Elder Scrolls Online Interview with Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konkle

We recently sat down for a candid discussion about the unstoppable MMO juggernaut in the making, Elder Scrolls Online, with lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle.

ESO Interview with Nick Konkle

We recently sat down for a candid discussion about the unstoppable MMO juggernaut in the making, Elder Scrolls Online, with lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle. Topics of discussion included the implementation of first-person view, cross-platform gameplay considerations, and the ways character builds will be a constantly shifting component of Alliance Wars PvP.


First-Person View in ESO


For a lot of gamers, the seminal Elder Scrolls experience involves playing in first-person view. While plenty of MMOs give players the option to zoom the camera into first-person, few really factor in the visual aspects of seeing equipped weapons and the sizable impact it can have on feeling truly engaged in combat. In other words, itÂ’s kind of like playing an FPS, only without seeing the assault rifle you have equipped so the bullets just magically appear from somewhere off-screen each time you pull the trigger.

Earlier this year we were given a sneak peak at how this aspect of ESO was shaping up, but at that point it wasnÂ’t a playable option in the press demo builds. It certainly looked badass, but we were curious about how has that aspect of the gameÂ’s development been progressing, and if there were any unexpected hurdles in the implementation process.

Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konlke explained, “It came together much faster and better than I was expecting. Sometimes when you go from prototype to playable, it’s pretty good but then once you get to mass production it can introduce 75 new issues. It didn’t go that way this time. Instead, it was suddenly two months later and it’s in and we’re done, so that was good.

A thing that did surprise me is that I’m not really a first-person gamer, though I do play Elder Scrolls interchangeably. For example, I played Skyrim in first, and Oblivion in third-person. So when first-person went in our game I was expecting it to be similar, like I could play it this way, but I probably won’t. But I do. It’s absolutely my preferred way to play now. It’s just super immersive and cool, and it’s the only way I play now. We’ve noticed with MMO purists, they start liking first-person with a ranged weapon like a bow or staff, and then after they get used to the basics of the perspective change they take the whole thing on that way.”

Alliance Wars and the Character Build Metagame


While IÂ’m more inclined to stick to third-person in most MMOs, itÂ’s rarely a matter of immersion for me so much as the heightened spatial and situational awareness. Even having gone through a fairly hardcore period playing first-person shooters, I want as much visual feedback as possible in competitive situations. This will no doubt hold doubly true when it comes to the size and scope of Alliance Wars PvP in ESO.

Speaking of Alliance Wars, we were really interested in learning more about how that slice of the game is progressing given itÂ’s a major component of the long-tail gameplay and endgame for Elder Scrolls Online.

Nick explained, “All the testing is still internal, but we’re pretty excited to get that part of the game into the beta. We just had a big office-wide PvP test that was quite a bit of fun, and there are any number of anecdotes that I could share from that experience. But let’s just say it’s pretty big; there are some epic battles going on with 50 on 50 groups meeting on the open field.

The main thing that IÂ’m really happy about as a result of this is that weÂ’re getting a lot of builds tested. WeÂ’re in the middle of a lot of balancing and adjustments in development, and a lot of times even a small balance tweak will lead to whole shifts in the metagame around the office in terms of what build is now the popular one.

The three or four builds that are really popular changes every couple of months, and they don’t always align with what you’d expect. So what’s the coolest to me is that people will have their weird random builds that they make out of their Elder Scrolls characters and they go into PvP and they make them work. That’s my dream.”

One of the signs of a great elder game competitive system is that you never reach a point where things feel static. As new flavor-of-the-month builds rise to prominence, the system needs to offer enough flexibility for proper counters to those builds to be formulated.

Nick was quick to agree. “Any particular build needs to have a counter. Similarly, with any ability that’s more powerful or possibly sets up a sequence for a style of play, you need to make sure that there’s something you can do when you fight against that. As long as I don’t think the counter system comes down to A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A and that’s the metagame. You want a really big wheel that no one can actually map all the way out so that it constantly shifts. You don’t want it to be cookie-cutter at any level.”

