80 Memorable Todd Howard Quotes

Famous game designer talks Bethesda games, game development and inspiration

When people hear titles like Fallout or Skyrim, one person definitely comes to their mind, and that is Todd Howard. Some may even call him Todd the Liar as many of the things he promised were never seen in released games. Anyway, one can’t deny Todd’s putting hand to the Fallout and The Elder Scrolls series. Skyrim is still popular, while the mistakes made with Fallout 76 have been acknowledged and are to be fixed with upcoming updates. Todd is also believed to be quite wealthy although no certain figures are revealed.

With that in mind, we picked Todd Howard’s 80 thoughts on released games, game development and other matters. Check them out below:

On Oblivion

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  • With the many projects Lynda (Editor’s note: Lynda Carter, Amerian actress) is currently involved in, we are thrilled she was able to find time to join our cast again. Our goal with Oblivion is to deliver the most unique and lifelike gaming experience, so adding her talent and personality to some of our characters was a perfect fit.
  • We wanted to work with voice talent that really captured the emotion and drama of the game's story. Quite honestly, we wrote the parts with these individual actors in mind. It's an honor to have them lend their talents to the project.
  • ...Oblivion will still work on every 360. That being said, Oblivion takes full advantage of the hard drive and uses it extensively, so we'd certainly recommend that everyone gets one.
  • Our most ambitious project ever is finally done. We're excited to get the game into everyone's hands and let them experience it for themselves. We hope they enjoy it. I think it's our best game yet.

On Fallout games

Fans even created a music video based on Todd's statements

[reference to Howard's presentation at E3 for Fallout 4 and the system that creates weapons from junk; the quote became a meme] It just works.

  • We didn't start at Fallout 3 and think about how to add to that. We take a step back and think, 'Okay, if we look at all the Fallout games, what would a new one feel like?' So the focus is not Fallout 3 plus this'. Then we start really digging into the world.
  • With Fallout 4, we've done over 20 million downloads, and most of that is mods. That's a staggering number. It has always done well on the PC — but the console audience has such a hunger for it because they've waited so long. We think there's a really good future there, with both Skyrim and Fallout 4, that we hope to continue to add to.
  • Epic science fiction game, that's always been on my mind. Post-apocalyptic, Fallout, was our first choice. Sci-fi was our second at the time, when we got the Fallout license. We were going to do our own post-apocalyptic universe if we didn't get Fallout.
  • We all have bad things that happen in our lives, and a lot of us wonder how we can go back to before the event, whatever it is. Fallout 4 is about realising that your life has a new normal. We want to put you in the shoes of someone who knows what life was like before this.
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Fallout Shelter has been downloaded more than 150 million times and played by 120 million players. While Chinese players have received an exclusive PvP mode
  • There are more players on Fallout Shelter than all of my games combined. That's a little sobering at times. It's not a good or bad thing.
  • Fallout 76 is a very different Fallout game. We're very aware of that. We think a lot of people will like it because we like it. But a lot of people probably won't. We need to balance that. This is an idea we have, and there's a lot of old 'Fallout' stuff in it, but it's a very new experience.

[while telling that the player should always be able to do absolutely everything, regardless of any choices] See that X over there? You can Y it.

  • Now we don't want to spoil what happens but you DO survive...
  • You can even name your character F*ckface.
  • Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.
  • We've taken over 1000 of the most popular names.

[With a game like Fallout 76] It’s not how you launch, it’s what it becomes.

  • One of the things that we really like about Fallout 76 is that we've built it so that we can support it on a month-to-month and week-to-week basis.
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Human NPCs will be added to Fallout 76 only this autumn, a year after the game’s release
  • The main takeaway we had [with Fallout 76's release] was you've got to let it bake with a large live audience for longer than we did. There are just certain things you can never see until it's running 24/7 for a number of months.
  • I think it's good for franchises to try new things. There's still a lot of good ones out there, where they get released year after year and it stays basically the same. That’s not who we are. If you go back in time: Fallout 76 is a new thing but not as new as Fallout 3 was. If you look from Fallout 2 to Fallout 3, that's a significant change. When we look at our franchise, we always want to reinterpret them we always want to try new things. I admit that Fallout 76 is something very new, but if you look at someone playing it you will look at it and say: 'Oh that's a classic Bethesda style Fallout game.’

[on audience's reaction to E3 and Fallout 76s presentation] We were happy with the reaction. We want people to realize what the game is and what it isn't, and that it really is a unique thing. We generally don't like confusion because then people will try to figure out what the game is on their own.

  • The main goal is to make all players happy, never pay to win and also being able to earn all of it ingame. So whatever currency we have, to buy stuff, you can also earn it if you are simply somebody who plays the game a lot. That's two of the things for us, when we play other games that we feel good about, lets just do that.

