Joystiq reported on it thusly, at first:
According to the insert included in our [Xbox 360] copy of the game, online pass owners (read: those who purchase new copies of the game) will get access to “seven additional player quests” throughout the House of Valor faction questline. It’s unclear whether the PlayStation 3 and PC versions of the game contain the same stipulation, but we’ve reached out to EA for clarification.
This prompted no small amount of Internet outrage, and it was initially reported that the content lock applied to content that would normally have been available in the single-player mode of the game. 38 Studios head Curt Schilling didn’t really help matters when he waded into a lengthy discussion about the issue on the Reckoning forums.
However, there has been a bit of a clarification in the matter, with Muse (the 38 Studios community manager), explaining that:
For what it’s worth, the House of Valor content was not in the finished game/disc at one point, then removed. It isn’t there and we’re locking you out of it. The House of Valor was created as stand-alone content, and was always intended to be the first DLC. Instead of holding onto it and charging for it later, we opted to give it to everyone who purchases the game new, for free, on launch day. We hope that helps clarify that point, at least.
Joystiq (linked above) also reports that EA has issued a clarification about the matter as well:
The House of Valor quest line is free bonus content available to those who purchase a new copy of Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning for the Xbox 360 and PS3 by entering the Online Pass included with the game. PC players who purchase Reckoning at one of the many digital retailers online including Origin, Steam and more, will also receive the House of Valor quest line at no cost.
Now, neither source has (that I’ve noticed) made a formal statement saying that the House of Valor content will be available as a purchaseable DLC for those who obtain the game through secondhand means, although there’s really no sane reason for 38 Studios & EA to deny that content to such players. Such players will, of course, have to purchase it for themselves, but that’s to be expected anyway given the nature of DLC.
Anyhow, from here at least, it would seem that the Internet has, as usual, made a mountain out of…well…not a molehill. Maybe a foothill. Regardless, what 38 Studios is doing here — essentially, offering a piece of bonus content to pre-order and first-run purchasers of Reckoning — is a pretty standard practice in the gaming industry today. In some ways, I don’t mind it; I certainly don’t mind being rewarded in some small way for my early support of what I think is a very promising IP.
Had the House of Valor questline been content that was ripped out of the game and re-packaged as DLC just for the hell of it (and that has happened with other games), I’d be miffed about it, because that’s just cheap and underhanded. Had someone come out and said that only first-time purchasers of the game would have access to the content, I’d be miffed about it, because that’s just not fair…and also makes no sense. But spinning first-time purchasers a piece of normally for-cost content for free instead? I just can’t get worked up about that.
…Tibby recommends that you opt to install it. In fact, he put it this way: “If you have a hard drive, for the love of God, please install.”
This time, it’s Todd McFarlane’s turn:
When I first joined 38 Studios and Big Huge Games, I told Curt Schilling I didn’t just want to join as a concept artist. I could have given him names of 20 guys who could do that job. But, I said, if you give me a chance to have a hand in all visual aspects of the game — lighting, spells, architecture, cinematics, you name it — that’s a different story. At the end of the day, that’s what the gamer is going to judge. Even if one or two of those aspects are spectacular, that’s not enough to make a great game. It’s our job to get as meticulous with each of those areas as possible. We’ve all seen movies where one or two of the actors gave brilliant performances, but the movie as whole didn’t work.
R. A. did the heavy lifting when it comes to storytelling. My part is to bring clarity. Bob tells a hell of a tale, but if no one can see it and everything looks washed out and unclear, then I’m crushing his story. When I’m talking to the guys about where to place architecture, or where to put the trees and rocks, I tell them it’s not just about placing things in the world. It’s about movement and discovery. It’s about creating moments.
Imagine yourself meandering beneath a canopy of trees. As the trees begin to thin out, you glimpse a castle in the distance. You turn to round a corner, and you find that it was only a part of the castle. Twelve more steps and you pass under a bridge to realize it was only half of the structure. That’s the magic we’re trying to bring to Reckoning. It’s part of bringing the world to life.
I didn’t get worked up at the beginning of this process saying, “It has to look like Todd.” That’s another game. As much as I like myself, there are a lot more people who don’t know me than who do. That’s a way bigger pool. Let’s give them what they expect, and then make it as sexy as possible.
Here’s what you should see first and foremost — quality. You’re not necessarily going to be gasping, “Oh, that’s Todd!” What it should be is, here’s a guy who went and did comic books and then took on toys and was able to look at toys and tweak it a little bit, then he did a little animation with HBO and it was the same thing. It doesn’t have to be as obvious as when I’m drawing every line of the comic book myself. What you see with your eyeballs is important, but it’s bookended by all the hard work of everyone else. In a bizarre way, if I’ve done my job right there shouldn’t be any domination by my input.
My best day is when I’m the dumbest guy in the room. And I’m pretty good at what I do. So when I feel like that, that’s a good thing. When 38 Studios bought Big Huge Games, there was an existing framework there. So what ended up happening was that I gave way more comments on art direction at the beginning of the process. And I have a list of about 12 things I repeat over and over again.
