We first asked John Blakely about his time with EverQuest II, where 38 Studios CEO Curt Schilling was an avid gamer. Blakely said that they had actually met playing the original EverQuest during a demo at the studio and he and Schilling ended up playing a lot together. He described Schilling as a passionate gamer, and added that several former co-workers are now part of the 38 Studios team, and he was excited to be able to reconnect with them again.
After his time with SOE, he had moved on to Zynga, and we asked him why he made the decision to move back to the MMO industry. He said that he had some personal goals that he hoped to fulfill and was happy to have the chance to do that with 38 Studios. He said that MMOs are his first love and that working with Schilling and his team was a great opportunity for him. He added that the rise of the Facebook market was an exciting but sudden period of time, and he was able to meet some talented designers while working with Zynga. As the markets evolved and changed, he's tried to take the best practices from both the MMO space and the social gaming industry to apply towards the more traditional games that he's been developing for the past 15 years.
Blakely also worked on DCUO, which launched on both the console and the PC. He said that he was very proud of the product from the team at SOE's studio in Austin, and added that there was about a 50/50 ratio between PC and console users, which is exciting. He pointed to other new console-based MMOs like DUST 514 and said that there are gamers who like the format and like to socialize and cooperate with one another, regardless of the platform.
Next we talked to Mark Hansen who discussed his time with LEGO Systems, Inc., where he worked with both the physical product as well as LEGO Universe, the short-lived MMO. He explained that taking LEGO bricks and putting them in a virtual setting was a challenge, because there were preconceptions about what it should be like, and it's hard to capture that in the digital space. He said that what's attracted him to 38 Studios is that it's not just a game company, it's an entertainment company. Schilling wants to make games, books, and all sorts of media, and Hansen's experience will help market all of these products.
We asked what it's like to meet and work with the team, especially some of the well-known names like R.A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane. Blakely included Ken Rolston in the list, and said he had worked with him when he started in the business about 20 years ago, and it was great to reconnect with him. He's also had a chance to work with Jim Lee while working on DCUO, and said that while he's only had a limited chance to work with McFarlane, he appreciates their vision and passion for the products. "They're gamers at heart, and they play games for fun." He talked about Salvatore's handcrafted story and attention to detail to create a world that you care about. The 10,000-year history of Amalur will give rise to a plethora of products that are planned, and said it's exciting that it's written down and that a lot of care and investment was put into that. MacFarlane had a lot of influence on the art style of Reckoning, especially the combat animations, and added that Schilling is one of the most hardcore gamers that he's ever met, and it's been great to engage him in discussion and hear him get excited about the products and the IP. "It's great to be working in an environment where it's all about the game and the products that they produce."
Hansen said the team has a deep passion for the game and the IP, and reiterated what Blakely said. He said that Schilling is looking for "gamers who make games," and described how everyone on the team shares the same dream of making a great game and bringing that game to life. When asked what he's most looking forward to at 38 Studios, he said "success." He said they've got a wonderful IP, a great story, and a talented team, and it's been motivating to go to work alongside the team.
Blakely said he's looking forward to working with everyone on the team and execute on a great product. He loves seeing the vision behind the IP of Amalur, and building different portals into the world to experience it in different ways through different products and platforms. He said every day he's worked there it's more and more exciting.
Lastly, we asked if they had a chance to play Reckoning, and they said they both had and they loved it. Blakely said he had been on a "Skyrim bender," but he loves how Reckoning brings a different palette and setting, but still has that "open-world, exploration" feel. Coming off of DCUO with an action-based focus on combat, he said he was impressed at how 38 Studios executed their combat in the context of the giant world and story of the game.
Hansen called Reckoning the best "single-player MMO." He was impressed to see the detail of the game, and said that Schilling has created a strong culture within the company that's comparable to a company brand that's been around for years, which is very impressive.
Blakely finished by saying that 38 Studios is a company focused on creating games for gamers that are made by gamers, and it starts at the top and continues all the way through the team. The amount of activity and feedback that they collect shows how passionate everyone is. He said we'll be hearing a lot about making a handcrafted experience, and said that having been down that path a few times, he can see the level of love, work, and attention to detail that's been put into all the products associated with the IP. That attention to detail and quality is consistent across the board, and it's demanded and expected internally.
We thank Hansen and Blakely for speaking with Massively, and we wish them both the best in their new roles with 38 Studios.