If you have 40ish minutes, watch all of this.
If you are pressed for time, watch the first section.
Either way, it’s awesome stuff.
Listening to the design behind Skyrim, I think I’ve pinpointed one of the long-term issues I have with the game: the world setting is in the uncanny valley. I’m not talking about its visuals, I’m talking about the simulation aspect. The world feels more ‘alive’ than in Oblivion, things are more interconnected, the NPCs react more to what you do, etc. But it’s not a real world. Not everything is connected. The mage in one city will still recommend you join the mages guild, even though you are not only the guild master, but are actually wearing the guild master’s robes right in his face.
In a ‘normal’ game, that happens all the time and it’s no big deal. Just like in a ‘normal’ game we accept unrealistic character proportions or weapons. But when a game tries hard to be ‘real’, the unreal is far more noticeable. Skyrim tries hard to be a ‘real’ world, and when that illusion fails, it’s far more noticeable. So noticeable sometimes, that it actually detracts from the experience.
And I don’t realistically think the shortcomings of Skyrim can be fixed by tuning the scripts or just making ‘more’ stuff. Yes, you could add a check for that one mage, and when you become guild master, he recognizes it. But there are dozens and dozens of such inconsistencies in Skyrim. And furthermore, while some events change certain locations (the civil war), the rest of the world is stuck in stasis from the moment you leave the intro. Again, in most games that’s normal and not something you notice, but in a game like Skyrim, that places such a heavy emphasis on ‘world’, it is.
What I would love to see the next TES game attempt is an actual world. One where time progresses whether you stand still or clear dungeons. Where the NPCs are driven by needs/wants rather than triggers and scripts. You could still have a central theme/storyline, and all of the side-quests, but they would not wait around for you like they do in Skyrim. If you decide to ignore the dragon crisis, towns/homes/people might suffer. Nothing game-breaking, but perhaps some random quest NPC gets eaten if you don’t kill a certain dragon. Perhaps the mages guild solves its problem before you get there, and instead of that being the path to guild master, it’s something else.
In some ways Skyrim is just too big. By the time you have visited half the towns in the game, the gameplay and awe factor have likely worn thin. The different stories and quests are still interesting, as are the locations, but seeing/experiencing them is no longer as fun. Skyrim really does not need 100 hours of gameplay, because the combat/feel of the game is not that good. I’m not saying it’s bad, far from it, it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun for the first 60 hours or so, it’s just that it wears thin.
So with a smaller world, more time can be spent filling it up, and creating if/when scenarios. Rather than a town having one set of quests, time/effort could be spend creating 3-4 different sets, each depending on when you visit and what has gone on before. And those 3-4 sets don’t all start/stop at the same time, or even on a set schedule. Perhaps the mages guild issue takes 10-15 days to solve, but this varies depending on what you do in the world, and also by some random factors. ‘Missing’ the current issue storyline would not be that big a deal because there would be other content behind it. Becoming the leader would simply open up other possibilities (different mages causing trouble based on who you helped/hindered earlier).
By creating a more believable, living world, the reply value in the next TES game would not come from seeing different content/locations, but seeing similar locations react to your different actions the second time around.