As someone who has been one of the main supporters of the concept of us having a blog, I find it odd that I've never taken the time to ever write a blog entry for the blog that I've so thoroughly supported. Ever. I've encouraged others to do so, but I never actually sat down and did it myself. To finally quiet my suspicion that I've been rather hypocritical when it comes to this section of the site, I think it's about time I write about something. So let's talk about something else I've been thoroughly ignoring for a better part of a year after initially showing the interest to take the lead in UESP projects relating to said thing. I am of course referring to the Elder Scrolls Online.
The Elder Scrolls Online was bound to be a rough subject for us. Not because we won't be able to write about it, but because we aren't sure how we'll write about it. While at its core it appears that its shaping up to be a fine part of the ES franchise that we know and love, it is still an MMO. MMMOs are significantly different beasts to the normal, primarily single player RPGs (Battlespire and Shadowkey being the reasons for the 'primarily') we've dealt with in the past. It's about time that we start to look at some of the major issues that will eventually cause a ton of arguing in the near future. So without further ado, let's begin.
VIPs - Very Important Players
Well, that's the issue. We've never allowed documentation of people who are famous members of the community before, so this is going to be quite a point of contention amongst us. An example of this already happening would be all of the people asking if we'll bother to document who becomes the Emperor in the PvP element of ESO. And while I don't think those people will really matter for the most part, there may be times when we'll argue about allowing documentation about a specific person.
The simplest solution will be to just deny documentation for anyone who doesn't earn an extreme amount of attention (as in, news sources outside of the game take interest in the story), but there is certainly going to be quite a few scuffles about where we draw that line. Of course, sometimes the player isn't as important as the incident we create, which incidentally leads into my next topic...
Extraordinary, Player Created Events
As of now we've been pretty much ignoring memes and the ilk in the ES community, but I think that we might have to rescind or at least change our policy when it comes to these things. While it might mean we'll have to make a reference to the obsession with murdering the Adoring Fan (in the General namespace most likely, to keep that nonsense far away from our game documentation), but it may be a better alternative to simply ignoring these events entirely. I can't even think of any mention we give to the controversy surrounding the reclassification of Oblivion by the ESRB from 'T for Teens' to 'M for Mature'. That was all over the news, virtually everyone heard about it, and we didn't give it any attention. Yes, it goes against our normal instincts to ignore stuff like that, but the fallout for ignoring these events may be worse than giving in. We are still a fan site, and there is little a fan loves more than seeing how awesome their fandom is (I guess shipping would beat out that, but that's off the topic at hand). Of course, if we start to act more like a fan site, that might mean a few other changes to our regular operations. Mainly when it comes to our involvement with the community.
Playing a New Part in the Fandom
To be entirely honest, this is the subject I know the least about, and I believe the ignorance is somewhat shared by my fellow editors (or that just might be me projecting my own mental incompetence on those fine fellows). This is likely going to be something we'll have to learn to do together to make it work, so it's best we iron out what our role will be in regards to the community surrounding ES is going forward. We will of course remain a game and lore guide, but we might have to apply more of a focus to the part Elder Scrolls plays in our world.
This is going to be a quick blurb about something that been bothering me about UESP as of late: the popularity of taking speculation and guesswork as fact.
We're all guilty of it, in one way or another. We love to believe what we desire to believe. But, unfortunately, UESPWiki (or any wiki for that matter) is not a part of Wishful Thinking Land. That's the dominion of the forums and other sites for TES discussion. A wiki, however, is intended to serve as a catalogue/encyclopedia of factual information. I often find myself feeling in the mood for speculation and wishful thinking (lately is a good example) and I typically channel that into fanfiction and writing in general as well as music. And I would like to be able to say (don't quote me on this, because I'm most likely wrong) that I haven't added speculation or guesswork to UESP in a while now (at least a few months).
