Creating the World of Amalur: An Interview With R.A. Salvatore

We speak to the best-selling fantasy author about the inspiration behind the lore of the upcoming action role-playing game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

by

Every Saturday morning, New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore watches two hours of mind-numbing conspiracy theory TV. Big Foot, UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, and even the Kennedy assassination--Salvatore takes it all down, filing it away for later use. The self-inflicted torture serves a higher purpose: the author is trying to understand why human beings are continually fascinated with things they cannot explain. This, in large part, is what makes him such a successful storyteller.

The Massachusetts-born Salvatore is one of America's most prominent fantasy authors, penning more than 30 novels in the Forgotten Realms series as well as a string of fantasy series including The DemonWars Saga, The Dark Elf Trilogy, Paths of Darkness, and Chronicles of Ynis Aielle. Salvatore is also responsible for two Star Wars books, including the film novelisation of 2002's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, as well as several graphic novel adaptations, more than 15 short fantasy stories, and the comic book Spooks. His novels have sold more than 15 million copies around the world and have been translated in more than 15 languages.

R.A. Salvatore has drawn upon existing folklore to create the world of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

But the project that has occupied Salvatore's life for the past four years has had very little to do with traditional forms of storytelling. Salvatore is the story lead (or, as his official title deems it, executive creator of worlds) at 38 Studios, the game development outfit founded by former Major League Baseball Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. The studio is currently putting the finishing touches on its first release, the upcoming action role-playing game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

Due out in North America on February 7, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning began life at 38 Studios as a massively multiplayer online game code-named "Copernicus" but was later reimagined as a single-player fantasy RPG following the acquisition of THQ's Big Huge Games after THQ announced its intention to close the outfit in March 2009. Having acquired both Big Huge Games and the unnamed RPG IP it had been working on, 38 Studios officially revealed Amalur in July 2010 as an open-world fantasy action RPG conceived from the ideas and talents of both development teams.

Salvatore--who, along with comic book author Todd McFarlane, helped Schilling form 38 Studios--admits he was initially sceptical of what the acquisition would mean for the project he'd invested so much effort into.

"All of a sudden we had to come to terms with the fact that the MMO we had been building for so long would make its debut as an RPG, and I remember saying, 'Wait a minute, we've spent three years building this world,'" Salvatore says. "When I write, I'm used to having control over everything, from the prologue of the book right up until the end. But when you're working on something this massive, you need to share the love. Letting go and trusting the teams of writers I had working for me and beside me was very hard to do. My instinct was to say, 'No it's mine! You can't have it!' But it really isn't mine. The whole point of doing something like this is creating something that people can buy into."

It wasn't until Salvatore met industry veteran Ken Rolston and saw how the latter's decades of experience on definitive titles like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion could help shape Amalur that he learned to finally let go.

"All those fears went away about an hour after I met the guy. I spent the first 50 minutes trying to figure out just how crazy he was, and then finally realised I was confusing crazy with an incredible love of life, a curiosity beyond anything I had ever witnessed, and a level of honesty that was truly refreshing," Salvatore wrote of his first meeting with Rolston.

"I played a very early build of the game soon after that, and I haven't worried about it since."

Amalur benefits from the experience of Ken Rolston, who worked on definitive RPGs like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Creating Amalur

Though his skill brought imagined worlds to life on the page, Salvatore found crafting an interactive story hard to do. In print, the author is the one charged with supplying the heroes; in games, the hero is the player, meaning a game's story has to be flexible enough to let players project themselves into the story while maintaining enough richness and complexity to stand on its own.

In creating the world of Amalur, Salvatore looked toward existing human mythology and folklore in search of patterns of cultural behaviour. By studying the evolution of creation and destruction myths found in different cultures at different times, Salvatore was able to handpick different world views and customs and place them side by side, rearranging them like pieces of a puzzle.

"Why did some cultures succeed and others fail? Why did one thing work in one part of society but fail in another? I tasked my team of writers on Amalur to ask these questions and to research different mythologies from around the world and imagine what the world would be like if some of these stories were actually true. What would a real race of elves or dwarves behave like? We worked backwards, unraveling the stories we found and putting them together again."

