Obsidian's Feargus Urquhart recently spoke at a GDC Russia panel entitled "The decline of the gaming industry as we know it—is there a way out?" While he cast doubt on the notion that huge, console-focused, "AAA" titles are going anywhere, he declared them "not relevant for the development community as a whole." The inflated budgets and team sizes required to make such titles, he cautioned, can also be detrimental to the creative process.
"Trying to manage a team of 1,000 people, I think is just crazy... and it costs a ton of money," Urquhart said of the model used to produce games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. "The result of that is we get fewer games. And I just don't think that that's good. It means we're going to get less innovations... No one wants to try new things. Because if you're going to go spend $100 million, $200 million on a game, it has to make its money back."
Urquhart revealed that some games we think of as AAA actually cost significantly less—Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas were called out specifically—due to a different development philosophy. He also stressed that better tools allow high quality games to be made for less money, and that the big publisher model is ultimately something that will remain restricted to a very small percentage of studios going forward.
"I question the relevance of AAA," he said. "AAA is not relevant for the development community as a whole, unless you want to go work on a team of 300 people, 400 people, and you want to make five specific games."
You can check out the full video above (though it's mostly in Russian). Obsidian's own Project Eternity became one of the most successful Kickstarted games ever last year, bringing in well over $4 million. While impressive, it's only a small fraction of the budgets for titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic, which was rumored to have cost as much as $300 million. This all seems to serve as an apt illustration of Urquhart's point: the games that get the most attention are often made by a very small percentage of studios working with wildly unusual development resources.
The Elder Scrolls Online remains a big question mark in the eyes of a lot of Elder Scrolls fans. How will the immersive, interactive world of Skyrim and Oblivion translate to an always-online multiplayer experience without losing their character? After all, one of the great things about the Elder Scrolls games has always been the permanent consequences of your actions. Kill a named character and they (usually) stay dead; roll 5,000 sweet rolls down a cliff and they’ll just sit at the bottom.
The Elder Scrolls Online released a video today that answers some of these questions. In it, the player can be seen looting food and small items from crates on the dockside and risking the wrath of the gods by stealing bread straight off an altar. Have you no shame, player?
“It’s not just useless stuff,” Creative Director Paul Sage says in a voice over. “Right now you can take any one of these items that you find and it’s going to be part of a recipe. It’s going to be part of our crafting system. Yes, you’ll go out into the world and you’ll explore and you’ll find plants and many of the other things that you expect, but it all starts right in town.”
Like so many parts of the gameplay transition from single-player to MMO, the daedra will be in the details. If any crate can give crafting materials, how long until every crate in town has been picked clean by other players? If the items restock, doesn’t that bring players back to the feeling that they’re running on a treadmill?
The Elder Scrolls Online is currently in closed beta testing. It should be released sometime this year.
I've never played a game of Civilization V from the Ancient Era to the Modern Era. I start out intending to, but then there are no fish or whales off the coast of my starting territory, and Gandhi builds the Great Wall before I can, and Dido founds a city near the inlet where I was planning to put a city, and it's the worst thing that has ever happened to me so I start over.
Here's another confession: after 40 hours of Skyrim, I haven't completed more than a few main storyline quests. Instead, I've created character after character, because I’m indecisive and terrified of commitment.
If you're a serial restarter too, let's work on it together with some help from one of the internet's most plentiful resources: banal relationship advice. By slightly reworking advice for the romantically cold-footed, I've developed a plan to help us stop starting over.
Get over the honeymoon phase
I love the initial exploration and discovery in Civ V, and designing RPG characters is my favorite part of playing RPGs, because I become obsessed with the idea of what’s ahead of me; all the potential scenarios I can imagine.
And then it starts getting serious. Oh no. I'm doing more work but I'm getting fewer rewards, and shockingly, the game hasn't molded itself to my imagination’s grand specifications. My glorious naval empire turns out to be a few coastal cities and some boats. My cunning thief is a mute skeleton murderer. My space pirate is mining space rocks. And none of those things ever want to cuddle anymore.
...Except my EVE Online character, maybe.
My fantasies gives way to actual game mechanics. It becomes a Serious Relationship, and it's harder, but ultimately more rewarding. That initial passion is nice, but it doesn't compare to the stories I get from a long-term relationship, when I actually start to care about a character's progression.
So don't be afraid to care. It leaves you open to be hurt—like, say, when an unmet civilization builds the Great Lighthouse first or when an actual pirate suicide ganks you—but that's OK. You can raze their cities and starbases later.