So the artists would turn their stuff in, and I would give comments, and as we went down the line they started to self-edit. They’d end up saying, “There’s no sense giving this to Todd because we know what he’ll say. So why don’t we just fix it internally?” That was at the beginning. But eventually, they started showing me stuff and I just said, “cool.”
Everybody has their own style, but you have to have consensus. We got there pretty quickly with BHG because of what we had pre-created at 38 Studios. But, we didn’t want to mirror that look. Instead, we did our Big Huge versions of those things.
We made a conscious choice that we didn’t want our game to be overrun with browns and blues. I get that if I’m watching a two hour movie like Braveheart I need two hours of blue. But I don’t necessarily want 100 hours of it. I understand that for the most part, if you suck out most manmade things, there isn’t a lot of color on Earth. Most natural things on our planet don’t pop color. Most of those things are manmade — that shirt you’re wearing, or the car that just drove by that’s canary yellow.
An RPG is a videogame smorgasbord. No gamer is going to put every single thing on their plate. If you don’t like spells you don’t have to use them. If you like brightly colored environments, gravitate toward those and stay away from some of the darker dungeons. Just take things, put them on your plate and play what you want. The pressure on us, then, is that everything has to be good. We had to give equal value to each one of those elements.
But you can over-think art too much. Sometimes we’re in a room and people will say, “We want to make sure it’s consistent, that it all makes sense, and that everything melds.” Then I come in and say, “I live in reality. I’m going to go out and get a blowfish. Now put a blowfish next to me. What is the consistency between the two things?”
What needs to be consistent is the way shadow and light falls, and the way foliage grows. But even when you get into architecture, in the real world you can go from caves and adobe houses to skyscrapers. If you let go of that artistically you can create an unbelievably large range of looks. Just let it rip. When you’re making a game I think it’s necessary to surprise the player from time to time. Better that we get too crazy and have to pull back than say, “No, no, all these dots have to be connected.” Connecting dots is more R. A.’s problem.
Of everything I’ve done in my career so far — movies, TV, comics, toys — this game has the widest breadth of possibility. Unlike those other mediums, where I get 100% say in what it is you’re about to experience, with the RPG (especially given the fact that, in Reckoning, you have a character who has no prior fate), once we’ve spent four years directing this thing, we essentially hand it over to you and say, “Here. You’re driving now. The car is yours.”
Now, in some ways, the responsibility is yours. Put what you want on your plate, whether it’s action, exploration, spells or whatever you’re into. Now you get to play as crazy or as passive as you want to. And if we did our job, you’re going to have a hell of a ride. You may never go to the coolest places I’ve been. Or you may go there and never look up. But hopefully, if you like the game, you get to take half the bow.
Curt Schilling and R. A. Salvatore, owner of 38 Studios and the game’s writer, will be on-hand at the Bellingham, MA location. Todd McFarlane, who was in charge of the game’s artistic vision, will be at the Tempe, AZ GameStop to greet fans, while lead designer Ken Rolston and select members from Big Huge Games will be at the Cockeysville, MD location.
So if you happen to live in or near one of these (quite disparate!) places, maybe consider staying up late on February 6th.
Like I think I said previously, I noticed a handful of minor masking issues that were probably related to my ATI graphics card more than to the game itself. And yet, Curt Schilling wrote a lengthy rant on the NeoGAF forums apologizing for its bugginess, and expressing mixed feelings over its release.
I’m going to take this as further evidence that I exist in a slightly different dimension than the rest of the computer gaming world, because honestly, I just never seem to encounter the issues that other people do with games. (And nobody seems to encounter the issues that I do.
Reckoning’s lead designer, Ian Frazier, gave another(?) interview with Eurogamer in which he talked about what game Big Huge Games and 38 Studios consider to be Reckoning’s biggest competitor.
You can probably guess, Dragons and Dragonettes:
Frazer described Skyrim as “our big competitor”. “It’s hard not to go, it’s the devil! It’s evil!” he said.
But, he’s a fan — perhaps not as big a fan as others, but a fan. “It’s a good game. It’s got problems. It’s not God’s gift to gaming, as some are describing it. But it is good. It’s a lot of fun. They do a lot of stuff really well.
“But a lot of folks are still playing it, and that’s been one of my biggest concerns. It’s the same thing as if we had released first. It’s hundreds of hours of content and it’s a high fantasy world. Are people just going to be bored? Are they just done with high fantasy for a while? I hope not. But that’s the big concern at the studio.”
Gabe, in particular, loves it:
I’ve been playing it now for a few days and I am in love. I’m probably not supposed to talk about the game yet but I figured it would be much easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission as the old saying goes.
I’m not incredibly far in the game and I don’t want to spoil anything but I do want to give my impressions. Yesterday on Twitter I said I thought it was better than Skyrim and I want to tell you why that is.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a problem with open world games. When given all these options I tend to get paralyzed rather than excited. for some reason Amalur is different and I think I know the reasons why:
The combat in Skyrim is miserable. If games like Bayonetta and God of War are on one end of a spectrum, games like Skyrim are so far on the other end that they have fallen off the spectrum and actually can not even see the spectrum from where they are. It seems like if you want to play a massive open world RPG you have to give up a fun,energetic combat system. The thrill of discovering a cave full of vampires in Skyrim is diminished by the knowledge that once I get in there, fighting them is just going to be a chore.
