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I support 38 Studios

Outside the city of Rathir

38 Studios has been having a rough few days.  I don’t know a lot about the deal 38 struck with Rhode Island, and I don’t know if anyone really knows much of the truth surrounding what has been going on with their missed payment of ~1 million to the state and being unable to pay employees.  Honestly, I don’t want to comment about the already over-publicized situation.  You can read about it on any gaming news site or on our forums.

What I want to say has more to do with the game 38 Studios (Big Huge Games) has already made, and a little about the people and game they want to make from a player’s perspective.

Outside the city of Rathir

Taken near the city of Rathir.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning launched in February.  Reckoning is an action role-playing game that I can best describe as a mix between Oblivion, Fable, and WoW.  I’ve tried to find official sales numbers, but the best I can find is a number in the high 400,000′s for physical box sales plus however many copies sold on STEAM and Origin.  I have no idea if that’s ‘good’ or not because their costs might have been extremely high.  Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that Reckoning did decent.  Reviews were mostly positive.

I like the game.  In fact, I still play Reckoning regularly.  I find the combat quick, fun, and diverse with weapon choices changing the feel just enough to keep things fresh.  I like the extent to which I can customize my character and be whatever I want.  For me, they’ve captured what I want in a single-player action rpg.  The story is stale at times and the side quests are entirely forgettable like an MMO grind, but the main story is fine.   What I love the most is the world; I’m awestruck by its beauty every time I play.  Amalur is a world from which a legacy of games can spawn (no pun intended).  Maybe it’s the art style, maybe it’s the color, perhaps the architecture… something about Amalur has taken hold  of me and all I can do is dream about the types of games they can make and the places we can go.

The Arena in the desert

Outside the Arena where I become the new champion -- they gave me a house and everything!

I want to play Curt’s MMO.  I like Curt — a lot — and I want to see the game he’s envisioned.  I know it won’t be anything earth-shattering, and it won’t reinvent the wheel.  That doesn’t mean they can’t take this amazing world I love and create a unique experience within an already established framework.  I can count on one hand the number of things GW2 is doing that I haven’t seen before, but they’re doing what Curt talked about which is to take what works and create a good game.

38 Studios has good people working on Copernicus.  I like Steve Danuser and Ryan Shwayder (I hope you’re both still working at 38 Studios).  There is a lot of talent at 38 Studios that has helped to create many games I have enjoyed in the past.  That’s part of the reason I’m so trusting of what they can accomplish with Copernicus.

If I were to pick one thing that I believe, from my armchair, caused all of this it would be the scope of their IP.  Their eyes might have been bigger than their stomach.  Was R.A. Salvatore really necessary?  Did they really need Todd McFarlane for the art?  Was it too much to make an action rpg and hope it did well enough to set the stage for their MMO?  They want (wanted?) to do so much from scratch to build this IP into an empire that it’s a little overwhelming to even watch it happen.

It doesn’t mean much, I know, but I support them.  I like the people, the game they’ve already made, and the ideas they’ve danced around for their upcoming MMO.  Best of luck to them as they sort things out.

What Copernicus will not be…

Copernicus, 38 Studios’ upcoming MMORPG, has been the talk of our community lately.  Todd McFarlane let it slip that Copernicus is coming later this year.  This lead to questions on the FoH boards asking Curt to comment on the release date.  While he never did make mention of when Copernicus is coming out, he took the opportunity to actually let loose on some interesting Copernicus facts.

[Copernicus] will NOT be an ability based sand box game, it just won’t. So those of you that want that need not continue following this thread[on FoH]. Apologies if that was what you were hoping for.

It won’t reinvent the wheel in many ways, but I do believe it will introduce some things promised, yet never done, and some things thought un’doable’. It may not be your cup of tea, but I am betting, roughly 40mm of my own money, and crap ton of others, that we will change the MMO space forever.

It will not be a twitched based combat system, it will have classes, it will have things I think MMO players love, and it will do them as well as anyone ever has.
I do believe we will move the genre forward, how much we do will likely be on you, the players, to determine on your own if we did what you had hoped, or did not. [Source]

Copernicus Concept Art of TreesThis sounds to me like we won’t see Reckoning‘s style of combat or fate system, and that the world will not be a sandbox in any way.   The big question that I see raised now is whether or not this will go the route of themepark game like World of Warcraft or find a niche yet-unnamed like Dark Age of Camelot and EverQuest.  There is still room for Copernicus to be the type of game I enjoy, despite so many doors being closed by Curt’s comments. That leads me to my next point.

