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UESP's PAX Interview with Matt Firor

Librarian Comment: 

In 2018, the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages collected questions about The Elder Scrolls Online and especially its Summerset Chapter via the wiki, Discord, and social media. This interview with game director Matt Firor was conducted in-person on April 7, 2018, at the Bethesday Gameplay Day event during PAX East 2018. The UESP members present for the interview were Daveh, Alarra, baratron, and Wicked_Shifty, and the following is a transcription of the audio recording of the interview.

The non-lore related questions have been removed from this transcript, and it has been lightly edited for readability. You can find the original transcript here. This interview is rehosted with permission. 


baratron: So we wanted to start off with just a general comment that we at the UESP are a very diverse community, and we've got a lot of people who are LGBTQA. And I remember like my very first character, I got to Grahtwood and there's the lady pirate who needs you to rescue her wife, and I was just bouncing up and down on my seat going "She wants you to rescue her wife!". And as you go on throughout ESO, same-sex relationships are so normal, and we love that. And we've noticed that lately you've started to introduce more disabled characters as well...

Matt Firor: Yep.

baratron: So, like in Clockwork City...

Matt Firor: Did you find the first one that we put in?

baratron: Ja-Reet. The Argonian, in Shadowfen, who is ...

Matt Firor: Yes, okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

baratron: ...very obviously autistic.

Matt Firor: There's another one that's higher profile, but not a lot of people come up with them.

baratron: Barilzar, in Morrowind.

Matt Firor: Drake of Blades.

baratron: Yes!

Matt Firor: Yes.

baratron: Yes, she is, totally. On the spectrum. And we're really pleased about that. I just want to say keep up the good work, because, you know, as a disabled person with a disabled partner, it's really important to us.

Wicked_Shifty: Yeah, I mean, we like the Slag Town guys, because each one of those daily turn-in guys are pretty varied in what their problem is.

baratron: And Proctor Luciana, who's basically just a head!

Matt Firor: Yeah, yeah.

baratron: I would love it, I mean get me a Clockwork body please, I would be so happy.

Matt Firor: Our philosophy is don't make a big deal about it. Just tell stories with characters. It's not like we're shining a huge spotlight on it, but it's part of the world.

baratron: That's exactly what we appreciate.

baratron: We wanted to ask you a few questions about Morrowind to start off with, about Chapters in general.

Matt Firor: That's so last year, but okay. (laugh)

Alarra: What was it like to revisit Morrowind and Vvardenfell when working on the expansion?

Matt Firor: You know, the whole concept behind Morrowind – our Morrowind – was nostalgia, right. We really wanted to make sure that if you had played Elder Scrolls III obsessively – and most of us have – that you went there, and anywhere you went you could look around and know where you were, even if you hadn't been there in ESO. So that was one core pillar; the other was "tell new and interesting stories using that as a framework." So that's why it's familiar, and there's some familiar stuff, but then the story's pretty much all different, you know, with Vivec getting sick.

baratron: You've actually gone on to – 'cause the next question was going to be, "was there a good deal of nostalgia in writing Vivec". (laugh)

Matt Firor: (laugh) Oh, yeah absolutely – and on purpose, I mean, that was kind of the point of redoing that area. But what I really like is the differences between the Elder Scrolls III and ESO Morrowind. We could do more interesting things, the island was a little less destroyed so it could be a little more interesting, you know - the story's really cool, we could use Baar Dau, the asteroid, in a cool and visual way that they couldn't do with the technology they had back then. So it was cool to tell stories new ways.

baratron: That kind of leads into this, which was, "Were there any mistakes, or things that you wished hadn't been done years ago when Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was released?"

Matt Firor: No, because that's – madness lies that way. That was before we started working on the whole IP, and so we just take that as "that's the way it is", and we build on top of that, or beside it, or before it, or whatever the case may be.

Alarra: I think that was all of our Morrowind ones, so there's several for Summerset, then. The first question is, "When coming up with Summerset, what sort of inspirations did you take from the older games, like Arena, or the lorebooks that have mentioned it?"

Matt Firor: Yeah, so if you think of Morrowind versus Summerset, we didn't really figure this out that we were going there, but subconsciously we were. Morrowind is in the northeast part of the map, it's dark elves, it's alien, it's different. Summerset is like the 180 degree difference: in the southwest, it's high fantasy, it's bright and happy – at least on the surface. So the mood is all, it's just different. I'm not going to say it looks like a different game, but it feels really really different if you've had a chance to play it. You'll see – everything is bright and happy, at least until you dig under the surface a few inches and then it all goes to hell.

Alarra: Yeah, we did get to try it out a bit at PAX.

