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AusGamers Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:00pm 30/11/11 | Comments
AusGamers recently had a chance to chat to Kingdoms of Amalur: Lead World Designer, Collin Campbell, to talk about destiny...

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly, who is travelling the world as always. Today, I’ve landed in Vegas and I did some gambling; I did some debauchery; but amidst everything else, I found this guy: Mr Collin Campbell, who is the Lead World Designer on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

You may have heard about it -- we’ve been ranting about it for a little while. I guess let’s start at your expertise Collin -- Lead World Designer -- it’s a pretty big game and World Design is a big name. Can we run through what it is that you do on a day to day basis and when you came into the project, what did you set out to do and what did you achieve in the end?

Collin Campbell: So my team... our day to day is going into the editor for Big Huge Games and crafting the whole experience of running through the worlds. So we’ll craft the forests or the deserts -- that kind of thing. We’ll take the assets that the really talented environmental art team will make for us -- like the trees and the rocks -- and we’ll place them down. But we’re designers as well, so we’re thinking about combat, about narrative, about that kind of thing.

My job is to oversee that whole landscape of the game, so that entire open-world that you run through -- that RPG element. And just making sure that the visuals and the design are cohesive and the highest bar that we can possibly get.

And that was basically our main goal starting out as well. We wanted to make sure that we were making a game that was not just absolutely beautiful, but fun to run around in -- that spoke to open-world RPGs and was in the top calibre in that genre -- and I feel like we’ve done it. I’m really excited about you guys checking it out.

AusGamers: So there are five major regions in the game? Is that right?

Collin: That’s true. It’s a bit of a misnomer though, because you can look at the map and see that there’s Dalentarth that’s a forest region, but even within that forest, there’s a very dark forest, there’s a very magical forest, there’s more open low-trees forest, there’s spider-webbed forest; so it’s very spooky and ominous and it changes back and forth and ungulates. So even within one region, there’s a lot of different narrative areas to play out and explore.

An interesting part of our role is that we are in the middle of pretty much everything, because we have to make sure the game is running [and] looking beautiful, but also at performance. If it’s overly beautiful -- if you put in too much detail -- obviously the game can’t run, so we’re working with programming to make sure it plays nice on the consoles and we’re also working with art to make sure that it looks as good as it can possibly look and we’re working with the system designers to put down all the RPG system elements -- like the reagents and the different crafting systems.

We’re working on combat to make sure that when you run in to actually fight something -- which is such a huge part of Reckoning -- that that’s all fun and well-paced, and of course narrative to make sure the story is well-housed in this immersive environment that we’re creating.

AusGamers: That’s a really good point, that there are so many components to a game like this, where you’re talking to the artists and you’re talking to the mission designers and everybody else that’s involved with every component. And then the tech guys that are basically saying... they’re the Scotty down in the engine room going “I cannae give it any more Captain”.

For you guys -- I guess from a design perspective -- how does it work when you have to reign it in and go “guys, I’m sorry, we can’t do this” and how often did that happen on this project?

Collin: It happens a little bit every day and sometimes more than others -- that’s the nature of making a big game and we have other people in different roles saying that about us, but at the end of the day, it’s all of us working together and collaborating with give and take to make one big cohesive thing.

Our area covers a lot of the real-estate of the game, but it’s not the whole story. The character designers have to make sure their stuff works, the narrative designers have to make quests that are incredible and we all balance that to try and make the best whole product. So I guess that’s probably the nature of the beast, it’s actually a fun part of how all these different gears come together to make the big machine.

AusGamers: There’s been a bit of a misconception among the audience that this doesn’t seem much like an RPG, it seems like an action game with RPG elements. I know that not to be true, because I’ve seen enough of it and had an amazing conversation with Ken Rolston (who I will touch on in a minute)...

Collin: [laughs].

AusGamers: But can you give me your pitch on why this shouldn’t just be palmed off as a generic action game with some levels and arbitrary XP and that sort of stuff?

Collin: Well I think that speaks of the development team in a lot of ways -- and Ken Rolston of course -- that we have people working on this game that are huge RPG fans -- I’m one myself, so we wouldn’t want to make a game that isn’t an awesome RPG and the best in the genre.

