Bringing Kingdoms of Amalur to life

Comic-Con 2011: 38 Studios developers detail how they're building a rich fantasy world for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

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Who Was There: Big Huge Games art director Tim Coman, Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, animator Young Vo, and artist Sean Murray.

Team Reckoning.
Team Reckoning.

What They Talked About: The panel kicked things off by talking about how it's risky to start a new IP, but when a development team has 10,000 years of lore from best-selling author R.A. Salvatore to work with, it can create a rich world with backstory for everything from characters to creatures and architecture to plant life.

Coman and McFarlane stressed how they wanted to create a world that would engage players who would want to spend the time to learn about the fabricated universe, but have it also be fun for those who just want a fun romp through a fantasy realm. McFarlane talked about how the best editor he ever had always made him go over each comic book after he was done and ask himself why he did certain things. There should always be a reason for everything, he said.

Even though McFarlane comes up with the ideas, the animation team has the freedom to animate the creatures its own way and the team meets again for tweaking and fine-tuning. As an example, the panel showed the audience concept art of the Bolgan, a large red tribal creature with one eye. The inspiration for the creature was drawn from Irish mythology, and there's an entire story to the Bolgan that explains why it only has one eye.

Everything begins with the writing, and from there, the artists and animators can mold and create. Developing the Bolgan begins with a digital sculpt and then turns into an in-game model, which reduces the complexity of the sculpture but retains most of the information. Creating a walk cycle gives the viewer an idea of its personality, and details like the way the Bolgan pivots its foot to adjust its massive weight may be lost on most people, but the team's goal was to make the creature as realistic as possible--beer belly and all.

Murray stressed that they wanted to build a world that is worth saving and make the towns feel like they're integrated with the culture of the people who live there, rather than just build another fantasy city. The environment and the structure should tell just as much of a story as the people who live in it.

Now that 38 Studios has brought the Balor to life, they just need someone to kill it.
Now that 38 Studios has brought the Balor to life, they just need someone to kill it.

Before wrapping up the panel, the team showed some artwork of the Balor, an enormous creature that shoots a beam from its eye and moves around with crablike legs. Every detail, down to the way the Balor's breasts jiggle when it attacks, was deliberate. McFarlane even got up at one point to demonstrate just how much movement you need in your body to make a sword strike look convincing.

Quote: "Reckoning: The best man boobs in the industry."--Todd McFarlane, in response to moderator Adam Sessler's comment about realistic man-boob animation.

Takeaway: Most people will play a game like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and not notice every little thing, but the fact that those details are there will make the universe feel more alive.

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