We recently had the opportunity to interview Matt Firor, Game Director at Zenimax Online Game Studios to talk about The Elder Scrolls Online. Here we have the video and transcripted below.
Kirk: What do you do, if anything, to provide a true RPG experience in an MMO format?
Matt: That?s actually a great question because one of the things, as we talked about this morning, that we really, really tried to do from the beginning of the project is make a great RPG, even before we added the MMO on it. And those are things like character customization and any character can use any weapon, and lots of choices. So we got that side of it, which I know wasn?t exactly the question. But going straight to the question, the hero stuff, we have a giant PvP system, hundreds of people at once. So you get to be the hero and things like that by leading groups of people, becoming a guild leader, you know there are many paths to becoming a hero in the PvP side of it. In the PvE side of it, we?ve got the lore and the consistency of the lore comes from the Elder Scrolls. So we have 20 years of established lore with strict timelines and books and lots and lots of websites that track the lore. So we keep ourselves honest that way and we actually have a lore master in the office whose only job is to answer questions from the dev team, like when did this happen, or what color is this creature and how do you pronounce this word because we have an NPC saying it. So we have the consistency that way
Kirk: So everyone is double, triple checking just to make sure?
Matt: Oh yeah. And we have a lot of Elder Scrolls fans on the team and they constantly will send emails to people who didn?t get the lore exactly right. And during beta, we?ll get all of that from our community and so that?s why we go into beta and of course we?ll react to that.
Kirk: If the MMO aspect was taken away from the elder scrolls online, do you think the game could still stand on its own and provide a worthwhile experience for fans of the series?
Matt: I do. We put a lot of effort into making sure the game not only appeals to MMO fans, which are the guys who read your stuff, but also to Skyrim, Oblivion, and Morrowind fans who are coming in without maybe so much MMO experience. And we had to make sure that when they sat down and logged in for the first time, it felt familiar. So it?s things like the control scheme is exactly like it is in Skyrim and Oblivion on the PC where you have ?W, A, S, D? to move, and you know combat is with the mouse, left-click/right-click, you know, we have all those and we did it for the reason that we want the single player RPG guys to feel familiar. So you can explore the world the way that you do in those games in that you just walk around and the compass points out things for you to do; there are stories everywhere; there are NPCs, you can help them or not, it?s your choice, there are no quest hubs. So all of that is a great RPG experience.
Building your character, lots of choices — you can use any weapon or armor. All of those are hallmarks of great RPGs where you build your character as you go.
Kirk: In Skyrim there are so many options to customize your character, and I, myself, spent like the first hour (?) just trying to make my avatar look exactly how I wanted it, because you?re going to spend a lot of time looking at that. So in this game, is there also a lot of character customization?
Matt: Yeah, character customization cuts kind of two ways: one is appearance. And that?s what you were talking about. So there is the way you make your character look and character creation with kind of low level armor, and then of course the MMO stuff all comes in, which is, how do I want to look when I am max. level and king of the PvP and you know, you see other characters also with armor and you?re like, I want that, and you go get it. That?s also character customization. But then the other route is, what choices do I make when I level. Do I want to be more magic based, do I want to be more weapon based, do I want to use bows, do I want to duel wield? Since really any of our classes can use any of those combinations, it?s kind of up to you to figure out.
Kirk: How will the PvP work? Is the world PvP, is it just certain areas? How is that going to be set up?
Matt: so the world is kind of divided into three civilized areas, because this is 1000 years before all the other games, so a little more wild. Tamriel is a little more unexplored this time through. So the three civilized areas are kind of where you do your leveling. And you pick one of the three alliances; you?re safe as long as you?re in that alliance. You?ll never PvP there. But when you make the choice to go to Cyrodiil, which is the fourth alliance; (and you?ll know that from the Elder Scrolls IV, Oblivion) it a giant area full of the towns, and the ruins and things you went through in Oblivion. They?re also in our version of Cyrodiil. And you?re fighting over the Imperial City, which is in the middle of Cyrodiil. So the PvP system is kind of set up as a strategic conquest game, where I?m taking over land, I?m defending it, then I?m going and sieging another piece of land that is protected by a keep, and then I?m protecting that. And that is the way the PvP system works. This kind of giant army sieging and taking over.
Kirk: So the three factions coming into Cyrodiil and taking over?
Matt: Three factions coming into Cyrodiil. And, of course, three factions is key because that means that it balances. In 1 vs. 1, if you?re 1% — if you?re 51-49, the 51 is always going to win and it?s so easy to get unbalanced. In 1 vs. 1 vs. 1, if one side is very strong, the other two sides can gang up on the strong side. It?s just a much more forgiving system for the players. They don?t feel like they?re constantly being down trodden.
