It takes a rare development studio to decide to do a big open-world role-playing game, and an even rarer studio to finish it. In the April 2012 issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine, Executive Producer Mike Fridley explains how Big Huge Games managed to make Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning a, well, big huge role-playing game. (The April 2012 issue is now available via subscription and digital purchase.)
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was released on Xbox 360, PS3, and Windows PC in February 2012. It was Big Huge Games' first open-world role-playing game release, and survived two different acquisitions by THQ and 38 Studios, respectively.
The following are a few highlights excerpted from the April 2012 issue of Game Developer.
RPG combat doesn't have to be boring
Open-world role-playing games do many things well, Fridley says, but none of them handle combat as well as Big Huge Games thought they should.
Shortly after we came out of preproduction, we took a long, hard look at the game we were making and tried to figure out where we were going to be better than the competition. We figured that open-world RPG designs are segmented into four basic quadrants: story, character progression, exploration, and combat.
We discovered that it was easy to identify the games leading the industry in story, progression, and exploration, but there was no clear title that does, combat well while still meeting the expectations of the player in the other three quadrants. So we decided to go all-in on combat and change our staffing plan to really commit to making combat fun in an open-world RPG.
The game wasnít built solely around combat, but it was definitely built with our flavor of combat in mind. Everything from the minimum size of a dungeonís hallway to the number of enemies we could handle onscreen at a time was governed by the guideline that combat had to remain awesome.
Two of the other things that went right during development were direct results of this focus on awesome combat, usability testing and functional group seating.
Too many damn demos
Developing a new game with a new IP has its own set of challenges, not the least of which is the need for more demos to win over skeptical games press and players alike. Fridley explains:
Being a brand-new IP, we were aware we couldnít get away with a single demo at E3 and a few dozen screenshots and videos. We knew we had to get our awareness up so people would start paying attention to our game. Marketing decided that the best way to do that was show the press as many different things about the game as possible over a very long period of time.
Iím trying to remember the number of demos we had to create over the development cycle of Reckoning, and I honestly end up losing count. Doing a demo for us was a pretty major undertaking, like it is for almost everyone in the business. Youíre basically taking content and systems that were meant to be first or second pass at a certain point in the schedule and bump it all up to shippable quality long before itís supposed to be shippable quality.
This results in a lot of work that is just thrown out because the real content and the real systems end up changing a few weeks or months later. And there is nothing quite as frustrating as working overtime on something that you know is just going to be seen once and then thrown away.
The consumer demo was another hurdle to overcome. There was no way we were going to be able to complete work on the game and create a downloadable demo in parallel. We just didnít have the time. In the end, we had to outsource the demo, and they had to build something with old code and not a lot of time. The result was a buggy experience, but still an experience that a lot of fans enjoyed.
In the future, weíll be sure to plan plenty of time and budget for multiple press demos and work on a better plan to either build the downloadable demo ourselves or better support outsourcers.
The full postmortem of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning goes into more detail about what went right and what went wrong with the game's development.
The April 2012 issue of Game Developer also features results from its latest video game industry salary survey, an in-depth tutorial on creating a bokeh photographic effect with the PS3's SPU, a detailed look at fine-tuning Prototype 2's effects engine, and more. You can purchase individual Game Developer issues or a subscription from the Game Developer web store, or download the Game Developer iOS app