Side Quest: Arena, Part II

Ok, like I said, I wanted the next one of these out-of-game Arena posts to discuss Ted Peterson a little bit. The reason is that Mr. Peterson seems like a truly fascinating individual who was directly involved in shaping the Elder Scrolls story from Arena through Oblivion, though to varying degrees. He was a designer for Arena and Daggerfall, and he provided additional writing for Oblivion and Morrowind (he wrote many of the books, I believe). It’s interesting because he seems a narrative constant throughout the evolution of the series from generic first-person D&D-style offshoot to the quirky, unique, different fantasy setting it has become. How much of this is attributable to his influence–versus, say, Ken Rolston (the lead designer for Morrowind and Oblivion) or Todd Howard (who has had a leadership role in all Elder Scrolls games from Morrowind onward and was game director on both of the Bethesda Fallout games)? It’s tough for me to say at this stage, both because I haven’t familiarized myself enough with the available interviews, oral histories, and industry accounts of the development of this franchise and because I have yet to play Daggerfall, which appears to be regarded as the pinnacle of involvement for Peterson and lead programmer Julian Lefay.

Rather than just repeat a summary biography, I’d urge you to check out the short write-up on The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, a site that has long proven a useful resource for any and all Elder Scrolls information. Of course, the page does not contain citations for its list of accolades (though it does link to some interviews), so take it for what it’s worth; at the very least, it’s good myth-building about an interesting gaming figure. In short, besides being involved in The Elder Scrolls, he has more recently written for television and film and has occasionally returned to video games; these basic facts are easily verified through sources like IMDb and Moby Games.

It’s surprisingly difficult to find interviews with Mr. Peterson, especially more recent ones. One of the better examples appears to be from July 2010 on The Imperial Library. If the information in that interview transcript is accurate, he is responsible for a not-inconsiderable deal of the lore books associated with the contemporary mythos of The Elder Scrolls. And an interesting element in the interview: he seems quite willing to encourage ambiguity and alternative readings into the myths and lore of The Elder Scrolls. He seems delighted by people who have become engaged by that lore, who have been motivated to read more because of it, and he seems to especially enjoy the idea of hidden mysteries to be teased out and interpreted. Frankly, the interview feels like a missed opportunity, since (again, if accurate) Peterson offered to answer as many questions as the interviewer liked, and yet the interviewer rather quickly wrapped things up (despite the interview in fact appearing to be a series of emails).

I think I’ve actually found him on LinkedIn (just a top result from a basic Google search of his name, nothing creepy). Maybe if I work up the nerve, I’ll reach out to him to see if he’d answer some questions of my own. But I’ll save that for another time, when I have a better grasp on the series, and when my questions might have a little more practical use.

It appears that this side quest has become rather rambling–and thus rather like the first. I think that seems appropriate for a side quest, really. Especially when that quest is to learn more about the career and influence of a creator of often-ambiguous lore.

Side Quest: Arena

I didn’t have time to play Arena last week, unfortunately. Rather than leave Arena completely off the lineup for this week, though, I figured I might write a little bit about the game more generally, outside of the context of my immediate play-through.

To be honest, until I started playing this game, I had no idea who the creative team was, other than that it was Bethesda, which of course looked rather differently then. When I think Bethesda, or The Elder Scrolls in particular, I think Todd Howard, but he didn’t come into the company later; his first project, in fact, was play-testing the CD-ROM version of Arena (on the first in the franchise, he said, “I played that game to death for awhile, and I still love it to this day. Despite its age and size, I think it’s a very elegant game. It knows what it is, and does it very, very well”).

The “Chief Designer” in the Arena manual is VJ Lakshman. He’s credited with writing the Designer’s Note in the manual that I’ve referred to before (he wrote about the cliche of “good vs. evil”). No other individuals are credited in the PDF copy of the manual that I have. I’d never heard of him before.

Moby Games has a profile of “V. J.” or “VJ” or “Vijay” Lakshman. I’d never heard of Moby Games, either; maybe I should have. It’s a platform designed to “meticulously catalog all relevant information . . . about electronic games . . . on a game-by-game basis, and then offer up that information through flexible queries and ‘data  mining,'” according to its FAQ page. Anyway, VJ has been associated with several projects, many of which I’d heard of and many more of which I had not heard of, going back to NCAA: Road to the Final Four in Production and Quality Assurance, in 1991, for Bethesda.

According to that Moby Games profile, Lakshman has worked as a senior executive for FASA Interactive, Bootprint Entertainment, and Vivendi/Universal Games, and he apparently “spearheaded the Massively Multiplayer Online Game initiative with Lord of the Rings Online.” Interestingly, this article appears to have been written by…well, Vijay Lakshman himself. There’s a link to his LinkedIn page; it looks like he’s doing consulting work now, according to the LinkedIn profile. It does not appear that he’s worked directly in the games industry for some time now. Indeed, on Moby Games, his last listed game credit was for Skullgirls in 2013, and before that two National Geographic Games titles in 2010.

Moby Games’ Arena credits page lists Lakshman as Lead Design, co-Documentation, Producer, and Director, with Ted Peterson listed as design and Julian Lefay listed as Lead Programming (the rest of the team is rather small, but to save space I won’t list them all here).

Ted Peterson has remained quite involved with the writing and design for most of the later Elder Scrolls games.

As a fan of the franchise, I’m somewhat familiar with Peterson’s role and reputation, though honestly only in passing. Next time I have a slow week for gameplay, or next time I just feel like it, I think I’ll go a little deeper down this rabbit hole and highlight Peterson’s involvement with the series.