This, Salvatore believes, is the secret to world-building. All cultures follow a pattern, be it political, religious, or economic--a certain kind of symmetry that dictates how all humans relate to each other and the world. It's this symmetry that's responsible for the human fascination with the inexplicable, a fascination that Salvatore says is the reason he pays so much attention to Big Foot.

"The reason people love conspiracy theories is because the human brain is wired to put things together and come up with something bigger. People don't know what draws them to these ideas, but they want to believe it's true."

Of course, the outcome is always the same: it turns out it isn't really Big Foot, just an unnaturally large bear.

"People know the reveal is coming but they keep on watching. They're drawn to it for the same reason I'm drawn to fantasy: there's something comforting about having something that science can't explain. Personally, I'm a science guy. I believe in empirical evidence. But magic, fantasy, all that stuff--it's very primal. On an irrational level having something that cannot be explained is comforting to people."

Is there something comforting about the idea that things exist which we cannot explain?

Growing the Medium

While Salvatore credits J.R.R. Tolkien with inspiring him to write fantasy ("I was a math major, but I wasn't reading anything because school turned me off books completely, but Tolkien put me back on track"), he acknowledges the genre has matured significantly since Tolkien's day, most notably in the rise of female readers.

"If you turned up to one of my book signings in the late '80s you'd have found 195 out of the 200 people there were teenage boys. But if you come to one of my book signings now, it looks more like a Fleetwood Mac concert--mothers, fathers, grandparents, middle-aged men and women, kids of all ages…fantasy has become popular."

The rise in female readers has also openly impacted how fantasy authors treat female characters. Salvatore says authors can no longer get away with the same damsel-in-distress storylines that once dominated the genre--the readership has increased demand for strong female characters and heroines.

"It's been forced upon us, and it's a good thing."

In many ways, fantasy shares a lot of its growing pains with the games industry. Mainstream recognition has forced both art forms to adapt and evolve, tearing down and rebuilding previously established attitudes and struggling to appease increasingly diversifying demographics. For a writer like Salvatore, these changes are becoming increasingly important in areas such as games writing, where video games are beginning to play a much bigger role as a storytelling medium.

"I think writing in games is becoming stronger by the day," Salvatore says. "Look at BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic, for example: narrative is the most important part of the game, and it shows. No one who plays this game can say that there isn't definite dramatic storytelling advancement in games, particularly now that the technology is allowing developers to do more than ever before."

Salvatore drew on his experience writing fantasy novels to create immersive and fast-paced battles in Amalur.

In building the fabric of Amalur's lore, Salvatore found it possible to adapt the pacing of fantasy writing to an interactive environment, which is exactly why Amalur's combat plays such an important role in the game: big, fast, and spectacular, the game's battles are designed to break immersion as little as possible, leaving the player feeling as if she's becoming a better fighter alongside the character she controls.

But Salvatore believes interactivity is not enough to draw people in anymore. Games have to work hard to layer many different elements and present them as one cohesive experience, something that has proven a challenge for the industry in the past.

"[Marshall] McLuhan spoke about hot and cold media, in which different levels of participation are required from an audience," Salvatore says. "Games are a very cold medium because of their interactivity, which is what makes them so satisfying I think. Add cool graphics, music, and the possibilities for adventure, and you can really draw people in. The games industry is not there just yet, but I definitely think it's moving in that direction."

"Film critic Roger Ebert took a lot of heat when he said that games weren't art, and I agreed with him at the time. But while the medium wasn't art back then, I definitely think it's going that way now. There are many, many people who are seeing to that. I don't think there's any doubt that video games are the next storytelling medium."

