General:Oblivion Mobile Interview

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This interview, conducted in early 2006 by ElderScrolls.Net, asked Vir2L President Douglas Frederick about the development of Oblivion Mobile, with input from Greg Gorden and Brad Pitser. Courtesy of ESN (source).

ESN: Hello and thanks for making the interview possible. Please introduce yourself.

Vir2L: I'm Douglas Frederick, President of Vir2L Studios. Although I've authored most of the responses to the questions, two others have participated in this interview including Greg Gorden and Brad Pitser. Greg Gorden was the game designer for the previous TEST games (Stormhold, Dawnstar, and Shadowkey) and is currently the Vir2L Elder Scrolls Design Director for Oblivion mobile. Brad Pitser is the executive producer for Superscape, overseeing game development with our participating partner Barking Lizards.

ESN: Would you please clarify, why are some Vir2L mobile games preceded with "TES" and others with '"TEST"?

Vir2L: As many of you know, The Elder Scrolls mobile games have traditionally been designated as TEST (The Elder Scrolls Travels) as they were original titles not based on any Elder Scrolls game. Oblivion is different in that it is a mobile version of the original PC/Xbox 360 game. Therefore it retains the TES (The Elder Scrolls) designation.

ESN: What were your goals and main objectives for Oblivion Mobile?

Vir2L: The Elder Scrolls® IV: Oblivion™ for mobile was designed to build upon the previous TEST mobile titles in terms of game design and gameplay. As with our other TEST games, our goal is to help make The Elder Scrolls titles familiar to a greater number of players beyond the traditional PC and console game audience. Another very important objective for us was to find a way to offer the game to more mobile gamers and to significantly increase handset ports.

The overall intent of the game is to be challenging, fast paced, and action oriented enough so that casual and younger players can enjoy it. Of course, it also had to capture a sense of the Elder Scrolls universe and play-style with enough depth for Elder Scrolls players. We gave much focus to providing varied and rich levels with the essence of a TES game environment, but of course, within the limitations of the mobile phone memory.

ESN: Any serious challenges during the development?

Vir2L: We had to work within the very limited memory footprint of a mobile phone, encompass the storyline from the Oblivion PC/console game, provide a variety of game environments and non-player characters, and incorporate The Elder Scrolls class system within a mobile phone. Many difficult decisions had to be made during the course of the 12 month development with regards to the proper balance of characters, game play, TES storyline, environments, etc.

ESN: Judging by the screenshots and the official trailer, the game is a java midlet. Was this chosen because of the ability to port the game to a wider range of handsets?

Vir2L: The quick answer is "yes". The Oblivion™ mobile game was designed for both J2ME and BREW platforms. As with any mobile game effort, we wanted to maximize the portability of the game. While Stormhold and Dawnstar were good games and received promising reviews, they were too large for the handsets at the time. The end result was that the games could only be ported to upper end handsets - 22 in all. This restricted sales greatly. Shadowkey was only released for the N-gage platform and also had bounded audiences. We had to overcome the limited audiences of previous TEST games and release a title that could be ported to a wide variety of handsets.

ESN: What features from the PC/Xbox 360 version are in the mobile game? Will the plot of the mobile game be the same as the PC/Xbox 360 version?

Vir2L: The storyline is the same as Oblivion with the underpinnings of the TES class system (class system based on the early game Arena).

The epic storyline has an entirely different game flow suited to the requirements of the mobile gaming platform. It is of course streamlined and smaller so as to fit the footprint, but offers a game experience expected by the mobile gaming audience. The mobile game includes mini-cut scenes that help define the plot and reference PC/ console storylines. In addition, the mobile version of the game ending shares parallels with the PC/ console version of the game.

ESN: How long is the game?

Vir2L: Depending on how involved you decide to get in the storyline and how many of the side quests you choose to play, we estimate the total game play to be about 3-6 hours. This represents a significant play time for a mobile game with a 200k footprint.

ESN: What about replayability - will gamers be able to experience the game differently when choosing another specialization (e.g. if the game is played the first time as a warrior, then later as a sorceror)?

