Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Interview

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posted 6/2/2005 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
One of the games that really left an impression on me at E3 was Elder Scrolls IV: Obliviion. The game really shows off the power of what the Xbox 360 can do with the amazing environments to explore, new and interesting characters to meet, and cool new monsters for you to find and kill it is shaping up to be one of the system defining games for the next version of the Xbox


GamingNexus: Can you provide some background about the background of the game?

Ashley Cheng: We created Oblivion to be the RPG for the Next Generation, and not just in terms of visuals and platforms. We wanted it to be advanced in the way it’s played and experienced; to give the player incredible entertainment. That’s our big goal – to entertain. As far as the story, the game deals with the demons from Oblivion (essentially “hell” in the world of Tamriel) invading Tamriel. Early on, the Emperor is assassinated, and you’re there to witness it. He hands you the Amulet of Kings, the token of the true emperor, and bids you to “Find him, and close shut the marble jaws of Oblivion.” It’s your task to find the rightful heir to the throne and stop the invasion.


GamingNexus: Will someone who never played any of the first three games still be able to enjoy the game/Are there elements to the game that previous players will pick-up on?

Ashley Cheng: It will definitely be enjoyable for new players; we like each game to stand on its own. While Oblivion takes place in the world of Tamriel, the same as the first three games, it has its own new and unique storyline.


GamingNexus:Are you using your own in-house physics engine or a third party engine?

Ashley Cheng: We are using Havok for our physics.


GamingNexus: Will gamers start off in jail again?

Ashley Cheng: Of course. We’re not sure why, but we love to start you off in prison.


GamingNexus: Patrick Stewart is the voice of the king, what was it like to work with him? Have you signed any other “name” voice talent for the game?

Ashley Cheng: We have, but we aren’t ready to announce the others just yet. Stay tuned.


GamingNexus: Was there ever any thought of developing for the existing Xbox rather than the Xbox 360? What new capabilities of the system are you using?

Ashley Cheng: Honestly, not really. We’re making a next generation game that requires next generation hardware. We’re not particularly keen on taking out much of what makes the game so great to get it to run on previous generation hardware. I just don’t think we could have it be the same game and that’s what’s most important to us: regardless of which platform you choose, the game experience is the same.


GamingNexus: What kind of obstacles have you had to overcome with developing for such a new technology? Are you using the XNA studio toolset or another product to develop the game?

Ashley Cheng: Working on new technology and hardware is always a challenge. That's why we started right after we finished Morrowind back in 2002. We spent our entire first year of development just focused on technology. Microsoft's XNA toolset sounds very promising, but for Oblivion we used our own internal processes and pipelines .


GamingNexus: Can you talk about how the combat/magic system has changed since the last game?

Ashley Cheng: By removing most of the randomness from the gameplay systems, players will experience more realistic combat. If you swing your sword and hit a guy, you will hit him. The change comes in the damage you do – so now your stats determine how much damage was delivered, or taken, as opposed to if you hit or not. It just feels 100 times better this way when you play it. So we’ve really moved the stats from affecting when you hit to how you hit.


GamingNexus: The forests are one of the things that looked amazing in the demo, can you talk a little about the system of how they were generated?

Ashley Cheng: We spent a long time working to create forests that would take you to another place. We combined procedural generation of landscape (based on its soil type and years of erosion), trees (based on species and random growth clustering), and grass (based on regional patterns) to create some really amazing areas.


GamingNexus: About how long do you think the game will take the average gamer to get through the game?

Ashley Cheng: That’s a good question, because it’s sort of hard to know what the average gamer will do. Folks that want to stick to completing the main quest, while doing a few side quests, some dungeon crawls, etc., will probably take 20-30 hours. If they join one of the factions in the game, that will obviously add to it because each faction quest is like a main quest unto itself. And it could take them over hundreds of hours if they decide to do every faction, explore every dungeon they come across, and so on. There is a ton of stuff to do in our game.


GamingNexus: What has changed with the NPC AI? One of the things mentioned in the demo was that each NPC had their own schedule and characteristics. Can you go into a little more detail about this?

Ashley Cheng: The new Radiant AI system allows our NPCs to have full 24/7 schedules and it allows them to think on their own. So we give them general goals, like – “Eat at this city at 2pm”, and they figure out how to do it. They will find food, find a place to sit and eat, and so forth. But that micro-decision is the NPCs to make, we just provide the general goal.

Our goal with Radiant AI was to move away from scripting these 1,000 NPCs and what they were doing at any given moment and have them start doing some things on their own. We want it to feel more realistic and have them change what, or how, they do things. It also carries over into dialogue where you could have 10 different people walk down the same street at the same time and overhear 10 completely different conversations between NPCs. It’s a very cool thing to experience.


GamingNexus: What other new features can gamers look forward to in the game?

Ashley Cheng: Millions of fans downloaded the plugins for Morrowind, and we plan on releasing plugins and extra content after Oblivion is released. We really want to take advantage of the ability to add to your existing game by providing cool content in large and small chunks for folks to experience.


I’d like to thank Ashley for taking the time out of his day to answer our questions as well as to Lori for helping to coordinate the interview.