A Fool In Morrowind, Day 9 – The Last Dwarf

By Alec Meer on July 13th, 2009 at 2:56 pm.

Agent Loaf returns, after a brief hiatus so RPS could spend some quality time documenting its own history. Now, my plan with this series had been to avoid the core narrative for as long as possible (even though it’s something I never got around to the first time I played Morrowind.) Then a funny thing happened. It became compelling. Based on how unsatisfactory I’d found Oblivion and Fallout 3’s main plotlines to be, this was not something I’d been expecting. It also puts me in the unusual position of narrativising someone else’s narrative -a starkly different prospect to diarising my own haphazard experiences. If you’ve not ever played Morrowind and still intend to, be aware that here be spoilers…

When someone tells you that you might just be a god… well, that sticks in your craw. My raison d’etre to date has been entirely materialistic, but the growing frequency with which random nutters and even my own trusted contacts have made noises about my possible divine origins have awoken a hunger for metaphysical fulfilment too. So, I put aside my lockpicks for a time and went off in search of answers.

Later.

Something went horribly wrong. I’ve been infected by the most feared disease in the land. Corprus is an awful flesh-eating, flesh-twisting malady with no know cure. Small wonder I caught it, really, given I’ve lately been fighting things like this:

Yeah, he’s probably not big on the personal hygiene, is he? Corprus is horribly infectious, and anyone who contracts it suffers monstrous physical and mental collapse. Strangers run from me in terror, and even my friends (well, contacts. But they’re the closest a light-fingered egoist such as I has to friends) stare in horror and refuse to talk to me. I really don’t feel much like a god right now.

On the plus side, the time I’ve spent working for the Blades, the Emperor’s secret spy ring, affords me access to information that the average monsterised civilian doesn’t benefit from. Pro: there may be a cure after all. Con: to find out about it, I have to visit the top floor of a tower without any stairs, and with a basement full of violent-tempered Corprus victims. Dammit – can’t someone just send me a potion on a Silt-Strider? I’m supposed to be a god, people! Do what I damn-well say!

However, it’s my contacts’ constant, worried highlighting of that lack of stairs that restores my wounded pride somewhat. You’ll need to be able to fly to reach the guy who can help, they say. Have this potion that makes you levitate for a bit, but if you waste ‘em you’re screwed… Hah. I don’t need any measly potions – for I wear The Red Bull upon my possibly-divine head.

Named after a mythical but foul-tasting potion rumoured to make the imbiber incredibly twitchy but also give them temporary “wings”, this glass helm is the major fruit of the epic thieving sprees brought about by Power-Hat. A stolen Soul Gem containing the essence of a Daedric Lord and a frightening amount of money was spent on enchanting this impressive piece of armour with the power of flight. With it, I can soar across the skies for 30 seconds at a time. Well, I say soar, but “shuffle across the horizon like a geriatric cliff racer” would be more apt. The Red Bull grants me access to, essentially, anywhere in this land, but the wings it gives me sure ain’t quick. No matter – it’s enough to conquer this stairless tower.

The tower of Divayth Fyr is a sinister place. It stands alone in the fungal wilderness, a long way from civilization. In its antechambers stand four blank-eyed, beautiful young women. The first implies she may be Fyr’s lover. As do the others. Upon activating The Red Bull to levitate up to Fyr himself, a darker truth than mere bigamy is revealed. These are his daughters, magically grown, somehow, from his own near-immortal flesh. Yet also his lovers. Maybe. I might just be paranoid.

Brrr. I smile though gritted teeth, wanting for all the world to smack this incestuous, self-worshipping bigamist around his ancient chops with the mighty blade Optimus Slice. I have to be polite, alas, or I shall never be rid of Corprus. Or ‘the Divine Disease’, as Fyr insists on calling it – believing it to be the physical manifestation of the dark god Dagoth Ur’s mark. He too senses there’s something otherworldly about me, and that this may be the key to realising the Corprus cure that’s eluded him until now.

Of course, he’s not just going to give me the fix. Even immortal wizards need errand boys, it transpires. To the Corprusarium with me!

The Corprusarium is Fyr’s basement-level refuge/prison for Corprus victims. It’s quickly apparent it’s more zoo than hospital – dark, dirty and dangerous, and clearly designed more for voyeurism than medicine. I’m oddly relieved I already have Corprus – the worst that could happen to me by visiting this awful place has already happened. I’m under strict instruction not to attack any of the inmates, which seems fair enough. Unfortunately, they’re under no such orders, meaning I have to endure the slings and arrows of outrageously mutated monster-men. I’m more glad than I’ve ever been of Power-Hat, which means I can at least escape their foetid blows without raising a fist in anger myself.

There’s also a ton of awesome loot down here – it’s so fearful a place that other ‘adventurers’ have either kept a way or fallen prey to the roaming sickies. In particular, I pick up an incredible piece of chest armour, though I’m intensely annoyed that it doesn’t match the rest of my cosmically crystalline Glass Armour. None of these trinkets can, however, hold a candle to the wonder and horror of my true goal in the Corprusarium – The Last Dwarf.

