Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning producer Sean Bean interview

  • 28/11/2011

By Daniel Rutledge

EA’s upcoming fantasy RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a videogame set for an early 2012 release that has been garnering quite a lot of excitement.

The game is being created by an impressive team including the likes of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolston, fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and comic book artist Todd McFarlane.

Recently I spoke with Reckoning producer Sean Bean about the game’s combat system, the all-star developer team, the fan community and a certain actor also named Sean Bean.

The combat system in Reckoning draws on those from a few different other games and combines them into something new. Can you tell me about videogame influences?
During lunch and after lunch and often when we’re designing games, we play all sorts of fighting games. Fighting games with weapons, ones with just fisticuffs, mixed martial arts games and what have you. We also read a lot of comics. We play all kinds of RPGs and we see what works really well and what doesn’t work as well. So we’ve taken the balanced nature of RPG fights, where what armour you’re wearing, your skill level and what spells you’re casting is really important. But also, it has to feel really good. So we look at how fluid a lot of the animation is, and we have been compared to some other action games in how kinetic our combat is.. We’ve spoken in previous interviews about how there are cancel-frames, so if you’ve started a move but want to quickly come out of it, our engine allows for that kind of quick action.

I’m very excited about you getting R.A. Salvatore in to help create the game, after his work on the Forgotten Realms series. How did he contribute?
R.A. Salvatore wrote for us a 10,000 year history, not just for the game but for the intellectual property. He then asked where in that we thought would make a good game. We as a team looked at everything he’d written and came up with three or four points we really liked. We ended up picking the time when the first person was ever resurrected and thought, wow, what would that mean for a game. What would be the ramifications of someone that was never supposed to be there?

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning screenshot

And of course you have Todd McFarlane onboard.
Yes, the creator of Spawn, he has an amazing eye, not just for the actions and the poses and a lot of things you’ll see when you play the game, but also for architecture, for monster design, for costume design, and so on. And he hasn’t just brought his opinions, he’s brought a very sound design strategy into a lot of what went into the game. He’s been really involved with the team, meeting at least once a week with 38 Studios and the artists to look at concepts through the model creation through animation, very detailed stuff, and sometimes just the larger broad stroke stuff.

Having Ken Rolston as the executive designer must also be fantastic, especially after his work on the Elder Scrolls series.
Ken Rolston is great. He’s insane, but he’s great. We have this great story and it looks really good, but then there are all of the things to do in the world. That’s where it’s wonderful for Ken Rolston to come in. He prides himself on making you so distracted that you forget there’s a main quest. There’s a lot of that in the game in finding different places to go explore. You’ll spend way too much time in one area forgetting that you’re supposed to be saving a damsel or what have you.

So you’ve assembled a bit of an all-star team to create Reckoning?
That’s been one of the greatest things about this for me, not just professionally but just as a fan of almost everyone we have. We have real visionaries on our team and having those three guys in particular has been spectacular and it’s been a thrill to work with them. It’s been great and I think we’ve really improved over previous things the studio has done by having such great direction.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning screenshot

There’s a lot of different races and character settings to choose from in the game, what is your personal favourite set-up?
A Dokkalfar, which is our word for the Dark Elf, female – because I don’t like to look at a man more fit than me. I like to go for the rogue mage combo, at about a 70/30 split, because I love a lot of the rogue moves, I love that we have stealth in the game, we have special animations for stealth kills on all of our creatures, and it’s a blast. There are also specific rogue weapons that are really fantastic and fun to watch. Add that to the mage, as a mage hybrid Destiny, instead of rolling to dodge, you can teleport. That’s really great as you can add poison to your teleport, so if you get surrounded by baddies, not only can you go through them, you can do so and leave them the worse for wear. So there are different elemental things you can add to your teleport that not only get you out of the thick of it, you’re just wrecking everybody. So that’s the way I like to play, but I’m not going to just play through once.

You also have a super-barbarian, pure power melee type setup?
There is. If you put all of your points into might, you can specialise in the weapons of single-handed sword, two-handed sword and hammer. Each of those have special abilities, not just in the basic attack chain, but also attacking out of a parry, for example, as a special kind of attack. Then the spells work really great too. My favourite spell in the game is the quake-spell, which we’ve shown in some trailers. The hero pounds the ground a couple of times and huge obelisks come stabbing up out of the ground. It’s super fun.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning screenshot

As you level up, the incidental creatures you come across randomly, will they level up with you or will they stay whatever they are, regardless of your level?
We have a banded system. I’ll give you an example; you go into an area and find small wooden scarecrow looking midgets, and they’re called Boggarts. Let’s say you’re a level one, the Boggarts will have a band on their level, between two and four. So you go in as level one, they’re going to be level two. You come back when you’re level three, they’re going to be level three. But if you come back at level seven, they’re not going to go above their band of level four. Because it is an open-world, you can run into an area where the enemies will wreck you in one hit. You would then make a mental note not to go back to that area until you’re a lot stronger. After levelling up in other areas or on the main quest, you could then come back and crush those enemies, which is really fun.