Now, as a patroller I'm slightly biased towards this and perhaps treat it a little harshly (I do apologize if I come across as rude to anyone; I mean well!); thus my ideas on how to deal with this may be slightly extreme or just plain laughable (which is why I'll refrain from posting them here on the blog for now). However, my personal opinion is beside the point -- the fact remains that speculation and guesswork is not welcome on the wiki, although it is welcome on the forum (I myself typically refrain from even entering the forum, let along making use of it; I'm just going off what I gather from other people's posts).
One of the most famous (and, for me at least aggravating) pieces of speculation currently circulating in the Elder Scrolls community is the concept that we will be playing as a relative or descendant of the Emperors. This is based off of the fact that the Emperors are once or twice referred to as the "Dragonborn". My typical refutation of this stance goes like this: the Emperors were called "Dragonborn" as a reference to the Amulet of Kings that was an heirloom to them. In TESV: Skyrim, however, "Dragonborn" refers to being literally born of the blood of dragons; the Septims were not born of Dragons. Hell, Uriel and many of his predecessors weren't even related to Tiber Septim! The contexts are completely different. Therefore, the word "dragonborn" does not necessarily tie the Emperors to the protagonist of Skyrim.
The problem with adding this type of thing to the wiki is once it's there for any amount of time, it may begin to be regarded as a likely possibility, despite the fact that it is unfounded guesswork. That is the reason that posts like these make me so petulant. It is, without a doubt, an overreaction on my part; but hey, it's just natural. So please, unless you want me to go berserk on you, please refrain from adding this to the wiki and instead discuss it on the forums.
As a side note, I do promise to work on my impatience with these types of editors. One of the reason I've been slightly inactive on the wiki as of late is that I've been taking time to cool off and relax. With Skyrim coming up, I need to be refreshed and have at least some semblance of patience.
If you obsessively read everything on UESP you may have noticed one or two cryptic posts like this and this lately. What are these ESM and ESP files, and why are Daveh, Nephele and I trying to pull them apart?
Take a look in your Oblivion program directory and you'll find a few different files. There's Oblivion.exe itself, which is the main game engine itself. In the data directory you'll find several ".bsa" files. This seems to stand for "Bethesda Softworks Archive" and each one is a compressed file containing the graphics textures, sounds, speech and meshes (the files that define what makes an image solid). You'll also find Oblivion.esm and, depending on how many plugins you use, several ".esp" files. These are Elder Scrolls Main and Plugin files, and contain information about NPCs, weapons, armor, quests, places and so on, as well as information about the landscape. In other words, these are the files that contain all the information we need for UESP.
The file format was created for Morrowind and evolved a little for Oblivion. It's also used in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, and has changed a little more for those games too. At the moment, the assumption is that a similar format will be used for Skyrim. This is partly down to wishful thinking, but then again as the files are purely about data storage there's no reason to change a winning format to radically.
Each file consists of records arranged in a huge list for Morrowind, and into something a little more like a tree for the other games. A record is made up of a label ("ARMO", "NPC_", "CELL", etc) and several fields that provide the data. You can get more information about the format for Oblivion here, although it's quite technical and slightly out of date.
So why do we need to hack these files?
Simply, there are too many items to create them all by hand with any degree of accuracy. That means we have to get our bots to do it, but NepheleBot and RoBoT need data to work with, and the only realistic way of doing that is by pulling it directly out of the game files. Using the Construction Set would reintroduce a manual component that would lead to mistakes, and looking at the files and getting information by eye doesn't always work because some of it's compressed and it would be a really, really awful job anyway.
To give you some idea of scale, for Oblivion and its official plugins, there are 1,277,347 records with a whopping 4,682,059 fields. Try sorting through that lot by hand.
Come 11 November, while you're enjoying playing the game for the first time, spare a thought for those of us who will be digging into its guts to bring you the best information we can!
