The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Interview

Gamasutra has recently interviewed Bethesda's Todd Howard about the upcoming latest installment in The Elder Scrolls franchise, Skyrim. The interview covers the scope of the world, Bethesda's history with bugs and more. Here's a generous excerpt:
How does the new engine handle the world's size in Skyrim? What's the scale of the game?

It's about the size of Oblivion. The scale changes with each game, based on a number of factors. The factor in [Skyrim] that messes with the scale are the mountains. So putting mountains on the screen, they feel like mountains when you see them, but they're at the same time small enough where you can scale them without taking a really, really long time. And they cut up the terrain.

In Fallout 3 or Oblivion, you can cut across the landscape, for the most part. You can draw a line and say, "I wanna go there." But in Skyrim, you can't. You might run into a mountain, and you might have to scale a mountain. In general, we try to make the game harder the higher the elevation you're in. That changes the flow of the game.

As a design director, is there an overarching design philosophy that you follow that has worked over the course of so many games?

We have one for the studio. Our motto is "Great games are played, not made," meaning you can spend a lot of time on paper coming up with great ideas, then as soon as you put it in the game, you're like, "I was thinking wrong." So we try to just bullet point things on paper, then get it in the game, play the game, and get ready to throw your ideas out.

With Skyrim, the dragon's design was a one-pager. "Those are gonna work." A couple bullet points was what we were going for. One of our other rules is "define the experience." With dragons, it was more about defining the experience we wanted to have as opposed to "here is the feature set and technical design, etc. etc."

As far as Skyrim, what is the experience? It's the experience you had with the other Elder Scrolls, in that you be who you want to be and do what you want, but the tone of Skyrim involves a more rugged world, a more lived-in world, where magic is more low-fantasy world. There is more violence in it, not for gore's sake -- there's not a ton of gore in the game -- but it just seems like it would be a more violent place.

When it comes to game features, we are more about iteration. The only area we're document-heavy in is the content of the world. We have to be, with all the people, quests, items. We're very document-heavy and we have a really slick wiki at work, and have an interactive map and you can see who's building what today.

But when it comes to game features -- the more time you spend on paper, the more incorrect assumptions you're making, and it's just going to pile up on you.