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AusGamers Video Interview with The Elder Scrolls Online Game Director Matt Firor
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:20pm 28/08/13 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Zenimax Online Studios' Matt Frior who is serving as game director on The Elder Scrolls Online. Read on or watch for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.

AusGamers: Gamers, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly, out at Gamescom in Germany. I’ve got Matt Freeor... Firor… it sounds like a name that should be in Skyrim really. So we’re talking about The Elder Scrolls Online, and you guys are ramping it up a little bit; you’ve got the public beta out there now... well, some public are playing the beta.

I played the game pre-E3 for quite a while, and I played it again this morning, and holy shit, you guys have jumped in leaps and bounds since then. So can we just talk about, I guess early on, the iteration that you guys are doing on a weekly basis. Where are you at with that?

Matt Firor: Yeah, with games of this type, you get a base laid down, and then it’s easier to make changes after that, and that’s the phase we’re in now, where we have the combat system, we have the art style, we have the animations. So now, it’s “get feedback”. We have thousands of people in beta right now, and of course we take the game to shows like we are here. We get feedback from them, we make changes, and so things just get better very quickly from this point on.

AusGamers: What has been the steady stream of information coming back from the players in the beta? Is there one particular area of the game that doesn’t necessarily gel with everybody, or is it more a myriad of little bits and pieces?

Matt: I think it depends on… the first couple of beta sessions were all about combat, and how it didn’t feel reactive enough, and it didn’t feel heavy enough. So we spent a lot of time doing that, and now that feedback is getting much more positive, and now people are talking about the levelling experience, or crafting.

So we’re getting to the point now where people are picking different things, which is great, because it means there’s not one big thing that we need to work on. But some people think the crafting system is too hard, and other people think it takes too long to level, or it takes too long to get to different places, so those are all things that we can tweak over time.

AusGamers: With the first-person stuff, obviously you guys are kind of unique in that field with a game like this, but it is intrinsic to the series. Was that a hard iteration for you? Was it a hard process to get to? Because it’s now beginning to feel like I’m playing a single-player Elder Scrolls game.

Matt: Yeah, it’s interesting. Because we’re a multiplayer game, people forget that most people will view your character at a distance, because other players need to see your character. So we needed to do third-person first, because that’s what everyone else sees, and all of the effects that play on you. Then once we had that working, then we could put in the first-person system.

We got tonnes of feedback in the early betas about how it felt like Elder Scrolls, but it didn’t have the Skyrim feel with first-person, so we really took that feedback to heart and worked on that system.

AusGamers: Now the stuff that I’ve seen is all situated around the last game, in terms of locale. Can you talk about starting areas for different classes and races, and where players might find themselves beginning from, or is there a particular single place at the moment?

Matt: There’s a little tutorial area, kind of like Oblivion had, and Skyrim had at the execution scene; in Oblivion, you were in the Imperial City. So we have a short tutorial space that every player goes through from there that kind of kicks off the main storyline of the game, just like it happened in the other two games. Then after that, you go to an alliance starting area. The three alliances, one’s in Skyrim, one’s in the Khajit area -- the cat people -- which hasn’t even been shown yet, and the third is in Hammerfell, the desert area, which has been in the beta and was playable at one of the shows.

So it gives players a flavour of the alliance that they’re going to play through. With Skyrim, we wanted to pick something that people were familiar with. Then we picked some really cool-looking areas from the IP that people maybe wouldn’t be that familiar with, but looked really cool.

AusGamers: Obviously the other big one that people would be screaming for is Morrowind. How much travel is going to be around that, or is it more just throwback?

Matt: Actually, the version that’s playable right here is the Ebonheart Pact content, so you start out in Skyrim; you play a little island in Skyrim. But if you play for more than four hours, or if you’re really good and you run through it, you can go to Morrowind right after that, and much of the levelling and exploration takes place in Morrowind, and then you go to the other parts of the Ebonheart Pact after that.

AusGamers: Let me talk about the lore, because obviously you guys are set quite a while before any of the main games, and it seems like those games already had tonnes of lore. Were you guys sifting through those books, and actually taking events from them to actually put into your game, so that there was actually some mutual stuff, retroactively?

Matt: Yeah, it was funny, we had to go through all the lore books in the other Elder Scrolls games, and then we had to take out all the ones that were newer than a thousand years old, because they would have been written after our game. So we could only put in the ones that were written when our game was around.

So we took those, and then yes, we wrote tonnes of our own lore to explain the alliances, to talk about things that were relevant to the main story, and those are part of the official lore library for The Elder Scrolls now.

AusGamers: Obviously with a game like this… most MMOs tend to learn towards grinding, because it’s what a lot of players want to do -- the want to level up early on. But The Elder Scrolls has never really been about that, it’s about emergent gameplay, and it’s about exploration. It’s not necessarily about going and hacking ten of this and then 12 of that, and then 30 of that, and fetch-questing. Obviously some of that stuff is in there, but can you talk about, I guess the challenges faced in a game that is going to be played by millions of people, that are going to be coming in, and needing repetition, but also keeping them excited to be playing, because it is The Elder Scrolls.

