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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Interview @ The Codex

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Interview @ The Codex

Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 8 November 2011, 15:33:41

Tags: Big Huge Games; Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

 

[Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Interview with Lead Designer Ian Frazier]

 

 

1. In an interview with EGM you (Ian Frazier) said: "...once upon a time, we knew we wanted to make an RPG that had action combat in it. We started building out that game..." 


Can you elaborate on that? It almost sounds like "we wanted awesome action combat and some RPG stuff that goes with it".

 

What I was saying there is that Reckoning was always designed to be an RPG, and it was always designed to have fluid action combat. Neither thing was added later to the other—they’ve been hand in hand since the beginning. It isn’t an action game with RPG systems bolted onto it. It isn’t an RPG with action combat slapped on top. It’s a game (and an engine) built from the ground up to be a true RPG with fully integrated action combat, where every sword swing involves both the various hooks and modifiers and systemic sophistication of an RPG and the important elements of a finely crafted action game, like buffered input, per-attack translation (movement), varied hit reactions, and a range of time where an attack can be “canceled” (i.e. the player can change his/her mind halfway through the attack). 

 

2. As a follow up question, why is action combat so important to you? What's so awesome about it? 

 

It’s visually compelling, it helps us to deliver on the fantasy that you’re a legendary hero and really make you FEEL the power of that role, and above all, it’s simply fun!

 

3. Talking about why you'd want people to buy your game you listed "our combat, our colorful art style—just the sheer size of the world." Is there anything for people who like RPGs?

 

Combat that’s genuinely fun, a beautiful art style, and a massive world to explore are all things for people who like RPGs! Why wouldn’t an RPG player like these things? I’m an RPG fanatic and I certainly enjoy them! The massive explorable world in particular is something that RPG fans tend to appreciate. 

 

As far as other things for RPG fans, though, how about hundreds of quests to experience? Interesting characters to meet? A unique role to play in various factions? Expansive character advancement, crafting, and loot systems? We’ve got all that, and more.

 

4. Speaking of which, what's your definition of an RPG? 

 

Ha! Sorry, but I don’t think I can properly answer that question in under 5000 words. One of the troubles with talking about RPGs is that there IS no one definition. There are tons of them, with subtle degrees of variation, and it gets even crazier when you start talking about western RPGs versus eastern RPGs. 

 

5. How does one compete with the likes of Morrowind, Oblivion, and upcoming and highly anticipated Skyrim? What's your edge?

 

I can think of a several ways that we stand out from our competitors, in particular with the size of the world, which is very large and rich with stuff to do, We also offer a unique new fictional world to explore and a lot of new stories to experience, which should be exciting for pretty much anybody who’s into fantasy and extra exciting for fans of R. A. Salvatore. We’re doing some really cool things with the Destiny and crafting systems that I think players will really get a kick out of. We have a tremendous variety of loot to discover and use, offering the sort of “slot machine“ fun that you‘d normally only get in hack’n’slash games but not in hardcore open world RPGs. And lastly, the moment to moment fun of our combat is quite simply the best in the genre.

 

6. It's been mentioned that R.A. Salvatore wrote a 10,000-year story bible. How useful is it to have such a bible (as of opposite to a more modest 500-year story bible)?

 

It’s been surprisingly helpful, actually, first in terms of helping us figure out where to place (and how to design) certain ruins and dungeons and other aspects of the world that may be 1000 or more years old. This lore-based background helps to make the world feel much more grounded and believable. Next it gives us interesting ways to tie in to later plot elements in the world timeline, so that if you play more games set in Amalur, you’ll start to see this massive story of a world unfolding on a grand scale. The scope of what it lets us do is pretty amazing. 

 

7. Other than choosing between different abilities, what other choices will the game offer? Branching storyline? Multiple quest solutions? Friends and foes? 

 

There are tons of systemic choices in the game (abilities, Destinies, gear, skills, etc.) but if you’re talking about narrative choice, yep, we have that too! 

 

Many quests have multiple approaches and/or multiple endings based on how you choose to handle them, and those alternate endings can sometimes grant you permanent, exclusive systemic rewards that we call “Twists of Fate.” Dialogue and quest rewards can vary based on your skills (especially Persuasion!). NPCs can react to you differently based on your race, your gender, or even the god you worship. You can commit crimes and tick off individual NPCs or even a whole town. And in some cases those choices are directly integrated into a quest, like an NPC who asks you to do something devious and if you do as he asks without being seen, you get a very different end result than if you succeed at the mission but are spotted while you were doing it (I can’t say much more without spoilers).

 

8. Talking about the destinies (the character system), you mentioned that it stems from the core RPG problem of choosing a character class before you have any idea what you’re doing. Why is it a problem?

 

I've read what Mark Nelson had to say on the subject and it didn't sound very convincing:


“Too often this happens in role playing games,” says Nelson. “One of the very first decisions you’re asked to make, before you’ve ever swung a sword, before you’ve ever cast a spell, [is] what class do you want to be. How do you want to spend your life, for the next 100 hours in this game? You make the wrong choice, it’s not as good as an experience. "


The way I see it, if I want to play a mage or a fighter-mage (neither of which is a novelty concept), I pick a matching class and start playing. The only reason to be disappointed is if the gameplay (i.e. playing a fighter-mage) doesn't deliver. What am I missing?

 

We believe that making blind choices is inherently bad. Making a decision when you don’t have any information about that decision can result in you getting something you didn’t really want, after all, and that’s no fun. 

