Oblivion: Shivering Isles Interview
with Bethesda's Bruce Nesmith
If you're a fan of RPGs, you've doubtless heard of (and probably played the hell out of) Bethesda Softworks' massive hit The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. After about a year's worth of smaller add-ons, we're now getting a full-featured expansion pack in about a week called The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles with a new landmass inside the plane of Oblivion that just happens to be the domain of the insane Daedric prince Sheogorath. I got the chance to ask Bethesda design director Bruce Nesmith some questions about Shivering Isles, so let's get to it!
Jeff: The Shivering Isles are the domain of Daedric prince Sheogorath. What's the overall feel of the Isles like?
Bruce: We wanted a completely fresh look to everything. So we created all new art for the Shivering Isles. The ground, the trees, the rocks, even the sky is new. All the creatures, clothing, buildings, even the water is new. When you first step into the Shivering Isles, it's quite breathtaking.
The Shivering Isles is divided into two regions, Mania and Dementia. The land is a reflection of Sheogorath and embodies his madness. Mania is a place of bright colors and wild growth. It has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it. Dementia is the darker side of madness. It's dark and brooding and filled with dead trees and rotting vegetation.
On the people side, every one is a bit off. Each NPC has his own special brand of madness. It colors their conversation and any quests that you might get from them. For example, there is an Orc that is deathly afraid of cats. Unfortunately, he is constantly being followed around by a Khajiit. I don't think I need to say what the Orc wants.
Jeff: Is Sheogorath going to be playing some sick jokes here like he did in Oblivion?
Bruce: He's got a few tricks up his sleeves. Early on he forces you to experience the Mania and Dementia for yourself. After all, you need personal experience with these things if you are going to serve Sheogorath. He also has a tendency to ramble on about cheese. To say any more would be to give away the plot.
Jeff: The downloadable content has been great so far, but there have also been some excellent user-made mods. Do you have any favorites? Are there any mods where the development team went, "We need to do something like this in Shivering Isles"?
Bruce: I don't personally use any of the user-made mods, but I've seen a number of them on other people's machines. There is a great mod that customizes the inventory interface to allow for smaller type. [Editor's note: that's BTMod.] The mod that replaces all the distant landscape objects with the up close, higher res versions produces some amazing views, although you need a very high end machine to run it. [Ed: that one's AEVWD.] That said, no, there really wasn't anything we saw and felt the need to include or replicate in Shivering Isles.
I look forward to seeing what the user community comes up with for the Shivering Isles.
Jeff: Will there be any new music?
Bruce: No. We will be using the same music as Oblivion.
Jeff: Are cities and towns in Shivering Isles separated by loading screens, like they were in Oblivion?
Bruce: There is only one city, and it has two districts, each of which is itsown load area. All of the settlements are in the wilderness, not in load spaces. If you have a PC with a ton of memory and a race horse of a CPU, the load areas are not necessary. There is even an impressive user-mod for Oblivion that moves all the city stuff into the same load space as the wilderness. [Ed: that's Open Cities.] However, we have many players that just don't have a robust enough machine to run that way. We want them to be able to enjoy Oblivion too, so we put the cities into separate load areas. We are then able to take advantage of those separate loading spaces to manage other game functionality, such as preventing monsters from waltzing into the towns.
Jeff: Have you guys got anything new planned using Radiant AI for The Shivering Isles?
Bruce: Heck, we weren't even able to take full advantage of it in Oblivion. So instead of extending its functionality, we used what we had to better effect. You'll find that most of the characters in the Shivering Isles have more detailed schedules, animations, and conversations.
Jeff: Will we see any new special effects in Shivering Isles?
Bruce: Oh, yes. There is a great scene where a powerful sorceress is summoning a special guardian. You get to participate in the magical ceremony, which has several new special effects. We've also got a number of them in the big, climactic battle. There's more, but I don't want to give away too much of the story.
Jeff: There are going to be some new monsters and some older, more familiar ones for those who played Morrowind and previous Elder Scrolls games. Can you tell us a little about a few?
Bruce: The Shivering Isles does mark the return of the Golden Saints, Dark Seducers, Hungers, and Flesh Atronachs. There are also some creatures, like the Grummite, that are totally new. None of the creatures you see in the Shivering Isles are from Oblivion though. We didn't even include the giant rat.
The Hungers are one of my favorites. They're fast and have a six foot long, lashing tongue attack. If you are hit by it, they absorb your fatigue. If you aren't careful, you'll pass out when they take the last of it.
Jeff: Did any Hollywood-level voice talent (like Sean Bean or Patrick Stewart from Oblivion) work on Shivering Isles, or did you stick with just your usual group of voice actors for the many races and two genders?
Bruce: We have some new voices for special characters, like Sheogorath himself, but none of them are Hollywood names. There are a lot of great voice actors out there, and we were able to find some of them. For consistency, we did reuse all the same actors for the different races and genders.
Jeff: Can you tell us about any new or existing factions we'll meet up with in Shivering Isles? Anyone we've met before?
Bruce: The Shivering Isles doesn't have factions with quest lines in the same manner as Cryodiil. However, there is a Mania faction and a Dementia faction that factor into the main quest line. You'll end up doing quests in service to each of these groups.
Of course Sheogorath is a familiar character, who you now get to meet in person instead of as a disembodied voice. For Morrowind fans, you can find Big-Head and his Fork of Horripilation in the Shivering Isles. Otherwise we've given players a whole new set of twisted people to interact with.
I want to thank Bruce Nesmith at Bethesda for spending time to answer our questions. Thanks to the whole team at Bethesda as well for continuing to support the RPG community with great games. The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles requires the original Oblivion to run, and will be available on March 27th. PC owners will be able to buy it in stores or via digital download at OblivionDownloads.com, while Xbox 360 players will be able to buy it online through the Xbox Live Marketplace.