I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what I foresee happening on UESP when Skyrim is released -- beyond the obvious points, such as that UESP is going to get alot more traffic. These thoughts are in part based on what I witnessed when Shivering Isles was released -- which was the last major game release for UESP. However, SI hardly compares to Skyrim, because SI was only an expansion and therefore didn't introduce any new game mechanics.
As an aside, for those who may have wondered, the release of Oblivion doesn't provide us with much as far as an example for what to expect with Skyrim. Not that I was active on UESP when Oblivion came out; I first discovered UESP a couple months after Oblivion's release. But I do know that UESP had only recently converted to a wiki when Oblivion came out. Even by the time I started editing, the site was pretty minimal, at least compared to where it is now. Templates, screenshots, redirects, help pages, style guidelines, site policies -- none of these were in place yet. Anonymous editing was first enabled months after I started editing -- and, for the record, no, that didn't mean that there was a dramatic increase in vandalism, badly-written content, or unwanted content.
So, back to the future.
1. UESP is facing alot of competition. When it comes to Skyrim, UESP is starting from square one, just like every other wiki being set up to cover Skyrim. People are going to choose which website to read based primarily on google -- and at this moment UESP is doing pretty poorly on google searches related to Skyrim. Fewer readers means fewer editors. Which means less new content, and therefore even fewer readers, etc. I'd like to see UESP do well -- and not just for the sake of UESP, but for the sake of the Elder Scrolls community as a whole. Having as many editors as possible work on the same wiki means that the community has one good, comprehensive website -- instead of a half-dozen incomplete websites with overlapping (but inconsistent) content. If UESP wants to be the primary Skyrim wiki, we're going to have work aggressively towards that goal.
2. New content will be added very quickly. I'm guessing that by November 12th people are likely to have posted (minimal) walkthroughs for the majority of the game's quests, and basic desccriptions of nearly every place -- if not on UESP, then on some other Skyrim wiki. My guess is based upon how quickly content was added for SI: one day after the game's release, the quests page already contained a walkthrough of the entire main quest.
3. Most of UESP's regular editors will disappear. We all want to play Skyrim, plus we'd all like to avoid learning any spoilers about the game. And for most of us, playing the game doesn't mean rushing through the main quest in 30 hours; it means spending hundreds of hours exploring all the random corners of the world. So those editors who buy Skyrim are going to be too busy to visit UESP for several weeks. Those who don't have the game are going to actively avoid the Skyrim namespace. I'm not trying to blame anyone or make anyone feel guilty -- it's just human nature, and it needs to be taken into account when anticipating how Skyrim's release will affect UESP. I'd also love to be proven wrong!
4. New editors / anonymous editors will be responsible for most of the new content. It's just a natural consequence of points #2 and #3. Although UESP's regular editors are unlikely to be rushing to add to the wiki, there are other people who enjoy being the first ones to post information online about a new game. Those editors will be the ones who are most active on UESP starting November 11th. Even though the new editors are likely to have little wiki experience, it doesn't mean that the new content will all be a horrid mess. For example, look at the history of an SI quest such as The Cold Flame of Agnon. In three days, it was transformed from an unformatted dump to a proper quest page -- incomplete, but properly laid out and properly written. Nearly all the work was done by anonymous IPs and brand new editors, such as Jrtaylor91 (whose first UESP edit was on that quest page).
5. Fact checking of Skyrim content won't be possible -- at least not at anywhere near the level we're used to for other games -- for many months. The most obvious problem is that initially none of us will know the quests or any other game details. But beyond that there are a couple of other issues that might not be so obvious.
There's no way to know until a couple months from now what really is going to happen. But these are some of the issues going though my mind when I think about how UESP can start to prepare for Skyrim's release.
Of all the new features introduced in TES V: Skyrim, the one that has UESP's active editors simultaneously wriggling with delight and squirming with horror is "Radiant Story".
