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Interview - "The biggest year in our company's history," by Bethesda's Pete Hines

pete hines

This year will be the biggest in Bethesda's history. An RPG sequel anticipated for aeons; the first new IP from id Software in 15 years; one of the most anticipated shooters in the industry this year; and a dungeon crawler which fuses old days with new.

Post-release DLC for one of last year's biggest hits is a also certainty for 2011, but the anticipation of future releases is likely to further add to this year's importance for the publisher: three new studios - one from the east - are coming on board with new projects with the company and, obviously there's a chance at getting a look at DOOM4 this year.

With so much going on at Bethesda it seemed like a good time to catch up. We spoke last week with the company's VP of marketing and PR, Pete Hines.

[Interview by Johnny Cullen]

VG247: This is going to be a pretty big year for Bethesda?

Pete Hines: Oh absolutely. This is going to be the biggest year in our company's history, I think, by far. Given what we've got going on and what we have coming out this year, and even any announcements that we might be making this year about stuff in the future, I think it's going to be huge.

As far as I'm aware, we haven't seen any titles so far from Bethesda that support Move or Kinect. What are we going to see any support for either of those in the future?

I think that's TBD. As you said, we haven't announced anything. That doesn't mean we haven't looked into that. But we tend to do it on a title-by-title basis. We don't sort of say, "Well, we're now going to figure out some way to implement this or that across every project." We don't work like that.

We tend to look at what works for this game. If something works for that game, we should do it for that game. If not, then don't. So it would be something we'd would address and talk about on a title-by-title basis.

What about 3DS? Is that something that's been looked at as well?

Again, we don't have DS titles in development. So, if we were to announce or to do DS stuff, then I would guess they would be looked at for whatever title that might be developed. But that's purely hypothetical. We don't have anything for DS.

Moving onto RAGE. This will be id's first new IP in 15 years. Isn't that a bit daunting, not just for Bethesda, but for id as well?

Is yes and no a good answer? [laughs]

Yes, from the standpoint that any time you do a new IP, you sort of have to introduce everybody to what it is that you're doing and explain to them. That's always been a bit more effort and a bit more work.

No, from the standpoint that id has been able to do a lot of things with RAGE that they might not have been able to do with other games.

I mean, they wanted to do something that was very different than what's come in the past, which is - if I was going to make a big, sweeping, generalisation - more corridor-based, dark shooters.

And from what you've seen on RAGE, I think we can both agree that RAGE is not just that. You definitely have areas where you're exploring a bandit base and you get some of that gameplay, but you've also got the big expansive outdoor areas.

You got this whole other driving element to it, the ability to go into towns and settlements and talk to people and get quests. So, it's got a lot more going for it than something they would have done in DOOM 3, Quake or Wolfenstein games.

It's more daunting, but at the same time, they've been able to try a lot of cool ideas and do some new things. Everybody, I think, is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because it's not, 'Oh, that's not what DOOM is about, you can't do that.' Do you know what I mean?

Yeah, I do.

I think they've been able to take some creative liberties to try some new things because it is a new IP.

For a new IP, you probably have to offer something that entices gamers: a demo would do the trick. Is that something that's being looked at?

It's something we look at for every game and we do it where possible and where appropriate.

But to be perfectly honest, from a technical standpoint, it isn't always possible. I don't see a demo for RAGE on the cards.

I guess it's not a zero percent chance, but it's somewhere down on that end of the spectrum.

We're seeing a bigger focus in the industry on crossmedia strategies from other publishers. We've seen Capcom do it with Dead Rising 2, we're seeing THQ do it with a number of their IPs, and we've seen Bethesda do it with RAGE and Mutant Bash TV. Do you see this type of thing becoming a lot more widespread, and is it something we'll see a lot more often at Bethesda?

Again, I think it's something that we take on a title-by-title basis. We do the kind of things that we think make sense and that the consumers will take to and like. In the case of RAGE, we had an idea, it was something we wanted to do, it was something John Carmack was keen on trying, and it fit.

What form that takes for anything else, for any other game, is TBD.

In general, I think Bethesda has always taken the approach of trying to reach out to our fanbase and our community and to gamers at large in a variety of different ways to engage them in where they are. If that's on Facebook, Twitter or through their phone, whatever the case may be, we want to reach out and try provide cool content and cool things for them to engage with.

I'm going to come out with it straight: is DOOM 4 going to be announced this year at either E3 or QuakeCon?

