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"Don't Buy The Hype"
 
[ Community -> Editorial ]
Editorial posted by King of Creation Wed 14 Feb 2007, 9:33 PM
More info on Company: Bethesda Softworks

"Don't Buy the Hype"

-By Bradylama

In the year of our Lord, 2007 AD, the Fallout franchise turns ten years old. However, since the release of Fallout 2 in 1998, fans have yet to enjoy a true sequel to their favorite roleplaying franchise. Fallout 2 was followed by Fallout: Tactics, which while being technically fun had a cavalcade of setting issues and wasn't the roleplaying game that fans wanted. The company was purchased a while after these events by Titus, the director becoming Herve Caen. In 2003, he started two projects roughly at the same time: Van Buren, which was Fallout 3, and the console shooter Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel. Caen cancelled the former for the latter in an attempt to focus Interplay's resources on the console market.[1]

In an effort to help stave off its impending bankruptcy, Interplay sold the rights to make Fallout 3 to Bethesda Softworks in 2004, including options for a 4th and 5th Fallout, for 1.175 million dollars advance against royalties. This transaction was met with careful optimism. Perhaps despite Bethesda's game history, they could effectively deliver a sequel that the fans could enjoy.[1]

However, ever since the release of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Bethesda has systematically eroded any faith in an honest-to-goodness sequel to Fallout 2. They have figuratively shat all over the fans of the Elder Scrolls franchise and Star Trek franchise, with their sights soon to be set on the two biggest Fallout fansites, No Mutants Allowed[2] and Duck and Cover[3].

The following is an account of Bethesda's operating methods, and the mishandling of the various fanbases :

Origins


Chris Weaver, the chairman of Media Technologies founded Bethesda in 1986 in an effort to see if the PC was a viable market for game development. The first game, a football game titled Gridirion, was a success, securing Bethesda a deal with Interplay to develop the first John Madden Football. For 18 years, Bethesda was owned and funded solely by Weaver, with The Elder Scrolls: Arena becoming Weaver's baby. The Elder Scrolls is Bethsoft's only original in-house franchise. [4]

In 1994, Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls: Arena[5], an open-ended roguelike played with a First-Person Perspective that took place in the fantasy world of Tamriel. That the game was a roguelike was very important. Traditionally, roguelikes are based on the 1980 game Rogue[6], and usually feature top-down views. However, two important features of roguelikes, namely a fantasy world with randomly-generated maps and dungeons, are predominant enough in Arena and its sequel Daggerfall for fans to refer to both titles as roguelikes.

The appeal of a roguelike lies in its replay value. The nature of randomly generated environments guarantees that no two experiences are going to be exactly alike, and gamers responded well to these features. Arena and Daggerfall combined static environments such as cities with randomly-generated dungeons and quests. While there may have not been much depth to the experience beyond the central story, the massive world and random nature kept some players interested in and playing the games even to the present.

Following Arena's success, Daggerfall [7]was released in 1996. Daggerfall was a supremely ambitious project which sought to recreate Tamriel in 161,000 square miles, and was inhabited by 750,000 NPCs. By comparison, the sequel to Daggerfall, Morrowind, is about .01% the size of Daggerfall's gameworld, with 6 square miles, while Oblivion only features 16. For players that loved Arena's roguelike qualities it was a phenomenal sequel.

Daggerfall also expanded on the impressive lore created for Arena, adding a new cast of fleshed out characters in addition to the 750,000 clones, not the least which being Mannimarco the King of Worms[8]:

The King of Worms, Mannimarco, is a powerful necromancer in Tamriel and the archenemy of the Mages' Guild. He was originally an Altmer and a Psijic, and a contemporary of Vanus Galerion. At some point Mannimarco broke away from the Psijic order (as well as Galerion, who went on to found the Mages Guild) to further practice his necromancy, and this is the point at which he actually first styled himself "King of Worms". From Scourge Barrow in the Dragontail Mountains, he has cleverly played all the political games and powers for millenia. His influences have even reached Summerset Isle, the homeland of the Altmer. The Sload, the necromantic slug-like creatures living in the Thrassian Reef, worship him as a god.

Despite being technically impressive, Daggerfall was riddled with bugs, one of which made it almost impossible to complete the main quest. As a result the game didn't sell that well, and neither did its two spinoffs.

It was at this time that Todd Howard had entered the scene:

"My first assignments were testing the CD-ROM version of Arena, and producing NCAA Basketball: Road to the Final Four 2, a game that was being developed externally and had been left for dead."[9]

Howard was later a producer and designer for The Terminator: Future Shock[10] and did the same for SkyNET[11] and is credited for "Additional Design" on Daggerfall. Todd's work on the Terminator shooters will be important.