Discussion

146 comments
Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

TO THE TOP GUY AT GAMESPOT. EVERY RPG EVER RELEASED HAS HAD COMBAT IN IT. THE RPG GENRE GOES BACK OVER 25 YEARS. SO WHY IS IT ONLY SINCE THE "MULTIFORMAT" MARKET IN 2006 HAVE GAMES LIKE MASS EFFECT AND SKYRIM BOTH BEEN CALLED "ACTION-RPG'S" WHEN THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY TWO DIFFERENT BEASTS!? PREY TELL ME, HEAD OF GAMESPOT, WAS WIZARDRY I AN "ACTION-RPG"? WAS ULTIMA I? WHAT ABOUT FALLOUT 1 AND 2? OR PLANESCAPE TORMENT? PLEASE TELL ME, WHEN ALL SERIOUS RPG'S HAVE COMBAT WHY IS GAMES LIKE KINGDOMS OF AMALUR AND SKYRIM NOW CALLED "ACTION-RPG'S"? LIKE BORDERLANDS AND MASS EFFECT - TWO GAMES THAT HAVE VERY LITLE WITH RPG'S OF OLD?! YOURS UK_JOHN - PISSED WITH YOU!

redskinStu
redskinStu

Video games are certainly art (Metal gear solid etc.) and Roger Ebert wouldn't art if it bit him in the ***.

Bad_Gamers83
Bad_Gamers83

Even if you don't like the game, this is a great look at the creative process

saleama
saleama

@MOBIUS1.....He is dead! lol

xX_MOBIUS1_Xx
xX_MOBIUS1_Xx

@Jollybest1 Definitely agree that TW2 has a great graphics engine and art style but I still can't agree on the whole. As primarily a PC gamer I tend to take graphical aspects of games as a very important factor as thats what having a great RIG is all about. As far as comparing obilivion to skyrim graphics-wise, you cant really since they arent running the same engine. Skyrim is running Bethesda's new Creation Engine whereas Oblivion used the GameBryo Engine. The character animation for Skyrim is still lacking tho a HUGE update from Oblivion but thats why those games are meant to be played in 1st person. Af far as character animation and emoting, Skyrim definitely trumps TW2's ridiculously stiff facial animations if not movement aspects.

supertom221
supertom221

@cipo89 I found it to be rather unfair you judge a game like that just by a demo. I mean yes, Demo is there to make you help your decision, but you can't foresee it's final grade. I won't deny it -- It was unpolished, and the AI was incredibly dumb-- "Hey man i'm just going to picklock a chest on the other side of town but you'll still see it, and when you come after me I'll stand right next to you and you wouldn't be able to find me" --- Kinda felt like Skyrim with high stealth there. Graphics are abit Lackluster- but I think you are wrong there-- It's an artistic sort of comic style. Instead of going for the gritty realism, they made it that colourful classic RPG feel-- And I loved it.b Bugs however, I did not cross paths with. Again, it's your opinion, so it's alright if you didn't like it, I just hope your not one of these "OMG SKYRIM IZZ BEST ALL OTHERZ RPG SUCKZ!!" fanboys, otherwise I can't take you seriously. I personally found that under all of the unpolished parts and wierd AI, there might be a real RPG gem here that shouldn't be skipped on by any RPG enthusiaist.

supertom221
supertom221

A Fantasic read, I must say, truly a man who knows what he wants his game to look like--- his vision. Thank you GameSpot, for a wonderful interview. Can't wait for this game to hit the market!

supertom221
supertom221

@100proofsoco Why isn't George R.R. Martin ain't on that list? :P

dxBIGBOSSxb
dxBIGBOSSxb

@cipo89 I used to be a complete jerk about others opinions... but then my friends beat me up until I stopped making "Arrow in the knee" jokes. The concussion opened my mind... literally!

M3o5nster
M3o5nster

I guess anyone who doesn't say, "OMG this game is amazing!1!" gets a bunch of thumbs down... Oh well, that's the interwebz. Truth is it's a new game, they have a lot of work to do before it becomes a GOTY contender. The game I mentioned, Demon's Souls, won GOTY in its rookie year, and for good reason. Maybe I'm more of a hardcore gamer, but it takes more than WoW art style and a mixture popular gaming elements to make a great game IMO. It has to stand out in some way, and nothing about the game makes me think, "Wow, I have to buy this game!". I hope you guys enjoy it though, since you seem to have fallen in love before it's even been released. There's a reason I cancelled SWTOR to wait for Guild Wars 2... Innovation.

cipo89
cipo89

@dxBIGBOSSxb Finally, someone who doesn't respond to my comments saying "Your totally wrong and you have no taste in games!" when I clearly say in my personal opinion. Thanks for being open-hearted ;D

