Lore Lapses, Part I: Hoag Merkiller

  04:01:00 pm, by   , 1877 words  
Viewed 9865 times since 12/27/14
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Intro: TL;DR

I've had far less time to dedicate to the UESP in recent months. As it stands, it is taking me months to revise one damn page! But giving some much-needed attention to the blog should be achievable. So I will be posting a weekly blog about some inconsistency in TES lore. Don't worry, they will usually be much, much shorter than this one. Believe it or not, this is the abridged version. My holiday rants can get pretty long... anyway, I'll try to get a banner or something for next week.

Now, the aim of this series is not to criticize, but to highlight. I believe that Bethesda (and, to a lesser extent, Zenimax) have created the most rich, wonderful, and well-rounded world ever conceived for a video game. It is one of the biggest reasons why TES has demanded such an enormous following. If you want to dive down a rabbit hole of seemingly endless discovery, TES lore is ready to oblige. Ultimately, I am surprised there have not been more lapses.

Nevertheless, the idea that there is one consistent TES world from one installment to the next, and that we can articulate and summarize it perfectly here, is clearly a hopeless fiction no matter how you look at it. But then, so is the idea that little pieces of paper or shiny coins have value, but we maintain the fiction because there's no reasonable alternative. Similarly, lore editors are typically given no alternative, except to presume that the little scraps of lore we are given maintain their "value" from one TES installment to the next, because the developers rarely give us any sort of notice when they've decided to actually retcon something. Sometimes, they may not even be aware they have done it. It's a big wide world, after all.

There's a school of thought that there's no such thing as a mistake in the lore. Not that the developers haven't made mistakes, but that for any mistake they may make, there's a reasonable explanation for what happened which doesn't break the fourth wall. So when maintaining this fiction for the TES-verse becomes difficult, lore buffs may find themselves bending over backwards to explain away some contradiction without saying something like, "Well, Todd Howard didn't get his coffee that morning...".

I'm not that extreme. I do not feel the need to concoct some intricate story to explain why the Log of the Emma May says "Tuesday" instead of "Tirdas" (Bonus Lapse #1). I do, however, start from the premise that an apparent inconsistency in the lore is just a plot point waiting to be revealed. I know most of them will never be acknowledged or rectified, but if history is any judge, at least a few will get some tongue-in-cheek attention in a future installment. The most beautiful thing about this medium, and about this franchise, is that the solution to every problem can be just one new game or update away. In pointing out these inconsistencies, my hope is that I may, occasionally, highlight places where a plot twist of the TES universe has yet to be revealed. Or at the very least, to get some dedicated lore fans to do some calisthenics as they jump through hoops to explain away plot holes.

Hoag Merkiller and the Conquest of Morrowind

So let's get on with it. I don't know if Hoag Merkiller is the best example to start with, but he's one I've been thinking about recently, and he also hasn't gotten much attention in ... ever. Hoag Merkiller, ancient High King of Skyrim circa 1E 480, doesn't make sense.

Specifically, the idea that Hoag lived in the days of the Conquest of Morrowind and the founding of the First Empire of the Nords circa 1E 240 doesn't mesh with most sources. This implication is given in the Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition (PGE1):

"In the days of the Conquest of Morrowind and the founding of the First Empire, the great Nord war chiefs - Derek the Tall, Jorg Helmbolg, Hoag Merkiller - were all Tongues."

PGE1 contains a lot of debunked and controverted information (so expect it to pop up quite a bit in this series). Not to criticize the writing itself; it is superb. PGE1 laid much of the framework for the lore which followed. It's just that if you're looking for solid TES fact, the fictional author of PGE1 has proven to be particularly unreliable due to bias and an often cosmetic understanding of the cultures which were being summarized. And it is, of course, usually impossible to be truly certain whether PGE1 info has been "retconned", or if those devious lore writers never meant for that info to be accurate in the first place.

Rough timeline of the Skyrim Conquests and Hoag Merkiller

We don't know when Merkiller was born, but Five Songs of King Wulfharth says he was slain when the Alessians were defeated at the Battle of Glenumbra Moors, an event which is dated to 1E 480 or 482 (Bonus Lapse #2). But the First Empire as we know it fell apart decades before that, in the War of Succession from 1E 369-1E 420. The Nords had been driven out of Morrowind by the united Chimer and Dwemer in 1E 416. PGE1 itself gives the impression that the First Empire was at its peak around 1E 290, about fifty years into the Skyrim Conquests. So to me, it seems like the founding days of the First Empire and the Conquest of Morrowind should be traced to the third century of the First Era, not the fifth century. It doesn't seem like Merkiller could've been around for the First Empire's end, let alone its founding. You would have to conflate the founding of the First Empire with its entire known existence, and then some, for that to make sense.

