The Elder Scrolls

Past and future of The Elder Scrolls

When Arena came, I was in mid school. My PC was too obsolete, and I only saw it once, on a PC of a friend's uncle, they invited me because I kinda was computer-savvy at the time. Well, relatively.
The game blown my mind at the time. Graphics was adequate, nothing fancy, but possibilites were just ridiculous. Unfortunately, after that day, I never played it before relatively contemporary times, about Oblivion era.

One or two years later, I examined a display piece with games compact discs. My PC was moderately good for the moment, and I had some money. Then I saw that freaky skull of the Underking, and a magical title — The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Of course, I've instantly remembered that Arena game, and instantly bought Daggerfall CD. That 15-minutes walk home never felt so long.
Later that evening, I had to go walk with my dogs. When I saw the trees in our yard, I legitimately catched myself thinking "huh, weird graphics, trees are usually sprites, and these definitely are in three dimensions… wait, this is not Tamriel". I was so immersed in a game, believe it or not.
Daggerfall was my favorite part of the series. I do remember that website where everyone sent photos of their characters with biographies, and they had forums with roleplaying and fanfics. Also sent mine, it was published. Oh, and there was that new and interesting place filled with information, called UESP! Crazy to think that it is still exists and prospers.

Oh, and I actually finished the game. Without any exploits or cheats, maybe checked some information, but still an achievment. Because Daggerfall was just as brilliant as it was flawed, and most of you know it. Anyway, it is not that interesting to play the game you know from side to side and finished several times, so I went to other stuff. Mostly Starcraft, I think. Because other RPGs were… well, they were not Daggerfall. Diablo? Baldur's Gate? Don't make me laugh. Fallout was good, and I even wrote a guide on second game of the series, but it was lost in ye olde internet.

Time went, and I played various games, but always waited for news. You know what news. And then the news came. And one of the first published Morrowind screenshots was immediately put on my desktop wallpaper, for quite a long time. Still remember it. The one with a mushroom, heh.

After a while, the game was up. And — here we are starting to get to my point — it was awesome, yet dissapointing for those of us who remembered Daggerfall. Vvardenfell was so beautiful and detailed, but so… tiny. The scale was one of the things Daggerfall (and Arena) had as their distinguishing features, and Morrowind lost it. But it was so incredibly beautiful. And the story is perhaps the best in the series, as most of you know. Bu-ut… but, but, but.
I vividly remember reading somewhere that someone of THAT Bethesda, perhaps either Julian or Ted, but maybe someone else, said something akin to — read this part, this is important — "we are trying to design and make each new game in the series from scratch, rethinking everything". Isn't it great attitude? Isn't it infinitely better than "we have a formula that just works, and we are not going to change it, because investors don't like risks?"
You probably already getting where I am going to, but if you are reading it here, may just as well to continue. Won't be too long.

Of course it was understood, that Morrowind was made completely different to Daggerfall technologically, and that it was impossible to make a game of Daggerfall scale with Morrowind, well, appearance. Technology was not there yet. And that "design each new game from scratch" really soothed me (and other Daggerfall veterans, I assume) down. Sure, Morrowind is small and cozy, but it must be an experiment, and later, when PC power will grow up, they probably will return to their roots, right? Right?

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I actually never actively waited and longed for TES IV, playing some other things at the time, and when it was announced it was a pleasant surprise. Graphics on these screenshots were kinda weird, but these bright green colors vere so vivid! When the game arrived and I went out of the sewers, well, that probably was the last time pure graphic awesomeness overpowered me. That view on Vilverin in broad daylight is beyond gorgeous. Games that came out later may have objectively better graphics, with more polygons, high-res textures, perfect shaders and, someday, they will be completely photorealistic. But… it is "close enough" for quite a while, and for me it started with Oblivion.

The game was good yet flawed, as all The Elder Scrolls games are. I actually enjoyed it though, not my favorite, but better than most non-TES games, hand down. But there was one problem. The scale remained similar to the one from Morrowind. Well, okay again, technology is not yet ready, and look at these graphics!

