What happens when your favorite game franchise heads in a less than desirable direction? Or what about when your favorite genres begin to disappear from the landscape in favor of more financially viable products? As gamers, it can sometimes be a bummer to see the stuff we love not get the support we think it deserves. If you’re like me then you might angrily complain about it on your social network or message board of choice and then move on. Or you could be like the team behind Andoran: Prologue and do something about it.
If you’re unfamiliar, Andoran is an upcoming mod for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. But one look at the team’s recently released trailer and it’s pretty clear that this isn’t your average add-on. This is a full-blown, brand new, story-driven experience built on the back of Bethesda’s engine and coming straight out of Russia (if that wasn’t obvious from the voice over). The mod promises to be steeped in the rich lore that surrounds the Elder Scrolls universe and provide the open-ended narrative experience that you’ve come to expect from the fantasy-based RPG franchise.
“The story component is the most important direction of development for us.” Andoran’s project lead, Vikart (his online handle), told me over e-mail. “Yes, we do make new animations. We try to keep the graphics at the highest possible level, utilising all the effects provided by the engine (you can see for yourself in the trailer). Nevertheless, it is the Andoran’s storyline that, as we hope, will enthrall the players. You won’t get far on just beautiful graphics. We’re creating a non-linear story with a number of branches and only an attentive player will be able to get to the bottom of it. Nevertheless, those who just want to relax and cruise through will have no problems in completing the main quest, although if you make decisions with no regards and follow all the tips given by NPCs, there’ll be quite dramatic consequences for the world.”
Creating what may essentially become Oblivion 2.0 sound like a pretty huge undertaking (for the sake of comparison, Vikart told me that the amount of text material they’ve produced is larger than that of Oblivion), especially for an independent crew. So why commit the time and energy that it might take to create one of today’s AAA, high-budget releases to a modification for a five year old game? Well from the sound of things, the team’s motivation for making Andoran isn’t really for monetary gain.
“Single player games in Russia nowadays are giving way to MMO’s and casual games that offer more revenue and hence get the majority of investments.” Vikart said. “As far as I know, the same takes place all over the world, though not in such an obvious way. Moreover, the single player gameplay is getting simpler in order to address wider audience and increase sales.”
“That’s why some professional developers are involved in non-commercial projects where they can realize themselves and create games THEY would like to play rather than what publisher desires.”
Out of the ten core members of the team working on Andoran, only a couple have a professional game development background. However, according to Vikart, over a hundred people have contributed to the project in some fashion over the last couple of years, a process that Vikart claims can be more efficient than how most AAA games are worked on today.
“From the original Oblivion we use some of the plant and stone models, several textures and a couple of buildings. All the rest is created from scratch by our team or by other mod makers – we are intensively co-operating with the TES fan community. Strictly speaking, having the possibility to freely exchange your development ideas and results with other mod makers is the one of the most substantial advantages of the mod making over the commercial game development industry.”
But that state of the video game industry in Russia and the efficiency of tapping into a large community of modders aren’t the only reasons for Andoran’s existence. In the eyes Vikart, there was a lot about Oblivion that felt like a step in the wrong direction for The Elder Scrolls franchise.
“[Oblivion] is far weaker than its forerunner, Morrowind. What I dislike most is the lack of originality. Instead of huge mushrooms, outlandish animals and unusual factions we were given a common pseudo-middle-ages setting, although according to the stories told in Morrowind the land of Cyrodiil appeared as a far more interesting place. The plot didn’t shine with novelty either and in addition there wasn’t a single ambiguous detail that could have made players wonder if the characters, drawn as positive, are really right (and vice versa). In Oblivion we save the world from the universal evil once more in the setting that is far too familiar and that’s boring. Besides, we can also mention those “wooden” NPCs. Bethesda has made a good basis, the “Radiant AI” and that’s great, but their decision of HOW to use it makes me sad. Aimlessly wandering NPCs is absolutely not what was expected by the fan community.”
Smack talk aside, recognition from Bethesda is important to the team.
“It’s awesome that Bethesda has noticed our trailer. We hope that people, who have made such a wonderful game as Morrowind is, and TES setting in general (no matter whether they are still working for the studio or not), would appreciate our job. That is truly important to us.”
Andoran: Prologue. An awesome mod for oblivion.
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