There’s much debate about what the Dwemer really are. Are they their own race of squat, bearded humanoids, or yet another subset of the elves so common in Tamriel? Despite being the last of his people, Yagrum Bagarn doesn’t provide much in the way of answers. Whatever the Dwemer were, he doesn’t look like it any more.

The Last Dwarf – the only living link to a civilization that defines Tamriel’s history, and one that mysteriously, horribly disappeared en masse aeons ago. Time has not been kind:

The last dwarf suffers from a morbid case of Corprus. While his face and his mind have yet survived the disease’s worst ravages, his body is bloated, monstrous and useless. Only that incredible Dwemer technology – of the sort that created Power-Hat – keeps his life worthwhile. His bloated, cracked-skin bulk rests upon metal spider-legs, though it’s clear that given the choice he remains stationary. Too dangerous and too unwell to roam the surface, his only options are death or the untender ministrations of Divayth Fyr and his clone-daughters. In return for the latter, he performs services – explaining and repairing the Dwemer artifacts and technology that Sickboy upstairs is so strangely obsessed with collecting.

I’ll confess I’ve not cared a jot for the lore of this land before now. It largely seems to be very simple concepts unnaturally stretched over unwieldy speeches and too many pages of the history books that fill the stores and homes of Vvardenfell: far too much information, and so detached from my own existence. The Last Dwarf, though – that really fascinates me. To come face-to-face with something spoken of only in confused myths and whispers is almost a miracle. In general, whenever I meet any hitherto unencountered species, it tries to kill me. This one looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before, but he also talks.

Sadly, he doesn’t know what happened to the rest of his people. He suspects it was a botched experiment to depart the physical realm, but whether the Dwemer still live in another form or have simply been atomised is beyond him. I feel a great swell of pity for this lonely, sickly survivor, even as I silently fill my pockets with his rare possessions. He’s not only the last of his kind, but he’s also an embarrassment to them – what a sad legacy of a once-great race.

After disconsolately sharing what little secrets he does know, the Last Dwarf hands me the artifact Fyr sent me to collect – Dwemer flying boots. As I inspect them, my sadness grows. They’re less powerful than The Red Bull. I fear that, should I tell him a hat enchanted by a random, greedy thief not long out of jail trumps one of the last artifacts of his lost race, that would be the final straw for his miserable life. Best to leave, and to keep this poor creature’s existence a secret.

Fyr cures me of Corprus (or, at least, of its negative effects – apparently I still carry a non-infectious strain of the disease, which has the side-effect of granting me immunity to all other illnesses. Proof of my godhood appears to be growing…), but, as I fly my now-healthy body off to new adventures, I can’t say I feel terribly celebratory.

, .

102 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Alec Meer says:

    That would be brilliant, actually.

  2. Vinraith says:

    @Duckmeister

    While I don’t mind reading books in game (and indeed pored through most of Morrowind’s offerings simply because the presented world was so fascinating) I would cheerfully pay for a Collector’s Edition that included such a mini-library. That would be so much better than the contents of most special editions as to defy belief. Indeed, Bethesda should do exactly that for TES 5 and I’ll preorder the damn Collector’s Edition (so long as they release the mod toolset with the game, none of this “maybe we will maybe we won’t crap).

  3. Stitched says:

    It would be nice too if you did have a command that allowed you to “read” a text, like they do in Mount and Blade. Instead of forcing you to keep the book for the lore, it would add a seperate entry in your Journal. This, then, could hyperlink to quest data (if applicable) or just interest to those who love reading lore. I think “The Witcher” handled this particularly well (the lore side with monster and background information).

  4. Clovus says:

    But then you would have immediate access to all the books in the game! I guess you could force yourself to only read the parts of the physical book that you found virtually. But then I would cheat. There’s something cool about finding bits and pieces at a time, especially when some bits are really well hidden.

    there is no pleasing me.

  5. Stitched says:

    @clovus How so? You still need to find the books and “read” them to get the entry?

  6. t. rev says:

    It’s worth noting that Morrowind’s lead designer, Ken Rolston, used to be line developer for the pencil and paper game Runequest. Glorantha, the primary setting for Runequest, is considerably more lore-heavy. (Sandy Petersen, another old-time Gloranthan and author of the tabletop game Call of Cthulhu, is responsible for at least some of the lore in Doom.)

  7. Vinraith says:

    @Stitched

    I’m pretty sure clovus is referring to Duckmeister’s idea, not yours.

  8. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    @Duckmeister’s general direction. Alec, too:

    Bringing back supplemental stuffs with games would be brilliant. Even a cloth map would be nice.

  9. Stinger88 says:

    Hi Alec. Been following this since the start. Keep it coming! I loved this game.

    Just thought I’d mention that if you are looking for the best/most comical weapon in the game (standard release) and one of my top 5 weapons in any game for that matter. I suggest you find The Bi-polar blade. Which is quite difficult as you need to play cupid for a couple of characters and try and get them to go out with each other. Or something like that. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a way to steal or kill for this weapon. (you may need to look it up in a walkthrough..but its worth it)

    What the weapon does is to confuse anyone you strike with it. They don’t know whether to love you or hate you (bi-polar). The result is that they just stand there whilst you beat the yellow off their teeth. Very comical IMO. Also its probably the largest weapon in the game. Which looks cool.

