While at QuakeCon this year I had the pleasure to sit down with Nick Konkle, the Lead Gameplay Designer on The Elder Scrolls Online. We covered a number of topics about the game such as mounts, crafting, the Emperor system and more. So let’s get on to the juicy bits shall we?
MMORPG: Can you tell us what you do on the team, exactly what is a ‘Lead Gameplay Designer’?
Nick Konkle: Basically everything that isn’t a quest or an item or such falls onto my plate. Well, not just me, I have a great team that handles it all very well.
MMORPG: Ok, so let’s start the ball rolling with an easy topic, mounts. What can you tell us about the Mount system in The Elder Scrolls Online?
NK: OK, so later today when you get your hands on time you’ll be playing for two hours. Chances are you won’t get enough gold together in that time to buy a mount. First off, there are a good number of different mounts of different quality. One “new” system we have is the ability to ‘feed’ your mount once every twenty-four hours. There are three different items you can feed your mount, either Oats, Apples or Wheat. Depending on which of the three you feed the mount, it will gain in either bag space, speed or stamina. These gains are permanent and cumulative. Basically it is the equivalent of leveling up your mount. They can be leveled up to level fifty, and depending on how high of quality they were when you started, they’ll naturally have differing levels of attributes at the end. Through the beta testing so far, what we’ve seen a lot of people doing is creating a ‘pack mule’ of sorts and then a second mount for travel and such. Basically the first mount they put every point into bag space and use it when they’re out exploring and harvesting/farming and such. The other they put the points into a combination of speed and stamina for use to get from point A to point B.
MMORPG: Speaking of harvesting and farming, what can you tell us about the crafting system?
NK: Our crafting system is very much exploration based. We have five tradeskills: Weaponsmithing, Armorsmithing, Rune Crafting, Alchemy and Enchanting. It uses a material system that you’ll probably be familiar with from playing Skyrim or Oblivion. When you find additives for the first time, their bonuses or attributes will just show up as ?s in the item description. As you use them, you’ll learn what they do, what they add to your recipes. For example, to create a long sword, you’ll need two materials: a metal obviously, and then something for the grip like a leather. If two people just use the same iron and leather, with no additives, they’ll both get exactly the same long sword. Changing the metal, to steel for example, will create a higher level long sword. Now when things start getting different is when you start adding in the additives. Each thing you craft has three additive slots. So after you put in your iron and leather in the materials slot, you pick from your gathered components for three additives. And you can add multiple ‘pieces’ of each one in each slot. So for example in the first slot you add some ‘coal’, you can add any various amount of coal, ten for example. Then in the 2nd slot you add a whetstone and in the final slot you add some rabbit guts.
There are a set number of recipes in the world, I can’t give a number, but it is a LOT. So while the outcome isn’t randomized, it’s all predetermined, you can ‘over additive’ it. Basically what I mean is it is possible to not be efficient with the recipe. You could make the above recipe and come out with a long sword that has extra durability and is “extra sharp” doing extra damage. But you could run into someone else who made the exact same sword without using the rabbit guts. It’s the same recipe; they were just more efficient than you. You used extra components which didn’t accomplish anything. It’s going to be a community driven experience to find those recipes and find the most efficient versions of each. I expect we’ll see a lot of crafting driven forum discussion.
MMORPG: Speaking of items, would you say the most powerful equipment in the game is crafted or looted?
NK: End game crafted items are on par with end game looted items. But that’s just looking at the base weapon. Looted items can still be ‘improved’ and enchanted by the crafters. Crafters will always be very busy and in demand.
MMORPG: OK, so as long as we’re talking about community and social interaction, let’s talk about something near and dear to my heart: the guild system. Guilds are a very important part of MMOs, always have been, and I’ve been a guild leader in most every MMO out there at one point or another. Anything you guys are doing to improve or change the guild system as we know it?
NK: Well, at the base level, everything you’ve come to expect from a guild system will be here: different chat channels, etc. We actually have three different things which I feel sets us a bit apart and improves on the system in general.
