The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: An oral history by 10 of its former team members
You never forget a place like Morrowind. It’s like something out of a dream, only you’ve actually been there. Maybe you used a mouse and keyboard, or the Xbox “Duke” controller, to visit it. But that doesn’t make it any less real.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is an open-world, fantasy, action role-playing video game developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It is the third instalment in The Elder Scrolls series of games, following The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, and preceding The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It was released in North America in 2002 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox.
While hardly the first open-world game of its kind, the third numbered entry in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series cemented a formula and a set of expectations that are still alive and well today in games like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. It was an artistic and technical leap forward for mainstream role-playing games in the summer of 2002, and, for many, a beautiful and novel experience. A vast ashen landscape teeming with psychedelic flora and fauna — equal parts Jim Henson and George Lucas, with a dash of Tolkien — here was a game that resembled no other.
For the people who made it, Morrowind was the product of tough crunch, a pressure-cooker basement environment, and constant uncertainty about the company they worked for — which many felt could have shut down any day. But the island of Vvardenfell, and its unique pantheon of gods and demons, seemed to exist independent of the concerns upstairs.
Whatever the company’s fate, it seemed the game was destined to find an audience. In the darkest of moments, when it seemed the writing was on the wall for Bethesda, project leader Todd Howard took the team to a nearby hotel for a private meeting. There, Howard rallied the developers’ spirits, handed out personalized business cards, and assured them it would all work out, as long as they were willing to keep going.
That speech, one source says, probably saved the company.
Over the last year, we tracked down 10 former Morrowind team members, including Howard, concept artist Michael Kirkbride, and lead designer Ken Rolston. In the linked article they discussed the very conception of Vvardenfell, the strangest bits of Elder Scrolls lore and the “shits-and-giggles” philosophy that informed them, and what it means to build a game world that withstands the test of time.