Feature: Living in Oblivion Subscribe to this RSS feed

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is shaping up to be the hottest Xbox 360 game this year. We spoke with Todd Howard, Executive Producer of Bethesda Softworks' upcoming PC and Xbox 360 RPG, Oblivion. What we learned may shock and surprise you.

Games.Net: Oblivion's outdoor scenes look astonishingly realistic. We've heard that Bethesda has been in touch with researchers concerning realistic depiction of tree growth and soil erosion. Could you elaborate on that? What kinds of tricks did the researchers help you with?

Todd Howard: A great many things in nature seem random, but are really based on statistics, math, and other things happening over really long periods of time, like millions of years. Once we understood how those things worked, we found we could not only create environments that looked a lot more realistic, but environments that the game could generate for us, so we could spend our time on other elements of the game.

These forests look amazing because they're procedurally-generated; algorithms govern their growing patterns

Games.Net: Similarly, the physics model is amazing. How is Oblivion's physics model more elaborate than, say, Half-Life 2? Can it handle more objects? More complex interactions? How will the physics system influence gameplay and visual immersion?

Todd Howard: Half-Life 2 is a great way to view it, and that game really set the "use physics benchmark.... We're obviously using Havok, as they did, and we've done some other cool things with it, like arrows sticking in objects and reorienting the weight of things they stick in. I think the big thing we're learning with the physics is that with an RPG, there is soooo much you can do with it, like traps, stealing things, and more. Things like Telekinesis spells, picking up stuff far away and trying to manipulate the environment to throw off the NPCs and such. Paralyzing guys and watching them fall down stairs never gets old.

Games.Net: considering the fact that Oblivion is making such an immersive, living, breathing world, can we expect full surround sound features? Will we hear brooks babble and trees rustle? Will there be music in-game, or are you striving for the most natural experience? We also know that Patrick Steward (Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation is starring. Are you folks ready to announce any other voice actors for Oblivion?

Todd Howard: Yes and yes. Full 5.1 surround, dynamic score, the works. I saw some crazy stat for the number of Xbox users with 5.1 setups and it was staggering, so we plan on fully using it. As far as voices, yes, there are more well-known and brilliant people in the game, and they'll be announced later. We were able to get our "dream-team" of actors for this.

Games.Net: The Radiant A.I. system looks awesome. How will it affect gameplay? For instance, it's one thing to hear that all the NPCs have real lives, jobs, and goals. Does that ever impact upon the player, or does it just make for a more realistic town environment? Will you ever bump into characters in unusual places, as they go on adventures of their own? How will the A.I. system affect combat? Will wounded enemies exhibit emotions, run away, etc?

Todd Howard: It's all of that. When you first play the game, it's really just for show. It makes the world believable and entertaining, and I think that's important. But as you play, you start to figure out what you can do with these NPCs, and how you can influence their behavior, and when doing a quest, it really comes into play. A simple "get the diamond from that guy... quest can be done in hundreds of ways now. Is he sleeping? When is he home? Does he take the diamond to work with him? Does he like me? Can he sell it? Should I kill him? Pick his pocket? Steal his food and see if he sells the diamond to eat? That's just some off the top of my head.

Fire and brimstone mark your descent into the fiendish world of Oblivion
Games.Net: Presumably, the first part of the game takes place in the "natural" world, and players later enter the hell-like Oblivion. What can you tell us about Oblivion? Is it totally unique, or a "dark side" version of the world? What kinds of foes players will fight? What kinds of dangers will they face? Will there be shopkeepers and such in Oblivion?

Todd Howard: I can't spoil that! I can say you go to Oblivion a lot, right from the beginning of the game, it's obviously a major theme and a very cool area. It is dark, it is evil, it is twisted. That's one of the reasons we've kept the outside world so familiar, to have that difference between this world and the next.