Curt probably made a mistake by being so free with his words here.  I can imagine 38′s PR or marketing team freaking out right now. Before the game has even really had -any- information released, let alone a name, the head guy is telling some people to stop following the game.  It doesn’t matter if that’s not what he meant; that’s how people will take it.  Even if it’s not going to reinvent the wheel, that’s not something you drop on people like a bomb.   This may be the marketer in me, but I would emphasize what Copernicus does well and let the fact that the wheel is not being reinvented float by unknown or uncared about.

In the context of the FoH boards where this comment was made, a thread of over 12,000 replies, Curt is addressing the old guard wanting their in-game freedoms back and a game that isn’t a themepark.  He’s also addressing a very volatile group.  He’s possibly saying one of two things: (1) Copernicus will be a themepark, but you’ll like this one, or (2) We’re going for something closer to EQ.  I can see both being implied.   Curt is/was a huge EQ fan.  Many of us are still hoping for a game closer to EQ than WoW.     IF he’s making an EQ style game, tell us that instead of telling us a list of things it won’t be with a handful of hyperbole — especially on the FoH boards.

Bottom line, it’s what he flat out says Copernicus -won’t- be, in the context of the FoH thread, that gives people a bad impression of the game direction.  He’s deflating excitement and expectations; I’ve already seen it on our forums and in ventrilo.  I understand the concept of under-promise and over-deliver, which I detected in his words, but I think he may have gone too far. There are better ways to say what he said.  It just sounds bad the way it came out.

Anyway, I expect a response in the form of lots of positive information hitting the news sites to give players perspective on what we can expect.

[Edits made for clarity.]

Update: The more I think on the subject, the more I come to the conclusion that Curt should have said it entirely the other way.

He should have said “We ARE reinventing the wheel.”

If I understand what Curt is trying to do, he’s trying to incorporate a lot of great ideas from the past and bring them to the present market. He’s going to take a lot of great things he knows MMO players love in the current market, and toss them in too. Then he’s going to, hopefully, going to include ideas that have been talked about but never reached fruition.

That, in my opinion, qualifies as a new way of looking at “the wheel”. That is “reinventing” the wheel. It’s not “inventing” the wheel. The wheel was invented. It’s a new wheel, a new version, a new way of wheeling.

 

Initial Reckoning Impressions

I am head over heels for Reckoning!   I enjoyed the demo, which you can read all about, but I have to let people know that the retail version feels even better.  The controls are more responsive, the framerate is higher, and many sounds have been improved.

I’m playing the PC version via STEAM with an Xbox 360 controller.  I have no issues to report with performance.

Keen the Dokkalfar Mage

I made a Dokkalfar that I am playing as a pure Mage.  What I already love about my character is how awesome his combat feels.  I’m a Mage, but I’m busting out all these staff spins with fire attacks and throwing my chakrams around like Xena (eeeee lalalalala!).  Combat is so fluid!  Not only can I do all those attacks, I can chain them into combos that flow seamlessly together.

My magic abilities are very strong.  I’ve specialized into max lightning stuff with points into reducing mana costs and upgrading arcane weapon attacks.  I feel unstoppable!

Chakrams! Eeeee alalalalalal

Monsters in Reckoning look great.  I haven’t come across a single dull looking mob.  Even the bears have a look about them.  The brownies might be my favorite so far.

I’ve worked my way through several mini dungeons, plenty of forest, many quests, found epic items, and stumbled upon some amazing sights.  Amalur is beautiful.  The combat feels slick, but I think the world is what really has me in a trance.  I like to walk around zooming into the view that lets me look around.  I look up, down, zoom in on textures, and simply admire my surroundings.  At least 30 minutes have been spent just drooling at a beautiful world.

Another great thing about Reckoning is replayability.  I’m avoiding evil choices and trying to play how I envision a Dokkalfar mage would play.  I’m already certain I can go back and play a second time and enjoy the game from a different perspective.   There are also a lot of side quests that I have essentially followed to the point of completely ignoring the main story line.  I might be able to ignore some of the side quests and focus on them during a second play-through.  I’ll have to investigate that more.

 

I only have a few complaints with the game so far.

