When it comes to slick and streamlined interfaces, Apple has used the past few years to establish itself as king. Even when massive amounts of data and applications are combined into an iPhone or iPod, the menu system is built around the idea of being intuitive, responsive, and tactile. It seems that their mastery hasn't gone unnoticed, as Bethesda has now revealed to Game Informer that when re-designing their menu systems for The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, they took their lead from Apple's interfaces. Aside from giving the systems a new look, Skyrim's new menus mean that all of the new skills and items won't make the game even more of a headache.
Spreadsheets were at one time an absolute necessity for a successful role-playing game experience. With weaponry, item inventory, skill trees, leveling, and tools like maps and quest logs, the sheer amount of information necessary to keep at the players' fingertips almost demands that at some point, the menu system will have no choice but to become somewhat of a slog.
Apparently, Bethesda wasn't satisfied with the menu system used for Oblivion, and took the opportunity to change a broken system along with nearly every other aspect of the game. Detail is the name of the game, as the developers are bringing the same tech that will flesh out the game's environments to the inventory system.
Collecting various potions, items, and plants is always more focused on the object's effects than its appearance, but Skyrim will give players the ability to examine in three-dimensional space every single item they acquire. Attention to detail is always a plus, and Bethesda hopes that the players will appreciate the game's story even more when they can see every root on a healing plant.
According to the game's director Todd Howard, the development team figured out a way to make Skyrim's various menus and spreadsheets easier to peruse while at the same time making each bit of the game world feel that much more realistic:
”You know in iTunes when you look at all your music you get to flip through it and look at the covers and it becomes tangible?...One of our goals was 'What if Apple made a fantasy game? How would this look?' It's very good at getting through lots of data quickly, which is always a struggle with our stuff.”
With smooth and streamlined access to menus as their guiding light, Bethesda has used the console's controllers to their full potential. The D-pad will not only grant access to various weapons, but nearly all essential menus. Simply pressing 'up' on the pad will bring up the player's favorites menu, into which they can place any and all items and weapons they'll frequently be using.
Button presses will be all that's needed to examine maps, star constellations, and inventory in an effort to make the experience much more immersive than finding your way through endless menus. The game's new combat system is built entirely around the idea of players being wrapped up in the moment-to-moment experience of the game, so it wouldn't make sense to leave menus as they were. Especially considering the brand new addition of epic dragon shouts to the gameplay.
The game's various styles of spell-casting pose one of the greatest challenges, and are perfect examples of the heavy aspects of RPGs that tend to scare off more casual players. Whether or not the skills have been simplified, Game Informer went into detail on how the upgrading and selection will work in Skyrim:
"Three prominent nebulae dominate the Skyrim heavens — the thief, the warrior, and the mage. Each of these represents one of the three master skill sets. Each nebula houses six constellations, each of which represents a skill. As in Oblivion, every player starts out with the ability to use all 18 skills — any player can use a two-handed weapon, try alchemy, or cast a destruction spell (provided you find or purchase one). As you use these skills in Skyrim, they will level up and contribute to driving your character's overall level higher.
"Every time players rank up their overall level, they can choose a supplemental perk ability for one of the 18 skills. For instance, if you fight most of your battles with a mace, you may want to choose the perk that allows you to ignore armor while using the weapon. As in Fallout 3, several of the perks have their own leveling system as well, allowing you to choose them multiple times. Once you choose a perk, it lights up the corresponding star in the constellation, making it visible when looking up to the heavens while interacting in the world."
The leveling of Skyrim is sure to be more similar to Fallout 3 than Oblivion, and it already seems that the developers have spent a good amount of time working out the kinks. With the better part of a year remaining until release, Bethesda has more than enough time to achieve their dream of an RPG as slick and approachable as an Apple device.
We'll find out how close they come when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is released for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on November 11, 2011.
Source: Game Informer