Gaming Features stub

Ken Rolston: "The Great Thing About Morrowind is that There's Too Much There."

Posted on April 24, 2014

Bethesda Softworks' TES III: Morrowind is responsible for much of my love for bombastic fantasy environments and storylines within games. Morrowind had a sort of charm to it -- and some of this is admittedly nostalgic -- but the game felt big. Sure, having the view distance of bat contributed to that, but the resonance of a fantastical atmosphere truly made the game feel unique: Towering, domesticated silt striders used as a form of transport, airborne jellyfish (Netch), and the groan-inducing shriek of cliff-racers all felt like something out of an R. A. Salvatore novel.

And, for those of you who played Morrowind when it came out, hold onto your olds: It's been nearly 15 years. Ouch.


We had a chance to catch up with Ken Rolston at ECGC, former Lead Designer on Morrowind and Oblivion with Bethsoft and current "internationally celebrated game designer and Director of Design for Turbine / Warner Brothers." That's a long title, but it's well-deserved for a man who started with pen & paper RPGs (Paranoia) and moved through one of the industry's most influential RPG franchises (TES). For a bit of a fun interview piece -- rather than talk about some upcoming title, as we did all of PAX -- we look back at Morrowind and Oblivion's behind-the-scenes design stories, talk about the importance of pants as a currency, and cover how difficult it is to stalk Rolston.

On a loosely related note, I realized post-interview that Rolston resembles Morrowind's introductory character, Socucius Ergalla ("Ahh, yes! We've been expecting you!").

Rolston also presented the opening keynote at this year's ECGC event in North Carolina, which is presently in the process of uploading to our YouTube channel. Subscribe to see it when it goes live - we're waiting on our marvelous NC internet connection. (Update: Keynote below).

Rolston reflected on Morrowind's charm in the interview, stating:

"The great thing about Morrowind is that we did far more than we could - far less polish than we could. It's a miracle that it even works at all, and I mean that not in an ironic or joke-y way; the great thing about Morrowind is that there's too much there -- and it's like jazz: There are so many notes that you may not like all of them, but you have so much to choose from that it's exciting. When you look at a product like Oblivion -- far better software. [...] But Morrowind, there's so much delicious nonsense in that."

When asked for his favorite bit of "delicious nonsense," Rolston referred us to the quest "Hentus Needs Pants," wherein a river-bound NPC refuses to leave the water until he first possesses a pair of fancy pants. Rolston also recalled that one of the major faction quests in Morrowind almost didn't make it into the game (the Imperial Cult), but after dedicating volunteer work on weekends, he was able to complete the quest line with support from Gary Noonan.

This next bit won't surprise any of you who work in the games industry, but Rolston reminded us that he never truly had time to play through the TES games as a player might. These teams build, tear-down, and rebuild their games over a period of years, giving a unique play-by-proxy route for developers. I asked Rolston if he'd had time to try Skyrim, since he hadn't worked on that one, but was told that time is too limited and dedicated to "unnamed projects."

Check out the video for further Morrowind, Oblivion, and pants discussion.

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.