Saving the Elder Scrolls MMO

You might remember that Polygon, back when it launched, used to focus on long-form features over normal news coverage, reviews, interviews and all that stuff. Today their mission is a bit different, but they still publish long-form features from time to time. Their latest is an extremely interesting look at The Elder Scrolls Online evolution, which will apparently culminate in the release of the One Tamriel update on consoles.

Apparently, internal feedback saw the game deviate from its traditional MMO design and go down the path to the game it is on today far earlier than anyone would suspect, and indeed, far before the game was even announced:

Back in late 2011, Firor and his team had a working alpha up and running at the ZeniMax offices.

Firor recalls the initial round of in-house playtesting. That’s when the first alarm bells started going off. People, like Pete Hines who had been with the company around 12 years at that point, weren’t seeing the kind of things that they wanted to.

“People were saying, ‘This is a competent 2004-era MMO,’” Firor said. “We needed to make it much more than it was. If I was a Skyrim player, and I’m going to transition to this, it could feel a little different. I could see other people around me in the game world and everything. But it had to feel more like Skyrim when you sat down and played. And it didn’t.

“So we made a list,” Firor said, pointing to a whiteboard in the conference room where we sat with a PR representative. “A big list.”

They had just 18 months to go before beta testing.

One of the first things to go was the user interface. Multiple lines of user-configurable commands were dropped in favor of a lean, flexible set of skills on a single toolbar.

Next, they had to change the game’s targeting system. In a classic MMO, you can’t just swing your sword around at random or cast a fireball into the air. ZeniMax had to revamp its targeting systems to allow players to express themselves, just like in every other Elder Scrolls title. It had to feel like the single-player games.

Up until that point, most fans had only ever experienced an Elder Scrolls game in first-person. But the game that Firor’s team had built was third-person.

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