“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” hopes to be the next big role-playing video game to occupy your time. They are putting an emphasis on “big” with a wide-ranging environment and deep storyline, but did they take on more than they were prepared to do?
Big Huge Games studio general manager Sean Dunn was working in Los Angeles and said he was quite content with his lifestyle on the west coast when he got a call about working on “Reckoning.” After a visit and seeing what the project and the people were all about, he decided to head east to Baltimore and join up.
“This is a passionate and competitive group who want to take on Beth Soft (Bethesda Softworks),” Dunn said. “This team stayed together despite being bought and sold by Microsoft and THQ before being bought by 38 Studios. These people believe in what they are doing.”
Dunn said “Reckoning” contains more than 10 novels worth of backstory from R.A. Salvatore, 45,000 to 50,000 lines of dialog, the artistic vision of Todd McFarlane, and the gaming vision of Ken Rolston. But it is the 110 people who were tasked of bringing that all to life and making it fun to play.
Lead combat designer Joe Quadara, who worked on games for Crystal Dynamics and Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), said he was skeptical when he joined the team they could make a game as big as they envisioned.
“It started hitting its stride about the sixth month in where it was we are making a huge game and it’s going to be great,” Quadara said. “Once we all convinced ourselves that we were actually doing it, we stopped looking at if we could do things or not and just started building everything.”
The goal, Quadara said, was to make a fantastic RPG game that had a really great action game built inside. He explained there were constant battles internally on balancing those two types of gaming while still presenting it as a cohesive story.
“There’s this weird conglomerate of taking the best minds of the RPG group and taking the best minds of the action group and seeing how we could put those together. The engine itself is a full on action game, fighting game engine, but it’s also a full on RPG game engine and puts all those hooks into each other.”
If trying to design hundreds of weapons with different hit effects and backstories for combat was a challenge, visually trying to express 10,000 years of history in the game seemed nearly overwhelming for art director Tim Coman. He likened it to riding a bike down a hill.
“You stop worrying about peddling and just keep moving,” Coman said. “If you just take each individual step as its coming and focus on we’re going to get this done, going to get this done, go.”
“There’s a depth there that you know walking in, you’re going to be building lots of lots of stuff. Ken Whitman is our lead effects artist and he’s fantastic. He and I would have conversations daily. How do we push this yet try to find something that is familiar enough to people so they get it?”
Coman’s artistic team would have debates about what was going to be represented, how it would appear visually, and whether it was even needed. Eventually, the decisions came down to creating a huge, open game to appeal to gamers’ sense of exploration.
“R.A. (Salvatore) came up with a line that we’ve repeated around here. ‘If you want people to save the world, you have to give them a world worth saving.’ For us, we wanted to put all that in there so that the players that really are RPG fanatics can see this is a real, deal RPG. The people that are action game players – it is a real, deal action game.”
Both Coman and Quadara admit they don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes when talking about the depth of “Reckoning.”
“Take the blue pill,” Coman said while laughing.
“If you want to ask me how many different things you can craft, I really have to go down to a spreadsheet and go look it up because that’s just too much knowledge for me,” Quadara said.
“Don’t even get me started on the quests because there is so much lore, over 10 novels worth of writing just in the game itself. The dialog is so huge,” he said. “Each person has so much that they’ve contributed to this game that there is no way one person could fit it all in their head.”
However, they were able to fit is all on one disk.
“Knights of Amalur: Reckoning” will be available February 7 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and suggestive themes.