  • Why can’t I be one of those awesome Gnomes?!
  • Can’t jump
  • Sometimes camera angles are wonky

I hate bringing everything back to MMORPG’s, but Reckoning -is- acting as an introduction to a property that will become a MMORPG in the future (Copernicus).  My friends might be sick of me saying “Why can’t MMORPG’s play like this?!” on Ventrilo.  The sad reality is, RPGs are eclipsing MMOs for me.  MMOs just aren’t giving me the levels of “WOAH! AWESOME! FUN!” that I can find in RPGs.  38 Studios may be the ones to save MMOs for me if they can deliver a MMO on par with Reckoning.

Reckoning is a winner; that’s a conclusion I can draw with only five hours played.  Like I tweeted within the first hour of play, Reckoning is the most fun I’ve had gaming in months.

Would Reckoning make a good MMORPG?

Would Reckoning make a good MMO?  That’s a question I’ve been going over in my head since playing the demo (several times) these past few days.  We know that 38 Studios is creating a MMORPG (codenamed Copernicus) set in the same world as Reckoning.  How well would the RPG adapt to MMO status?

The world of Amalur impressed me right away.  The setting is vibrant and enchanting.  On the official site are world maps; something about them appeals to my sense of exploration.  Perhaps I like the map because it looks like my old cloth EverQuest map.  I love traditional high-fantasy stuff like Amalur.   Inside this great world are cultures, factions,  and fleshed out races with rich histories.  There is so much substance to the world itself that it’s almost impossible to fit it all into a game.  The richness of information does not feel thrown together or without purpose, unlike many games which feel foundation-less.

Reckoning’s character progression is what I am probably most intrigued by.  I really like this idea of Destinies and molding my character to play the way I want him to play.  If I want to be a Fighter-Mage I can, or even a Jack of All Trades.  The simplicity of Might, Finesse, and Sorcery (like talent trees) within this framework allows for further ability choice.  I hope that Copernicus has the same character progression.  It’s not quite a class system, nor is it a completely free skill system without structure.

Furthest away from any traditional MMO is the combat in Reckoning.  I really like the combat.  It has a certain ‘heft’ to it; a particular ‘oomph’ to the action-feel.  The animations act as a global cooldown, thus limiting ones ability to spam.  Spells, melee, and other actions all seem to flow well.  I was playing a rogue-mage in the demo and I would throw out some lightning and then dash in with my daggers. Charging up attacks makes for some crazy attacks.

The combat functions perfectly without a hotbar (which is why I’ve grown fond of using the Xbox 360 controller), and hotbars are something I would love to see phase out — or at least that standing in place pressing 1, 2, 3.

I wonder if the same engine will be used.  “If only MMOs could look and play like this.”  I say that all the time.  I’m afraid that the world would look less enchanting and the combat would be less dynamic in a MMO, but I don’t think it has to be that way from a DESIGN perspective.  It might be a TECHNOLOGY issue.

Copernicus, if like Reckoning, could be approached as a hybrid MMO: part themepark, part sandbox.  Many themepark elements are there, like questing.  Many sandbox elements are in the game as well, like the non-linearity of exploring the world and going where you want.  Copernicus could easily take the ‘form a party and set off adventuring to find stuff to kill’ approach instead of the themepark method of questing to level and only really grouping at end-game.

To answer my original question, I think Reckoning would make a phenomenal MMORPG.  Reckoning has the world, the lore, traditional action-rpg combat system that I would love to experience in a MMO, and a very unique class system that would function perfectly in a MMO setting.  I hope that someone in charge over at 38 Studios is capable of seeing the vision as clearly as I see it in my mind.  Copernicus can be amazing.

 

Reckoning Demo Impressions

Reckoning PC vs. Console Image

Keen's Xbox360 (left) and PC (right) Reckoning setup.

The Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning demo released today for all platforms!  In a surprise twist, it’s even available for STEAM.  This is an exciting moment for us.  Reckoning is on my personal list of most anticipated games releasing this year and I’m stoked to see the 38 Studios’ first product.

Is Reckoning as good as expected?  What platform should I get it on?  What are some important details worth knowing?  We hope to answer those questions for you by comparing the Xbox 360 and PC versions of the demo.

Before we get into too much detail, let me just say that both of us enjoyed the demo enough to pre-order.  The world really captured our imaginations and the experience as a whole, all things considered, was positive.  It’s nice playing a western RPG with some color!

Read on for our look at the console and PC versions. [Read more...]