Chris "Pwyff" Tom sat down with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning's art director to talk about working with Todd McFarlane, the unique challenges of the game, and the direction of the Amalur universe.
A couple days ago, I wrote about my initial hands-on time with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, noting just how excited I was that a new competitor was coming to the action RPG genre. Overall, my experiences with Reckoning were well beyond any expectations, but what surprised me even more was just how enthusiastic this team was about their game. Throughout the course of the press event at Big Huge Games' studio in Baltimore, we had crowds of developers watching our every move, but instead of pushing us to explore the "best parts" of the game, they simply wanted to see what we would do, even if that meant running in a straight line across the continent for two hours, or blazing through all the dialogue options because we wanted to hit level 10 (sorry!).
While most of my time in Baltimore was spent getting as much out of Reckoning as I could, I did manage to squeeze in an interview with Tim Coman, the studio project art director at Big Huge Games, and the man responsible for Reckoning's day to day artistic vision. In addition to talking about the visual direction of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, we also spoke about the overarching Amalur universe and what it's like to work with Todd McFarlane, an artistic visionary who has no preconceptions about developing video games. Read on for the interview!
ZAM: I'm here with Tim Coman, studio project art director at Big Huge Games. Thanks for the interview, Tim!
Tim Coman: My pleasure.
ZAM: Do you have any major influences when it comes to designing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning?
Tim: With Reckoning, one thing we didn't want to do was set out to recreate one game or another. The internal team put together what we felt was the strongest art style, based off of the group that we had. Essentially, we chose a style that the team could all hit, and we built our strengths around that. Generally speaking, there are two paths that people generally go with for RPGs in this genre. Some try to make that Lord of the Rings movie feel, where it's as if you got a camera, went on location, and just tried to make everything look realistic while putting fantasy elements into that. And that's certainly a valid approach for games; I certainly don't knock it!
For our thing, however, we really wanted to come up with something more fantastical. We really wanted break away from games that are focused on browns and greys. It's great for certain games, but for us, since we're doing a fantasy game, there's almost any place we can push this from an art standpoint. This is one of the most fun places to be in development, where we're building a new IP from the ground up. We really wanted to create our own unique identity and, for me, the big thing was to have a consistent feel to the style; from the environments to the creatures, to the weapons, to the characters. We didn't want anything to feel wildly out of context. We really just wanted to create a game that people can recognize.
ZAM: The most visual thing that struck me was when I got my first sword at the very beginning of the game. Normally, the rusty sword is a very standard model that looks alike in every action RPG. Take a standard straight sword model, add some patches of rust (or just make the thing brown), and you're pretty much done! With Reckoning, however, you pick up a rusty sword and there's this flamboyant design to it, where it looks cool from the very beginning. I thought that was a great overall approach to everything.
Tim: If you keep going through the game, you'll find that there are more and more things to find. There is a ton of loot in this game.
ZAM: I think I made it the furthest of the press, but I was still being constantly surprised by how many new and unique items I was finding.
Tim: Everyone that talks about the Diablo style loot system in Reckoning, but the trick with an action RPG is that you have to build those models. We didn't just palette swap everything; we actually built the geometry for it. There are mountains of individual armor sets and original clothing. We have nine different classes of weapons, and inside that we've got tons of individual unique geometry for each one of those weapons. In addition to that, we have an affix and prefix system, which adds some cool graphical features, like flaming particles, when you socket certain stones. It's one of those things where we really wanted to have a lot of depth to these individual systems. From an art standpoint, it's daunting, but it's really cool to see people get it. If you've played a lot of these games, you'll recognize that a lot of people cut a lot of corners. We didn't cut those corners. We keep talking about how we went straight up the tallest mountain we could possibly find!
ZAM: It certainly feels like that! There are a lot of industry standards as to how teams can cut corners, where people will see those cut features and they'll accept it, saying, "Oh they needed to push production," or, "They had to keep resources down." With Reckoning, however, it feels like you're deliberately avoiding that.
Tim: Wait until you play further into the game! You'll get to some of the other cities and zones, and they're spectacular. There's way more stuff than what you've seen; it will shock you! People tend to limit their environments while drumming up different variations inside of those limits, but we've really done both. We've got lots of different zones, and there's a lot of variation inside those zones.