of the raider camp by the bridge near Greenetech Genetics and could snipe the raiders at the other end of the bridge and even the Pillars of the Community folks at the Charles View Amphitheatre but anything further was a blurry mess of filler texture with no AI. The cells also appear to work vertically as well since if you go to the top of Trinity Tower or the MAss fusion building and try to look at the ground you will usually see the same filler textures although the cells immediately surrounding the buildings may be buffered in case you decide to do an Ironman Power Armor descent instead of quick traveling (if not on survival) or descending back through the building.

            Heck one of the longest standing complaints about FO4 is how the frame rate drops significantly anytime you are in the city which is likely due to the massive number of physics objects and AI that are present and being simulated in the cells around you. Can you imagine any home gaming PC trying to simulate the entirety of the Commonwealth external worldspace if even the strongest gaming rigs can be brought to their knees just by walking through the center east side of the city?

      2. Echo Tango says:

        This is of course, assuming people actually care enough to buy a game based on features like building a stack of junk on top of an NPC. Maybe some people do, but I think a lot more people would rather play a different open-world-ish, well-written fantasy, like the Witcher games.

        1. Distec says:

          I think you might underestimate how building a stack of junk on top of an NPC is what sells the possibility space to the customer, and therefore the game; even if the aforementioned activity is absurd and ridiculous. When a Youtuber shows all the weird physics things that are possible in a Bethesda game, it’s often for laughs. And yet I’m still impressed by the sheer number of things – large and small, meaningful and insignificant – that are active in any given scene, even when the simulation is going haywire with its elements. It’s trying to hook you with a kind of verisimilitude that its better-written contemporaries like The Witcher are.

        2. Matthew Downie says:

          Skyrim feels empowering. If I want to do something, I can generally do it.

          I think that’s part of the core appeal.

          In Skyrim, when I accidentally killed some passing guards by shouting and creating a thunderstorm that struck them with lightning, I didn’t feel too bad about it, because they weren’t real people. They were Skyrim NPCs.

          I tried The Witcher 3 and one of the early quests gave me the choice of handing over a pathetic drunken arsonist to be sentenced to death (for which I would be rewarded a pittance) or letting him go. Nothing about the situation made me feel empowered. It wasn’t fun. It was depressing.

          Perhaps that’s why Skyrim sold about twice as many copies as Witcher 3.

          1. One of the DLCs (the last DLC actually) for Witcher 3 let you upgrade a vinyard, I think that is the most fun part of the entire game (especially if you get the good ending with Ciri, unless you went with a love interest). Seeing the vinyard get upgraded was awesome.

            I’m not s simulation guy, I need stories and somewhat solid plots. But I also like power fantasies.
            Skyrim allows this. Some of the Fallout 4 quests railroad you (pun intended) sadly, and I dislike that just like you do.

            Obviously in voice acted games the number or player choices are very much reduced, especially with a voiced player character.
            I would not have had an issue with it if Fallout 5 returns to silent player character. I hope they keep the player character in ES6 silent too.

            I would even be okay with partially voiced NPCs if it meant more player agency was possible. Main plotline NPCs could be voiced for example, in Skyrim this would be the Dragonborn main questline and the war questline.

            The drunken arsonist thing you mention is interesting. I often find it annoying that I have to meta a game choice. Very few games let you make bad choices or fail and still let you continue. It seems Cyberpunk 2077 may push the boundaries on this though. Having a positive/negative/neutral choice and the choice carry weight by how others perceive or treat you in the world would be awesome.

            The main issue with Witcher 3 was this urgency you had to find Ciri, but Geralt ended up doing all these minor trivial tasks along the way so a few days trip turned into like months. If there was a timer Ciri would have been dead long ago.

            Skyrim does a better job, the Dragonborn questline waits in a way where it does not seem too weird with it pausing while you do other stuff.
            The war quest on the other hand suffers more (like finding Ciri does in Witcher 3). But I think here the issue is that there is no time of reference (or it’s not clearly stated), is it taking place over days or months or years?
            Fallout 4 shows passage of time in-game by having up xmas decorations when it’s xmas ingame, Skyrim shows no such signs, it’s locked in a season? (then again so is Fallout 4 in the weather). This will probably change with ES6, I truly believe we’ll see seasonal changes occurring then.

            One thing Skyrim lacked (for me) was becoming a Jarl in more than just name, I mean you get a Housecarl in every major town and a title but that’s it. Where was my castle/throne? Where was the rule/judgement cast upon those seeking it?
            By the end of Skyrim I wanted to become a Jarl, maybe marry the High Queen. I was hoping that after the end of the war and the Dragonborn quest that something like that would unlock, but sadly not. The Dragonborn ruling the lands of Skyrim would have been awesome. This is even implied by the endstate of the Dragonborn quest (with a gaggle of Dragons on your side).

            I’m sure it was a idea they had but scrapped,. BGS really needs to hire more people, they are too ambitious for their own good.

          2. Echo Tango says:

            The power-fantasy stuff is something I don’t really like (most of the time) in games anymore. Unfortunately, Bethesda seems to be leaning farther in that direction, so their newer works hold less appeal to me; I’d much rather play a (hypothetical) Fallout game where I need to watch my companion die to bandits, carry their necklace with me as a keepsake, and scrape together enough materials to trade for a new rifle, only to be ambushed and left for dead. I don’t mind leveling up in games (it’s an abstraction for life-experience and skills), but I’d much rather have some negatives in the game, so I don’t feel like a complete super-human.

            1. Jabberwok says:

              Your hypothetical Fallout game sounds like you’re describing Kenshi.

              https://store.steampowered.com/app/233860/Kenshi/

              1. Echo Tango says:

                Even the visual style of this game looks better than Fallout – They’ve got actual non-humanoids in the game, like the long-necked pack-animal, and the one character has a sweet (as opposed to a dorky-looking) robot-arm! :)

          3. Jabberwok says:

            “Skyrim feels empowering. If I want to do something, I can generally do it. ”

            Unless you want to kill a story character. ;D

            1. Decius says:

              Just one of the ways in which Morrowind is superior to Skyrim: you can kill all of the story characters and take their stuff.

              Well, you can’t kill the Daedra Lords, but you can kill mere gods.

          4. Jeff says:

            I find Skyrim’s power fantasy to be shallow, much like most of their games. It’s a realization that takes time to sink in so I generally get my money’s worth in hundreds of hours of gameplay, but it’s been inevitable.

            Having the Jarl’s immortal kid mouth off to you when you’re basically god, for example. Nobody seems to actually recognize or acknowledge your empowerment.

            I’m still a fan of the guard swimming through lava to try and arrest you for stealing a wheel a cheese, only to die during the dialog because they’re swimming in lava. It’s only funny the first time, though.

      3. Nick Powell says:

        The closest game I can think of is actually Kingdom Come: Deliverance. It’s obviously a completely different setting but it has a lot of the same concepts (open world, first person, everything is interactable, horses are awkward as fuck to use, etc.)

      4. Agammamon says:

        Not even CDPR has been doing what BGS used to.

  2. Jabberwok says:

    “Honestly, if anyone else ever figured out to make a Skyrim-esque experience Bethesda could find themselves in serious trouble. The only reason they get away with this is because they’re the only studio that can offer this kind of gameplay.”

    Definitely, but this seems to be changing. As other open world games get better (and more open), and Bethesda continually strips down their own games to make them more like others, I think they’re going to lose the edge they used to have.

  3. Redrock says:

    The Escapist link embed looks kinda weird in my browser, with all the white space to the right of it. Is it just me or is it that way for everyone?

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Looks fine to me – a small white box, on the left of Shamus’ column, with an image and text preview, and a link.

    2. Steve C says:

      Yes. Looks weird and exactly how you describe to me too.

  4. Paul Spooner says:

    Really good points in the article about the dangers of starting over without a good reason. And turns out “it will be easier that way” isn’t a good reason.
    I think part of the attraction of starting over is that it feels simpler than a re-factor. But, IMO, re-factoring is nearly always the right choice.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yeah. Re-factoring is a chore. It’s annoying and it’s not particularly creative work, but it’s usually many times faster than a re-write.

      1. *nods*

        Although sometimes a re-factoring could be a re-write. If the code is modular it’s easy to reuse most of it that is okay.

        I think one issue with Bethesda’s Creation Engine is the way the files/archives/formats are done, they had issues with save games as well.

        I’m sure if they started from scratch they’d redo a lot of those things (which could make the games even more mod friendly as well).

        Todd said they really like their Editor, but the editor could be kept and just change the backend that “translates” that into something the game engine can use. Or they could make a new editor that look/behave like the old.

        All this would take time and cost money obviously. And many seems to forget how small a team BGS is compared to say Rockstar or Ubisoft or EA’s teams that work on those engines.
        I’m gonna bet there are only like 4-5 people working on the engine itself. Compare that to what Epic has working on the Unreal engine, or DiCE has on the Frostbite engine.

