Todd Howard has been working at Bethesda Game Studios for 25 years, and at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), fans hung on his every word as he described what was coming up at the Bethesda Game Studios division he directs.
In the wake of Bethesda’s announcements at E3, Howard gave a talk at the Gamelab event in Barcelona, in a fireside chat with Game Awards founder Geoff Keighley. He also did an interview with GamesBeat, and I’ve culled some short tidbits from both of those talks for this story.
In Spain, Howard had fans listening closely as he talked about his upcoming games, like the recently announced Fallout 76, Starfield, The Elder Scrolls VI — and the ones from his past such as the hugely popular Fallout 4, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Fallout Shelter.
Later on, I’ll have a longer take on his talk at the Gamelab, where Howard won the Industry Legend Award.
- He has played Westworld, the mobile game, from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Bethesda’s parent company Bethesda Softworks (owned by ZeniMax Media) has sued Warner Bros. and Behaviour Interactive for allegedly copying Howard’s game Fallout Shelter, a mobile game that came out in 2015 and has generated more downloads than any other of Howard’s games put together. “I had to play it for legal reasons, to form an opinion,” he said. He didn’t say what that opinion was. Warner Bros. has denied ripping off Fallout Shelter.
- Howard is excited about the spread of games. “The main thing that excites me is that games are successful everywhere now,” he said. “Now it’s successful everywhere and that’s really important for the health of the industry.
- Automated storytelling is something he has explored in games. “Emergent narrative? We tried some of it but haven’t had great success. The technology for radiant stories in Skyrim is phenomenal. We tried and pared it back.”
- Howard doesn’t like to play it safe. “The idea is to keep being ambitious. … Playing it safe is the worst way to do things. [The Elder Scrolls III:] Morrowind was hard. It was our first time on console. If it didn’t do well, the company was probably out of business. [The Elder Scrolls IV:] Oblivion was really difficult. We really pushed the tech. I liked that line in the movie Shakespeare in Love: How is this going to work out? I don’t know, but it always does.”
- Graphics are outstanding now, but that’s almost a given now in many games. “Visually, things are looking so good. Now it’s how reactive is the world. There is very little you can’t do in a game. You just can’t do it all. You spend time doing, ‘Can I do this, can I do this, can I do this?’ We can do anything. We just can’t do everything.”
- He’s a programmer, but he hasn’t coded since 2006. “I used to really dig in,” he said. “Now I spend more time in meetings discussing a game.”
- Bethesda’s creative team thought about Starfield, the new science fiction game that Howard announced at E3, for at least 10 years. After Fallout 4 shipped, the team started working on it full time. It is the first ground-up franchise that Howard has worked on at Bethesda, where he has worked for the past 25 years. “We go back and reinterpret and replay old games,” he said. “The difference with Starfield is there is no one to go back to. The ideas were all over the map. I enjoy “plus one” sequels as a player. I don’t enjoy making them.”
- He watches a lot of games on video streams, when he doesn’t have time to play. But he still plays games like Fortnite, for research.
- Howard isn’t interested in doing a book or a movie. “I loved playing Ultima. Getting my computer in college and playing Wing Commander. I hear a lot from our fans and they are the same way. Games are where i want to be.”
- Virtual reality still gets him excited. “I’m a little more VR than AR (augmented reality,” he said. “We did Fallout and Skyrim in VR. We’re just about to enter the second generation of VR. Historically, the third generation is where it starts to become popular.”
Disclosure: The organizers of Gamelab paid my way to Barcelona. Our coverage remains objective.