"Don't Buy the Hype"
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.
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.
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 and Duck and Cover.
The following is an account of Bethesda's operating methods, and the mishandling of the various fanbases :
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. 
In 1994, Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls: Arena,
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,
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
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:
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
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."
Howard was later a producer and designer for The Terminator: Future Shock and did the same for SkyNET 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
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: Morrowindwas
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 and Morrowind Walkthrough.
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
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
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 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 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 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
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.
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
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 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
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 Victor recalls in his interview with NMA:
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
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.
The Star Trek game Bethsoft was working on is Star Trek Legacy.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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...
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
Bullshit indeed. Remember Emil's first post at NMA?
...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, 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,
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, 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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.
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
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.
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 - gluttoncreeper on Fallout d20
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. - 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
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
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. Compare that to the massively expanded credits for Oblivion, of which 18 people had worked on the Elder Scrolls action spin-off Redguard (which Todd Howard was also the project lead on), while only 5 had worked on Daggerfall, in which 26 people
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, 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:
Private Messages from Vault Dweller
Emails from Victor
Private Messages from Kharn
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