The first information and trailer of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was revealed at Comic Con at a panel made up of Curt Schilling, the President & CEO of 38 Studios, R.A. Salvatore, Ken Rolston and Todd McFarlane. Curt started off by telling a couple of stories, describing himself as a hard-cord gamer. “I’d be looking at the time and thinking that if this inning ended by eleven, I’d be able to still get in the raid at 12:30,” he said, telling us that in his last three contracts before he retired from baseball, that he had high-speed internet access written in so he could play still play EverQuest while on the road.
The members of the panel reminded the audience that the trailer was directed by Todd McFarlane, and the passion every member had for the game being developed was clear to the audience. Curt knew who he wanted on his team and went forward to do it. He’d known Todd for over ten years, but he made a cold call to R.A. Salvatore and it turned out that both men were big fans of each other. They reminisced on how they spent the first fifteen minutes of their conversation saying to each other “Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s you!”
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” said R.A. “Creating a world is done by getting your readers to suspend belief. To become immersed in a world, they live through the characters.” As this is his first foray into creating and writing for a game. He asked himself what he wanted in a game and his own answers were, “Beauty, a feeling of comfort, a feeling of home, and darkness. A threat worth fighting, a home worth defending.”
To illustrate a world he felt immersed in, he described running across the dunes in EverQuest’s Ruins of Kunark expansion when over a hill, he met face to face with a Drachnid “I screamed and fell off my chair – that’s a win.”
To create a world, he drew up a 10 thousand year history for the Kingdoms of Amalur, changing and tweaking until it made sense, and this history is added to and expanded as the team develops the game. It also got added to when RA wrote a short story about Curt’s favorite character – a centaur – as a 40th birthday present.
“I had it bound nicely in leather and gave it to him,” said R.A. “But when I next got to the office, he had shared it with everyone and they were all talking about it and the world. What does it look like? What does it smell like?”
When you’ve got a world that has captured people’s imaginations like that, you know you’ve got something good in your hands. For Ken Rolston of Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and Oblivion fame, the pleasure for him is when he sees how materials develop. “If the internal logic holds,” he said, “then you can riff off the time and place selected in the timeline.” Describing how and when their PC game Reckoning was set and developed. They looked at several places in the time line where they wanted to situate the game and decided on the best fit. There’s poetry, and there’s drama, there’s reason and logic.
R.A. went on to expand on the reason and logic part of the equation. In games there’s character resurrection. Without giving away too many spoilers, he described the Well of Souls and informed the audience that the text and the scenes chosen for the trailer were all very deliberate, not just pretty pictures. “One birth, one death.” Is what the voice over intones at one part of the trailer.
“It’s not good enough just to have a reason that people come back from the dead, what are the consequences?” he asked, saying that the more there are reasons and logic, the better the immersion. Ken was of the opinion that the game world needed to have vast narrative, like the worlds of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, and the game world needed to be open. To have a powerful and compelling story, yet have many, many things to do. To give players the tools to be a hero, and give him many choices, choices of things to do, so that you never want the story to end.
Traditionally, he felt, many RPGs were clunky and slow, so for their game, they stressed clear presentation and borrowed from the action genre to make the gamplay fast paced and intense. From there, we segued into game art and Todd McFarlane took the mike.
Todd admitted to be the least “gamer” of the team, but his milieu is what the team called “Combat Theatre.” The art and the direction of that art. He contended that most characters in games did not look real. “Do I believe that underneath that great paint job is bone muscles and sinew or just a frame?” He went to speak of drama and the exaggerations of theatre, drawing parallels with human and animal action as he talked about combat between a human of 120lbs and a monster that tips the scale at 20tons, going as far as standing on the table to demonstrate combat actions and swings. “When you stab your great sword down for the final blow, you don’t just make a downward movement. To get some strength behind it, you lift it high,” he described, “Then you stab downwards, and maybe you run into the vertebrae and are stopped short, then you bunch up your muscles and force it down again.” To convey a sense of movement, he again alluded to slightly exaggerated stage movements.
“We will kill somebody in the game better than anyone else has been killed in video games.”
Then, there are personal styles. There are different looks to magic and how one wields it. It can be almost balletic with arm flourishes, waggling fingers and limp wrists, or it can be powerful and dramatic, throwing that magic missile like a baseball.
All these and more will be in the PC game as well as the MMO, and they are working on both, with the PC game Reckoning, set before the MMO in the 10 thousand year time line. The world will still be the same but the same story, the passion, the action, the look, the realism and immersion will be in the MMO as well. Still code-named Copernicus for now, with what little of the PC game we’ve seen and the talent in this studio, I can’t wait to see and hear what the MMO will be.