The Elder Scrolls Retrospectives

The recent announcement of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has prompted a couple of new retrospectives for the series' earlier titles, including this extensive four-pager over at GameInformer that's actually written by longtime Bethesda developers:
Daggerfall in my memory is mostly flavored by how large it was. It was something we really struggled with during the project. We were never sure if it was big to just be big, since it was randomly generated. We could dial up or dial down the size very easily. But it became the sum of its parts. You could do so much. It's also the Elder Scrolls game that introduced the skills system, and the whole (you improve by doing) paradigm, which I think defines the series in many ways. You really felt like the character you played was up to you, and not the game. Todd Howard

I was hired during the final throes of Daggerfall's long development. Nobody had a lot of time to train or supervise me, so I was pretty surprised to be this brand new rookie designer basically doing whatever I wanted. Luckily I was still young and responsible, so I didn't take (much) advantage of my freedom. This was also my introduction to the magic of game development I still remember my amazement at being able to put together a dungeon or quest, fire up the executable, and see what I'd just done right there on my computer screen in an actual game. I'm still occasionally floored by that magic, even after all these years. Kurt Kuhlmann, Senior Designer


Morrowind was a real reboot not just for the Elder Scrolls, but for Bethesda. We built a game while building up a development team. We had shrunk to maybe 6 people in development, and this was probably our last chance. I coded the initial demo of the game by myself and designed the editor when we started. I felt the whole game hinged on having a great tool we could build and tweak the game with, and The Elder Scrolls Construction Set was born. I took the name from the Apple 2 program, (Stuart Smith's Adventure Construction Set.) To this day, I think what the modders have done with those tools has helped define the series. Todd Howard

Morrowind was a major rewrite of the whole system, using world building techniques we had used in Redguard, but on a massive scale. The whole engine was redone again. Everything was built by hand, and now with the advances in 3D, we could build everything from forks to pillows to giant castles. This game also marked our first foray into the console world with Xbox, whereas before we were just a PC developer. Todd Howard

And then Edge gives us a two-pager that focuses entirely on Morrowind:
Morrowind, however, remains the least constrained of the two. Plot-dependent characters can't be killed in Oblivion; in Morrowind, the quest line can be broken a small text box alerts you to the fact and you're still free to remain an adventurer. Towns aren't separated from the outside world by a loading screen. Aspects that could never be held up as sleek game design are nonetheless powerful: character dialogue apart from passer-by soundbites is never spoken, instead metered out via rich clumps of text, and conversation strands are far more profuse than those of Oblivion. Walking is the only way to conserve fatigue, forcing you to stroll the land; fast travel isn't available, but silt strider creatures, boat rides and Mages' Guilds offer a shortcut between major settlements. Such aspects may be dissuasive to the received gaming mentality but, while it's likely that the average Oblivion player spends more time in the game before walking away, it's just as likely that those who managed to submerge themselves in Morrowind felt connected and invested all the deeper. So, what payoff awaits? The assessment so far may seem glum, but a careful and cautious approach is essential to savouring Morrowind's seemingly everlasting gobstopper.

The reward is that, within the bounds marked out, you're truly free to roam, to muddle, to amble, to be lured from the path of one quest by another, to play out a great number of bespoke adventures that may only ever exist in your head; your trawl of a given dungeon will be your own story, and no one else's. Even exploration is an experience in itself, and isn't about hoovering secret tokens or soaking up completion percentages. The island of Morrowind that exists on the disc can be threadbare and tenuous, but be undeniable and persistent in your mind. Also, even on Xbox, it's a game that throws up snapshots of austere, worldly beauty, where sunrise and landscape conspire against any shortcomings to provide a memorable montage; again, these moments feel personal in a way few other adventures can match.