Stop dating playing as the same character
This may be my biggest problem: I almost always choose rogue, thief, or some analogue in RPGs, and I’ve built this concept map in my head of all the things they should be. No one game can deliver all those things, and my disappointment leads to futile re-rolling. As long as I don't get too far, I can't be disappointed, right?
There's an easy solution: don’t keep playing the same character hoping they’ll be a more perfect version of the last. When I try a warrior or mage class, I’m more willing to let the game inform what I can and can’t do, because I haven’t built such a rigid ideal. In Civilization, where I love seafaring nations, my longest and most interesting game was played as landlocked Germans.
Let your characters be imperfect. Let them be who they are, because they will never be exactly who you want them to be.
I've had more fun as Mr. Purrface than with any of my "serious" character builds.
Don't use rough patches as an excuse to flee
When I contracted vampirism in Skyrim, I almost rowed against the current back to a previous save, but I'm so glad I went down that river instead (if not very far). Building a narrative as I go is always more rewarding than trying to overlay my ideal story, and that's especially the case when things don't go according to plan. Tragic stories are inherently interesting, and failure isn't something to undo. Remind yourself of that.
Note: In actual human relationships, contracting diseases should be avoided. Other than that, this analogy is perfect.
See a therapist—you have unresolved issues from your childhood
OK, this analogy isn't perfect. I may have coasted through my psychology elective, if you must know.
The point is: serial restarters are missing out. The goal of these games is to start down a path and react to its twists—to let it challenge us—but instead we're caught in a loop, trying to find a perfect path where there is none. If you identify with this problem, pit the brunt of your willpower against it by vowing to keep playing regardless of the outcome, or use in-game mechanics—XCOM's Ironman mode, for instance—to force your own hand.
From now on, I'm going to be a one-character man. Well, probably not, but I'm going to try.
Blink over to GamersGate and you'll find a selection of Bethesda published and developed games, their prices magicked in half for this weekend by Baargan'an, Daedric lord of cheap stuff. From there you can... er... damn. I was going to crudely shoehorn in a Rage reference, but I can remember almost nothing about that game. Oh, it had John Goodman in it. Maybe there's something there?
Highlights include Dishonored and Skyrim at £7.49 each, and Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition (the one with the added DLC bits) for £7.48.
Strangely, even the earlier non-Steamworks parts of their discounted catalogue, like Morrowind and Oblivion, require a Steam account to activate. It's unlikely to be a big deal for most, but it's worth bearing in mind if you don't want Rogue Warrior to Sulley your account.
"Sulley," get it? Because that was John Goodman's character in Monsters, Inc? Honestly, I don't know why I bother.
It's been a good week for Skyrim mods. Chris Livingston already told the tale of Enhanced Mighty Dragons, which does the unthinkable and turns Skyrim's leathery nuisances into the fearsome sky-beasts they were always meant to be. Now there is a mod that does the same thing for mudcrabs. And fish. And, er, giants. To borrow a phrase (and then slightly ruin it by adding a word), Here There Be Monsters. Giant, mildly terrifying, Shadow of the Colossus-esque monsters. You're gonna need a bigger axe.
In creator Aaranim's own words, the mod "adds nine massive boss monsters that prowl the Ghost sea. They are based off of various world myths regarding sea monsters. There are also three ship captains that can be hired, three survivors in the docks, and an expert monster hunter for hire. Talking to the survivors will lead you on a quest that will pit you up against each of these monsters." So it's basically Norse Jaws, which is basically all I've ever wanted from anything.
Said monsters include Karkinos, the Great Crab of Learna; Ymir, Father of Frost Giants; and Tiamiat, everybody's favourite Babylonian Chaos Monster. Any resemblance to existing Skyrim creatures is purely coincidental. Also: not. Here's another image, for scale.
Here There Be Monsters can be downloaded here. Do it, for heaven's sake.
Remember your first fight with a dragon in Skyrim, and how exciting it was? The powerful leathery wings, the blasts of magical breath, the earth-shaking rumble as it landed... thrilling! Now, remember your most recent fight with a dragon? How you sighed and rolled your eyes as you climbed off your horse, how you killed it with one or two blows, how you were already a half-mile away when you absorbed its soul, and how you didn't even bother to take its bones because you already have a dresser full of them in one of your mansions?
Enhanced Mighty Dragons is a mod that restores dragons to their rightful perch as the most feared and deadly creatures in Skyrim by adding sixteen new dragons, each with its own powers, abilities, and fighting styles. Finally, dragons feel truly legendary.