Technically, it's already formally announced, so I think what you're probably asking is it going to be formally revealed?


And the answer is that I can't tell you.

We're committed to waiting until those guys are ready to talk and show what they're up to. And right now, honestly, I'm keen to keep everyone's attention on what id is doing on RAGE.

I'm not entirely convinced that coming out and talking about and showing what they're up to on DOOM 4 does us any good. We'll have to see, but it's certainly not anywhere on our list of pressing news.

Onto Fallout. New Vegas shipped with a ton of serious bugs and glitches, and it's been patched several times. Elements of the core gaming community probably feel this was to be expected. Isn't this an expectation you're looking to shake off for future titles?

Yeah, certainly. I don't see there's any product that we've ever made ever where we say, 'Yeah, we're fine, it's got some serious critical bugs, but we'll go ahead and ship it anyways.'

We have done a lot of work with Obsidian to try and address the issues as you mentioned, and I think we've done a pretty good job of that. I certainly don't think it's indicative of the level of quality of the product that we put out. We did release one or two updates for Fallout 3, but given the size and scope of that game it was a really well-done, stable, fairly bug-free experience.

Every game is different and every development process is gonna be different, but we have always, and will always, continue to strive for delivering to people the best game possible. That includes stability and performance and all of those things.

Skyrim includes a new engine instead of Gamebryo. Is the new engine something you're looking to include in the next line of Fallout products?

Yeah. I mean, obviously, whatever Bethesda Game Studios works on after Skyrim will take advantage of the tech that they have developed. But what that next product is or what it's going to be? Everybody's gonna have to wait and see.

Right now, it's been used for Skyrim and that's what our focus is on. We aren't saying what they're going to work on next.

Fallout 3's DLC arrived on Games for Windows and Xbox Live before launching on PS3 down the line. Is PS3 or PC being looked at for Dead Money?

I think we'll probably just have to wait and see. I wouldn't want to say anything more then that.

Right now, it's exclusive to 360. That's the only place you can get it. I'm not going to comment on other platforms.

Would it be safe to assume we'll see more DLC packs this year for New Vegas?

Oh absolutely. I don't think we've ever had a product where we said, 'Yeah, we're gonna do one DLC pack and that's all she wrote'. We like to support our products. We like to do a good job of that, and I don't think putting out one DLC pack would reach that. I would say you can look for other stuff from us down the road.

I realise they are independent, but do you see Obsidian very much part of the future of Fallout now in any way?

Our involvement with them right now is Fallout: New Vegas and downloadable content. We're going to continue to work with them and what relationship we have with them on any possible products down the road is to be determined.

I'm going to go on the record and say this. Brink is my most anticipated game this year. I saw it in France last year and it looked awesome. But we haven't seen much of it - up until the release of the new gameplay video recently - since last fall. I'm just gonna straight up ask: is Brink still on course for spring?

Oh absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

We heard that, near the end of last year, there was a very closed multiplayer beta. There's a common assumption that we'll see an open beta before launch?

I don't know. It's something we've looked at, something we've talked about, but we don't view those things to be the same thing. We need to do testing for testing purposes.

If the team feels like they need to open it up to a wider group or to a larger open beta, that's what they'll do. If the team feels that the input and feedback they're already getting from the testing we're already doing is sufficient, that'll be that.

We'll have to wait and see, because I honestly don't know.

You announced at QuakeCon last year that you bought Arkane Studios. How does a buy like Arkane fit into Bethesda?

They've been working with us for a while. I know the aqusition was announced last year, but we have been working for a much longer period of time on a project with them, so it's not a new thing for us.

We've been spending a lot of time with them recently on what they're working on. It looks fantastic, so I'm really looking forward to whenever they're ready to announce. I think folks are going to be really excited.

When do you think we'll see that first project from them?

I can't give you a timeframe.

Moving onto Tango, that was a pretty impressive coup. How does an eastern studio like Tango and Shinji Mikami adapt into life with a western company like Bethesda and ZeniMax?

I think it was just a long series of conversations with them and Shinji about what kind of project he wanted to work on, what kind of relationship he was looking for, what kind of things he wanted to do, how well that fit with us and our philosophies and the kind of games that we like to work on and publish.

There was a good fit there, much like there was a good fit with the guys at id and the guys at Arkane. And so far, we've very much enjoyed having him be part of the company, and talking to him, and working with him on what he wants his next project to be.

OK. How is the first project coming on, by the way?