Vir2L: Yes, playing the game as a different character class will revise the character stats and strengths (please just ask Greg how many times he died testing the differences between classes). This will require players to devise new strategies for weapons, defenses, magic, and so on. There are also significant differences in the combat techniques used between these characters; for example, the Knight simply uses a variety of melee weapons to get through each level, where the archer uses a bow and arrow (of course) and the sorcerer can use an assortment of spells such as Fire Balls and Lightning Storms.

ESN: How many languages will the game be available in? Any chance of seeing a Russian version of Oblivion Mobile?

Vir2L: The game will be offered in English, French, German and Italian. Regrettably, there are no plans to offer Russian versions of the game.

ESN: For Stormhold and Dawnstar, getting the game was a problem for non-USA customers. Will there be way to buy Oblivion Mobile other than directly from the service operator, such as purchasing from a website?

Vir2L: Oblivion will be ported to approximately 75 handsets, which will greatly out-distance the 22 handsets of Stormhold and Dawnstar. Oblivion will be more widely available both in North America and Europe. Regarding online distribution, we're exploring offering the game on portals. If undertaken, we'll announce those portals on the "Availability" page of the website.

ESN: Current-gen handhelds, like PSP and Nintendo DS, have enough capabilities to handle an Elder Scrolls game. Have you considered bringing the Elder Scrolls universe to handheld platforms?

Vir2L: The answer to that would have to come from Bethesda Softworks as they oversee development and publishing for all consoles.

ESN: At GDC 2006 Nokia announced its plans to expand the N-gage platform's rich connected experience across a wide range of Nokia devices, including the N-gage Arena. What are your thoughts about that? What opportunities does this powerful platform open for further mobile gaming evolution?

Vir2L: From the very outset, Vir2L believed the N-gage needed to be on a wide variety of handsets and that games should have been offered at lesser retail prices. It's excellent that Nokia will now be offering the N-gage on a wider variety of handsets, and I'm optimistic that this time Nokia is on the right road. Mobile phones should be able to frame a vast and deep market for games based on their widespread use. The road to get there is much more visible when we have handsets with far greater memory and processor potential. Give us the sharp and clear screens of the PSP's and we can then make games closer to console games. We'll further ramp up mobile gameplay when we draw upon its great connected abilities. I think Nokia is on the right path and hope to be part of it. Go Nokia.

ESN: Considering the announcement mentioned above, it is much easier to utilize N-gage Arena like Xbox Live - for downloadable games, content, gamer scores etc. Downloadable content was planned for Shadowkey, but didn't make it to the release. What are the chances of a new TES Travels game (Shadowkey sequel or a completely new game with the Shadowkey technology) for the N-gage platform now?

Vir2L: We have no plans for an N-gage product at the present. As any intelligent business practice, we first have to wait and see that the platform reaches critical mass to warrant the investment. As I noted above, I'm a fan of Nokia's strategy.

ESN: How do you see mobile entertainment and games of the future? Will mobile gaming directly compete with handheld platforms?

Vir2L: I'm not convinced that handheld platforms will offer the same product as mobile platforms, even as the mobile platform becomes more sophisticated. For the near future, it may be the two platforms offer different game experiences, drawing upon their inherent strengths. If mobile games can tap the opportunities for interconnectivity, much of the gaming focus shifts. If not, the game experience on the mobile phone will have to compete with the handheld consoles, supposedly accompanied by significantly improved technical capability (e.g. memory, processing speed, graphic accelerators, and screens).

ESN: Bethesda Softworks recently acquired licenses for Fallout and Star Trek franchises. Do you plan on creating mobile games based on them?

Vir2L: I don't have any information I can share on that at this time.

ESN: Finally - do you have any suggestions for current and potential mobile gamers, and hints as to what we should keep our fingers crossed about?

Vir2L: From the Vir2L perspective, we want to bring you sophisticated TES games on mobile devices. Mobile developers have worked hard for several years within tight requirements. The approaching generations of phones will allow the memory, processors, and graphic accelerators to enable a deeper game experience and access the potentials of the huge mobile install base. Watch the mobile game space closely.

In the meantime, my suggestion is to play The Elder Scrolls® IV: Oblivion™ for mobile!

ESN: Thanks a lot for the answers! We are eagerly awaiting new announcements from Vir2L Studios!