    Thanks for bringing back some great memories!

  10. Funky Badger says:

    Verily, books and games should be kept seperated. Any text within a game is impure. It’s the one true path.

    First to be cleansed… Planescape: Torment

    As with most things, it’s not the amount of writing that matters, but the quality. Planescape was excellent (obv) – Morrowind was prettty good from what I remember. Also odd to see a standard writers maxim “show, don’t tell” applied to a different medium. There is an interesting debate about narrative forms in games (Deap Space is a lot more progressive in this respect than I think people give it credit for), but this isn’t it…

  11. malkav11 says:

    I absolutely loved the books in Morrowind, and one of my favorite pastimes was collecting them. There was plenty going on without the books, but they added such a lovely depth of lore to things and were honestly quite well written, at least as game fiction goes.

    I was rather disappointed that, as far as I can tell, Oblivion lifted most if not all its books from Morrowind and introduced little that was new. And you can’t even read the books in Fallout 3. -sigh-

  12. JuJuCam says:

    All the talk of small libraries coming with games reminds me of SSI’s Gold Box D&D games and the companion journal.

    For those who don’t know, in an effort to save bytes of data on the disk (and, I suspect, players’ eyes… dear god that on screen font was awful!) in place of big walls of text were references to journal numbers. The journal itself was printed in random order to avoid spoilers and possibly included a number of red herring entries.

    If I remember correctly you could certainly play the game without bothering with the journal as important quest notes were still displayed on screen, but you’d miss out on almost all of the narrative and characterisation.

  13. Railick says:

    I remember that JuJucam and I also believe the journal or the manual was used as a form of copy protection requiring you to enter something from it every time you started the game.

  14. DMcCool says:

    This whole debate seems pretty weird to me. Its not like you ever have to read these books, they really are occupying a perfect role-play oppertunity in the game. You find a book (what type of book, what the motives of the author are and the subject all depend on where you found it of course, everything is in context!) and you read it. If you are interested in the lore of Morrowind. I can’t see any reason for removing the books at all, they add an amazing amount of depth if you are playing the kind of character that reads books.
    The only problem would be if that was were ALL the lore was. But even that wouldn’t be telling as apposed to showing, that’d be more like if you -had- to read a lot of these books. You are still just being “Shown” an oppertunity to learn a bit of history. Still, it would be unfortunate if there was no lore or interest found anywere but in books. Its just that, well, that couldn’t be father from the truth. Every square inch of Morrowind drips interest, the bizzare creatures, the fauna, the archetexture -everything- tells a story. Any chance walk and you will stop upon something totally unique. You see a quaint little ash yam farm (thats where they come from!), smile, and then realise that it is ploughed by slaves. All of which are either Argonian or Khajiit. If this gets you so annoyed you start to ask quesitons, eventually you’ll find the originisation that fights to free the slaves. (It’s actually possible to free most slaves you find independantly, if you are sneaky/murderous enough)
    Morrowind succeeds for me so much because it really does just show and not tell. You are not told any definitive story, not told who to be or what to do, just, well..shown this intricite strange world.

    I’d like to be named a modern RPG that comes close to Morrowind’s dedication to “showing” to be honest, I can’t think of one.

  15. Polyhedron says:

    Funny to see the “Reedin teh hardz stay way fom games” argument towards morrowind.

    oh BTW Yagrum just repairs those boots for divath fyr, he didn’t enchant them, a dead thief did….. but I suppose you read that while talking too him……. or not.

    P.S. WATCH OUT FOR MY NEW MORROWIND BOOK BURNING MOD!

  16. MC says:

    The books in Morrowind are really rather good. I still remember the tale of Azura and the skeptic, for example.

  17. Antistar says:

    Sort of wish I was around earlier for this discussion: that’ll teach me to live in Australia and need to go to sleep at night.

    I agree with what James S and DMcCool (and others) are saying: there is a lot of lore in books in Morrowind, in a real wall-of-text sort of way (this is one reason it sinks in gradually over time and multiple play-throughs for me – I don’t really want to read THAT much stuff while playing a game either), but it makes perfect sense in creating the world presented in Morrowind, and – crucially – is not the beginning and end of the lore presented in-game.

    A lot of what I was talking about noticing for the first time when writing my own Morrowind story/journal thing was the more ‘show, don’t tell’ stuff. Things like “oh – that Ashlander tribe has their yurt-settlement down in that natural depression, out of sight of predators and out of the worst of the ash-storms out here in the Ashlands”.

    Or I would notice that many of the Ashlander’s tools and furniture and whatnot were made out of the shells of the giant insects found on Vvardenfell – that you’d encounter scuttling about out there. Or I’d notice that the architecture in more ‘developed’ parts of the Ashlands looked like it was inspired by the shapes of giant insects again (silt striders, probably), so that the ash and grit in the ash-storms would just slide right off the structures and not catch or collect on them anywhere. Or it’d occur to me while wandering through one of those metallic Dwemer ruins that perhaps it only seemed like the Dwemer made everything out of metal because everything else would have rotted away in the time since they mysteriously disappeared.

