During my visit to ZeniMax Online Studios I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and talk to the two most influential people behind the development of The Elder Scrolls Online. Matt Firor, game director for Elder Scrolls Online is a titan of the MMO industry and a personal hero of mine for his work on Dark Age of Camelot. Paul Sage is the game’s creative director, overseeing that the projects vision and core philosophy is preserved. These guys are both amazing people and are incredibly passionate for their craft and for the gaming experience they are creating. Click through to check out the full interview.
Tamriel Foundry (TF): Matt, Paul thank you both so much for having us out to the studio to check out the game, and see the game personally. It was a great way to dispel some of the illusion and misinformation that has been surrounding the game. It’s kind of one of those things that it’s hard to believe it until you see it, so thanks for giving me that opportunity.
Matt Firor (MF): Yeah, that was the whole reason to get you guys out here. You know, we didn’t say anything different today then we’ve been saying the whole time, but it really sinks in when we can say it, then you can see it for yourself.
TF: Matt, before I dig into more specific questions, I feel obliged to say that you’re a legend in my book for DAoC, and I wanted to thank you personally for bringing us that game. It’s fantastic to see the spiritual legacy of that game live on to a certain degree in ESO. For all the DAoC fans out there, was there anything apart from the three faction RvR that was a core feature that you really wanted to incorporate into ESO?
MF: Well, you know, it’s kind of hard not to mention the PvP system in Camelot being three sided, of course, and that’s a major facet of our game with ESO. We’ve also made a lot of changes, though, there’s been a lot that has been added in the PvP arena in the now eleven years since Camelot launched, but Camelot had a kind of spirit about it. Everyone know what team they were on, and everyone was going out to fight for their team. We wanted to make sure we have that feeling in this game.
TF: I think that the big revelation for the day was the announcement of the megaserver. The rest of what we saw was a positive confirmation of things we had heard. I wanted to ask a few questions specifically about that, because I think that is something that’s going to surprise people quite a bit. So to start off; when you begin your journey as a character, you answer some questions that help direct your gameplay experience. Could you elaborate on what dimensions of choice the player has there and how it will affect the gameplay experience?
Paul Sage (PS): Yeah, actually our goal was that when you play the game you just enter your name and your character choices and pick your alliance and you go, and that’s it. With what we’ve been talking about for megaserver technology is, think about being able to answer a set of questions out of game that already start to pair you even before you make your character. Things like; what guilds were you in before, let’s go and look for those social associations you have made, and bring those into the game. That’s what we are really looking at, so even before you get into the game we’ll be working on that with you through our website so it’s all a very integrated experience and it feels amazing.
TF: Again on the megaserver, your faction choice becomes a bit less rigid then it might be in a multi-server game. How is that going to be handled? Especially with regard to if you want to make an alt someday?
MF: Yeah, so your different characters can be in different alliances, but since your character is tied to a campaign for PvP, we obviously can’t have everyone in the entire game in a single PvP battlefield. We are going to have multiple campaigns running which are multiple versions of our PvP battleground. Your character is tied to an alliance in a campaign, so you can have a character in another alliance, but in a different campaign.
TF: So you will be taking measures to restrict people from joining the same campaign on multiple factions?
PS: Absolutely, when you sign up for a campaign, your guild will be associated with a certain campaign as well. You won’t be able to have a character from one alliance in the same campaign as an alt in a different alliance. We don’t want you to stack the deck so to speak.
TF: I have a couple PvE questions that I wanted to throw your way. It seems like there’s a pretty logical progression, you’ve got the public dungeons, then there’s a more advanced form of group dungeons, then there’s heroics? Could you elaborate a bit on the tiered nature of that?
PS: Sure, we’ve got almost a four pronged attack on dungeons and grouping. Public dungeons are really exciting because a public dungeon operates almost exactly like an overworld zone. It’s just slightly harder than the overworld zone to encourage people to team up, and that’s a really fun experience. The second is the instance, which you take with your group. You go in with a group of four players and you go through this instance and it’s a very personal story. Then when you hit level 50, imagine that you get to go through that instance again, but not necessarily the exact same areas. New areas open up and there’s a second part of the story, so you get to go back and see “oh, so this is what my actions did the last time within that dungeon”. Then finally we have what we are calling “adventure zones”. Adventure zones are like a normal zone, except there’s group content for smaller groups, there’s large group content, then there’s solo content.
TF: Have you chosen yet a particular group and raid size? Or is that still being balanced?
PS: Well, that really depends, because you know, there’s so many different areas you go into. Right now for instances we are looking at about 4, and for raids or large group sizes, that’s still up in the air. We want to make sure the balance is tweaked exactly right for that.
TF: The flexibility of player roles within a group because of your ability to swap weapons and armor types seems like it should make group formation a bit easier to arrange. Is your content designed to expect a certain composition of particular roles or builds?