Scholarly error on the part of the in-character PGE1 author is a tempting explanation. Whomever wrote it was presumably an Imperial scholar, taking stories from Nords they meet (i.e., drunks in bars), and it's plausible they just got the wrong impression about Hoag's place in Skyrim's history, especially given what we know of the quality of the First Pocket Guide's scholarship in general. The implication may have been unintended from the start, brought on by imprecise generalities. We are talking about a scholar who is making a general reference to a time period over three thousand years before he lived. What difference is a couple centuries? If that satisfies you, then skip the rest; thanks for trudging this far!

The dilemma with writing off anything as scholarly error, however, is that it is Boring, And Therefore Wrong. This is and should be the guiding principle in anyone's interpretation of TES lore. The Falmer are just a Nordic myth. Boring, And Therefore Wrong. Alduin is another name for Akatosh. Boring, And Therefore Wrong. The PGE1 author just erroneously conflated Hoag Merkiller with the conquerors of Morrowind and founders of the First Empire. Boring, And Therefore Wrong? TES lore is replete with scholarly error, but it is often impossible to tell which errors are intentional, or whether it's a loose end the developers ever intend on touching upon in a future work. I'm sure the majority of us could agree this is just a mistake/miscommunication which will likely never get addressed, and we'll continue to agree on that - right up until it is addressed.

So, perhaps Hoag led an exceptionally long life with magic; there's one or two ancient Nordic myths regarding the manipulation of the Nordic lifespan, and the full truth may have plausibly been lost to time. Or, heck, screw Occam's Razor: perhaps there were two Nordic leaders named Hoag Merkiller in the early First Era. If you want to get really freaky with it, perhaps we might be dealing with different kalpas (whatever that truly means). The possibilities are literally endless - but what else can you expect in a fantasy video game world.

But like I said earlier, you would have to conflate the entirety of the First Empire's known existence with its founding in order for PGE1's statement to really make sense with what we know of Hoag Merkiller. Well, what if that were the case? "Founding" is a relative term. A newer association might count its founding days in years or decades, but an older association's founding days could be stretched over centuries. It would be a lot more reasonable to say that Hoag lived in the founding days of the First Empire if the First Empire existed for, say, one thousand years, instead of two hundred.

It's worth noting that, as far as I know, we've never been given a precise date of when the Nord's First Empire ended. We're not even entirely sure why it's called their First Empire, because it's not like there's any mention of a second one! We've been given dates on the Skyrim Conquests, but those don't necessarily correspond to the beginning and end of the First Empire. So, the First Empire may have existed, at least in name, for centuries upon centuries after the Skyrim Conquests ended, except it became composed of only Nordic kingdoms within Skyrim by 1E 420, and likely never truly recovered after that. Then, untold years down the line, it was presumably dissolved in some later First Era political shake-up.

So, the point is, the PGE1 statement could reasonably be construed as true if the First Empire of the Nords was considered to have survived until a great deal of time after the War of Succession. Several centuries, at least. While it may seem ironic to suggest that the First Empire was being "founded" during a time when most would consider it to be falling apart, it has the benefit of treating all sources as true without actually resorting to a "scholarly error" explanation. Furthermore, it's something we kind of expect to see anyways. Both in the game and in real life, empires tend to linger on long after their glory days have faded, often in name only.

But for now, details on the First Empire of the Nords are few and far between, and so are definitive answers. Things like Merkiller and the First Empire were topics which we expected to get a lot of treatment in TES V: Skyrim, given the setting, but we ended up with far less detail than lore fans are accustomed to receiving. The First Empire is explicitly mentioned a grand total of five times in Skyrim, and these were all basically passing references which told us next to nothing. Hoag Merkiller actually gets more attention from ESO than he got from Skyrim, simply by virtue of a passing mention in a loading screen!

Anyway, this is just one of the many situations where we're forced to parcel out information on one topic from many different sources. Hopefully, this has helped to convey the myriad of concerns and questions which are created when two or more sources become hard to reconcile. Happy holidays, everyone. Next week, I'll talk about an inconsistency which has been addressed and, in my opinion, rectified. Hopefully, it will help give you a sense of why even the slightest inconsistency can turn out to be the clue to a whole new understanding of TES lore. And it'll be fun, because it'll be slightly pornographic.

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ESO: How many items are there?

  08:39:00 pm, by Daveh   , 236 words  
Viewed 26896 times since 11/26/14
Categories: Analysis

I've been lurking in the depths of ESO (Elder Scrolls Online) mining item data this week and have been trying to find just how many different items the game has. The quick answer is simply: "a lot"!