First up, you can be in up to five guilds at the same time. Given the nature of most social networking, and let’s be honest, guilds in a lot of ways are a lot like social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, we wanted a way for you to interact with different groups of people at different times, etc. So for example, you can be in one guild with your coworkers, another with friends and family, a third that you were a member of in another game, etc. This way you can still be connected to all of these people without lumping them all into one big group, much like assigning people to circles on Google+ or groups on Facebook. And you can naturally have different responsibilities in each, lead one, be an officer in another and just regular member in others.
Secondly there’s the guild bank. While the bank itself isn’t a new function, when you integrate that with the ability to be in five guilds at once, it takes on a bit of more meaning. It has all of the functions you’ve come to expect like different access levels and such, and maybe some new ideas.
Finally we have what we’re calling the Guild Store. It functions a lot like an auction house or automated self merchant system. It is a way for guilds to distribute goods to its members without just dumping it into the bank as a free-for-all. You don’t have to worry about that one guy coming along and taking it all to sell for gold. If you spent twenty hours out farming this one item for the crafters in the guild and you just want straight cost for it, this is a way for you to automatically throw it up for others to come and get as they need it without you needing to catch them while their online or go back and forth with ingame mails, etc. We also forsee people forming a sort of market guild, a Costco guild or whatever if you like, where people all join up to buy and sell from each other. Or a group of crafters gets together and forms a guild where they can offer anything you may need as far as crafted items go, you join, do your shopping and then drop back out or whatever.
MMORPG: Let’s go hardware for a little bit. Talk to us about the differences between the PC version and the console versions. What have you had to change about the game to put it on consoles? Are they connected?
NK: There really isn’t any difference at all except each is on their own server. It’s the same game across the board. They’re just separated. The PC players will play on their server, the Xbox One players on theirs and the PS4 players on their own. It’ll be the exact same game, just separate servers.
MMORPG: Ok, that being said, it naturally brings up the question of monetization…
NK: Not talking about that yet unfortunately. There isn’t much we’re not talking about at this point, but that’s one of the things. Sorry.
MMORPG: OK, no worries, let’s go back into the gameplay itself. Talk to me about the emperor system.
NK: You become the emperor if you are the highest scoring member of your alliance, and scoring is determined by a number of factors such as if you were on successful assaults, were you healing well, kills, damage, whatever. So if you’re the highest scoring member of your alliance AND your alliance controls ALL of the keeps around the Imperial City… Which is extremely difficult to because you have to hold both of the other alliances home keeps, so you’re GOING to get ganged up on. But if you can manage to do it as an alliance, the highest scoring member of that alliance becomes the Emperor. As the Emperor you get a variety of bonuses, including a skill that only the Emperor has which makes him extremely super powerful. Chances are if someone DOES become an Emperor, he won’t stay Emperor for long. It’s highly in the other alliances best interest to get together and end his reign.
MMORPG: I know I’m out of time, but I’m going to try to squeeze one last question in anyway if you don’t mind. Talk to me a bit about the Alliance versus Alliance system. What makes it stand out in your opinion? What makes it an improvement over past similar systems, Dark Age of Camelot for example?
NK: Well, first and foremost is the metagame system we just talked about, the Emperor system, which is going to be a great encouragement to get out there and PVP. But more than that, it was about taking a great three faction system and bringing it into the modern times. The technology is here now to do a lot more with it. Massive battles are already happening in the beta. The keeps and sieging system is definitely updated. There are a lot more types of siege weapons. Every wall in a keep is destructible. You’re not limited to just knocking down the gate and everyone forced to funnel in that way. You can knock down every single wall if you want to. Now on the flip side, once you take the keep, you’ll have to rebuild those walls. Whatever damage you do taking it, you have to fix once it’s yours. No magical repairs once it changes hands.
MMORPG: Well, I know I’ve gone over my allotted time, thank you for being generous and letting me squeeze one last question in and for your time in general to answer a couple questions for our readers.