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Interview Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interview

Vault Dweller

Commissar, Red Star Studio
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Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Ken Rolston, <a href=http://www.elderscrolls.com/>Morrowind's & Oblivion's</a> lead designer and a man of many virtues, has <a href=http://consumer.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTA2NCwxLCxoY29uc3VtZXI=>finally retired</a> and answered a few questions for <a href=http://consumer.hardocp.com>[H]Consumers</a>:
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<blockquote><b>How has the industry changed since you started, and what do you think about those changes?</b>
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I had once dreamed that roleplaying games would transform culture. I expected roleplaying games to take their place alongside literature, drama, and cinema. It didn't happen that way, perhaps just because it is so much more work for users to produce a narrative than to consume one -- or perhaps because crafting narratives as a hobbyist is of interest only to a limited number of people. I'm only a little disappointed, though. For a small number of people, roleplaying games have become a uniquely satisfying pastime, perhaps even occasionally a vehicle for exploring the human condition.
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As teams have grown larger, schedules longer, and production budgets titanic, computer games have become almost as slick and polished as television and cinema -- and often as dull and formulaic.</blockquote>That's coming from a lead designer, who <a href=http://www.rpgcodex.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=10403>invented his own formulas</a> that contributed to the aforementioned dullness.
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<blockquote><b>All the dialogue in Oblivion is voiced. How did that affect your approach to writing dialogue? Did it reduce the variety of dialogue you could write? If so, do you prefer fully-voiced dialogue or text dialogue with more branching?</b>
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I prefer Morrowind's partially recorded dialogue, for many reasons. <u>But I'm told that fully-voiced dialogue is what the kids want.</u> Fully-voiced dialogue is less flexible, less apt for user projection of his own tone, more constrained for branching, and more trouble for production and disk real estate.</blockquote>Latest Oblivion excuse: I did it for teh kidz!
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<blockquote><b>The encounters in Oblivion -- enemies, equipment, and treasure -- are indexed to the player's current level. Why did you do it this way?</b>
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...I think leveling was, at first, perceived as a cure for the obvious balance flaws of Morrowind. But as we refined leveling gameplay during development, we appreciated how it made the game more fun in every way. It does feel a little artificial, and, to some extent, it robs the player of the joy of getting the crap kicked out him. </blockquote>Let me get this straight, this new feature robbed the player of joy, but it made the game more fun? Yep, time to go home, Ken.
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Thanks, Twinfalls
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Hazelnut

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Re: Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interv

Vault Dweller said:
<b>All the dialogue in Oblivion is voiced. How did that affect your approach to writing dialogue? Did it reduce the variety of dialogue you could write? If so, do you prefer fully-voiced dialogue or text dialogue with more branching?</b>

I prefer Morrowind's partially recorded dialogue, for many reasons. <u>But I'm told that fully-voiced dialogue is what the kids want.</u> Fully-voiced dialogue is less flexible, less apt for user projection of his own tone, more constrained for branching, and more trouble for production and disk real estate.

Latest Oblivion excuse: I did it for teh kidz!

Well he's absolutely right and this is, as I have stated once or twice, one of the worst decisions in the development of Oblivion due to all of the other shit decisions it lead to. From what he says it sounds like it was not his call, or at least that's how I read it, so I'm not quite sure why you're implying that he's simply trying to excuse a stupid decision that he thought would be good but turned out shit. I think maybe breathe a bit next time you're getting carried away with the criticism for a news (as opposed to opinion) post, eh old chap? :wink:

Not that I'm defending Ken for all the other shit he's done, but he seems to understand the reasons for not going the fully voiced dialogue route. I suppose he must not have cared enough to try and change people's minds about just giving the kidz the choccy milk though.. sorry, I mean the 'mutha-fukin chokolate milk' :roll:
 

Vault Dweller

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Re: Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interv