Following the inability to capitalize on Daggerfall, as well as the release and production of a number of other commercial flops, Bethesda and its parent company, Weaver's Media Technologies were in deep water:

In 1999, ZeniMax, a media/videogame holding company founded by Chris Weaver and Robert Altman, acquired Media Technology (founded by Weaver), which owned Bethesda. The new company, helmed by Weaver and Altman, was a who's who list of entertainment moguls. Robert Trump (of Trump Management) and Harry Sloan (MGM) are on the board, and the company is advised by Jon Feltheimer (Lion's Gate Entertainment), among others. If Bethesda was drowning, ZeniMax was a million-dollar lifesaver.[9]

It also effectively ended Weaver's dominance over Bethesda, making it accountable to the board which comprised Zenimax (including Weaver). The Elder Scrolls's control under a panel of suits and the insistance from Microsoft to make Morrowind an Xbox title effectively dumbed down the franchise and severely dissapointed Arena and Daggerfall fans.

Morrowind And Weaver's Absence


The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind[12]was released to critical acclaim and fan dissapointment in 2002 with versions for the PC and Xbox. Despite the alienation of previous fans, the game sold 4 million copies across both platforms, and was able to garner a new fan base for the franchise.

Perhaps most distressing to fans of Arena and Daggerfall was the lack of roguelike elements. In lieu of creating a massive roguelike world, Morrowind instead shifted to a comparatively small, hand-crafted static world centered around the island of Vvardenfell in the province of Morrowind. Cited reasons for doing so was an attempt at making more unique NPCs and quests. While in some cases this was accomplished effectively, there were still far too many filler NPCs to give the impression of a fully functioning virtual world. The tradeoff between the roguelike Daggerfall and hand-set Morrowind wasn't enough, and players ended up with a much smaller world to explore.

Character skills were also pulled back from the 38 skills in Daggerfall to 27 in Morrowind. Most of the communication skills were removed, leaving only Mercantile and Speechcraft. Most of the old communication-based skills were language skills for most of the species of Tamriel. Contrary to first impressions, however, high language skills mostly reduced the likelihood of creatures attacking you on sight as opposed to actually allowing you to speak with them. Instead of taking the opportunity to support these skills and giving them an interactive application, they were removed.

Much of these changes can be attributed to to Todd Howard's sudden promotion to Design Lead on the project. His experiences with the Terminator shooters could be seen as Bethesda effectively turned the Elder Scrolls series from an adventure game with roleplaying elements into a shooter with roleplaying elements.

Another complaint about the game was the change in plot development. The main story of Morrowind was completely linear, with only a few optional objectives and a set ending, which was as opposed to Daggerfall's severely branched quest tree and 7 different endings. For comparison, note the difference in the flow charts for UESP's Daggerfall Walkthrough[13] and Morrowind Walkthrough[14].

On the other hand, the game was still faithful to the lore created by Arena and Daggerfall. It also possessed many High Fantasy qualities which gave it an extremely attractive appearance from an art perspective, but was occasionally drab in some areas of the gameworld. It had a lot to offer in terms of exploration and expansion of lore, and is well-written enough to be considered a faithful sequel from a setting perspective, if not a gameplay one.

The commercial success of Morrowind and its expansions ensured another Elder Scrolls game, and work soon began on Oblivion.

Things weren't looking good for Weaver, however:

As Howard began work on Oblivion in 2002, Weaver found himself embattled against his business partners at ZeniMax. According to a legal opinion based on the case, Weaver filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging he was "constructively terminated" (meaning he like other industry luminaries, was being ousted by his new business partners after giving them access to his brand) and was owed $1.2 million in severance pay when ZeniMax didn't renew his employment contract.[16]

Weaver's first suit against Zenimax was thrown out of court for his misconduct, and another suit is currently under way. Despite owning 33% of Zenimax stock, Morrowind was the last title Weaver has ever been credited on.2[16]

Oblivion

In 2005 the marketing machine for Oblivion kicked into full swing. Fans were worked into a frenzy over the prospect of a "next-gen" Elder Scrolls title, while some fansites, most noteably the online community RPGCodex[17] expressed tremendous skepticism leading up to the release of Oblivion.

On March 21, 2006, the fears of all of these skeptics were confirmed on the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion[18] for the PC and Xbox360.

In one fell swoop, not only did Bethesda continue to alienate fans of the roguelike Arena and Daggerfall, but also alienated the new fanbase they had acquired as a result of Morrowind's success. If Morrowind was a dumbing down of The Elder Scrolls, Oblivion was borderline retarded.

The most telling sign of the loss of depth in Oblivion was the continued drop in skills from Morrowind's 27 to Oblivion's 21. Weapon classes were lumped into Blade, Blunt, Ranged, and Unarmed skills. Axes were considered to be in the blunt category, while spears and crossbows were removed altogether. The magic skills were also whittled down, as the Gamebryo engine didn't allow for the seamless world that every previous Elder Scrolls game featured for the outdoors, so gone were spell classes that aided levitation and necromancy. It was also impossible for the return of the climbing skill, which in addition to levitation was an alternate method of reaching a location in Daggerfall, but had been removed in Morrowind.

More significant was the complete loss of any real consequence for the player's actions. The choices for a player were also extremely limited. When talking to a quest-giver, the quest is automatically activated regardless of whether the player actually wants to do it. The factions themselves were all-inclusive, and player characters could be the leaders of all 4 guilds. The player was also capable of completing the guild quests without any skillsets specific to them. A fighter could complete all Mage Guild quests, mostly because of the homogenous nature of the skill system.

