Elder Scrolls Online: Interview with Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konkle (TenTonHammer.com)

This is a nice article that covers first person view, alliance wars, endgame theorycrafting, and next-gen consoles.

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ESO Interview with Nick Konkle

We recently sat down for a candid discussion about the unstoppable MMO juggernaut in the making, Elder Scrolls Online, with lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle. Topics of discussion included the implementation of first-person view, cross-platform gameplay considerations, and the ways character builds will be a constantly shifting component of Alliance Wars PvP.


First-Person View in ESO

For a lot of gamers, the seminal Elder Scrolls experience involves playing in first-person view. While plenty of MMOs give players the option to zoom the camera into first-person, few really factor in the visual aspects of seeing equipped weapons and the sizable impact it can have on feeling truly engaged in combat. In other words, it’s kind of like playing an FPS, only without seeing the assault rifle you have equipped so the bullets just magically appear from somewhere off-screen each time you pull the trigger.

Earlier this year we were given a sneak peak at how this aspect of ESO was shaping up, but at that point it wasn’t a playable option in the press demo builds. It certainly looked badass, but we were curious about how has that aspect of the game’s development been progressing, and if there were any unexpected hurdles in the implementation process.

Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konlke explained, “It came together much faster and better than I was expecting. Sometimes when you go from prototype to playable, it’s pretty good but then once you get to mass production it can introduce 75 new issues. It didn’t go that way this time. Instead, it was suddenly two months later and it’s in and we’re done, so that was good.

A thing that did surprise me is that I’m not really a first-person gamer, though I do play Elder Scrolls interchangeably. For example, I played Skyrim in first, and Oblivion in third-person. So when first-person went in our game I was expecting it to be similar, like I could play it this way, but I probably won’t. But I do. It’s absolutely my preferred way to play now. It’s just super immersive and cool, and it’s the only way I play now. We’ve noticed with MMO purists, they start liking first-person with a ranged weapon like a bow or staff, and then after they get used to the basics of the perspective change they take the whole thing on that way.”

Alliance Wars and the Character Build Metagame

While I’m more inclined to stick to third-person in most MMOs, it’s rarely a matter of immersion for me so much as the heightened spatial and situational awareness. Even having gone through a fairly hardcore period playing first-person shooters, I want as much visual feedback as possible in competitive situations. This will no doubt hold doubly true when it comes to the size and scope of Alliance Wars PvP in ESO.

Speaking of Alliance Wars, we were really interested in learning more about how that slice of the game is progressing given it’s a major component of the long-tail gameplay and endgame for Elder Scrolls Online.

Nick explained, “All the testing is still internal, but we’re pretty excited to get that part of the game into the beta. We just had a big office-wide PvP test that was quite a bit of fun, and there are any number of anecdotes that I could share from that experience. But let’s just say it’s pretty big; there are some epic battles going on with 50 on 50 groups meeting on the open field.

The main thing that I’m really happy about as a result of this is that we’re getting a lot of builds tested. We’re in the middle of a lot of balancing and adjustments in development, and a lot of times even a small balance tweak will lead to whole shifts in the metagame around the office in terms of what build is now the popular one.

The three or four builds that are really popular changes every couple of months, and they don’t always align with what you’d expect. So what’s the coolest to me is that people will have their weird random builds that they make out of their Elder Scrolls characters and they go into PvP and they make them work. That’s my dream.”

One of the signs of a great elder game competitive system is that you never reach a point where things feel static. As new flavor-of-the-month builds rise to prominence, the system needs to offer enough flexibility for proper counters to those builds to be formulated.

Nick was quick to agree. “Any particular build needs to have a counter. Similarly, with any ability that’s more powerful or possibly sets up a sequence for a style of play, you need to make sure that there’s something you can do when you fight against that. As long as I don’t think the counter system comes down to A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A and that’s the metagame. You want a really big wheel that no one can actually map all the way out so that it constantly shifts. You don’t want it to be cookie-cutter at any level.”

