One of the fun things about a fantasy setting is diving deep into a vast, complex world rich with tiny details nobody else could possibly keep straight.
Matt Firor built one with the Dark Age of Camelot series while at Mythic Entertainment. Now, as president of ZeniMax Online and game director of Elder Scrolls Online, he’s responsible for one of the biggest fantasy IPs in gaming. And yes, he keeps all the details from all five massive Elder Scrolls games straight. In his head.
GamesBeat: I know people who are still digging through The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim — they just can’t find an end to it. So why move on to Elder Scrolls Online?
Matt Firor: It’s the first Elder Scrolls game you can play with other people. That’s the biggest difference compared to Skyrim and Oblivion. And you’ll see stuff that isn’t just in the province of Skyrim or Morrowind or Cyrodiil. It’s across all of Tamriel, so you’ll see things that haven’t been in other Elder Scrolls games since 1994. You’ll get to see the southwest corner of the continent that no one’s seen in forever.
It’s set in that same [Elder Scrolls] world — it has similar controls and similar visuals – but it has the added factor of other people.
GamesBeat: You’ll party up, go raiding dungeons, all that fun stuff?
Firor: Yeah. We’ll also have in-game Player-vs.-Player. There’s a giant PvP system. We’ll also have in-game Player-vs.-Environment that we’re not talking about so much yet, except to say that we have it.
GamesBeat: I was going to ask a little bit about PvP. My understanding is that it’s in Cyrodiil, the main setting for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If you want PvP, you just walk into Cyrodiil?
Firor: Yes. The entire province of Cyrodiil is our PvP area.
GamesBeat: So what’s the overarching plot when you’re not in Cyrodiil?
Firor: That involves your soul getting stolen by a daedric prince, Molag Bal. You want to get it back. That happens in the tutorial, basically, the very early stage of the game. The main part of the game is your story – investigating why Molag Bal stole your soul, learning what implications that has for Tamriel, and getting it back. Of course, to do that, you need to save the world.
GamesBeat: When does this take place in the Elder Scrolls continuity?
Firor: Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion took place about 20 years apart, and then Skyrim is about 200 years after Oblivion. We’re a thousand years before Skyrim.
GamesBeat: In what we’ve played so far, I went up against some assassins. I saw a lot of imps. I killed some spriggans. That’s at level 6. What am I going to deal with at level 20 or 30?
Firor: One of the great things about working with this IP is that we have all those creatures that you fought in the other Elder Scrolls games. All of them.
GamesBeat: Including dragons?
Firor: Except for dragons. They’re literally outside Tamriel at this time. Except for just one, but we don’t have any plans for him right now.
You’ll see things like Ogrim, who you’d remember from Morrowind, or Clannfear from Oblivion. We have all the Daedra from all the other games. Kwama, also from Morrowind, and Netch. We have all these great creatures that populate the world. We didn’t really make up any new ones. We have a few, but most of them are from the existing lore.
GamesBeat: One of the things about Skyrim was that you had these epic battles coming out of nowhere. Dragons would start circling overhead. Do you have anything like that in Elder Scrolls Online?
Firor: We have something in that vein called Dark Anchors, where Molag Bal is trying to throw out anchors into Tamriel and pull it into his daedric plane. He’s prevented from coming to Tamriel, but there’s nothing stopping him from bringing Tamriel into his own realm. He throws these anchors out, and one of the player’s jobs — especially if they join the fighters’ guild — is to find the anchors around the world, kill the daedra protecting them, and destroy them.
GamesBeat: These are literal giant anchors?
Firor: They’re giant demon anchors that fall out of the sky. They latch into the ground and you have to defeat the guys that are protecting them.
GamesBeat: Do they happen randomly?
Firor: They’re not entirely random. You’ll see locations around the world where they might spawn, but they’re not always up at the same time.
GamesBeat: Are there specific missions to go and deal with them?
Firor: You get an overarching mission from the fighters’ guild to kill daedra and close Dark Anchors. As long as you do that, you’ll get reputation with that guild.
GamesBeat: What’s the vital element you had to get in to really make it an Elder Scrolls game?
Firor: For every Elder Scrolls fan, there’s a different answer to that, which is great. The guys who have been around since the beginning will tell you it’s the lore. There are no specific quest vectors. If something looks cool, you don’t have to find an NPC to tell you to go explore it, like in other MMOs. You just go and explore and get credit for it. That’s what people have come to expect from Elder Scrolls.
GamesBeat: What’s going to get someone to walk away from, say, World of Warcraft and come over to Elder Scrolls?
Firor: Elder Scrolls is an IP that brings a lot of other things with it. You can tell that it’s not using a conventional MMO combat system in any way. It’s very much an Elder Scrolls combat system. This is very much an online-RPG.
GamesBeat: Was that the goal? To take the Elder Scrolls experience we know and put it online?
Firor: It was really to come up with an online role-playing game that uses the best features of MMOs. What MMOs do well, they do really well. Things like social systems or player trading, all of that is awesome. It also comes with a lot of baggage. We wanted to make sure that we got the right elements from both genres — single-player RPGs and MMOs – and bring them together.
GamesBeat: When did you know you were getting that right?
Firor: We built our own engine — any game developers reading this will immediately start laughing, because it’s painful to play on an engine in an early state of development. It doesn’t have any of the cool shaders or effects. You have to put yourself past all that and get to the gameplay. But yeah, there was a version probably about a year and a half ago where I could say, “Okay, I see it. I see the world. There’s weather. There are cool effects and cool animations.” That’s when it really started rolling.