At a recent EA Showcase, Strategy Informer was given a first look at one of EA's upcoming action-RPG's, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Spear-headed by a group of so-called 'visionaries', this game is set to make waves with new IP, fun gameplay, and a vast world. We talked to one of the lead gamer designer's Ken Rolston.
Strategy Informer:Not a lot has been seen regarding Kingdoms get, so can you give us a crash course for those of our readers who may not know what it is?
Ken Rolston: I guess our X is bad-ass combat in a master crafted world. You start off by understanding that it's a AAA role-playing game, which is impossible to break into these days with a new IP, and it's not borrowed from anywhere. So it's extremely hard to do, but it's what everybody wants to do, so that's your first problem. Then the question is how do you make that better... well, I don't presume yet that it's better, I'd be perfectly happy to be as good as... but I want to crush the souls of some people, I want them to be like "oh my god, this is the best thing ever."
How do you do that? Well you need to find a soft-spot in the market where people haven't found the gold yet, and it's in the action, the actual fun combat of the game, and also if you turn out to have a bunch of visionaries who have a certain credibility because they have somehow failed to suck so far. They're good audiences for each other... once you're a celebrity you no longer need to prove yourself and it makes you good at listening.
So you've got your visionaries, which is good from a marketing point, that's nice, and then you have a place in the market which isn't well served. So you could say action-role-playing... I'm a little sensitive about that because I'm not quite sure what that means, but what it 'is' is good physical combat with good animation, like God of War. If you look at the quality of animation in a lot of role-playing games... it's... it's fabulously adequate! What you get when you have an action combat game is not just good action combat, but you also get good exploration.
Strategy Informer:You mentioned how you've got your all-star leads on this project, especially Salvatore... were there any differences working with a published author as opposed to someone who's just being hired to write the story for a game?
Ken Rolston: No, because... we're both hardcore D&D guys... the real challenge for "real" authors is building a world that is meaningful... I mean he has some other skills that I don't have. Like, I know how to make a great world, and I know how to make a great game world -In fact I think I'm better at that than he is. [Salvatore] also makes great game worlds because he understands them, but he also understands characters, and how to make them vivid. And the charming way about how Todd McFarlane fits into that is that he can visualise these characters in a very kinetic way - he would say visceral, which is probably true as well but I'm more interested in the fluidity of it.
It's a great collection of people with different skill sets, different masteries, but also a desire to actively acquire what the other guy knows as well.
Strategy Informer:So, Reckoning originally was going to be an MMO-
Ken Rolston: It IS an... It's the single-player part off... ok, so it's easier to make a AAA RPG than an MMO, even though both of them are the hardest things on earth to make, turns out making an MMO is mmmm that much harder.
Strategy Informer:... so, was there a specific point where you decided to do the "single player" first, and the MMO later?
Ken Rolston: Well, BigHugeGames was originally separate from 38 studios.... the history is Project Copernicus occurred first (The 38 Studios MMO) and we (BHG) were working with THQ at that time and we wanted to do a single-player thing... it would never have occurred to me to do an MMO. I mean I know single-player but... (ED: Mimes shooting oneself in the head) I'd rather kill myself than do an MMO, but it turns out that's what Kurt's enthusiasm was, as well as Todd and RA... and there was a point where we were available because THQ didn't have the money to make our vastly expensive... and it's not just making it it's marketing it, doing what you need to do with it. And they were like "Oh my god! This is a good fit".
Strategy Informer:Reckoning has been described as "open-world" a few times... how open world is it, exactly?
Ken Rolston: On the scale of Open World, there will be people way farther out than we will be, because I'm more interested in having a crafted experience. I mean I loved Morrowind and I loved Oblivion but... maybe it's just because I'm getting older and I don't have as much time, but personally I want my fun per unit of time to be increased, so I want there to be a yellow brick road always in the site of the player. So yes, the open-world is there, and yes it has to be "too big" otherwise the player won't get it, but I'm admitting the fun will be easy to find, and that we're crafting the fun... and maybe hanging big blinking neon lights.
Strategy Informer:Did you find that hard to balance?
Ken Rolston: I think in the abstract it felt like it was going to be hard to balance, but then the world builders started to build the locations, and... we burned money, making assets... I mean in Oblivion there were only a certain number of sets, you know, and... "When we go to a new place, it's a totally new art set, with new clutter and everything" (ED: Note the use of a high-pitched, almost effeminate voice here)... and I, I lived in terror of that stuff.
It's producing all that content and getting it into the game... when you see the demo you'll a flythrough of all the different locations in the game, and you'll be like "oh my!", and it's all in the game. It's gob-smacking. It's not just open world, it's an amazing art-museum... I mean I'm always trying to hedge that. I mean can you do a lot of stupid things? Like run to the edge of the world? That can be fun, I mean I like my gamers to go "hah-hah, I broke your world", but we've got a more crafted experience here.
Strategy Informer:You mentioned earlier how it was hard to break into this particular genre with new IP. With everything you've been saying and all this content, it sounds like you want to punch the genre in the face.
Ken Rolston: I think the greatest game in any franchise is always the first, because you do far more than you ought to. The first rule of game design is "Don't do too much", but then the first time you always do too much. And you're taking a chance of killing everyone in the company, taking a chance of killing your budget, it's terribly risky... but it's what you have to do. You have to set a bar for yourself for the future... and I think we've set ourselves a very challenging bar.
Strategy Informer:How far along then is Reckoning?
Ken Rolston: Wayyyyy far along. In my experience, to have an extra playable game with the thigh-slapping "oh my god that's cool" and you'll see, it shows well. We're good at demos, so you'll be able to tell, for example, all those different environments in game. It's quite far along. It's got a lot of tuning... remember how I mentioned all those objects? Well those are only just being put into the game and it's a very brutal part, and there's also a lot of gameplay in it, so we have to play the shit out of it now to make sure that it's fun for 40 hours - which is unrealistic, but we're going to do it. Again, you have to go too far, or you can't get there.
So there you have it, Reckoning means to take some names. It's a shame we didn't get longer with Rolston, as this really was a highly entertaining interview. The game's a fair way away yet, despite being allegedly quite fare along, so you won't be seeing it until next year. Don't forget to check out our preview.