June 17, 2018

E3 2018 - A chat with Matt Firor, Director of The Elder Scrolls Online

During E3, Bethesda invited me to have a chat with Matt Firor, the director of the Elder Scrolls Online and I was able to ask about the recently released Summerset for consoles, as well as future plans and Elder Scrolls lore.

Maxi-Geek: The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset has just released on to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, how has the response been so far?

Matt Firor: The response has been better than we expected, and we knew it was good, but the reception has been better than we thought it would be, it’s been really, really well received.

MG: Do you think that is because, this is the first chance players have had to go back to this area in so long?

MF: I actually don’t know, it’s really good, in and of itself as an Elder Scrolls experience, if you take everything else away, it’s really good, the story is good, the setting is awesome.

I think with Morrowind, we had the nostalgia going in our favour, which was awesome and a lot of people enjoyed that, but this time, it’s a new part of the world going in our favour, people just want to go somewhere new. Of course, people have not seen this since Elder Scrolls 1, so it’s changed a bit.

MG: Yeah, it looks quite a bit different now, to what did back then.  So, doing Morrowind last year and Dark Brotherhood the year before…

MF: And Thieves Guild and One Tamriel, it was a big year. (chuckles)

MG: A lot of content over the past few years, are you guys slowing down at all or is next year already in the works?

MF: Oh yeah, we have content planned for years at this point. We have a cadence now, where we do DLC every quarter, so every 12 weeks, one of those is a big chapter, like Summerset and Morrowind. One is a story DLC, which is a little bigger and that’s out in the fourth quarter and that’s going to be Murkmire, last year was Clockwork City.

MG: So, a lot of content still to come. With the way content is being released, PC and Mac, are clearly the lead platform, is there a desire to launch all the content on all platforms at the same time?

MF: We actually like the cadence that we have because it’s much easier to react to things that crop up after a big update on PC, whereas on console we have to go through a submission process, which takes weeks sometimes. So, on PC, like if there are any issues, we can fix them quickly and then put them into the console build, it is more that we are a little more flexible with PC.

That is why we are launching them ahead of consoles, it actually works out pretty well.

MG: I have not tried Summerset yet…

MF: You should.

MG: Yes, I have the code, just have to find the time. But for those who have not played any of the other Elder Scrolls, what can they expect coming into Summerset?

MF: So, if you never played, well there are kind of two groups of people there, if you have never played Elder Scrolls Online, but have played an Elder Scrolls game, Summerset is perfect for starting new characters. This is why we don’t call them expansions, cause in the industry and the online gaming community, that means end game content and that’s not what we do at all, we really don’t have a levelling system at all, anyone can do anything at any time and the world kind of adjusts to them.

So, this means that any one of our new content points, like Summerset or Morrowind, any new players can just login and create a new character and play it as if it’s a new game. So, we do that on purpose, so if you have played an Elder Scrolls game, but not Elder Scrolls Online, Summerset is perfect, because you’ll login, create a character and you will be right in Summerset, you can play through the main story and then you can go and enjoy the rest of the game.

If you have never played an Elder Scrolls game before, then its just a giant open world multiplayer game and that’s awesome.

MG: One of the things I enjoy about some online games, is that I can play on my own and not have to with other people, because when you are ready to play, sometimes, not everyone else is ready to play with you. So, being an Elder Scrolls game, solo content has always been there, but has there been any talk or decisions about pushing players, to play with other people or has it always been the decision to make the game playable for one player or many players?

MF: Yeah, this is something that took us sometime to dial in right, over the course of the games launch, but we’ve hit on, for the last couple of years, we’ve hit on this pretty good system, that if you are doing story content, what we call questing, you can do all of that solo. So, if you play Skyrim or Oblivion and you just want to go through and play the main story, or play the quests, you can do that solo, you will see other players, but you don’t have to actually group with them.

But we also have group content and some of the group content is just drop in and drop out and you don’t have to actually invite someone to a group, you just show up, go to certain parts of the world and there’s a giant boss there and you can just start fighting it, other players will show up and start fighting it, the game actually groups you together in those, just behind the scenes and we do that, because it gives players a quick easy way to do grouping, without needing to talk to anyone.
Eventually, you do enough of these, all of our zones have at least a dozen or two dozen world bosses, geysers in Summerset and dolmans in the rest of the game, it’s just a good chance of seeing other players and once you start seeing them, you will start to recognise them and then start talking to them, you can then start to meet them, do dungeons, join guilds and stuff like that. We kinda ease them into it.