Kirk: Do you have to aim in the game for skills, or is it just, you know, there is a monster over there, I?m just going to throw up a fire ball?
Matt: So were working on tweaking the system right now, and we don?t have the final answer. I?ll say that right now, because there are two competing systems that go in there. One, is that in a game like Skyrim, you?re the only player in the game, and the game can take one 100% of its time calculating all your stuff. In our game, if there are 200 people on screen and everyone is throwing fireballs, and the server, in that sense, is not tracking them, it can get overloaded very quickly. So with that being said, we are looking for ways to do that right now.
Kirk: Are there going to be any mounts in the game? Because I noticed, when we got to play a little bit earlier, it?s a huge world, obviously. How are players going to get around everywhere?
Matt: Yes, there will be mounts. The Elder Scrolls has basically always had mounts. We also have fast travel through wayshrines, which I hope you saw today, where as long as you find one, you can go back to any one you?ve found at any time. Yes, it?s a giant world, so we need to make sure that players not only feel like they can explore, but then they can get to where they want quickly if they?ve already found it.
Kirk: How many people do you aim to have per world?
Matt: So, loaded question, because we?re not going to have shards. We announced today that we have a technology called megaserver in which all players are on, essentially, one giant network. Really you just create your character and click play and you?re in the game. You don?t have to worry. The game figures out which game spaces you?re in and whom you?re in with, based on your friends list, on your guild, on your play style. So you?ll always be able to find your friends by looking at the friends list. And if they?re in a zone that you?ve been in, you can click on it, you?ll go right to them and start playing. It?s all right there.
Kirk: You mentioned there is a huge social aspect. People play MMO games because its hugely social and you want to play with your friends. So it?s great that there is not a hundred different shards, and people are able to find their friends immediately, play with them and just go on their quests.
Matt: Yeah, actually, its funny. The whole concept for then what became megaserver was we wanted to solve the problem of day one: figuring out where the heck all of your friends are? And there is no way to do it except for email or AIM or you know, instant message or text messages. It?s the only way because you don?t really have accounts, you don?t have characters yet, and everyone gets spread all the way across all the shards. And then you need a way to get players to get rid of their characters they?ve spent three days on and go create a new character where everyone else is. Especially if you have different sets of friends, you get in there like, well I want to play with them but my other friends are here? It?s just tough
Kirk: Yeah and then with megaserver, of course one night you can play with one group of friends and then the next night you can play with the other group.
Kirk: Are there going to be additional activities in the game? Fishing, cooking, lobbying, all that fun stuff?
Matt: So there is going to be fun stuff, fun social things to do, but the good thing about MMOs is that they really just begin at launch. Like, really that?s the core feature set at launch and we?re really committed to having content after launch very regularly. We want to fill out the map of Tamriel with more wilderness. You know, we have the civilized areas, kind of covered with the alliance where you level, but we want to fill it out with more wilderness areas where there?s more high-level content. If we don?t have enough social things at launch, we?ll certainly be adding them afterwards. The launch is really just the beginning.
Kirk: Our audience is mostly free-to-play MMO gamers. Is this going to be free-to-play, subscription??
Matt: We?re not going to talk about our monetization system right now. We?re really, today, introducing the game to everyone because you know, there were so many questions out there. No one had seen the combat system, you know, we hadn?t talked about megaserver. Today is all about the core experience.
Kirk: We had a chance today to play a quest where there are different options. One was to defend the dock or to defend the fort. Now, we were just curious, does this have an outcome on the whole game or is it kind of just that specific quest or is it just like a little series? I?m sure there are quests that you know, can change the whole outcome.
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. And in this case, yes there is an outcome although you wouldn?t see it unless you were playing it with someone who made the other choice. But, as you went through the starter area, you noticed that you saved a whole lot of people from invasion. And then you went to the next area and those people, since you saved them, went on the boat with you. And then you saw them in the next area. And then actually, as you keep playing the game, you see them in cities over and over again. They become friends with you and they kind of level up. You see them getting better and more important in the hierarchy and you?ll kind of keep running into them in quests over and over again. So what you didn?t know is that when? Well, did you choose the dock or the fort?
Kirk: I chose the dock.
Matt: So what happened is, everyone in the fort died. So half of the people that you saved went to the fort, half went to the dock. So you?ll see different sets of NPCs because you saved the ones on the dock. The ones in the fort, you wont see those NPCs anymore. They?re gone. Now do you feel sorry?
Kirk: I do. I mean, that was half of the whole town. I thought I was going to save everyone, but can?t do that.
Kirk: Thank you so much, we appreciate it. We?re pretty excited about playing the game.