Melding Story with Mechanics: The Secret of Amalur

Greg Tito | 12 Aug 2010 17:00
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The plan is an ambitious one. An all-star baseball player and videogame geek assembles a crack team to create a blockbuster MMOG that plans to rival anything that Blizzard, SOE or Cryptic has to offer. Schilling's 38 Studios purchased veteran design house, Big Huge Games, to make a single-player RPG as a prelude to the big MMOG project. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is slated for a Fall 2011 release, and EA has signed on to publish it and help with marketing. That machine began down in San Diego Comic Con and continued at Gen Con this past weekend in Indianapolis. Through it all, the one constant has been the desire to create a living, breathing world that aims to have story consequences for one of the most glaringly unrealistic mechanics in most games; the fact that you can die and come back to life is explained in Amalur by something called the "Well of Souls". But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm not easily star-struck. But when I met with Curt Schilling, R. A. Salvatore and Mark Nelson from Big Huge Games at Comic Con, I realized that this was group of guys that I admire for very different reasons. R. A. Salvatore is arguably the most successful fantasist of our generation, with a slew of New York Times bestsellers starring the iconic Drizzt Do'Urden. Curt Schilling was the hero of my favorite baseball team as they slew the Yankee dragon in 2004, all while being a huge Everquest gamer. And Mark Nelson, even though his name isn't instantly recognizable, is responsible for one of the greatest CRPGs of this decade, Oblivion. All three of these gentlemen are at the top of their game. How the hell does this collaboration work?

Very easily, apparently: "It's about the easiest job I've ever had," Nelson says. "It has really been a piece of cake. [Salvatore] wrote 10,000 years of backstory and we just got handed this bible and were told, 'Pick a place that looks fun, set a game anywhere in that history and go to town on it.' It's been so great. All of these guys have been so accessible and easy to work with."

Schilling was quick to jump in to explain. The 10,000 years of history for the world of Amalur was written by Salvatore and presented to the team a few months after he joined 38 Studios. "[R. A.] shows up to the studio, and we go to the auditorium and basically we got Storytime with R. A. Salvatore," Schiling says with obvious nerd glee and excitement. "He created these leather-bound books that was a year-by-year timeline of Amalur. Not only that, but it had a full slideshow with the presentation. We were getting walked through the history of the world that he created and that we're asking people to live in. When we say 10,000 year history, it's not like, 'Here's Year One and we're at Year 10,000 and some stuff happened.' It's a decade-by-decade timeline of iconic moments and events, the races, the heroes, the villains. Those are all spelled out in intricate detail in this huge backstory."

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