38 Studios, EA in Big Huge RPG deal

Ex-baseballer Curt Schilling's studio inks deal to publish PC, 360, and PS3 single-player RPG penned by author R.A. Salvatore; Oblivion, Morrowind vet lead designer; Spawn's Todd McFarlane art directing.


Electronic Arts' EA Partners program made headlines last week for striking publishing deals with indie developers Hothead Games and Klei Entertainment. Today, the company made a larger announcement--a Big Huge one, in fact. Ex-baseballer Curt Schilling's developer 38 Studios has struck a deal with EA to publish an upcoming single-player role-playing game. The deal does not extend to 38 Studios' massively multiplayer project, code-named Copernicus.

EA just added another arrow to its RPG quiver.

Code-named "Project Mercury," the single-player RPG is being developed by Rise of Nations studio Big Huge Games for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. (After then-owner THQ threatened to close the studio in 2009, 38 Studios stepped in and bought the Maryland-based developer.) It will be an all-new intellectual property cocreated fantasy by comic-book artist Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and author R.A. Salvatore (The DemonWars Saga). Both men helped Schilling found 38 Studios--then called Green Monster Games--in 2006, and respectively serve as art director and "executive creator of worlds" at the Maynard, Massachusetts studio. The game will not be based on any of Salvatore's or MacFarlane's previous work.

Though 38 Studios is a relatively new operation, Project Mercury has some seasoned development talent behind it. Its project lead is Ken Rolston, who was lead designer on Bethesda Softworks' acclaimed high-fantasy RPGs The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Several other Bethesda alumni are working on the project, as well as a senior designer from Lucasarts' the Force Unleashed. Veterans of Civilization and Civilization II are also on board.

According to EA Partners general manager David DeMartini, Rolston and his team will also be able to tap the minds of EA's own RPG powerhouse. "The guys at BioWare were actually involved in the early discussions with the folks at Big Huge," he told GameSpot. "They've had an opportunity to have some preliminary discussions and preliminary talks. So, I certainly think that you could expect strong collaboration that would include the BioWare team."

Ken Rolston was lead designer on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Though he would not reveal Project Mercury's release date, DeMartini said that EA will play "air traffic control for RPG fans" to make sure the game's launch doesn't conflict with that of any BioWare titles. The Canadian developer recently released the multiplatinum hits Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins within three months of each other. The first full-fledged Dragon Age expansion, Awakening, is due out next week, with another major release in the series due out in the first quarter of 2011.

Finally, DeMartini said the 38 Studios/EA Partners deal came about due to the friendship between Schilling and EA Sports' gregarious president Peter Moore. After the two spoke casually about a potential collaboration, an EAP team went to 38 Studios and Big Huge Games to look at Project Mercury, which they (obviously) approved of.

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