    Lots of stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. It’s fascinating. :)

  18. jalf says:

    Its not like you ever have to read these books

    I fail to see the relevance. You didn’t have to read the wall of text at the end of an episode in Doom either. That doesn’t make the storytelling any better.

    I can’t see any reason for removing the books at all, they add an amazing amount of depth if you are playing the kind of character that reads books.

    Seriously? “The kind of character that reads books”? Yeah, that’s some deep roleplaying right there. If the books were just there as an aid to roleplaying, they might as well be empty. They’re not, and that’s because they’re not there to fulfill your fantasy of playing “a character who likes reading”. They’re there to tell you, the player, the history of the world. As roleplaying devices, they work fine, if your goal is to roleplay “a character who reads books”. But as a storytelling device, they fail.

    And of course, I should mention that no one suggested “removing” the books. I’m not sure where you got that from.

    The only problem would be if that was were ALL the lore was. But even that wouldn’t be telling as apposed to showing, that’d be more like if you -had- to read a lot of these books. You are still just being “Shown” an oppertunity to learn a bit of history

    That makes no sense. If you use that definition, then no game has ever been guilty of “telling” instead of “showing”. No game could possibly manage to do that, because the game has no way to “force” you to read anything.

    In Morrowind, you are not being shown the history of the world. You are given the opportunity to be told about the world. “show, don’t tell” doesn’t mean “give the player the option of ignoring the story”, as you seem to believe. It means pretty much the opposite, that the story should happen in the game, not in text, while the game is paused. So no, Morrowind does not show, it tells (at least in the case of the books and the many long speeches by NPCs). The last dwemer is an obvious exception to this.

    I’d like to be named a modern RPG that comes close to Morrowind’s dedication to “showing” to be honest, I can’t think of one.

    We don’t need to go so far as to look at RPG’s. Doom had the same dedication to “showing”. You had all the end-of-episode text if you wanted to read it (you were shown the opportunity to read it, right?), and every room you visited told a story. The placement and type of monsters, the dead bodies, the coloured keys, the name of the level – everything tells a story.
    And it shows with about the same dedication as Morrowind – that is, apart from one or two instances, not much at all. Come to think of it, there are actually a lot of parallels between the two games’ storytelling.

    I think Alec already nailed it:

    It largely seems to be very simple concepts unnaturally stretched over unwieldy speeches and too many pages of the history books that fill the stores and homes of Vvardenfell: far too much information, and so detached from my own existence

    All text, and all detached from the player. You think the fact that the history doesn’t in any way intrude on the player or make itself known is the best thing since sliced bread. I think it’s a flaw. Morrowind was supposed to be a game, that is, it was supposed to be interactive. If they have a story to tell, they should push that story at me, not say “oh, here’s a novel you can read if you feel like it, but you can ignore it and keep playing too”. That’d be the equivalent of a movie going “Oh, if you want the full story, read the back of the DVD case”.

    Once again going back to FPS’es, it was not possible to ignore the story in Half-Life. That’s what “show, don’t tell” means. Make the story happen around the player, don’t make it something the player can be informed about if he so desires.

    If you think my comparison to a FPS is cheating (I don’t think it is, because in terms of storytelling, that’s a genre that has advanced far faster and probably even further, than RPG’s), then how about Mass Effect? Mass Effect tells you a hell of a lot about the world even if you don’t read the codex entries. You don’t need to listen through long-winded NPC speeches to find out that the Citadel is big and important. You find out because you go there and see it, and your party members point to it and go ‘oooh’. You don’t need to be told what a spectre is because you find out simply by playing. You don’t need to be told that Saren has to be stopped, because you see him shoot the guy who was supposed to recommend you for promotion. I’m not saying Mass Effect was an exceptionally good RPG, or that its storytelling was superior to everything else (although I quite liked it) – but rather that it manages to tell you a lot about the world, yourself and your mission without using more than a few lines of text. And because this “lore” happens all around you, you can’t really ignore it, even. It is part of the game in a way that Morrowind’s books and speeches are not. Of course, Mass Effect was far from perfect in this regard either, it was just better at it than Morrowind. It too resorted to the codex entries for a lot of the background fluff. Ideally, that shouldn’t have been necessary. Not because reading is bad and should be eliminated, but because games are able to do better than passive text.

    This isn’t a matter of “let’s get rid of the books, they suck”, but rather “the contents of those books are interesting. How do we get that into the actual game?”

  19. Clockwork Harlequin says:

    Jalf, the contents of most of those books couldn’t be made into gameplay (although the idea of an archaeology minigame is interesting). They’re there because, the way the world is presented (in gameplay) it makes sense for there to be a crapton of books. If there hadn’t been a single pamphlet in Vivec, or pulp bestsellers lying on people’s bedside tables, the world would have seemed that much emptier.

    “If the books were just there as an aid to roleplaying, they might as well be empty.” Fail to see your logic here, but you got your wish: they ARE very nearly empty:) When did you last read a book that was only ten pages and 800 words long?

    Really, I think that any big, open world populated by humanoids needs to contain some books or explain why not (‘Pol Pot burned them all, and that’s why you don’t see any NPCs with glasses, either’). They’d write them for each other. The existence of those books is necessary to make the world seem complete.