        It’s easy to forget how small BGS is (Bethesda Game Studios, the studio/teams that made Skyrim, ES and Fallout games, and now working on Starfield and ES6 and most likely Fallout 5 after that).

        Oh and I’m assuming they have a engine team, it’s possible they don’t and some poor guy gets told to dive into the engine now and again to fix stuff.

        1. T-rex says:

          What are you talking about? BGS has 400 employees(at least according to wikipedia), Rockstar North had 360 employees in 2013(again, wikipedia). BGS is not a small dev team in a Todd Howard mother’s basement. They are really big.

          1. Thomas says:

            All the Rockstar studios work on their games now (similar to Ubisoft) so Red Deads team is much bigger than that. For example Rockstar Lincoln do their QA.

            I’ve no idea if Bethesda does the same though.

            1. BGS did not share the workload previously AFAIK.

              Today I’m not so sure. A thankyou letter BGS write thanked a bunch of the other studios (Arkane, id etc) for helping with Fallout 76 (Arkane did the multiplayer retrofit with code and help from id’s Quake network code I think).

              Starfield and the future ES6 (and I’m assuming Fallout 5) might, or they may hire more people. Or they may already have hired more people.

              By comparison this is the entire Morrowind dev team. Wow..

              Rockstar on the other hand involved several studios for GTA V (not just Rockstar North) and for RDR2 it was more than just the Rockstar studios, I think some of the other Take Two studios also helped out (Take Two owns Rockstar and all their studios).

              Ubisoft also use multiple studios on their projects AFAIK.

              It will be interesting going forward with Microsoft Studios and Obsidian and inXile as the two studios are today like a 15 min drive (or 1 hour walk i think) away from each other, so the chances of some colab on a project there is large.

              If BGS alone is 400 people right now those are divied up between Skyrim and Fallout 4 long tail Creation Club support, Fallout 76, Starfield, early ES6 work, and I’m assuming rough ideas for Fallout 5, and I think there is one other project they go too. And I almost forgot Blades, they got a few peeps on that I’m sure too.

              So those 400 peeps are spread quite thin I’m guessing. On the plus side burnout is less likely. If somebody are tired of making fallout rock textures they can probably make space rock textures instead? (that was a joke)

              Also, the 400 employes number, are those devs only or marketing, pr, administrative, catering etc. ?

              The Morrowind url above shows their jobs, though a few are blank so those are any’ones guess. As productions grow the managerial and the structure around the dev team(s) begin to grow as well.
              A musician for example or a texture artist may easily be able to jump between 2-4 projects, but a manager may need to be full time on a single project. So you might end up with 1 musician working on three games and under 3 managers.

      2. Gordon Wrigley says:

        It’s not just that it’s faster, hell even if it’s known to be substantially slower it’s still a better plan because it minimizes risk.
        Once you start down the rewrite path it’s really really hard to reliably say when you will get back to the level you started at, let alone improve.
        Meanwhile refactoring is a continuous improvement process.
        I’ve effectively been CTO at 3 different companies (web not gaming) and I’ve mentored others in that space and what I always tell them is the job of a tech team is to balance delivering the features the company needs now with developing your ability to deliver features in the future.
        A rewrite is a statement that we’re not going to deliver any features at all for a period of generally years and that’s just not acceptable from a business POV.

        1. The real fun is when things are modular enough and stuff follows good standard APIs and you can pull what looks like a magic trick “Boss: Wait, you where able to rip that out an use this other thing instead? We’re not paying you enough dude!” (shame that conversation almost never happens though *cries*)

        2. Echo Tango says:

          The real shame is when you are switching from one big thing to another big thing, like switching languages. Then there’s not much you can do in terms of “refactor”; A rewrite is pretty much needed. This is why you want loosely-coupled, highly cohesive, small, interchangeable pieces of software whenever possible – if you only have to rewrite something that’s small, it’s a lot smaller risk to take. :)

          1. I’m guessing BGS is slowly doing that. Personally I wish they’d throw more people at it and try to speed it up as it will hurt Starfield and ES6 (and Fallout 5 possibly).

            They’ve got a huge chunk of legacy formats/and ways things work that will be hard to rip out and replace without braking like everything.

  5. Zak McKrackem says:

    Not sure if it’s just my browser (Firefox, on W7, with a bunch of privacy extensions), but middle-click to open in new tab doesn’t work with the link in the article preview. It will always open in the current tab, replacing this site.
    Thankfully, the link in the text works as a good link should.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Looks like whatever that embedded box is, it’s got javascript in it – it’s stealing my right-clicks, when I try to inspect the link or image. The background whitespace doesn’t steal clicks, though.

      1. Mephane says:

        Same effect for me. I hate it when sites do that. It’s actually kind of rude. If I were Shamus that would be reason enough to remove that embedded iframe and just put a plain old link there.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      Middle-click works perfectly for me (Chrome on W7).

    3. Zagzag says:

      Also not working for me in W7 Firefox (without extensions)

  6. jkpolk says:

    Somewhat ironically, having your article on Escapist open in a Chrome tab was causing Chrome to have horrible stuttering issues and freeze up for 30 seconds at a time. Good read, though!

    1. Mephane says:

      That sounds like typical symptoms of horribly inefficient ads loaded with JavaScript, tracking etc.

  7. DeadlyDark says:

    From what I’ve heard, Kingdom Come Deliverance is really close to that “Oblivion” feel. Haven’t played myself, though, so can’t comment on that one

    1. empty_other says:

      If anyone knocks Bethesda of their crown, a KCD sequel could probably do it. KCD are just missing the quantity of quests.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Isn’t KCD historical, rather than fantasy, though? That’s the thing that kept me from getting too interested in it. It just seemed like it would be hard for the game to have that “adventure” aspect that I primarily enjoy about RPGs.

        1. Hector says:

          It is historical, but on the contrary, it feels far more immersive and adventurous, precisely because your foes are just guys – who will often beg to surrender rather than fight to the death. Combat is common,but still a side activity.

          When you come across a bandit camp , youve got to really think about whether to fight, flee, or use clever tactics. Likewise, the gameworld is large enough to stretch your legs in without being exhausting, and the combat system is very well done fits, neither too gritty nor too “badass”. It lacks the scale and polish you may expect from a AAA game, but it does have a lot of heart.

          By the mid game you’re sort of playing a local legend, that judicious historians will later claim is a convenient myth invented during a troubled time.

          1. RFS-81 says:

            Do you work in marketing? Because I didn’t care before, now I want to check it out.

            It is historical, but on the contrary, it feels far more immersive and adventurous, precisely because your foes are just guys – who will often beg to surrender rather than fight to the death.

            This is not like Skyrim’s fake surrender, is it?

            1. You can choose to mercy kill an enemy instead of waiting for them to bleed out too.

              There are also a few nods to The Witcher (in relation to some brews/potions you can make).

              Kingdom Come Deliverance is historically based but most of the story is fictional AFAIK.

              The game itself is a sort of medieval Knight Errand sim.

              Some of the quests are also hilarious. IF you dont’ plan to play or you wish to see gameplay, check out the first few episodes on youtube by Gopher.

              If you get the game make sure to patch it up fully and maybe pop by nexusmods for some quality of life mods though. Some people may compare it to WItcher or Skyrim but ironically the bugs are very Skyrim ish as KCD lacked a lot of polish (still does).

              Oh. And I think KCD is the first time I’ve ever seen a quest where you have to lockpick a horses arse (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen/played that particular quest), the game can be quite hilarious at times.

              One word of warning, unlike other CRPGs, KCD once you’ve started a quest will continue the quest. In in some cases NPCs may finish a task without you; they won’t wait forever.
              There is one earlier investigative quest, the others will ride on their own, investigate (they won’t walk around and talk to other NPCs sadly) and will finish and leave again AFAIK.

              You need to learn to read to be able to read alchemy recipes properly, if not they’ll look garbled.
              Having certain stats or skills too low may close off certain options choices or outcomes in quests too and you may not be aware of it until you replay the game.

              The game also looks gorgeus, there is something about the lighting that it sometimes look almost like a photograph.

              But it can also be a complex and frustrating game to play. There is also a DLC that let you build a town and castle. If it wasn’t for that I like high fantasy and sci-fi (medival sim’ish stuff ain’t my thing) I would have jumped on that.
              From what I’ve seen you still do knight’s errand stuff, and you can’t handle disputes (I think) though maybe that unlocks later in the game as the mains storyline moves on. *shrug*

              If you like this type of game it’s probably a must buy. And if not but you got money to burn, it can’t hurt to have it in your library, firing it up one day when you are bored or want a change might be enough to get you hooked.

              1. Agammamon says:

                . . . Knight Errand. . .

                Is . . . that a *pun*!

                1. I think subconsciously it must have been. I meant Errant, but Errand is very descriptive. It actually describes the player roles in many games very well.

                  Same thing is true with most BGS games too btw. It’s stupid as hell, but I still enjoy it for some stupid reason.

