Melding Story with Mechanics: The Secret of Amalur

Greg Tito | 12 Aug 2010 21:00
Interviews - RSS 2.0
Wait, isn't that a murloc?
Wait, isn't that a murloc?

In the world of Amalur, these are the kinds of ideas that you will be faced with as you play through the rich world that R. A. Salvatore has created. How you play the single layer experience of Reckoning, though, has a lot more to do with Mark Nelson. Reckoning is intended to be an open-world RPG and Big Huge Games will draw on the experience of its team to deliver on that promise, while still leaving breadcrumbs teasingly leading to the fun. "Ken Rolston, lead designer on Morrowind and Oblivion, and I have been making open world style games for a long time," Mark Nelson says. "We don't want to stray too far from what we know how to do well. But there are certainly things we want to do differently as well. It is clearly an open world. We want it to feel like a living breathing, contiguous world because that's half the fun, just heading out into the wilderness and seeing what you can find."

I asked him whether there is ever the worry that this style of game can get too open world. "That's one of the things that we talked about a lot when we started working on Reckoning. A lot of people have that same reaction to open world games, they don't feel like they have enough direction on where they are supposed to go," Mark says.

"That's just an open world game for the sake of it being open world," Schilling says. "That's not what we want to do."

Mark continues, "We want to point you towards the fun. We don't want that to take more than a few seconds." One of the ways that Reckoning will do that is through more visual cues. "There's a path that leads somewhere. Every time that I see a path, I want to know that that leads to content. It needs to be obvious to the player."

Schilling and R. A. Salvatore were at Comic Con, and then made the decision to travel to Gen Con in Indianapolis, where a lot of videogame companies failed to tread this year. There was no Sony Online Entertainment or BioWare or even Blizzard, beyond the WoW TCG. That means that 38 Studios is committed to getting the word out to potential fans of their games in ways that other companies aren't. But perhaps that's because Schilling has the team that can sell to these audiences in a unique way. "We had Todd MacFarlane at Comic Con. We have R. A. Salvatore at Gen Con," Schilling says. "I think our industry doesn't realize that 99% of the people here [at Gen Con] and at Comic Con are gamers. They are the target bullseye audience for somebody's software somewhere." Schilling realizes it and he has the tools to exploit that audience in Salvatore and MacFarlane.

From the point of view of player of both RPGs and MMOGs, as well as a fantasy geek impressed with Salvatore's ideas about consequences, it seems that all of the pieces are falling into place for me to like Reckoning when it comes out. As Schilling and the rest of the team continue their marketing trek to Gen Con in Indianapolis, they released more screenshots and tidbits that will try to tease out what will make this game special. Even though he's not a veteran of the gaming industry as he is in the baseball world, Schilling has so far said the right things and he's assembled the right team of wonderfully creative people like Salvatore and Mark Nelson. For Reckoning to be successful, he's got to continue to play the game of marketing and spin to keep gamers interested over the next 14 months.

Then 38 Studios has to start all over again when the MMOG is released. But at least, by then, Schilling will no longer be a rookie.

Greg Tito asked Schilling once whether Manny Ramirez was a gamer in both senses of the word and the response was a snort. "No."

Comments on