At a recent press event to promote The Shivering Isles expansion pack, Pro-G caught up with Pete Hines, Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing at Bethesda, for a chat about Oblivion, Sheogorath and what the future holds for the franchise.
Pro-G: How did you come up the title The Shivering Isles? It's quite different from the others, isn't it?
Pete Hines: That was actually a really long debate in our office. We went back and forth and round and round. It actually is the first game - and only the really hardcore Elder Scrolls fans notice this - that breaks the tradition of one name Elder Scrolls games: we've had Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Tribunal, Bloodmoon and Oblivion. So The Shivering Isles is the first two word name but we felt that it best encapsulated this magical, otherworldly place. We messed with a lot of other names, some of which had trademark problems and some just didn't work. The Shivering Isles was the middle ground that we came up with.
Pro-G: It's very evocative of arctic landscapes, yet the Isles are actually quite autumnal.
PH: Yeah, we actually worried about that a little bit; that people would think of cold. But at the end of the day it's easy to remember and it kind of fits with the whole Elder Scrolls and Sheogorath.
Pro-G: Ah Sheogorath, now he's a very interesting character. Was he inspired by anyone in particular?
PH: He's been around for a while so his personality developed over time. He's in Oblivion if you do the Daedric Shrine quest. You hear his voice and he's the guy who rains dogs down on a hapless village. You have to do these quests for him which make the people think that this prophecy is being fulfilled, then - as a joke - he rains flaming dogs down on the village and everybody freaks out. So he's been around and it was just really good timing and a good fit. We had already gone and explored one plane of Oblivion for Mehrunes Dagon so it made sense to explore a different one in the expansion. We talked about all the events that took place at the end of an era in Tamriel so it seemed like a good time to talk about the changes that were taking place in the realms of Oblivion, specifically for Sheogorath. He isn't good or evil. He does what he wants; he's mad and a bit off his rocker.
Pro-G: The Shivering Isles is huge but there don't seem to be any horses?
PH: It's a little known fact but Sheogorath hates horses.
Pro-G: Oh, so nothing with two heads and three tails then?
PH: Nope, no mounts. By the time you make the trek to Sheogorath's palace, you've uncovered one or two camps or locations and all the quests will be in one of the surrounding quadrants so you don't have that far to go. We designed it so that there are lots of those waypoints, camps and dungeons. You have to do that first, hard slog. The problem with horses is that they take anything that feels really big and make it much smaller because you can get across it so fast. We were a little concerned about losing that sense of scale.
Pro-G: Did you have the expansion in mind from the moment you started work on Oblivion?
PH: Oh no. We had thought about an expansion but we really didn't start working on it till after Oblivion was out. Working on Oblivion was an all-consuming labour of love. Our mantra with all our games is very much: "If we don't get the original one right, then nobody is going to care if there's an expansion."
Pro-G: Was it much easier to create an Oblivion expansion in comparison with building the game from scratch?
PH: It's a lot easier because we don't mess with the core of the game itself so we don't change things like combos or stats. When you're just focusing on content, it's a lot easier because the game itself is stable and you're just adding new stuff to it. Working on an expansion is definitely easier from a testing standpoint and it's a lot of fun because you've already got this thing that you did which hopefully people like and enjoy and try making something completely new and different.
Pro-G: How long did it take to create The Shivering Isles and what does the process involve?
PH: We started this one in March. Right when Oblivion was done, we started fleshing it out. Obviously it starts with a smaller group, you get a core group of folks who figure out where the expansion is set, what it's going to look like and what's the main story. Then you start adding content people to build the dungeons and city and it gets broken off into larger groups of people. All of those different trees and art is new, and it all has to be created from scratch. It's a pretty big undertaking from a content side.
Pro-G: Are there more Oblivion expansions on the horizon?
PH: No. This is the only one we've got. We did two for Morrowind but this one is slightly different in scope. We're finishing this one up, along with Oblivion on PS3, then moving to our next big project.
Pro-G: What about Oblivion on the PSP?
PH: That is a wholly different project by a completely different project team. It's got some relationship to the events that take place in the console game but it's really an entirely different game.
Pro-G: Is The Elder Scrolls V on the cards?
PH: Well, I can tell you that since Oblivion has been such a smashing success that I'm sure we will do it, but there are no immediate plans right now. We're finishing up Oblivion then shifting our focus to Fallout 3, which is our next big role-playing game.
Pro-G: Have next generation consoles changed Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls?
PH: We went crazy with the whole HD, next-gen console stuff. I still play Oblivion and it's funny to me how many people reintroduce themselves to the game after not playing for a while and go: "Wow, look at that! Holy crap, that looks real!" That just wasn't even conceivable on the last generation of consoles. Next generation allows you to do far better graphics and there's more horse-power so you can do things like AI routines for all the NPCs. That takes a lot of time and effort; it's like herding cats. We're only scratching the surface really.
Pro-G: With the success of World of Warcraft, have you ever considered The Elder Scrolls online?
PH: We get asked that a lot. The problem is that they are very different experiences. If you play Oblivion then everything you do in the world is about permanence - the world literally revolves around you. I finished that quest, it stays finished and if I kill someone he stays dead. With MMOs anything you do in World of Warcraft can be done by someone else two minutes later. That guy is going to respawn two minutes later and that other guy still needs a trinket even though you just gave it to him. Certainly, there's a chance, it's something we've talked about, but it's not anywhere in our immediate future. I don't think we could do an MMO unless it was with some fresh idea that no one has ever tried before.
The Shivering Isles is due out in March on PC and Xbox 360 via Xbox Live. The PlayStation 3 version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion will be released on March 23 alongside the console in Europe.