                  I guess it’s the open nature of these kinds of games, normally you’d have these erm Knight Errand quests at the start of your career, then as you level up (in fame) you’ll eventually have others do it for you. In Pathfinder Kingmaker you are doing kinda both, you send out people and you travel out yourself, and story-wise you explain it away as being hands on (there’s even dialog to reflect that). But even in that one you can’t avoid having to find a bottle of wine for somebody etc. And You think to yourself “Fine, I’ll do it. But my reward better be good: But deep down you know it won’t be!”

      2. DeadlyDark says:

        I’ll need to play it someday. But, too many games, so…

  8. The games made with Creating Engine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_Engine
    Interesting tidbit, BGS used to use Speedtree in previous games but replaced that with a custom code that was better/more flexible relative to their game worlds.

    Games that where using the Gamebryo framework/engine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamebryo
    Bully (by Rockstar), Civilization IV, Divinity II, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Oblivion.

    Looking at the list I see a lot of online/MMOish games and the last game to use NetImmerse’s Gamebryo was Yar’s Revenge in 2011.
    Gamebryo 4.0 was released in 2012. It seems like the industry has outpaced that engine, or that the Korean buyout in 2010 moved the focus too much to online stuff?

    Clearly the Creation Engine was not designed for MMO stuff (as seen with the Fallout 76 issues) and BGS outsourced the online stuff right? I’m gonna guess that Gamebryo is not that well suited for online stuff.
    And with the bugs/issues of BGS games and how people keep calling the Creation Engine for Gamebryo may have hurt the brand of the Gamebryo engine.
    6 years is a long time since the last release/update of a game engine, 7 years is even a longer time with no games having used the engine.
    Maybe Gamebryo 5.0 is in the works and some awesome game will use it but I highly doubt it. How NetImmerse is still staying afloat I have no idea. Engine royalties on those older games? Scratch that, they’ve got a blinking gif saying “Full source, No royalties”.
    Their last news in the sidebar is from 2015, not looking good at all.

  9. Dreadjaws says:

    Their stealth AI is embarrassing by today’s standards.

    Low stealth level in FO4:
    *steps on branch 5 km away from raider camp*
    Entire camp goes “Who goes there?” and instantly know your exact location.

    High stealth level in FO4:
    *literally steals the clothes of every raider while they’re wearing them*
    Guys won’t even feel a breeze. No one seems to notice they’re all suddenly naked.

    I kinda hate it but also kinda love it.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I kinda hate it but also kinda love it.

      This is my view. Most of my memorable experiences in Bethesda games have been from the bugs. The story has always – by necessity – been kinda bland, kinda generic. Talking to other people about, say, the Mage’s Guild questline in Skyrim is dry – everyone’s been the Chosen One who saved the guild there.

      But no-one else had the experience where a random bandit dropped out of the sky in front of me one day. I was staring at it in surpirse when the guard besides me told me to move along, in a bored voice. So I decided to loot the body…and the same guard immediately sprints over to suspiciously demand if I’d killed him.
      Dude, you were right there when he fell out of the sky a second ago!

      A Bethesda game without the bugs just wouldn’t be the same.

      1. Jabberwok says:

        The Mage’s Guild questline in Skyrim was kind of terrible, though. I’m not going to try and claim Oblivion was a well written game, but the Mage’s Guild quest in that game was sooo much better. Skyrim’s guild quests are pretty bad across the board in comparison to its predecessor. It doesn’t help that they stuck with the “oh, our leader suddenly died, so you’re the leader now” bit for all of them. I mean, you are definitely right that the random hijinks are part of the appeal. But not all of their writing has always been bad or forgettable. Just for a long while now.

        1. The reason BGS quests are a mixed bag is that the devs can go in, write a quest and that’s it.
          I forgot which quest it was, but one larger quest was written by a single dev in like two days.

          BGS are able to create a ton of content, and can do it individually. This is why some quests vary.

          Some are filler quests to pad out the game, others was made with a unmotivated dev, others was made because the dev really wanted to make it, while a few are design by a team.

          Basically the strength of the studio is also their weakness.

    2. BGS games aren’t the only sinners in this. Hitman has this issue, so does Kingdom Come Deliverance I think.
      Get discovered by the enemy and suddenly all of them knows. It’s worse in games like KCD or Skyrim as the guards don’t have earpieces or walkies etc. Aka they are psychic guards.

      Red Dead Redemption 2 even has this issue from what I’ve seen. It is similar to Skyrim though in that you are wanted only in that hold/region. You can pay a bounty. You can end up in jail. By the looks of i RDR2 borrows a few ideas from Skyrim in that regard (or it’s just plain logical game mechanics in and of itself).

      Angry Joe on youtube did a skit on how these NPCs and the psychic alarm thing is kinda fucked up in his RDR2 review.

    3. Agammamon says:

      Stealth in videogames is crap anyway.

      On one end of the spectrum you’ve got BGS’ stealth, at the other end you have games that think you can cut a man’s throat 2 feet behind his buddy and that guy won’t notice anything but step one pixel forward of the edge of his line of sight and its on.

  10. It’s not accurate that the game needs to save the state of the entire world. Bethesda games all have “cell resets” where if you stay away from a given area long enough, it’ll reset and stuff will move back to its original location, chests and boxes will refill, and enemies will reappear.

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      That may be, but the state of those cells still needs to be saved temporarily, which isn’t any less of a difficult problem to solve.

      I’ve dabbled in game-making, and I can tell you that deconstructing the state of a complex world to something that can be saved to a file and re-constructing it is probably the single biggest complicating factor in writing a game engine. It has far-reaching implications for how you’ll want to design your classes and data structures, and it’s a great source of bugs. It’s no surprise to me that Bethesda bugs are often associated with loading/saving- the more complex the state of the game is, the more difficult it is to rebuild, and Bethesda games have a lot of really complex state that all needs to be saved.

      1. I can’t recall how Skyrim does it. But it may be enough to store xyz for a object and it’s rotation/angle. Then you just need to randomly plonk down a body in the same location. In many games you can see the body or objects laying slightly differently. Now a cup or plate can probably have rotation/angle info along with the xyz (Creation Engine does this I believe). Most players won’t remember how a body lay when they saved, just that it was there.

        But if the physics are good enough then additional points for the foot and hands and head (a few more xyz + angle/rotation) can be stored, you won’t need to store all the joints as the physics rules can lay the body close to what it was based on just a few key points) this will add maybe 3-4 times more data but in the whole it isn’t that much. You’ll run into issues when the player spawns 1000 cheese and 1000 Draugr’s though.

        Skyrim (or the Creation Engine itself) is known for throwing items around when you enter a unloaded area that is then loaded again (with plates and cups or whatnot getting thrown around the room).

        Skyrim isn’t that heavily populated though, Fallout 4 is (I think) more heavily populated s the saves will be more bloated there.

        As a gamer I would not care (and probably not notice) if a body was laying differently when I loaded a savegame. Heck I wouldn’t mind it it layed differently when I zoned out and back in to an area even as long as it was roughly in the same location my suspension of disbelief would be retained.

        Putting a silver pate on the table and finding it launched at the wall as you enter through the door is a larger issue though *laughs*.

        1. Bloodsquirrel says:

          That’s fine if all you have is a world full of physical objects. But what if that plate is in the air, falling? You need to store its velocity. What about the AI state of an NPC? What if an arrow is flying through the air? You need to know who fired it, what the to-hit and damage rolls are, etc. A game world is full of interacting objects, often with complex relationships between them, that all need to be broken down, stored, and then re-built. That’s where the complexity comes in.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        Yeah, the “temporarily” part only means that you’ve got some reasonable limits, for the maximum fiel size of a same-game. The harder part is saving the file in the first place. :)

      3. Agammamon says:

        A huge complication for BGS’ saves is that the game doesn’t purge everything from memory and load the save fresh. Especially quick load/saves. Its dangerous to quicksave (and that includes timed saves since those are quicksaves) if there’s anything happening.

        I’ve run into situations like this one time in Skyrim – coming up on a bear that is sleeping. I’m some distance away and save the game while the bear is asleep. Then I shoot the bear, hoping that the SA multiplier would finish it off quickly. Nope. Bear aggros. So I load a save. Now I’m back where I was when I saved – but the bear is awake and aggroed.

    2. Agammamon says:

      Those cell resets are to save that load. And they’re configurable. Even removable.

      And they don’t cover everything. In fact, there are problems in Skyrim and FO4 because BGS can’t be bothered to put timers on dropped weapons – so all those guns that are laying on the ground next to the bodies you’ve killed stay there after the ‘body-cleanup’ timer (which is separate from the cell reset timer) removes the body leading to massive savegame bloat. They should have known about it – its certainly been batted around the forums and both the Skyrim and FO4 Unofficial Patches fix it. But they couldn’t be bothered to.

      Its things like that that get on people’s nerves. There are the sorts of bugs you have to live with because getting rid of them would require to much linearity in the world and there are the bugs that show up through multiple games because BGS simply can’t be arsed to add the fixes to a checklist.

