What Were the Odds?

What Were the Odds?
Bethesda: The Right Direction

Joe Blancato | 6 Feb 2007 07:02
What Were the Odds? - RSS 2.0

Creating the Son of Perdition
Without Chris Weaver, Trip Hawkins wouldn't be the antichrist. Think of Weaver as an antichrist enabler, the man behind the harbinger of sorrow.

It's all rooted in football. Bethesda Softworks, the company Weaver founded in 1986, released their first game, Gridiron, in the same year. Gridiron was the first "modern" sports game: Where previous games relied on statistics to determine the outcome of plays on the field, Bethesda based their game in real-world physics, meaning the ball and the players interacted with each other and affected their environment, rather than just acting out a deterministic drama on a pixelated field. And Hawkins took notice.

"Electronic Arts was so impressed with Gridiron," Weaver told me, "that they hired us to develop the first John Madden Football. I like to think a piece of Gridiron still lives in JMF even today." The Madden series has enjoyed stratospheric success and is one of the strongest legs on which EA stands. Without Bethesda's physics-based approach, Madden may have instead gone the way of John Elway's Quarterback. It's hard to fathom where Electronic Arts would be, but Hawkins probably wouldn't be known as The Deceiver.

But, even in 1986, Weaver was used to having good ideas. Before founding Bethesda, Weaver spent his time at MIT working on "speech parsers, graphic interface and synthesized worlds - what people now call virtual reality. In 2007 this may sound familiar to what some cutting edge people are doing, but this was the 1970s, so it was bleeding edge stuff." From there, he went onto news broadcast directing at both NBC and ABC, and he eventually found his way to Washington as the chief engineer to the House Subcommittee on Communications. Then, after another stint in VR, he founded Media Technologies, Bethesda's parent company until 2002. He finally created Bethesda to see if the PC market was a viable place to develop games.

After an initial few years of rule by committee, Weaver decided "Bethesda had to follow a single person's vision. So, for 18 years, from 1981 through 1999, all the money that was invested in the company was my own. It allowed us the freedom to do what we wanted and to become a boutique house that kept rewriting rules and inventing new things." New things, like making a physics engine that would go on to make EA, well, EA.

Since Gridiron, Bethesda's gone on to create over 50 games, the majority of which were published in-house. But what's made them a household name is The Elder Scrolls series, which got its start way back in 1994.

The Blood with the Most Power
When Weaver set out to design Arena, the first The Elder Scrolls installment, in 1992, Bethesda had been primarily working the sports game angle: In the six years since Gridiron debuted, six of the 10 games they developed were sports sims, and the other four were adaptations from other media. And throughout the company's life, TES has been their only ongoing in-house, non-sports or original franchise. If Weaver had a baby, Arena was it, and it showed.

The game was a wild success, despite harsh reviews, and it wasn't long before Bethesda was on the grow. Enter: Todd Howard, Executive Producer on Oblivion and Fallout 3.

"My first assignments were testing the CD-ROM version of Arena, and producing NCAA Basketball: Road to the Final Four 2, a game that was being developed externally and had been left for dead." Howard quickly made his way up the corporate ladder, and was a producer/designer on the third game he worked on, called Terminator: Future Shock. He also did some work on the second full installment to The Elder Scrolls series, Daggerfall.

Comments on