On Skyrim

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[after Todd mentioned (several times) that you could climb the mountains due to them not being simple background decorations in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim] See That Mountain? You Can Climb It.

  • Climbing was a mistake.
  • The technology for radiant stories in Skyrim is phenomenal. We tried and pared it back.
  • If someone’s playing the game and enjoying themselves, that’s all we want. I’m a believer that players are good self-directors, and I think one thing that’s good about video games is they can direct their own experience. As opposed to saying, 'Here’s all of the beats that you must hit.' They know if they want action, or they want downtime, or they want to talk to characters.

On games in general

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Morrowind as played on Xbox One X and Xbox
  • I'm happy that you can play Morrowind now on an Xbox One, as it's backwards compatible.
  • Since I first got my iPhone and Super Monkey Ball came out, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great.' I'm always searching for the nirvana of mobile gaming, whether that's from a Game Boy or a Vita or a PSP or now the Switch.
  • Games have gotten so big and interesting that they've moved beyond the toy/entertainment space. It's not just a diversion from their regular lives; for a lot of people, it becomes an important part of their lives.
  • I'm addicted to my iPhone and get a game for it every few days.
  • With The Elder Scrolls, you're looking at a 25-year-running franchise. It has stood the test of the Lord of the Rings movies becoming popular.
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The Horde was a hybrid action-strategy game published by Crystal Dynamics in 1994
  • The very best games are not afraid to blend. Some of my favorites are from Paul Reiche, one of the creators of Archon, Star Control 2, and The Horde. Play The Horde if you want to see Kirk Cameron's best work. No one sells 'I was raised by cows' like he does.
  • Minecraft' is like that, where you might say to one of your friends who doesn't play games, 'Hey, just sit down and try this with me.' There are other games you might put in front of somebody and say, 'I know you don't traditionally play games, but you've got to check this out.’
  • I'd been playing everything and decided that this was something I maybe wanted to make a career out of. I knew where some companies were, but I saw the name Bethesda, Maryland on Wayne Gretzky Hockey 3.
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Ultima III: Exodus, one of the games that inspired Todd’s game development career
  • I played everything, but the games that kept me up and night and tickled my fancy were the larger role-playing games like Ultima.
  • Particularly with our games, people get involved with the characters and the world. They're going to take their time with it pretty seriously, so we need to take it even more seriously to make it good.
  • The main thing that excites me is that games are successful everywhere now. Now it's successful everywhere, and that's really important for the health of the industry.
  • I think if someone has a gaming obsession, Ultima became mine. I would say no other series ingrained itself in how I want to make games or what I want them to be more than Ultima did.
  • I loved playing Ultima. Getting my computer in college and playing Wing Commander. I hear a lot from our fans, and they are the same way. Games are where I want to be.

On game development

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Todd’s chat with Elon Mask at E3 2019 turned out a bit weird
  • But the beauty of making RPGs is that you eventually get to the following types of questions: Can I get married? Can I drive a car? Can I scrap the car for parts? Can I have kids? Can I sell my kids? Can I scrap my kids..? .... That's what's so energizing about making RPGs – they can be anything. RPGs are the ultimate genre blender, there is no feature you cannot at least consider.
  • Fallout 76 and Blades get a lot of my time right now. I'm in more meetings as it's gotten bigger.
  • I liked that line in the movie Shakespeare in Love: 'How is this going to work out? I don't know, but it always does.'

[after telling that his son is interested in the game development] I think a lot of kids want to get into video games. If you’re a creator, I kinda want my own sons to find their own way as opposed to.

  • If you've defined the experience well enough, you free yourself from genre conventions, with the hope of creating a seamless blending of player interactions into a single experience: living another life, in another world.
  • If you look at previous generations, even where they didn't open up power, you look at an early Xbox 360 or early PlayStation 3 games and compare those to the ones that came at the end. The developers are just getting better. So time is far more important than opening up a little bit here or there, though it does all help.
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  • The way we built Future Shock, you have a height map and instanced 3D objects rendering on top — that, believe it or not, is still how we build today. It's our basic paradigm for how to build a space.
  • We do not focus test our games and never had. People ask why we don't, and I say, 'I have so many opinions in this studio, I don't need anymore!' We really debate everything – and it's a good debate. That's why the games turn out well: it's not me – it's not this guy – it's the collective. Together, we figure out what we want.
  • Don't define the game by the list of the features. Define it by the experience you want to have.
  • For us, it's about having the game react to the player as much as possible. There's ways you can do that with technology, graphics, AI – we're doing some VR stuff right now – and so it's what we think is great about not just our games, but what's great about video games – how are they better than any other form of entertainment?
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Little is known so far about Bethesda’s sci-fi project
  • Our goal is it has its uniqueness where it stands up with Fallout and Elder Scrolls and Starfield, and it's its own thing. We spend a lot of time on tone. Not just game flow, but how does it feel so you look at it and say, 'That's Starfield versus Star Trek or Star Wars.’
  • If install base really mattered, we'd all make board games, because there are a lot of tables.
  • Every year, there's a new idea we can't do and a new technology for something that excites us.

