Oblivion: Shivering Isles Q&A

Today we bring you an XCN Q&A to coincide with the upcoming release of the The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion expansion – Shivering Isles, which will be coming to the Xbox Live Marketplace on Tuesday March 27, priced at 2400 Points. In this Q&A we hear from Pete Hines, Vice President of Marketing and Bruce Nesmith, Design Director at Bethesda. Read on…

How proud are you that people are still playing Oblivion a year after release, sometimes racking up 100s of hours of playtime?
Bruce Nesmith: It’s the highest praise that any developer can receive. One of our catch phrases here is “great games are played, not made.” It was never truer than it is with Oblivion. We have a great team here that is dedicated to making the best possible games.

You’ve shown great commitment to Xbox Live Marketplace DLC. Was this always part of you plans, and what has your experiences taught you about console DLC?
Bruce Nesmith: We always knew we would do DLC. We had a great mod community with Morrowind, but it was limited to the PC. We were really excited to be able to create official mods, i.e. DLC, for Oblivion on the Xbox 360. Now I have a hard time imagining making a game without them. The biggest lesson that we’ve learned from the DLCs is that players are hungry to play. The more gameplay a DLC has, the more popular it is.

Why is the time right for Shivering Isles?
Bruce Nesmith: Well, we’ve released a lot of smaller downloadable content pieces, and even a moderate sized one with Knights of the Nine. And as I said above, the more gameplay in the DLC, the more our fans seem to like it. We had always planned on doing a major expansion, just like with did with Morrowind, so we’ve been working on it since Oblivion went gold. We think our players are ready for something big and grand. It will be something new and fresh, especially for those players that have dedicated many hours to Oblivion.

We hear Shivering Isles will add over 25 hours of gameplay to Oblivion – surely you could have released it as a fully-fledged sequel?
Bruce Nesmith: I actually think 25 hours is a conservative estimate. With Oblivion we made a game that has well over 200 hours of gameplay. We knew that any expansion would have to have at least as many hours of gameplay as most full games have, or else we’d look bad. We hate looking bad. Besides, our fans deserve this. And because it’s an expansion it allows you to continue playing with this character you’ve invested so much time in, or create a whole new character just to play Shivering Isles, plus you can go back to Tamriel and keep playing the original Oblivion quests.

Can you explain how the Shivering Isles are linked to the plot and world of Oblivion?
Pete Hines: The events in Oblivion take place at the end of the third era, and the end of any era is always a time of big change in the world of The Elder Scrolls. Those changes take places in other places besides Tamriel, including the realm of Sheogorath, the daedric prince of maddness who resides in, and rules over, his own plane of Oblivion and very different from the one ruled by Mehrunes Dagon that you see in Oblivion. The big change taking place in Sheogorath’s realm actually happens at the end of every era. It’s called the Greymarch and it’s basically the total destruction of everything in his realm, forcing him to start all over again every 1,000 years, which he hates. So, in an effort to put a stop to this Sheogorath believes he’s found a way to get a mortal champion to help stop the Greymarch and save his realm, which is where you come in.

How and where does the entrance to the Shivering Isles manifest itself in Cyrodiil?
Pete Hines: A doorway appears in Niben Bay, just outside of Bravil. Unlike the gates in Oblivion, this door allows people to enter the realm of Sheogorath and is not a portal for Sheogorath or the people who inhabit his realm to invade Cyrodiil (which would run counter to the events that takes place at the end of the main quest in Oblivion, plus, he’s quite content where he is).

What effect is the presence of the entrance to the Shivering Isles having on Cyrodiil?
Pete Hines: People talk about it but, honestly, given that gates have been opening up all over the place with daedra pouring through, having a door appear that lead somewhere else is pretty tame in comparison. So the appearance of the door and the events of Shivering Isles remain separate of anything you may be doing in Oblivion. You can move between the two worlds at any time, so that it doesn’t matter how much you’ve played Oblivion or what you’ve done to that point…it has no impact on your experience in the expansion.

