The announcement that Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, fantasy novelist R.A. Salvatore and comic artist Todd McFarlane had teamed up to create an MMO studio was a shot in the arm for the MMO genre, but it also raised a lot of questions. On one hand, this could be three talented, high-profile people who want to make a good product. On the other, it could become a vanity project that gives the genre as much bad press as good. At AGDC, 38 Studios President/CEO Brett Close spoke to WarCry about the company, why it is in no way a vanity project and what to expect from them.
The game remains roughly three years away from market, so the details are obviously hard to come by. Close explained their desire to manage the hype. He did however give a few things away.
While he wouldn't come out and say it, he more or less confirmed that the game will be a fantasy title. We talked about the saturation of the fantasy market, but Close pointed out the involvement of Salvatore as a reason for them to go that route.
"We have an unfair advantage," he said in reference to presence of Salvatore on the team and added simply, "if you do it right, people will love it."
To that end, they've also made strides to ensure that the game blends story into gameplay in a way that MMOs have so far failed to do.
"Current MMOs have some [story], but its like shooters in 1996," he explained. "Everyone was doing Doom, then came Half-Life. They realized story makes for compelling gameplay."
He hopes that their project - the name of which we won't hear for quite some time - can fill that void. He wants to move beyond the mechanics and give people a reason to play, which is a tough challenge for any studio.
Somewhat paradoxically though, he told us that they also do not want to violate the MMO experience people know and love. Story events will often be in opt-in instances, so as not to catch people up in an unwanted whirlwind. He believes they need to give players the freedom to choose their own level of involvement and it's up to them as game designers to provide enough hooks that they engage as many people as possible.
This is a noble goal and one that has been talked about by a number of companies, but never pulled off on any kind of scale. Close wouldn't get into details on how they hope to pull off relevant, consistent story in a game that is likely to span multiple instances on different servers on a scale that engages enough people to justify the investment. He did though insist they think this is a challenge their company is prepared to tackle.
Close then explained his opinions on the eternal war between "revolution and evolution" in MMO design. 38 Studios seems to be charted towards what I'll call cautious revolution, which is to say, somewhere in the middle.
Sid Meier - of Civilization fame - operates by a 33/33/33 rule, Close told us. In that there is 33% of a genre/game that is essential and must be held over, lest the game be too radical. Another 33% is good, but needs tweaking. The final 33% should be brand new. Close firmly agrees with this ideal and applies it to 38 Studios. Revolution, he told us, is great for game designers, but at a certain level can become self-indulgent.
The words of their President show that 38 Studios clearly has the ambition to really move the genre forward.
"You name a standard and I guarantee we're going to exceed it," he said with confidence.