  20. phil says:

    The solution *obviously* is to keep all the books, but turn them into fighting fantasy choose-your-own adventure titles.

    Imagine the thrill of watching your character sitting on the floor, rolling the dice and scribbling down how many meals his in book character has left.

  21. Paul Moloney says:

    All this Morrowind talk – coupled with the fact my desktop’s ancient CRT died, leaving me with only my laptop, XBox 360, Wii and DS to play with (oh, the humanity) – means I spent last night installing it and the recommended Morrowind 2009 mods. (The Morrowind Mod Manager is very handy) I just hope when I load up my old save games, (a) they work and (b) I can remember what the hell I was supposed to be doing (the quest log is rather unfriendly as I remember).

    P.

  22. Woges says:

    So you can’t tell that Red Mountain is important by the ghost fence and strange whether, or that Vivec is an important city by it’s size, services and buildings? You don’t get that the Blades are an important organisation by questing for them? Or that the Blight needs to be stopped as people are rotting around you? There are many events like that in Morrowind and half the books come from Daggerfall and are a continuation of methods for the series. It’s just a layer for you to pursue if that is your interest or disregard if it isn’t.

  23. The Sombrero Kid says:

    the presence of books in games is an important part of what makes the world real, even for those who don’t read them.
    The power of games is that the story should be presented in many different ways simultaneously and the player chooses how to absorb it.
    It’s lazy to just stick it in a bunch of books within the game but it’s a game if the story is presented in text in the world AND other parts of the game world, therefore different play styles get rewarded, with different focuses and stuff.

  24. Paul Moloney says:

    I do like the idea of an Elder Scrolls So Far Super-Duper Collector’s Edition, with all the games and all the books in bound edition. I would pay a handsome sum .

    P.

  25. Nick says:

    The books were nothing to do with the story of the game though, they just provided optional background to the world for those interested. I think only one of them had real relevance.

  26. animal says:

    I have nothing against the books, but Jalf makes a good point in attempting to use some imagination in presenting them in alternative formats, so that in the end there’s a bit more variety in presentation.

  27. Bareth T'holm says:

    I installed Morrowind shortly after finishing Fallout 3 and have never been so *addicted* to a game in my life. (Hundreds of hours in, finishing up my Telvanni quests before moving on to the Fourth Trial.) Alec, this is like really good methadone.

    I love the lore, but agree that it’s frustrating to stop gameplay every time I want to read. Two brilliant ideas from Fallout 3 that I’d love to see them carry over into TES:V are those of the audio journals and the radio stations – ideally, you could select the “book” in your inventory, press play, then go back to roaming around while basically listening to an audiobook. This is what I do in real life, and I find it incredibly immersive. :)

    Has the added bonus of staving off Jeremy Soule fatigue, though I have to say his music holds up staggeringly well for how much it gets listened to in-game.

  28. Polyhedron says:

    @Jalf:

    Wait a minute FPS have advanced more then RPGs In storytelling?!

    Wat?

    Actually modern RPGs are being subjected to gross retardation by players who think reading is not an entertaining medium, that challenge in gaming is all about how fast you can click a button, and that storytelling is a linear railroad with no actual consequence to your actions.

    Your example for better RPG storytelling is Ass Effect. I think we are coming from two different directions on this one.

  29. jalf says:

    @Polyhedron: Compare Wolfenstein 3d to, say, Half-Life 2. The FPS genre has made some *vast* improvements in how they tell stories.

    What exactly has changed in RPG storytelling in the last 20 years? Essentially nothing. We get marginally less text, and a few awkward cutscenes (usually involving sex), and that’s it. I didn’t mean to say that FPSes are better at storytelling than RPG’s (although that might be true in some cases), but rather that storytelling in RPG’s has not improved or evolved in the last 20 years, whereas a genre that is all about reflexes and violence, and which superficially has virtually no room for a story, has actually made huge strides in learning and improving storytelling techniques. My point with comparing to FPS’es is that “If an FPS can do it, *any* genre can do it. If a genre where the story is traditionally an afterthought can learn storytelling, there is no reason why the genre which is all *about* stories should be able to do it.

    There is no reason why RPG’s couldn’t get better at storytelling either. But it’d require game designers to get over the stage of “lots of books, and a mandatory romance subplot”. It’d require gamers to get over the stage of “books are *perfect*. There can be no other way to present the setting and story than pausing the game and presenting the player with a screen full of text”. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen any time soon.

    Jalf, the contents of most of those books couldn’t be made into gameplay (although the idea of an archaeology minigame is interesting)

    Why not?

    If there hadn’t been a single pamphlet in Vivec, or pulp bestsellers lying on people’s bedside tables, the world would have seemed that much emptier.

    Interesting, so you’re saying their purpose is to portray the population of Vvardenfell as hobbyist historians, who love nothing more than a good history book to fall asleep on? That the precise choice of their reading material is vital to the atmosphere of the game, whether or not the player chooses to read the books?