[on making games like Fallout 4 or Skyrim] We definitely go through a period of exhaustion but then come out of it and we love these games. We're fans too. We make the games really for ourselves.

  • You never know how your work is going to be received, and to have it be not just received by the people who wanted it or knew about it or our traditional fan base, which is pretty big, but also having it spill over to everybody who plays games, and then those people telling everybody else who doesn't play games – that's what it became.
  • Ashley Cheng, who I've worked with for 20 years, he's the studio head in Rockville now. He manages more of the day-to-day stuff. I can focus creatively on what we're doing now and what we should be doing in the future.
  • I think the journey of making a game... we want to enjoy that process.
  • Great games are played, not made. You can have the greatest design document ever made, and you're going to change 90 percent of it as soon as you play the game.
  • Time makes a bigger difference: just making a game, shipping it, looking at what you did, how you did it, what you did well, what you didn't do well, and doing better.

[speaking on crunches at Bethesda and other companies] The one thing I'll say is that I think every game deserves some amount at the very end. Some amount that is healthy, to leave it all on the field, because it's important to us, it's important to our fans. You've just got to make sure that is communicated really well.

  • I think streaming technology is definitely coming, and it's gonna make people's access to games infinitely easier. You've seen it happen to music and movies, and I think it's a great thing.
  • When you start over and jump into new tech, you don't know what the negatives are going to be until you go through a few cycles. We're always changing our tech, but we don't wholly destroy it with each game. We're taking parts out.
  • I'm a believer that players are good self-directors, and I think one thing that's good about video games is they can direct their own experience.
  • A lot of times, when someone's going to pick up a game, it can be a bit daunting, like if they haven't played a roleplaying game, or they haven't played things in the series. We spent a lot of time on flow. How it feels to move through the world. How the game rewards you depending on which way you turn.
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Released in 1996, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall featured a huge open world with thousands of locations to visit
  • Despite all of our games, all of our success together — Elder Scrolls, when we started, it was a very generic fantasy. It had its parts. We pushed it to have more of its own unique identify. We're proud of the work everyone did there.

[Howard sais starting his lecture at the DICE Summit with a slide of a man leaping over a blanket littered with babies – labeled 'the fans'] This is the big leap you go to make when you make a game.

  • I see games... as the ultimate combination of art and technology.
  • Your plan is not as important as your culture. That means you will run into problems that will disrupt your plan and schedule, and how you deal with that depends on the culture you have created within your team.
  • My view of [VR] is that I want everybody to enjoy the moment. There aren't that many moments like this in technology or gaming.
  • We have a very low a**hole quotient in the studio. Egos don't work. Everybody has to respect each other.
  • People tend to look at processing power as how to gauge a piece of hardware is powerful for us.
  • What's funny is that by the time everyone plays the game — you know, we finish it, and then it takes a long time to make copies and ship it and get on the shelves — we probably haven't worked on it for a month, two months. So, we've already taken our break, and then we're on to the next thing.
  • One of the tricks we do – and you can use this on your franchises – is read old reviews.
  • We like to remain very flat as a studio. One of the reasons our games end up so big is we put a high premium on tools, and then we let people run wild. We think that gives us the best game.

[on the hero’s journey in games] ...I think we can write down stories the player will experience over the course of the game, which for a quest line can end up being 10 or 20 hours. But I think some of that gets lost in the minute to minute. So we found over time that what helped was having the characters be as reactive as possible. Having other characters that are also doing heroic things like you are, or commenting on your actions, is a good thing, and we can do more of that.

  • Every time we develop a game, we want it to be its own thing and not just be a sequel that does this little bit extra.
  • I think it’s the mix of the technology and the storytelling. Games are unique in that. They can put you in a place; they transport you. That’s why we’ve always done big, open-world stuff: it’s what a game does really well. We like technology, we like storytelling, we like art. But saying, ‘Hey, look what we made the game do’ – that is, on a day-to-day basis, on a week-to-week basis, the most rewarding.

On his career

  • I liked hacking into and pirating computer games while in college. One of my favorites was Bethesda's Terminator 2029. So I drove to their offices and asked for a job.
  • Batman. I like the idea that if I had enough money, time, and vengeance, I could become him.
  • Eventually, there will come a day where I'm not making games at Bethesda. Hopefully that's a long time away. But I want to make sure that who we are, what the worlds are, what the company is, that's sustainable far beyond me.

In case you are interested in what other prominent developers have to say, check out other selections we publised: