- Category: Interviews
- Written by BuckGB
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And so, with less than a month to go before the game is in our hands, we presented some last-minute questions we had to lead designer Ian Frazier:
GB: Prior to 38 Studios' acquisition of Big Huge Games, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was known as Ascendant. You've overhauled the game quite a bit since then, but are there any elements of the original game that were retained? Has the overall scope changed with the additional development time you've enjoyed?
Ian: A fair amount of Ascendant has definitely continued on into Reckoning, particularly on the technical side. The core tools, the engine built to merge RPG systems and true action combat at a fundamental level, the colorful art style, the ambitious scope, and the open world design all have their roots in Ascendant. That said, there’s also a ton that started from scratch when we started production on Reckoning. The world itself, every aspect of the story, all the characters, and literally every single piece of art and music in the game started fresh when we began Reckoning, since we wanted everything to be 100% appropriate to the world of Amalur.
GB: You've mentioned that killing an NPC linked to a quest will cause that quest to end - do we have the freedom to kill any NPC in the game, or are key NPCs invulnerable? If we're able to kill an NPC without any other NPC witnessing the crime, will the crime still get us into trouble? Finally, are we able to loot all items on a dead NPC, even quest-related ones?
Ian: Some characters are effectively invulnerable, at least for a while. In general we try to make it impossible to accidentally break the main quest or the faction quests by accidentally murdering someone important, whereas with the side quests we pretty much say “feel free to kill everyone, but don’t be surprised when suddenly you can’t do as many quests in this area.” It’s worth noting that even in the cases where we do make characters invulnerable to prevent quest breakage, we generally turn that state off when the quest is complete, so players can still indulge their darker natures afterwards if desired.
If you manage to do something devious (murder, theft, etc.) and no one manages to see you and report you to the guards, then yes, you can get away with it! For the purposes of Reckoning, a crime only exists if it’s witnessed. …I try not to ponder what that says about our designers’ personal philosophies.
As for the last question, yes, you can loot NPCs just as easily as monsters, and where appropriate you may find a quest item on them. For that matter, you might be able to pickpocket that item from them instead if you’d prefer not to opt for murder.
GB: How abundant are non-combat skills in the game? Are we able to pick pockets, use lockpicks, find secret doors, craft equipment, enchant items, use social skills during dialogue, and the like? How about mini-games involving arena combat, archery ranges, gambling, or anything similar?
Ian: We’ve got 9 different non-combat skills in Reckoning that the player can invest in and employ throughout the game world. We’ve got everything you just listed, in fact, from lockpicking to secret doors to crafting and enchanting to persuasion. The coolest bit to me is that a lot of the skills work well in tandem, like Detect Hidden combined with Stealth is really handy because it gives you the ability to see which ways enemies are facing on your minimap so you can more effectively sneak around them, whereas Sagecraft combined with Blacksmithing lets you create magical crystals (normally used for enchanting) and then incorporate them directly into your crafted items for some pretty epic stats.
Minigame-wise, we’ve got a couple of skill-related minigames for dispelling wards (magical booby traps) and picking locks. We do have gambling as well, but I wouldn’t call it a true minigame—it’s more of a dialogue-based experience. As for arena combat: yes, we definitely have that! I’d like to talk about it in more detail, but if I do, the PR team will trigger my shock collar.
GB: How does the game handle inventory management? Will players have the option to buy, sell, trade, or even transmute excess equipment whenever necessary? Also, will encumbrance and durability be a factor, and if so, how will they function in the game?
Ian: Our inventory system at its core is much what you’d expect from an RPG. Items are broken down into different categories (potions vs. helmets vs. weapons, etc.) and we’ve got an item limit for how much you can carry (not actual encumbrance, though), where the limit can be expanded by purchasing backpacks from certain merchants. Where it gets interesting is the little details:
1.) When you loot a corpse or container, you can compare the items in it with what you’re currently equipped with and then equip the items directly from the loot UI if you wish. You don’t have to pick them up and then go to your inventory to equip them if you don’t want to.
2.) When you find loot that you don’t really want, you can press a single button to put it in your “Junk” pile. This keeps it separated from the rest of your inventory for the sake of reducing clutter, and the next time you go to a merchant, you can sell every single item you’ve marked as Junk with a single button press!
3.) The Blacksmithing skill allows you to salvage equipment you don’t really want in order to get the useful components from that item. For instance, you might be playing a dagger-wielding rogue and find a sweet Frost Hammer of Badassdom. In most RPGs you’d say “Well darn, this isn’t useful for me” and sell it. In Reckoning you can salvage it for the core components that lend it its frosty badassness, then use those components to craft some equally excellent daggers that better suit your playstyle!
4.) When you’ve hit your inventory limit in the bottom of a dungeon and you want to pick up that shiny new sword, you can always destroy items from your inventory to make room. And if you invest in the Mercantile skill, you can actually recoup some of that item’s gold value when you do so.
To your other question, we do indeed have durability on most of the weapons and armor in the game, so they slowly degrade through use. Functionally they work at peak efficiency right up until the moment they break—at which point they stop being effective, but are still reparable. To repair an item, you can use Repair Kits out in the field via the Blacksmithing skill, or you can bring the items back to town and pay a blacksmith NPC to do the repairs for you.
GB: How have you arranged the difficulty of monsters and the significance of loot? Are monsters scaled to ensure that they always pose a challenge, or can we find ourselves in an area where the monsters are significantly higher level and very lethal? Building upon that, is the loot we find scaled to our level in any capacity and is it statically or randomly placed in chests and other containers?
Ian: The difficulty/quality of enemies and loot are both scaled with the same system, a method we call “Space Leveling.” The way this works is that each area in the game (whether that be a dungeon, the inside of a tavern, or a swamp) has a particular level range determined by the designer. When the player enters that area for the first time, the game checks the player’s current level and sets the area to be as close to that level as possible within its range. For instance, if I’m level 3 and I go to the village of Didenhil and its level range is 5-10, the level there will be set to 5 for the rest of eternity. Meanwhile if I went there for the first time as a level 20 character, it would all be set to level 10.
This approach ensures that the game can scale enough to accommodate a wide array of different approaches (completionists, players who focus exclusively on the main quest, etc.) while still giving a clear sense of progression. If you return to Allestar Glade (the starting area) after you’ve leveled up a bit, you’ll find that you cut through previously-challenging enemies like a hot knife through butter. Similarly, if you try to rush ahead to eastern Erathell at the very start of the game, you’re very likely going to get your butt handed to you and need to come back later when you’ve leveled up a bit.
As for loot, it’s mostly using a “slot machine” random drop system based on the Space Level as I described above, so enemy difficulty and the quality of the loot you can potentially get from that enemy are tied together. There are various cases where specific loot is hand-placed, though. It just depends on what’s appropriate for the story and the region.
GB: What is your stance on user-created modifications, and how mod-friendly will the PC version of Reckoning be? Have you put any plans in place to ensure that modders are supported in any official capacity?
Ian: I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that we at Big Huge Games are very much in favor of user-created mods for Reckoning. I come from a modding background myself (mostly on Dungeon Siege) and I’d absolutely love to see anything and everything that players can do with the engine.
The bad news is that the game’s architecture makes it fairly difficult to mod, and we couldn’t afford to officially support mod tools with this title. We’re currently looking into ways to hopefully make modding a bit easier for the community, but getting the dev tools into a publically usable format and releasing them doesn’t look viable any time soon. Nonetheless, we’ve got quite a bit of faith in the ingenuity of the modding community and are hoping to see great things from them!
GB: Thanks for your time, Ian!