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Oblivion Q&A
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The guys at Bethesda Softworks were kind enough to answer some question on their upcoming release, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and their opinion on Microsoft's next-gen console.
11.06.05 - 6:43 pm

XG: Can you give us a rundown of the storyline in Oblivion and what we can expect from it?

You are tasked with finding the rightful heir to the throne after witnessing the assassination of the emperor. With no true emperor, the gates to Oblivion open and demons flood the land, wreaking havoc. The only way to close the gates and restore order is to find the emperor’s son.

XG: How are you taking advantage of the Xbox 360?

Well, it’s pretty obvious we’re doing an awful lot to push the graphics and take full advantage of the GPU. Lots of stuff with the new 3.0 shaders, HDR, etc. With a big huge world with over 1,000 NPCs and the fact that you can pickup, move, manipulate every object in the world; that requires a lot of horsepower to move all that data. So we need everything the Xbox 360 can do to be able to make a game like this that does all the things it does.

XG: The forests in the game are certainly beautiful, how will gameplay take shape in these immense places?

There are all kinds of locations you’ll find in our forests: ruins, caves, dungeons, shrines, camps, etc. There’ll be creatures to fight, ingredients you can pick, and so on. Lots of things to see and do. We’ve even added ambient wildlife and hunter NPCs.

XG: How much does Oblivion differ from past titles such as Morrowind? What has the 360 offered you compared to the Xbox?

It might be better to share with you how Oblivion is similar to Morrowind, since each time we essentially start from scratch with each new chapter in the series. We think it’s important for each title to able to stand on its own and with new technology, like the 360, we really have the opportunity to make each game completely independent. The 360 has allowed us to add features that simply weren’t possibly on the Xbox…like the ability to run procedurally generated landscapes, apply Havok physics to every single object in the game, use the Radiant AI system on over 1,000 NPCsall of this with amazing graphics; these are just a few of the things the Xbox 360 has been able to supportthings that previous generation consoles were simply incapable of.

XG: Can you tell us in more detail about the combat and magic systems?

We did three whole new combat systems before settling on the one that’s in the game now. We really are striving to get the kinetic energy of guys bashing each other with swords down, and do it right, because no one has yet. So it plays better, and it looks better. You’re in control of it more.

We really watch the balance between player skill vs their character’s skills. It’s a tricky balance. Really in the end, we’ll use any means of interaction we can to make it more fun without making success purely twitch or purely stats, we try to strike a balance. Your stats determine what you can do, and how effective those things are, but you’re in full control of the when you do them. For instance, you hold a key to block, but the effectiveness of that block is determined by your character’s block skillthings like how much damage the block absorbs, how much it fatigues you and so forth. But it’s still up to you to know when to block and time your attacks around those.

And combat and magic work together, seamlessly. So you can whack a guy with a mace a couple times and then fire off a spell at him, or on yourself, and go back to smacking him again. It feels very natural and fluid and, most importantly, fun.

XG: How does stealth work in Oblivion? Has the 360 brought anything new to this aspect?

There’s nothing really specific to the Xbox 360 that has enhanced stealth gameplay. We spent a lot of time walking on it in general in terms of creating systems that allow the player to play as a thief-type character without getting out of character. So you don’t have to resort to magic or big weapons if you don’t want to. We do a lot more things with light and shadow and detection while you’re in stealth mode- how quiet you can be when in certain types of armor, or based on how fast you’re moving. At higher skill levels of Sneak you get bonuses, like successful attacks while you’re sneaking, things like that. I’ve been doing some of that stuff lately with my character, having just joined the thieves’ guild. It’s fun stuff.

XG: Can you tell us more about the economy in Oblivion and what types of things we will be able to purchase?

Um, anything and everything is for sale, somewhere. You’ll find vendors for all different types of weapons, clothing, armor, food, trinkets, magic items, spells, potions, ingredients…anything you want, need, or can find in the game can be bought and sold somewhere.

XG: How does your Radiant AI system work in the game? What types of activities do they carry out?

They carry out the daily schedules of NPCs in the world. Everything from when and where guards go while on duty, when shifts change, what time people eat, sleep, close their stores, go to bed, go run errands, go to pray, etc. Our Radiant AI system allows every single NPC in the game to live out full 24/7 schedules.

XG: We understand that the game will not be linear, what types of mini-quests etc can we expect?

Well, outside of the main quest there are all kinds of things you can do. There are four different guilds you can join and rise to the head of (mages, fighters, thieves, and dark brotherhood). There’s an Arena circuit you can join and fight in as a gladiator, or you can just go there and watch fights and bet on them. There are over 200 dungeons you can go out and explore and loot. There are miscellaneous quests all over the world. Basically it’s like a big fantasy sandbox for you to jump into and experience however you like.

XG: When compared to other RPGs, what are the main differences between Oblivion and the rest?

Well, that’s a rather broad stroke to compare us to all other RPGs. In general, we’re first person, we do really high end graphics, we have enormous game worlds, we let you go where you want and do what you want, we’re skill based rather than experience based…these are all things The Elder Scrolls series is known for and reasons why people want to play our games.

XG: Oblivion can be played in both Third and First person perspectives, what advantages do either of these have?

It really boils down to personal choice and how you want to view the action and neither really offers a decided advantage over the other.

XG: What skills will be able to master in the game?

There are 21 skills in the game, seven of which you choose as your major skills. These are the skills you have to improve in order to level up, and they’ll start off at a higher level, but you can master any of your 21 skills. The higher your skill level, the more things you’ll be able to do with that skill, whether it be a special attack the skill allows your character to do, or the ability to repair certain items, or invest in stores, or whatever.

XG: What types of enemies should we expect to see and how many classes?

You’ll see the full range of things. Undead like zombies and skeletons, classic fantasy creatures like goblins and trolls, different types of Daedra (demons), and so on. There are probably 40 to 50 different creatures, and lots of variations within each creature.

XG: What differences will there be between Xbox 360 and PC versions?

The differences will be pretty minimal. We like to create the game we want to make and put it on as many platforms as possible without changing the game. So, same quests, same functionality, etc. We’ll have downloadable content for both versions so you can add new things to your existing game. The big thing for the Xbox 360 is that it’s a known level of performance, whereas the PC could be any of 10,000+ combinations of hardware, OS, etc. But the game itself will be the same.

XG: How has Microsoft assisted you guys throughout the development process?

Microsoft has always been a good partner for us and have always been very helpful and very easy to work with. They’re great and provided a lot of help and insight to us along the way.

XG: How does it feel to be developing one of the fore-front Xbox 360 titles?

It’s nice to get that kind of recognition, to be able to show your game to folks and have them tap it as one of the big games they have to have for the new console. We know what we expect of ourselves and this game, and I think if we keep doing what we’re doing it’ll be as great as we expect it to be, and everyone hopes it will.

XG: What is your personal opinion on the 360?

Can’t wait to get my hands on the retail version. I have hardware in my office and use it on a daily basis. It’s great.

XG: Do you have plans to bring Oblivion to other platforms such as the Playstation 3?

At this time we’ve only announced for PC and Xbox 360 for this holiday season. We aren’t talking about the possibility of any other platforms at this time.

XG: What time-frame are you guys aiming at to have the game ready for release?

We’re still targeting this holiday season.

*Note, this interview was done before the recent delay announcement*

XG: Do you think we will be seeing much more Xbox 360 titles from you guys?

Definitely. We have a number of things in the works already. We’ll let you know when we’re ready to talk about them.

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