Skyrim – hands on preview and interview with director Todd Howard
The pause is long and awkward. Through the magic of video conferencing, I can’t quite tell what face Skyrim director Todd Howard is making, but the tone of voice suggests it’s a perplexed one. “Did you just say you set fire to a chicken?” he asks.
Oh Christ. How did it come to this? I’ve just spent three hours playing Skyrim, the sequel to Oblivion – which is my personal greatest game of all time. I’ve been blown away by what I’ve seen – a dauntingly huge, open RPG fantasy world. I’ve fought and killed a dragon. Now I’m talking to the man responsible. About burning poultry. I hear the words coming out of my mouth as I explain about the fire bow and wanting to test it; still I can’t stop talking. This is my opening question.
Set fire to chickens in town and people will notice
I eventually finish by mentioning how people reacted. There were cries of ‘Be careful!’ and ‘Watch that fire!’ as the feathery fireball skittered across the ground with a sad little cluck.
“Actually, that goes through Radiant Story,” explains Howard, talking of Skyrim’s new AI-guided quest system. “The story manager looks at everything you do. Even a chicken on fire. If you drop an item, kill a dragon, how do people react? Those events go through the story manager.”
The idea is that this story manager will look at what you’ve done and adapt parameters to create bespoke mission conditions – the characters you meet or locations you visit, for example. You can already go anywhere and do anything, creating a narrative by exploring; discovering and interacting with whatever interests you.
Now the game will tailor the experience to be even more unique to you. Speak to any Oblivion fans and they’ll describe wildly varied experiences. My few hours with Skyrim were shared with a couple of fellow journos, and a post-play chat sounded like we were all talking about different games.
In my case, I started the same way I did Oblivion: I walked in a straight line until something happened. Wolves happened. A really bad case of wolves. Luckily, they’re just as flammable as chickens, so some fire magic soon solved the whole wolf issue.