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Bethesda’s Pete Hines: on Dishonored, bugs and apples

Tuesday, 28th August 2012 09:23 GMT By Stace Harman

Pete Hines, Bethesda’s VP of PR and marketing, speaks to VG247 about squishing bugs, pushing the boundaries of in-game freedom and the publisher’s current hot property, Dishonored.

“With Dishonored, it’s not trying to be the scope of Skyrim and is more of a hub and spoke set-up, but within that mission there are lots of different ways that you can go through. The funny thing on Dishonored is that we have been looking at bug reports with a view of, ‘Well, is that really a bug or is that just an unintended consequence that we didn’t plan for?’”

When I meet with Pete Hines on the last trade day of gamescom, he looks a relaxed and happy man. It’s not difficult to guess why: “Dishonored” has frequently been amongst the most popular answers to the oft asked “highlights of the show?” question, which trade visitors have been posing to one another all week between appointments.

There’s a buzz surrounding Dishonored, which has been fed by the opportunity for members of the press to sit with the first-person stealth title for a full hour without being harried by well-meaning PRs. It seems that when it comes to Dishonored, there’s no need for anyone to ensure that we’re “playing it right” because, on current evidence, it’s very difficult to play it “wrong”.

“So, it’s not Skyrim in so far as going wherever you want and doing whatever you want, but it does have a similar thing where you’re in the demo room and you’re looking around the room and seeing 13 or 14 people approaching the same problem in different ways and just embracing that part of the game,” Hines explains.

“The other thing is that people are excited that someone is doing something different this holiday season and doing something that isn’t part of an existing franchise. That’s not to say that games that are part of a franchise are doing nothing to innovate, but obviously when you’re doing new IP you’re starting from scratch and so it’s an additional benefit to Dishonored to be doing something different; to be a breath of fresh air.”

Breaths of fresh air are surprisingly common at gamescom 2012, making it an altogether gusty show. There’s the expected number of solid and steady sequels and games developed for existing IPs, of course – Bethesda itself is showing off the Doom 3 BFG Edition – but there’s also a bountiful supply of titles based on new properties. Titles such as Dishonored, that will likely spawn their own sequels a short way into the next generation.

Being able to fulfil the role of both publisher and developer puts Bethesda in good stead for the next hardware round. It’s able to leverage huge, existing IPs like Fallout and Elder Scrolls as well as branching out with new properties in partnership with studios both inside and out of its parent company, ZeniMax Media. It’s a role that Hines feels works because Bethesda is realistic about which cap it should be wearing and when.

“I think we’re pretty up front with whomever we work with,” Hines says. “We do want to be involved and they welcome that because they understand that we come from a developer background and there are things that we can bring to bear in terms of usability, functionality, pacing and all of those different things; that we can bring some expertise and insight.

“Ultimately, though, we believe strongly that it’s the people that are making the game that still have to make the game; it’s not like we say, ‘Why don’t you sit in that room and we’ll sit here and shout ideas at you while you implement them all?’ I think that’s how developer-publisher relationships go bad: they think they know how to make the game and are telling the people that are actually making the game what to do.

“With Dishonored, we’ve done a lot of stuff with those guys with internal play-testing and having those guys show the game to other studios for them to provide feedback. All of this is with an eye to saying, ‘Look, we’re just trying to fine tune the things that you’re already doing and point out things that are perhaps not quite as clear as they could be.’

Dishonored’s Lady Boyle mission.

“It’s something that’s useful for developers who have an inkling that something may be a problem but aren’t really sure how big a problem something is: having other people that make games try it out can give a great deal of insight on whether something needs to be changed or not.”

Impassioned gamers

As well as providing feedback, Bethesda is no stranger to receiving it. Primarily this feedback comes from its community, a legion of impassioned gamers who make no bones about telling the developer-cum-publisher what they‘re head over heels in love with (such as the freedom that can be experienced in Bethesda’s ambitious, open-world RPGs) and that which gives them the heebie-jeebies (like the bugs that can be experienced in Bethesda’s ambitious, open-world RPGs).

Hines acknowledges that, sometimes, things happen that shouldn’t and bugs that really should be foreseen and squished, escape undetected: such as the GPU driver incompatibility issues that afflicted the PC version of id Software’s FPS, Rage. However, on other occasions, Hines feels that it’s simply not practical – or even possible – for the team to adopt the Pokémon mentality of catch ‘em all.

