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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Bethesda's Pete Hines proves the developer's far from oblivious when it comes to shaping its forthcoming RPG follow-up

With its enormous, detailed world and go-anywhere, see-anything philosophy, there's plenty of reasons why The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is getting a lot of people very excited indeed - and that's not even touching on the fact it sports one of the most stunning RPG graphics engines we've ever seen.

Bethesda's latest entry in the hugely-revered franchise is set for simultaneous release on PC and Xbox 360 on March 24 and, in anticipation, we leapt at the opportunity to chat with Pete Hines, the developer's VP of public relations and marketing, and here's what he had to say...

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Morrowind was epic - where do you plan to go from there with Oblivion?

Pete Hines: There were definitely some things in Morrowind we liked and definitely some things we thought we could do better. For Oblivion, there were some things we wanted to try that haven't been done before - like photo-realistic forests - so that was one thing we wanted to accomplish visually. We have a big world to explore, so we want to push the graphics, then do things with the AI and implement a better combat system. The big goal for us is always 'go where you want, do what you want'.

The province in which Oblivion is set is massive too. Was it daunting populating it with so many people and so much lore?

Pete Hines: We look at it from several vantage points, and obviously, where it's set is going to play a big part in what goes in the world. We start with the big picture before we start asking about details, such as what's happening in the Thieves' Guild, what's going on with the Dark Brotherhood and what's the overriding story for them in the context of the world. Each of these interrelate to one other, and we have to look at how the main quest affects all of these people.

So how smart is the AI? Will they envy your sentience, or at least, pretend to be envious?

Pete Hines: We try not to go too overboard, and we've had to scale things back simply because we don't want things going on that the player doesn't understand. For instance, we don't let AI characters steal items from you - it sounds like something that would be cool and fun, having to lock your house and stuff, but the problem is that when you come back to your house and there are items missing, it doesn't feel like somebody's stolen them, more like the game's broken. We try to make sure that happenings in the game are understandable and are something that you can see and control.

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You definitely seem to have a penchant for expansive environments - how big is Oblivion's Cyrodil then?

Pete Hines: If you place the Morrowind world into the Oblivion engine, you could literally see from one end of the island to the other. It feels like an amusement park because the scale doesn't fit and you can see so far. A lot of managing the size is just adjusting how far apart we spread stuff out, so that things like riding on horseback don't have you going from one side of the map to another in two minutes.

And seeing as this one isn't set on an island...

Pete Hines: We actually built a lot more of the world in the game space, so that when you get to the border of the game, you can still see off into the distance. We generated that terrain because even if you don't get to visit it, we don't want you to hit an invisible wall.

Oblivion's cities are far removed from the scattered villages of Morrowind. How did their design come about?

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