Curiouser was the lack of any significant impact on the gameworld. Any murder can be bought off with a thousand spetims (the in-game currency), and beyond the deaths of non-quest reliant NPCs, nothing the player does creates an appreciable impact. The player could become the "Hero of Kvatch" after a certain point in the main quest, yet when interacting with NPCs, they still all treat the player character like they've never seen him before in their life, despite having just called you the Hero of Kvatch.

Yet even with the amorality of buying off any murder (including the murder of guards), the player was incapable of joining the more evilly-aligned guilds such as the Necromancers or the Black Wood Company, because doing so would interfere with the quest lines of the Mage's and Fighter's guilds, respectively.

The loss of any consequences and gameworld impact was a jarring transition from Morrowind, which featured guild quests that sometimes conflicted with each other. There were also three Great Houses which the player character could only be aligned with one of. In Oblivion, the choice of becoming a member of one faction and not being able to join another was removed completely.

The much-touted Radiant AI was also exposed to be an of hype. Instead of characters performing contextual tasks and giving themselves goals, NPCs followed strictly scheduled patterns in which they would go to a location just to stare at a wall for 5 in-game hours and have disjointed conversations with other NPCs about mudcrabs.

Perhaps the greatest flaw of all was the inclusion of a poorly designed level-scaling system, which scaled all enemies and items to the player character's level. This eliminated any chance of the game being too hard or too easy, eliminating the possibility of any challenge. This resulted in queer inconsistancies such as bandits with plate armour. Because of the scaling, all items were of little use, being set to the player's level. This trivialized any sense of progression and surprise in the game, making it possible to accomplish any task at level 1. The player could become Arena Champion, the greatest fighter in all of Cyrodiil, at level 1, and Mannimarco, the powerful Necromancer, puppet master, and God to the terrible sloads, could be killed by a level 1 character with an iron dagger.

Oblivion also offered very little else in terms of lore, and merely accomplished the end of the Septim line and the beginning of the Fourth Era in The Elder Scrolls. Most of the lore in Elder Scrolls games is supplemented through books that are readable in-game. Yet most of the books in Oblivion were copied from Daggerfall and Morrowind, with very little new information.

In spite of these flaws, the marketing machine headed by Pete Hines was so effective that media reception was overwhelmingly positive. This helped insure the sale of 3 million copies as Todd Howard and Pete Hines targeted the title to the casual crowd of Xbox360 gamers.

Blacklisting the Codex


Bethesda's bullying before the launch of Oblivion can be best seen in an interview with Douglas Goodall. Goodall was a writer who had left Bethesda after working on Morrowind over his own disagreements with the direction Todd had steered the franchise. However, the interview in which Goodall aired his grievances was forcibly removed[15] from an Elder Scrolls fansite:

Here are the new terms, AS: remove the interview *in its entirety*. All of it. Gone.

Or remove anything submitted by me that hasn't been published by Bethsoft. It's actually quite a lot. Go check. It's mine, it's copyrighted to me, and it's only allowed on your site through my permission.

It doesn't stop there. It won't stop there. I will pursue my own roads to have the rest of your copyrighted material removed, as well.

It's frankly very easy to comply. It's frankly very hard for you to continue with me as an enemy. - Michael Kirkblade

The first signs of trouble for NMA began shortly after Emil Pagliarulo announced himself at the NMA[19]. He posted four times in two days, all in introduction threads, and then went inactive to this day. At the time little was thought of it, and any who cared presumed he had gone back to lurking or was too busy to post.

Meanwhile, Oblivion was released to both the derision and despair of the RPGCodex community. A month after release, the Codex's Vault Dweller posted his Oblivion review[20] on the front page. Bethesda responded severely to the critical review:

Gavin Carter joined RPG Codex in Jul 2004, Steve Meister joined the site a few months later. Both Bethesda developers posted regularly (Steve made over 700 posts), but left us ubruptly in Jan 2006. No explanations were given, but the fact that both of them left the site at the same time does support the theory that they've been told not to post at the Codex anymore. Clearly though, anyone who regularly posts at the Codex for more than a year is well aware of what the Codex is and can't claim that they left because the site is anti-Oblivion or something like that.

As you know, we've always criticized Oblivion, being unimpressed with what's been shown and the focus of the marketing campaign: soil erosion, Stewart, pretty graphics. For awhile, the ESF crowd dismissed our criticism, hoping that the game will deliver what's been promised and new features will be unveiled soon. As the game was getting closer to the release, it was also getting clear that the Codex has at least some points, so more and more people were agreeing with us and admitting that our criticism is based on facts, not bias. Then the game was released and my review was posted on ESF. People started agreeing with it, referring to it, calling it the only honest review, and so on. That's when the ESF mods stated that the Codex is a bad site and its evil influence must be stopped. All links and even references (!) to the site were removed, many people arguing this case were banned. Then even the name of the site was censored. If you type RPG Codex, it will be auto replaced with "I really love Oblivion".

