That's Schilling's gamble -- as an experienced gamer himself ("I've got five 70-plus" characters in World of Warcraft, he says), he's trying to make something that thrills him. On Thursday, the team held a Comic-Con panel and teased a mix of "deep quest narrative" and "combat that keeps you doing combat." Todd McFarlane jumped up on his chair to show off how big his characters' motions were and promised that "we will kill some people better in this game than anybody kills anybody."
But can this talented lineup pull it off? I sat down to chat with Schilling, Salvatore, and Big Huge Games' lead designer, Mark Nelson, to see if they could share anything beyond what the short trailer and the screenshots revealed.
They're enthusiastic, that's for sure. Schilling is as sincere as game executives come, and when he says he's tired of games that don't have the punch to back up their high profile creators, you believe him. "It doesn't matter how awesome and deep and rich our story is or how cool our animations and art are," he admits. "If it doesn't translate into kick-ass gameplay, it's irrelevant. We've all played those games."
Of course, suggesting that Reckoning will provide "God of War-level combat" combined with a polished RPG experience, as the panel did, seems like 38 Studios is crossing the border of hyperbole. "I don't know another way to explain it without treading on that slippery slope," says Schilling. "I don't know a way to tell you, 'Hey we're taking God of War and marrying it with Oblivion.'"
But he does want to say that 38 plans to put something great in the game for both RPG players and action fans. "Curse of the Azure Bonds, which is an SSI Gold Box game, old D&D game. I can remember that storyline like it was yesterday, playing through that. RPG players, that's what we want." Action gamers love pressing buttons for big hack and slash moves that leave them almost hyperventilating with intensity. And Schilling wants to see both thrills in Reckoning: "I've never played a game that had both of those. And that's the game I'm playing, that I see. I see these incredibly deep quests, this incredible combat, and I'm having fun doing both."
"I don't know a way to tell you, 'Hey we're taking God of War and marrying it with Oblivion.'"- Curt Schilling
Salvatore created a ten-thousand year history for the Kingdoms of Amalur world, but it was Big Huge Games that actually chose the time period portrayed in the first game. "If you're a game designer and you come to work for me," says Salvatore, "and I give you the history of our world, and you go back and you look and say, 'Boy, this civil war was pretty cool, I want to do this.' [That's] okay, but you have to make that relevant to the things that come after and the things that come before."
Nelson says BHG was already working on a third-person RPG engine before 38 Studios ever came along. "We had the tech built up, as THQ was having some issues -- we were owned by THQ -- all of a sudden, there's 38. And they've got this amazing world, and we've got the tech to make an RPG; it was just perfect timing, a perfect marriage." While they can't yet go into detail about what's happening in the story, Nelson says that the time period chosen for the game jumped out at them. "There was just this wonderful convergence of events happening in the world at this time. There was just a lot of cool stuff going on. It was a time of transition in the world and that creates natural conflict."
38 was originally started to create an MMO, and Schilling says those plans are still there. With Big Huge Games on board, however, it became more feasible to introduce the IP with Reckoning. "They've already been working on a single-player roleplaying game," he says, "so instead of 'Hey, let's do the MMO and a couple of years later, we'll start an RPG,' we had an RPG technically that was already there, two or three years into development." Schilling says that this game will allow for feedback from players as well, as the MMO gets designed. "I guess in the grand scheme of things, what better way to introduce an IP than with a grand single-player experience, where you can kind of direct the narrative?"
Thus, work begins on the game, due out in fall of 2011 and planned to be available for both HD consoles and the PC. "We have to get to work," jokes Nelson.
Schilling says to stay tuned: "We're launching fall of 2011, opening day was yesterday, so between now and fall 2011, we've got to do everything that anyone would do to get someone excited about a game and an IP." They'll be releasing more details at GenCon in a few weeks, and by this time next year we should know a lot more about Kingdoms of Amalur and its first game.