Matt Firor: Yeah, so subconsciously we were doing that when we made the decision to go to Summerset. It's like, we never want to do the same thing twice, so we want to find something that was different, but the players really wanted to go see, so obviously they haven't seen it since 1994 and it looked a lot different back then. (laugh) And we took a lot of the Arena stuff, I mean, Crystal Tower which I'm looking at right here – (gestures to art behind us) – you know, it was basically the only interesting part of Summerset in Arena. And it's where – I'm sure you guys have played it – it's where one of the nine sections of the staff were, and so it's gonna be part of the story in ours too. I won't spoil it.

baratron: Our fans are curious to know how heavily Summerset relies on undisclosed Bethesda concepts from way back and how much of it is… you guys' idea.

Matt Firor: So I don't have to tell you guys this, but the lore – maybe some of your readers will know this – but the lore in Elder Scrolls is never definitive, it's always told through the eyes of people that live in the world, which gives developers – not just us, but everyone that works on Elder Scrolls – certain leeway to kind of find what that person meant when they were telling the story. We used every piece of lore that we could find for Summerset, but a lot of it contradicted itself, so we found the path that we wanted to take and went from there. We're building on top of a foundation like we always do, but I think we came up with a really good direction. I don't think anyone will be shocked at any of the decisions we made if they know the lore. They'll go "okay, yeah, great, awesome!"

Alarra: So kind of related to that, there's been a lot of talk among fans about how what we've seen of it doesn't really match, necessarily, how it's been described - like Alinor's buildings looking like insect wings? Is that a matter of it's hard to reflect that in the gameplay, or was that a deliberate design choice, or is it the unreliable narrator?

Matt Firor: Yeah, you mean picking certain lorebooks, cities looked a certain way, but they're not definitive, so, you know… I think Elder Scrolls is, at its heart – and Todd Howard says this all the time – if magic left Tamriel, no one would notice, because it's very mundane at its heart. There's poor Altmer pig farmers, it's not like the high elves are better than anyone else, they're just different, right? They're not like the super race, or they would've been able to control all of Tamriel. They have their own thing going, and so they can't be that much more advanced than everyone else. It just doesn't make sense in the lore. So with that in mind, that's how we came up with the architecture for them.

baratron: Will we be seeing Sload and Maormer as an integral part of the story?

Matt Firor: No spoilers!

(laughter from all)

Daveh: No spoilers? Uh-oh! (laughs)

Matt Firor: You've already seen Maormer though.

Wicked_Shifty: We already spoiled Cloudrest because we were there – somebody picked up the quest on the character we were on, so we were like "yeah..."

(laughter from all)

Matt Firor: That's fine. It's announced now.

Alarra: And the public knows about it too, because people have filmed videos of themselves playing it, so-

Matt Firor: We didn't think anyone could – we thought it was turned off, but apparently you could go in and then it crashed?

Wicked_Shifty: Yeah, it crashed. Somebody managed to get the quest picked up, so we could read what the description was.

Alarra: Some people were talking about that I think on our Discord, from a video they saw before we even got-

Matt Firor: So a certain word that starts with "S" appears in the description.

Alarra: Yes. (laughs)

Wicked_Shifty: Somebody invades, and the Welkynar are all angry.

Matt Firor: I see.

(Several): Yeah.

Matt Firor: Nah, no spoilers.

(laughter from all)

baratron: Some of our fans are curious, because obviously with each new expansion – particularly with Chapters – you have new players coming in. How are you going to handle the recurring characters that we all know and love, like Razum-dar, Darien, Veya.... How are these characters going to be introduced?

Matt Firor: Well, if you're meeting Raz for the first time, he greets you as if he has not met you. If you have played through and you know him, then he will greet you as if he knows you. So that's how we do it now, and the opposite side – we don't do a whole lot of retrofitting of old areas, but sometimes we tweak them a little bit. So if you meet him here and then go back to the beginning of the Aldmeri Dominion storyline, I actually don't know what's going to happen, but he will probably make a snide comment and give you the quest, so we'll see.

Alarra: So one of them wants to know, is Artaeum a full zone, and will it be located in the Aurbis on the map?

Matt Firor: Is Artaeum a full zone?

Alarra: Yeah, like, is it a separate zone or is it part of the Summerset zone?

Matt Firor: It is a separate from the - I mean, it's not in Tamriel right now. In this timeframe, it's... somewhere else.

baratron: Ah.

Matt Firor: So you don't walk there, you have to find a way to get there.

baratron: Well, that's actually the next question, which is, "Where is Artaeum physically-"

Matt Firor: Nobody knows!

baratron: Nobody knows. (laughing)

Matt Firor: But you go there, but you don't know where it is.

