Todd Howard, Bethesda’s designer and director behind the modern titles in both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchise, spoke recently about his views on open world games and emergent storytelling. In an extensive interview with GameSpot, Howard says that open worlds have defined the current generation of games, and echnology is allowing developers to create worlds that turn you, the player, into the “director of your experience.”
It’s due to this emergent open world gameplay that Bethesda has found its own success, and also that it’s remained successful in the modern landscape of diverse open worlds. Howard attributes this to Bethesda’s goal of saying “yes” to the player more, but Howard is more than willing to acknowledge other studios’ successes:
“Other open-worlds, they’re fabulous, particularly the Rockstar stuff. They’re incredible. We look at a lot of their stuff. I don’t know how they do some of the amazing things they do. One of the things that we do that I think sets us apart is that we’re not really putting you on a mission where the world shuts down. You know, you can be on 20 quests at once. And there’s much more, in our games, more dynamic systems that are just all going at the same time. And sometimes the collisions of those systems make for interesting gameplay.”
Howard does note that this type of emergent gameplay can create a level of chaos that doesn’t work and may need a fix, but mostly players love it. It’s that type of experimentation, smashing two things together, that’s fun to play.
Going even further, Howard says that this type of gameplay that open world titles are built on is definitive, and that it’s the core nature of video games:
“The thing with open-world, and the reason we’ve always liked it, is that it shows off what is best about a video game in general. Video games can put you somewhere you’re not. You know, movies and books and other things can give you good linear experiences, but video games make you the director of your experience. An open-world is the best form of that.”
Expanding on what he means by video games making “you the director of your experience,” Howard says it’s because it allows players to grow more attached to their own experience. He believes that’s why Bethesda’s games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 are successful without multiplayer: [layers are able to take those single-player experiences and share them with friends in “water-cooler” moments, which only makes open world games feel larger.
Todd Howard’s currently working on releasing Skyrim for the Nintendo Switch, as well as other unannounced projects. He’s excited about the future of video games, but is unwilling to guess in what direction the industry is moving. He’d rather “enjoy the ride.”