E3 2010: An Evening With 38 Studios

38 Studios didn't have an official presence at E3, but I was lucky enough to get invited to a private dinner meeting they hosted at the nearby Palm Restaurant. In attendance were baseball legend and company founder Curt Schilling, CEO Jennifer MacLean, CMO Denise Kaigler, and Big Huge Games president and COO Tim Train. Given the fact that neither Project Copernicus nor Project Mercury have been shown to the public, the team couldn't address any real specific questions about the games... but that didn't stop me from asking.

One thing that comes across immediately when speaking to Curt about either title is his enthusiasm for video games. His video game history is actually similar to my own, having feverishly played them for years before experiencing his first MMO addiction with the release of ORIGIN's Ultima Online. He then moved on to other persistent world games, including EverQuest and EverQuest II, before making the decision to develop his own game in the exploding genre. This isn't a case of his name simply being slapped on any promotional materials for the celebrity factor, either - Curt has been directly involved in the development of Copernicus since the company was founded (with the help of fantasy author and Drizzt Do'Urden creator R.A. Salvatore and famed comic book artist Todd McFarlane) as Green Monster Games back in 2006.

Recently, Curt announced on his blog that "some major things" will be "coming online in the next few months" in regard to Copernicus. When I quizzed him about what would be coming online, he simply told me that they'll be showing the game "very soon", so I can only assume that we'll finally be getting some in-depth details and actual screenshots in the coming months. I also asked him about the team's efforts to raise $100 million from investors, and he revealed that that they've actually exceeded that goal by a considerable margin, having received a single $75 million bond investment in addition to others and Curt's personal investments. Schilling's plan all along has been to create "the biggest and best" MMORPG in existence - a task that actually becomes a potential reality when such a talented team has the financial backing they need to get it right. And as Curt tells me, the beauty of having private investors is that 38 Studios can actually develop the game they want at their own pace, rather than appeasing stockholders and hitting quarterly product goals.

When I moved on to their recent announcement that Electronic Arts will be publishing Project Mercury, Curt confirmed that EA was funding the project's development. He then went on to explain that self-publishing Copernicus was a possible option for them, now that their investment goal had been reached and a cash injection from a publisher wasn't necessarily needed. Mercury will be released prior to Copernicus, though, so it's possible that things may change depending on the first title's success. Curt also assured me that we'll be seeing action figures, comic books, novels, and other merchandise based on both properties, which is unsurprising given McFarlane's involvement.

In an attempt to get more information about Project Mercury (Big Huge Games' multi-platform, single player RPG previously known as Ascendant), I ran a number of questions past COO Tim Train. As it turns out, a vast majority of the original game has been scrapped since their acquisition by 38 Studios, though the team is still using the same engine tech and much of their original vision for the game. Now that they're a part of 38 Studios, the decision was made to rewrite the game's storyline and base it within the elaborate 10,000-year fiction that R.A. Salvatore had created for Copernicus. Tim explained that the Ken Rolston-led team at Big Huge Games was given the opportunity to choose an area within that history for Mercury's storyline, and that the team was "very passionate" about an epoch that takes place about 2000 years before the MMORPG. Unfortunately, he couldn't elaborate on the events that made that particular era so compelling, but he assured me that the storyline in the single player RPG would very effectively tie-in to the lore within Copernicus.

As for their decision to keep Ascendant's engine tech, Tim explained that it was specifically designed for an RPG and that their familiarity with the technology meant that they could keep the game moving along at a rapid pace. When I inquired about the game's early screenshots showing an MMO-style third-person viewpoint, Train made reference to the control scheme Bethesda used for The Elder Scrolls before slyly issuing a "no comment". That small morsel of information leads me to believe that the game will allow for both a third-person and first-person viewpoint, depending on the player's preference, though we'll have to wait until further details are released before we know for sure.

One thing that is readily apparent when chatting with the 38 Studios folks is that every single one of them is passionate about role-playing games. In fact, Curt's excitement is barely contained, and I have no doubt in my mind that he would have told me everything he could about both games if Denise and Jennifer had left the room for more than a few minutes. It's refreshing to see such a level of commitment and motivation, especially when it's backed up by what can only be described as a "dream team" of developers. Check back for more info on Mercury and Copernicus here on GameBanshee soon - the wait is almost over.