Oblivion: Fan Interview IV
Original Interview Link 
Bruce Nesmith, Design Director
1. Could you give us any details on the alleged weapon/armor forging system in The Shivering Isles? Will there be more staffs/robes for the mage players? And what sort of weapons, armor, and other items are you planning to add?
- The Shivering Isles will let players make custom armor and weapons. In each side of the city there is a smith that can forge armor and weapons out of raw materials that you find in the world. The smith in Bliss (mania part of New Sheoth) can forge Amber weapons and armor out of raw Amber. The smith in Crucible (dementia part of New Sheoth) can forge Madness weapons and armor out of raw Madness Ore. Amber makes light armor, and Madness Ore makes heavy armor. Each smith has a full suit on display.
- You can also find special Matrices throughout the world. These are one use molds that can make magical versions of whatever weapon or armor they form. You don't get to pick the enchantment, but what the heck. It's free! You can always choose to not use the matrix and enchant the items normally at the Arcane University.
- There are all kinds of new weapons to be found already made in the world too. There is Ruin's Edge, a bow that will afflict a player with random effects. There is Duskfang/Dawnfang, a sword that counts its kills and gets more powerful. All told there are about 200 new weapons and 80 or so pieces of armor, many of which have different versions for different levels they might found at.
- There are also new robes and staffs for mages. Of course there is the ultimate staff, the Staff of Sheogorath. And no, it's not the same one you find in Cyrodiil. It has a very cool new power, never seen before.
2. Will level scaling be handled the same way as in vanilla Oblivion, or are any tweaks planned?
- It's done in the same way as Oblivion, with some tweaks.
3. What new features do you plan to add? What of new factions, either joinable or non-joinable? Also, since this is about the realm of Sheogorath, what kind of quirks can we expect?
- The main quest has the player advancing in the faction of the Court of Madness. You can even attain the rank of Duke of Mania or Dementia. On the Xbox this will unlock new achievements as well.
- Many things will be different here. Even going to jail. Criminals are thrown into the bottom of a dungeon. All of their equipment is confiscated. If you can make it out of the dungeon alive, without your stuff, you are free. All your crimes are forgiven. All of your confiscated goods are in a chest right next to the exit, so you do eventually get them back.
- New Sheoth has a graveyard. Each citizen that dies gets a tombstone in the graveyard with a fun epitaph.
- Most of the creatures have some special ability or interesting weakness. For example, the Grummites heal in the rain. The Gnarl gets larger and tougher if you hit it with fire, frost or shock spells. The Scalon can turn invisible while stalking you.
- Heretics and Zealots are similar to the Conjurers and Necromancers of Oblivion. However, if you wear their robes and hoods, they assume you are one of them and do not attack. Be careful though. If you get too close, they realize you are an imposter and attack.
4. What 'fixes' will be implemented in Shivering Isles to correct problems in Oblivion?
- There will a new patch sometime before the release of Shivering Isles that has various fixes and support for Shivering Isles. Most of the fixes are for some remaining odd crash issues.
5. Will you have help from the minions of Sheogorath to try and save the Shivering Isles? Guards? Soldiers?
- The Golden Saints and Dark Seducers that serve as Sheogorath's guards and soldiers will help the player several times. For example, you will join them in a pitched battle against the invading Knights of Order. There are even a few times where they are your enemies.
6. Compared to Bloodmoon and Tribunal, the expansions for Morrowind, how would Shivering Isles compare in content? Is it of similar size or different in land size, game time or amount content?
- The Shivering Isles is about a quarter the size of Oblivion. That's huge. There are dozens of new dungeons to explore. We estimate there is 30-40 hours of gameplay here.
7. Will there be new magic effects? (Like levitation or other more creative spells?)
- There are no new spell effects available for the Spellmaker, but there are new spells. There are new summoning spells for many of the new creatures. There are also some new spells for sale in the shops that players haven't seen before. The main quest gives out several new powers as rewards, such as a powerful, area effect frenzy. There is even one that lets you change the weather!
8. Will there be quests that have multiple paths to take, or perhaps even multiple endings? Also, will there be quests that have a non-combat path for people who want to avoid combat?
- All the quests in the main quest line have multiple paths. Some of those path choices have dramatic effects on future quests. In one case you have to choose between the supporting the cause of the Golden Saints or the Dark Seducers. Later, you will have to save either the Saints or the Seducers from destruction, but which depends on who you supported the first time.
- A number of quests do not involve combat, and some have non-combat solutions. For example, in one quest you are asked to obtain an overdose of a potent drug. You can fight your way to the source, or try and outwit the guards and get past them without a fight. Both are valid choices.