I asked several Bethesda people about it, and was told that "Any mention of RPG Codex will be deleted. That is all I am at liberty to say."
[21]

The RPGCodex is a free-spirited community that encourages a "say what you please" mentality. The end result sometimes manifesting in the use of links to shock sites. Bethesda cited these causes for their blacklisting of the Codex, however at the time, ESF forum members were also using links to shock sites, and conducting discussions about lewd content. In other words, Bethesda's stated motives were a lie used as an attempt to justify the control and censuring of a community beyond its reach, a trend that has since been repeated.

Where No Trekkie Can Go Anymore


While Fallout changed hands between Interplay and Bethesda, the Star Trek gaming franchise was suspended in a state of limbo. STG's[22] Victor recalls in his interview with NMA[23]:

Star Trek gaming history, now THAT'S a toughy, there's over a decades worth of my views on that subject. Suffice to say it went from one of the most lucrative franchises in the world (PC Gamer Magazines words...not mine) to a blatantly mismanaged mess. For more details have a look at http://www.startrek-gamers.com/history2.htm. It's my ongoing attempt to chart the rise and slow fall of Trek gaming from its official inception by Interplay in 1992 to the death of the franchise in 2003 with the Activision lawsuit, the history stopped there but a new section from 2003 onwards is in the works.

At some point, however, Bethesda was able to acquire the rights to make Star Trek games. In a private exchange with this author, Victor relates:

To be honest no one knows how Bethesoft managed to aquire the rights for the Star Trek franchise. No one knew about it until Harry lang from Paramount announced it at the very beginning of January 2006, what made CBS go with Bethesda no one knows since the 4 previous publishers were much larger companies than Bethesda ever was.

I do know one thing though, the franchse was offered to larger companies like EA...and they flat out refused to take it on after the damage that Activision (had) done to the franchise in 2001 to 2003.
[24]

The Star Trek game Bethsoft was working on is Star Trek Legacy[25]. Published by Bethesda and developed by MadDoc, it was released on December 05, 2006 for the PC and Xbox360 to below-average reception by gaming media. Whitemithrandir of the Codex, however, had other ideas[26] of the game:

No. I'm not trying to be dramatic. I'm not trying to exaggerate. I seriously think Star Trek: Legacy is the worst game ever, on the magnitude of Big Rig and fucking Superman 64...

...Well, I guess as long as the campaign is fun and interesting I could forgive the mindless gameplay mechanics, right? Oh, you want me to go on a "mission"? Save some Vulcans? Sweet! Cool!. Oh noes, incoming wave of Romulan bitches! Fight fight fight. Oh no, they have reinforcements! Fight fight fight. Oh no! More Romulans! Fight fight fight. Holy shit, how many of these motherfuckers are there? Fight fight fight. Fight fight fight. Fight fight fight. Sir! Incoming warp signature! OH NO! MORE ROMULANS! FUCK YOU I QUIT.

Legacy was awful, and the sentiment was felt at STG. Why would Bethesda ship such a horrible title? Again Victor relates:

As for Legacy. The game itself was based on 2 previously cancelled titles from Activision. Legacy's first appearance was as Star Trek: Bridge Commander 2 which was to be published by Activision and developed by Totally Games (same devs as the original Bridge Commander). It was cancelled in early 2002 and then reappeared in late 2002 as a new title called Star Trek: Admiral and was held over to the developers of Armada 2....MadDoc Software. That game was then cancelled in 2003 since Activision was in the process of filing the lawsuit and all games under development at that point in time was canned.

Fast forward 3 years into 2006 and Star Trek: Admiral was renamed Star Trek: Legacy and work began on a game which was already cancelled twice by the previous publisher. It's no wonder that there is signs of 3 different game engines inside legacy's core files the most predominant one being the engine of Star Trek: Armada 2.

No one in the community knew much about Bethesda Softworks. Some of the forum posters knew them from the Oblivion game and told tales of how Bethesda shafted that community, some of those early posts are stll viewable in the official star trek gaming forums of Bethesda. No one took them serious though since the hype that surrounded Oblivion was so intense that everyone in trek gaming thought that Bethesda would be Star Trek gaming's new "messiah"...

...boy...did we get that part wrong.
[24]

Again from the NMA interview:

Originally it was met with open arms. This was the first game in 3 years and the fan sites were all over it, STG being the one that got the most interviews with the makers of all 3 games (there was Tactical Assault and Encounters being made as well). It was directly leading up to the release in December when things started to turn sour. It started to become obvious that a lot of the features which were hinted at being in the game weren't going to be there, which is the usual case in Trek games. I for one thought it was a bad omen and then when the PC version of the game was released at the end of December we all saw it for what it was...a cheap port of a console game.

