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Why Morrowind sucked - the Douglas Goodall interview

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Why Morrowind sucked - the Douglas Goodall interview

Interview - posted by Vault Dweller on Fri 9 December 2005, 18:32:21

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Ken Rolston; The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind; Todd Howard

This interview with an ex-Bethesda's developer was originally posted at The Imperial Library TES site, but was removed for reasons yet to be explained. The balance in the universe must be restored, so here is the controversial interview for your amusement:

The thing that surprised me the most was also what disappointed me the most: procedural content. Arena and Daggerfall had more in common with random games (Rogue) than with traditional RPGs (Ultima et al.). Arena and Daggerfall were way ahead of their time, perhaps too far ahead of their time. I felt Morrowind was a step backwards in some ways.

I was also disappointed with the main quest in Morrowind. Frankly, the main quest never made sense to me, and I felt it contradicted too much existing lore. I couldn't get emotionally involved in the main quest or discern the motivations of the key players.


I didn't like the combat at all. I won't claim that the "move the mouse to control your sword" combat of Arena and Daggerfall was perfect, but at least it felt interactive. Morrowind's combat was too simplified, too automatic.

I liked the dialogue system on paper, but in practice I think it makes it too hard for players to develop their characters (in a roleplaying sense). I don't like "putting words in the player's mouth," which is what all but the simplest dialogue choices require. But when playing more traditional RPGs, I noticed that I connected with my character more when I had to choose different dialogue responses. Am I playing a goody two shoes? A greedy bastard? Do I always choose the sarcastic response, even if it gets me in trouble? Light side or dark side? Lawful good or chaotic evil? Paladin, Fire Mage, or Mercenary? I felt Morrowind lacked even binary character development choices. I could be very good in Morrowind, and I could be very bad in Morrowind, but I rarely had the chance to tell anyone about it. The game didn't react to me being good or bad, except when I was caught committing a crime.

Also, Ken Rolston and I have very different writing styles. I tend to make plots based on characters instead of starting with a plot outline. I like to make a few interesting characters, put them together, and see where it leads. Everything in Morrowind was designed top-down, and I had a hard time adjusting to that. There were only a few quests where I could give the characters some character.

Ken and I also disagreed on "relativism" and "betrayal," among other things. I appreciate disinformation, but I believe it works best when you know what the truth is. I like to write a true account and then conceal it among carefully designed false accounts. Ken wrote a dozen different accounts, apparently without any personal preference to which, if any, was accurate, and ignored the contradictions. I wanted to have NPCs betray the player in a few quests, but Ken had a "no-betrayal" rule (and some other rules, like "only one coincidence allowed"), which didn't make sense to me. I can't say that I'm right and he's wrong. In fact, I often felt that he was talking past me or over my head. I understood all of his words, but they didn't combine into sentences that made sense to me.


There were quite a few of them (Ken's rules - VD), but since I didn't understand most of them, this is something you ought to ask Ken if you get the chance. The only ones I'm sure I understood were "no betrayal" and "everything must be a metaphor/everything must be based on something."

"No betrayal" meant that key NPCs couldn't turn on the player, lie to the player if they were honest in the past, nor could an NPC steal an item from the player, etc. This is good as a general rule, but it's the kind of rule that begs for exceptions.

"Everything must be a metaphor" is how the quirky Cyrodiil of Daggerfall and the alien Cyrodiil of the Pocket Guide became the Roman Empire, how the Bretons got French names, etc. I felt Tamriel had been moving away from generic fantasy and medieval history with every game until Morrowind. I wanted this trend to continue and resented having to squeeze a Hermaeus Mora-shaped Vvardenfell into a Roman Province-shaped space. I think Ken uses historical examples to make the world more believable. If you just make stuff up, there's a good chance you'll make something wrong and break suspension of disbelief. That's true, but I'd argue that if you use an inappropriate or easily recognized metaphor, you have the same risk. Besides, making stuff up is more fun for both the creators and consumers. Did I mention I enjoy arguing?

I don't want to sound too hard on Ken. In many cases where we disagreed, I think he made a good choice. It wouldn't have been my first choice, but that doesn't mean the Elder Scrolls isn't in good hands. Note that I didn't expect Morrowind to be nearly as popular as it was, at least not among "classic" Elder Scrolls fans, which basically proves me wrong.


I disagreed with Todd a lot because Todd and I do not like the same kinds of games. This is not his fault or mine. Whether it is more fun to smash things with a huge axe or coax secrets from obfuscated texts is pure opinion. Whether it's better to play against dice or against an intelligent designer is pure opinion. Frankly, most gamers are more like Todd. It is in Bethesda's best interests to appeal to those gamers, instead of making a game that appeals to me. I selfishly didn't want to work on a game that didn't appeal to me, but that wasn't my job. My job was to work on Morrowind, regardless of whether I liked it or not.
You may find the full version of the interview in this thread. Discuss!

Edit: It appears that Michael Kirkbride was the one who requested the interview to be removed:

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 permission.

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 gets a semi-prestigious "What a dick!" award. Congratulations! Well deserved.
Thanks, Fintilgin & Sinder Velvin

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