At its most basic level, this seems to be a way of avoiding the problem with some quests in Morrowind and Oblivion where you could screw them up by doing something before you got the mission. The previous games handled this in several different ways, depending on how much work the developer realised was necessary / was prepared to do. In Morrowind's Alof and the Orcs quest, you got the chance to continue if Alof was dead, but had to work out everything for yourself. That's fair enough. On the other hand, you could never complete Oblivion's Acrobatics Master Training quest quest if Torbern was dead when you received it. Another way of dealing with the problem was to make certain characters "essential". In Morrowind, killing one of these people gave you a nasty message that basically said you were screwed and should reload an earlier save: in Oblivion, you simply couldn't kill such NPCs, which could lead to incredibly useful allies or incredibly irritating enemies if things went wrong.
Another problem, mainly with Oblivion rather than Morrowind, was that you could completely clean out a dungeon only for some NPC to tell you that you needed to go there, whereupon it suddenly filled with foes. A great example of this is Hrota Cave, which is totally empty until you begin the Den of Thieves quest, at which point eight assorted thieves move in and suddenly everyone in Anvil tells you they've been there for ages. The alternative, of course, is to completely lock up a location until the related quest begins (e.g., Anga and Pale Pass).
From what's been revealed so far, Skyrim's solution sounds rather elegant. If, for instance, you kill Joe the barman, who was supposed to give you a quest, Joe's family might be able to offer you the quest instead - obviously after making you jump through a few hoops for killing hubby/daddy/illicit lover/whatever. Similarly, if you've already been to Scary Dungeon, which would normally be the location for the quest, the game will relocate it to Mysteriously Empty Mine - nearby, but which you haven't visited. Presumably if you've already visited everything the game will set the quest in the dungeon you visited least recently, and if you deliberately run around all the nearby dungeons before getting the quest to find out what happens, a giant boxing glove on a spring flies out of your computer and punches you in the groin for trolling.
This isn't going to solve everybody's problems. A worryingly-large number of people on UESP's talk pages complain that they've killed everybody in the world and can no longer complete a certain quest. Tough. If you've killed not just Joe, but Joe's children and wife, his closest friends, his less close friends, and anybody who ever even glanced in his direction, then you've missed out on the quest and it's your own fault.
Presumably there's some kind of limit as to where quests can be located. Again, we don't know exactly how Skyrim's dungeons are going to work but to use an Oblivion model, it wouldn't make much sense being asked to retrieve a rare magical tome from a monster dungeon just because you'd been to all the mage/necromancer locations in the area. Has the engine progressed to the point where all previous inhabitants can be switched out and replaced with more appropriate ones? If so, add one more problem to UESP's list... Another way of handling this would be to have the potential quest-giver say something like "Well I heard a rumor about a treasure in some local cave but it seems somebody went in there recently and proved it wrong." if you've looked into all the obvious locations, then have another line for when things have respawned.
At the start of this post I implied that Radiant Story was going to be a big problem for UESP but I got lost explaining what RS is and haven't really explained the problem yet.
The main problem is ease of description. Daggerfall offers several random quests: for instance, some publican in a tavern somewhere will ask you to do X at nearby dungeon Y. Our pages on such quests aren't really very helpful, since they can't tell you where to find X or how to accomplish Y. With Morrowind and Oblivion, most quest pages are filled with detail not just on X and Y, but on how to avoid tricky monsters M and N, where to find powerful treasure T and how to screw quest giver G for most cash. The trouble starts when everybody adds their own personal favourite methods. Until recently, most quest pages were festooned with loads of pointless notes about methods, cheats, hacks, oddities and so on. Most of those have been ruthlessly (but usefully) pruned, but now imagine what it's going to be like when even the quest-giver and location aren't fixed.
To summarise: it looks like we've got a lot of challenges ahead when it comes to writing the quest pages. As Bethesda tell us more about what to expect, we may be able to start honing in on the options. Whatever happens, UESP will provide the best content possible - however long it takes!