Alarra: Yeah, I think I did see it on the map when I was playing, so.

baratron: And our fans are very curious - well, I say "our" fans... your fans, but our readers -

Matt Firor: Elder Scrolls fans.

baratron: -very curious about how many hours of content there are towards the Artaeum and the Psijic side of the story...

Matt Firor: Well, so Artaeum is much smaller than a normal zone. It's maybe half the size of Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood zones, you know, it's a quest hub more than anything else. But there's a delve there, there's some quests there. But it's not meant to be a fully giant exploreable area. But that being said, there's some cool stuff there. Summerset itself is huge. I think it's... I don't even know how you gauge it, but it's bigger area-wise than Vvardenfell is. But there's a lot of stuff. Usually we say 30 hours, but, you know, anyone who runs through and doesn't listen to the dialogue will go a little faster, and if you do everything and do all of the scavenger hunt quest and all that, it'll be a lot more than 30 hours. So, it's big.

Alarra: So this is related to the existing lore: Does Crystal Tower contain animal pens, as described in the lorebook from Daggerfall, A Dubious Tale of the Crystal Tower?

Matt Firor: No spoilers.

Alarra: Okay. (laughs)

baratron(laughs) That's a good answer.

baratron: Okay, I'm not even sure how you pronounce this, because obviously it was from the older games, which weren't voiced, but is Ceporah ("kef-or-ah") Tower made of coral?

Matt Firor: Made of what?

baratron: Coral. "SEF-or-ah", might be "SEF-or-ah".

Matt Firor: It's "Seh-FOR-ah".

baratron: Yeah. Is it made of coral?

Matt Firor: It looks like it is, but I can't guarantee that. I actually don't know the answer. Like, you look at it and you're like "Okay, that's... odd." And you've seen the interiors in some of the movies we've released: it's the blue, kinda blue - it's a room where it's got kind of blue sparkly stuff in the walls...

baratron: Oh, yeah, I liked that.

Matt Firor: There's a whole lore associated with that that I would probably go to UESP to find out. But it was not built by elves, I know that. I don't actually know who built it. So yeah, it does look like coral, but it might be some other substance that looks like it.

Alarra: Okay. So Summerset's the ending of the Daedric Triad story, does that rule out future DLC zones like the Spiral Skein, will we see any new Daedric realms as full zones like Coldharbour? ...or is that "no spoilers"? (laughs)

Matt Firor: Yeah, we already have our next year's plans set, and we're working on the year after that, so uh... but no spoilers.

baratron: I have to say, I personally would love to see a Sanguine zone.

Wicked_Shifty: See if you could come out with a whole bunch of those in rapid fire, 'cause that's the way the lore works. (laughs)

Matt Firor: Yeah, rapid fire... (laughter) ...can't get any more rapid than we're doing it now.


Alarra: So on the official website, has the Loremaster's Archive feature been abandoned forever?

Matt Firor: I have no idea. I don't think so, but you know we went through a phase where we ramped back a lot of community content and we were working more on forum management and stuff like that. We have, since then, gone back to regular ESO Lives and things like that. So we may well do that. But Lawrence is really busy, especially now we've gone into Chapters, and he has to do a whole lore dump on an entire region of the world. I can ask Gina and Jess who are over there - the people who do the community content - if they know, but I don't think there's any plans to bring it back right now, but certainly we could.

Alarra: Yeah, we definitely loved that, you know, the lore and everything.

Matt Firor: Everyone loves Lawrence.

Alarra: Yeah.

Alarra: So, similar question then: on the website, kinda back around launch time, there was the Interactive Map of Tamriel, where you could click on different locations and read lorebooks and stuff-

Matt Firor: Yeah, that was cool. It got out of date really quickly.

Alarra: Is there any chance that might return?

Matt Firor: Again, I'm not gonna say no, but it was so much work-

Alarra: Oh, I bet.

Matt Firor: -to do something that was immediately obsolete within weeks. I think fans end up doing much better with stuff like that than we do. So you should do it.


Daveh: Yes, us. I don't remember it but - we have our own map, is that different from our ESO map?

Matt Firor: Yeah, no, ours was more flavor-y, it had like little pictures and characters...

baratron: It's something we could do with our ESO map-

Alarra: We do have the content from it on the wiki.

Daveh: Yeah, talk to me after.

baratron: Yeah, because we have a map that uses the Google Maps technology...

Matt Firor: I might be able to dig up the original assets from that.

baratron: A lot of our members and readers are curious about whether you're actively still working on Murkmire.

Matt Firor: No spoilers.

(everyone goes "awww" and laughs)

Wicked_Shifty: Give us a "soon", a...

Daveh: Murkmire confirmed.

baratron: Well, he didn't say no!


baratron: Yeah, our fans would like to know when is "Soon™".

