38 Studios takes wraps off Kingdoms of Amalur

Comic-Con 2010: Curt Schilling, Ken Rolston, R.A. Salvatore, and Todd McFarlane explain how they're bringing about next year's Reckoning.

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Who was there: A panel full of people with dual claims to fame, including 38 Studios founder and Baseball Hall of Famer Curt Schilling, Spawn creator and 38 Studios executive art director Todd McFarlane, New York Times best-selling fantasy author and 38 Studios executive creator of worlds R.A. Salvatore, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning lead developer and ex-Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolston.

What they talked about: Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning was officially unveiled at EA's Studio Showcase earlier this week, but Schilling opened today's 38 Studios Comic-Con panel by calling it "the opening day in a second career."

Schilling talked about 38 Studios as his attempt to build a murderer's row for game developers. He had McFarlane to make great art and Salvatore to tell great stories, but he knew from personal experience that games can have those great trappings and still suck if the gameplay doesn't hold up. That made Rolston and the acquisition of Big Huge Games the final piece of his trifecta.

After breathlessly praising the virtues of his collaborators, Schilling introduced a McFarlane-directed trailer of the game, which showcased a knight facing off against skeletons and some monstrosity a bit larger and nastier. The clip ended with a fall 2011 release date for the game.

"Nothing in that trailer was art for art's sake," Salvatore said, emphasizing that every action and every word had meaning for the game.

The author talked about creating a world and how the goal is to get the audience to suspend disbelief in order to be more immersed in it. In books, Salvatore said that's done by creating characters for players to live vicariously through. But in games, players write their own characters, which makes the process different.

He said a world needs beauty, a sense of comfort, and a feeling of home. At the same time, it needs something threatening, something dark and dangerous to scare the audience. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is going for all that, he said. To help flesh that out, the developers sat down and created a 10,000-year history for the world, with races, feuds, and events to give the artists and storytellers threads to play with. Salvatore knew that effort was successful when Big Huge Games came into the 38 Studios fold and was able to quickly produce new content that perfectly fit the tone of the world.

As for gameplay, Rolston took a survey of the crowd, asking who considered themselves role players and who had played Morrowind and Oblivion, drawing lots of cheers at each question.

"So you basically have an idea of the kind of game I want," Rolston said.

He talked about wanting to capture the tone of worlds with vast narratives, with fans "arguing about the obvious truth" of things like the Kingdom of Amalur teaser trailer. Rolston said he wants to instill in gamers a perverse desire to see a powerful story through to its end, but make them so reluctant to see the experience come to an end that they'll spend their time searching for stray tasks throughout a vast world rather than completing the game.

Rolston doesn't just want the game to be in people's heads though. He also wants it to be in their hands, saying he wants their chemicals and pheromones to cover their controllers. He wants them thinking about how to streamline their combat approach to be slightly more efficient. He added that he wants that "to be in your viscera. I want it to be inside you. I want it to be chemical."

McFarlane admitted that he isn't a gamer the way his fellow panelists are but said his outsider perspective can offer some valuable input. He likened it to when he first got into making toys, and he asked questions about why certain things were the way they were, why Mattel or Hasbro had never done this or that.

McFarlane talked about the first time Schilling pitched the project to him, and the artist said he had some conditions. He didn't want to do the game if it was just a concept art gig; he wanted oversight over everything visual. One of the main reasons for that is he'd been disappointed by what he'd seen in games previously, specifically in animation. A simple stab isn't so simple for McFarlane, as he demonstrated for the crowd by stepping halfway onto the panel table and pantomiming a proper thrust, pointing out every flourish along the way.

Schilling wrapped up the panel by thanking the crowd and everyone who has followed 38 Studios since it was Green Monster Games. However, he also said it was understood that the team hadn't done anything yet and would still need to prove itself in the eyes of gamers.

Quotes: "One of the only stipulations I demanded in my contract was my Internet access had to be of a specific speed in every hotel I stayed at because I knew what I'd be spending my time doing."--Schilling, establishing his gamer's cred.

"It was 15 minutes of me saying, 'Oh my god, I can't believe I'm talking to you, and 15 minutes of him saying 'Oh my god, I can't believe I'm talking to you.'"--Schilling, on his first phone conversation with Boston Red Sox fan Salvatore.

"It can't just be cool. It has to be cool and it has to fit."--Salvatore, on preserving the integrity of the gameworld.

The takeaway: All four of the panelists were visibly excited about this game, but none more than Schilling. The baseball ace spent most of the session with a Cheshire grin plastered across his face, perhaps never more so then when the game's secrets and storyline twists were teased.

Who knew?: When asked why there aren't more athletes interested in games, Schilling said there are, but their agents typically discourage them publicizing their interests for image reasons. That doesn't always stop them entirely; Schilling said there's a World of Warcraft guild made up of about 45 Major League Baseball players.

McFarlane also said that Schilling was up until 4 a.m. delivering his original pitch to the comic artist, causing the sleep-deprived Boston Red Sox pitcher to be shellacked on the mound the subsequent day.

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