The Elder Scrolls: Arena Retrospective

In order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Elder Scrolls Series, Ted Peterson, a designer on The Elder Scrolls: Arena and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and a writer for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, has penned this retrospective article over at the Escapist Magazine. In it he reminisces about the development of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, the game that kicked off the famous series. A few sample paragraphs:

When I first joined Bethesda, Arena was on the backburner while we developed a 3D engine for it. Nowadays, we could build on an engine like Unreal or Unity, but if you wanted working technology back then you had to build it yourself. For months Arena languished, more an idea than an actual game, but the concept was that you played as a gladiator in a fantasy empire called Tamriel where teams competed in coliseums for fame and fortune. Thus the name Arena.

The storyline, such as it was, was that you were motivated to work your way up to the ultimate arena in the Imperial City because you wanted to assassinate the Imperial Battlemage, Jagar Tharn, and that was the only way to get to him. We put a little more meat on this plot skeleton; only you knew that Tharn was impersonating the true Emperor. The game was also intended to be multiplayer at this point. Teams of four would join up to battle in the arenas, but early on, the technology to connect your game to others had to be dropped. For a while, we considered adopting the concept of Sir-Tech’s Wizardry games where you played a party of characters to hold onto the idea of battling in arenas as a group instead of a single hero, but that proved to be cumbersome.

While the design and tech were still being constructed, I began diving into creating what we called “side quests.” Even though most of the gameplay was meant to be taking place in the arenas, the idea was that you could earn extra gold and experience by doing missions for the various royals in the provinces of the Empire of Tamriel. They were randomly created, following basic formulas. Go to (this dungeon) and kill (this monster) for (this amount of) gold. Escort (this person) to (this location) for (this amount of) gold. Find (this item) in (this dungeon) for (this amount of) gold. I churned out text to give these quests a little flavor, which sometimes had specific antagonists who would try to stop you. They were fellow gladiators you’d also face off againstin the arenas, and they had evocative names like the Blades, the Dark Brotherhood, the Thieves Guild, the Mages Guild, and the Underking. There was no particular backstory to any of them, just a suggestion of what kind of encounters you might expect when you faced them.