PS: The benefit of roles, and sometimes they take a beating from different people depending on who you talk to, is that it really forms a way for you to lock in the pieces of the total puzzle. We give you freedom to form those roles, but we also think there is value in having someone who says “ok, I’m going to tank, I’m going to take the most damage”, or “I’m going to heal at this point”. It’s more up to players to say “I’m going to take on this role” then you are locked into a certain role, but certain classes are better at certain roles than others, and that’s the way I think it will work out.
TF: I already spoke to Brian (Wheeler) quite a bit about PvP, but I wanted to get your personal take on PvP, Matt. The campaigns are obviously your pinnacle and self-sustaining endgame content. Could you talk a bit about the victory conditions for campaigns and how those play out?
MF: Sure, so the pinnacle achievement for a single player is to become Emperor, so if you’re the guy at the top of the leaderboard when your alliance conquers enough of Cyrodiil to take over the Imperial City, that’s when you’re crowned Emperor. So that’s kind of the pinnacle for a single player, but for the alliance itself, the whole point of the PvP system is that the benefits of the PvP system apply to everyone in that alliance whether they are PvPing or not. So if your alliance is winning, you’ll get bonuses and advantages that will help out people that are PvEing in the home part of the alliance. That way when you lose those bonuses, that incentivizes everyone to go get them back because you want that benefit. So alliances as a whole want that as well.
TF: Is there a way to prevent people from just jumping ship to the campaign that is being the most successful for their own faction?
MF: Yeah, so a player is pretty closely tied to a campaign. We are working out a way so they can switch campaigns, but that’s basically your home and your battle. Your alliance is expecting you to stay in that campaign and see it through. We are trying to find ways design ways to ensure that if someone really wants to change, there will be a way to make that happen.
TF: One of the most attractive features of this megaserver is that you’ve announced is that you really can play with anyone that, maybe you don’t even know they are playing the game, but they are a Facebook friend. You can discover that and have that shared experience, so the social integration seems like a neat step. Is there anything else that’s really cool about how that works you would like to share?
MF: Well, you basically just laid it all out…
PS: Matt talked earlier today about how everyone has established social circles already, and we want to see which one of those social circles we can bring into the game. Places like Facebook where you have these friends and you’re like “oh, such and such, I didn’t even know he’s playing the game”, but then you can easily invite him to join you and the two of you can get together and play right away. That’s actually I think the coolest part of the experience is getting that person you had no idea was playing and just say “let’s play together tonight”.
MF: It’s that whole setup phase of the game, when you join most MMOs for the first couple of days you have to figure out and ask yourself “where to go, who is playing where, where’s my guild, which shard to join, do I have to choose between old guilds?”, but this avoids all of that. You just join one massive community that you can then pick out your friends and go.
TF: I have a quick lore question; the period that you’ve chosen seems to be possibly one of the most fertile grounds for the setting of the game. Were there any others that you were also debating? Was this sort of the clear cut choice?
MF: Yeah, so there’s a time in the timeline after Skyrim that we had considered, but there’s a lot of advantages for doing the prequel in that sense. Everyone knows the world, but they don’t know what happened. There’s a lot of interest about “who built all these ruins that are laying around”, and “what did Tamriel look like 1,000 years before?” and “what was the Mages guild doing back then”? So we can answer all those types of questions and we can work in some of those mysteries. Our Ayleid ruins that you see throughout Cyrodiil in TES4: Oblivion, we have those, because they were thousands of years old then, and they are still thousands of years old in our game, but they look newer and there’s some detail in them that you didn’t see in Oblivion because they were just much older at that point. So we can start doing cool things like that, and because a lot of our PvP takes place in Cyrodiil, generally speaking, if there was a ruin in Cyrodiil in the game Oblivion, you can go there in ESO and there’s a ruin there and it looks basically the same. It let us do cool things like that so players get that feeling like they’re coming home again, but it’s in a different time.
TF: Not the entirety of Tamriel is going to be explorable at launch, so you’ve given yourself a bit of breathing room for expansion. Obviously the game hasn’t even launched yet so it might seem premature to talk about post-launch plans, but the reality of the genre is that it’s never premature to think about those issues.
MF: Definitely, there’s a couple of ways to talk about what you are saying there. One thing is that these games are services, you know, they go on “forever”. So we want to make sure that we are always giving players content at regular intervals so that everyone knows and the players know when that new content is coming out. The way we are looking at is, since we’re “in the past” (in terms of recent TES games), the three alliances are inhabiting the civilized parts of the world. There’s a lot of wilderness left in Tamriel, and there’s especially a lot more wilderness in our time. Those are going to be these level 50 adventure zones that Paul was talking about. Those are going to be the new content that comes along. So the box copy of the game that ships is just the beginning.
TF: Awesome, well thank you both so much for your time it was fantastic to get a chance to meet you guys in person and see the game. I think the both the TES and MMO communities are going to be really excited to see what you guys are building.
Let us know what you think about Matt and Paul’s responses in the comments below. For loads of juicy details about the PvP system in TESO check out our next article in the series Developer Interview: Brian Wheeler, or you can head back to the series home, Hands-On With The Elder Scrolls Online.