The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was an epoch-making development in not only RPG- but all gaming. One of the most impressive titles of this or indeed any other year and a serious contender for our Ultimate Game of the Year at this year's Golden Joysticks.
High time then to have a retrospective on the title and Zone's very own reviews editor and long-standing Oblivion addict Suzy Wallace sat down with Bethesda's executive producer Todd Howard over a flagon of mead to talk swords, bows and painted trolls and the making of a classic. Be aware though, if you're a Bark Brotherhood afficianado this is YOUR SPOILER ALERT.
How did you go about fitting Oblivion into the overall Elder Scrolls story?
Todd Howard: The story keeps progressing each game, so as we move from Morrowind to Oblivion, each game stands on its own. With Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, we decided we wanted it to be set in the Imperial Province, which is the centre of our universe of Tamriel. We wanted to tell the story of Uriel Septim, the emperor, and start the game with his demise. He's been getting older and weaker as the games have gone on.
Was there any reason that you decided to kill off old Uriel?
Todd Howard: Dramatic purpose, pure and simple. We'd built up in Morrowind that he was on his last legs, so it followed that he should die. We also always planned on him dying in this game to give real energy to the beginning of it, when he utters his last words to you: "Close shut the jaws of Oblivion." We thought that was a good hook for the player to follow.
Is it hard avoiding contradictions with stuff from previous adventures?
Todd Howard: We have to be careful about that, as there's so much of it in previous games. We have people here who research Elder Scrolls lore, 'Lore Masters', just to make sure we're not saying anything that isn't true. One of the things we're very careful about is that we always write the lore from the standpoint of the world - the lore comes from someone within the world. So if we ever need to say 'well, that person was wrong', then we can do it.
We intentionally put repeating messages about stuff we want to remain mysterious too, such as 'where are the dwarves'? and 'what happened to this land in this ancient time'? We write them as history in the world.
In Oblivion, a lot of the story revolves around the amulet of kings, so we put a lot of research into how the amulet has been mentioned in previous games - some of them attribute certain powers to the amulet, for example. We have three or four people who check all this full-time, plus we have ways of searching the text we've put in our games too - but it does take some time...
Would you say Oblivion is a return to more traditional fantasy? It certainly has more traditional fantasy creatures - Morrowind was quite fanciful...
Todd Howard: Elder Scrolls has a lot of traditional stuff, if you look at Arena and Daggerfall. So we go for what's appropriate for that part of the world - the capital area Cyrodiil is a little more traditional, whereas Morrowind is a province on the outskirts. In that game we had to go to extremes to work in the more trad stuff, we wanted things to be more fantastical, to stick out more. With Oblivion, we wanted the forests and towns to feel familiar, so that when Oblivion comes in with these otherworldly creatures and danger, it feels fantastical - but it's not fantastical all the time.