TESO:ESO Live episode 15. Lore-time with Lawrence Schick

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Comment : This is a transcript of a video interview between Lead Loremaster Lawrence Schick and Gina Bruno (Community Manager) and Jason Leavy (Community Coordinator). Transcribed by Bull of Kyne, with edits by Lady Nerevar.

By ZeniMax Online Studios, 04/10/2015


Gina Bruno: Just to start, do you want to explain what you do here as the lead loremaster of ESO?

Lawrence Schick: Well, that’s a tall order! Basically I am sort of the glue that holds the background together. People are constantly coming and asking me, “can we do this? We have this great quest in mind, or this point of interest that we want to build, can we do this?” It’s my job not to say, “nope, no we can’t do that, we don’t do that in Elder Scrolls.” It’s my job to say, “you know, we can do this but in Elder Scrolls here is how we do it.”

So what I have to do is be familiar with all the backgrounds and the precedents from previous games and what we’ve done in our game, and then come up with ideas and ways to make things work that’ll be fun for the players, that are appropriate within an Elder Scrolls context - in so far as all the things which have gone before and how can we make something new that feels like it lives in the same world. I don’t want to say doesn’t contradict what has come before because lore has many aspects to it and some of them contradict each other - but certainly something that feels like it would be believable, credible within the context of Tamriel and its peoples.

Jason Leavey: That’s a tall order. So as you mention you have to be fully aware of the entire series of The Elder Scrolls but how do you work with Bethesda? We get that question a lot to make sure that Elder Scrolls Online fits that...

Lawrence: Yes. Well, early on I worked with them a lot when I was getting to know how they saw the world and what was the best way to come up with things that would integrate well with their take on it, because their take is what we must defer to. Because they’re going to continue doing titles in the series at some point and we have to make sure that what we do doesn’t cause problems for them since we’re in their past. So I work very closely with... mainly with Kurt Kuhlmann down there, also Bruce Nesmith and some other folks like Emil when things come up around the guilds and such like. Sometimes I’ll ask them, “we want to do this, how do we do this in our world?” - the same things people come and ask me. Or I will have a “here’s what we propose to do, do you have a problem with it? There are a couple of ways we could do it, which way is most appropriate, etcetera.” They usually get back to me pretty quickly and we work things through.

Their office is a little over an hour from our office here in Hunt Valley, so occasionally I’ll go down there and meet with them to talk things over, but we try to work very closely and as time has gone on we have learned to trust each other and usually nowadays when something comes up that might be a red line for Bethesda Game Studios, I have a good idea already and I can tell people “well, you know, they prefer that when we talk about this subject we approach it this way.” So we can pretty much... by and large we go ahead now without needing to check with them as frequently as we used to.

Gina: Nice. So what’s sort of the process like when you need to create new lore for ESO?

Lawrence: Well, we do it all the time and the way we do it is... the way lore works in Elder Scrolls is that it’s always from the standpoint from characters in the game and their beliefs and the world that they have grown up in. So we simply try to put ourselves in the place of a Nord in Windhelm, or a Breton in Wayrest, or a Wood Elf in Grahtwood and think, “ok, what are their worlds like? What would they believe? What is going to fit in with their society and their belief systems and how they do things?” So long as we do that, the more we do that, the more we have a feel for the connections between everything in Tamriel. So the more sort of cultural synergy we can come up with the more solidly things feel in the world and the more we know then that something is going to be lore appropriate.

Jason: That makes sense. You did an interview recently where you were in character. Is that kind of a fun thing to do, to be in the character and to you know…?

Lawrence: Well it is. The reason I did that is because, like I said, all the lore in the game is delivered from the standpoint of people in Tamriel. In that way, Elder Scrolls is different from most fantasy campaign worlds, right? I mean, the typical paradigm, you know - George RR Martin with Westeros, Tolkien with Middle Earth, the familiar D&D worlds of The Forgotten Realms or the world of Greyhawk - those all have histories and backgrounds that are all laid out and they’ve all got some lore-daddy who decided everything and everything is ‘this is how it is’, so everything works within the envelope of things that are already decided.