9. Seeing as Oblivion is rated M now do you have any plans to add more mature content to Shivering Isles?
- When we make content for any of the Elder Scrolls titles, we don't concern ourselves with the rating. We make the best game we can. Making a good game always comes first. We let the ESRB put whatever rating on it they want. But the type and amount of content is the same in Shivering Isles as it was in Oblivion, as far as the rating and content descriptors go.
10. What will be the layout of the Shivering Isles and how does this reflect Sheogorath? Approximately how many dungeons are there in Shivering Isles and what sorts of non-quest related dungeons will there be? Further, how many cities will there be and what are they like?
- The Shivering Isles are a reflection of Lord Sheogorath. His madness is the land, and the land is his madness. It is split into two halves, Mania and Dementia. There is no barrier separating these two. You can walk from one to the other and the plant life, weather, and creatures slowly change over.
- There is a single city, New Sheoth, and several small villages. The city of New Sheoth is split into Bliss and Crucible, representing Mania and Dementia. The buildings and streets of Bliss are bright and chaotic, as are its citizens. The buildings and streets of Crucible are dark and brooding, as are its citizens.
- The Shivering Isles is an island. The central and southern low lands are swampy, with many small islets. These are the lands of Dementia. They are filled with dying trees, and rotting plants. The highlands are a wide arc to the north. These are the lands of Mania. They are filled with vibrant life and wild colors. The creatures of both lands want to eat your head. They just want do it for different reasons.
- There are over two dozen dungeons scattered around the Shivering Isles. There are over a dozen or camps occupied by Zealots and Heretics. Throw in the 20 or so obelisks that spawn Knights of Order, and there is plenty of opportunity for adventure.
11. Will we see any new lore, creative novellas and back story to add to plot depth and encourage strong characterization and character depth in Shivering isles? Is the depth and emphasis on storytelling closer to Morrowind, Knights of the Nine, or Oblivion? How many new books will be added in Shivering Isles?
- Players that are into Elder Scrolls lore are in for a treat. We've extended the lore of Sheogorath and tied in some obscure elements that you may not have realized were related to him. By the time you finish the main quest, you will have a much deeper understanding of the planes of Oblivion and what it means to be a Daedric Prince, particularly Sheogorath.
- To support this, there are about two dozen new books, some of which are serious exposes on lore, and some of which are just fun stories.
- There is a lot of emphasis on storytelling in Shivering Isles. The whole main quest tells several stories, and weave together to make one large tale.
Todd Howard, Executive Producer
12. A lot has been said about the quality of writing in Oblivion, many people have voiced their displeasure at the simplicity of it, that it had little depth and substance. What is your reaction to such claims? If you did not do so already, do you think having a dedicated creative writing team to create more detailed plots, stories and quests would have been preferable, or are you happy with the writing and creative process as it is?
- I would need specifics to react to something like that. I can say I think our level of writing improved a great deal in Oblivion, not just in quality, but the sheer amount of it. Our quest designers are our writers, so they write the stories, the dialogue, and implement the quests. I think they did a fantastic job. The depth of our quests easily exceeded what we've done before, but it also took a lot more man-power. We put about four times the time into each quest in this game as opposed to Morrowind, so that's a lot of writing. We also wrote specific lines for almost every character in the game, as opposed to the generic info paragraphs from before. So yes, happy with our process, but we're trying to get better at writing spoken dialogue, our stuff still tends to be long and people seem to just click their way through it.
- That being said, I know the heart of this comment is that some people preferred the writing and storytelling in Morrowind to Oblivion's. I'm perfectly ok with that. They are very different stories and games. They intentionally have different flavors, and different types of writing. The thrust of Morrowind was to put the player in the "stranger in a strange land" feel, so most of the writing and story is focused on the land and its history. With Oblivion, coming off Morrowind, we felt a lack of immediate story from Morrowind, that we told a good story of something that happened a thousand years ago, but there wasn't a good story that was happening to you, the player. It was very "a long time ago this awesome thing happened, read all about it, and walk in its wake." With Oblivion our motto was "don't tell me, show me", so we wanted the epic story to happen in front of you, and that's where we focused things. So in contrast, you don't get to read lots of new ancient histories or culture things.
13. Ever since the events of Oblivion and Martin's sacrifice, the barriers between Tamriel and Oblivion are said to have been sealed once more. Is there an explanation for how Sheogorath can -apparently- so easily open a gate between his realm and Tamriel?
- Sheogorath's gate is really an invitation to come to his realm, not a gateway he can send armies or himself through. That's the barrier that has been shut, you won't see a daedra lord himself step into the mortal plane ever again. So you can still have isolated mortals be summoned to a realm and you can still summon a daedra yourself through conjuration and other means. Of course, like everything over time, I can see us changing it in a future game.