Fine. [laughs] I'm not sure how to quantify that.

It's a long process. And to date, the stuff that we've seen from him has been very good. But it's a ways off, so I wouldn't be waiting for an announcement today, tomorrow or next week on what he and his team are up to.

Is ZeniMax currently looking at any other developers to buy like Tango, id or Arkane?

We continue to talk to folks. Generally speaking, we don't just show up to a developer and say, 'Hey, we'd like to buy you,' and they say, 'Yeah, sure, how about this much?' and then we work out a deal. It's a much longer process then that.

In the case of id, Arkane and Tango, it was conversations about, 'We'd to work with you guys, we like the work you do, we like the kind of games you make and we want to see if there's a way we can work together.'

As that process evolves, in some cases, it makes sense. With id, it wasn't, 'OK, we want to publish this next game you're doing,' and that evolves into something else. It was, 'Hey, you know, it would make a ton of sense on both sides if we joined forces and you guys came on board with us.' It happens that way.

In the case of Arkane, we'd been working with them on a development project for a while and it evolved into them joining us and becoming part of Bethesda, becoming part of ZeniMax.

So, along those lines, we continue to talk to lots of developers and lots of folks about what they're up to and what they're doing, studios who we respect or who we really want to work with. We want to work with them in whatever shape or form.

And if that evolves into something else, then hey, great. If that means we simply publish their next game and work with them that way, that's also great. We will always continue to look for opportunities to work with really talented folks.

Moving onto Skyrim. The releases of both Oblivion and Morrowind had issues at release which you guys set out fixing with patches. Is the team going to do a round of public beta testing to make sure Skyrim suffers the same issues?

Generally speaking, no. We don't do public beta tests. We do closed beta; we do lots of testing. We've continued to improve and enhance that process. But, to be honest with you, throwing open the ability to thousands of people to sign up and try and download to play the game is not fruitful or helpful.

It's not a multiplayer game that we need to stress test, or something like that.

When we need testers, we know where to find them. And we know how to find the kinds of people who can provide the feedback we're looking for.

Oblivion, at this point, was a lifetime ago. The last game that we did, Fallout 3, was similar in size and scope, and was remarkably stable, so i'm confident that we can continue to do even better and better.

Why has the number of skill classes in Skyrim dropped to 18 from Oblivion's 21 and Morrowind's 27?

Stuff changes from game to game. Look at Fallout; we changed a mix of skills and stuff from the previous Fallout games in Fallout 3. That list changed again and the way it worked changed again in Fallout: New Vegas.

We don't stand still or keep things the same just for the sake of keeping them the same. We make the choices that we think will make for the best game possible.

Whether it's the number of skills, or how things work, or whatever it may be, we're not afraid to make changes. We don't believe in just keeping things the same because that's the way they were in the last game.

I think that's how you run a franchise into the ground, by just iterating on the last one. We believe in sort of blowing things up and starting over and starting fresh each time.

The modding kit for Skyrim you guys recently announced; how does that differ from the one in Oblivion?

The specifics are still TBD, but, essentially, it's the same approach as Oblivion, the same approach as Morrowind: the ability to mod and custom create content on the PC to your heart's content and all the ways that we've done in our previous games.

It's called it the Creation Kit because we call the engine the Creation Engine. We call the tools the Creation Kit. It's all part of one suite, if you will, but the intent and the function of it is really not any different.

Can we assume Skyrim will get the same DLC support Oblivion and Fallout have had?

To be determined. The game's been announced for less then a month. We're trying to get everyone to focus on the main game and we're focusing on the main game and not really worry about what we might be putting out later.

OK. Finally, I have to bring up Fallout Online. I hope you don't mind me saying this, but these tit-for-tat claims about it between Bethesda and Interplay are getting is getting a bit tidious. What would you say about that, if you can?

I'd say it's a legal matter and that everything going back and forth is between lawyers and has nothing to do with me or us. It's a legal matter and I obviously can't comment on it until it gets resolved.

Finally, it was claimed by Eric Caen of Interplay that you guys passed up the rights to the MMO. Is that true?

No. We own the rights to the MMO. We own the rights to everything Fallout. The licence is ours. Fallout belongs to us. That's what I'll clarify.

Beyond that, I'm not commenting on anybody else's comments. It's a legal matter. A specific MMO or project or any of that stuff, the lawyers are all going to sort it out.

Pete Hines is vice president of public relations and marketing at Bethesda.


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