Melding Story with Mechanics: The Secret of Amalur

Greg Tito | 12 Aug 2010 21:00
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"Well, they are now," R. A. Salvatore interjects. "I really don't write 300,000 words an hours. But more important than this 10,000 year history is the details. It wasn't all that detailed, because what I was really trying to give [the designers] were the tools to add to it. 'This is what you have to keep in mind when you add to this history. These are the themes.'" What began as a detailed skeleton is now being fleshed out by every designer, writer and artist at 38 Studios into a ginormous wiki. That first document created by Salvatore allowed "everybody to paint on the same canvas."

Despite hearing about how this backstory was created, they were all very tight-lipped as to what the story of Reckoning is all about. The trailer, released at Comic Con, doesn't give very many clues. Here's what I do know: Reckoning is set during the Age of Arcana. The title of Reckoning means something very personal to the characters in the game, but when I asked for more details, the PR handlers went nuts. Apparently, Schilling wants to talk and geek out with people who are interested, but he realizes that in the current climate of games marketing, it is better to leave us wanting more.

"Amalur Reckoning is launching in Fall of 2011. We're not going to show up at launch day and give you a game and let you figure it all out. We're going to be telling you, over the next 14 or so months, all of these things that we feel that we need to arm you and equip you with in order for you to be interested before we launch the product," Schilling says. "But that's a game in and of itself." For now, the team is holding their cards close to their chest, but there is one detail that I find very interesting about the game world of Amalur that I'm already excited to explore: The Well of Souls.

Every MMOG has the mechanic that when you die, you can be brought back to life. But none of them adequately explain why or how, or more importantly, what that means. In the world of Amalur, certain factions have created an artifact that allows souls to live forever by inhabiting new bodies. That is a cool enough idea on its own, but that's not enough for R. A. Salvatore. He wants to really explore the idea through games set in this world by imagining what effect such a feature has on every level of society. "In the MMOG, you don't spawn in a graveyard, you'll spawn in the Well of Souls. [You might learn] why we have the Well of Souls, here's how we have the Well of Souls. That's not enough for me. That's putting a name on something, and that's a good first step, but anyone can do that," Salvatore says, with a calm intensity. "What I'm constantly asking the designers is 'What are the consequences of the Well of Souls?'

"What would be the consequences in our world of suddenly being able to break the eternal bargain of whoever lives must die? What would it mean to the head of the powerful church, who's fabulously wealthy and incredibly powerful because of that mortal bargain? You just took his power base away. Beyond that, what about the peasants in this world? What about the mother who believes in this afterlife idea? That gets her through the day. But her son was killed, and she was thinking that when she dies that she will see him again. But now, she is told, 'You don't have to go.' What would that do to a person?"

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