Matt Firor: Again, in 2014 we did that presentation-

(Several): Yeah.

Matt Firor: -where we showed everything that we could possibly be working on, and you know, to them it's like "it's already done, we saw it!"... No. But, uh, no spoilers.

Wicked_Shifty: How about, does it still exist?


Matt Firor: Generally if I say "no spoilers", it means we're thinking about it. If it's no, I'll say no. Or if it's, oh, in 2037, I'll say "in 2037".


baratron: Where are the centaurs?

Matt Firor: Were they even in the lore?

(Alarra, baratron, Shifty answer at the same time that they appeared in Daggerfall and Legends)

Wicked_Shifty: They were in the game Daggerfall, so they should have been in Wrothgar and all over there.

Matt Firor: I'll take that under advisement.

(all laugh)

Matt Firor: That was 700 years later.

Daveh: Something happened. (laughs)

Matt Firor: Clearly they proliferated after our era.

baratron: Ah, they haven't evolved yet, right. (laughs)

Alarra: So as far as how Bethesda and ZOS work together, how much collaboration and overlap is there when it comes to ESO?

Matt Firor: Yeah, every day. Especially now that we're doing much bigger things. So, you know, they're the experts, so Lawrence's job, and Rich Lambert's, is basically pitching ideas to them... I mean, we're canon lore, so we need to make sure that we're based on reality - you know, reality as it exists in the lore. And when we add new stuff, we always run it by them and make sure we're going in a direction that they would wanna go if they were doing it. So everything that we do has been run through them.

baratron: Now, this is a personal question. And it's: If you had all the time, all the money, no expense, you were calling the shots, what parts of the lore would you, personally, love to turn into an Elder Scrolls spin-off? Like, for example, the Akaviri invasion, the War of the Red Diamond, anything from history.

Matt Firor: Yeah, there are a couple answers that - this is just me personally-

baratron/Alarra: Yeah.

baratron: That's what we expected.

Matt Firor: -things like, what happens after the world's destroyed, right, eventually, Tamriel after the big one, that would be kind of interesting. But also the First Era, and Dawn Era, right at the turn of the Dawn Era to First Era would be... because there were so much interesting things going on that had such wide-ranging ramifications across the entire continent. It'd also be really cool to know where the Khajiit came from, because they were already there. I don't know if lore has an answer for that, right? Pretty sure they don't.

Wicked_Shifty: There's some books that guess that they're some twinned-out Bosmer but they're not really...

Matt Firor: Yeah, and then there were other books that say they were already there when the Aldmer-

Wicked_Shifty: When Topal the Pilot went by.

Matt Firor: Yeah, so that would be interesting to know. Although really, some of those things in lore that are not really known, it's sometimes best to keep them unknown.

Wicked_Shifty: Yeah, we would always ask, where are the fox people, where are the bird people that are supposed to be on the Imperial City island...

Matt Firor: Where are the Imga?


baratron: Well, we know they're in Falinesti. Where's Falinesti? (laughs)

Matt Firor: Well, we did explain that one. It's gone.

Wicked_Shifty: No one knows where it is!

Matt Firor: It's the same place Artaeum is.

Alarra: Are there any chances of seeing any of those in the future?

Matt Firor: Never say never, but probably not. We have our hands full right now doing as much stuff as we can, so, like, that stuff, Bethesda needs to do that. Because that's really taking things from the old lore, and bringing it forward-

Alarra: Yeah, and showing something we haven't actually seen, in-game for the first time, that's big.

Matt Firor: Yeah. So we'll leave that up to them.

baratron: And the last question's another personal one-

Matt Firor: I think the Argonians were also unexplained.

Wicked_Shifty: Well, the other one they believe was part of another Oblivion plane that crashed into Nirn-

Matt Firor: Yeah, so they don't know.


baratron(laughs) Yeah, again, this is from our readers. Which is, "if you could remake any Elder Scrolls game, and they mean a full remake, not a remaster, which one would it be, what would you change, and what would you add?"

Matt Firor: If I could remake an old one?

baratron: Yeah.

Matt Firor: Daggerfall. Not only was it the biggest of all of them, but it had the coolest political... you know, the Elder Scrolls is always supposed to be very political. And that kind of... we try to bring some of that in, but online, with real players, it's hard to enforce that. But yeah, Daggerfall had those awesome storylines, and every kingdom had its own little story...

Wicked_Shifty: High faction control.

Matt Firor: Yeah, that's how it was supposed to be. There's so much stuff in that game. I haven't played it in 15 years but I still remember it, because it was so in-depth.

baratron: Okay, that's basically it for the questions we have for you, but we would love to talk to someone about jewelry crafting.

Matt Firor: Yeah, I'll go grab Rich.

Daveh: Thanks, Matt!