 

There’s a temptation to say “if every play style is good, then shouldn’t people be happy no matter what class they choose to play?” but that’s not really accurate. Whether or not a class in an RPG is “good” isn’t purely an objective thing—a lot of it comes down to whether or not it matches your expectations of what that class “should” be.  For example, what you want out of playing a game as a Rogue may be completely different from what I want when playing a game as a Rogue. Maybe for you, the way it feels to play a Rogue in WoW is exactly what you enjoy, but for me, the Rogue experience from Morrowind is ideal. These are completely different expectations, and both are totally valid things for a player to want. But if you and I both approached a new RPG and we both thought we wanted to be Rogues, either (or both!) of us might find out that we weren’t happy if the way that Rogues play in the new RPG doesn’t match with our expectations—even if the Rogue class is “objectively” good.

 

In light of this, we feel it’s best to let players get a feel for how the different playstyles in the game feel before they have to commit to something, so no matter what expectations you had coming in to the game, you end up playing whichever playstyle is most fun for you in that game.

 

9. To an untrained eye, it's hard to tell the difference between destinies and three skill trees (fighter, mage, thief) available to all characters. Would you mind explaining the system a bit better?

 

Sure! Each time you level up, you can upgrade a single non-combat Skill (Lockpicking, Blacksmithing, Detect Hidden, etc.) and then you get three points to spend in whatever combat Abilities you want. Those abilities are divided up into three trees based on playstyle (Might, Finesse, Sorcery), but you can invest into whatever abilities you want on the bottom tier of any of those trees—you’re not just limited to a single tree. As you invest into abilities on a given tree, you unlock access to higher and higher abilities on that tree, so the more points you spend on Sorcery abilities, the more Sorcery abilities you’ll have access to.

 

How many total points you’ve invested into each tree determines which Destinies you’ll unlock. A Destiny is essentially a class that you can equip. You can potentially have many Destinies equipped at any given time, but you can only use one of them at a time.

 

So if you invest solely in Sorcery abilities over the course of the game, you’ll only unlock Destinies that are purely magic-focused. But if you spread your points around between two trees, or even all three trees, you’ll unlock hybrid Destinies to choose from, like Shadowcaster, which provides a unique assortment of bonuses that suit someone who wants a mix of Rogue and Mage gameplay. In some cases, using these Destinies can change even core mechanics of the game, like changing your evasive dodge move into a short-range teleport move that freezes enemies as you pass through them!

 

In short, the Destiny system lets you make a wide assortment of fun, interesting character builds, all based on your particular investment decisions in the ability trees, the gear you choose to loot/buy/craft, and your decision of which Destiny to embrace.

 

10. Let's talk about non-combat abilities. First of all, what are they and what is their purpose? Are there any dialogue skills? Any comments on the dialogue system? What should we expect? 

 

There are 9 non-combat Skills in Reckoning: Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Detect Hidden, Dispelling, Lockpicking, Mercantile, Persuasion, Sagecraft, and Stealth.  Each of them has a bunch of different perks, but I’ll try to describe them very briefly: 

 

Alchemy lets you harvest reagents and make potions. Blacksmithing lets you more effectively repair your equipment when it’s damaged, salvage unwanted equipment down to its component parts, and create new weapons and armor using those components. Detect Hidden lets you discover secret doors and hidden treasure caches, spot enemy ambushes, as well as finding and disarming traps (whose components can then be used in crafting!). Dispelling lets you safely defuse magical explosives called Wards that casters often use to protect their stuff. Lockpicking lets you get into locked places or containers. Mercantile lets you get better deals at merchants. Persuasion unlocks new dialogue options in various quests, as well as reducing the cost to bribe your way out of a jail sentence if you get arrested for committing crimes. Sagecraft lets you socket magic gems into your equipment (to enchant them), as well as crafting your own gems from scratch. Meanwhile Stealth enables you to sneak around your enemies, either to avoid them, to get an advantage on them in combat, or to indulge in criminal activities from theft to trespassing.

 

Every single Skill can potentially unlock certain dialogue options, but as you might imagine, Persuasion is the skill most often used for this.

 

11. Also, as I understand, you've narrowly avoided a typical pitfall of making the player to choose "between being good at picking locks and talking your way through trouble or just killing things." Instead, you're telling the player “You’re going to be a badass. Tell us what kind of badass you want to be. You’re going to be good at some other stuff, too. Tell us what you want to be good at on the noncombat front.”


It's an interesting approach. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

 

We believe that player choice is extremely important and we don’t want any one player to be able to do everything, so that’s our starting point. We give you enough points to invest into a portion of the total set of abilities/skills in the game, but not enough to have them all. We want players to be able to do non-combat activities like picking a tricky lock, concocting an unstable potion, or carefully sneaking through a building undetected, but we also want to make sure the player has the opportunity to explore and enjoy our rich combat system, and we didn’t want to make him feel like choosing to do awesome things outside of combat would prohibit him from doing cool things on the battlefield—or vice versa. 

 

Ultimately we divided up Abilities (combat) and Skills (non-combat) into two separate things, so that the player can have some of both, but can’t have ALL of either of them. This guarantees that players can make their own unique characters (rather than everybody ending up the same in the late game), and it lets you define your explorative experience AND your combat experience without feeling like your decisions in either side of the game is diluting your fun in the other.

 

Thanks to Ian Frazier!

 

 


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