As for what is wrong, well, this should sum it all up, they shipped the game with virtually no multiplayer capability for the PC and released a patch on the day of release. That should tell you about their so called "Quality Control" team, they couldn't control their way out of a wet paper bag with a pair of scissors. The game's control mechanism on the keyboard is locked in place, there are numerous bugs with single play and multiplay. So much infact that multiplay has already died off with very few people playing the game online, that hasn't happened since Simon & Schuster released Star Trek: Deep Space 9 - Dominion Wars, and that game was an utter disgrace...much like Legacy is today. They based the game on what looks like several seperate game engines, one of them being the age old Armada 2 engine, and that game is now more than 3 years old. Thats what happens when a publisher gives a game to a 3rd rate developer (MadDoc) and then the same publisher (Bethesda) has a non existant QC department and ships the game out as an ALPHA.
[23]

STG's reaction developed from welcoming the game to criticizing it. Again, the actions of a community outside of their reach caused Bethesda to attempt to silence them.

On Jan 24th, Victor announced on the STG forums, that Bethesda had blacklisted their site[27].

Now, people who know me know what I am like. I speak my mind. If I dont like something I say it right on the front page of the site, screw the consequences. It got to the stage where Bethesda Softworks' silence was getting beyond a joke, and that's when The Argus Array, the STG's Star Trek Gaming podcast (which gets about 100,000 listeners) went on the record and listed the flaws of the game in a constructive manner. Argus 13, 14 and 15 all discussed what was wrong with the game and then Lindsay Muller (some kind of artist in Bethesda) came on the official Bethesda boards and said that the Argus Array must follow Bethesda Forum policies...basically Bethesda was now trying to dictate what i should put on my own podcast which I pay the hosting for.

...needless to say I wasn't happy. They didn't want criticism, but I gave it to them full bore. I told them exactly what I thought of Legacy. All the while another particular "fansite" remained silent. It got to the stage where official "volunteer" moderators in the Bethesda boards were allowing any topic made by me to be flamed, but at the same time they banned any of my staff in the forum for the slightest misdemeanor.
[23]

Divide & Conquer


What happened to STG wasn't merely a simple blacklisting. Bethesda employed a tactic of Divide & Conquer:

For the first 6 months Bethesda acted like the consumate publisher, something the likes of myself havent seen in trek gaming for a decade. They were WILLING to talk to the fan sites like mine, more than willing for the largest of those fansites (STG) to do a stack of publicity for them via interviews and podcasts. It all changed the day of Legacy's release though, PR stopped, communication stopped and all attempts at criticising legacy in the forums was either locked, covered up or said posters simply vanished from the forums.

...and then the blackballing happened...
[24]

-

They did it for several reasons. One of them being that one or two other major fansites haven't officially come out in public on their front page and panned Legacy, only the STG did. The second reason is one which is more...worrying. Some of the official "volunteer" moderators in the Star Trek Bethesda forums have ties and links to one of the STG competitor fansites...STGU. ChessMess who is the lead of that site doesn't see eye to eye with me and therefore both sites do not get along. This has filtered into Bethesda's way of thinking. Bethesda Softworks had the chance to close down a hateblog on Google's blogger site that was running flame stories about myself and the staff of my site. The blog was being fed information and screenshots by one of the moderators of the official Bethesda board, we know that cause one of the screenshots which the blog displayed had the moderator controls on the screen.

We emailed Bethesda about this...no reply.

We emailed Bethesda about the state of the game...no reply.

We emailed Bethesda about the interview with Pete Hines which Erin Losi PROMISED us...no reply.

This happened the day Legacy was released.
[23]

-

STG and STGU are the kane and abel of the Star Trek gaming franchise. It's an historic point in 2004 when the split between the 2 sites finally started to happen that everyone knows about. Both sites take opposite views of the franchise. STGU thinking that everything is fine while STG telling folks what is really happening out there, fact is STGU doesnt give out "bad press".

That relationship between both sites Bethesda was made aware of, thats why they chose STGU members as the new moderators of the Star Trek gaming official board in Bethesda and thats why half of my staff from my site are now banned from the same forum. The new moderators constantly lock or delete threads i make and give out official warnings to people affiliated with my site everyday and they do it with Bethesda's full knowledge.
[24]

Fansite favoritism, complacency in harassment on their official boards, complacency in hate blogs? How Bethesda treated the STG goes beyond a mere blacklisting. By using the STG for their marketing, and then dropping them in favor of a site that wouldn't criticize the end product, Bethesda has acted in a manner that many fear they'll attempt to repeat in the Fallout communities.

Remember our friend Emil? Posting as Lohan[28], he made a grand total of four posts at No Mutants Allowed on February the second, and the third of 2006. Since then he has yet to make any other post at NMA, and it is perhaps not all that surprising that he made his presence known, and then became scarce shortly before the release of Oblivion.

Fast-forward to October, when Emil made his first post at Duck and Cover as Bethsoft _Emil[29]. It was after being announced Lead Designer of the Fallout 3 project, and yet while posting at DAC he had yet to announce himself on NMA.

I asked Kharn of NMA about the issue:

As for divide and conquer, that's a suspicion created by Lohan's first visit to DaC and made worse by our info from STG's Victor.