Rather than wait around for a random dragon to show up after installing the mod, I decided to hunt one down. Esbern, in Sky Haven Temple, offers radiant dragon hunting missions, and after talking with him I found myself on a mountaintop with my wife and two of The Blades in tow. I lead the charge toward the resting dragon, my enchanted axe at the ready. Let's do this!
The dragon is also quite prepared to "do this"
The dragon sees me coming and immediately leaps into the air. I quickly glug a couple potions to protect myself from the standard fire and frost attacks, but something else comes out of the dragon's mouth, a fast-moving ball of ghostly white energy. I think to myself "Huh, that doesn't look like fire or frost," though I only really have time to think "Huh, th--" before I'm suddenly and violently catapulted backwards, doing two full flips before landing right on my face.
I hope there are no bards watching. I don't want this ending up in a song.
I see from the Skyrim wiki that there are some "vanilla" dragons that have Unrelenting Force, but I honestly can't recall a dragon ever using it, let alone leading with it. This particular new dragon uses it almost exclusively and to great effect. By the time I've managed to stand back up, it's circled overhead, scattered my companions with another Force shout, then skimmed back to knock me on my ass just as I've managed to recover.
My dragon's breath smells like... me.
After being thrown down the hill in a jumble of limbs and armor for the third time, I finally manage to get off a shout of my own: Dragonrend, which forces the beast to land. I sprint over for a power attack with my axe as it turns to face me. I land a nice blow, and see the dragon's hit points decline by a tiny sliver. Okay, so it's got some extra hit points. I may have to hit it a few more times. I try to land another blow, but can't help noticing that my hands are suddenly completely empty. My battleaxe is gone.
Used to be, the butt was a good place to hit a dragon. Now, they have tail attacks.
I've been disarmed. This scaly sonofagun has a Disarm Shout? That is so not fair and yet so awesome, I say to myself as I sail through the air once again, the victim of another dose of Unrelenting Force. The dragon shrugs off my Rend spell and takes flight again.
It's pretty hard to look for an axe in a blizzard while a dragon knocks you around like a pinball, so I draw my bow and call in my own dragon, who starts dive-bombing with flame breath. After five or six minutes of three Blades, myself, and my wife peppering the dragon with arrows, and my own dragon pitching in, we finally manage to bring it down. I died about four times, once from being bitten and thrown, once from a tail-whip, the rest from being Force blasted all over the mountain.
Some of them do still breathe ice and fire. They just do it better.
I check the mod page and discover I just faced Al'Mul'Grah, the youngest and least-powerful of the new dragons. In addition to its love of Force and Disarm shouts, it can also summon animals to help it in combat, which, luckily, it didn't do this time. It had my hands full without some stupid dragon-loving bear ripping into me while I lay stunned and face-down in the snow.
Over the next few days, I look for more of the new dragons. One appears randomly, circling overhead, and I manage to avoid its Force shouts and Rend it to the ground. Sprinting, I raise my axe to bash its head in, and it belches poison on me, then casts a paralysis spell, so I get to watch my helpless, rigid body be slowly consumed by dragon venom. Fun!
You'd be able to clearly see this dragon spitting poison in my face if this dragon wasn't spitting poison in my face
On top of a mountain, another dragon spots me coming, summons a Daedra Lord, and takes flight. From the air it blasts me with Shock Breath, and then decides it might as well double-down on the whole electrocution theme and whips up a full blown lightning storm so it doesn't even have to be looking at me to hurt me. Awesome! Also, incredibly painful.
You'd be able to clearly see this dragon summoning a lightning storm in my face if, well, you get it.
Later, I encounter one in an open field, but manage to draw him into fighting three nearby giants. I figure this fight will be over in no time, but the dragon scatters the giants like bowling pins with Unrelenting Force. It takes a while, and some of my help, but the dragon is eventually destroyed, which you would think would make the giants and me best friends, but they just club me to death.
On the left, a dragon shouting. On the right, two giants listening.
Those are just the three or four dragons I've seen so far, but I'm keen to find the rest and get slapped around by them. The mod includes a skeletal dragon who can't fly, but fights with deadly physical attacks. A couple of the new dragons can summon storms to hide in, and even turn invisible. One has mayhem shouts, can muffle spell casters, and uses mass paralysis. Another is a phantom with few attacks but incredible defenses. There's even a dragon that can raise the dead to fight for him. I want to see all these dragons, and get killed by them.
That's my wife in the middle. A moment later, she entered orbit.
