This article appeared in The Atlantic on March 5th, 2012
You’ve been working on this game for five years, and you push it out at long last. Do you think immediately, “On to the next thing”?
We’re building a franchise. This is not a one-and-done. We just announced our first DLC for it [last week], which is huge…[it’s] very unconventional from a size and scope perspective. You know, we launched a franchise; that’s different than launching a game. Maintaining the awareness, especially in this day and age, is hard. You got Mass Effect 3 coming out in [a few] days, and we need to survive past the launch of Mass Effect 3. We need to continue getting eyeballs on the product, and we have the ability and the desire to patch it and make it a better experience. At the end of the day we’re a studio full of gamers who want to make awesome games for gamers, as opposed to being a publicly held company. It’s different, and I’m not belittling that, but it’s very different in how you look at your players.
A lot of game studios start with a couple guys in a garage. You guys started with a bunch of capital and a bunch of big names.
The garage in this case was Teamspeak. The small group of people who were forming the company were my guildmates in Everquest who worked for Sony Online. We had been friends for a while and we’d been talking for a long time, and it came to the point where the conversation needed to end or I needed to do something about it. And I did something about it.
You took an unusual approach, where you guys built this big, lore-filled world and moved on from there to game design.
There is! It’s [a special animation], what we call a Fateshift kill—you’ll know it as soon as you see it.
You’ve said Reckoning features the “best combat ever in an role-playing game.” What, in the 38 Studios philosophy, makes video game combat great?
The fact that it’s incredibly accessible: you can pick up the controller and be Jet Li. Added to that is the incredible depth and breadth of combat. You could probably go through the game mashing a couple buttons, and eventually make your way through the game. You could also be an incredible perfectionist in combat, figuring out how to do a 15-hit juggle [combo]. The depth of the combat is hard to believe, [considering] that combat system is driven by an RPG engine—a stats engine. Those two things have never been put together in an RPG before to the level we’ve put them [together]. You’ve had the depth and breadth of combat we’ve had in stats and data before, but never visually. I don’t think I’ve ever bypassed an opponent in this game…because killing stuff is so fun. That’s Tekken, that’s Mortal Kombat, that’s Street Fighter. In God of War, the visceral combat keeps you moving through the stuff between battles. In Skyrim, you move through the combat to get to the quest stuff, and the lore. We’ve put both those things in the same game.
It’s called “The Legend of Dead Kel.” What’s not to like? It’s dwarves and it’s pirates and it’s undead—it’s huge, from a content perspective. It’s enormous. It’s another tip of the cap to the players, saying “when we ask you to spend your hard-earned money on something we’ve done, we want you to understand there’s immense value in that.” DLC is one of those places. Before DLC, console games were one-and-done. It was a point of sale and you had no opportunity to engage with your players after that. It’s different now, with Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Steam, all the platforms to deliver content. We launched Reckoning realizing we launched a service. So our DLC is a way for us to patch the game we launched and make it a better play experience…I don’t know if you’re finding Reckoning somewhat easy, but we’re going to put a harder mode in there sometime soon. We totally missed the boat on that one. We’re starting to see [data] that says otherwise, that players are dying, but we need to tweak things.
Nope. Nope. I have to find my motivation in other ways. It’s cool and I love it and I’m inspired, but I had a God-given ability to throw a baseball very hard and very accurately. I was blessed to do it for 20-something years professionally….To all the fans of 38 Studios, we’re 100% reliant on their passion and commitment to be what we’re gonna become, and we’re grateful for it.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity and length.