Todd Howard, game director and executive producer behind several of Bethesda Game Studios’ biggest critical and commercial successes, will be honored at the DICE Awards 2017. For the Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim director, however, the accolade is not just about his contributions to the industry.
“They’ll put my name on [the award], and I’ll accept it, but it really is for the whole team here,” Howard said, speaking with IGN ahead of DICE 2017.
Before being inducted as the latest Hall of Fame member by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, Howard offered IGN an update on Bethesda Game Studios’ future projects, while also reflecting on how the studio’s past is informing that slate of games currently in development.
“I think I’ve been really lucky that [Bethesda has] grown, slowly, but the core group has gone from game to game,” Howard said, speaking to not only his history at the studio but the similar journey many of his co-developers have taken at Bethesda.
“…There’s this group that I’ve worked with that’s been here for 20 years, there’s another group that’s [been here for] 15 or 10 years,” he said. “Our new guys have been here for five years.”
And though the team has grown to include a second studio in Montreal and a group that Howard estimates stands today at about 180 people, the design philosophy often remains the same for Bethesda Game Studios.
“In some respects we keep making the same game,” Howard joked. “But it’s a style of game that we really, really like.
“The world is the first thing we do, what is its tone” he explained. “We usually talk about various locations, how that would feel, what we could do in it, how it could express itself. Why is it interesting to explore is where we start.”
Sometimes technological limitations hinder the attempts being made within specific tones, Howard noted, but that often gives his team something to latch onto when the next project begins. With The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, which is seeing new life via The Elder Scrolls Online, “doing really good forests was hard then,” so Bethesda made a concerted effort to tackle that specific challenge in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Similarly, a main aspect of Fallout 4 was born out of what the studio didn’t prioritize on Fallout 3.
“We felt like we didn’t do as good a job of exploring the city in Fallout 3 as we did the wasteland,” Howard, who has been with Bethesda Softworks since 1994, said. “So we made it a priority in Fallout 4 that the downtown area was just as interesting to explore, that it was open, that it had a lot of verticality, that that type of exploration would feel different but as much fun as the rest of it.”
And part of that iterative process, whether it be with a completely new idea or with a sequel, is influenced by Bethesda’s heavily involved and expansive player base.
“There’s so many people playing our games. So the feedback is, even though they can’t react to the new thing we’re doing, we’ve heard them on the thing we’ve done already so much,” Howard said. “We love getting the feedback. We really dig through it. Our fans are really, really thoughtful.”
Bethesda could be potentially opening itself to a new audience, and new feedback, by bringing Skyrim to the Nintendo Switch this year.
“I think Nintendo is the only company that could pull something like that off,” Howard said, noting that Nintendo reached out to Bethesda and that, given its popularity, Skyrim seemed like the best fit given its popularity.
Though it’s the only announced title Bethesda Game Studios has planned for the Switch, Howard hopes that, with success, it could lead to a continued working relationship with Nintendo.
The Bethesda team doesn’t only take outside feedback when developing a new project — Howard said the team analyzes every facet of their own games after release, and one aspect Howard thinks the developer hasn’t quite cracked yet is narrative. For example, players responded more to the characterization and stories of the player’s companions in Fallout 4, Howard said, than the main plot itself.
“What types of things drive the player forward and what types of things do they talk about later,” Howard said, describing the team’s focus when tackling narrative. “Skyrim and Fallout 4 have very different approaches to that. We have some new ideas we’re going to explore in some future titles.”
And those future Bethesda projects are ones that Howard explains will seem familiar to longtime players, but Bethesda isn’t afraid to experiment when needed.
“People who are fans of our games, they get used to us changing things, and no one will ever agree if we changed the right or wrong things,” he said. “But we’re going to keep doing that. We’re not so pinned down to what we’ve done.”
For more on Bethesda’s latest slate of games, check out what Howard had to say about Fallout 4 VR, Skyrim on Nintendo Switch, and Bethesda’s other upcoming games.
Jonathon Dornbush is an Associate Editor for IGN. FInd him on Twitter @jmdornbush.