It takes a lot to wear out to Todd Howard, game producer for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
He was still full of energy after having held an hour-long presentation of the game, and it was an opportunity to participate in a 50-minute general Q & A session immediately after.
We know how happy you are to suck you all the information about the game and choose here to reproduce the session in its entirety.
What does “Dragonborn” really mean?
- Dragonborn means that someone is born with the soul of a dragon. We do not want to say too much about what this means in Skyrim,
but there have been several such transferor born in previous Elder Scrolls games, and naming shows that they have been given special gifts of the gods.
What ressources do you use when you use shouts?
- Right now they only balanced by cooldowns, which means you have to wait a while before you can shout again. It allows us to balance the system better.
There are 3 levels of each shout, level 3 is the highest. Since the cooldowns limits your use of shouts, you must decide if you want to use a powerful shout and how great the need is at that time.
You may suffer from using a powerful shout if you need the shout later on, in combat. This is because of the cooldown of each shout.
Can you combine shouts?
- It was possible at first, but we found out it was really confusing, so we removed it. Instead, the game will combine shouts for you, automatically, whenever possible.
How many shouts is there in total?
- Right now we have about 20 shouts with three levels each, so we are talking about over 60 different shouts in total. We expect to end up with a few more before finish.
Can you explain the experience-system of Skyrim? Is it forcing you to go up in level? Is there any maximum limit?
- We think we’ve solved that problem this time. All skills will make you go up in experience level, but the higher the amount of experience you have in a skill, the greater the impact it has on leveling.
One thing we’ve noticed is that people look at their character and use the skills they have trained most.
Now you can be a magician and find a sword and use it for a long time without affecting your level of experience much. You will always be best served by focusing on something,
but this game makes it very easy to vary. Using the weapon in two hands independent of each other was actually something we came on late in development, because it felt so natural with the new control system.
In the intro it is mentioned that our character is on the way to his execution. Can you tell us more about the background of the main character?
- We give him no decided background. In this game-series, the player always starts in prison, and the player is to find himself his character’s own background.
If you want a good or bad past then you could have it, we will only send you across the border to Skyrim.
In some of the combat we have seen the finishing-moves. Is this something that needs to be activated, or is it performed automatically?
- These animations are only for show, and is linked to different types of attacks. The animations you saw belongs to the powerful version of the melee attacks, and there is no special ending attacks.
In the beginning of your presentation you said that you must use all available ressources to kill dragons, but it did not seem as if you struggled too much with the one you killed.
Was that because you was high-leveled?
- I made it easier for this presentation and included titanium-covered health to my character. It looks bad if I die on this particular piece, so I made the dragon a bit weaker, and my character is much stronger.
Dragons in general will be very difficult!
Can you explain the dynamic of their storytelling?
- We developed a system for Fallout 3, which generated random encounters with different beings. And we thought, “what if we put this in the system? “. Therefore, we chose to integrate it in all missions in Skyrim.
And it turned out that it sucked, because it is too flat and transparent. So we went back to writing all missions and stories by hand.
Some of the missions will still contain dynamic storytelling. Instead of very fixed roles, for example a specific client that sends you to regain the specific child,
this system can be specified to interpret it as “the child of a person in the city have disappeared,” and “find a random cave where it might be. “
One thing we have struggled with in our games is control. Because some players are not experienced enough to handle the freedom that we offer.
This system allows us to guide them to a greater extent. It ranges widely, from small random assignment to larger assignments where we ask the game to bring
out “the next character who hates the main character” or something like that.
We used that fact in one of the missions you saw. If your client dies, his sister will take over his store, and be quest-giver.
How do you handle the dialogue and voice acting for this type of missions?
We get voice actors to record the options for this type of mission, and we have learned us to write in a way to hide these “holes”. An employer may say, for example,
“my child has been abducted to a cave nearby, you will get a reward if you get it.”
You do not think about that the employer never mentions what your reward. It has been very difficult to get everything to sound right.
Is there a limit to the highest level of experience?
- No. That is, there’s probably a mathematical limit, but like in Oblivion, it is resolved so that we do not put a permanent roof on it. We’ll let things happen.
We have tried to balance it to the better, by allowing you to increase faster in experience-level. We look at Oblivion and Fallout 3 as level 1 to 25-games. This is a level 1 to 50-game.
But we have only increased the pace of leveling. Much of the character’s strength lies in the skills, and there are many of them. We wanted quick things up a bit.
But the mathematical limit is probably around level 70
How to scale the PC version compared to the console version?
- I believe that it scales as expected. There are certain things we do with the PC versions of all our games. For example you can make the textures as large as you want.
In addition, you will of course have other solutions available. Something we have focused on is that the game will look the same no matter what distance you are sitting on,
so it suits for both console- and PC-players.
How do you handle the difficulty of the game?
- We haven’t actually thought about it much. In Oblivion, we had a slider and in Fallout 3, we went over to a button with different levels.
I think people are more familiar with “easy, medium, hard,” but it’s hard to say exactly what system will end up with in the end.
In an interview with IGN mentioned that the game will support DirectX 11 Can you say more about how this is supported in Skyrim?
- Yes, the game will support DirectX 11, but basically it is a DirectX 9 games. In comparison with DX11, there are some things we get for free,
such as performance improvements, which was what I meant.