How does the environment of the Shivering Isles differ from Cyrodiil?
Pete Hines: They’re completely different. Everything you see is completely new and different from anything you saw in Oblivion, from grass to the trees to the sky and everything in between, it’s all completely new and different. You’ll fight new creatures, explore new dungeon types, find new ingredients, armor, weapons…you get the idea.

Why did you want to go for such a different style of environment?
Pete Hines: One of our big goals is that you’re never confused whether or not you’re playing the original game of the expansion. We really wanted to avoid doing “more of the same” and instead give players all new experiences within a game that they’re familiar with and a character they’ve invested time and effort into creating and cultivating over some period of time, whether it’s 20 hours or 200.

What kind of experiences will Shivering Isles add to Oblivion?
Bruce Nesmith: We made an early decision to make everything new. All the creatures are new. The rocks, trees, and landscape are new. The houses, weather, and ingredients are new. You get the picture.

I can’t possibly describe everything that a player will experience in the Shivering Isles, so let me just hit a few highlights. There are whole new sets of armor and weapons. You can even get someone to make you new weapons and armor from raw materials. In one of the main story quests, you are asked to question all the townsfolk about a plot and you can use an NPC that accompanies you to torture anyone you want to get the information. As Sheogorath begins to trust you more and more, you will rise up though the ranks of the Court of Madness. I could go on and on.

Will Shivering Isles add new spells, weapons, skills and abilities for existing Oblivion characters?
Bruce Nesmith: Spells, abilities, and weapons, yes. I already mentioned the weapons and armor, but there are also a number of new spells and powers that you will get. Sheogorath is very generous. One of the more popular reward weapons is Duskfang/Dawnfang. It absorbs the souls of anything it kills, and counts them for you. If you capture enough souls, the blade becomes extra powerful.

We made a decision not to tamper with the existing game mechanics, so there aren’t any new skills. We didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to start a new character in order to enjoy the Shivering Isles.

Can players move between Cyrodiil and the Shivering Isles at their will?
Pete Hines: Yes, any time you want. With few exceptions, the items you have go with you as well. Certain special artifacts can’t leave The Shivering Isles, horses can’t enter Sheogorath’s realm (Sheogorath hates horses)…things like that. Also, you crimes in one world don’t convey to the other. So if the law is out to get you in Cyrodiil, the guards in Shivering Isles could care less and are only concerned with your actions and behavior while you’re there.

Give us an introduction to the landscapes of the Shivering Isles.
Pete Hines: The Shivering Isles are actually divided into two halves: Mania and Dementia, and both look very different from each other as well as anything you saw in Oblivion. Mania is bright and colorful and reflects the more creative side of Sheogorath…like an insane artist. Dementia is the darker side…brooding, depressing, you can almost smell the stink of decay.

Tell us about New Sheoth – what kind of city is it and what will players find there?
Pete Hines: It’s the only real city in the Shivering Isles and — like the rest of the Isles — is divided and has a Mania side (Bliss) and Dementia side (Crucible). It’s also where Sheogorath’s Palace is located, and so it’s really a focal point for a lot of what goes on with the main quest. There are a lot of great miscellaneous quests to do and interesting NPCs to talk to and help, or kill.

The Fringe looks like an interesting location – what is to be found there?
Pete Hines: The Fringe is basically the waiting room for Shivering Isles. It’s where people must wait until Sheogorath deems them worthy to enter his realm. You can show your worth by figuring out how to defeat the Gatekeeper, who guards the entrance to the Shivering Isles from within The Fringe. Since he has the keys sown into his body, your first major task in the expansion is figuring out to win this fairly large boss battle. The Fringe also gives you a good taste for the kinds of personalities you’re going to encounter throughout the expansion.