Solymer89
Solymer89

First, this was a great article that every gamer should read at least once. Second, I would point to the recent Batman: Arkham City as the current summit of what Salvatore referred to as art in a video game. That game is more a movie then anything else in the best possible ways. There is an inherent advantage in that Batman is a very popular, and well known story with fully fleshed out characters already, however, Rocksteady did a great job on the graphics, the story, and the general flow and pacing of the game. It was a total Batman experience. I also think the fighting system is the best one yet. On the harder difficulties you couldn't just mash buttons you really had to pay attention to what was around you and react accordingly. Enough rambling, I am really looking forward to Amalur, I only found out after playing the demo, all the personalities involved in this game. I knew Schilling was an avid gamer who started in Everquest so I am more then happy to support his for foray into the gaming arena. I am less familiar with Salvatore's work however after seeing the resume I have no complaints :) Also I credit my PC gaming to Elder Scrolls Daggerfall so anyone from that franchise no matter when is fine in my book!

dxBIGBOSSxb
dxBIGBOSSxb

@cipo89 Damn, at least you stated it was "your opinion" and not factual like so many other a**holes out there now a days. While I strongly disagree with your opinion, I DO agree that it's rating will be roughly around what you said, but for the wrong reasons.

dxBIGBOSSxb
dxBIGBOSSxb

@Rated_Zero_Hero Can I shake you're hand? *Extends virtual hand* All I hear people who don't like this say is, "Graphics suck! It's a bad game!", even though the art design is beautifully breathtaking and more than makes up for the graphical short comings. I also hear people complain about the combat saying it's "Unoriginal", "Not Traditional to RPGs", and even that "It's not innovative". I strongly disagree since you summed up how good it is, but I GUARANTEE this game wont get higher than an 8 because reviewers now a days judge most games solely on graphics and sound more than good gameplay. It will deserve MORE and it'll probably have my vote up their with Max Payne 3, Mass Effect 3, and Bioshock: Infinite for GOTY, all games I need a demo of RIGHT NOW!

dxBIGBOSSxb
dxBIGBOSSxb

@biagio55 Luckily the combat system is fluid, fun, and customizable to the users play style, making it replay able through multiple campaign segments. With my short but very sweet time on the Demo, I learned that not only the story, but the art style and combat alone will make the game worth getting. I said this before, but in my first 15 MINUTES of KoA: TReckoning, I had 2x more fun than I did in an HOUR of Skyrim, and I voted Skyrim my GOTY!

dxBIGBOSSxb
dxBIGBOSSxb

@spidermanmon Dude... just no. I will not have this. I will not have TES' new fanbase go CoD and wreak havoc on any RPG, like how CoD is towards ANY shooter. Just quite while you're ahead, so TES will NOT have a bad community rep like so many other mainstream titles out there.

dxBIGBOSSxb
dxBIGBOSSxb

@grim0187 Usually I HATE your posts because it's mostly nonsensical, combative dribble... but for once I am very happy to agree with you. :D There just may be hope left.

Sweetbackhair
Sweetbackhair

I never played one of R.A. Salvatores games, but I love his books and looking at some gameplay I must say this makes me want to play this game bad!

emptyplatitudes
emptyplatitudes

@ DrizztDoUrden16 and Drunkenboxer07 - you are both knucklehead trout

ThePurpleBubble
ThePurpleBubble

@spidermanmon Don't be so quick to make that decision - judging by your avatar, I suppose it is true for you, but the 45 minutes I played during the demo for Amalur easily trumped everything I've experienced in Skyrim. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose... Amalur seems to be Elder Scrolls for people who actually want some fun in their combat.

Diablo-B
Diablo-B

The more I read and learn about this game is the more excited I get. From the demo and the previews that I read this game will hit all my sweet spots, keeping me going until ME3 comes out.

grim0187
grim0187

Im excited that this game has such a high caliber fantasy author helming the story. Cant wait to get this as soon as I am able, hopefully on release day!

DrizztDoUrden16
DrizztDoUrden16

Yeah, i was interested when i first heard about it but not enough to really pay too much attention. Untill i saw some of the videos recently and then played the demo... Im for sure buying it now, i thought it seemed like a really well made system and with Salvatore backing up the story line aspect, its just a must buy game for me. Btw @Drunkenboxer07... those trout had like ivory heads, not mythril. Just sayin.