Elder Scrolls - Tamriel - does not follow that paradigm. In Elder Scrolls, all lore is delivered not from on high by revelation, but from people who live their lives in the game, in the world of the game, and based on their beliefs. So that does two things for us: It means the lore always carries not just information about what the person is talking about, but also information about the person and their culture. Because the way the lore is delivered tells you how they believe things actually work in the world.

What this means, of course, is that people have different viewpoints - these viewpoints sometimes contradict each other, and so sometimes we have players saying “alright, this person believes that, and that person believes this other thing, but which one’s the real thing?” Well... it’s not a world like ours. In a world like ours, where you can sort of trust in science and say “well yes, people have different beliefs but I know there is an objective reality.” This is a world of myth. This is a world where reality is actually changeable, where the Divines can change not only what happens going forward, but what has happened in the past. So, you know, the idea there is an objective reality behind all these different people’s opinions is not necessarily the case in the world of Tamriel. So listen to what all these different people have to say, make up your own mind, make up your own beliefs about what happened and you’re as liable - since you’re playing in their world and you’re playing a character in their world - what you think happened is as legitimate as what that NPC thinks.

Jason: Wow, that’s so cool. You’re basically part of it.

Gina: Part of the history. So, can you tell us at all about what you are currently working on?

Lawrence: Well, now that we have got - I mean everybody was working on the Justice System for a while, that a huge effort - now that we have got the first part of that out, we are back to working on new content. I am supporting a lot of this new content’s already been announced - Orsinium, the zone of the Orcs in Wrothgar; Murkmire, another zone in Blackmarsh; and the Imperial City; eventually The Clockwork City; and then Guild Content - content around the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild.

Gina: Ooh, he said it!

Lawrence: All these things are at work in the background, and they’ll be coming out at different times as they get completed properly. It’s really good to be back working on new stuff. It’s really fun.

Gina: I bet! Man, I bet chat’s just going crazy right now, “my god, he said all these things!” We’ve had a couple of questions from the forums and I wanted to ask one in particular. Sorry, I didn’t write the name down. Prior to the Third Era 414 and Imperial reorganisation, Vvardenfell was Temple-governed (persevere) as established by the treaty of the armistice in 2E 896. So, question is, what is Vvardenfell’s current status - political as well as demographic and infrastructure wise - are there any chances of seeing for ourselves? (With a little winky face).

Lawrence: So, tl:dr: What’s going on in Vvardenfell? So I can give you the current situation there in general outlines without having to go into character or anything. Vvardenfell... Much of it is still - I wouldn’t say wasteland - but the central part of Vvardenfell is largely inhabited by nomadic Ashlander tribes, the east coast of Vvardenfell, along the inner sea, facing the Telvanni Peninsular - there are various places there that are of value to the Telvanni Mage Lords so they have more or less claimed the eastern coast of Vvardenfell. Then there is the upper north-west portion, that faces Blacklight across the sea there, and where there are exploitable resources and things there, that’s pretty much administered by the Great House Dunmer from Blacklight.

But Vvardenfell in the Second Era, during the time of Elder Scrolls Online, is lightly peopled and we do hope eventually to go there, because that was so much fun in Morrowind, but it’s not currently on the slate of anything that we are working on. I hope that adequately answered the question.

Gina: I think so.

Jason: I’m going to take a question from the Twitch chat just ‘coz they are blowing up with good questions, but I do have to ask this first one because it’s just... I love it. From Quest Gaming Network, when are we going to get a mini Lawrence figurine where we push a button and he spouts random lore - people would buy it. So if marketing came to you and said would you do this… what do you think?

Lawrence: Umm...well err… In so far as I’m not an NPC in the game, that wouldn’t be lore appropriate. So…

Jason: Can we make an exception?

Lawrence: I… You know…

Jason: Anything’s possible…?

