Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Brett Close, President and CEO of 38 Studios, a company formerly known as Green Monster Games. If either of those names sounds familiar to you, it's probably because the news broke a while back that three entertainment all-stars would be teaming up to form a company that would produce an MMORPG. R.A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane and Curt Schilling make up the "big names" that have been drawing a great deal of attention from sources both inside and outside of the industry.
Salvatore, McFarlane and Schilling, Oh My!
One of the first questions that I am always asked whenever the topic of 38 Studio comes up is exactly how involved Salvatore, McFarlane and Schilling are in the project. So, I posed just that question to Brett Close:
R.A. Salvatore is a recognizable name to fans of the fantasy genre and is probably best known for writing the Dark Elf novels in the Forgotten Realms series featuring Drizzt Do'Urden.
"Bob is a fixture in the studio," Brett told me when discussing Salvatore's role in the process. "He is writing the story and creating the tapestry and the backdrop in which all of this unfolds. He's very involved with everyone, lending his wisdom and thoughts on the best way to impact the audience with both his story and game play experience."
Todd McFarlane, a Canadian from Calgary, Alberta, is probably best known for his work on the comic book anti-hero, Spawn. His name is often mentioned as being among the elite of the comic book fantasy genre.
According to Close, McFarlane's other projects (including his own studio) mean that he is less often directly in the office, but he is still quite involved in the development process.
"He is in with the dev team in-person at least once a month," Close said of the artist, "and we have a video linkup that Todd can [and does] use to interact with the studio art director. "It's a very cool, high-tech way to art direct without being on-site. He is still having a big impact on the team."
While it's easy for someone to see how the other two names fit into the scheme of the company, being well known among gamers, the same might not be said for Curt Schilling. As a pitcher for Major League baseball's Boston Red Sox, Schilling is, on the surface, the least likely to get involved in a video game venture. That is, until you consider the fact that Schilling is a genuine fan of the genre, and has even done some charity work with Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest II (a game that he plays) to raise money for ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Curt's baseball number, 38, is the basis for the company's name.
"Curt's a very smart guy and realizes that his primary experience has not been in video game development," Close told me of the baseball superstar, whose philosophy is to, "get strong, solid people in place and get out of the way and let them do what they do well."
That isn't to say that Schilling isn't an important part of the company, who is involved in the process.
"That was one of the main things we discussed," Close told me in reference to Curt's availability to work on the project. "He can not be involved during the baseball season and I appreciate that and am excited about it, because when he is here, he is extremely interactive and enthusiastic. He's a team player. He likes to be involved."
Obviously, those three aren't the only ones involved in the project. Currently, 38 Studios has 40 people in-house to see that the game is done right.
"You look at the characters involved and look at what they've done," said Brett enthusiastically. "The history predicts the future. You're guaranteed to get a property and an entertainment product that people are just going to want more of. If you look at what RA has done with his literary background and look at Todd and what he has done with his product line... and you look at the entire team that has put out some of the best games out there, we've set ourselves up to put to the next penetrating entertainment company."
After we talked about the contributions of those three big names, it was time to get down to talking about the game, and the studio's general philosophies. This early on in the process, it's good for players to get an idea of where a company's motivations are coming from.
"We're taking a 'how cool would it be...' approach," Close told me. He went on to say that they are looking at this as an opportunity to take a fresh look at where MMOs are in the industry.
38 Studios wants to, I am told, look at where MMOs are going and what has already been done. Said Close, "We want to look at what hasn't been done so well [in the past] that we can improve on."
While they aren't at the point where they're going into deep specifics about the game, I did manage to get a few useful pieces of information to pass along.
First of all, I was told up-front that this game would fit nicely into the fantasy genre. Not terribly surprising, given that Salvatore and McFarlane are involved, but at the same time, it could be said that the market is already saturated with that genre. Before I even had the chance to speak to that in the form of a question, Brett beat me to it.
"We've looked at the age-old question - are there too many fantasy MMOs," he said. His answer to this was interesting, "That's like saying that because there is Star Wars, there should be no more sci-fi."
"Fantasy fiction," he continued, "is something that people love. You can twist it in a number of ways. We are looking for a way that we can roll out a kind of fantasy fiction that can be translated into the MMO realm."
Indeed, the team at 38 Studios is looking to create a "new world order" for MMORPGs by producing something that is more of a "strong entertainment product" than just a video game. To that end, the game will have a rich background.
"When you read one of RA's books," Close said by way of elaboration, "he hopes you'll identify with characters and live vicariously through them. We want to provide a story backdrop that supports the world. Create the landscape of the world that you will play in. How the story unfolds affects what you do and what you do affects and augments the story."
That pretty much wraps up the interview this time around. Obviously, MMORPG.com will be keeping a close eye on this studio and their new game. There's just one last piece of information I wanted to pass along: Brett told me that their plan is to create a game where the decisions that players make will effect the game, that player choices will have an impact on the game world. How they pull that off is still yet to be seen, but the prospect is exciting.