Hazelnut said:
Well he's absolutely right and this is, as I have stated once or twice, one of the worst decisions in the development of Oblivion due to all of the other shit decisions it lead to. From what he says it sounds like it was not his call, or at least that's how I read it, so I'm not quite sure why you're implying that he's simply trying to excuse a stupid decision that he thought would be good but turned out shit. I think maybe breathe a bit next time you're getting carried away with the criticism for a news (as opposed to opinion) post, eh old chap? :wink:
Well, if you are a lead designer, then tell other people to fuck off. If you can't, pass the title to someone who can. That's how I look at such things. A bit black-n-white, I know, but I don't have much respect for people who are in a "lead" position, yet don't have the balls to fight for what they believe.

Besides, what does "I'm told" mean? Told by fucking whom? Is it a fucking fact? As you stated, that was one of the worst decisions, yet he made it, because someone told him something. Cute.
 

Hazelnut

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You do have a point, and although I have a rep where I work as being avery blunt, stubborn tech lead who wont take shit and is very effective because of it... I still don't actually tell people to fuck off. Well I have once, but that was more a personal issue with the fact they were retarded and couldn't understand the simplest of concepts yet I had to get their approval... :evil: that didn't end well and I was out of order, bad day! But I digress.

My guess is that Beth did not consider it a design issue, I could be wrong, but I reckon it was higher than that. Someone handed this down to the design team saying it will have fully voiced dialogue. End of.

I think I may be too forgiving maybe.... :roll:
 

Prime Junta

Guest
Re: Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interv

Vault Dweller said:
Well, if you are a lead designer, then tell other people to fuck off. If you can't, pass the title to someone who can. That's how I look at such things. A bit black-n-white, I know, but I don't have much respect for people who are in a "lead" position, yet don't have the balls to fight for what they believe.

Did it occur to you that perhaps he did fight -- and lost?

If you think a designer can just throw a hissy fit and leave every time he needs to give in to a management decision, you really don't understand how things work. Do that sort of thing once, and you might be able to get another job. Do it twice, and you'll be flipping burgers, no matter how talented a designer you are. Software gets created by cooperation -- between designers, programmers, customers, and finance. If a key player is unable to compromise, the project *will* fail.

Besides, what does "I'm told" mean? Told by fucking whom? Is it a fucking fact? As you stated, that was one of the worst decisions, yet he made it, because someone told him something. Cute.

That depends on your definition of "worst." The game is a roaring success commercially. If the design goal was to create a bestseller, the project was incredibly successful. Did it occur to you that perhaps Bethsoft was in it for the money, not the art? And that, just perhaps, the lead designer had a family to support, and could not just walk off the job because his precious creative vision got compromised?

Seriously, VD, I'm starting to suspect that you're a grade-A asshole. And pretty clueless too, about a quite a few things.
 

obediah

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Re: Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interv

Vault Dweller said:
Well, if you are a lead designer, then tell other people to fuck off. If you can't, pass the title to someone who can. That's how I look at such things. A bit black-n-white, I know, but I don't have much respect for people who are in a "lead" position, yet don't have the balls to fight for what they believe.

Who pissed in your cereal this morning? His title was lead designer, not surpreme overlord of microsoft and zenimax. His answer strongly suggests that it wasn't his decision. Unless you have the inside tip, you have no idea if or how much he fought against this or other changes. While I'm sure you douse yourself in gasoline and threaten self-immolation everytime it looks like you might not win a disagreement about AoD, I'm not going to fault Ken for sticking around to the end of the game before retiring.

The true lead developer for Obilvion was the all-mighty focus group, I'm sure this became clear to Ken and he came to terms with that. Maybe it was a noble attempt to win a few small battles, maybe (okay probably) it was just to get a bigger payout.
 

Saint_Proverbius

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There were a few design decisions Chris Taylor(lead designer of Fallout) lost on when he was making Fallout that actually turned out to be fairly bad ideas. Chris Taylor didn't want Fallout's character system to have increasing hit points, if I remember right, in favor of armor getting much more uber. That would have made critical hits near the middle to end of the game totally lethal.
 