When I asked Lohan why he was visiting DaC but not NMA, he stated that he didn't feel like visiting a place where his company was just being burned. This was total and utter bullshit as far as the forums were concerned. Both DaC and NMA members were given the freedom of burning Bethesda, but only NMA had an official policy of discouraging this behaviour amongst members. DaC and NMA were both fairly neutral on the frontpage back then. His stated reason being such an obvious lie, we concluded he was either badly informed or Bethesda was trying to favour what they saw as the more easily manipulateable fansite. The latter seems to more likely conclusion.
[30]

Bullshit indeed. Remember Emil's first post at NMA?[19]

...I'm really just dropping in to say hello and introduce myself. I'm another Bethesda dev who's been lurking around the forums for a while now, but has never actually posted. It's so much easier to just sit back and watch Pete Hines get tossed into the meat grinder...

...Seriously, though, you guys are awesome. In the few months I've been visiting these forums I've seen more spirited, passionate, intelligent game design discussion than I have on a lot of other game forums in the past few years.

Emil couldn't have possibly been lurking on NMA and then claim to have stopped posting because the company he works for gets ragged on. Especially since he made a joke about the harsh language used when referring to Pete Hines, who works for and is considered the mouth piece for the company that Emil works for.

He's certainly lied about company loyalties, possibly lied about being a lurker, and possibly even lied about thinking well of NMA. His history with NMA and DAC all suggest that his posting habits are being dictated by the company, possibly Pete Hines himself. Even when posting at DAC, however, he only posted a short amount of time, from October 27th, to November 12th[31], which for the unobservant reader was a month before the release of Star Trek Legacy.

Is there significance to the fact that Emil made his presence known and then stopped posting at two different Fallout fansites a month before the release of two titles produced, and one developed, by Bethsoft? It's impossible to say. Yet, considering the fact that MrSmileyFaceDude[32], another Bethesda developer has been posting occasionally at DAC, up to January 23rd (at the time this is being written, it is mid-February), whereas his last post made at NMA was on March 14th, 2006[33], the evidence appears to show signs of favoritism.

What does this mean for the future of NMA and DAC? If the evidence from the blacklisting of RPGCodex and STG are anything to go by, there's a significant possibility that as the hype machine for Fallout 3 kicks into gear, Bethesda will attempt to use DAC and NMA in order to serve as marketing tools, as was the case with STG and STGU. Eventually, when Bethsoft finds that NMA and DAC won't tow the party line, they'll be blacklisted, and Bethesda may possibly even attempt to garner DAC's complacency with meaningless benefits and exclusive info.

The previous statement serves as a warning. If Bethesda does attempt to control NMA and DAC they are sure to be severely dissapointed.

Deconstructing the Hype


The purpose of this piece is not to encourage the reader to boycott all products produced or developed by Bethesda. It is instead a warning, that one must be aware of how their hype machine operates, and how not to be drawn in by mindless lingo and false promises, as was the case with Oblivion and Star Trek Legacy.

We'll now take a look at two examples of PR hype from Todd Howard and Pete Hines, the first from the previously cited Escapist article, the second from a recent Shacknews interview[33]

First, Todd Howard's comments in the Escapist article:

"You can't repeat yourself," he said. "I think it's a common trap when working on a sequel to just add some new features and content, and keep doing that. I think that's a good way to drive your games into the ground. You start drifting from what made the game special in the first place. So with The Elder Scrolls, I'm careful to not repeat what we've done before, and to really focus on trying to recapture again what made the games exciting in the first place.[34]

This is an interesting statement, considering that while commercially succesful, since Todd has become the head of Bethesda's in-house development studio, The Elder Scrolls has lost precisely what made its predecessors special. You'll remember that we've already established that it was the roguelike elements and massive gameworlds that made Arena and Daggerfall unique. Playing Oblivion and Morrowind it's clear that, for better or worse, they don't feel like traditional Elder Scrolls games.

This odd way of making sequels worries Fallout fans, because it suggests that Todd has a habit of focusing on precisely what hasn't made a franchise special. For Fallout and Fallout 2, specifically, they used Isometric perspectives, turn-based combat, and a simulationist roleplaying experience. None of those features has ever been in the experience of any current Bethesda developer. Certainly not Todd. It's arguable that none of the Elder Scrolls games even come close to being significant roleplaying experiences. Pete Hines has also affirmed rumours that Bethesda refused to hire original Fallout developers, as will be made clear shortly.

"That's what happens when you're the first to try something," he said. "We certainly took it on the chin for that in the press, but people are still buying that horse armor! I'm talking hundreds of thousands of people.[34]

Horse Armor, for those of you that don't know, was a cosmetic feature removed from the original release of Oblivion and sold later through microtransactions for $2.50 US. While on the surface, hundreds of thousands may sound like a large number, you'll remember that Oblivion has to date sold 3 million units. Hundreds of thousands could only ever represent a small portion of Oblivion gamers who were willing to give the mod a shot, and doesn't even indicate how many of those customers were even satisfied with the purchase. By quoting big numbers, Todd has attempted to make the decisions of Bethesda seem in the right, when in fact the numbers don't mean anything.

