The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Todd Howard Interview

Tom Francis at

PC Gamer: I was wondering if the people who tend to avoid the main quest would eventually get tired of dragons killing them all the time.

Todd Howard: Yeah, that was one of the reasons why we did it that way: so if they don’t want to proceed in the main quest, they’re not going to get spammed with dragons. Because when one of them arrives, it changes whatever you’re doing at the time. You could be on a different quest, going to a town, and a dragon shows up, so you’re going to have to find a way to kill the thing or work with the townspeople or run away. So we spent a lot of time on that, and I think that the balance on that is pretty good right now.

PC Gamer: In Fallout 3 it felt like there was a lot more focus on putting unique content into just the wilderness, like every building you found...

Todd Howard: We did that a ton in this, yup – and to a massive level. Literally hundreds of dungeons... we realised in Fallout 3 that that kind of environmental storytelling, where you come upon a little scene, is really good. So we’ve tried to do it a lot more.

PC Gamer: Does every dungeon have something unique in it?

Todd Howard: Just about, yeah.

PC Gamer: Do you have any kind of guidelines for how to write a good quest?

We do, and it’s hard – they’re lengthy. In general what we try to do is give the player a lot of avenues to succeed, and as much as possible have activity during the quest, so it’s not just “Hey, go do this.”

Now we don’t do that all the time, but as much as we can make the quest kind of tell a story while you’re in it. That’s a better quest. Even if it’s “Go to this dungeon and get this thing.” OK, well what happens in the dungeon? We try to make it more than just setup – “This why I want you to do this” – and then you go and do it, and come back.

There are still things like that, because we have a lot of quests, and a lot of random quests. The Radiant Quests are simpler, they’re more: “Go do this, get this, come back.”

PC Gamer: So those are the ones where you script very little and let Radiant Story feed in the rest?

Todd Howard: Right, but there’s also the more story-based ones and faction-based ones where it’s all hand-done.

PC Gamer: Do you want the player to know when they’re doing one of those more generated quests?

Todd Howard: They can tell – they’re separated in the interface as just little objectives. They feel appropriate for what it is.

You go to a tavern keeper and you say, “Hey, do you have any work?” and he says “Oh the yarl” – he’s like the king – “the yarl’s asked for a bounty on this bandit leader’s head.” And he hands you the bounty letter. Then that generates ‘it’s this guy and this dungeon’, and you go and kill him. So that feels appropriate for what it is.

PC Gamer: You’ll be releasing mod tools – will they let us do all the things we can do with Oblivion’s mod tools?

Todd Howard: Yes, and more. It’s the editor that we use, the Creation Kit for Skyrim.

PC Gamer: So we can mess around with Radiant Story and things like that?

Todd Howard: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things where we changed it a bunch during development, and so the amount of time that we have had to make content on the final version... I think the users are going to do a lot of really cool stuff with it that we didn’t even think about.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is due out November 11. We are quite excited.