      Did you know that Dogmeat (and other dogs) can open doors in FO4? That dogs can do that in FO76? Did you know the fix is simply checking a box in the CK that says ‘can open doors’? Its not something that’s just inherent in the way they coded the mobs. Seriously – dogs can open doors in those two games simply because no one could be bothered to check that box.

      1. Syal says:

        Why on earth on would somebody want their dog buddy to not be able to open doors?

        1. Agammamon says:

          He’s a dog. My dogs still haven’t figured out door knobs let alone shoulder high door activation panels or gate latches.

          And for the other side – its kinda hilarious when you’ve been attacked by a pack of vicious dogs, run from them into a structure, shut the door behind you, collapse to the ground in relief – to watch the door open and the rush in to finish you off.

      2. “But they couldn’t be bothered to.”

        Yes/No. They’ve probably got it in a bug report/list, but it’s like super low on their list.

        I think you are correct in one thing though, they didn’t bother (or forgot) to check that box.

        The sad thing this is fixed by changing the defaults for the engine, like “all actors of type dog” has the “can’t open doors” flag set

        I’m gonna hope that these are things they’ll handle/get out of the engine over the coming years. The quest/character/NPC designers probably do not know or understand the engine fully.
        I have never used the Creation Kit nor have I seen the Creation Engine Editor (which is internal to BGS only? or is it the same as the one in the Kit?) so I have no idea if thinks like that example you gave is labeled or described properly.

        It would be nice to know if they have a game engine team or not (I hope they do by now). I’m also gonna guess that their internal documentation for the engine is sorely lacking. This is something I forgot to touch on in the other comments I made here. If you have zero documentation (or close to it), using a engine or middleware is going to be hell.

        BGS also probably has a habit of just throwing something into the editor to do something, or telling them to add whatever.

        So, quirky engine + weak engine team + bad documentation + no proper guidance = buggy BGS games.
        Hmm. I think I just ended up at what Shamus wrote originally. The issue isn’t necessarily the engine but rather the management of it.

        1. Agammamon says:

          I have never used the Creation Kit nor have I seen the Creation Engine Editor (which is internal to BGS only? or is it the same as the one in the Kit?) so I have no idea if thinks like that example you gave is labeled or described properly.

          The CK is a cleaned version of the tool that BGS uses in-house.

          As for that flag – its clearly lableled in the CK. Modders have ‘fixed’ the issue by issuing mods with that flag checked appropriately. Its something that was pointed out to them in Skyrim/FO4 but no one on the team bothered to remember or simply didn’t care enough to check it when necessary.

          Its not just them though – in FNV ED-E doesn’t fly, even though there’s (again) a clearly lableled check-box to tell the game that a model is using the ‘flying’ movement. So he sets off mines and can’t cross water.

  11. King Marth says:

    Ah, the technobabble solution. Fans are great at identifying what is wrong and terrible at advising how to fix it. Nice to see the occasional push back against the trend.

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Reminds me of the old days of the console wars, when fanboys with extremely limited understanding of microprocessor design or programming experience would wax on about the “hidden power” of the PS3 and other such nonsense.

      1. Richard says:

        The PS3 did have a lot of “hidden power”, in that the CPU architecture was very different to anything else at the time and theoretically far more powerful – but so much more difficult to actually use that very few developers did anything much with that power.

        However there were several supercomputers built on clusters of them, implying that they were pretty good at that kind of workload, even if it was hard to make them do it.

        1. Bloodsquirrel says:

          The whole “power that’s just difficult to use” thing is a misunderstanding of how computers work, though. It’s not a matter of the developer just having to work harder and be smarter, it’s a matter of the Cell processor being poorly suited to general processing. GPUs also have far more processing power- as measured in TFLOPs, which is what the Cell was being touted as having lots of, but even the best engine developers on the planet aren’t writing engines that run entirely on your GPU.

          The reality is that the Cell was structured somewhat similarly to a GPU- it had a lot of cores (SPEs) which had a limited ability to access memory, and needed the other cores (PPEs) to manage them. That’s not just “hard to use”. It means that your SPEs have limited memory bandwidth, which is a severe bottleneck, and limits what you can do with them. Some tasks, such as video rendering, are naturally parallelizable, and are well-suited for that kind of processing. Some tasks, such as the main loop of your game engine, are not. It’s the reason that the PS3’s power was never “unlocked” like fanboys said it would be, and why at the end of the generation games still looked more or less the same on it as they did on the Xbox 360 (whose unified memory model was actually more useful, which is why the PS4 copied it).

          Using the Cell to build a supercomputer wasn’t really that hard- it’s architecture is more or less standard for supercomputing, since the tasks that supercomputing is used for are the kind of massively parallelizable things that can be broken up between hundreds and thousands of processors. It’s also why supercomputers are using GPUs nowadays.

          1. Blake says:

            “It’s the reason that the PS3’s power was never “unlocked” like fanboys said it would be”

            Towards the end of it’s lifecycle everyone was getting much better at using the SPEs and it did make the PS3 far more powerful than the 360 and your average desktop PC circa 2006, but it did need highly specialised code to work properly (not to mention oddities like FLT_MAX on the PPU being treated as a positive infinity on the SPUs).
            On the plus side writing the sort of code that worked on the SPUs made for good code for general purpose multi-core machines too. Accessing random memory is one of the slowest things you can do generally and the SPEs forced you not to do it. Instead you had to ensure you were passing large chunks of contiguous memory and working on the whole block. It required an engine architecture people weren’t used to at the time but ran incredibly fast.
            The whole “power that’s just difficult to use” thing was definitely true.

            I can’t speak for other developers but I know by the end of that console gen we had to spend significant time getting our 360 builds up to a reasonable frame-rate while our PS3 builds were sitting pretty with the SPUs still idling most of the time. The reason our games looked the same was partially for feature-parity and partially because adding fancy thing that only half the userbase could use wasn’t worth the cost.

            1. Bloodsquirrel says:

              I can’t speak for other developers but I know by the end of that console gen we had to spend significant time getting our 360 builds up to a reasonable frame-rate while our PS3 builds were sitting pretty with the SPUs still idling most of the time.

              You’d have expected to see the difference in PS3 exclusives, then, but you never did. The best looking PS3 exclusives weren’t any better looking than the multiplats. The framerate comparisons I can find support this:
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmjHg_uTABY
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGKasxhA9Ps
              The PS3 struggles at least as much as the 360, often more.

              And, yeah, if your code base had a lot of specialized code and architecture for the PS3, then of course you’d have more trouble with the 360. SPUs sitting idling isn’t surprising either- that’s what happens when the core itself isn’t your bottleneck.

      2. Geebs says:

        Corollary: anybody who shows up in a comment section to talk about a game being “unoptimised” should have their internet disconnected until they can prove that they’ve written at least, say, a basic deferred renderer.

        It probably won’t make them any more insightful or pleasant to talk to, but at least they’ll be out of everyone else’s hair for a couple of years.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          I don’t think requiring everyone to be experts in a field before participating in discussions is necessary. Being reasonably well-educated about what’s possible in the current ecosystem, and citing sources would work. For example, if someone claims a game has a poorly-written graphics system, because it’s got lower-fidelity models/textures/bumpmaps/etc, and less objects on the screen at any given time, and somehow still has a worse or unstable framerate, compared to contemporary games X, Y, and Z, that’s a valid complaint.

          1. Geebs says:

            My tongue is firmly in my cheek, but I’m going to defend this one a bit further:

            – in order for a word to have meaning, the person using it needs to know what they mean to convey by using it. If the person complaining doesn’t know what optimisation actually is, they don’t convey any meaning by talking about it.

            (e.g. non-technical person looking at GTA5: “it looks OK I suppose”; technical person looking at GTA5: “this is, literally, magic”)

            – the same (ignorant) people who complain about optimisation often follow up by calling the developers “lazy”. If you’re going to be judge somebody, the polite thing to do is come equipped with some actual metric to judge them by.

    2. The phrase is “constructive criticism”, it’s damn hard to do and I often fail at it myself.

      It’s so easy to say “this sucks, I don’t like that, it was better before.” it falls into the same category of useless as “Blah doesn’t work…….nvm I fixed it”, ask Shamus how much he loves readings those. Hehe.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        it falls into the same category of useless as “Blah doesn’t work…….nvm I fixed it”

        I hate seeing those, especially when others might search for a solution to the same problem and end up with this as the only hit.

  12. NPC says:

    The only reason they get away with this is because they’re the only studio that can offer this kind of gameplay.

    Ehhh Piranha Bytes keeps trying (a small few would even say succeeding) and Dragon’s Dogma was a worthy attempt, however unfinished.

    1. RFS-81 says:

      Back in the day, I thought Morrowind may be bigger, but Gothic felt just so much more alive, with all the characters actually doing things. Of course, that’s less of a novelty nowadays. I still haven’t tried Elex. I bought the game, but as usual, so many games, so little time… So, in your opinion, it’s not as good as Skyrim?