"Like I was talking about before, with sequels, you have to define the experience the first one had and stay true to it," he said. "I think the first Fallout's tone is brilliant, but then they start to drift in the sequel and subsequent games. When it comes to humor, I'm very anti 'jokes' in games.[35]

Todd's statement that the series lost quality may appear to sound good to hardliners, but it's that very appearance which raises suspicion. For the longest time Bethesda has remained tight-lipped about what they consider to be important in Fallout, or even what they're doing with Fallout 3. To make such a comment now in the midst of several PR fiascos looks to be nothing more than lip-service.

That aside, his position on "jokes" in games is also questionable, considering that the ad-campaign for the Oblivion expansion, Shivering Isles[36] has focused predominantly on how "funny" the game will be for its focus on madness.

Now moving on to Pete Hines and his Shacknews interview:

Shack: You guys have your own trademark series so you're used to dealing with fan expectation, but is it different or intimidating working on a franchise like Fallout that already has such a built in reputation?

Pete Hines: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. For a couple of reasons. Number one is that we're treating it as if we made the first two, with the same care and attention we give to The Elder Scrolls, but the truth of the matter is that we haven't. As a result there's probably a lot more divergent opinion about what it should be, what we should do, are we the right guys to do it, and so on.
[33]

Remember how they treated The Elder Scrolls?

It's also interesting to note that he says that they've treated Fallout 3 like the first two games, while then saying that they actually haven't, making the entire exchange completely meaningless.

Pete Hines: Internally, not really. Internally, we're a bunch of Fallout geeks. There is nobody [here] who hasn't played that game and enjoyed it. I have that game on my laptop, I take it with me and play it. But it's definitely different, because it's not really considered ours, the franchise. We didn't start it. There is a little bit of that sentiment out there that we have to prove that we're worthy to be the guys to make Fallout 3. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, because we have very high expectations for ourselves. The standard that we hold ourselves to, the kind of games we expect to make in terms of quality, we have a very high level of expectation. There's really nothing like the people from the outside expecting more than we expect ourselves.

The notion that all Bethesda devs have played and loved Fallout is highly questionable, considering that in 2004, one Bethesda developer registered as HayT on the Something Awful forums stated:

I also need to find time to play through Fallout 2 now, which is a game I never got to. Don't know when the hell that's going to happen, as I'm a little behind on work as it is.[43]

Whether at the present, all Bethesda devs had played "and loved" Fallout is uknowable, but the fact of HayT's leak, as old as it is, is enough to cast doubts.

Note also that what people "from the outside" expect of Bethesda, in terms of the fan communities, isn't much.

It's a lot like when we were doing Morrowind. Everybody said, "Well, the last game you did was Daggerfall, and it was really buggy, and everything you're telling me about Morrowind sounds good but you need to prove it." It kind of has that same feel, that people are saying, "Yeah, I liked Oblivion, and you guys are good at roleplaying, but you have to prove that you aren't going to screw up this beloved franchise." We think we can do it. We are the right guys to be doing this franchise, we do take it seriously, and we do want to make it a powerful force in roleplaying in terms of what these games can do and be. We hope that when we show people what we're up to, they'll agree. Some folks will, and some folks will say it's not what they wanted. At the end of the day, we respect that, but we have to do what we think is right. Again, you can't make the game that everybody wants because you'll get ten different answers about what that game is.

This is also another effective marketing tool that absolves Bethesda of any wrongdoing because you "can't please everybody," including the fans of the franchise they're developing for.

We know we cannot please everyone[37] - gluttoncreeper on Fallout d20

Yeah, they have their own debates going on about even games that have already shipped. So Fallout was the best, Fallout 2 was the best, etc. So trying to please them was almost like trying to please everybody, but you can't.[38] - Chuck Cuevas on Fallout: BOS

All of these statements ignored the fact that what fans want isn't the feared "Oblivion with guns," a pen & paper game modeled after d20 instead of GURPS (the system Fallout was originally developed for), or an action spin-off instead of an honest-to-God Fallout sequel with similar gameplay mechanics. Considering Bethesda's attitudes towards NMA, DAC, the Codex, STG, and Elder Scrolls fans, it would appear that they too don't care what the fans want.

It's been repeated several times in the past by others talking about Fallout spinoffs:

Shack: Have you spoken at all to the original creators of the franchise--who from what I know already had less complete involvement with Fallout 2 than with the first game--in any capacity?

Pete Hines: We have, on an individual basis. Some of those folks have contacted us on varying levels, whether it's a "Hey, good luck" or a job inquiry or what have you. Not really formally though, no. Again, it's one of those things where I have a lot of respect for those guys. I was a huge Black Isle fan, and all those RPGs coming out of Interplay at the time. I loved Baldur's Gate, Fallout. It was fantastic. Way back when, when I wrote for the Adrenaline Vault, Interplay was one of my companies. I used to cover all their stuff and play everything they put out. I still have my shrinkwrapped copies of Baldur's Gate and Planescape. They did great stuff for which I will always have tremendous respect. But at the same time, if we're going to move forward, we're really going to have to move forward. We can't just say, "Well, let's ask these guys what they think." As Fallout fans and guys who make roleplaying games and have for over a decade, we have pretty good ideas about what we want to do and how to do it.