“With something like Skyrim there are literally an infinite number of permutations,” Hines ventures. “Or if it’s not literally then it might as well be in terms of the ability to test every possible permutation of every single thing. We do the best we can to try to kick out all the things but there are inevitably going to be things that pop out.

“With Dishonored, it’s not trying to be the scope of Skyrim and is more of a hub and spoke set-up but within that mission there are lots of different ways that you can go through. The funny thing on Dishonored is that we have been looking at bug reports with a view of, ‘Well, is that really a bug or is that just an unintended consequence that we didn’t plan for?’

“So, is it something that’s odd or funny but within the game it’s actually OK and if so we’re just going to leave it alone. That comes from the fact that you can just do so much crazy stuff that we didn’t necessarily plan for, but that still works within the framework of the game.

“I would say that rumour and speculation have rarely, if ever, piqued our interest in doing or not doing something. We have a pretty good idea of where we want to go and what we want to do.”

“Certainly, when you give players freedom they want to explore the boundaries of that freedom, to find out how much they’ve been afforded. I think that’s why games like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout have done very well because the audience does appreciate that freedom, because not every game gives that to them. Sometimes that might involve the player saying, ‘I’m going to set up a thousand apples at the top of this hill and let them roll down, just because I can.’”

It’s this freedom that fans of Bethesda respond to and why a great deal of people are excited by the recurring rumour that Bethesda has acquired the development rights to GSC Game World’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Unsurprisingly, despite his current chirpy mood, Hines is not playing ball when I ask if he can clarify Bethesda’s position on this succulent claim, merely repeating the expected line that the company does not comment on rumours and speculation.

With time running out, I try another tack: in light of the level of interest in the rumour expressed by the press and gaming public, if Bethesda hasn’t acquired the rights to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., would it consider it a missed opportunity?

“I would say that rumour and speculation have rarely, if ever, piqued our interest in doing or not doing something. We have a pretty good idea of where we want to go and what we want to do.”

So, that’s a maybe, then?

PS3, PC and 360 owners can expect Dishonored Doom 3 BFG Edition to release in October. PC and Mac owners can expect The Elder Scrolls Online next year.

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5 Comments

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  1. JimFear-666

    bethesda doesnt have any quality standart in the games they do. Everything with the tag “bethesda” on a game is doom to be bullshit and buggy as fuck

    - Oblivion
    - fallout 3
    - Fallout new vegas
    - Brink
    - Rogue Warrior
    - Skyrim

    All of these game are shit or a buggy mess… They cant do a game right, they dont know how. They are the most incompetent studio ever. You know what? I dont know how to repair a car, im not a garage owner and if they dont know how to do a 60$ game playable on day 1, maybe they should stop doing games.

    I hate bethesda and i think its sad to see they have a legion of fanboys behind them when they clearly dont care about giving a quality product.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Pytox

    @1 Forgot to add -Hunted & -Rage

    #2 2 years ago
  3. tommygunzII

    @1 I dont play games to see the pretty textures and seamless animations, or whatever your definition of a quality game is. I play them to have fun.
    Bethesda can build a house of cards better than ANY other studio out there, even Rockstar. Finding bugs in a game like Uncharted compared to Bethesda’s ambitious projects is like comparing cleaning a house to cleaning a skyscraper.
    What I hate is seeing ignorant shit from simple minded people on every gaming website. People like you are a disease to the industry and half of the reason publishers run the show in certain studios.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. MidlifeAxe

    @1 I don’t think Arkane Studios made any of those games that you listed.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Telepathic.Geometry

    I don’t think that they should be demonised for making bug-ridden janky games, because by enlarge they’re pretty interesting and fun games. Also, it has to be said, they do come by their jank honestly I think.

    That said, it’s also unacceptable to me to pay for a piece of software as broken as Fallout, Skyrim and New Vegas were. I had save files disappear, severe frame rate problems (making my late game basically unplayable) and all manner of shitty bugs. Not cool at all.

    Still, I always end up shelling out, and experiencing those highs and lows… /shrugs

    #5 2 years ago