AusGamers: Well that’s why Curt [Shilling] made the studio right? He’s an RPG fan, despite the fact that he was a professional Baseball player.

Collin: Yeah. So we wouldn’t settle for anything less, is the really important message in there. Also, we’ve worked hard to implement all the crafting systems, the destiny system where you can choose your path... you don’t have to stick to being a fighter, mage or rogue, you can build yourself up in all of these different ways and combine them and as you go through the game you can be iterative on yourself as a character.

There’s abilities, there’s talent trees, there’s the crafting systems and of course there’s RPG combat, but it’s amazing RPG combat. It’s marrying a lot of fighting games into an RPG, it’s not an action game that has a few small RPG elements, it’s very much a cohesive experience that way.

AusGamers: What about for the number crunchers out there -- the guys that really live for like “this epic sword is worth this much more” and the stuff that really comes down to the most mathematical balances?

Collin: You’d be better speaking to a systems designer about that specifically, but I can give you my take on it. I know that we have thousands of variations of weapons in the game, depending on our procedural approach to how these weapons get made and generated for the player to use and find.

So they can go through the world and on different replays, they’ll find different weapons and be able to build themselves in different ways and really find the things that work best for what they’re trying to achieve as a player. There’s that side of it and I think the destiny system actually allows you to test out a lot of different role-playing and combat approaches to the game and there’s a lot of flexibility in there to really allow those number crunchers to fine-tune themselves and experiment.

AusGamers: Now getting back to Ken Rolston. He’s a lovely character and very passionate. His press interactions tend to happen in this great eccentric way -- is he exactly like that in the office? How does that help the creative process and at what point does it become like “Oh Ken”?

Collin: [laughs] It never becomes that way, and that’s not an act, that is exactly how Ken is and it’s amazing because at no point is he tired or stressed. He’s always invigorated and always impassioned, but he keeps all of us at that level -- those of us who are in the trenches making the little gears turn -- he keeps us inspired; he’s so creative. But he doesn’t labour on us; he doesn’t micro-manage; he very much encourages us to use our own creativity just as he’s using his. So it’s wonderful.

AusGamers: Part of the reason we’re getting hands on today -- the big touting thing -- seems to be combat, combat, combat. It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s frenetic, it’s visceral. It kind of takes away the chore and the labour that was in so many modern and yesteryear RPGs, but at the same time, there seems to be a bit of a slow burn to the game. You create a character, you work your way through. You’re exploring who you are as a character: a voiceless, nameless, dead, vessel -- which I think is genius in the RPG space as well. Beyond the combat focus, can you run us through how that gels with the narrative and everything else and finish off with what’s your favourite component?

Collin I think you touched on it there. That not only do you feel the organic and visceral combat that we worked so hard on -- that plays very differently than when you’re just watching a video of it, because you’re actually pressing the button that makes the hammer fall, that makes the sound go off that makes the effect go off that makes the enemies explode; it’s a much different experience than just watching it happen -- but it’s also like we talked about with the RPG systems, actually getting to run through and find all the things that make the game so deep. You can’t show that in a screenshot; you can’t show that in a video -- except for very small snippets.

In terms of my personal favourite thing: I’m a little bit selfish about this -- because of course, I worked on the world -- so I’m really excited about the open-world aspect of this; of running through and exploring those RPG and combat systems in this sprawling environment. So I can’t wait to see you guys check it out.

AusGamers: Alright. I want to end with one last little question: As a World Designer, what would you do to the real world we know right now to make it better?

Collin: Me personally? Well, if I could go back through and do the things I could do in my world of Reckoning -- terraforming and terrain editing and that kind of thing -- I would clean it up. You know, we make fantasy games because they’re beautiful...

AusGamers: So there are no dirty areas in Reckoning?

Collin: Oh yeah, there are ; they come in all shapes and sizes and all palettes and all temperatures and everything else. But they’re fantastic because we want them to be beautiful and epic or dark and ominous and mysterious -- but not polluted. So I would encourage people to clean up after themselves.

AusGamers: And not leave a bunch of corpses lying around?

Collin: [laughs] That’d be helpful too. Not make a pile of corpses is probably the first thing you should do!

AusGamers: Ok, well we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for time Collin, the game looks great and we’re looking forward to it.

Collin: Thank you.
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