As part of our extensive coverage of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, we sat down for an exclusive chat with Game Director, Todd Howard, about the world of Elder Scrolls and how it's developed over the previous games.
Read on to find out what makes the Elder Scrolls tick, what his least favourite moment has been, and how the Elder Scrolls community play a bigger role in the game than you might be expecting.
What is it about the Elder Scrolls series that gives it such long-lasting appeal? What sets it aside from other fantasy universes?
I think there are a few things. We treat each game as its own thing. We don't necessarily treat them as a series, or sequels. Each one stands on its own as a unique game. We just try to make the best Elder Scrolls game we can for that time. We have the same goals each time, but gaming changes, our own tastes change, our fans' tastes change.
We start over each time, we change it up each time. We're not afraid to try new things. Some of those are successful, some not, but overall we've avoided pumping out sequels that don't feel unique and special. I have always been a fan of the Ultima games, and I'm still inspired by how they evolved from Ultima 3 to Ultima 7.
As far as it being different from other fantasy universes - there's so many, so it's hard to say. Every fantasy world has its uniqueness and similarities to those that have come before. What we try to do, is treat it like a real place. Like a place that happened in some alternate history. That despite it being fantastical, when you play the games it feels completely authentic for what it is, almost historical.
Is your favourite game always the most recent one, or do you have a particular ES game that you're most fond of?
It's usually the most recent game we did, so can I say Fallout 3? If not, then I'd have to go with Oblivion, then Morrowind, and work backwards. I can easily point out flaws in all of them, but overall I think we solve more problems than we create in each game.
There have been a few Elder Scrolls spin-offs over the years. Would you ever like to see the universe in a different genre, or do you think it ceases to be Elder Scrolls if it's not an epic RPG?
I have various opinions on that depending on the day. Today, I feel like it's not Elder Scrolls unless it's a giant game where I can go where I want, be who I want, and do whatever I want. Depending on the platform, the year, or whatever, the form that idea takes could be different.
What do you think are the key elements of an Elder Scrolls game?
Be who I want, go where I want, do what I want. It needs to fuel that inner joy of pretending to be someone else, and have whatever power-fantasy you have in your head fulfilled.
Were there any games in the series that suffered a particularly troubled development?
Oh yeah, all of them in some respect. We usually try to do too much, get ourselves in development trouble, and then back our way into a better game than the one we originally designed. We still push ourselves to try ideas out quickly, and not over think them on paper before we implement them. Fortunately, most of our staff has worked on the previous games too, so going through that process is just a natural state for us. We always feel like we're trying something new, seeing it work or not, and adding it, removing it, tweaking it. And then the hard decisions come, because your time is not infinite. But the staff here works incredibly hard. We want to feel like we did everything we possibly could before the game comes out.