38 Studios: An Update on Copernicus and Mercury

After several months of relative silence, the leaders at 38 Studios have emerged to talk about their recently announced product, Project Mercury, and gave the ZAM staff an update on the future of Copernicus.

Just a few days before the Game Developers Conference was set to officially open, 38 Studios shook the industry with the announcement that their MMO wouldn’t be the first product that they’d release that’s based in their original world. Instead, their first in-world title will be a single player RPG from the recently acquired Big Huge Games studio, and we sat down with Curt Schilling, R.A. Salvatore and Steve Danuser to talk about the upcoming game and find out what’s next for their in-development MMO.

While we prefer to put these articles into a more standardized, non-transcribed format, the conversation we had with the three 38 Studios leaders was so dynamic that we opted to leave it in its original format for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

ZAM: Obviously the big news that you released just prior to the Game Developers Conference was the fact that you have a single player RPG in the works with the Big Huge Games and that that game will be set in the world you’ve created for Copernicus. Were you planning to release the RPG first ever since you acquired Big Huge Games; or was this something that just made sense from a technological and product development standpoint?

From the outset of the company’s founding, this ‘ecosystem of product’ around the intellectual property was always a vision. Obviously the MMO was the baby; that was the big thing we were pouring our hearts and souls into. But we always had a vision of being platform neutral… whether you were holding your iPhone or your Nintendo… you’d be interacting with our IP. A single player RPG was a natural fit for that ecosystem, and something we’d always envisioned being there.

When we laid our roadmap out, initially in that first five year plan we had an MMO coming out and then the next step would be the RPG that would be a part of that world. We’d always talked about how that would happen. Fast forward to this time last year, and Jen walks in to let me know that Big Huge Games is for sale, and after a couple conversations with them realized that there was an opportunity there because of how advanced they were with their proprietary technology. With those technologies, we could turn our post-MMO roleplaying game into a pre-MMO RPG.

There was a lot to figure out with the deal, obviously, but we basically sent a packet of assets to their studio on a Tuesday, and by Thursday they were sitting in our offices with a working demo of their RPG with our assets in the game. We realized right away that their tech pipeline and assets were mature enough that this could be a seamless move for our company. The most important thing was that Copernicus wouldn’t feel a major impact on its development.

Danuser: From a creative standpoint, we’d spent all these years working with Bob (R.A. Salvatore) crafting these thousands of years of history. We’re really invested in this world, and we’re extremely excited about all the potential stories that could be told along the way. On top of that, we’re not even going to be able to tell all of the stories that exist simply because the MMO focuses on a specific span of that timeline.

Having these guys come in and pick out points of the timeline that they’d like to work with was terrific, because we could work with them and tease out the best stories that could be told and really fit into our RPG.

When I came in and started working with the 38 Studios team, it wasn’t to simply create a game. Our goal was to create an intellectual property based on a world. A big world. A world where you could do anything you wanted to do. Because of that, when we brought in the guys at Big Huge Games, it was very easy for them to understand their parameters. It’s almost like telling a King Arthur story; you know the tale and the type of tale it is, but there are dozens of different stories that you can create from the characters and settings that are there.

It’s the same type of thing with what we’ve done working with Big Huge Games.

ZAM: Has it been a difficult transition from the idea of introducing the world through a single player game rather than a massively multiplayer (and therefore much larger) game? In some ways, it doesn’t seem quite as grand; you’re not unveiling everything all at once, you’re just giving players a piece of the larger world…

I don’t think it’s a problem at all. To me, it’s actually going to create a wonderful segue for the larger MMO. In addition to the wonderful story that’s been created for the RPG, it really sets up introductions to some of our major players in the later MMO.

Danuser: The RPG is going to set up a lot of the key themes that you’ll see being played out on a much larger scale in the MMO world. But all of the core elements that make our world unique are there. This gives players and the community a chance to engage with this world in one very specific way to begin with, but later when they enter the MMO there’s going to be all these other ways for players to experience and see all these things and realize what the overall connections are within the structure of the story. It’s a wonderful opportunity that most companies simply don’t get.

ZAM: But what about the idea of losing the grandness that you might have captured with releasing your world in the MMO form first?

I think the opposite is true. There’s so much there – so many great stories, so many iconic pieces – that there was the potential that we were going to do the IP a disservice by cutting things out in the MMO. But in RPGs, we can narrow things down and tie the two elements together in many, many ways so that the .

But more importantly to me, there will be an immediate familiarity with the world in the MMO because you’ve already played the RPG. You have the world, the iconic pieces, and both of the stories will really mesh cohesively together.

Danuser: All the guys at Big Huge Games, with their rich RPG background, they’re very well-versed in making the world real and alive in that format. Players shouldn’t need to worry that the game is going to feel smaller in any way… it’s going to feel like a very expansive world.

Salvatore: Using my experience as a benchmark, I can say that the BHG team is also very experienced with working with established IPs. Sometimes you’ll see people that go into an IP and want to put their brand on it, and they’ll take it in completely weird directions.


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