I think it goes without saying that the game Skyrim is going to have a major effect on the future of RPG gaming. There is an enormous potential here for games to start coming out with some really interesting game mechanics. Or to completely miss the point and start cranking out piss poor first person dungeon crawlers. In reality we will probably end up with some combination of the two, but lets take a few minutes to distill what it was about Skyrim that really pulled us in and how these things could be improved even further.
Let’s get the most obvious out of the way. The graphics in Skyrim are stunning to say the least. The landscapes are expansive, the dragons look real, hell I have never felt so self conscious will playing a video game as when I walked into a new town and everyone was looking at me. Stationary objects in Sykrim look great. However, it’s when they start moving that they start slipping back into the uncanny valley. The way a character moves has a great effect on how real we perceive something as being. I remember the first time I was playing Prince of Persia for the XBox and my character was standing on a box with one leg on and one leg off. Instead of hovering like most games of the time he actually had his leg on the box bent while the other leg hung off the side. It blew me away. It was the first time I felt like a character in a game was actually flesh and blood. Actually throughout the game as a whole the princes animations felt very fluid and alive. The way he interacted with the environment made everything more real. Imagine in Skyrim if you could scale walls or climb mountains like you do in Prince of Persia. In order to get there though the animation in Skyrim as a whole would need a complete overhaul. Maybe this isn’t something for Bethesda to take on, but why not Ubisoft? Or one of the other smaller up and comers? Key point here fix character animations. Of course they’re never going to be perfect, but there are steps we can take to get in the right direction.
There was a lot of criticism about Skyrim’s user interface and I think this is a problem that plagues all of gaming. Coming up with these interfaces is hard and honestly the last thing developers what to spend time coding is the UI. Its probably one of the lowest priorities at every single game company and we as players all suffer for it. There are a couple of directions this can go that can ease a lot of this pain. One is to sub contract the interface design to another company whose sole focus is making UI for games. The trouble there is going to be integration. Over time game design changes can effect the way the UI should work. The kind of collaboration that this would require might end up being more trouble than it is worth. It would also most assuredly slow development time as the back and forth communication alone would probably increase production time by a minimum of 20%. The other solution, and one I have been pondering for quite sometime, is HTML markup that could be integrated into a game engine. Most game companies have some sort of of a web team to at least work on content for the website. Why not leverage those people to build UI for the game? Surely there are complexities with both these solutions that would need to be worked out, but I think with time and proper consideration the payoff could be incredible. With either solution the goal is clear put the UI control into the hands of experts who really care about what they are doing.
This is one of my favorite things to talk about. The majority of the work I do is around data driven technology. The company I am currently employed by takes data from vastly differing data sources and tries its best to push this data into a human understandable format. Presenting users with the most important information as best described by their preferences. How does this connect to video game stories you ask? Bare with me a moment. I have always been excited about the idea of organic story lines and games that change to complement the players play style. Skyrim and the latest games from the Fallout series have come the closest to what I envision theses games to be. The way they achieve this is by making the game open world, having many customizable stats and having TONS of side quests which you can chose to do or not. The myriad of options lead players to come up with their own stories and play-styles. In the end though the stories was pretty simple. What if stories could build themselves based on how the player played? What if there would endless possibilities for how the game ended? What if you were given a blank slate and a time limit and told to accomplish as much as you can in 1 week and your experience will be your high score? Or decide which story line you follow? Now we’re getting back to the data analysis and how it can apply to games. We’re a long way off from having being able to do something like this now, but I think we could come up with some cool stuff very soon.
…and I think I might do one more Skyrim post and it will be out of my system.