      1. Hmm. Hard to say. Due to Elex being Sci-Fi it’s got more in common with Mass Effect Andromeda.
        Both games seems to lack polish, or had too small a budget. There are some major issues with the game design and story.

        But it’s likeable. You can see that with some more care it could have been a real gem that would have topped the charts basically.

        I’m cagey about recommending it, but f you got the cash to burn, sur why not. You might end up several hours for ways or weeks in that game. It can be a fun Sci-Fi romp. But don’t expect KOtOR or Mass Effect 1 or Dragon Age Origins levels of polish or writing.

        Might want to check if there are any mods for it.
        Another game that could be compared more to Skyrim is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning but it has a different feel (more of a JRPG fantasy feel to it but not that kind of gameplay though). I’d call it a underrated but still flawed game.

  13. Geebs says:

    If Bethesda changed their engine to something more secure and modern, they would lose modding altogether.

    This makes the fact that people who go on about Bethesda needing a new engine often, in the same breath, justify this by saying that Bethesda games are full of bugs and that the fans have to fix them kinda funny, and kinda sad.

    1. Looking at https://www.nexusmods.com/games is quite telling. Sorted by most popular games that are either very popular (doh) or highly modable are erm most popular.

      The 6 most popular games uses the Creation Engine or the older Gamebryo.

      It’s a shame there is no list of games that have mod support, many of the mods for games on Nexusmods are basically hacked in somehow.
      It would be interesting to see how many Frostbite or Unreal 4 games have mod support.

      By mod support I mean either a override folder that mods/files can be dropped into, and/or a launcher or ingame menu where you can toggle mods on or off.

      A few that comes to mind are all BGS games (?!), The Sims (all?), and there it stops, I’ll have to Google if I want to list any further as I can’t trust my memory on this.

    2. It’s fun to see people say that since Zenimaz/Bethesda Softworks owns id Software, so why don’t they use the id Tech engine?!

      My immediate thought is that this would probably require dividing up the world map into regions as that engine (as it’s used with the new Doom games) is meant for small areas and 60FPS+ camera flick around shooting.
      There is almost no “junk” in the levels either, while Skyrim may choke at 4000 cheesewheels I think Doom would have just crashed. Or maybe not, hard to say.

      Bethesda changing to a different engine would not work. But in the long run, making a new Creation Engine from scratch, reusing the best parts like the renderer etc. (Fallout 76 looks awesome for example) will probably benefit them.

      But it has to occur in parallel with current games in production and those game won’t benefit from it. So at earliest it would be Fallout 5 that would have a new engine.

      Starfield is using a iteration similar to Fallout 76 (they probably share the same renderer with some tweaks).

      ES6 will use the Fallout 4/Skyrim SE engine with improvement from Starfield and Fallout 76. I highly doubt they have enough time to piece together a new engine and editor (that is as familiar as the current one) in time for ES6’s production schedule. In other words a new engine probably won’t see the public light for like 4-5 years.

      Things may change though, BGS working on multiple games at once is a new thing (they used to work on one game at a time before), they may also do drastic changes to the existing engine without having to create a new from scratch.

  14. Blake says:

    That sure is a fancy link-box.
    Shame it doesn’t open in a new tab when I middle-click on it.
    Also apparently when I ctrl+click on it.
    It also goes there when I right click on it.

    Using Firefox 63

  15. GoStu says:

    So to make a terrible analogy (not a car one, I’m not good at cars), it’s like having a leaky basement.

    The simple-sounding and “fun” answer might be to demolish the whole house and start over. Then you have a new house! Build it again from the ground up, exactly how you always dreamed it could be! It’ll probably fix the problem by virtue of massive overkill, right?

    The actual right answer is to trace and fill the cracks, maybe dig a little outside to install some drainage board and weeping tile. This means actually tracing where the water’s coming in from, and no fun conversations with interior designers… but it’s cheaper. You also don’t have to live somewhere else.

    And in this analogy, “living in the house” is producing games. If Bethesda “just” throws out their whole engine to spend time building a new one, that’s a lot of time and money on company overhead instead of making a product to sell.

    1. Blake says:

      It’s actually even worse than that because at least building a new house people can make relatively accurate guesses as to how long it’ll take to build and when it’s done it’s done.

      With a game engine they’d be talking about writing new systems nobody has written before, putting them in an engine that doesn’t exist yet, trying to predict all the issues they’re going to run into, and in year 20xx when they’ve got something working they need to train everyone to use it, release some games and then discover all the new bugs they’ve spent the past few years writing.

      Refactoring and improving existing code would almost certainly be the better way to go, even if they have to dig through some really dark and scary corners of their codebase.

      1. Case in point. Current day CPUs are so complex that no single individual at AMD or Intel fully knows all the constrictions a CPU supports/has.
        Gamersnexus (I believe) found some instruction that was not supposed to be there in a later generation CPU to still be there even though it was supposed to have been removed.

        At Microsoft developers often ask other devs for features that actually exists.

        Heck. I got old code in my own relatively small projects and I can’t recall why I coded something a particular way. It might as well have been a different person that wrote that code.

        I have even Googled how to do something, to find a code example. And ended up staring at a Google result of something I wrote years earlier. After the initial shock wears off I’m obviously thankful to the younger me. But if that can happen with a single individual (and I’m not senile), I can’t even imagine the mess that is a BGS game.

        The devs at BGS probably knows that if they have to change “that” then they may as well replace “all this”, which means delays, extra money and all hands on deck. As creators they want to be able to create.
        Todd said as much with the Creation Engine editor, that they can very easily create with it, they know it very well, given talent and enough time they can create anything.
        There are better ways to do it, but there will be hurdles (training the designers, changing the tool chain etc.)

        They did do major changes though, like the Fallout 76 renderer and some other stuff, which means that Starfield and ES6 an Fallout 5 will benefit from that (unless they rewrite that once again).

        My biggest concern is the filesystem. A recent patch on consoles was 47 GB in size although the game only grew like 200MB compared to before the patch. A lot of other stuff can be changed out in pieces, isolated or turned modular “over time”. But the filestructure, that’s more difficult as that affect a lot.
        I assume the games stream stuff in, the way DLCs and mods work depend on this too. The Creation Engine editor depends on this too.

        They had issues with their launcher for Fallout 76 too, which has had issues with Skyrim SE and Fallout regarding enabling mods in the past.
        So I really hope Starfield changes the file system, or if not that, then at least ES6 will have a new one.

        I think many fear that BGS will suffer the same as Telltale where the engine and the studio stagnated.
        I don’t think that is a danger of BGS, I fear the thing will break instead. I think the Creation Engine is evolving enough to keep up, and BGS are creative enough (I mean, BGS making a Sci-Fi game, common, who saw that coming? I’m sure that the reason Bioware i planning a new Mass Effect after the Andromeda mess is due to BGS announcing Starfield)
        Say what you will about BGS, but they release big, they sell well and their games are very popular so if BGS goes for Sci-Fi for the first time, BioWare probably got a virtual faceslap as Anthem is not a single player storybased CRPG but Starfield will be).

        Also the house analogy thing is a weird one as I’ve seen houses lifted up, have their foundation changed and then sat doen again. And house moving is a common enough thing that there are reality/tv docus on them.
        At that point I always wonder if just building a new house would be cheaper and provide a house with less cracks in it.

        At some point BGS will probably make a new version of the Creation Engine from scratch and copy-pasting stuff from the old (like renderer etc).
        But they’ll only be able to do this while making two games at once with one mid production and the other at the very start of production. That way they can start a new game and make the engine from scratch while copying/porting key code over from one version of the engine to another.

        It will not be possible to make a new engine from scratch without a game, the game engine would have no direction to shape it or test it.

        If I where a guessing-man (and I am) I’d say Fallout 76 is acting as a testing ground for stuff for Starfield and maybe even ES6. They’ll probably want a multiplayer expansion or parallel game (reusing assets is much cheaper). Bioware did this with Mass Effect 2 and 3.

        I hope not as I do not like multiplayer at all (single player offline RPGs all the way), but there is money there and BGS is a business.

  16. guy says:

    General note; Shamus, I would like you to make the call on exactly what to do and just tell me it straight out because I am still a bit short tempered and I’ve had a disasterous version of this conversation with moderators on another forum because they tried to politely redirect me and they messed up very slightly and I blew up at them

    Um, if you noticed I was rambling and incoherently using Shinto metaphors as though you all knew them over the past few days, that is because I was up forty hours past my bedtime. I will hopefully be better enough by Saturday to explain the symbolism.

    Apologies to TylerDurd0n for furiously overreacting. If you are wondering what I mean I was so tired at that point that when I read your reply, I did not carefully explain that you are describing how you get whales, but I don’t “whale”, I “dolphin” and I know that the game is designed to appeal to “dolphins” but you were being Mobile Game Captain Ahab. I took it like we were Japanese nobles and you called me an idiot so I called you and all your coworkers idiots, except I did this by noting that I am aware that is how your company makes games because I am not an idiot.