    I have to disagree. I don’t think it’s vital to the story or setting of Morrowind that the average citizen is apparently obsessed with reading about the history of the world. It is vital that the history is there of course, and it is vital that it is presented to the player in some way, and of course it adds a certain ambience that they give the impression of NPC’s who have lives on their own, and occasionally read books that interest them. That might be important, yes. But the fact that history is what they’re all obsessed about is hardly vital.

    The reading habits of the average NPC doesn’t, I think, contribute much to the game. The fact that most of them prefer these over a book about, say, cooking, doesn’t really tell me much, does it?

    If they wanted to build on this epidemic of historyitis that seems to be infecting everyone in the land, then they could have made the same citizens actually talk about these things, perhaps offer quests to dig up more information, act like they were interested in history.

    They don’t. And that is one of the reasons why it falls apart.

    Actually modern RPGs are being subjected to gross retardation by players who think reading is not an entertaining medium

    Yes, the good old strawman that if I don’t want to read a book in a game, it must be because I hate reading.
    Tell you what.

    It’s not true.

    Modern RPGs are being subjected to players who want games today to be better than they were 20 years ago. I fail to see how that is a problem. No one is asking for simpler, dumber stories. We are asking for the same stories to be told better. I fail to see how you can feel that is a bad thing.

    As for Mass Effect (Do you say M$ too? Nothing screams sophistication like the apparent inability to spell out names of products or companies you dislike. All the grown-ups are doing it!), I didn’t say that the actual story is better (that’s subjective, of course), but simply that it places a greater emphasis on “showing” instead of “telling” than Morrowind does. Perhaps you should have read the post I was answering?

    DMcCool asked for an example of a modern RPG that ‘comes close to Morrowind’s dedication to “showing”‘. And that is the context for my answer. Not “Mass Effect has a better story than Morrowind”, but ‘Mass Effect is better at “showing” than Morrowind’.

  30. TeeJay says:

    In most games I usually try and read everything on the basis that if the game designers put it there then I should at least try and make the effort to appreciate it…

    …however in Oblivion there were a *lot* of books, often all in one place, and it seemed silly when I was desperately searching cupboards mid-fight for a health potion to virtually sit down for an hour or so and read all ten volumes of the ‘history of X’. They were also not often high priority in my weight-limit versus financial value so I didn’ typically take them all home to read later.

    Some books gave skill bonuses but I found it hard to tell which, unless I simply clicked mindlessy through a whole book-shelf. Others had a higher (rarity?) value than others, but why they did I couldn’t tell (after a while you get to know the common titles so the rarer ones are easier to pick out).

    There was one Oblivion plot-mission where you had to ‘decode’ some books to get a clue, and I really liked the fact that it involved actually reading the books rater than clicking on them with the “answer” auomatically appearing in your journal (If you couldn’t work it out then you could keep going back to an NPC who would eventually spell it out for you).

    IMO it would be great if the vast amount of ‘elder scroll’ lore and vast range of books to read had more of this type of ‘pay off’ – not stuff automatically appearing by simply clicking a book, but actually building up secret information or knowledge across various books, so that someone who got completely into this would end up finding extra hidden stuff be it spells, loot, easter eggs or whatever, even if they were kind of minor…

    I actually love games where I end up keeping a notepad next to the computer and end up working out little things “out of game” – and then actually go back into the game and find some hidden secret. Games that have “sandbox” systems of alchemy where you can experiment to invent or discover new magic potions or spells are also cool.

    If game designers have already written vast amounts of lore in the process of writing a game then it makes sense to have it there on bookshelves for hardcore fans, but I am more of a ‘completist gamer’ – ie I am motivated by ‘discovering’ stuff (loot, levels, easter eggs, inaccessible places) rather than fictional immersion or fantasy lore. I would probably end up reading my way through all the Oblivion books if there was some kind of mini-game involved with a cool pay-off for actually reading the text…

    …may they could have some NPCs who asked random questions based on texts … meaning that the more books you read the more places or stuff you could access?

  31. malkav11 says:

    Mass Effect is also a largely linear fun fair ride. I say this not to be dismissive of it, but because this makes a -huge- difference in how easy it is to “show”. Your example in the FPS genre, Half-Life is even more rigidly linear. (And barely has anything resembling a story, but that’s a different argument).

    I’m not really sure how else a game with the scope and freedom of Morrowind is supposed to present backstory other than having books and journals and such to read and long speeches by internal characters. I’m not at all sure I’d want them to try.

    (And for the record, Morrowind’s books are hardly all histories.)

  32. JuJuCam says:

    My take on all this is that “storytelling” and “narrative” are different terms with different approaches compared to “world-building” and “fictional history”. The books in Morrowind are not storytelling devices. They are elements of the mise-en-scene to borrow a term from cinema. They are largely decorative. Sure, they tell a story, but crucially they don’t tell the story of the game. I believe there is absolutely no flaw in that.

    I’ve done turns as a theatrical designer and the key to good theatrical design is to have a story to explain every visible element on stage. Justify its presence. My girlfriend is a costume designer and she once saw a group of actors cutting holes out of gloves fairly haphazardly. She asked why and they said “because they’re hobo gloves”. That’s not a useful answer, and the gloves looked strange. If the gloves had been singed, rather than cut, then those are gloves that tell a story of how these hobos had a cold night huddled a little too close to a fire. This is a detail that viewers would almost never notice on a conscious level, and had absolutely no bearing on the plot of the play, but it painted a compelling and believable picture of those lives.