Skyrim. The same game. I liked it. Never thought that it was "dumbed down" completely, although spellcrafting systems and levitation from Daggerfall and Morrowind screamed from beyond the graves of that games. But there was a lot of good ideas in Skyrim, and it is a good Morrowind III game. Just as Oblivion before that was a good Morrowind II game.

Fast-forward. Present day. Elder Scrolls VI are announced, and they will be Morrowind IV. Lots of salt were spilled after Bethesda announced that Elder Scrolls VI will keep its' engine, some people defending their decision, but most condemning it. I've read lots of discussions, and never saw the argument I am going to say now, at least not said straight:

The Elder Scrolls VI will be yet another Morrowind-formula game, and this is what kills me. Bethesda has abandoned their roots — naturally, none of the people who created The Elder Scrolls setting and series still work there. Basically, all we have after Morrowind is derivative, epigone work, fan fiction. Not a "new game from scratch". And even if that, it only copies the latest "true" game of the series, the one that was far less ambitious than the previous one.

And far more successful. But why is that so?

Difficult to answer, because there are more than one reason. But the most important thing, that directly influenced fiscal success is that years have passed, so games become more popular, and the game with "III" in title always sells better than something completely new. Oh, and Morrowind had fewer game-breaking bugs than Daggerfall. Maybe because more than four persons, not counting testers, worked on it.

So. What I am ranting about?
Well, I hate the fact that The Elder Scrolls series are in formulaic stagnation, and that there seems to be no way out in foreseeable future. Same engine means same small-scale sandbox, and I couldn't care less about issues like "wonky animations" and "parts of code that existed in Morrowind" and "bugs unpatched from Skyrim" that probably will be there. This does not matter, because The Elder Scrolls VI will be formulaic and banal game at its' core.

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I feel that the gamers are overfed by Morrowind-style small-scale sandboxes. Sure, they do sell, because nothing better exists. But you know what?
You already do, do you?

Picture this.
A game of the Daggerfall scale, but built to run on modern PCs, with adequate financing, enough development time and with modern engine-building techniques.
Procedural generation? Yes, of course, damn it, of course, it is necessary, and it is ridiculous that only indie-developers seem to use it now, while so-called AAA-developers prefer to use luddite techniques of crafting everything by hand, spending ungodly amount of human workhours and still gaining only small-scale worlds.
The truth, as Julian Jensen said in his long youtube interview, which you can easily find and watch, is that procedural generation is not "yes" or "no". It is a tool, and it should be used as a gradient.

At first, designer paints a map of the gaming world. He basically sets "biomes" — here is an ocean, here is a coniferous forest, and here is a desert. Oh, and here is another desert, but kinda less arid. Oh, and here is a river, running through the first, arid desert, and there are flood plains on the banks. And a mountain right there.
Then designers, artists and programmers work on interpretation of these "biomes". Using, damn it, full force of AAA financing. Not like guys who worked on Starbound or No Man's Sky did, but more intense, with better details and differentiations. But in general — yeah, procedural biomes, just like the ones that Minecraft has. Sure, why not.
So, after that step (obviously I am cutting here) we can have a game of any scale, but filled with kinda generic biomes. They can and should be beautiful, but they will be generic. What now?
And now game designers should use it as a canvas to put their handcrafted important locations, characters and stories inside the world. Notice that "city", "countryside with villages" and even "part of province, population so-and-so, economics are based on natural resources exploitation" may be implemented as a procedurally generated biomes.

Why do we need it?
If you are asking this question, you probably haven't played Daggerfall. The feeling that the world is really big, and yet it is not generically empty, like in Starbound or No Man's Sky, is something that newer generation of gamers really should feel. There are games that itch that scratch a bit, but it is not the same, it is always not the same.

Sure, it is risky. And not cheap, and not easy. Probably out of range of possibilities of indie developers, except maybe if such developer will try to make that game with graphical fidelity of Dwarf Fortress or, at best, Minecraft. That is why I am writing it here, and not on a Kickstarter or whatever.

Bethesda did it before, you know.

Oh, 10k symbols already, and look at the time. Anyway, what do you think?

tl;dr: The Elder Scrolls series are in stagnation, and some "returning to the roots" on a new turning of technological spiral is required to rejuvenate both series and the genre.

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