    Meanwhile I will be posting hopefully on topic, but I am still sleep deprived so mostly I am posting here because if I go overboard the worst that happens is I disrupt threads and don’t respond to a forum moderator trying to help by threatening to refund all their games I can, delete my account and never buy another game from them out of pure spite.

    In the metaphor where “customers are Gods” that is me threatening to take my Sun and go home until Nintendo figures out how to cheer me up. This metaphor makes perfect sense if you are Shinto, but over here people don’t worship the Eight Million Gods so they don’t get the metaphor.

    And they basically give me a perfect Christmas and the presents are all decorated and everything is building up to the mysterious grand prize that we open last because it’d overshadow all the rest after it. And then I open it and it’s a sweater. And then they wonder why I’m mad because lots of people like sweaters. Yes. I know. I was sure you had bought me Diablo 4 because you’d hinted it was something lots of people like. I mean, sure, maybe I’ll wear a sweater but you know I only tolerate sweaters if Hatsune Miku is on the front.

    So two days ago I basically said that except it was a confusing mix of Shinto and Six Ages reference. I’m maybe 70% of the way better and progressing well but still using long ramblely metaphors.

    1. Shamus says:

      “Shamus, I would like you to make the call on exactly what to do and just tell me it straight out”

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. While that earlier discussion was perhaps a bit muddled, I didn’t get the impression anyone was particularly angry. I didn’t really have any serious concerns with it.

      1. guy says:

        Okay basically do what you just did. I am too muddled to know if it’s a problem. If it is tell me and make sure no one else tries to tell me because I might just flip out and I will do the Polite Japanese Lady version of swearing and throwing things, only no one will notice because it’s a confusing metaphor like that my tea is two degrees too cold and I’m not mad it’s too cold, I’m mad you’re telling me everyone likes tea this temperature instead of apologizing about the tea maker.

        Essentially when I used the Shinto metaphor about “customers are Gods” there’s a reason I compared myself to Amaterasu-no-Okami, and it is that she is literally the Sun so don’t make her go sulk in her room if you want the sun to rise in the next month. So on another forum I finally got across that I should really seek professional health by saying at this point I’m yelling at the bartender that he can’t cut me off because I’m God and finally they realized it was bad I’d been talking about how my ideal archetype is Amaterasu-no-Okami because no one dares piss her off.

        I am better now, but I am still rambly so maybe I will go off on an extended tangent about the first Council of Nicea and you need to decide if that’s actually on topic.

        1. guy says:

          Subtext: normally I would not have told people why I was mad about Blizzcon at all. That had been a warning sign, but it was a lot longer before it became obvious just how bad, and now I’m improving but I’m still sunday level except happy. I’ll keep posting unless told to stop; people who aren’t Shamus should not tell me to stop and all will be well.

    2. guy says:

      Also, this is a saturday conversation so I’d like Shamus to lock this subthread and keep it on hold until Saturday, but basically I am simultaneously recovering from {medical problem} and also coming out of the closet. Don’t ask about my gender identity, I’m not done figuring it out myself. Note that every post in the last four days was somehow a metaphor for my gender identity, and on Saturday I will hopefully be able to explain how.

      Pronoun is “he” provisionally, name is “guy” pending me deciding whether or not I want to change it. Today this is purely informational; for the moment just bear in mind that whenever I replied to anything it was somehow a metaphor for the fact that my gender is “Hero With A Thousand Faces” and I want everyone to know that and treat me like “Hero With A Thousand Faces”, it’s just that “male” is the face I have on at the moment and I’m mulling over whether “female” would be better in this forum. Same for every other forum; I might switch in some but not all.

      So treat me like “male who is happy drunk” until I sober up. Shamus is the bouncer; if there’s a problem mail him and let him sort it out because I don’t tell him how to do his job and he is polite when suggesting I could maybe learn a thing or two, so if he tells me I need to take a break I will for sure listen.

      1. guy says:

        Last warning, I attempted to explain this to a moderator for a forum for an obscure company that has an ironclad ban on making games with only a male protagonist under their main brand so they could explain this for me. And they didn’t get my Worm reference that I’d been Glastig Ulaine and now I’m getting therapy and when I’m done I will become Valkyrie, and basically tell everyone my last four days of posts were me telling them my gender identity via mad delphic ramblings and they decided I needed to stop posting and get professional help.

        As of two hours ago they told me they’re not qualified to handle mental breakdowns and I should wait until I get medication, and that was the last straw and I went on a rant about how I’d gotten professional medical help yesterday and I want them to just shut up and explain my prior post to the community, and since I’d just been misgendered to my face I also wanted an apology for bungling figuring this out so bad that I was still mad about the first time it happened on October 3 where someone implied they knew my gender better than I did, I tried to correct them, and then someone outright told me they knew my gender identity and I cannot understand what it’s like to not be a male. And I told them they apologize or I delete my account and all my posts and refund every game I still can and never buy another game from them ever again just as soon as I’m coherent enough to be sure that is a good idea.

        So, don’t try to talk some sense into me right now, and the reason I like Nintendo is that they screw up but they apologize, and basically that is because they treat customers like they treat gods, only this was also a metaphor for myself. And when I’m coherent I still lose it over the last straw, just I don’t email the forum administrators to issue an ultimatum and just carry my threat out instead. I will expand on this when I’m feeling better.

        Also Shamus did the right thing, but essentially that is because I am on his blog so I defer to his rules; if you don’t have a gold text box do not risk emulating him; email him and have him tell me.

  17. Agammamon says:

    One of the things I’ve been saying about this is that BGS doesn’t seem to know understand its audiences (‘s’ – there are two distinct audiences).

    The old-school RPGers (like me) would find an open-world RPG done in Creation just fine. In fact, somehow fuse the quality of FO4’s worldspace with a good writing/quest design team and we’d be ecstatic. Couple some drop-in MP with that and Bethesda would be responsible for a massive spike in deaths in the 40-55 year old range;) We can put up with the bug and framerate hitches because that engine does things no other engine can do – things that are awesome to have in an open-world RPG.

    If BGS were making those games – then Creation is the only one that can do them ‘right’. Not even CDPR’s engine can do what Creation can.

    The other audience – the one Hines and Howard are chasing – don’t care. They want a fast-paced shooter with top-notch animating. They want consistent frame-rates over 60 FPS. They don’t care that shops have schedules – in fact they’ll be pissed that the shopkeeper is home asleep because a) they means they can’t get to the shop when *they* want to and b) he’s screwing up their attempt to burgle his home by waking up and catching them. They don’t care that you can pick an item up out of the world (or drop one in it) and it shows – clicking on an unanimated chest and taking items out of a menu is good enough.

    If BGS wants to court *that* audience, then yes – they need a new engine. Desperately.

    It also doesn’t help that BGS keeps putting neat mechanics in their game and then promptly neuter them. Radiation in FO3/4 – but then we’ll put in radiation removal items and make them ridiculously commonplace. Survival – but then we make food plentiful so that the only practical effect it has is making you stop every few minutes to open the Pipboy and click on an item. We’ll start you out with shitty pipe weapons – and then decide to leave a better gun right there in the Vault. Even something as basic as HP – and then we make healing items crazy easy to get and allow you to heal in the middle of combat simply by pausing the game and scarfing down a dozen radroach sandwiches. May as well have just done regenerating health and save the player some clicks.

    Personally, I think its time for a shakeup at BGS. Howard should go to another developer. He’s basically been at BGS for 2 decades now and he never let’s an opportunity to let you know it go by. To the point that he’s basically complaining about it now. I get that he wants to make different games. Or even games that aren’t TES/FO – more power to him. I think he’s just getting burnt out over these and probably should have pursued a change of scenery years ago. Man can do good work, I just don’t know if he has the motivation to keep doing it where he’s at.

    1. I agree mostly with this. BGS knows they got a large bulk of the old timers sticking with them even through bad days.
      My biggest fear is EA/ActivitionBlizzard/Ubisoft and lootboxes and microtransactions etc. If BGS get dragged down that rabbit hole too far then that could kill’em.

      BGS likes to try new things though. Which as you noted causes a duality issue; those that don’t want any changes and those that don’t think there are enough changes (I’m sort of in the middle though).

      I’m not sure Todd leaving would be a good thing; he’s been heading things since (and including) Morrowind. And Morrowind was the thing that saved BGS (they basically said fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen, we loose our jobs? and considering the company was heading straight for the gutter they had nothing to loose).
      Zenimax exerts some force on Bethesda Softworks (the publisher of BGS) though, I wonder how free BGS are to do their own stuff. Though Starfield does seems a very Todd thing to do, he’s wanted to do that for over a decade, so either BGS have free hands or Todd got some mad contract skills, maybe both).

      The idea of Todd “doing” or rather working with something else is interesting though Todd Howard and Chris Avellone for example, I can’t even imagine what they’d come up with. They both are able to come up with these amazingly detailed worlds.

      …. WTF?

      I just Googled: Chris Avellone starfield

      Rumour has it that Chris is freelance writing some of the (side?-)quests in Starfield.