    The problem for the designers at Bethesda is that they want to fill the world with books because books make sense in this context. But books without content don’t make sense. Someone has mentioned Fallout 3, and its world full of sealed texts without titles. That honestly grated on me because the rest of the world was so completely realised. I wanted to know what varieties of books the absent citizens of this dead world did read in their lifetimes.

    I’m not the type of gamer who stops to read historical text in the middle of games. But I appreciate that the designers have gone to the effort of making it possible. And even without reading every one, the feeling of immersion into another world is more complete thanks to them being there.

  33. Adventurous Putty says:

    I know this’ll sound horribly contrived, but I think both sides have valid points. On the one hand, Morrowind’s wall-of-text approach meant that most of the lore was confined to the libraries and books of the game; on the other hand, the game went through a lot of effort to have the quests, creatures, architecture, regions, NPC dialogue, and other minutiae “line up” with the lore of the “booklore” in order to create a consistent world.

    That it didn’t do so enough was, in my personal opinion, a limitation of technology moreso than anything else — there’s plenty of history and culture from the books in the quests, but whether or not the player has read into it more has no bearing on the results of those quests. The ideal would’ve been for players who knew more about the world to have more quest options; this is something that would be unprecedented (and incredibly hard to implement) in games today, much less games a decade ago. So, in a way, what Morrowind already did showed a helluva lot of effort, and the people saying that there were no efforts to integrate the lore with the gameplay are being unreasonable, since that very attempt at integration was one of Morrowind’s strongest attributes.

    Now, Oblivion is the game that’s truly inexcusable. It was the vanguard of next-gen RPGing, an example to see where the genre would go now that technology had advanced — and, in terms of having the game’s lore have more consequences (or, indeed, containing game lore at all), it truly dropped the ball. It is THERE that people can legitimately say that Bethesda didn’t even try, and that the comparisons to Doom ring a bit more true.

  34. Polyhedron says:

    Cool Discussion….

    @ Jalf: Lets start with your first response to which I juxtapose my own comparison. Say aklabeth to Ultima VII, or Fallout 2 to Bloodlines. and you see no differences in storytelling? I guess I misinterpreted your post because I did think you were praising one genre completely over another. my main complaint is merely with your example of ME. There are other examples that did storytelling in the FPS medium much better namely Deus ex and system shock 2 that would have made your argument more sound.

    Actually I’m not saying you hate reading, I’m saying you don’t find it a worthwhile enough device to entertain you while you play RPGs, which is a common sentiment. Hence the retardation of the written word in gaming over the last several years(There are exceptions to this.).

    I guess I don’t disagree with your statement I disagree with the results. RPGs today can’t hold a candle to what was commonly available ten years ago. complexity, consequences, actual challenge, does not exist for the next gen PCRPGs. Along with a reduction in Storytelling and actual dialog all are sacrificed for your “show, don’t tell” doctrine.

    The games look nice, and that’s about it…..

    For the others who posted after Jalf: well said and good on you then.

  35. Polyhedron says:

    LOL

    so that’s how that works.

  36. Trithemius says:

    Bethesda was graced with the world-building talents of some pretty interesting folks. Not the least of which is Ken Rolston, who has extensive pen-and-paper RPG credentials w.r.t to extremely complicated world-building too.

    I really lap this kind of thing up, because I am a huge nerd, but I do sort of wish it was visible in other ways. I found that more of it came out, as I went on, and all that assorted quasi-mystical guff was quite nifty.

    I always wanted to know “What Happened Next” in Vvardenfell after the events of the Morrowind plot went down. Pissing off back to Generic Fantasyville seemed like a bit of a let-down after the weirdness and splendour of Red Mountain.

    Oh, and if you want to talk to monsters go invisible and sneak up on the various corprus baddies. They say some weird stuff. Also ash-vampires. (If you can’t be bothered, just look up their dialogue entries in the TES Construction Set too).

  37. Clovus says:

    This discussion is a bit dead, but I wanted to clarify that I do not want books removed from the game. You can leave the tons of text there too. Just do something comparable to The Witcher (someone else pointed this out). When my character reads the book, give a short summary of it, or, even better, add the information to a glossary. That way I can learn the important parts of the lore without reading the actual stories. Like you can learn the basic stories of several related mythologies by reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. If the summary sounds really great I might even read the whole thing.

  38. Aharon says:

    To be fair about Fallout3, we’re talking about books that’ve been sitting in a nuclear wasteland for hundreds of years. If you expect any book to survive in the open like that for so long, I think you’re daft. As for books in the actual cities, that’d make sense. Then we’re talking about books that were actually chosen and placed there by living, breathing people for some reason. They should have been readable. And the book that Moira Brown wrote with your help. That should have been readable. But for the most part? The books were dusty old disintegrated tomes found in the houses of long-dead people.

  39. JuJuCam says:

    I think books stored in a dry, cool environment untouched by much of anything would last a surprisingly long time. Surely at least a title more compelling than “Pre-war book” would be evident. Come on, Blamco Mac and Cheese and the Declaration of Independence survives but… nothing else?

