Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – Todd McFarlane Interview Part 2
This is part two of when Jenn met Todd, looking for part one? You’ll find it here
It’s not long now before Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning hits the shops, is that going to be a hard day to see it finished?
For me it’s going to be a joyful day, you know like giving birth to your own children; you go wow, something new and creative is out in the world. Not just for me though – for the people at Big Huge Games who have been putting a lot of long hours into Reckoning the last couple of months, just banging it hard so there will be some sort of joy at the end, but it’s also sort of sad because you’re done with it… although… it will be nice to get some sleep now. We’ll put it out to the world and await the reaction… hopefully it’ll be the reaction that we’re hoping for.
What has the reaction been like since you first showed it off?
Surprisingly, I think it’s caught a lot of people off guard. Everybody is trying to come up with a new game, a new brand, and we’re trying to push the boulder up the hill if you will – just trying to get people to pay attention to it and react to it. From the very get go the vast majority of people have been giving us a positive response, to the point that I was, and to some extent even EA have been, caught a little bit by surprise. It’s like they’ve gone “Oh… maybe we need to spend a little more attention on this game, because it actually could be a pretty solid seller for us.” The guys at EA are always sending me the links to all the press that comes in for me to look at – not to many people have torn it apart and we’ve heard a lot of kind, kind things about the game.
One of the things that Amalur is being praised for is the different approach it’s taking to the RPG, and where a lot of RPGs are over complicating things Reckoning is trying to simplify them. Was this in the design right from the very beginning?
Well we’ve had these conversations all along on different levels, both on the playing level and on the creating level, but you can be a little too smart for your own good at times – trying to be so clever in those meetings you forget the basic rule of who is the end consumer? And the end consumer just wants something that’s fun to play with, to have an enjoyable time, and for it to be very user friendly. For instance, on the action part of the game we wanted to do some really cool big action moments but we didn’t want it to be some six button quick time event to get there. We’d rather it be a simple button mash that even when you do it another time things like how fast you did it and how hard you push the buttons would change the dynamics of the moment.
We didn’t want people to have to learn combinations – those are for action players, let them go figure that out – that’s not what RPG players are looking for. We thought instead of worrying about how smart we can be why don’t we just give them what they’re already expecting?
There are roughly ten things players want out of a RPG/fantasy game – we decided not deviate from those things and to make those experiences better than some of the stuff that has come before. We want them to go “wow, it’s everything I thought it was going to be” but just have it feel better, smoother and more fun… or whatever word players want to implement into that sentence, and then we’ve done our job. It’s a tough balance… I sit there sometimes with guys who have a big degree from Harvard or M.I.T. and I say “guys… remember the story of the guy who ran Motown years ago?” Now he was smart, what he would do is after they had finished all of their recordings and production that would have sounded great in the studio on the million-dollar equipment took the same recording and run it through a transistor radio in the room next door because that was how people listened to music back then. He did it to see if the music still sounded good, because in the end that’s all that mattered. It doesn’t matter how smart we are, in the end all that matters is what the consumer gets out of it.
With people like yourself and your background, Ken Rolston coming from The Elder Scrolls series and his work on D&D over the years, Big Huge and their expertise from Rise of Nations – how has that diverse team enjoyed taking that kind of simple approach towards the game’s development?
Well that question’s pretty interesting because in essence you’re asking “how did they enjoy being simple or simpler”, and the answer is that the only way we could get there was to actually figure out how to take all the complications and make them simple. Its not that we wanted to do simple stuff and make it simple, we wanted to take the complicated stuff and design it in such a way so it would play right. This is where the whole logistics, IT and coding guys come in, who are the ones making that complicated thing into a simple movement that can be done with a couple of fingers. That was not an easy task and I really appreciate that the end result worked. I’d go back to them and say “you know all that hard work you did trying to take the theory of relativity and cram it into a small cereal box? Well it worked.” Those guys really did their job, but I know they really scratched their heads a lot saying “we gotta do what now?” I would just watch them looking at each other saying “how we gonna do that?” But they are smart guys though and they figured it out.
We knew that we were trying to add an upgrade to all of those RPG elements, but there was a sense that if we tried to be to many things for too many people then we arguably were going to fail, and it was just going to be “enough”, but nobody was really going to enjoy it. We still had to give some big beefy components that are in there that kind of attention, whether it was the quests, the menus, the way you loot, the spell casting or the boss fights.
Each one of those things has to be there and they have to be cool as hell, but it has to be in a fashion that wouldn’t be frustrating. It’s just like going on a website that you can’t navigate – it just drives you crazy and you don’t want to go back to it.
Come back later this week for part 3 of our interview with Todd, in which he talks about ugly babies, the part he played in Reckoning’s development, and hints at the possibility of some Kingdoms of Amalur multiplayer DLC.