The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal Q&A
We sit down with project lead Todd Howard to find out all the details behind the expansion pack to one of this year's most ambitious role-playing games.
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Released earlier this year, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is widely considered one of the best role-playing games in years. This epic game offers literally hundreds of hours of gameplay and presents you with a richly detailed yet incredibly huge continent to explore, filled with many different types of people and numerous intriguing factions. PC gamers had a sense of what to expect from Morrowind and were thrilled to find it delivered on its intentions when it was released in May, while console audiences--Morrowind was later released for the Xbox--experienced in it a new and highly ambitious type of game. Though Morrowind itself spent years in the making, developer Bethesda Softworks is already putting the finishing touches on an expansion pack for the PC version: Tribunal. How could a game spanning hundreds of hours possibly be expanded upon, and how can the developers possibly create an appreciable amount of new content in seemingly so little time? To answer these and other questions, we sat down with project lead Todd Howard to get the full story.
GameSpot: Considering that the PC game was completed in May and the Xbox game was released soon after, it seems like Tribunal's November schedule is very aggressive. When did you start working on Tribunal?
Todd Howard: We started right after Morrowind shipped, so Tribunal's been on about a five-month development cycle, which is very fast. But we already had the tools in place to add content and features very quickly. It's nice to do something that follows the first game quickly and keeps people interested.
GS: Were there ideas, features, or content that didn't make it in Morrowind that you've added to Tribunal?
TH: Some of the creatures, like goblins, we wanted to do. The big ones are just adding quests that involve you with the rest of the Tribunal, which we cut very early from Morrowind's design.
GS: Does Bethesda have a larger overarching storyline already planned out that extends beyond what we've seen and will see in this year's Elder Scrolls games?
TH: Yes and no. We have very broad ideas defined for, say, the next 100 years in Tamriel. So we know when the current empire crumbles. You'll constantly hear the current timeline referred to in-game as "the waning years of the third era."
GS: Will Tribunal focus mostly on a new central quest or on new side quests, or will it just add new areas to explore?
TH: Both really, they go hand in hand. We didn't really want to mess with the quest balance and oversaturate the quests in Morrowind, so all new quests take place in new areas.
GS: Does Tribunal mesh with the existing world of Morrowind and let players jump between the old and new areas?
TH: Absolutely. You can travel back and forth between the two areas, and they don't overlap. You may even need to go back and forth some, depending on how powerful you are. The later stages of Tribunal require you to be very high level.
GS: What are some of the new types of armor and weapons that players will find in the expansion?
TH: We've brought back adamantium weapons and armor, plus there are new armors for all the elite guards and some other faction uniforms.
GS: Tell us a little about the changes to the interface. What's the best new feature in Tribunal?
TH: The journal and map are the big ones. The journal now has quest sorting, which changes the whole game, even the old quests. You can sort by active and completed quests and so forth. Really nice. The ability to put notes on the map will be very popular as well.
GS: How much of Tribunal's design is based on feedback from Morrowind's fans?
TH: The journal definitely was. That was everyone's biggest complaint. I underestimated just how many quests people would get and do at once. The other would be how high-level the quests go. Tribunal has a lot more high-level gameplay.
GS: Has Bethesda gone about the process of balancing Tribunal differently than it did with Morrowind?
TH: Yes, in terms of the high-level gameplay, that's something we focused more on this time. With Morrowind, we were really concerned about first-time players and how hard the game was in the beginning--and I still think the first five levels in Morrowind are pretty tough. Then it feels just right until about level 20, and then it gets too easy. So we're looking to give a challenge up to, say, level 50, with Tribunal.
GS: Does Tribunal include all the content and changes for Morrowind that you've progressively released as downloadable updates?
TH: Not the plug-ins, but it does include the patches. We like to treat the plug-ins as extra things you can decide to play with or without. Tribunal does work with all the "official" plug-ins though.
GS: Can you tell us a little about the new cities and dungeons?
TH: Mournhold is the major city in the expansion, and it's very large. It's the capital city of Morrowind, and you get two big factions vying for power there: the king of Morrowind, who is really just a figurehead and wants more power, and the Tribunal, who are the true rulers. They are the gods of Morrowind. Below Mournhold are the ruins of the ancient parts of the city, and it's really one big dungeon.
GS: Is it particularly challenging to design an expansion pack to an open-ended game like Morrowind?
TH: Yes and no. In the beginning it is. You have to choose things that don't step on the toes of things happening in Morrowind. We did have to handle a couple of situations with Vivec, who is the only Tribunal member in Morrowind. Because you can kill him and things like that, so we do have several "is Vivec dead?" parts.
GS: Given Morrowind's open-ended structure and the many ways players could develop their characters, will the transition to Tribunal take into account what a player has done in the previous game?
TH: Somewhat, but really in terms of how powerful they are, or if they are a criminal.
GS: Are there specific side quests or character interactions in Morrowind that will have an effect on what a player experiences in Tribunal?
TH: Not really, no.
GS: How long do you think it will take to play through the new main quest in Tribunal as well as the other new content?
TH: Depends. Twenty to 40 hours is our estimate. I'm sure some people will do it faster and some much, much longer. With this kind of game, time seems to just tick away because there is so much to look at. But some players never stop to look at the items or get side quests and such.
GS: We've heard that Tribunal is PC-only. What sorts of plans do you have to expand the Morrowind world for fans of the Xbox game?
TH: Nothing at this time, but it is something we'd like to do in the future. The Xbox community has been very supportive of us.
GS: So, how far along is Tribunal at this point? Is it on track for November?
TH: It's currently in testing. So far, so good. It should be out early in November.
GS: Thanks for your time, Todd.