14. Indubitably, Oblivion has seen a major shift in priorities where aspects specifically pertinent to cRPGs are concerned. Most apparent in that regard is the transition from a complex -sometimes complicated- game with faction politics, rich lore background and a large quantity of dialog to a game that emphasizes accessibility and above all else pure entertainment. Additionally, in contrast to its predecessors, Oblivion's game world is to be filled with meaning not by the game itself but rather by the player's own imagination. What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe you managed to achieve a proper balance between depth and complexity on one and accessibility and easy entertainment on the other side? What are your goals in this respect for future productions?
- This is more of a statement then a question, but I'll do what I can with it. First, Oblivion has more dialogue and books then our previous games, so I don't see a shift there. It also has the most complex NPC behavior we've ever done by miles. As far as the game world being filled by the player's imagination, that's a common criticism we get on every game, and a valid one. I think we did a better job this time, I mean you play the previous stuff and the world is very static. It's either nameless NPCs or ones that just stand in place all day. So that was something we tried very hard to address, to make the world feel alive. I think it's getting better, but it's still easy to think of 100 things to have the world do to make it feel more alive.
- In regards to the politics comment, that's a valid statement, in that Daggerfall and Morrowind both have main stories dealing with a lot of politics, and that wasn't the story we wanted to do this time. There was a time that the Oblivion main quest featured a ton of that, dealing with the Elder Council, but we did end up cutting it while it was still on paper, in all our story reads, it really defocused the main quest from dealing with the daedra, which we wanted the focus to be. Anyway, I think the lack of actually seeing and dealing with the Elder Council is certainly one of my "I wish it had this" things, as we wrote some great stuff for it that just didn't make it in. It was the "nobility" faction line, where you made your way up and became "The Duke of Colovia" and sat on the Elder Council. The only remnant of that questline is the dead Duke in Castle Kvatch, which was to be the beginning of that line.
- The next part of the question, which is ease of play versus complexity, that's a harder one. We've certainly gotten praised on Oblivion for how well it walks the line, but I wouldn't say that all the solutions we had are the right ones going forward. Some are; some aren't. It's certainly our desire to push on both ends, to make the game as smooth and easy to play as possible, but have great depth. In the grand scheme of games, we're still on the "insanely complex" end of the scale, so I do spend a good bit of time watching how first time people play the game, what hangs them up and so forth. So that always bothers me, you don't want basic actions in the game to be difficult or confusing.
15. Has your stance on a multiplayer TES game changed at all since the topic was last brought up? In other words, have you given the idea of an online TES game, or at the least a battle arena for pvp battles, any additional thought or is it still something you do not have any plans for?
- My personal stance hasn't changed, that it defocuses us from pushing the single player experience, but it's certainly the #1 asked for feature by a landslide, so you never know.
16. What mods, if any, do you personally use? And why?
- The BT interface mod of the PC. That's really the only one I use. I dabble in the others, but when I play Oblivion, I'm usually testing a new DLC or Shivering Isles, so running other stuff can really screw with them. Why BT mod? I can see more stuff on my giant PC monitor of course! That's something we messed with internally, but never had a nice solution for having the game switch between different menu configurations, so we went with the larger font for safety.
17. Oblivion had a long development time, but as George Lucas said in regards to movies, "Movies are never finished, they are just abandoned". What are some things you wish you could have put in Oblivion? What are some things that you are very glad to be able to put in?
- On the PC, a small font option would top my list. And the Elder Council stuff I mentioned before. I think the differences in Colovia West vs the Nibenay East are far too subtle. A thousand other things as well, but at some point you have to step back and say "ok, the game does enough stuff" and finish it.
18. Do you have any thoughts on some of the negative reactions to Oblivion (specifically the clunky interface for PC, level scaling, and lack of background)? Did you expect this due to the large amount of attention given to Oblivion, or was it a bit of a shock?
- We always expect criticism; that comes with doing any piece of entertainment and putting it out there. I expect it and welcome it, it's the main thing that makes us want to make things better the next time. We also know it's coming, because we change so much between games that you'll certainly upset some people, it happens every time.
- I mean the changes from Daggerfall to Morrowind were just enormous, and we really heard it then. If people don't like something in the game, and they spent their money on it, they deserve to bitch, and that's one of the reasons our forums exist, honestly. I think it's our responsibility to take it. You probably don't know this, but I do have a "don't defend us" rule to the team regarding the forums. If someone doesn't like something in our games, they are right, always. It is their money, their opinion, and they don't need or want you to change it. Plus, I do believe the world is 0 for 1 zillion in internet forum opinion change.
- At the same time, Oblivion is our highest rated game by a large margin (see gamerankings, metacritic, etc), so it does put the criticism in perspective. I would also like to end the Morrowind versus Oblivion debate – as long as you pick one, you're cool, I love both my children equally. Just don't choose someone else's game.