  40. Aharon says:

    Yes, clearly Pre-War Books are special because of their condition. That’s why the Brotherhood wants them. But if they were all filled with information, then that’d limit the quest to a very small number of books to turn in, making it a true, endable quest. Which, frankly, I have no problem with. But it was Bethesda’s plan to have it be one of those unending quests like “find this dude some scrap metal,” etc.

    I agree there could have been some compelling short bits about the Fallout future, but I guess Beth figured “hell, they have a pretty solid set of canon events, we better not screw with it too much.” Or they just figured terminals were the best way to transfer any narrative they wanted. I had no trouble reading everything off of terminals, though to be honest, having working computer terminals for so long is as infeasible as having readable books after so long.

  41. Testicular Torsion says:

    Two points:

    1) For those who complain about the presentation: Rumor has it there’s this thing called the INTERWEBTUBES where you can find all of the Elder Scrolls books in much nicer-to-read formats.

    2) If it’s a sin to be mixing large blocks of text and gameplay, then we’re going to have to put a bunch of old classics out of their misery. Planescape: Torment, the Marathon series, Fallout 1 & 2, all interactive fiction everywhere… shoot ‘em in the head and sell the corpses to the knackers.

    Fact is, there’s only so much detail that can be conveyed through the “game” part of the medium — what would be a good in-game presentation for the 36 Sermons of Vivec? Oy. And even if you’re not the sort of person who enjoys mixing their gaming and reading experiences — fair enough — you’ve got to admire the effort and craftsmanship that went into creating such a huge volume of interesting backstory to fill the bookshelves and nightstands of the world. That’s some serious attention to detail.

  42. jeremy says:

    “what would be a good in-game presentation for the 36 Sermons of Vivec?”

    i have not played morrowind, where i just assume this is from, but couldn’t there be a preacher or what have you in a chapel reading these 36 sermons aloud? your character could enter from time to time and hear as much as they want. i mean, if it’s so important.

    i think all people want is more of this stuff to be acted out in some way.

  43. ChairMaster says:

    Morrowind’s story was pretty realistically presented you know. In real life people don’t run around telling you history lessons whenever they meet you, you have to go read a book or something like that.

  44. ChairMaster says:

    Morrowind’s story was pretty realistically presented you know, in real life people don’t run around telling you history lessons all day, you gotta read a book. It seems stupid and unimmersive when some NPC decides to tell me something interesting but ultimately entirely useless in the middle of a conversation out of nowhere.

  45. SevenToedSquid says:

    Very good points from our host and several others about in-game lore. Thinking on it, the only times that I’ve really been interested lore have been playing the Thief series and playing Fallout/2. This is because each of the games presents the lore in an optional but seamless way. I didn’t have to crouch outside the door for 5 minutes listening to a conversation in Thief 2, but I did because it dropped interesting hints about the world I was inhabiting. Fallout was the same – while the main story shoved some amount of lore down your throat, most of it was optional. In both cases, what caused me to be interested was the seamless presentation of the lore within the games. It gave these older games a sense of character and immersion that more recent offerings along similar lines have been missing.

  46. Bassem B. says:

    You know, if you were to present all the lore and books of Morrowind in audio format or as quests or cutscenes or whatnot, the game would have to ship on a dozen CDs. All that extra stuff had to be presented *somehow*. All the unnecessary fluff that’s not necessary to the main story – those short erotic stories, or the riddles or recipe books.

    That said, I do agree that more could have been incorporated into the gameplay. When I used to play Morrowing I was a book collector. My house – well, my Khajit girlfriend’s house – was strewn with high piles upon piles of books. I didn’t read them all, too many. The actual game got in the way, not to mention something called Real Life. But I felt bad for leaving them unread.

    I think I’ll reinstall it. Those mods you mentioned sound promising. Anything that alleviates the unbearably stiff walking and jumping?

  47. Debi says:

    My favorite books were The Lusty Argonian Maid and ABCs for Barbarians. :D

  48. Turjan says:

    That’s a cool blog series you write there.

    Regarding the books, I loved quite a few of them. Reading those books about Almsivi with their differing stories resembled unraveling a murder mystery. It also managed to make the final monster strangely human.

    That said, my favorite books don’t have anything to do with the game at all. I think the most fascinating is the “A Dance in Fire” series. Who would have thought that those ridiculous Bosmer are murderous cannibals with a hivemind and the capability of starting the Wild Hunt? This is actually an example where the game itself somewhat fails: in its agenda to make everyone and everything more equal, it polishes off the rough edges. The conflicts that are clearly set up in the books are often not recognizable enough within the game itself.

    Other stories, like “Palla” or “Surfeit of Thieves”, are outright creepy. I really like the books, and I wouldn’t want to miss them. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to let the contents of the Morrowind-relevant books better shine through into actual gameplay. Anyway, I love the game despite its warts.

  49. Tevin says:

    I want more, dammit!

    Where’s Day 10?! I’ve been waiting with baited breath!!

    BAITED!

  50. Stefan says:

    I NEED more!

    You inspired me to install Morrowind again, and boy, i have so much fun playing it again. Thanks.

    So. MORE!