Marketing gurus may cry, but gamers are happy. Why SFX Blogger John Cooper is impatient to shout at dragons
It’s not often a trailer for a game really gets my juices flowing, but it certainly did last week when I saw the first full trailer for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. If you’re not familiar with the Elder Scrolls games, I fully appreciate that there’s not a single word in that title that would help describe what it’s about, and saying it aloud is an awkward mouthful of old school verbiage that won’t do you many favours and probably makes marketing men cry. Don’t let that put you off at least looking at the belting trailer of a man in a helmet killing a swooping dragon by shouting at it. However if you can’t be bothered, just imagine the dragon is John Hurt and the man is a young Alan Bates. Awesome.
The marriage of fantasy role-playing and computer gaming is as solid as it is old, from text-based adventures like The Hobbit back in the ’80s to the massively ambitious Ultima IX I 1999, I'm not the only person that likes a bit of epic questing. SFX recently gave some lovely page-time to the rather excellent dragons in Dragon Age – a title that makes marketing men happy – so I’d like to give some warm attention to Bethesda’s wonderful Elder Scroll’s time-sink...ahem, series.
Being the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series, it would easy to label the creators as cunning franchise builders only interested in sequels to a successful existing product, but this is the games industry with constantly shifting sands of technology, development cycles and console reinvention, so it's actually quite impressive that they’re still at it. The first game, Arena, came out in 1994, and ran on DOS in all its pixelated glory. After a sequel and spin-offs the third game, Morrowind, arrived in 2003 and frighteningly still has an active community in 2011. 2006 saw Oblivion and a move into big league production with voice talent from Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean and an impressive graphics engine. 17 years on, and Bethesda are still making games set in the same fantasy universe, with the same races and factions, building on what has gone before. Even by the standards of your average fantasy writer, that’s pretty good going.
So what excites about the new games then? Dragons. Proper big bloody “sneeze on you and you're dead”, scales-like-knifes, nostrils-like-portholes dragons!
I know there have been dragons in games for years – and big ones too – though computers being what they are we’ve never really got what I would call “the full effect”, mainly due to the limitations of graphics technology and the complexities required. In games of previous generations, top-down viewpoints meant we never saw the whole beast, or it was a bit small. Currently Dragon Age is cleverly showing how it’s done with some whopping big fellas dropping out the sky to sit on your party and World of Warcraft has had a pretty good stab online too, but still things like “draw distances” – the graphics term used for how far into the distance you can see in a first person game – have limited the sense of awe and scale we’ve experienced in movies, and want in games.
The trailer for ESV: Skyrim is what they call “in game footage”, and pretty impressive it is too, so hopefully we’ll all get to expericence what it’s like to be Christian Bale at the end of Reign of Fire, or Peter McNicol in Dragonslayer. Or Alan Bates.