GamerZines: Unlike other RPGs, Reckoning features a silent protagonist, why did you guys go for that?
Will Miller (Systems Designer for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning): There were a couple of considerations with that and one was localisation. We wanted to localise all of the voices in the game, we didn’t want any speech that wasn’t localised and having the player character talk ballooned that very quickly. However that was a very minor component to this decision, the big reason why we did this was because the less that’s explicit about your character the more, the player gets to infer their own personality. Some of the best games have silent protagonists, Zelda for example, and if he ever speaks I swear – I’ll march to Tokyo myself. That was a conscious choice and we think it was the right one.
GZ: That’s really interesting, because games as a medium seem to be moving away from that idea. Take the success of BioWare’s approach for instance…
WM: I love BioWare RPGs I really do, but I think there are better things that games do than tell a cinematic narrative. We want you to walk away from Reckoning with the story that we’ve chosen to tell you, but also the story that you’ve told yourself with our game. I feel like when you walk away from a game where your character talks, you’ve lived more of the designer’s story than your own, but with Reckoning we give you a great set of building blocks to tell your own tale. The anecdotes that your friends always tell you about these games aren’t about great scripted sequences, instead it’s along the lines of; “I invested in this crazy combination of skills which made me totally invincible and that was awesome because it broke the game!”
Hopefully we won’t ship with anything like that, but it’s all about that kind of stuff. These great little experiences that the players had, that they did, not what the game did for them is what is super important. I worked for Firaxis for two and a half years and one of Sid Meier’s big things is that the game should never have more fun than the player and that the systems always serve the game. My own personal design philosophy, as well as Big Huge Games’, aligns very closely with that and that was the motivation behind that decision and many more.
GZ: What sort of challenges do you have making an all encompassing RPG for both PC and consoles?
WM: It’s tough – we had two separate SKUs, console and PC, and we knew we wanted to do both of those in-house. They both got a lot of attention. Our art direction is a little more traditional in terms of how the user interface is presented. It’s going to look a lot more like an old school RPG rather than the minimalist user interfaces you see in games today, but that’s because we have a lot of data to show you.
We changed up some things in both SKUS to meet player expectations. You’ll get the same combat and the same content [between different versions], but the way you interact with it will be different. For instance in the PC version the ability bar is mapped to keys just like in an MMO and you can switch the weapons with the mouse wheel; little things like that which PC players expect. Obviously it’s streamlined in a similar way on consoles.
GZ: What do you think makes a good quest?
WM: Our narrative designers are all hardcore RPG players, they’ve played all of the games you’d expect them to. They know the kind of quests that get repetitive and stupid, and they know the ones that are really clever. We try to make all of our quests ones that are really clever. Not all of them can be, but there are a lot of really neat situational kinds of things that you can get into. Especially the faction quests where you’re having to make lots of different kinds of decisions including different ways to negotiate situations regarding stealth, persuasion, and all the non-combat stuff.
GZ: How do the factions figure into the game?
WM: You can think of them as tributaries to the main quest. They are a great vehicle to deliver that lore that Salvatore wrote for us and they’re pretty substantial. There’s a lot of meat there, they aren’t just a side-quest that you do. They are a chain of quests that take you geographically a pretty long distance. Lots of dungeons to do, choices to make and at the end of most of them you get what’s called a Twist of Fate which is a perk that, depending on how you played the quest, will apply to you the rest of the game. They’re all good, they’re just different kinds of good. Doing one doesn’t lock off another, so you can do all of the faction quests, even after you’ve beaten the main game we let you keep playing so you can go back and do those if you want to.
GZ: So there isn’t necessarily a new game plus thing?
WM: Systemically the game is exactly the same after you’ve completed the climatic ending to the main quest. After that we kick you back to the start screen and you can just keep playing.
GZ: How many hours worth of gameplay would you say Reckoning offers?
WM: We play the game a lot and it’s really hard to tell. Depending on how you play, if you just run through the main quest and that’s tough because there’s a lot of things that are trying to get your attention, it’s more than enough hours to satisfying an RPG gamer and more than an action gamer would expect. If you play all of it, it’s an open-world RPG, there’s hundreds of hours worth of content. I have yet to see all of it and I work on this game every day! So it’s big!
GZ: Thanks for you time Will!
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