19. What is your personal favorite Daedra/creature/weapon/TES moment/tidbit of anything in the Elder Scrolls universe and series?
- Moments: stepping off the boat in Morrowind is a big one, I think we nailed that. I also really like the ending scene in Oblivion's main quest with Martin and Dagon. That's one of those rare epic moments for me. Those are hard to pull off in a game, and I think it builds to that scene pretty well. I love the quote in the first screen of Arena "The best techniques are passed on by the survivors" and was glad to get that in Oblivion. Nice little bookend to things. Enemies: Dremora by a landslide. We could do a whole Dremora game if we wanted.
20. There is no denying that Oblivion depends on a large game modding community. Are you planning on giving this community more advanced tools such as an up-to-date Construction Set or an exporter for 3dsMax in the near future? Right now, modders often have to revert to needlessly complicated methods to achieve the same quality as the original game. If not, is it due to contractual obligations with the third party software creators?
- Well, I could deny it, since the console versions don't depend on it at all and the majority of people playing Oblivion play the console versions, but that's me just being a smart-ass. Anyway, we really, really push hard on making our stuff really mod friendly and putting out our tools, and I'm glad we got the wiki site running so well. We're very proud of what the tools allow and what users have made, I think we have the best mod-community in the world, and it really is one of the reasons the game is so popular.
- Ok, now to the actual question, which is our art exporter. We have an internal Max version 5 nif exporter we use. It only works on that version and it is NOT a slick program. The other ones people are already using for Oblivion that we didn't make get the job done just as well. Why didn't we release ours? It's a very long answer that is mostly legal stuff, from all the middleware we use to…other things that complicate it more.
- Anyway, we feel strongly that if we can't really support the exporter the way we want, there's no reason to have one when similar ones are already being used. Search the CS wiki, and you'll find excellent alternatives to creating art for Oblivion, and trust me when I say our ways are just as complicated. You aren't missing a thing.
21. In regards to music in TES, how much is being added by Shivering Isles? Are you planning on sticking with Jeremy Soule, or will it be a new composer? Can we have a sample? Any new voice actors?
- No new music in the expansion, but it does have a few new voice actors. Jeff Baker is great as Haskill.
22. What are the main things you'd like to do differently from what you did in Oblivion? Will future TES games be more RPG oriented or will they be more mainstreamed and easier for newcomers to the series?
- I don't look at future games based on specifics from the last, I like to start fresh. We have lots of ideas, but anything I say here will be premature. Like the previous games – the next game will be different from what we just did, and many people will scream again.
23. Is it still your intention (as mentioned by Pete at the E3) to release the next Elder Scrolls game also for this set of consoles? We know Conceptual Work for TES V began after Oblivion went gold, and we know that your team is bigger than it was during Morrowind and Oblivion's development. Do you expect TES V to take longer or shorter to develop?
- I wouldn't expect TESV any time soon, I can tell you that. We're very focused on Fallout 3 right now.
24. How much more content are you planning to add to Oblivion? Are there plans for more expansions extending into the rest of Tamriel or more of the plane of Oblivion? What about plans to change Cyrodiil more?
- Perhaps another download or so, but other then that, we don't have any plans to do another expansion after Shivering Isles.
25. I know it's hard to refer to a game that hasn't come out yet, but given what you've seen of the dialogue system in Mass Effect, do you think a similar system will be integrated into future TES games? That is to say, will different emotional responses become part of future games or will they keep the system of simply naming topics you want to ask/talk about?
- I have no idea what our future dialogue system would be. Like everything else, you should expect it to change. Regarding Mass Effect, that game looks fantastic.
26. Can you reveal anything about the upcoming PSP version of Oblivion? How much of the original game's design will be carried over to it? Will it have the same plot? Will it have similar controls?
- Not really, it's not something we're talking about right now. Perhaps in the near future.
27. In Oblivion, once you reached the top rank in a guild, there really wasn't that much to do, although the situation was mildly improved over most of Morrowind's guilds. In the future, do you think we will see more factions that have things for their top ranking member to do, such as the Morag Tong from Morrowind? What about more responsibilities for the high ranking members?
- I agree it's a problem, so we tried to add as much as we could to the end of a faction in Oblivion, "recurring faction gameplay" was our phrase. But, you still don't feel like you're really in charge. How we solve it? Don't know yet.
28. What can you tell us about the release of Shivering Isle? When? How much? Will International (non-English speaking) fans have to wait? Will it have a paper map or other gimmicks?
- Release date is March 27th, everywhere, PC and Xbox Live. The price is $30, or 2400 Microsoft points.