Even when Morrowind hit the market back in 2002, Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls franchise felt like it could have been an MMO rather than a single-player RPG. That's the byproduct of excellent craftsmanship: the ability to suspend reality and convince the player that they're wandering in a vast, thriving world. That effect intensified even more with the release of the fourth Elder Scrolls title, Oblivion.
So what gives? Will Bethesda ever broaden the franchise into true MMOG territory? Probably not. The fifth installment, Skyrim, is on the verge of publication, and it's sticking to its single-player role-playing roots despite being bigger than Oblivion and Morrowind. Why? Because the team prefers the single-player role-playing model.
"I like this kind of game better," said Bethesda Game Director/Executive Producer Todd Howard. "You know, it's what most of us are into. I'm not really an MMO guy. I respect them, I look at them, but I don't play them. It feels more real to me when I'm the hero and it's crafted for that. A community aspect to it, I recognize a lot of people would want that in a game like this, but it changes the flavor for me."
"The audience we have for our kind of thing is big enough that we don't have to tone it down," he added. "We can just do our thing, and it's kind of grown with each game. So there was no pressure from anybody above me to say 'Hey, you need to change this.'"
During PAX, Joystiq asked Howard how he and his team could tell when a game this massive is actually finished. Based on his answer, it's partly due to an overall feeling of completion on a content level, that there's a saturation of activity that's not particularly overwhelming. "As the project goes on, we're finding areas where there isn't enough to do, and we keep adding," he said. "So the game always ends up a lot bigger than we anticipated."
He added that certain features seen in Oblivion were scaled back in Skyrim, such as reducing the number of large cities from nine to five. Some of the skills have also been scaled back.
To read the full PAX interview with Bethesda's Todd Howard, head here.