MG: Ok

MF: But you don’t have to do any of that content and you will still have a lot of fun in the game.

MG: I am not a big social online player, I am more of a story guy.

MF: Then you could just login, play through the story, no problem.

MG: Excellent, now looking forward, with the planned content after Summerset, will people now remain in Summerset, given that it is such a fresh location?

MF: The world, Tamriel is so big, the next DLC, which is Wolfhunter, which is dungeons, will be in the world and in existing zones, but will be underground or in their own little enclosed area. But the fourth quarter story DLC will be Murkmire, which is back over on the other side of Tamriel, which is in Black Marsh with the Argonians.
So, you know it’s always good to do the, like we did Morrowind, which is up in the top right corner of the world, we did Summerset which is down in the bottom left and now we are going to go back over here, to Black Marsh, which is to the bottom right, just to make sure we are not doing the same thing too often.
*It is important to note, Matt gestured the rough locations of the locales, with vague hand motions.

MG: After Oblivion came out on the Xbox 360, I think it was around six months later that, one of those rumours that everyone wanted to be true, about a multiplayer Oblivion where you could run around the world with friends surfaced. And there was also the rumour when Skyrim came out on PC, you could add the Oblivion map to the game and run between the two. Is there any sort of plan to join the world, so players could travel between them, without needing a boat?

MG: For Summerset, you could swim. (chuckles as Summerset is an island and not connected to the main land of Tamriel) The way our tech works is actually not streaming in that sense, so theoretically if we had made the decisions to do that when we started the project, we could do that, but we are so far down the line now, with the engine and the way the world is setup, we can’t.

But that doesn’t mean in the future, like for other projects, we couldn’t do that tech, but it works pretty well now, cause once you are in a zone, like all of Summerset, you never change zone, unless you’re going into a dungeon or house and those are just jump points. Summerset has 30 hours of content at least, so that’s no zoning for that amount of time, it’s a good balance.

MG: The Elder Scrolls, before you guys came along, had a lot of lore, that was created over the years and you guys have created your own lore, to fill in holes here and there. Is there any desire, from you or anyone else in the team, to create an entirely new landmass, like other MMO’s do, where an island just appears that no-one knew about?

MF: That’s a great question, so, the answer is Elder Scrolls is an IP right, like it’s a major IP, it has rules. There are certain things you can do and certain things you can’t do, we have a very, what, it has been 10 years since the studio started, working with Elder Scrolls lore, but that lore is kept and generated by the Bethesda Game Studios guys. We carved out our own little part in the timeline, where there wasn’t much lore written and no-one really knew what was going on, except it was a time of chaos and that’s why we have the PVP system, so we can do somethings that are cool, like new characters and stuff, but we can’t really change the world because the BGS guys do that.

So, we have our own little thing that we love to do, we have gone off of Tamriel a couple of times, like some of the Daedric Realms, like that, but if we ever get away from Tamriel, it will be more like that. We have one quest on the moon at the end of one of the Khajiit things, its that kind of stuff.

MG:  The Elder Scrolls 6 was just announced and teased the other, many years away of course, is there any desire to pop little things into the world that tie into past Elder Scrolls games, or in terms of Elder Scrolls 6, future ones?

MF: We have no plans for that, we have done that for all the other Elder Scrolls games, because we came after Skyrim, we were able to and of course with Morrowind, is where we really did that, because we were 700 years before the Morrowind that everyone, you know The Elder Scrolls 3 Morrowind, and so we got to do lots of stuff like that, put references to things that were going to happen, that you actually saw in 2002 when the game came out. So, we have done that kind of stuff a lot, but we are not wrapping our head around Elder Scrolls 6 yet.

MG:  Fair enough, well thank you for chatting with me.

MF: Thank you and enjoy the show, if you have the time, I can get you onto Summerset.

MG: I have the time.

MF: Excellent, let’s go then.

Many thanks to Matt taking the time to chat with me and Bethesda for setting it up. The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset is out now for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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