Lawrence: I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s possible. If magic works then anything’s possible I would say.

Gina: I love that idea personally...just push a little button…

Lawrence: I mean that’s kind of what I do anyway right? They just ask me a question [[he mimes pushing a button]] and I basically blah blah blah…

Jason: Well you could just leave the doll there and then, like, go out for a long day and people would just have to press that button.

Lawrence: Mm hmm [[nods]].

Gina: The Magical Spoon was asking how long it takes to create a piece of lore for ESO? That’s kind of a loaded question...

Lawrence: Wow, well yeah that varies a lot. I mean some stuff, you know, you can just create off the top of your head and say “well, you know, if this works this way, and that works that way, then obviously this must behave that way” and then, you know, you’re done.

Gina: Obviously.

Lawrence: But sometimes - when you are doing a whole zone or something like that - you need to sit down and talk with the writers, the content designers, and you work up a backstory for the entire… “What’s been going on here in the last five years? Since the Second Empire fell? In the last five hundred years? And since the beginning of the First Era. You know, what has happened in this place, and how has it shaped and formed the culture that lives there?”

That may go through a number of iterations as the story of it evolves and solidifies, and as it goes through playtesting, and we see what works and what doesn’t. So that’s a… and, you know, to an extent because we are a live game, it’s ongoing, right? I mean, we added all sorts of lore around the Justice System, you know, to a game in progress, and there’s more coming. So it’s a never-ending process.

Gina: Indeed it is.

Jason: Here’s a good question from… ‘Awadwoh’? I’m sorry. I don’t know. What do you say that your job is to your friends and family, because your job is so important but confusing, maybe, to people that don’t know the industry, don’t know the series. How do you kind of explain that to them?

Lawrence: I just tell them I’m a wizard!

Jason: Well there you go.

Gina: Awesome.

Jason: That shuts them up!

Gina: ‘Joner’ actually has a number of questions in here. Oh man. So, whenever there’s a word… when there’s a word that shows up I just ping words I don’t like, “how do you pronounce this?” because I just don’t want to butcher it, and now it’s going to happen live on the air.

Lawrence: I’ll just correct you, it’s no problem for me.

Gina: He really likes correcting me. I’m always wrong. In ESO there are several references to the… starts with a ‘T’... you’re laughing ‘coz you see which one I’m going with...T’sakie? Sacky? C’mon man, I’m not…

Lawrence: Tsaesci [“SAY-chee”]. The Tsaeci. They are among the races of the Akaviri.

Gina: Ok, well it says “there are references to them being snakes or snake-men. What do we know about their appearance? Apparently they bred with Imperials and some Imperials share their appearance, whatever that means.” He says…

Lawrence: Well, it depends who you ask…you know…

Gina: So mysterious…

Lawrence: Yes. The Tsaesci were the Akaviri who invaded back in the First Era, and whose invasion was stopped by Reman who then became Reman I, Emperor of Tamriel and the first emperor of the Second Empire.

Gina: He’s putting on his lore hat…

Lawrence: And they were referred to as the ‘snake-people.’ And there have been, you know, various accounts of them as being... as having various serpentine aspects to them. What we do know however is that you can find Akaviri armour in the game and, you know, if you are a human - or an elf - you can put this on. So how different could they have been if you can wear their armour? But on the other hand, you know, maybe they were shape-shifters? Some people think that’s true too. It just depends who you ask.

Then of course, the Akaviri who then invaded ten years prior to the start of Elder Scrolls Online, those weren’t the Tsaesci, those were the Kamal and they’re different and… but we won’t go into them today.

Jason: That’s awesome.

Gina: Love it. Remember that pronunciation video that you helped with? I feel I just got one of those looks when I was trying to pronounce…

Jason: Here’s one from Slick275: “Is M’aiq actually a Daedric Prince? Puts tin hat back on.”

Gina: M’aiq the Liar I assume?

Lawrence: M-ike the Liar, that’s right.