Matt: Yeah, grinding is definitely a play-style. So you can grind in FIFA Soccer if you like -- [laughs] if you just sit and play it obsessively. So there are people that log in and they’re going to play the game for 20 hours at a time, and that’s fine, but the game has a lot more than just killing things. It’s got exploration, you can find dungeons and chests and skyshards -- which are ways to get more skill-points; you just find things by walking around.

So I’m sure someone is going to publish a guide at some point, that has the most efficient way to go through every zone, because that’s just the way online games work, but you don’t have to do that. There’s a lot of competition in online games where “I want to be the first person to level 50”, so that of course will be there, but you don’t have to do it. You can play it in 20 minute chunks if you want; you can play it in four hour chunks if you want.

So it’s kind of the way you want to do it. It’s an open-world game in the sense that there’s not really a prescribed way to go through every zone, you can wander around and find things and do them, so that’s what we really want players to do. And if they want to run though and just kill 10 of everything, that’s fine too. That’s a valid play-style and they’ll be able to do that if they want.

AusGamers: Now you guys are answering the burning question I believe at the moment, which is the business model behind the game. I haven’t been privy to this at all and only just found out about it earlier, so can you run us though basically what the baseline, entry level is?

Matt: Yeah, we’re subscription-based -- a traditional subscription. You buy the game, you get 30 days for free, and then it’s $14.99 / €12.99 / £8.99 from there on, to play. We really felt, with a game like this that’s so open and free, we didn’t want to put pay-gates up in front of people; we didn’t want someone to find a dungeon and then it pops up “Pay $2.50 to get to this”, that’s not really an Elder Scrolls experience.

While those other revenue models are certainly valid -- this isn’t a referendum on buy-to-play versus free-to-play; there are tonnes and tonnes of games out there that are free-to-play -- we just felt that subscription was the one that fit this one the best. Because Elder Scrolls is about freedom; just going in there and doing what you want to do. And just popping up notices for payment all over the place, just didn’t seem to fit what we were doing. So you pay one time per month; you get everything; have fun.

AusGamers: What’s your patch rollout going to be like? Are you guys going to be introducing new content per-patch? Or what’s the process there?

Matt: Yeah, we are already working on post-launch content. We have a couple of teams working on things that players won’t see for months after launch. We definitely plan on having very regular rollouts of content, hopefully a month, every six weeks, something like that. We’re talking major… you know, not a new sword, whole new quest-lines.

We’ve already said that we’re going to launch with the Fighters Guild and the Mages Guild, but post-launch content for example, would be the Dark Brotherhood quest-line, which could be 30 hours, or 20-30 hours of play, just by itself. That’s kind of an example of what a content update would be.

AusGamers: And this is an all-important question for us Aussies: Server stuff. Can you talk about whether we’re getting servers in Australia at all?

Matt: We’re looking at that right now. Since we’re megaserver-based, it’s a little different than it is in other games that have shards. So right now, I think we’re looking at doing just a simple IP relay system between Australia and one of our megaservers, which should help make the latency very, very playable.

Because we’re megaserver-based, you’re going to be put into big instances of zones that you’re in. So if you’re on at a crazy time -- normal time for Australia, but crazy time for the rest of the world -- you’ll be put into zones with other players from Australia. So you’ll never notice that the population’s low, because you always see whatever the normal population is for that zone.

AusGamers: And do people choose servers? Or because it’s megaserver, it’s just kind of ubiquitous?

Matt: We are going to do a European one and a North American one, and that’s mostly for latency. Just having two areas kind of helps us out; it gives us a backup centre if something happens to the other one. There’s no technical reason why we’re doing that, it just seems to make sense to do that.

AusGamers: Are you locking players out of being able to choose to go to those ones?

Matt: No. On PC -- this is all PC-based -- you can choose to go to whichever one you want.

AusGamers: Can you talk at all about where you’re at with the console stuff as it is?

Matt: We announced at E3 that we’re going to launch on both next-gen consoles, so we’re in the process right now of refining the game, getting it up and running. The two major issues that you have to overcome, shocking: one is controller support, and the other is communication, because there’s no keyboard. So those are the issues that we’re wrestling with right now.

AusGamers: And is there a projected released for those yet?

Matt: It’s [Northern] Spring, so as we get closer in the beta, the beta process really tells us when we’re going to launch. Because we’re not going to launch until it’s ready. So we have thousands of people in beta right now, and we stress test a couple of times a month, and then longer-term playtests, so those will ramp up over the year, and those will really tell us. Because that’s testing the service as much as the game. The game is getting there; now it’s getting the service ready.

AusGamers: Finally, obviously you guys make a big song and dance about your big releases. Have you announced what’s going on with pre-orders, bonuses and things like that? No special bundles or… ?

Matt: I’m the developer [laughs]. They want me to make the game; they can work on promotional stuff. I’ve got my hands full with that right now.

AusGamers: No worries. Well, we’ll leave it there, but thank you so much.

Matt: Thanks a lot.

AusGamers: Cheers. I hope you enjoy the rest of the show.
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Latest Comments
Posted 06:40pm 28/8/13
Should of found out if this Megaserver is going to be east or west side in America.
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