Without getting too technical, an item link in ESO has the format:

 |H0:item:ID:SUBTYPE:LEVEL:ENCHANTID:ENCHANTSUBTYPE:ENCHANTLEVEL:0:0:0:0:0:0:0:0:0:STYLE:CRAFTED:BOUND:CHARGES:POTIONEFFECT|hNAME|h

 We don't need to include all fields when considering the number of different unique items, like the CRAFTED, BOUND, and CHARGES fields. The POTIONEFFECT field is only valid for potions/consumables and it currently has 12,167 different combinations (23*23*23). We'll also ignore the ENCHANT... related fields as I don't yet have a number on these or which enchantments can be on which item types.

This leaves the following fields:

  • ID = Item ID which is a number from 1 to 60,000+.
  • LEVEL = 1-50
  • SUBTYPE = 1-317 (combines quality and level/veteran levels)

The LEVEL and SUBTYPE fields combine to give the final quality and level of the item. Short story is that there are around 800 different combinations of LEVEL+SUBTYPE used in the game (roughly: 64 levels, 5 qualities, store/crafted items = 64*5*2 = 640 + extra).

This means the number of different unique items is: 60,000 * 800  =  48 million

If you include STYLE then that's another x16 for a whopping 768 million. Add in enchantments for another several order of magnitudes.

Now it will actually be a little less than this as not all items vary by every level and quality but this is a rough approximation, at least until I finish mining items in the game.

Untitled Post (couldn't think of a creative name)

  01:24:00 am, by Damon   , 608 words  
Viewed 27765 times since 10/28/14
Categories: Misc

Alright, I'll say it. I came into The Elder Scrolls and UESP with Morrowind, I've looked at Morrowind more often than the other games, and the layout of the Morrowind namespace is something I'm absolutely in love with. If I could have my way, the entire namespace would become the standard for what our location pages should look like.

When you look at the Balmora place page from Morrowind., you get a lovely layout with a banner saying things such as "People", "Travel", "Notes", "Quests", etc, and the page goes on to describe the town district by district with a plethora of pictures to show off the life of the city and how it looks. The sections below it detail the people of note, detail roads leading into and out of town and where they go to, and the "Places of Note" section briefly taps on the nearest points of interest. Reading the page feels more like a guide than a wall of text, and the layout is clean and, thanks to the nav bar that functions as a table of contents, navigable... Something that can't be said about the other pages on the newer namespaces, which don't have a TOC, because it would look out of place with the as-is layout.

The Chorrol page from Oblivion is more in line with a standard article page, and it's significantly less detailed. It offers a brief mention of the districts in its sole descriptive paragraph, then it notes a varla stone's location in town and a note of the statue's resemblence to a real world one. Then the long wall of quests before finishing with the map.

Riften's page from Skyrim is slightly better, going into better detail about the locations in town, though it's a solid wall of text that doesn't have any breaks or any kind of flair to make it easier to read and look at before the standard table of residents and quests.

Don't get me wrong, the latter pages are functional as-is (or at least nobody has complained about the layout), but what makes these pages interesting to look at? What makes these pages navigable? They are lacking in comparison. When I looked at the Morrowind namespace when I first got into the series, I wanted to learn more, because the contents of the pages were so navigable and the pages helped to bring the towns closer to life. I was able to look at who ran the places, look at what each place was about, learn about the districts in the town, and even more!

I suppose I have no real purpose to pointing this out, and I suspect the manpower (or desire) to revamp a bunch of pages to fit an antiquated style isn't there, but I just wanted to bring up my bias towards Morrowind and how everything used to work, being one of those "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" guys. The style works in Morrowind, it exists randomly in the Daggerfall namespace, and Arena, I'm too lazy to look at.

Speaking of Daggerfall and the bare namespace, I have half contemplated working at least sporadically on it, though Daggerfall is such a challenging game that it's hit and miss whether or not I could get through the Privateer's Hold.

That can be the question that could be answered in the comments or on Twitter when this thing autoposts to it... Am I just a terrible player who can't do anything competently (which isn't out of the realm of possibility if you've ever seen me game) or is Privateer's Hold just ridiculous to get through for a lot of people?

YouTube Gamers

  04:27:00 pm, by Damon   , 953 words  
Viewed 28077 times since 10/07/14
Categories: Games, Misc

I am back with a random blog post that I have created, because... Well, I was bored and this seemed like an interesting opinion article to write, based on my own experiences in the world of YouTube Let's Plays, both as a spectator and former content creator (who might return to the game sometime).