How big is the world compared to Oblivion, and how diverse is the environment?
- If you put the maps on top of each other it is about as big as its predecessor. But Skyrim is different because of all the mountains that form our routes.
The terrain makes it smaller in practice, but you spend more time trying to move through it because they often can not be crossed. So it probably seems bigger.
- About variation. You have already seen the spruce forests and mountain-ranges. We also have grassy tundras, a volcanic tundra, an forest in the theme of autumn and a glacier.
There are about six or seven distinct types of environments. The changes are much more obvious than in Fallout 3 and Oblivion.
Can we continue to explore freely without anyone trying to lead the player?
- We usually try to not lead the player in any way. The dynamic storytelling will only make generic tasks more enjoyable.
You will find the same game-flow as in our other releases, and we are trying only to toss you around a little bit, by including the use of the compass.
Before you complete a mission or task, we want the player to possibly find two or three new ones on the way.
You mentioned that one can affect the cities’ and settlements’ economy. Can you explain this?
- The ability to play with the economy is something that always looks good on paper, but if it is too realistic for the player, he will never notice it. It doesn’t bother you that arrows is a tiny bit cheaper.
Instead we’ve tried to remove things from the economic system, so it is more noticeable. The player has resources that are directly connected to trade-skills.
Mining and smelting affects blacksmiths, farms affect food which in turn affects the ingredients which in turn affects alchemy.
We have not quite figured out how we solve this system yet, but it is something we are working on.
Does the enemies level up together with the player, or is their strength set from before?
- We have had some dynamics of this system in all our games, but it was too much of it in Oblivion. The short version is that the current is very similar to the one in Fallout 3,
but we are trying to signal the areas that are harder than others. We would like that the players pounded their heads against the wall and shouting “I’m a wimp,” if they enter the wrong area,
but they should be able to use all their resources to push through a difficult area if they wish.
What happens if you enter an area, leave and come back again?
- How we did it in Fallout 3, the player made it certain how an area looked like when you first visited it. By coming back again later you made it only harder. So you just spoiling it for yourself.
Changes in the seasons? Another thing: when you used the bow before you had a zoom effect, and that time went slower as you would shoot. Are these special abilities?
- The seasons do not change, just the weather. In relation to the arrow and bow system they have two different properties. They also have different levels so that you can get different degrees of zoom or bullet time [tidssakking].
- Are there mounts in the game?
- There are boats, but you can not sail them. In relation to horses and other mounts, it is something we want, but we are still experimenting with how. We exclude them, definitely not, but we will ensure that the game adds something. Horses have evolved much in the game, and we will do it properly if we choose to include them.
What about guilds and organizations in this game?
- This we do not talk about yet.
- What was the idea behind designing a skill tree that resembles constellations?
- I worked with the interface and wanted to take a step away from Excel spreadsheets and the typical system we find in RPGs. So I tried a number of options, including one where you look over your right shoulder to look at your weapons, left shoulder to check out the magic and the stars to see who you are. It was the foundation. In the previous Elder Scrolls games, we have also had the asterisk, and we would gather all these into one system.
- Can you say a bit about the differences between the caves?
- We stock them still in kit form, and it’s something we’ve done since Terminator: Future Shock. The difference is that we have become better at it. We have been better to make the environment more organic and uses several building blocks. For example, many types of caves in the game. Overgrown moss caves and ice caves are a few of them. We also have a cave inside a glacier and an imperial fort. Altogether there are probably five or six general construction sets, but within them there is much variation.
- How do you handle the level design of the game differently from Oblivion
- In Oblivion we let the visual designers take care of the caves, also we had a couple of specific “level designers” who went over them afterwards. There was nothing wrong with them, but they could have been better. So now we have a bunch of the eight-nine is really talented. At last count we had about 120 real caves, and more than 100 common points of interest outside. The game is actually too big.
- Is there a set number of dragons in the game?
- No, there is an unlimited number of dragons. One of our designers actually put in a random event I encountered, where I ended up being chased by three dragons and I thought “who the hell did this?” I felt like Frodo in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and was really frightened. So I asked him to remove it. But no, dragons are generated automatically (in addition to that there are a number of specific encounters, of course).
- Are all dragons aggressive towards the player?
- All dragons speak, it’s actually what they do when they are spouting fire. Fighting games are debatering for these creatures. There are some dragons who speak the “common tongue” and make themselves understood to people, I cannot divulge more right now.
- Can you say something about the fauna in the game? We’ve seen fish in the rivers and dragons, there are other animals?
- Yes! We have a couple of designers who only work with “world interaction.” Say you lose a sword. It happened once before we let you zoom in on the weapons that I would inspect the appearance of a sword. So I throw it on the ground, and before I know someone picks it up and gives it back to me because he likes me. Another example of world interaction is how we have wolf packs that hunt mammoths, and it takes us fifteen minutes to implement something like that.
- When you killed the dragon you said you had to take his soul. Can you elaborate on this?
- It’s a very interesting topic, but unfortunately I cannot talk about it yet!
- Why did it take five games before we got to see dragons?
- Everyone asks us about – multiplayer and dragons. For one thing, we think that it is a bit clich