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Bethesda's Howard: People Discount Graphics

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the DICE Summit is a place where a bunch of game developers congregate to say things. Lots of things. Promising things, important things, silly things. But these sorts of events tend to have a unifying thread running through them – something that stitches all the itsy-bitsy baby things into a mighty Thingzilla. This year, though, it was a bit strange. The conference’s main refrain was “So yeah, what’s next?” But the reply was a chorus of “Errr, I dunnos.” The future’s right around the corner, but is it bite-sized and lo-fi, biometric, entirely user-driven, mobile, console, open, closed, or something else entirely? On edge, is how I’d describe the general sentiment. Unsure. Well, except for when I spoke with Bethesda‘s Todd Howard. He didn’t seem particularly worried, in large part thanks to these here personal computing devices we’re so fond of.

“We’ve worked on the PC for a long time, so it’s always new and marching forward,” he explained in a brief chat with RPS. “So when there are new boxes, it won’t be that much of a sea change for us, to be honest.”

Naturally, then, Howard’s primary concern is the same as it’s always been: making worlds that feel more tangibly alive. So I asked him how he plans to go about doing that next – whether that means improved AI, more expansive environments, better combat, or a host of smaller details – and his answer surprised me a bit: graphics. Then again, I guess it makes sense. Howard always has been about the big picture.

“Everybody always wants more power,” he said. “As a developer, you always want more. How good will it look with more memory? How many people can we put on screen if we have more processing power? But even with all of those things, I think people discount graphics. They’ll say, ‘Well, the gameplay’s what really matters,’ and it does. But I do feel that graphics and your ability to present something that feels new, real, and believable puts people in that environment where they can really enjoy what they’re playing.”

But just exactly what sort of environment will that be? Well, while Howard openly (and completely non-shockingly) confirmed that Bethesda proper has something new in the works on top of Skyrim DLC, he refused to narrow its setting down to Bethesda’s sci-fi/fantasy bread and butter.

“When I look at gaming, I like to go live in worlds and do things I can’t experience,” he said. “That I want to touch and explore. There are certain types of fantasy that appeal to me, but there are also period pieces, and if something was good in the modern day, I’d want to do that as well. Writing anything off at any point in time is silly.”

So that’s… broad. But honestly, I’m all for seeing Bethesda break out of its typical mold. And, I mean, if The Elder Scrolls has its wayward heart set on MMO glory and Obsidian’s chomping at the bit to blow up even more of the world, it does make sense. Just, you know, maybe stay away from modern conflicts and gangster dramas if you’re going current day. We already have plenty of those, and other things do occasionally happen. Sometimes. I have heard.

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