Interview with Paul Sage, Creative Director on The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls has always been a solitary experience. It takes place in a massive world, can task the player with several quests at a time, but the road through Tamriel has always been about isolation. ZeniMax Online Studios is aiming to change that. With The Elder Scrolls Online the studio is hoping to bring that same massive Elder Scrolls experience into a massively multiplayer game. Same world, same lore, but the journey is no longer one taken alone. Originally announced in May 2012, The Elder Scrolls Online is also being developed for the next generation of consoles. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will join the PC in hosting the MMO. I had the chance to ask Creative Director Paul Sage a few questions about the development of the game and what it’s like delivering the same experience on a massive scale.

Comics & Gaming Magazine: How did the idea to do an Elder Scrolls MMO come about, and why now?

PaulSage_jpg.jpgPaul Sage: Ever since the release of Morrowind, people have been comparing the Elder Scrolls games to MMOs, largely because of their shared breadth and depth. Likewise, people want to play in the Elder Scrolls universe with their friends. The marriage of the two seems like a natural fit. As for why now? This is when it all came together. Honestly, the timing of the release isn’t as important as the quality of the game we release.

CGM: Each of the past Elder Scrolls games has had a progressively bigger audience, is The Elder Scrolls Online being made to capture the players of the core series or those that are more inclined to play an MMO?

PS: We’ve found there is a large crossover in the two audiences, and they aren’t that separate. Lots of Elder Scrolls players are also MMO players, and vice-versa. That said, we feel what makes Elder Scrolls games special combined with great social systems from MMOs is what will make us stand out.

CGM: What are some of the most important things that needed to be done in order to have this feel like a unique experience and to give it the Elder Scrolls feel in such a different type of game.

PS: Importance of The World View – this is a fancy way of saying our interface is reduced in favor of showing things in the world. Looking into the world and seeing what is happening there is more important than watching your interface. We concentrate on the audio-visual portion of the game more than text and numbers.

Active Combat. We’ve concentrated a lot on making sure the combat system is active and engaging. You need to react to what enemies are doing in the world, and it needs to be something that challenges you.

And a highly interactive world. A hallmark of the Elder Scrolls series is world interactivity. Picking up things scattered throughout the world, having NPCs speak to you, traps, lockpicking, and lots of other things. These are important for the feel of the world and making sure it comes to life.

Also, choice for the player. Having a very robust progression system, the ability to equip any weapon type or armor type, and making choices in quests and how you do quests really gives the player the ability to stand out in the crowd. Their experience is going to be very unique. A unique experience within the same environment can help spark good conversation with friends.

There are many other things such as our Alliance War, the way our dungeons work, our social systems, etc. that will also make the game unique. But the core building blocks of the game start with these four things.

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CGM: What are some of the difficulties involved with incorporating a full first person mode into the game and why was it ultimately decided to include both POV’s?

PS: When you are making a game, you have to make choices. Sometimes what you don’t do is more important than what you do. I think the team always wanted first person, but initially it was much more important to get third person in the game and working well because situational awareness is a really big factor in our Alliance War and in a game where monsters can re-spawn right behind you. So that’s what we did, got in a very good third person camera. But like us, first person camera view is something our community wanted. Having such strong forces, we want it and our community wants it, puts it pretty high up on the “let’s do this” stack.

There are a lot of things that provide a challenge to putting in first person mode. FX are generally created assuming a certain camera position in third person; for instance you might be rooted and have chains on your feet. If you can’t see your feet, you probably don’t know why you can’t move. The way we make our art was designed more for a pulled back camera and allowing 200 players on the screen at once. First person requires more detailed hands, weapons, etc. When we prototyped the first person mode, several of us got queasy, so we had to do some normalizing with the camera to prevent players from tossing their cookies when playing. Even simple things such as positional audio changes because the audio is no longer rooted at “the camera” so to speak. These are just a few of the challenges to make sure the camera feels right.

CGM: How have fans reacted after getting a chance to play? Any common aspects praised/suggestions made?

PS: The response has been great. Perhaps the most common thing we hear from people is how surprised they are about it being a good marriage of MMOs and Elder Scrolls, or how much it feels like an Elder Scrolls. One of the best things to watch is two or three people sit down and group up together. We often see people smiling, laughing or even high-fiving each other.


CGM: What’s it like recreating the world of Tamriel 1000 years before fans are used to seeing it?

PS: Daunting, amazing, and just pretty damn cool. It is fun to step back in time for the series and hit some of the things that fans recognize. It is also interesting to challenge some of the notions people might have of the world at that time.

CGM: Has it been decided if the game will follow a subscription model or be free-to-play?

PS: We haven’t announced our business model yet.

CGM: At E3 you announced the game would come to both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. What unique challenges come with bringing it to consoles and what was it about these new platforms that prompted the development the game for them as opposed to consoles already on the market?

PS: A challenge will certainly be to make sure the game controls very well for each platform. Our commitment is to make sure the PC and Mac controls work really well on those systems while the Xbox One and Playstation 4 controls work best on those consoles. As for why the next generation of consoles? Their hardware is more closely in line with our specs and I believe we can bring the same great experience to all four platforms.