When Xbox 360 and PS3 launched Bethesda had a single development studio. Now it has seven, all working on next-generation video games.
Christopher Dring speaks to Bethesda marketing VP Pete Hines on the publisher's three next-gen blockbusters – Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Elder Scrolls Online and The Evil Within
Why is Wolfenstein a series worth investing in?
It comes down to a number of things, but ultimately the Machine Games guys [the developers] felt it was a brand that meant something to them. If you speak to Jerk [Gustafsson, Machine Games CEO] for example and ask what impact Wolfenstein had on him, it opened up his eyes to what games were, it made him passionate about games. So they wanted to do their own spin on it.
In some ways it is certainly a reboot, because it is not something that is on the tip of every gamers' tongue. But there was a lot there that they felt they could work it: BJ as a character, the world and the idea of an alternate timeline.
You announced The New Order in May and it's due at Christmas. That's quite a short lead-in. Why wait so long to announce it?
That was intentional. We need to look at our timelines and how long we are talking about a game. From announcing Dishonored to launch was quite a period of time. But if you look at when we actually started showing Dishonored last year and when it came out, it was a similar lead-in toWolfenstein. We wanted to hit the right amount of time so that there was plenty to talk about, but it didn't feel like we had been talking about the game for 18 months with people saying ‘just release it already'.
Your new IP, The Evil Within, is a return to survival horror. But big horror games like Resident Evil and Dead Space have started focusing less on scares and more on shooting. Why do you feel there's a market for horror when your rivals do not?
We believe in Shinji Mikami [The Evil Within director, and creator of Resident Evil]. We believe in what he wants to create. We have done pretty good business in doing things that other people have said you shouldn't do or can't do. We don't feel particularly inclined to run in the same direction as everyone else.
We will make big, massive role-playing games on a console when nobody else is. We will do single-player when everyone says you have to have co-op and multiplayer, and they'll shove it in games that have no business having a multiplayer.
We're not doing these things just to thumb the nose at the rest of the industry. We like Mikami's ideas. What he is creating is really cool and people seem to be reacting really well to it. We look for opportunities where we feel something is being underserved. Things where there is still an audience that wants it if anybody will deliver. The Evil Within is the perfect example of that.
So you feel there is an audience that wants horror games because no one else is making them?
Absolutely. And we see that from the reaction of people, and all sorts of people. Cliff Bleszinski [former Gears of War lead designer] was in our E3 theatre saying: This is what I've been looking for. The merging of Resident Evil 1 with Silent Hill.” There are people who look at that and go ‘I too believe this an underserved type of game and I don't understand why nobody is doing them'. Well, we have the right guy to do it.
What's the target for The Elder Scrolls Online?
We hope it becomes a game that incorporates everything you've come to love about an Elder
Scrolls game, but with the online ability to play with friends, meet folks and take part in giant
We want it to feel like an Elder Scrolls game. The controls and the character customisation feel similar. Be who you want, go where you want, do what you want – that is Elder Scrolls in a nutshell.
And we want Elder Scrolls Online to be that. Go out and explore, find quests, pick up loot, make potions, do crafting, cook. All of the things that people love about Elder Scrolls, that freedom, only in an online world.
Why bring this to consoles? MMOs traditionally don't do well on them.
Because the game is born out of a formulae that we know people on consoles like. We just did Skyrim and we know that works. When MMOs are based on single-player games, they often end up being a completely different experience to the original game.
But we are going to bring along a lot of the things that you know from single-player, and add that online connectivity. So if you want to play Elder Scrolls Online by yourself, it will be totally fun. It will feel like playing Skyrim all over again.
Skyrim was your biggest ever game. Do you have similar expectations for The Elder Scrolls Online? Or is it more a longer-tail proposition.
Yeah, sure it is a longer-tail thing. But in terms of support, marketing and importance it is certainly equivalent to Skyrim. It is a big game that is part of our biggest franchise. There is no way we would half-way it for something that important. It's still early, but as we move towards launch next spring, we plan to do a lot of the same kind of things we did with Skyrim in terms of support.
What makes Wolfenstein, The Evil Within and Elder Scrolls Online next-gen?
Certainly there's an added level of visual fidelity and some things we can do that we simply couldn't do before. The consoles can only let you do so much. It might be a lot, but at some point you are going to hit that ceiling. And when you do, the teams might still want to add in this or that to make the game better, but there's just no more memory to add this feature in.
Next-gen raises the level cap, and raises it so that when you are making a game like The Evil Within or Wolfenstein, there are additional things you can do with the next-gen version that makes it run smoother and look better.
And in the case of The Elder Scrolls Online, the guys at Zenimax Online Studios said: ‘Look this is not a game that we could make work on current-gen consoles, but we could totally get it to work on PS4 and Xbox One.'
You are launching early on next-gen this time with Wolfenstein. Does that help you get to grips with the consoles?
That remains to be seen. We've never done a game at launch. For the last two consoles, our games came six months afterwards.
A lot of it is down to where the game is in development and what kind of game is it. When you talk about Morrowind [Xbox] and Oblivion [Xbox 360], you are talking about games that were hampered by the length of time the consoles were in development for.
Wolfenstein is on an existing engine that already runs nicely on next-gen machines and doesn't suffer nearly as much in terms of figuring out how it will all work on next-gen. If you are trying to do a massive open-ended world where every object has to be modelled and moved around, that's a different level of challenge. It's still not easy, but it is certainly easier.
Is it important to a company like Bethesda that next-gen consoles do grow and become bigger than the previous generation?
Stated differently, I don't know what the benefit would be to us for anything hardware-wise to fail. If it is a machine that plays games and plays the games that we make, then why wouldn't we want it do well?
We are all for players having choice to play the console that they want that has the features that they want. It's up to the consumer which one that is.
What does Wii U need to do to be more attractive to Bethesda?
It's a number of factors. The truth is, it's not something that we are currently developing for. I don't know whether that changes down the road or not. It depends on the games that we are making and
how we think it aligns with that console, and how the hardware aligns with the other stuff we are making. We will see.