From MLB to RPGs: The Curt Schilling Interview

From MLB to RPGs: The Curt Schilling Interview

Curt Schilling may be best known as the pitcher who led the Boston Red Sox to victory against the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, all on an injured and bleeding ankle. That victory paved the way for an historic World Series run, breaking the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino and cemented Schilling's status as a Beantown legend. 

What you may not know is that in addition to being a big league pitcher, Schilling has been a lifelong gamer, playing everything from strategy board games to Dungeons & Dragons to World of Warcraft. After his retirement from baseball, he invested in his own game development company, 38 Studios, and resolved to make the best fantasy RPG he could, enlisting heavyweight talent like comic book artist Todd McFarlane (Spawn), fantasy author R. A. Salvatore (The Dark Elf Trilogy) and game designer Ken Rolston (Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) to make it happen. 

The result: the lush world of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, an action/open-world RPG hybrid due out in 2012. After presiding over a press demo at GDC 2011, Curt sat down with Complex to talk about his game and his gaming.

By Stu Horvath

Complex: How long have you been gaming?
Curt Schilling: 31 years—I started about 1980. Only a geek would say this, but my first true love was a game called Wizardry; that was the game that hooked me forever. If you think about a lifestyle short of retirement that lends itself to being a hardcore gamer, there is none better than being a major league starting pitcher. I work once every five days and travel and am alone all the time. So while the other guys were spending their money on the all the cars and jewelry, I bought laptops. I always got the latest and greatest ones. I used software at my job, so using a computer and working on a computer came very easy to me.

You were a board game enthusiast?
Hardcore. I still am. I own a small company called Multi-Man Publishing. The Second World War is a very passionate thing for me—I was a military brat, my dad was in the army. I got my first game at 7 or 8. I played Risk and all that, but I really liked the more hardcore ones from Avalon Hill and companies like that. I actually entered into a partnership with Avalon HIll to do their flagship titles. They went out of business and those games were about to go away, and we ended up purchasing the rights from Hasbro to keep publishing these games.

How did 38 Studios come about?
How many of us have sat down with a game and said, "Wow, This really sucks. Why didn't they do this? Why didn't they do that?" I'm the guy that took the next step of investing everything I've ever made into actually making a game. Call it lunacy, stupidity, whatever you want, but I have a deep-seated passion for it. 

Walk us through the basics of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? What is the game about in a nutshell?
The Amalur world is the world originally envisioned by a small group of gamers and actually brought to life by R.A. Salvatore from a storyline perspective. And one of the touchstones throughout the entire intellectual property started out as an ethical debate between R.A. and the team around respawn—characters dying and coming back to life. He came up with a solution in our world called The Well of Souls. The Well of Souls explains immortality, and it opens up an entire [host] of questions. 

You are the first person to be successfully resurrected through the Well of Souls and as such, you have no faith and no destiny in a world where everyone has their predetermined fate. You spend most of the game looking to find out who you are. You're the first person, you know that and now the world knows you're that person. Good and evil are vying for your attention. That's how the storyline starts to play out.

What would the world be like if there was suddenly immortality? Everyone starts to think happy thoughts but there's also an evil side to that. What happens to a Church that relies on the afterlife as a way to bring faith? What about the aging grandmother who has lost her son and can't wait to get to the afterlife to be with that son and now it may not be a possibility? Hopefully [it will become clear] really quickly that story is at the center of this game and everything we do.

Like you said, everyone has that moment that makes them say, "I can do this better." What kinds of issues does Reckoning address in terms of your pet peeve in the fantasy genre?
We can go back as far as you want—when it comes to single-player fantasy RPGís. I've played them all. It's my game of choice. I've always been a quester, explorer, mystery guy. I'm not that much a combat guy. Combat was never an integral part of the single-player RPG games I played. You've got the pause button, turn-based style of game and then you've got the Street Fighter-type twitchy action games. No one in the RPG space has ever put those two things together.

When I played Oblivion, when I played Baldur's Gate, I couldn't wait to get to the next quest—they were so well done, there was a story there, my character had an identity and he mattered. Then I played the God of War series and that was just insane combat. I played to get to the next encounter: the action, the animation, everything was just so awesome. Those two experiences have never been fused together.

Reckoning will be the first game of its kind. They've taken that God of War-style combat and placed it in a truly open world with hundreds of hours of gameplay. You can do whatever it is you want to do. What path you take, what roll you choose, what trail you blaze; there's meaning and depth and substance in the world.

 

How has working with R.A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane been so far?
Awesome. I've known Todd for about 11 years. We were friends when I was in Arizona [playing for the Diamondbacks]. When I started the company, I wanted to create an all-star team and I felt like I needed a kickstart. I invested a lot of my own money and I was looking for investment money as well. Everyone was doing something in the fantasy space at the time and I wanted to differentiate myself. I looked at those Todd and R.A. as key differentiators. I invited Todd and I actually cold-called R.A.—he lives an hour away from me in Boston and he's a huge Red Sox fan, so we spent like an hour saying to each other, "Wow, I can't believe Iím talking to you right now."

I flew them out and pitched it to them and they both said they were in. That goes to the true value of the company: you have to make a game. And if you want a better game than everyone in the world, you need to have world-class talent. These [game developers] already have very secure jobs at well-established game companies so why would they want to come to a startup? If you're a designer and you can collaborate with someone like R.A. Salvatore, or if you're an artist and get to work with Todd McFarlane, it looks good on your resume. That's a value add. I saw that and I got that. I got people that were leaders, regardless of their business. We have Ken Rolston from Oblivion. Our team, talent-wise, I would put up against any team in the industry right now.

Speaking of teams, what do your former baseball teammates think? How did gaming mix with baseball? Did they tease you or come to embrace it?
I was carrying around a laptop in 1995, when it weighed 12 pounds and they weren't technically portable, but it got to the point where we were on the road and everyone had a console, everyone was gaming. It was a lot of Madden for them, but honestly, I never played sports games. My argument against sports games is if you can make the game as hard as it is in real life, then I'll play the game. No one has done that yet. 

I was always an MMO fan. I'm playing World of Warcraft in the clubhouse and J.D. Drew and Coco Crisp saw me playing. They came over and got interested and they wound up creating accounts. Coco now runs an 85-person guild with a top tier rating in WoW—it's 85 major-league players. J.D. still plays as well. Fantasy is ingrained in everybody. The magic is when people see it and react to it.

Tags: mmo, rpg
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