Notice the discrepancy? Despite being "the right guys to be doing this franchise," as self-proclaimed Fallout fans, Bethesda apparently wasn't interested in hiring people like Leonard Boyarsky or Tim Cain onto the project, even as consultants. The people who created the very franchise they're fans of. Surely any fan making a Fallout game would jump at the chance to work with the "masters" that created one of their favorite roleplaying games.

There's very little to interpret from this statement, other than the significant possibility that Bethesda being full of "Fallout fans" is a lie.

Shack: How do you respond to certain voices from the PC community who make claims such as that you're dumbing down games for the console platforms?

Pete Hines: Yeah, I can't really... It becomes an issue of "Yes you did, no you didn't." They say that we dumbed down our game, that it isn't as complex as Morrowind or that it isn't as good as Daggerfall. I say, the same people that made Morrowind made Oblivion. There were maybe three or four people total that worked on Morrowind that didn't work on Oblivion. We had designers that had key roles in Daggerfall that designed those same systems for Oblivion. The same ones that people said we dumbed down from Daggerfall were the ones that those same guys made.

So four people worked on Morrowind but didn't work on Oblivion. While objectively true, in reality it discounts the massive expansion to the development team between Morrowind and Oblivion.

According to Moby Games, 46 people from Morrowind worked on Oblivion[39]. Compare that to the massively expanded credits for Oblivion[40], of which 18 people had worked on the Elder Scrolls action spin-off Redguard [41](which Todd Howard was also the project lead on), while only 5 had worked on Daggerfall, in which 26 people[42] are credited in the design of the game. Numerically, only a handful of people who made classic Elder Scrolls games worked on Oblivion, and logically, simply because a sequel has been made by the same company that made its predecessor, that doesn't mean that the sequel hasn't been "dumbed down."

Don't Buy the Hype


If I were a betting man, I'd say that the Fallout communities should brace for impact. Bethesda has made several indications that it will steer the Fallout franchise away from what made it special.

Bethesda is a clear example of the fact that regardless of how well a company behaved in the past, it still has the chance to develop into a soulless money-making machine. They've used bullying and scare tactics in an attempt to silence fan communities, and have given no indication that they give a damn what the fans think. In addition to all of that, they have recently made the announcement that they are seeking a community manager[44], a move that appears to further Bethesda's policy of seeking control over fan communities.

The current project lead of Fallout 3 is a man whose development experience is dominated by action games, and turned Bethesda's own in-house adventure franchise into an action franchise.

There is tremendous cause for worry. Don't buy the hype.

Citations & Links:
[1]http://www.nma-fallout.com/article.php?id=34542
[2]http://www.nma-fallout.com/
[3]http://www.duckandcover.cx/
[4]http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/83/11
[5]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elder_Scrolls:_Arena
[6]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogue_%28computer_game%29
[7]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elder_Scrolls_II:_Daggerfall
[8]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannimarco
[9]http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/83/12
[10]http://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/terminator-future-shock/
[11]http://www.mobygames.com/game/skynet
[12]http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/elder-scrolls-iii-morrowind
[13]http://www.uesp.net/dagger/hints/walkthro.shtml
[14]http://www.uesp.net/morrow/quest/mq_main.shtml
[15]http://www.rpgcodex.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=10408
[16]http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/83/13
[17]http://www.rpgcodex.com
[18]http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/elder-scrolls-iv-oblivion
[19]http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=178347#178347
[20]http://www.rpgcodex.com/content.php?id=129
[21]Private Messages from Vault Dweller
[22]http://www.startrek-gamers.com/
[23]http://www.nma-fallout.com/article.php?id=34698
[24]Emails from Victor
[25]http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/star-trek-legacy
[26]http://www.rpgcodex.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=16428
[27]http://www.startrek-gamers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2375
[28]http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=4296
[29]http://www.duckandcover.cx/forums/templates/fiblack/images/icon_minipost.gif
[30]Private Messages from Kharn
[31]http://www.duckandcover.cx/forums/search.php?search_author=Bethsoft_Emil
[32]http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=267163#267163
[33]http://www.shacknews.com/extras/2007/020707_petehines_2.x
[34]http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/83/14
[35]http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/83/15
[36]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elder_Scrolls_IV:_Shivering_Isles
[37]http://www.duckandcover.cx/forums/viewtopic.php?p=321682#321682
[38]http://archive.gamespy.com/interviews/october03/falloutbos/index2.shtml
[39]http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/elder-scrolls-iii-morrowind/credits
[40]http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/elder-scrolls-iv-oblivion/credits
[41]http://www.mobygames.com/game/elder-scrolls-adventures-redguard
[42]http://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/elder-scrolls-daggerfall/credits
[43]http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=8064&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0
[44]http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=34719


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