Gina: Dammit, is it ‘Mike’? I’ve always said ‘Maq’. There’s another one!

Lawrence: M-ike. It’s M-ike. [[He emphasizes the pause in the middle of the word.]] It’s got a little glottal stop in the middle of it.

Gina: Well in my defence, this doesn’t, in this question.

Lawrence: Blame the players!

Gina: I’m blaming Slick!

Jason: It’s Skype, Skype formatting.

Gina: I’m blaming Skype!

Lawrence: Well, you know the answer to that question is, “if you asked him what would he say?”

Gina: He’d obviously lie. Just ask him and take the opposite of whatever he says!

Lawrence: [[Lawrence waves hand in a ‘there you go’ motion]].

Gina: Odin Thunder-Legs was asking “where are the Psijic Isles now?” I know I pronounced that right.

Lawrence: Yes, he’s referring to the Isle of Artaeum which is the island that… the third largest island of the Summerset Isles archipelago, and which is the home of the Psijic Order. And at the time of ESO, in the middle of the Second Era during the Interregnum, the Psijics took their Island and went away. The island is gone, nobody can find it. If it’s still there, nobody knows how to get to it. If it’s gone nobody, knows where it went. Or if they do know they’re not telling. So...

Gina: I bet you know, you’re just not telling…

Lawrence: Well some say it went one place, some say another. So, you know.

Jason: That’s not helpful.

Gina: Just start swimming, you’ll get to it eventually.

Lawrence: Just start whispering to the slaughterfish as they gather around you, “have you seen this island? No..don’t...stop that… I mean seriously… this island… I need to…” Yeah, that’ll work.

Jason: This is from Gore727: “Who really is Cadwell? Are there secrets to this person we don’t know? Can you tell us more?”

Lawrence: Hmm, who really is Cadwell?

Jason: It’s a good question!

Lawrence: I… You know, why does anybody think there is more to Cadwell than what he says himself?

Jason: Because he’s so great!

Lawrence: You know… I… He… How much can there be to a guy who wears a pot on his head?

Gina: So true.

Jason: What you see is what you get.

Lawrence: That’s.. You know… Until more is revealed, that’s what’s there. Wysiwyg Cadwell.

Gina: Here’s one - not even going to try and pronounce this name, I’m done embarrassing myself for today.

Lawrence: No you’re not.

Gina: It’s true, one more. “What is Meridia’s opinion of individuals cured with vampirism against their will, as well as former vampire who have cured themselves?”

Lawrence: Well, you know I think we need to get Phrastus of Elinhir in to answer this.

[[Lawrence puts on a dark red fez and adopts a different voice.]]

So, I’m now… it just needs to be asserted in the context of a character in the game, as Phrastus of Elinhir, the noted sage, let me speak about Meridia because I know a lot of things about the Daedric Princes. And Meridia, of course, The Lady of Light, is the enemy of all undead. And so far as she’s concerned, any vampire who has been de-vampirised - that’s a good thing. It doesn’t matter why, it doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter if it was done for the right reasons or the wrong reasons; vampire’s gone, good with The Lady of Light. There, now. Next question.

Jason: Ah man, that was good. I’ve got to find one that is up to that calibre.

Gina: Come on, you can do it.

Jason: I’ve just picked this one from Fox and the GM: “Are you ever called ‘Lore-ence - L.O.R.E - Lorence’?”

[[Lawrence takes off Phrastus’ hat.]]

Gina: Lawrence is back.

Lawrence: Yep, yep, yep, yep. Well, you know, I handle the lame puns.

Voice from off-camera: Not on this show!

Gina: Oh no!

Lawrence: In so far as..

Gina: [[Gestures between Lawrence and Jason]] Have you guys met?

Lawrence: As opposed to the NPC’s in the game. Because we don’t do lame puns in the game.

Gina: No. Never.

Lawrence: In so far as you can’t say “Lawrence” without “lore”…

Jason: That’s true.

Lawrence: Yeah, that’s... people have made that joke.