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Bethesda Softworks exclusive interview: Xbox One, PS4, and cinematic experience

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Bethesda Softworks is just one of the many publishers shifting gears this fall in an effort to refocus their efforts on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and with that comes a slew of changes. Because of this, we thought it would be appropriate to chat with Pete Hines, Vice President of Marketing and PR about some of the challenges his team is now facing heading into this Fall.

On the challenges of next-gen

The challenge is that you’re developing for a new console that really isn't done until much later in the process if you’re a developer. [Microsoft and Sony] are still tweaking things and things are still getting updated. That is probably the biggest challenge. I think the biggest benefit or pro at least this time around, are the consoles are fairly similar to one another from an architecture standpoint. So there’s not as big of a translation from how it works on this console versus another one, like it may have been in previous generations. It still remains to be seen how things turn out with these systems because we haven’t developed a game that is completely finished. Some things just change with the new consoles. You code one thing to meet one set of criteria, but when those criteria change even a little bit and the way you implement it doesn't work, it can cause certain changes you didn't want. Some of this is not knowing certain features of the systems. It’s not the core game, but it’s a certain feature of the console. If I do this, what is it I need to do, where does the button prompt go, it’s just little stuff like that. A lot of the challenges come in simple things like that. When you do this, does the game react properly or the way the console expects it to? Things like that can take a while to get right.

Immediate costs

There weren't any immediate costs for any of our projects. When a game is going to be current generation and next-generation, we have to look at it from a staffing point. We say, ‘now we’re shipping on five platforms instead of three platforms, so programming-wise, you can’t have one guy that’s now doing all of them. He’s going to have to focus on current-gen, and she is going to have to focus on next-gen.’ There are resources you have to figure out though, from a team standpoint. It may be that you want to add a cool feature to a game, where it looks great on next-gen, but the current-gen doesn't support it. How do we implement that same feature on current-gen systems? You ask yourself, ‘do we even have the overhead from a memory standpoint and if we do, what does it look like?’ When we look at the next-gen, we weren't even close to hitting some of our limits.

Current-gen getting in the way of next-gen

It’s impossible to argue that if you were making a game for one platform and just one platform, that that console would get the same amount of attention as you would developing for multiple platforms. You talk about Wolfenstein, we are moving it into next year so that it has the appropriate amount of polish time to make sure the game is great. Separate from consoles, the game just needs more time to be polished, regardless of the platform it is going to be on. We felt like it needed that additional time and development.

Are you maxed our for development on next-gen yet? More Games?

Yes we have more games in development. We’re not talking about what Bethesda Games Studios is up to, we’re not talking about what IT is up to. Outside of the Dishonored DLC, we’re not saying what Arkane is up to. So we certainly have studios that are working on things, and BattleCry Studios, we’re also not talking about what they are working on. We have four studios that are all working on games, but the studios that have announced projects are working on that project and nothing else. Our studios tend to be focused on one thing, to make sure they make each game great.

More costs with next-gen

I would say that was a lot more true from last gen to this gen, than it is from this one to the next one. When we moved from stand definition to high definition, there was a definite game changer in terms of fidelity and graphics, and the extent to which you are building assets. The amount of time you spent texturing a trash can in 2000 was very different from the time you spent on it in 2006 because now it’s in HD. That was a big changer. This gen, the focus isn't on a major change in resolution. That is part of it, but it’s more incremental. The introduction of next-generation consoles isn't an immediate hit costs-wise. It’s not like we say, ‘it now costs this many millions more to make a next-gen game.’ Next-gen doesn't have that sort of impact. Costs are more of a reflection of what the studios are looking at. The studios I talked about that are working on unannounced games, they have been working on games for next-gen before we were even talking about next-gen.

Mastering systems, how long will it take

It didn't take six years to figure out this gen, but it’s undeniable that the amount you learn after two years is going to be less than what you learn after six years. It won’t be the case where after three years, we've hit the cap, and the best a game can look or run on the PS4 we see two years from now and then it never changes. Every time you make a game and ship it, we can go back and say we could’ve done this differently. Even from Oblivion, to Fallout 3, to Skyrim, the changes we were able to make in terms of the amount of things on the screen were great. Sometimes the changes are subtle, and you don’t notice that things are different. You do have a sense when you’re playing that the world looks better. I think six years after this launch; you’ll be seeing things that games before weren't doing.

What will be the biggest changes we see from the current gen to the next?

With the social aspect, and the whole connectivity of how other people are involved in my game, even if it’s a single player game, there are ways to inject them into the experience. If you've seen where gaming is headed as a whole, it’s been those social kinds of things. Now, watching someone else play on say Twitch is a real way for people to learn how to play a game. That’s an actual thing now. Those types of aspects of the industry are pervading gaming in general more and more. I think next-generation consoles are trying to embrace that. The share experienced with people in your game, whether it’s multiplayer or single player, there’s a lot more going on and it’s touching a lot of other ways in which people live now.

Are games going toward a more cinematic experience?

Some games are doing that. There are games where I don’t want developers to make [a cinematic experience]. You are a really awesome visceral shooter, whose story I could not careless about. Just give me the controller, the guns and show me the bad guys and I’m going to have fun on your roller coaster ride. That’s all I want. You don’t have to make a better story or put a little girl next to me. I don’t want that in your game. I want that in their game. So in the case of Infinite, well that’s just the natural progression for those guys because that’s what they've built from the beginning, which was a game that was not just about shooting. It’s not like the last one was something different and then with this one, they took it in a different direction. They did that, but it was still in this universe.

The Last of Us is building upon what they did in Uncharted. It’s not like they threw all of that out. If you go back and play, the combat mechanics are pretty similar. [The Last of Us] isn't awesome because of the combat. The combat is good, it’s fine. It’s amazing because of the other stuff that they added to it. It’s about the characters and the dialogue, and they get so many little moments right and they do such an amazing job of polish. However, the game was also not a departure for them.

I think we’re going to see more of those kinds of things. You mentioned genre blending; I think that’s a thing that has been happening naturally anyway. If there’s any one genre that seems to be seeping into everything else, it has to be RPG. The reasoning is because of its ability to work within other genres. Those kinds of things are going to evolve and seep in, and yeah there are places where stories and characters are going to be more important.

A game like The Evil Within is a game that takes combat and action and brings it down a little bit because it’s not as important to what they are doing as scaring the hell out of you is. They’re focused on creating tension and immersion that both create a major sense of helplessness. They want to create situations where you can’t fight and you have to run away, and how does that make you feel? Most games make you feel macho. You see bad guys and you shoot your way through to get to the other side, while this game is forcing you to realize you need to be afraid. You are going to have to realize you need to runaway and hide, which is a weird feeling. But if you hit the right tone with that, where you are scared, then you find this sense of pride as a player that you overcame it, I solved things and I did what I needed to do to get through it. Again, that all is hitting a very different emotion versus Halo. Both feelings you get from the two games are totally legit, but they bring out different emotions.

We'd like to thank Pete Hines and Bethesda Softworks for taking the time to talk to us. Make sure to give us a follow on Twitter and a like on Facebook to stay up to date on all of our news, interviews, reviews, previews, and more! We've got a lot of content in the works for you and we don't want you to miss it!

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