Wild_Card
Wild_Card

i cant wait to play this game. salvator is one of my fav wrighters and his characters such as drizzt,entreri and jarlaxel are among my fav of all time right up there with superman,batman and spiderman ect. And he can def creat detailed worlds there is no doubt. hopefully the game will live up to the hype. if this game turns out as good as skyrim minus the dang bugs then id be one happy gamer.

oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

I think in end I will get the game...but all this hype because Salvatore is "executive creator of worlds" and McFarlane is drawing does worry me....

MarcJL31
MarcJL31

I had fun with the demo. Combat and gameplay seemed fun. Story got me interested enough to want to play more. And the artistic style reminds me of Fable's. I wrote off this game before but after the demo, I will pick it up to see how it turns out.

Drunkenboxer07
Drunkenboxer07

@dodos... The dark elf trilogy isnt half as good as the icewind dale trilogy, the city of menzoberanzen is dark and dry and all of the power is held by matriarchs who tend to become annoying because the believe they hold so much power when in truth drizzt would cleave their pathetic heads in two. the captivating story in the crystal shard is where its at...i wouldnt mind sitting under a tree catching some mythril head trout on a relaxing summer day.

biagio55
biagio55

i think this game will live and die on its story and lore, not its gameplay. if the lore and story are good it will keep people playing regardless of a few combat hitches. thats what keeps me playing any rpg..

dodos
dodos

make the dark elf trilogy a cinema movie!

jollybest1
jollybest1

xX_MOBIUS1_Xx again this was a friendly discussion. I don't want others to think that I am the bad person and their opinions are wrong......that was my point of view and a good game isn't made by great graphics.....As I 've stated before I love TW2 for It's story played around 40 hours (barelly touching the second playtrough which is different more than you think) and 30 hours of Skyrim which I enjoyed until getting the daedric armor .....And i loved the Amalur demo

jollybest1
jollybest1

@xX_MOBIUS1_Xx I do agree that comparing The Witcher 2 with Skyrim is a mistake (one with a great story and one with free roam), and I do prefer TW2 for it's story .....But Skyrim graphics are overrated and yes they are mediocre, Oblivion released in 2006 (large scale game had great graphics) ...Stalker released (big game a lot to see, let's just keep the game to it's big map) in 2007 had great graphics , The Witcher 2 (maybe you feel it wasn't that big but it had more diveristy had better graphics), Skyrim has mediocre graphics and it works on an engine that was released in 2006 with Oblivion (just stop with the crap because it has the same issue it crashes )...Skyrim may hypnotized you with the far away crap that you see and the big mountains but it has mediocre graphics ...I was amazed when I've started the game because some people stated that Skyrim has great graphics and I didn't see why (that didn't stop me to enjoy the game)...Maybe I am harsh telling everybody it has mediocre graphics but I that is what I see...Again I don't mind if console gamers think that , hell it is a good looking game for a console but it is mediocre in graphcis from my point of view as a pc gamer....Pls don't judge me as a pc elitist or whatever , or graphics maniac but I don't find it normal to name that game as one of the best looking games......the movement of the character is like in Oblivion which at that time had great graphics yes in 2006 was one of the best...

xX_MOBIUS1_Xx
xX_MOBIUS1_Xx

@Kickable I agree that we should all be happy of a new ip when last year was nothing but a string of "third games" (Uncharted, MW3, BF3) although not to say those games were bad. But something fresh definitely adds something to anticipate. @jollybest1 To say that skyrim has mediocre graphics is imo pretty outlandish. What are you comparing it to? Do the games being compared share the same level of scale? Yes, I will agree that textures up close do tend to look unpolished but thats where Senor VanOrd made a very valid point in the GS review; Skyrim's graphics are to be taken on a whole, not by its individual pieces. The Witcher 2 does have a fantastic graphics engine powering the game but all the areas are enclosed and small when compared...