Simple rock-paper-scissors systems definitely don’t cut it when it comes to metagame balance. With the three factions present in ESO there is potential for that layer to be present, but that’s on a much grander and more tactical scale as opposed to the drilled-down character build level. In ESO there will no doubt be certain builds that are considered a bit more iconic. A pure healer build where you focus on the healing staff and full light armor would be one such example.

We were also curious if there were any team-level build concepts that have come into play so far in the office play sessions that were either unexpected, or have in some way helped influence how different counters have been introduced. A perfect example here would be in any MMO that has PBAoE abilities, you’re bound to see character stacking occur; the idea being you stack a bunch of DPS and healer builds in one big clump and they can be extremely difficult to take down unless proper counters exist.

Nick noted, “It’s funny you should mention that, because early on that was a very common thing where people would essentially create a giant PBAoE bomb. That was actually super popular in Dark Age of Camelot.

To counter that, there’s a skill called Anti-Magic Field that drops down a bubble where anyone who tries to cast a spell will get zapped: they’ll be silenced and take a bunch of damage. So if you’re an opposing sorcerer and you’ve got that on your bar, and see a group getting ready to do a PBAoE bomb, you drop that down and all they do is stun and silence themselves.

Anti-Magic Field is interesting in that it provides a strong counter for that, but it’s also an Ultimate, so it takes a pretty long time to charge. But then there’s kind of that risk vs. reward layer about using it. So you can potentially bait it and get a player to use it too early and then do the bomb immediately after.”

ESO and Next Gen Consoles

The launch delay announcement for ESO during E3 2013 caught a lot of people’s attention, and became one of the biggest news stories out of the event for MMO gamers. What’s interesting is that there hadn’t necessarily been any specific dates previously announced, other than a loose target window for the latter part of 2013.

That said, the other major part of that announcement involved Elder Scrolls Online being developed for the upcoming PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, keeping with the cross-platform release model that helped both Oblivion and Skyrim become such huge commercial successes. While that announcement obviously needed to be held back until after Sony and Microsoft had their grand reveals, we couldn’t help but ask Nick how development on the new consoles had been going so far.

“I think the main thing we discovered was that we were already headed in a certain direction with the style of game we were making in terms of a lot of things that are in common with modern console RPGs. So the technology just happens to line up really well with where we are in our schedule. So the technology is there and we can do it, and the design of the game didn’t have to change. It was more a case of making a few tweaks here and there, but fundamentally the game is identical. That allows us to present the same game across all platforms.”

In terms of any special considerations that needed to be made for things like the pacing of combat or the active dodging mechanic, Nick went on to note, “For someone like me who is into the nitty gritty details of it sure, but for the majority of players, not so much. There are some things like locomotion or run animations where you have to make those a bit smoother to account for joysticks. Then you also have to make sure the keybindings work across everything.

So there are some minor things here and there, but we haven’t had to adjust any major mechanic as we intended it to work in the PC version of the game.”

Still no word on whether a special netbook client for ESO will be made available, but we’ll keep you posted on any new developments in that department.

Original TenTonHammer Article

Elder Scrolls Online: 2-Hour E3 Gameplay Review (TenTonHammer.com)

As TenTonHammer mentioned last week, more coverage of their E3 gameplay was coming and here’s the second part of that. Basically, it’s a 99.9% approval review. I’m hoping we start to see over the next few weeks some more pessimistic posts that offer some kind of “cons” for the game, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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The last time I got my grubby little hands on The Elder Scrolls Online was during a press event Bethesda hosted a few weeks ago in Santa Monica. This time, they were showing off the game at E3 and rather than play the same areas I had at the previous event, the team was kind enough to let me break the rules and start a brand new character to see the beginning of the game. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity because it was, in a word, awesome.

The Elder Scrolls Online starts off in a similar manner to the other games in the series, in which you’ve had something happen to your character and need to make your way to civilization to begin the completion of an epic destiny. Being the eternal RPG player that I am, I immediately hopped on that rail and followed it through to completion. Oh, I’m sorry. Actually I meant to say, “Hell no! I’m going my own damned way and there’s not a thing you can do to stop me.” And that, my friends, is exactly why I love The Elder Scrolls series of games so much. After you complete a very short period of mandatory gameplay, you are completely free to pick whatever direction you want and just go. In my most recent play through, I even took this to the extreme by jumping off the dock walkway rather than even go into the first town the moment I got off the boat the game starts on.

