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How Bethesda created the biggest joke of 2011

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In 2011, everyone had an arrow in their knee. It’s one of the biggest in-jokes in gaming, and has been celebrated outside of the game itself in a wide variety of media, from tribute sings, fan parodies, to tattoos.

But in a world populated by castle guards with severe injuries related to that joint on their anatomy, it would seem that the joke was intentionally created, with Bethesda somehow knowing that it would become the biggest meme of 2011.

Not so, says Bethesda Chief Game Developer Todd Howard.

“It’s certainly not intentional that it would catch on that way,” Howard told Kotaku. “It’s a line that we liked.” So it was a case of copy-pasting a line into every in-game script for a guard whenever the game loaded then, wasn’t it?

Apparently not. “I don’t think you hear it that much,” Howard said. “It sticks out. It’s got more flavour, so I think it sticks out. It’s a great line, (Senior Bethesda game designer) Emil Pagliarulo wrote it.”

This was late in the project. We wanted to have the guards to have more personality. They’re usually just grunting, telling you what to do. So we had Emil go in and write a lot more stuff and have them reflect you. So the guards say the most about you and what you’ve done: ‘Oh, I like that armor.’ ‘I hear you’re doing this.’

And then, there is a suite of, ‘Why am I no longer a guard? These guys are adventuring. I’m stuck here with dragons.’ That was just one of the lines.

As for the massive positive reception that the line received, Howard said that Bethesda was totally unprepared for it. “Can anybody do that?” Howard asked. “‘We will write this line. And it will catch fire.'”


So what will 2012 bring, in terms of gaming-memes? My money is on a new viral joke about Sergeant James Heller and his tendency to uppercut choppers, being the joke that will achieve lying cake levels of infamy this year.

Last Updated: February 21, 2012

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