Zomg

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Rolston comes across very well, and pretty well goes down the Codex liturgy despite being of the beast. I have a lot of artistic respect for some of the more subtle aspects of Morrowind, and from what I've read about him it's obvious he had a big hand in that. I hope he has a great retirement, and I'd assume Oblivion cashola should finance some nice trips.
 

serch

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Re: Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interv

Prime Junta said:
Did it occur to you that perhaps Bethsoft was in it for the money, not the art? And that, just perhaps, the lead designer had a family to support, and could not just walk off the job because his precious creative vision got compromised?

Are you telling us that evil people may have motivations for their misdeeds? Well, I don't think that makes them less evil but more credible as RPGS characters. :roll:
 

RK47

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Dead State Divinity: Original Sin
You don't really have to go so harsh on the guy. Beth wanted full voice for console kids, so he did. They made a best seller and a minor community gets mad at them for selling out. But who wins?

I'm sure as hell RPG doesn't but that doesn't change the fact his bosses are happy over the success with multi platform release. The PC users are generally satisfied with modding capabilities, while the consoles are given something new to try out amidst the dearth of JRPGs. Both sells well.

Bethsoft changes target audience, that's just how it is. Easier to please, easier to sell.
 

Drakron

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Easier to die as well.

EA survives and does well because of its publishing abilities and strong license deals, they can create crap and sell it.

Bethsoft on the other hand have to live with its own IPs and can only publish in NA, they are not a global player and dont have much of licenses outside NASCAR.

I have to laugh they point out they created a "big seller" and try to pass it (Oblivion) as the world biggest seller when in fact its Xbox 360 biggest seller, several FF titles trump it in JPN region only.
 

Rivo

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VD, you got insulted! OMGZ11!!@

Now make a reply where you quote each line apart from eachother and try to re-rape each argument vs you.

gogo!
 

Slith

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Who is this 'Beth' person exactly? I think you guys have been so busy demonizing Bethesda as an entity that you've forgetten there are people working in the company that made all those decisions.

I agree with Vault Dweller. You can't just give in to every demand a publisher or coworker makes. Especially something as significant as full voice-overs. That's a hefty decision to make, not only does it take up a large chunk of your disk, but you need to integrate it very well [or there's no point] and manage to get good actors. If Rolston knew voice-overs like this were a bad idea <b>he should have said no.</b>

What, the publisher is going to cease funding? Talk some goddamn sense into them. You're a lead designer, they're not. Compromise, lie, something that gets whoever it is that wants a bad decision, to change their mind or agree to something else.
 

Drakron

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Bethsoft is the developer and publisher, I hate when people go around excusing Bethsoft with it "being a small developer" when they are both a developer and publisher.

Bethsoft would not cut its own funding, Ken Rolston was lead developer and ultimate responsible for several aspects of the game.

If anything it just shows "design by committee".
 

HardCode

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Ken in the interview said:
On Morrowind, I had a much larger role in every aspect of design -- mostly because there were so few of us designers, and I was the only one with decades of experience. On Oblivion, we had many more experienced, talented designers, and they had much more control and responsibility for their parts of the design. My personal contributions to Oblivion's design are relatively modest compared with my contributions to Morrowind, and because I am a huge egomaniac, I will therefore always love Morrowind more than I love Oblivion.

Rule #1: Don't get caught.
Rule #2: Deny everything.
 

Vault Dweller

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Rivo said:
VD, you got insulted! OMGZ11!!@

Now make a reply where you quote each line apart from eachother and try to re-rape each argument vs you.

gogo!
Is ignoring arguments or replying in generic paragraphs that may or may not have something to do with the points made a much better way?
 

Llyranor

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I dunno, Morrowind didn't need full VO to have seizure-inducing dialogue.

I was perfectly happy with a linear main quest narrative, because I knew the 'enlightened' (i.e., irredeemably perverse) user would march off at right angles to the story line the moment he had the chance.
What an utter load of pretentious crap.

Especially when combined with
I think the narrative urgency of Oblivion's main quest is more dramatic for users new to the Elder Scrolls, and, at the same time, that narrative urgency in no way prevents the user from indulging the signature Elder Scrolls freeform style of gameplay. I only wish we'd presented Morrowind's main narrative with the same obtrusive urgency. The overwhelming number of quest choices and the lack of narrative focus was justly identified by many as a serious weakness in Morrowind.
 

Vault Dweller

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Hazelnut said:
I still don't actually tell people to fuck off.
A figure of speech, obviously. You don't have to actually tell people "fuck off" to tell them to fuck off.

Someone handed this down to the design team saying it will have fully voiced dialogue. End of.
Well, God knows there are plenty of people in the software business handing down great design ideas without having a clue, and there are very few people who can and should fight those decisions. Ken was one of such people.

Prime Junta said:
Did it occur to you that perhaps he did fight -- and lost?
Didn't sound like it, did it? He sound like an old guy who had a better idea, but someone told him that that's what the kids want, and he accepted it.

If you think a designer can just throw a hissy fit and leave every time he needs to give in to a management decision, you really don't understand how things work.
Your habit of claiming that other people don't know how things work is becoming annoying. I worked in the software industry before (database development), and I know very well how things work, what kinda ideas the suits and sales people can come up with / promise clients, and what a *lead* designer or a project manager can and can not do.

The game is a roaring success commercially.
So is Windows.

If the design goal was to create a bestseller, the project was incredibly successful.
And MW that used a different system wasn't?

Did it occur to you that perhaps Bethsoft was in it for the money, not the art?
Really?

And that, just perhaps, the lead designer had a family to support...
Cry me a fucking river. He left the company now, didn't he? What's gonna happen to his family now? Anyway, he's not some kid, he's a guy who did a lot of things in his life, and most likely got more than enough to take care of his kids and grandkids. Read the first few paragraphs to understand my point.

Seriously, VD, I'm starting to suspect that you're a grade-A asshole. And pretty clueless too, about a quite a few things.
No arguing here. I've never claimed to be the nicest person you've ever met, and there are many areas where I'm absolutely fucking clueless or stupid. However, the one we are talking about now isn't of those arees.
 

Vault Dweller

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Re: Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interv

obediah said:
His title was lead designer, not surpreme overlord of microsoft and zenimax. His answer strongly suggests that it wasn't his decision. Unless you have the inside tip, you have no idea if or how much he fought against this or other changes. While I'm sure you douse yourself in gasoline and threaten self-immolation everytime it looks like you might not win a disagreement about AoD, I'm not going to fault Ken for sticking around to the end of the game before retiring.
I didn't imply that a lead designer should throw a fucking tantrum when something doesn't go his way or threaten to quit when someone disagrees with him. My point was that he should have fought (and like I said, it doesn't sound like he did from his answer), and if he couldn't handle the *responsibility* of the job, he should have passed the job to someone else. Simple as that.
 

Volourn

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"You can't just give in to every demand a publisher or coworker makes."

Tell that to Troika. Ha, take that bitches!


Anyways, voice over on its own isn't bad. It can add to the game if done properly... It worked in both KOTORs as well as JE.

Did BL have full VO? I think so, and either way it's voice overs were awesome, and most definitely added to my experience.

Voice overs didn't hurt Oblivion most likely (haven't played it). Shitty, shitty dialogue most likely did.


R00fles!
 

Prime Junta

Guest
Vault Dweller said:
Prime Junta said:
Did it occur to you that perhaps he did fight -- and lost?
Didn't sound like it, did it? He sound like an old guy who had a better idea, but someone told him that that's what the kids want, and he accepted it.

Guess what? It *is* what the kids want. If it wasn't, the game wouldn't be selling like hot cakes, would it now?

If you think a designer can just throw a hissy fit and leave every time he needs to give in to a management decision, you really don't understand how things work.
Your habit of claiming that other people don't know how things work is becoming annoying. I worked in the software industry before (database development), and I know very well how things work, what kinda ideas the suits and sales people can come up with / promise clients, and what a *lead* designer or a project manager can and can not do.

Hm. Let's say that the past tense doesn't surprise me.


And that, just perhaps, the lead designer had a family to support...
Cry me a fucking river. He left the company now, didn't he? What's gonna happen to his family now? Anyway, he's not some kid, he's a guy who did a lot of things in his life, and most likely got more than enough to take care of his kids and grandkids. Read the first few paragraphs to understand my point.

I would expect he cashed in his bonuses and got another notch on his CV, which won't hurt with any future projects. A completely different situation than walking off in the middle of a project. Damn, VD, I thought you knew how these things worked!

Seriously, VD, I'm starting to suspect that you're a grade-A asshole. And pretty clueless too, about a quite a few things.
No arguing here. I've never claimed to be the nicest person you've ever met, and there are many areas where I'm absolutely fucking clueless or stupid. However, the one we are talking about now isn't of those arees.

Then why do you keep saying completely clueless things about it?
 

obediah

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Re: Ken Rolston (Oblivion's lead designer) retirement interv

Vault Dweller said:
I didn't imply that a lead designer should throw a fucking tantrum when something doesn't go his way or threaten to quit when someone disagrees with him.

You didn't imply anything, you said it outright. "tell other people to fuck off. If you can't, pass the title to someone who can."

My point was that he should have fought (and like I said, it doesn't sound like he did from his answer), and if he couldn't handle the *responsibility* of the job, he should have passed the job to someone else. Simple as that.

He gives his preference and quite a bit of reasoning behind it. He also shows absolutely no respect for the model that was used. Wrap that up in the general "early retirement" nice speak we see from ex-employees in the industry, and I don't see how you can say with any certainty he didn't put up any fight against the idea. All in all, you're passing harsh judgement based on a weak supposition. I'm not sure if you have an axe to grind with this guy, or are just having a lapse of rational thought.
 

Lumpy

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Drakron said:
Bethsoft is the developer and publisher, I hate when people go around excusing Bethsoft with it "being a small developer" when they are both a developer and publisher.

Bethsoft would not cut its own funding, Ken Rolston was lead developer and ultimate responsible for several aspects of the game.

If anything it just shows "design by committee".
Todd Howard was the lead producer, meaning the Master of Everything. Ken Rolston was just the Lead Designer, meaning the Mastah Writer, so he probably didn't have too big an influence in non-story related issues.
 

ad hominem

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Volourn said:
Voice overs didn't hurt Oblivion most likely (haven't played it). Shitty, shitty dialogue most likely did.
Nope, they hurt it. There were maybe what, 5 or 6 voice actors for the whole damn game? So every single Dark Elf sounded the same, no matter what. The best part was when you'd talk to a beggar and they'd use their decrepit old voice, then you'd ask them about rumours and all the sudden they'd have the strong, educated voice of every other Imperial in the game.

My God, I've played the game too much. (*Hangs head in shame*)

Prime Junta said:
Guess what? It *is* what the kids want.
This is the dumbest argument ever. Since when is giving kids what they want a good idea? Since their target audience is literally the "kid" demographic in this case (14-18), it fits pretty well. There's something to be said for not stooping down to the lowest common denominator. And you can't make any assumptions on sales numbers yet, as the only sales we've seen are from the brand loyalty that the Elder Scrolls series built up. Come back with numbers in a year, and we'll see.
 

HotSnack

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So, Ken "No Betrayal" Rolston was also a large contributer to PARANOIA? Ain't that something.
 

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