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Splashing my way through the water, swimming around the island and hopping up onto a mound of rocks, I was immediately set upon by a starving wolf. Easily enough (thanks to the combat lessons given to me by Combat Designer, Maria Aliprando, during my first play through), I made short work of him and was quickly on my way. Whether it was bandits, assassin beetles, wolves, or any number of other manner of death dealers, I was able to handle the situation with my character. As a quick hint, I advise always choosing at least one skill that allows you a bit of crowd control capability, no matter which class you choose to play. It will make all the difference in the world when you find yourself taking on more than one opponent at a time.

Quests are scattered throughout the land and easily found by checking the mini-map and heading to any gold dots. Those dots on the map correspond to people or items that will begin a quest line for your character. As you may have already guessed, you are free to accept them or not, all depending on your particular whim of the day. Even though I’m a huge fanatic for free roaming in any game, I went ahead and did a few of the quests I came across just to check out the writing to see if it lives up to the excellent lore-filled tales and exploits that we’ve become so accustomed to over the years. I’m happy to report that you won’t be disappointed.

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Within the first 30 minutes of following one quest, I had donned a costume to pass unscathed through a town of bandits, poisoned a maid and let her die (there was an option to save her), stolen a gem for one quest giver, and then betrayed them by giving that same gem to a completely different NPC that asked for it. After that, I spent another 30 minutes assisting a mage gain entrance to an ancient ruin that had been sealed for an untold number of years, battling machines of ancient power, bypassing traps, and unlocking puzzles to reveal magic knowledge not seen in centuries. These were only two quest lines out of nearly a dozen I saw within the very beginning areas of the game. Considering the fact that The Elder Scrolls Onlineis bigger than any other game in The Elder Scrolls series, I can’t imagine just how many quests are actually in the game.

The most amazing thing to me during my play time was the fact that I not only didn’t notice how long it took to get from level 4 to level 5, I also didn’t care. It probably took almost an hour to gain that level. The entire time I was playing, I wasn’t paying attention at all to what level I was, whether I was gaining experience at an efficient rate, or anything of the like. I was just out there playing, having a good time, and getting into all the trouble I could manage. And dear gods, is their more than enough trouble one can find themselves buried neck deep in.

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So what’s my verdict after getting my hands on The Elder Scrolls Online for only the second time (once again, playing for nearly two hours thanks to the kindness of the Bethesda team)? Plain and simple – I can’t wait for the game to come out. Between the complete freedom to engage in or ignore any quest I choose, the return of open dungeons (see more about them in my previous ESO article here), and the amount of just plain fun I’ve had while playing, it’s impossible to state just how good the game is looking so far. At the end of the day, I know everyone wants to know if The Elder Scrolls Online genuinely feels like an Elder Scrolls game, and the answer to that is a resounding, “YES!” The game certainly isn’t perfect right now, and there are some issues the team continues to work on, but it is incredibly fun and in the end should prove well worth the wait!

Original TenTonHammer Article

Elder Scrolls Online: New Beta Group Emailed Today!

For those of you clutching at your chest and heaving fists Heavenward after each ESO beta group announcement because you weren’t selected, today may not be your day either! Sorry. However, you can at least rejoice in the knowledge that “Spring 2014” is the all-platform-launch (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac).

Elder Scrolls Online today announced a new group of beta participants have been invited to the super secret closed beta. Read on for more info! Their new gameplay trailer is at the end of the article.

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NEW BETA INVITES

Check your email—we’re sending new invitations to the ESO beta.

It’s been an exciting week for us already (check out our big announcement and newgameplay trailer if you missed it!), and now we have even more good news: we’re sending out a round of beta invites today for PC users. Check your email now to see if you’ve been invited.If you didn’t get an invite, don’t worry. The ESO beta test will continue to grow as we head towards launch. Make sure to check your spam folder just in case your invitation was caught, and check out this article for more information about the beta test.We’re excited to have more of you join the test and are looking forward to your feedback!

Original ESO Article

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