      *start hyperventilating*Calm down calm down.
      Sure, it’s a rumour and may not be true, but I don’t care. Make it happen. I dare say tat both Todd and Chris are geniuses, just having them pass each other in the hallway might spark something awesome.

      Maybe snagging some talent might help a bit. Microsoft Studios snagged up Obsidian and inXile, and while I think either Obsidian or inXile or MIcrosoft Studios snagging up Chris and having him bounce between Obsidian and inXile. BGS also hiring him is a possibility.

      Some “fresh” veteran eyes added to BGS might shake things up a little, and maybe some veteran tech leads as well, they clearly need a good mechanic over at BGS.

      1. guy says:

        Non-rambling-Shintoism-metaphor version of the story:

        The trick to attracting a huge and grumpily loyal fanbase is to figure out what they like and give them it exactly, then apologize for not being perfect with everything else and vow you do your best to improve it and follow through as much as practical.

        The trick to making a lot of money until you don’t is to repeatedly dismiss major complaints because what they really want is to play the lottery

        Old bioware: Mass Effect examination
        New bioware: ME:A Andromeda.

        And I realized just recently that I was so protective of Alec Ryder because being a Pathfinder is a metaphor for my gender identity; I want to play a game where I can flicker between powersets with a flick of a button.

        @Shamus: I’m going to avoid that thread in particular, but the footnote about technically getting the ability to do that but not actually is important to the metaphor. I’m about to go to sleep, so decide what to do with this information over the next ~12 hours and then I’ll at least try to explain it

  18. Ciennas says:

    I think people would have less complaints if Bethesda seemed less static.

    Rereleasing Skyrim umpteen times is fine- more or less anyway- but I find it galling that a rerelease does not incorporate bug fixes, for what is ostensibly a live and actively supported product.

    To wit: I hate that the copy of Skyrim Legendary Edition has a bunch of the same flaws as its original release five years previous. I especially hate that the unofficial patch is a requirement, and that it doesn’t get incorporated into the base game as a matter of course.

    (With the people on the bug patching teams being recompensed in some fashion for their hard work, naturally.)

    I hate that Fallout 3 had the time to release a 4k patch for XB1, but nobody has had the time to patch the area around Goodneighbor so I can safely traverse it without having the game crash from spawning so many goon squads.

    If they had a stronger post release team, they’d have less memes of Todd going ‘it just works’ because they’d be making it work for real.

    1. Agammamon says:

      but I find it galling that a rerelease does not incorporate bug fixes, for what is ostensibly a live and actively supported product.

      Doubly so when they could likely get away with taking the existing “Unofficial Patches” and just releasing them themselves. Not even patched in, just rewrite the UP plugin and release it as free DLC. Hell, don’t even re-write it, just push it as DLC – at least the consoles would get it (for OGSkyrim).

      1. They cant’ take a unofficial patch even if they wanted. The legal mess would be huge. The contributions to the unofficial patch is incomplete and if they even gave it away for free. It would be a official patch thus part of the game (and it’s sale) which means that any author that contributed to the unofficial patch would have a monetary claim against BGS.

        The Creation Club while a nice cash grab on the long tail of BGS games is also a convenient and clear legal way to avoid issues with paid mods.
        The modding community ate itself alive when Bethesda.net opened and allowed people to submit their free mods, many re-uploaded mods from Nexusmods without the permission of the mod creators, and that was the Mod community itself.

        There are still issues with this within just Nexusmods itself or other Mod sites; I often stumble upon a mod that for some odd reason has removed or a modder rage quit and nuked all their mods.

        A GOG release of KoTOR2 with the restoration patch would have been awesome but again legalities would be an issue.

        And there is no way (without spending a lot of (manhours/money) that the likes of Bioware and Bethesda can go through a unofficial patch, compare the difference and re-create the fixes and tweaks.

        Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines is a must play with the community patch (there is a game stopping bug like 2/3rds through). Apparently “The basic version of the unofficial patch is included in the GOG release” (BTW! the game is 75% off right now at GOG)
        So this is the exception. I’m guessing GOG managed to contact all the people that contributed to that patch (or the team behind it did) and that those they could not reach had to have the code changed or removed somehow.

        When contributing code and there is no clear license on the overall code or the code contributions the lines of code is the copyright of that author, even if the code is to patch a game by some company that owns the right to the game, the lines of code belongs to the coder.

        If you work at a company (like BGS) the code you write belongs to the company, so there is no copyright issues there.

        1. Agammamon says:

          They cant’ take a unofficial patch even if they wanted. The legal mess would be huge. The contributions to the unofficial patch is incomplete and if they even gave it away for free. It would be a official patch thus part of the game (and it’s sale) which means that any author that contributed to the unofficial patch would have a monetary claim against BGS.

          You’re missing what I was saying – BGS has had enough community support that if they just took the UP its likely the author’s of that patch would be *happy* they did that – if for no reason other than it would show BGS is serious about cleaning up their messes.

  19. Facts and figures speak louder than words, erm. wait…
    Anyway, this tweet thread is interesting and a tad sad https://twitter.com/Aerothorn/status/1060202788989222912

    Smaller CRPGs are struggling.

    Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
    The break even for investors was 580000 copies sold, by the looks of it only 110000 copies was sold.
    An investor gave $1000 and got back $192.67

    Somebody in the thread says:

    PoE2, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, Torment: Tides of Numenera and Tyranny all settled at about ~ 100-200k sales before the sales. I think this means the genre is still viable, but the devs have to budget accordingly.

    Several seems to say that they don’t want to pay 60 bucks but rather 20. While others say Paradox charge too much for DLCs for the first game so they don’t want to buy the second when they haven’t finished the first game yet.

    Others seems to cite bad marketing. While others say it’s due to the small niche category/market.

    Maybe Microsoft can turn things around in the future. Marketing should not be an issue, anything Obsidian and inXile makes of future titles will be announced at Xbox presentations. The games will be priced according to the market, and the games will most likely be in the Xbox gamepass thingy as well. (Note. Future games. current games that Obsidian and inXile are working on will be under agreed upon publishers).

    I just hope to see GOG releases as well for future games.

    1. Fists says:

      Occasionally I try one of the games in the ‘basically DnD’ genre and it’s always disappointing. Most recently it was tyranny and while I enjoyed it and there were strong character world building hooks and great breaks from cliche story lines the combat is utter garbage. They still just copy and paste the skills and stats from what ever game book and then set the combat balance so it’s possible to win, not fun or interesting. Non-damage abilities are just a waste of an action and there’s no room for strategy or maneuvering with four characters when you could just be attacking.

      I would say that is what’s holding Obsidian back. If their games were actually fun to play not just an experience to get through then they would get recommended far more often. Coming under the Microsoft banner might help them put out a more refined product but it’s going to raise the bar for getting me interested since I’d have to use the MS store.

  20. TriangleCity has a series of videos called “Fallout: New Vegas – The Cutting Room Floor”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihbACZVw5AA&list=PLfLdS8J9fUhTE_8mPM_yx1ehPRWBf79Hs
    The series includes two videos where Chris Avellone is interviewed.

  21. Here’s the rub for me. Beth doesn’t use their engine to make games, they use it to make content. Games are designed and the last time they came to even close to a game that could be described as intentionally designed was Morrowind and even then, only in specific sections of its overall creation. Oblivion was a turning point for them, where they saw the disparate abilities of the RNG in their engine – face generation, real-time ai behavior, physics, etc etc, to create content where they gave the game engine the outline of what they wanted to have happen, and then gave it all over to the algorithms. It created a persistent world they didn’t have to micro manage. Okay fine.

    However, since the design of this content is very hands off, the interactive mechanics that drive these games have to be very basic in order for the engine to remain stable and for the longest time – and arguably even today – all the ‘complexity’ could simply be handed off to stats, which is nothing more than number crunching. Stats don’t need mechanical design applied to them, they’re a basic calculation with a single output. Nothing’s being taxed by the engine or the game designer, and it’s comfortably familiar to your player base who can claim it as complexity even when there’s only a binary input/output to those mechanics with minimal involvement from the player…at least that used to be the case.

    In today’s market, I’m not so sure you can get away with it. I mean, obviously you can. It’s not outlawed or anything, but it’s just no longer feasible to have a game that empty of interactive meaning. And given how their open world games are created, I don’t think their engine as it is now is capable of creating meaningful mechanics, because that’s not what it was designed to do.

    Because it’s not a game engine.

    It’s a platform for creating content. It’s self-evident in the name – The Creation Engine – if not the engine itself, which not only allows people to mod Beth’s games, but create entirely new content through it…and yet even this new content is still hampered by the engine’s inability to create complex mechanics.