If you watch gamers on YouTube, you'll see that all of them brand themselves as gamers and "Let's Players". Gamers, they are, but I have always seen a specific, distinct separation between different types of gamers. We have, according to my three categories, the true "Let's Player", walkthrough gamers, and entertainers.

Based on gamers I've seen on YouTube and my own personal feelings, I believe the true Let's Player is one who plays the game purely for the joy of doing so, and videos can span episodes or series while including victories, failures, jumpcuts after a "You are Dead!" message that happens every few minutes, and they do the entire playthrough in a light-hearted way, typically coupled with their own giggling at their ineptitude and funny side stories that aren't always helpful to the progression of the game, but serve to keep the mood light when things are tense. The victory for the true Let's Player is not completion of the game, but the (mis)adventures that take place between Part 1 of the series and the last part of the series. The games played by the true Let's Player tend to be whatever the player will find entertaining, not what is necessarily going to garner subscribers, a view count, or so forth.

A good true "Let's Player" to use my opinions, would include YouTubers of the likes of Veriax, SorcererDave, and Miss Lollypop. Veriax and SorcererDave do remarkable thoroughly roleplayed and mostly in-character playthroughs of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, with the latter doing Fallout games and others as well, so those are good recommendations for TES LPs. Miss Lollypop is a player of The Sims series, with concurrent Let's Plays of The Sims 2, 3, and 4, if that's your thing.

The walkthrough gamers are into gaming for the sake of completion. They only post videos that show a game's mission in a 100% completion scenario. These gamers are down to business when it comes to their gaming, and will redo the same mission off-screen until they have the perfect completion of the game. The walkthrough gamer is its own special type of gamer, and one that takes a particular dedication to the game, because of the effort it takes to get perfect completion on a level of challenging difficulty. These gamers, in my experience -- though not necessarily all of them, tend to play the newest games to completion and then discard them for a new series upon their 100% completion of the main "Core" missions of the game. 

An example of a good walkthrough gamer I like is Centerstrain01. He's into the action games like Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, Hitman, and so forth, and he focuses on getting only a 100% completion of a given mission with a stealth walkthrough of the game, if a stealthy approach can be taken. 

Then there are the entertainers. These guys have a game on the background to be the background, and in many cases they enjoy playing the game, but the game itself is not what the point of the video is going to be, necessarily. An example of an entertainer is Nerd3, who by his own admission will edit to the comedy of his dialogue, rather than editing to the game footage itself, while scrapping entire videos that he doesn't find "funny" in the commentary department.

These Let's Players are excellent to watch if you want to watch them specifically for their commentary, and if you want to get a quick glimpse of a game, but don't particularly care for the intricacies of the game.

To use the example of Nerd3, he does his videos in 15-25 minute segments at max, with a lot of jumpcuts to string together his brand of comedy, which can be quite entertaining (sort of making up for the disorientation of  excessive jump cuts), and he tends to edit out the in-between content that doesn't directly help his progression of the game or his progression of the things he's saying. While he has at least one "Completes" series at a time going (with the aforementioned jump cuts), most of his videos tend to briefly touch the game and provide an overview, but seldom return to the game. Of course, over 1 million subscribers, which is tenfold or greater what the other people I referenced, show that his videos aren't bad, and numerous other entertainers prove that this is an existing marketplace to work in when it comes to YouTube gamers.

Again, while I am preferential to my definition of a true Let's Player when it comes to YouTube gamers and who I want to watch, all of these above listed YouTubers (Miss Lollypop in particular) are fun, easy to listen to gamers who play games of a wide spectrum and are fun to watch. We could get even deeper into the different types of gamers, but I feel like these are about as broad as I can explain things while keeping a reasonable sized post. And, these subsets can all clearly fall into one or more of these lines given, so they aren't hard to observe, even without the half-decade of watching Let's Plays that I have under my belt... And the few months of Let's Playing before I shut down the shop due to issues at that time in real life.

Anyway, I shall return in the future the next time I have a posting worth wasting 45 minutes on typing. Bye bye!

PAXPrime! Seattle 2014

  10:27:00 pm, by Jeancey   , 696 words  
Viewed 31891 times since 09/17/14
Categories: Elder Scrolls

Hey everybody! Jeancey here! I spent the holiday weekend doing something I'm sure most of you would enjoy, attending a gaming convention, the Penny Arcade Expo! For those of you who don't know, the Penny Arcade Expo, usually abbreviated as PAX, is a yearly gaming convention which started in Seattle. There are other PAX events at different times of the year and in different locations around the world, but PAXPrime is, in my opinion, the best.

The ESO PAX Booth

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