ESO Interview with Nick Konkle

We recently sat down for a candid discussion about the unstoppable MMO juggernaut in the making, Elder Scrolls Online, with lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle. Topics of discussion included the implementation of first-person view, cross-platform gameplay considerations, and the ways character builds will be a constantly shifting component of Alliance Wars PvP.


Simple rock-paper-scissors systems definitely donÂ’t cut it when it comes to metagame balance. With the three factions present in ESO there is potential for that layer to be present, but thatÂ’s on a much grander and more tactical scale as opposed to the drilled-down character build level. In ESO there will no doubt be certain builds that are considered a bit more iconic. A pure healer build where you focus on the healing staff and full light armor would be one such example.

We were also curious if there were any team-level build concepts that have come into play so far in the office play sessions that were either unexpected, or have in some way helped influence how different counters have been introduced. A perfect example here would be in any MMO that has PBAoE abilities, youÂ’re bound to see character stacking occur; the idea being you stack a bunch of DPS and healer builds in one big clump and they can be extremely difficult to take down unless proper counters exist.

Nick noted, “It’s funny you should mention that, because early on that was a very common thing where people would essentially create a giant PBAoE bomb. That was actually super popular in Dark Age of Camelot.

To counter that, thereÂ’s a skill called Anti-Magic Field that drops down a bubble where anyone who tries to cast a spell will get zapped: theyÂ’ll be silenced and take a bunch of damage. So if youÂ’re an opposing sorcerer and youÂ’ve got that on your bar, and see a group getting ready to do a PBAoE bomb, you drop that down and all they do is stun and silence themselves.

Anti-Magic Field is interesting in that it provides a strong counter for that, but it’s also an Ultimate, so it takes a pretty long time to charge. But then there’s kind of that risk vs. reward layer about using it. So you can potentially bait it and get a player to use it too early and then do the bomb immediately after.”

ESO and Next Gen Consoles


The launch delay announcement for ESO during E3 2013 caught a lot of peopleÂ’s attention, and became one of the biggest news stories out of the event for MMO gamers. WhatÂ’s interesting is that there hadnÂ’t necessarily been any specific dates previously announced, other than a loose target window for the latter part of 2013.

That said, the other major part of that announcement involved Elder Scrolls Online being developed for the upcoming PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, keeping with the cross-platform release model that helped both Oblivion and Skyrim become such huge commercial successes. While that announcement obviously needed to be held back until after Sony and Microsoft had their grand reveals, we couldnÂ’t help but ask Nick how development on the new consoles had been going so far.

“I think the main thing we discovered was that we were already headed in a certain direction with the style of game we were making in terms of a lot of things that are in common with modern console RPGs. So the technology just happens to line up really well with where we are in our schedule. So the technology is there and we can do it, and the design of the game didn’t have to change. It was more a case of making a few tweaks here and there, but fundamentally the game is identical. That allows us to present the same game across all platforms.”

In terms of any special considerations that needed to be made for things like the pacing of combat or the active dodging mechanic, Nick went on to note, “For someone like me who is into the nitty gritty details of it sure, but for the majority of players, not so much. There are some things like locomotion or run animations where you have to make those a bit smoother to account for joysticks. Then you also have to make sure the keybindings work across everything.

So there are some minor things here and there, but we haven’t had to adjust any major mechanic as we intended it to work in the PC version of the game.”

Still no word on whether a special netbook client for ESO will be made available, but weÂ’ll keep you posted on any new developments in that department.


WeÂ’d like to thank Nick Konkle for taking the time to chat about Elder Scrolls Online with us, and will be following the progress of Alliance Wars and other aspects of the game with much interest over the coming months.

Have a particular aspect of ESO that youÂ’re most looking forward to, or learning more about? Let us know in the comments and we see what we can do to get your feedback and questions addressed the next time we have the opportunity to talk about the game with our friends over at Zenimax Online.

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