    There’s a popular Skyrim mod called Hunterborn, that – last I used it – allowed you to go through the various stages of cleaning/skinning/etc animals that you killed in the wild rewarding you with mod-specific animal parts that could be used to craft mod-specific tools in the mod-created crafting system. You needed unique hunting daggers to do so and there were multiple steps that took in-game time to complete in order to successfully get everything you wanted from your downed kill. It was rather in-depth…except it wasn’t. The various stages of cleaning/skinning/etc. were all handled through a sub-menu that popped up when you clicked on the animal, and then the game faded to black and back to represent the passage of time. The crafting used the same menu as every other skyrim interaction, where the ‘crafting’ amounted to clicking on text to create new text that appeared in your inventory to indicate a new item was created. The unique daggers weren’t even used, they simply needed to be equipped in order for the process to start.

    The sheer popularity of the mod shows the obvious desire for a more mechanically meaningful interaction than the vanilla game provided, but even this mod – despite all the work put into it – could only provide that interaction through menu-dependent abstractions.

    The point being that even if Beth got its act together and created a work environment that valued…well, whatever it is you think they need to value, they’d still be left with an engine that’s not designed or allows for meaningful interactions.

    Because Bethesda engines are not game engines. They’re content creation platforms.

    1. Agammamon says:

      Its not that they don’t create meaningful mechanics, its that their core philosophy now is never obstruct the player.

      So they add in specific mechanics – and then undo them lest that mechanic get in the way of the player.

      This came to a head in FO4. There is not player character in that game, its a player avatar. The only meaningful thing gated by mechanics are lockpicking and hacking – so of course there’s nothing behind those doors that’s going to be missed by non-completionists. You’re never in danger of dying unless you play really badly (even on Survival). Radiation is never an issue. Disease is an inconvenience. Clean food and water abundant. Ammunition and weapons thrown at you.

      Its worse in FO76. Now you don’t even need to decide which faction rules the wasteland – potentially gating off ‘content’ in the process.

      But the engine allows for meaningful interactions – both with the environment and with NPC’s – its that Bethesda won’t do that and they won’t allow modders the access they need to do that.

      For your Hunterborn example – keep in mind that that was one guy doing that in his spare time. For a counter – Skyrim allows you to put books on shelves and those books *show and are in the order you placed them into inventory*. Its still limited as there’s a maximum in the vanilla game you can place on a shelf no matter how large. Modders took that and made it so that it took into consideration shelf length and even allowed to to place things other than books on the shelves.

      And then in FO4 Bethesda removed that whole system.

      1. “in FO4 Bethesda removed that whole system” that’s possibly a sign of them changing their engine. They didn’t use/need that so they removed it to simplify the engine.

        It’s a shame if this hinders modding, but if modders can find ways around this while BGS experiments and mocks about from game to game until they add something better back then that is fine.

        You point out something important though, if they strip out more and more stuff (even if it gets rid of old buggy mechanics) but not replacing it with something then the game will become a shell of itself.

        Now, if the Fallout 76 “engine” is branched into it’s own path of simplification then that is fine if Starfield/ES6/Fallout5 do not get simplified.

        I’m interested in Fallout 76, not because of the game but how BGS handles it. BGS handing off Elder Scrolls Online to another company was probably the smarts thing. I haven’t played ESO, but it seems to be doing quite well.
        Now imagine ESO but made by BGS with the Fallout 76 engine. Not a pretty image is it?

        I obviously hope BGS don’t fail with Fallout 76, but I also hope they’ll see that single player modable RPGs are their strength. It’s what the company was built on, it’s what made Morrowind a success.

        And here’s the rub, BGS are one of very few big (AA or AAA) companies that does this.

        Obsidian and inXile games do not support modding (people still mod the games sure, but there is no modding support AFAIK). With them getting bought they’ll move from A to AA budgets and resources, maybe later even bump up to AAA. But will they add modding support?

        Take CDPRojekt RED for example which are very consumer friendly, they releases a modkit for WItcher 3, but you can’t create buildings and land or dungeons etc like you can in BGS games.

        BGS basically got the corner of a market, and I truly hope they don’t let that slip. While I don’t mod BGS games I do love seeing the amazing things people make (entirely new games for example) .

        Last time I can remember anything close to that would be the old BioWare’s Neverwinter engine.

        It’s possible people would rather want to consume than create, or if they wish to create then it’s really basic (aka Minecraft) or shallow (like Settlement building, there is a settlement mod for Fallout 4 that turns it into this amazing thing that BGS should have implemented themselves IMO).

        You say “Beth doesn’t use their engine to make games, they use it to make content.” I’ll partially agree. I’d say they use the engine to make worlds with content. Todd IIRC has said so in interviews.

        Todd also said (January this year I think) that he’d like to see them (BGS) focus on story and character more going forward.
        This obviously is not Fallout 76, which I consider a Fallout 4 multiplayer expansion turned standalone game.
        So Todd must have referred to either Starfield or ES6 or possibly both.

        This could mean that BGS is transitioning away from old BGS to a more Bioware KoTOR and Dragon Age Origins and Masseffect 1 era stuff.

        If they loose the modability that would be a huge shame. If they manage to keep most of it then maybe things won’t be so bad.

        I was hoping that the Creation Club would bring larger (voiced) quests and stuff but that never happen (so far) even though BGS offer translation services and I’ll assume that includes VOs as well. Whether this is due to BGS not providing a big enough budget or turning down large DLC sized stuff for the CC or if modders just refuse to work with BSG I have no idea.

        The more money there are in mods the more incentive BGS have to ensure gamers can properly mod their games. Todd and crew may walk with blinders at times bu I don’t they they’ll ever be that blind. I certainly hope not.

        1. Agammamon says:

          “in FO4 Bethesda removed that whole system” that’s possibly a sign of them changing their engine. They didn’t use/need that so they removed it to simplify the engine.

          Thing is, its just a script attached to objects. The script didn’t change – SkyrimOG and FO4 use the same scripting language. Its still in SkyrimSE (which uses the FO4 engine). It was already written. They just chose to not use it because they don’t think its important to the audience they’re chasing – same as with removing visible weapons.

      2. Except the last game I played on a Bethesda engine is New Vegas and the problem of mechanics is just as prevalent there. When you say ‘meaningful thing’, what you’re talking about is a reward. It’s an outcome of the actions you take, but that’s not the mechanics themselves. Obtaining a ‘meaningful thing’ is not an experience that was created and developed by a game developer, that’s a text line added to the inventory list of that cell of the game. The mechanic is the lockpicking, not what’s behind the lock.

        New Vegas only added one additional mechanic to the game: iron sights, and one of the first things I noticed about these iron sights was that regardless of what my skill with a gun was, it didn’t change what happened when I looked down the barrel of a gun. No matter what, my gun was as steady as a rock, because my ability to hurt enemies wasn’t being decided by the mechanic, it was being decided by skill checks. Iron sights was almost purely cosmetic, the actual mechanic was a number-crunch I had no involvement with except when I had to allot skill point during a level up.

        Everything else that people would jump on me for in that game: the dialogue, faction reputation, speech checks based on skills etc. aren’t actual mechanics. When your actions result in reputation loss, a text pops up. Passing/failing a speech check results in different dialogue being played and possibly different AI algorithms being implemented. It’s all a binary input/output system. You can give as much or as little meaning to those outcomes of these decisions as you personally desire, but the actual interactions are largely relegated to clicking on text or behind the scenes number-crunching…because again: the engine doesn’t allow for additional mechanics.

        This makes your counterpoint about Hunterborn is meaningless. It wouldn’t matter if it was developed by one person or a dozen strong team. All mods work within the restrictions of the engine and none of them add new mechanics to the interactions they present.

        That’s why Roger can point out how you can mod houses into game, but not something like Witcher. Witcher has more developed mechanics and therefore is a far more complex engine that has to respond to player interactions with far more depth and specificity, which heavily restricts what it can and cannot allow to be changed. Beth doesn’t have that issue because it’s not a game engine, it’s a content platform.

        1. Agammamon says:

          Everything else that people would jump on me for in that game: the dialogue, faction reputation, speech checks based on skills etc. aren’t actual mechanics. When your actions result in reputation loss, a text pops up. Passing/failing a speech check results in different dialogue being played and possibly different AI algorithms being implemented. It’s all a binary input/output system. You can give as much or as little meaning to those outcomes of these decisions as you personally desire, but the actual interactions are largely relegated to clicking on text or behind the scenes number-crunching…because again: the engine doesn’t allow for additional mechanics.

          What I’m reading here – my understanding of what you’re saying – is that no computer game ever has ‘meaningful mechanics’. Because everything is determined by an algorithm. It won’t matter how many mechanics you add to a game because they’re still done the same way.

          . . . respond to player interactions with far more depth and specificity . . .

          Outside of conversation trees and their complexity – where does it do this? Outside the story segments its still a very hack-n-slash game.

  22. Jeremy says:

    Bethesda apologists make me laugh.

    “But if they chage the engine, mods wont be possible”

    Yeah, they then would have to actually put some actual effort into their games, cannot have that now can we? Nah, why fix your broken games when the players do it for you?

    Good games do not need mods, shit games do.

    1. Shamus says:

      You really should have read the article. Now you look silly.

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