What are some of the creatures in the game you really like?
The Boggarts are some of the first creatures that went into the game and he’s a personal favourite. We had more time to give him idle animations and personality animations in addition to all the attack animations. All the creatures have those, just not as many. So if you sneak up on a Boggart, you’ll see him chasing fireflies, or take off his little helmet and twist it around and put it back on. So cute-wise, the Boggarts. But the troll is probably the most fun thing to fight. You can see it in the videos, but when you’re playing, you definitely get the sense of having to try to defeat it, rather than just mashing a button. He’s the first guy that will just destroy you. It’s fun to pick up on his patterns and figure out when the right moment to dodge is, or to hop in and stab him.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning screenshot

Creating a world as big as Amalur must be so exciting. Are you looking forward to going through some of the fan fiction and so forth?
Oh, absolutely. One of the hardest things for us is to know all the things that will precede and come after the game. We’ve actually had some of our first fan art already. It’s a little racy, but if you go to the Reckoning forum you can see what that is. We do see the work that people are doing out there and we’re excited about that.

Do you have a rough idea of how many hours one could spend completing the main quest versus just exploring the world?
If you wanted to avoid the main quest, I would say you could do so for hundreds of hours. If you wanted to pursue just the main quest, it would be less than that. I think that’s all we’re talking about right now. But there is a substantial main quest, I can say that much. But then it is open-world and there are literally hundreds of side-quests, there is a lot to do. The VO director came back to me and said one of the things they were having a hard time with with the actors, was discerning what was the main quest from the side-quests. The side-quests have such great story arcs that it’s difficult to know where the actors should be putting their emphasis. I apologised but said that was probably the best compliment our designers could have had.

Some games I want to spend hundreds of hours on, but others I don’t. If one wanted to just rush through this game with a more casual approach, will they be able to?
We know that, we are gamers. We have people that love to do everything and we have the people who just like to break stuff. They want to run through and hit someone in the face, so they can get their gloves, and then be better at hitting people in the face. You’ll notice when you’re playing that the top option will always be blue. If you always hit that blue option, you’ll go through the story quickly getting just the stuff you need to move forward before being able to go out and punch that guy in the face. People who want the lore, avoid that blue option until the end. Talk about all the side topics and that will enrich the experience and let them understand the context behind not only what they’re doing, but also the area they’re in and the history between the peoples and so on.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning screenshot

You just mentioned the active forum your game already has, well before it’s even released. Is that something of a stamp of approval?
We really hope so. We’re just as excited about it, we’re definitely not jaded yet as a team. We love the game that we’re making and we’re really excited that other people are as enthusiastic about it as we are. A lot of us follow the fan-sites and when we have the community representatives into the studio, they’re surprised that we know who they are and we know what they said last night. But we’re really excited to see what the fans really like, and we’ve made changes to the game based on things that happen in forums. Someone saw a screenshot and said ‘wow, wouldn’t it be cool if…’ And that was actually something that we had time to do and the skill to execute. We’re definitely designing it and running it with our community, that’s what we’re all about.

Finally, I have to ask about your name – are you a fan of the actor Sean Bean?
I am a huge fan of the actor Sean Bean and I hope that one day we can meet... and I can steal his credit cards.

Did you like the HBO Game of Thrones series?
I haven’t seen the series yet, I want to really badly. But I’m a Hulu guy, I got rid of cable a while ago. I’m a huge Boromir fan and every evil guy he’s ever been in everything. Except for Flight Plan, which I think they did on purpose to make you think he was the bad guy. But yeah, Game of Thrones is on my list. I know I don’t get to be a geek by having not watched it yet. In February 2012, the day after we ship Reckoning, then I will watch it and all the television in the world.

The studio must be happy with how well the TV show has done, just in terms of bringing fantasy entertainment more into the mainstream.
Oh, absolutely. The more interest we can have in fantasy, because Reckoning is a high-fantasy game, the better. We’re definitely seeing there is more interest in the genre and our game could definitely benefit from that. And anybody who confuses that Sean Bean with me, that can only help too.


Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is set for release in early February on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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