What is it about the Elder Scrolls series that gives it such long-lasting appeal? What sets it aside from other fantasy universes?
I think there are a few things. We treat each game as its own thing. We don’t necessarily treat them as a series, or sequels. Each one stands on its own as a unique game. We just try to make the best Elder Scrolls game we can for that time. We have the same goals each time, but gaming changes, our own tastes change, our fans’ tastes change.
We start over each time, we change it up each time. We’re not afraid to try new things. Some of those are successful, some not, but overall we’ve avoided pumping out sequels that don’t feel unique and special. I have always been a fan of the Ultima games, and I’m still inspired by how they evolved from Ultima 3 to Ultima 7.
As far as it being different from other fantasy universes – there’s so many, so it’s hard to say. Every fantasy world has its uniqueness and similarities to those that have come before. What we try to do, is treat it like a real place. Like a place that happened in some alternate history. That despite it being fantastical, when you play the games it feels completely authentic for what it is, almost historical.
Is your favourite game always the most recent one, or do you have a particular ES game that you’re most fond of?
It’s usually the most recent game we did, so can I say Fallout 3? If not, then I’d have to go with Oblivion, then Morrowind, and work backwards. I can easily point out flaws in all of them, but overall I think we solve more problems than we create in each game.
There have been a few Elder Scrolls spin-offs over the years. Would you ever like to see the universe in a different genre, or do you think it ceases to be Elder Scrolls if it’s not an epic RPG?
I have various opinions on that depending on the day. Today, I feel like it’s not Elder Scrolls unless it’s a giant game where I can go where I want, be who I want, and do whatever I want. Depending on the platform, the year, or whatever, the form that idea takes could be different.
What do you think are the key elements of an Elder Scrolls game?
Be who I want, go where I want, do what I want. It needs to fuel that inner joy of pretending to be someone else, and have whatever power-fantasy you have in your head fulfilled.
Were there any games in the series that suffered a particularly troubled development?
Oh yeah, all of them in some respect. We usually try to do too much, get ourselves in development trouble, and then back our way into a better game than the one we originally designed. We still push ourselves to try ideas out quickly, and not over think them on paper before we implement them. Fortunately, most of our staff has worked on the previous games too, so going through that process is just a natural state for us. We always feel like we’re trying something new, seeing it work or not, and adding it, removing it, tweaking it. And then the hard decisions come, because your time is not infinite. But the staff here works incredibly hard. We want to feel like we did everything we possibly could before the game comes out.
You passed Fallout: New Vegas to Obsidian, who did an excellent job. These days would you ever entrust an Elder Scrolls game to another development team?
We prefer to keep the stuff internal, but that’s not always possible, and I honestly don’t know what the future may hold. We’re just focused on Skyrim right now.
Is it tough to keep track of the universe you’ve created and ensure everything in the games you create corresponds with the established canon?
It is, actually. We have some guys here who have been anointed “lore-masters”, who can usually point out mistakes quickly. We actually use the fan wiki online a lot. It’s pretty amazing. They did a better job cataloguing it than we did!
Do you have any particular favourite characters from the series? Sheogorath perhaps?
I prefer Haskill to Sheogorath. I like understated characters. I like Dram from Redguard. Jiub from Morrowind. Guys you don’t know everything about. Guys you want to learn more about. I really like Martin Septim. Sean Bean did a tremendous job as his voice, and I never felt he got enough credit for how well he pulled it off.
How much of the current ES universe did the team have in mind during the development of the first game and how much has evolved over time?
It happened over time. There was a big jump in the lore between Daggerfall and Redguard, when we tried harder to separate it from basic fantasy clichés.
Are there any regions of Tamriel (or indeed associated other dimensions) that haven’t been explored to your satisfaction in Elder Scrolls games that you’re looking forward to tackling/revisiting?
I think any place would be fair game when the time came. Games and technology move on, there’s so much to be explored again, in a different way, even if it’s already been in a previous game.
What has been your most satisfying triumph and your biggest regret as far as the entire Elder Scrolls series is concerned?
Good question. I guess I’ll answer in terms of games. Oblivion and Morrowind are equal triumphs for me. Both projects were exhausting to direct, but both proved for the whole team to be the defining game we wanted at the time. Biggest regret? Redguard, another game I directed. I love that game, but we missed a pretty big technology window, and it just never found its audience. It was right after that we started Morrowind. I felt we had to go back to what the series should be.