R A Salvatore on building the world of Amalur
Mon, 23 Jan 2012 2:27p.m.
The following article is written by fantasy author R A Salvatore on his work on the Kingdoms of Amalur games:
World-building is, mostly, an exercise in philosophy and logic.
Every culture has creation and destruction myths; building a world means exploring these and, perhaps, determining if one of them might actually be true.
In any case, these myths, or religions, are often shaped by the environment, both political and physical, and they, in turn help shape cultures.
Mark Twain once noted that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes. If you study history, you see the truth of that. Cultures follow a pattern, human needs demand certain systems, and there is a beautiful symmetry to be found in putting one culture beside another.
So take our own human history viewed through an honest prism. Now turn that prism just a bit to the side — for example, pretend that one of the more primitive creation-destruction myths is actually true (consider the 2012 Mayan craze currently hitting pop culture). In this skewed vision, add in elements to fit the new “truth” of history, the way Dan Brown did in The DaVinci Code, (and many others did before him) and you’ll find yourself amazed at how well those elements “fit” into the question of what really happened versus what we know from textbooks.
This is the secret of world-building, whether you’re recreating or reinterpreting our world history, or creating an entirely new entity. And a second secret: it’s a blast. I mean that. You are, in effect, concocting a gigantic conspiracy theory, and admit it or not, people love conspiracy theories.
This is the essence of Amalur. My team put in place the creation-destruction myth of the world and the logical, historical construct that supports the world in its game-state, whether with Reckoning in the Age of Arcana, or the MMO, Copernicus, 2,500 years later. This was my role and my stamp on Amalur overall, and it will reflect in all of its products, or at least, it had better!
My role in the specific endeavors of Amalur varies. I’ve been very involved in the MMO, of course, having spent almost four years in the office with the teams and advising on everything from narrative (world history and meta-story) to content (individual quests and zones that reinforce the larger world), to the art style and even the class and mechanics’ teams. All of it, every system and discipline, goes to support the meta, the larger world of Amalur, with its history and development.
We ask questions like, “If you can throw a lightning bolt, would you invent a gun?” or “If you can teleport, or facilitate swift travel to distant points, would you go through the laborious process of creating a highway system or airplanes?”
You might go to a certain point — riding horses and plowing fields — perhaps, but the cost and time and slog from there to air travel? Would it be worth it? Similarly, I’m always asking, all the time, “How does it fit?” An idea might be cool, very cool, but how does it fit with the history, logic and philosophy of Amalur? If we can’t come up with suitable answers, the cool idea gets put off to the side for another day and another project.
The advent of Big Huge Games as a part of 38 Studios brought dramatic changes, fears and trepidations, honestly. All of a sudden, our carefully controlled hiring and team-building and micro-management of the IP got hit with the addition of nearly a hundred new workers, most of whom none of us knew, and with an RPG engine in development over which none of us at 38 Studios had any input. As we sat down to discuss the acquisition and the role BHG would play in the IP of Amalur, there was more than a bit of skepticism, and I have to admit, most of it was coming from me. This was my baby and Curt went out and adopted a sibling!
But the more I got to know the folks in Baltimore, the more realized these were great people in a creative environment and with pride and joy in what they were building. Still, when we came to realize that Amalur, which we had been working on for several years, would make its public debut through a single-player RPG from the newly-acquired Baltimore studio rather than through the MMO we were building in New England (near my home), I was, of course, terrified. Honestly, it didn’t initially help that the “visionary” of the Baltimore studio was certifiably insane — lovable, but insane. I didn’t know Ken Rolston, though I certainly knew his work, all the way back to paper game days. I also understood that he brought enough well-earned cachet to fight me, if that had been his choice.
All of those fears went away about an hour after I met the guy. I spent the first 50 minutes trying to figure out just how crazy he was, then finally realized that I was confusing “crazy” with an incredible love of life, a curiosity beyond anything I had ever witnessed and a level of honesty that was truly refreshing. Ken Rolston lacks pretense. He puts it out there with complete honesty. He is who he is, unabashedly. I’ve come to love the guy, and respect his intellect and creativity and most of all, his curiosity. It wasn’t enough for him to simply look at the IP we had created and pull out facts from it. No, no, he had to dig deeper and seek out the mysteries built behind the events, logic and philosophy of our timeline.
So now BHG had our timeline and the primer on Amalur. They went out and concocted a meta-story for their game, and pulled from our timeline a space and time that best supported that story. Then they came to Massachusetts with their concoction, and I and that team I had helped form at 38 Studios went over it and began asking the questions and offering the suggestions the same way we had done with our own internal fights and collaborations during the primary building of the IP. It wasn’t all happy roses, of course. Creative people like to argue, and become wedded to their ideas as passionately as a bulldog holds fast to a bone. But we got through it, and the end result was a sum greater than the individual parts each of us were bringing to the table.
Since then, my role with Reckoning has been more in the role of mentor and editor, from afar. One of my favorite days since the beginning of 38 Studios was when the entire narrative team from BHG, including Ken, flew up to Massachusetts to sit down around a table and present their side quest lines to me. This epitomized what has been the true joy for me as the old hand on the project: being able to work with wonderfully creative younger writers and artists and help guide them, and pull from them their very best efforts.
This is what an editor does. I don’t rewrite their stories, I force them to justify what they’re doing, force them to ask the questions at the second level, the third level, and so on, so that when they dig their heels in, they can say, without any doubt, why and how what they’re doing is important to the world of Amalur, why it fits and why it enhances. That day around the table, I sat and listened to each presenter (and I love that some of them were clearly nervous — I felt like a professor ready to pass judgment). Then I hit him with a barrage of questions, forcing him to justify how what he was doing fit the world. After that, when each young writer had fought back with passion, we got into the collective questioning, taking what had been presented and offering a different perspective on how those quest storylines might be tightened or expanded or otherwise improved.
And in the end, as always with 38 Studios, it became the province of the individual creator to make the final calls on how his quest line would play out, because in the end, this is truly a team project, and truly shines when you hire talented people and let them be talented. The last thing I or Todd McFarlane or Ken Rolston or Curt Schilling wants to do is stifle the creative input of the team. Our stamps are on this world, but so are the stamps of everyone involved in the creation of Amalur, at both studios. This works because we all bought in. We all came to know early on that we were doing something special here, and now we can’t wait to prove it.
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(Won't be published)
27/02/2012 10:24:58 a.m.
I'm also a fan of Drizzt I have read most of your books you and mcfarlane were the main reason I got the game.
also my name is not didi it is abit more manlier but anonymity is preferred among all who browse the internet
24/01/2012 3:19:06 p.m.
Jared Edmondson wrote:
I am a huge fan of yours Mr. Salvatore, and I am proud to call you one of my favorite authors. I would just like to thank you for all the work you have contributed to the world of fantasy and for your work involving the Forgotten Realms. Drizzt is probably my favorite character and the series is probably the main reason I ever got interested in D&D.
I hope that one day I can become as accomplished an author as yourself and it would be amazing to one day meet you. If not that, then I will be satisfied just seeing your work enter the world for many more years.
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