Gaming Reviews, News, Tips and More.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

"Fans say 'I want something new,' but clearly they want the same thing with less suck."

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The lead designer behind The Elder Scrolls III and IV, the creator of Morrowind and Oblivion wants nothing to do with the latest entry in the storied franchise.

At least not yet.

Ken Rolston is saving The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for a moment when he has the time to play it the way he wants to, to meticulously pick through it and enjoy it, but probably never finish it.


"I have viciously separated myself from my friends on this point," he said in a recent interview with Kotaku. "We do not talk about the game. I'm not going to get a chance to play the game the way I want to play it for a month or two. For now, though, it's like I'm getting a contact high."

Many of Rolston's friends are game designers, many of them still work at Bethesda and worked on Skyrim. But, after a brief retirement from the business, Rolston is working on a game that could be viewed as a direct competitor: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. So Rolston had to lay out some rules.


"It's is awkward," he said. "It's not something we want to talk about. We are working in two different companies. It's kind of nice to be just people on that vector."

Despite the rules and the delay in playing the game, Rolston sounds excited to dip into this new visit to The Elder Scrolls.


"This will be the first Elder Scrolls product I haven't made and therefore sucked out the life of," he said.

When he does finally get to the game he doesn't expect to play til the narrative ending, but he rarely does that in any role-playing games, he said.


"I usually get the joke in the first ten hours or so,"he said. "I play role-playing games in such a way that if you were observing me you would want to kill yourself and kill me. I touch everything. I make no progress, none."

Rolston retired from game development after helping to complete Oblivion. He left the industry the day the game, he thought his last, launched. He was set to spend the rest of his days playing table top games and painting miniatures.


But somehow he fell out of retirement, partly, he says, because "like an idiot I took a job and got excited."

"I think playing games is fun, but making games is much more so," he said.

Now he's the "creative visonary" on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The fancy title, he says, points out how little he does "honest work."


"I'm great at starting with a blank page and I'm great at expressing to a mob of people something dream-like that you like, finding touch stones" he said. "Once they see the same sort of things they can move in that direction and they can be all that they can be.

"A visionary is like a scout. They say 'Hey look, there's a whole new world across that ocean. Let's go over there. Lets get some boats and maybe the right people.' After that it's mostly trying to keep steering in the right direction."


In the case of Amalur, the right direction is creating a memorable action role-playing game that Rolston believes will be worthy of theft.


"Our combat system will be a revolution," he said. "It will be worthwhile stealing and filing the serial number off for other people to use in other games."

Rolston likens the game's combat and how it will change role-playing games, to how Morrowind and Oblivion's open world design changed games when they first hit.


"In the same way Oblivion set standards for open world exploration, our game will set standards for open world exploration of combat," he said.

Combat in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning leans heavily on the dynamic of timed button presses seen in action games, but it blends that with occasional quick time events and the ability to build up a character's skills on the fly, essentially creating custom classes.


The end result is a game that never stops evolving for players. Even as you make you way through the game, players will be discovering new abilities, new items and new ways to play.

Traditionally, the best experiences in a role-playing game happen in the very beginning, Rolston says. That's when a player is desperate and fighting to stay alive. Once they progress past that point and learn the basics of gameplay the "tool kit" doesn't really change much more.


For Reckoning, the developers want to make sure that players would always feel like they were opening new experiences. They also worked on making sure the animations were much better, the frame rates much higher, than what you'd expect in a role-playing game. The game also lets you respec, rebuild your characters at any point, so you can keep tweaking the experience.

"It's supposed to be an RPG but when you're playing it you suddenly discover action bits," he said. "What will happen later if I dodge an enemy and don't get hit instead of having to take a potion?

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning E3 2011

"On the fly I flip between RPG and action."

When I asked Rolston how long this game will be, will it be a 100-hour role-playing game, he's hesitant to answer.

"The longest I've played it so far is about 60 hours,"he said. "There are outliers, the madmen who play Oblivion for 100 hours. I don't think that's a good idea for everyone. I think you will find we have plenty of experiences too."


While Rolston is high on Reckoning's combat and its shapeless class system, one which allows you to customize who you want to be in the game, much of the game will lean on the underpinnings that make all role-playing games feel alike. That's on purpose.

"Ninety percent has to be familiar and 10 percent has to be new," he said of evolving game design. "Fans say, 'I want something new,' but clearly they want the same thing with less suck."


You can contact Brian Crecente, the author of this post, at You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.