jollybest1
jollybest1

@Aderdunn_3 and I do agree with ypu... I've read and saw many things about this game, even played the demo and to be honest I did it for ME3 free stuff ...On thing is sure that it doesn't matter how others see it if you feel good and relaxed when you play it (doesn't mater if you come home from school,University or work) the thing is that a game should be as it should a hobby and something to make you not think about your problems.... We will see I really believe that if you are unsure you should not buy it until you know (let's say it will be better to see others reactions to it and see the good points and bad points then you take all of that and do as you wish)...If you liked what you saw preorder it , buy it full price or not (don't care) ... I made 2 mistakes last year DA 2 and Rage but man it didn't stop me to have fun .....A game = fun sometimes frustration but it is a game .....One more thing I did preorder the game because I love it with all of the bugs and my friends do too

Kickable
Kickable

graphics are the last thing I care about, don't do much good if the game is crap

jollybest1
jollybest1

@GamerOuTLaWz yes skyrim has mediocre graphics is that hard to understand, or wasn't I clear enough...Don't know on what system you played Skyrim but on Pc it has mediocre graphics (doesn't mater though it kept me playing until I got the daedric armor)....but man it is so overrated..........No matter even if The Witcher 2 wasn't free roam I do believe it was better , story and graphics and Skyrim had the advantage of free roam and many mods (thank you moders)......(this is off topic no need to reply or read it ...this message was meant for one particular guy)...No ofence man but that is how I see it...Gave it an 8.5 but it isn't the best rpg in the world neither the Witcher 2 which had it's own problems (I had none but others did) ...I miss the Icewind Dale games...Oh yes all of the Bethesda games (published or not) have the same issue sweet graphics when you don't see them up close

topeira
topeira

am i the only one who was really underwhelmed with the graphics of this game? while the combat, music, lore etc are great and fun, the graphics look really really outdated (great art design aside). wierd that games can still look this... mediocre.

Aderdunn_3
Aderdunn_3

I don't care if it gets 5/10 or 10/10....I am still getting this!!!

Kickable
Kickable

i don't get ALL the hype either and I relaly don't think most people are expecting something groundbreaking, but I'm still excited. i haven't really liked any RPG's lately besides Skyrim and after playing the demo I just know I want to play it. i wasn't expecting much in the monster/world department but I guess after this article there's a little more to look forward to i think the game is getting railed more than praised because it came out of nowhere and no one reallly knows if it's going to be spectacular(the demo is not enough) and people are still stuck on Skyrim's nuts and even the most vague comparison makes the rabid fans butthurt. Maybe this is what people wanted when they got excited over the Fable games, they ended up a complete mess IMO

zowbaid
zowbaid

@khoofia_pika Anything can blow your mind, this game is going to BLAST my mind! -from Russell Peters

khoofia_pika
khoofia_pika

This game is going to be mind blowing. It might just be the game that finally takes my mind off Skyrim! :D

nestorafranco
nestorafranco

How are video games not considered art? -.-' The amount of work that goes into them is tremendous, and video games such as Okami and Shadow of the Colossus are prime examples if art in motion. This game seems to have that as well as an engrossing story with Salvatore at the helm of the World Creation. Good story and good art, yeah seems like a great buy! But it would probably be worth waiting until the bugs are worked out

adnanob
adnanob

I do not get the hype for this game. Sure it looks good, but for me it looks like a bigger, more mature brother of fable. Nothing ground breaking, even saw this fighting system in The Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, but without the exploration element...

vaibhavp
vaibhavp

Also its a new IP Yay for new ips this year. No more sequals unless its dark souls or uncharted 4

vaibhavp
vaibhavp

I really wanted switcher 2 on my ps3. So am looking forward to this.

Rated_Zero_Hero
Rated_Zero_Hero

I played through the demo at least a dozen times... please tell me what is wrong with the combat system? I strung combat out... I blocked I rolled I parried I played mage/stealth mage/fighter mage/stealth/fighter pure mage pure stealth (didn't feel like I got to flesh this one out much though I did one hit back stab one of the bandit leaders...) pure warrior and they were all a blast and the it is very engaging and can be down right brutal... IGN.com has an on-going review and the reviewer said the demo area is pretty simple and tactics don't really matter but later on they most certainly do... this is the freshest mash up up of genres in a while and it has game of the year written all over it...