The mod is also amazingly customizable. There are four different difficultly levels, from Slightly Mighty to Nightmare, and with each you can choose if you want all random dragon encounters to be Enhanced or just the boss dragons. You can also decide if you want to stick with the classic dragon textures, new ones, or a mix of both. And, if you think fighting extra-tough dragons means you deserve extra-looty-loot, you can choose that as well. You can also increase the spawn time between random dragon encounters if they're proving a little too much to fight on a regular basis. Finally, Dragon Priests can be beefed up to Nightmare levels as well, just in case you want some extra pain.
Installation: While it doesn't appear to be on Steamworks, Enhanced Mighty Dragons comes with its own installer and configuration utility, so my work here is done. It also uses no scripts, so it's easy to uninstall as well.
When I saw Elder Scrolls Online a few months ago, it was revealed that the player will be sent on a central quest in the vein of those presented by the franchise's single player offerings. In ESO's case, it will revolve around the daedric prince Molag Bal, who takes the liberty of stealing your soul very shortly after character creation. This new trailer details the premise briefly, and shows off some in-game footage of Molag Bal's plane of Oblivion, Coldharbour.
In keeping with Coldharbour's nautical park theme, the realm itself is trying to quite literally drop anchor and merge with Tamriel. Dark Anchors will serve as part of the game's dynamic content, spawning enemies similar to the Oblivion gates we learned to love and hate in Elder Scrolls IV. Along with the tie-in to the main quest, we've also been told these will hook up with the Fighters' and Mages' Guild progressions.
The purpose of Coldharbour is, purportedly, to store the mortal souls Molag Bal has enslaved. By the looks of it, he just likes chaining them together and having them sway in mute misery. I guess it adds to the ambience, but I feel like he could be doing more with so many captive, androgynous, bald figures in drab robes. You know, get some frozen lemonade stands going. Those anchors are going to be bringing in a lot of foot traffic, after all.
If you haven't already, you can sign up for the ESO beta on the official site.
The inevitable bumper edition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been scheduled for a June 7 release. The Legendary Edition bundles the core game with the Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn DLC. It will also benefit from the perks update 1.9 ushered in, including a new Legendary difficulty level, tweaks to allow ongoing leveling of skills, and all manner of bug fixes as detailed here. So if you passed on the game the first time around for some reason, then now's probably a better time than any to dive in.
The news follows Bethesda's announcement that the core Skyrim team is moving onto other projects, marking the end of an era. Minor updates and fixes will continue, but, as we reported last week, the team's focus has shifted to the next major release, which Bethesda describes as their "biggest and best work yet."
In Skyrim, while you were shouting down dragons, dicing up Daedra and fast-travelling up a bloody big mountain, did you ever stop to wonder what it would be like to pack up adventuring and go live as a Jarl? Probably not - their life appears to be a repetitious bore of sitting on a throne, wandering to bed, going back to the throne and occasionally making a pompous speech. But, if untethered from Bethesda's engine, they could get up to all sorts of political and military mischief. That's the aim of Elder Kings - an Elder Scrolls themed mod for Crusader Kings 2.
It's set before Skyrim. In fact, it's set before all the Elder Scrolls games, taking place in the Interregnum period of the Second Era. Supposedly, it was a time of petty bickering and tribal warring - which makes for a perfect Crusader Kings setting.
The mod promises 25 races and cultures, with unique bonuses for each, as well as new traits, events and diseases - adding vampirism to CK2's already eclectic range of ailments.
It's still early in development, although the recent 0.1.1 patch has fixed a fair number of bugs from launch. You can download Elder Kings from ModDB.
The core group at Bethesda Game Studios announced on the studio's blog today that they will be leaving the jagged, snowy climes of northern Tamriel behind for an unknown location. While minor updates and fixes to Skyrim will continue, the bulk of the development focus is being shifted to the next major release, which they hope will be their "biggest and best work yet."
Skyrim was in pre-production from 2006, well before the release of Fallout 3, so the team at Bethesda has spent almost seven years in its shivering sandbox. "We’ve invested so much of ourselves into Skyrim and will never truly say goodbye to it," the blog reads. "We loved hearing your stories, your in-game triumphs, and your suggestions."
All told, Skyrim received a similar amount of content as past Elder Scrolls games. Bethesda seems pretty set on the "two big expansions, and a handful of smaller stuff" model when it comes to TES. As for what this new project is, the most obvious answer would be Fallout 4. Then again, it could be something completely new—which we haven't seen out of Bethesda proper since the studio as it stands today was founded to work on Morrowind in 2001.
If you still pine for the Nine Holds, the modding community will likely maintain a steady flow of new Skyrim content until the heat death of the universe (or, possibly, TES 6).