The other big thing that keeps me in Amalur is the art. Skyrim is nice looking in its own way but I found the gray and brown to be incredibly boring after a while. The world felt procedurally generated to me rather than built by a designer. Obviously Amalur’s style isn’t for everyone. It has been compared to WoW and Fable which, honestly I think is fair. If that sort of style doesn’t turn your crank then Amalur isn’t for you. personally I lost interest in exploring Skyrim and Dragon Age 2 because I never saw anything that looked very interesting. A big part of the reason I play games is for “new art”. That is the thing more often than not that keeps me progressing. What will the next level or zone look like? Amalur in my opinion is absolutely beautiful. This world has been thoughtfully and artfully constructed. It is vibrant and unique in a way that makes me hungry to explore over the next hill.
In the end I just want to make sure this game doesn’t slip past your radar. I think it would be easy to look at it and think it’s a pretty standard RPG. In reality Amalur is a unique experience full of great ideas. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Nothing all that excerpt-worthy, but it’s there for your reference, Dragons and Dragonettes. There is a teased possibility of some form of dimensional travel in the game, which could potentially be interesting…but I could also be reading way too much into a deliberately vague statement from the game’s narrative designer.
One notable excerpt they pull out of a Q&A session is from the game’s narrative designer, concerning the nature of the open-world and the open-ended nature of quests in the game:
While the open-endedness of our quests varies, we do provide many opportunities for Players to affect change, to alter the outcome of a quest’s specific storyline. Many quests have one or more pivotal points where players are offered a choice. They might push a group to do what’s best for them, lie to a character to spare her feelings, or allow a scoundrel to go free and escape punishment. Not every quest offers these kinds of decisions, but a large number of them do allow Player to express themselves in meaningful ways.
It seems to me we also heard, some months ago (and possibly from Ian Frazier), that if you happen to wander through the game world and find something which ends a quest before you find the person who gives you the quest, you’ll get the completion credit for it.
An interesting round-table discussion.
Computer and Video Games interviews the good Mr. Frazier this time, in which he discusses the unique experience of working across the hall from a “madman” like Ken Rolston, as well as some of his previous experience in the gaming industry (e.g. Titan Quest) and how that informs his work on Reckoning.
A comment on the game’s lore:
What are some of the most unique features of the Amalur setting?
There are a lot of unique and fascinating things about the setting that the team can’t tell us about yet, as they are considered “franchise secrets.” R.A. Salvatore really did write ten thousand years of history, and there’s a huge lore bank that the developers have needed to reference and stay consistent with while developing Reckoning.
The game itself should give the players some hints and whispers of the world’s bigger secrets, and these secrets are designed to be revealed throughout a lengthy series of games made in the setting.
[Ed: As this article was being written, we learned that a single-player sequel to Reckoning has already been confirmed, so 38/Big Huge appears to be following through on this promise.]
Oh, and for you would-be modders out there, some sad (for now) news:
Will there be a toolset release so that we can make mods?
As Reckoning is the first game in the franchise, the tools aren’t in a state that allows them to be released to the public at this point. That said, the team is working on a PC release of a toolset with basic functionality to aid modders.
I can’t seem to grab an embed code for the video, so hit up Joystiq for the full thing!
The lore and world designer talks about the process he and his team used to come up with the game’s story and the backstory of the world in which it is set.
This quote cracked me up, but is actually quite a profound observation:
Revolving heavily around philosophy and logic, Mr Salvatore says his design process stems from a skewed variant of human history.
“We ask questions like, ‘If you can throw a lightning bolt, would you invent a gun?’ Would it be worth it?” Mr Salvatore said.
This time, focus is given to world-building and the creation of side quests.
It was included as part of a larger piece at ABC News about Curt Schilling’s curious transition from star Major League pitcher to game studio head. And it gives a bit of a sense of the money involved:
After Schilling’s pitching career ended in 2007, he took the helm of his own video game studio. Schilling even chipped in $35 million dollars of his own money to help pay for the 400 or so top designers, programmers and artists he employs. $60 million dollars later, the studio’s first release called “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” is complete.
Again, the focus seems to be on how Salvatore and his team went about designing Amalur and its people:
In creating the world of Amalur, Salvatore looked toward existing human mythology and folklore in search of patterns of cultural behaviour. By studying the evolution of creation and destruction myths found in different cultures at different times, Salvatore was able to handpick different world views and customs and place them side by side, rearranging them like pieces of a puzzle.
“Why did some cultures succeed and others fail? Why did one thing work in one part of society but fail in another? I tasked my team of writers on Amalur to ask these questions and to research different mythologies from around the world and imagine what the world would be like if some of these stories were actually true. What would a real race of elves or dwarves behave like? We worked backwards, unraveling the stories we found and putting them together again.”
This, Salvatore believes, is the secret to world-building. All cultures follow a pattern, be it political, religious, or economic — a certain kind of symmetry that dictates how all humans relate to each other and the world.