What kind of enemies and NPCs will the player meet in the Shivering Isles?
Pete Hines: The enemies are all completely new. Some are creatures that have appeared in previous Elder Scrolls games, some are entirely new to the series. All of them are unique and offer some interesting challenges and twists for characters of all levels. From the Grummites and Baliwogs that regenerate their health when they are in water or it’s raining, to the Scalon’s that turn invisible before attacking, to the Gnarls that get considerably bigger and stronger when you attack them with magic…lots of new things to see and kill. There are, obviously, fewer NPCs in Shivering Isles than there were in the original game and so they all have a bit more personality and individuality than the NPCs in Oblivion. In addition to the folks you can meet and talk to, there are also the guards of Sheogorath’s realm: Golden Saints (Mania side) and Dark Seducers (Dementia side), who hate each other. Similarly you’ll come across Zealots and Heretics…or those that believe fervently that Sheogorath is a god, and those that don’t (also fervently), although they do share common ground in that they’re both nuts.

Tell us about a couple of your favourite areas in the Shivering Isles.
Pete Hines: I really like Split, a settlement that has fallen victim to a meddling wizard who created two versions of NPC — a Mania one and a Dementia one. None of the people are happy about their counterpart, and each side wants you to kill the other side. Also a big fan of Xedillian, one of the first places you go in the main quest.

Can you give us a clue to some secrets players may run across as they explore the Shivering Isles?
Pete Hines: Well, it’s pretty perilous ground because I don’t want to give away any plot twists or spoil any surprises. Overall I think folks will really enjoy a lot of the little things in Shivering Isles and should take the time to talk to NPCs and hear what they have to say. Because there were fewer of them to manage than in the original game, they all have more personality, more interesting and unique things to say, and there are a lot of great moments just walking around and talking to people. You have to attack Sheogorath at least once, just to see what happens (save your game first). Beyond that, you’ll have to uncover all the secrets for yourself.

What is the ultimate goal for the player in the Shivering Isles?
Pete Hines: To rise up through Sheogorath’s Court and become the champion that can save his realm from the Greymarch. How, why, and from whom are all questions to be answered as you go along.

Do you have plans for other Xbox 360 DLC beyond Shivering Isles?
Bruce Nesmith: Yes, we do have plans for at least one more DLC. It will be smaller, more along the lines of the Wizard’s Tower or Vile Lair. Beyond that, we’re leaving our options open.

How would you persuade someone who still hasn’t played Oblivion that they should try it?
Bruce Nesmith: Well, showing it to them never hurts. How can you not want to try a game that looks this good? But what really grabs people is that Oblivion allows you to play in many different ways. It’s not often you get the chance to play a game however you want and have your experience be whatever you want, and that’s what Oblivion offers. If you like being sneaky, Oblivion does that. If you like showing off your controller skills with sword and shield combat, Oblivion does that. If you like to out think your enemies, Oblivion does that too. It’s a big role-playing sandbox where you get to decide how you want your story to play out.

Xbox recently announced new rules for Achievements and GamerPoints in DLC – how will Shivering Isles take advantage of this?
Bruce Nesmith: In the Shivering Isles, as you advance in the Court of Madness, you will earn new Achievements and GamerPoints. Ten Achievements in all, worth a total of 250 GamerPoints. It will work just like any of the guild quest lines in Cyrodiil.

Does all this DLC mean The Elder Scrolls V is a long way off?
Bruce Nesmith: The DLC is not a factor in the TES V schedule. We have had multiple projects going on here for a while with DLC, Shivering Isles, Fallout 3, etc. Right now, our primary focus is on Fallout 3.

What can you tell us about your work on Fallout 3?
Bruce Nesmith: Just that it’s in development. We aren’t talking at all about it yet, or what platforms we’re doing, or anything. When we’re ready to talk, we’ll let folks know.

What do you see in the future for the RPG genre on Xbox 360?
Bruce Nesmith: There are a lot of great titles coming up that we’re looking forward to playing… Mass Effect, BioShock, and so on.

In terms of game features, that’s trickier. Because an RPG by nature is an attempt to build a virtual world, I think we’ll see an emphasis placed on more realistic environments and animations. I also think more natural character interaction is an area that is ripe for growth.

Finally – can Oblivion get any bigger, or is it time for a whole new chapter in the Elder Scrolls story?
Pete Hines: Shivering Isles is the only expansion we have planned for Oblivion. After this we’ll be moving on to new projects.

Thanks so much for your time Pete and Bruce!


Anthony Barker

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.

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