Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is a remake of a game so good, you might find yourself wondering why the original didn't spawn a long-lasting franchise upon its 2012 release. The short explanation is it probably should have, but game development and managing a game studio are two very different enterprises.
Even the rename to "Re-Reckoning" rather than the original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is ironic when you consider that when the game starts, you play as a dead person who's just been resurrected. This character's second chance already happened — and this is their second ... second chance.
The longer explanation about Kingdoms of Amalur and the now-defunct 38 Studios is complex, dramatic, and often unbelievable. You can't make this stuff up. Here are 13 of the wildest stories and detail behind the game.
13. Baseball legend Curt Schilling founded the studio
Before he retired from baseball to start running 38 Studios, Curt Schilling was a renowned pitcher for the Boston Red Sox who famously bled through his sock during the 2004 World Series. This was also the year that the Red Sox won the championship for the first time since 1918.
After retiring, Schilling had ambitions to become a tech giant by creating a major game studio that would allow him to get “Bill Gates-rich.” (Spoiler: He did not.)
12. Best-selling author R.A. Salvatore wrote the story
Perhaps best known for his many novels set in the Forgotten Realms starring Drizzt Do’Urden, a drow Ranger that exists within the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon, best-selling author R.A. Salvatore was the "executive creator of worlds" for Reckoning. In simpler terms, he developed the story and created the universe's 10,000-year history, working with a team of writers to execute the project.
11. Spawn creator Todd McFarlane gave the game its unique look
Salvatore helped found the studio alongside Schilling and comic-book artist Todd McFarlane (Spawn), who served as the art director for the duration of the project. The overall design is dark and whimsical with bright splashes of color.
"We knew we were going to do this big, immersive world, so we wanted to create as much variety as possible," he told Gamasutra in February 2012. "If it was all going to look the same, it wouldn't make much sense to me. Is there dark, gritty stuff that someone would typically attach to my style? Sure, there are pockets of it. But then there are the sort of mundane areas that every world has and the more whimsical, happy areas. There's a wide range of color pallets, environments and architecture, so when we say it's a giant open world, then the variety really shows that.
10. Amalur was originally going to be an MMORPG
Schilling's original ambition was for an MMORPG akin to World of Warcraft that was code-named "Copernicus." But sometime after THQ shut down Big Huge Games in 2009, 38 Studios merged with the company. Barely more than a year later, Electronic Arts agreed to publish a scaled-down alternative that wound up being the single-player, open-world fantasy action game we've come to know.
By all accounts, the MMORPG still seemed like a possibility at some point in the future.
9. Designer Ken Rolston is the reason it resembles Elder Scrolls
Industry veteran Ken Rolston had decades of experience working on games like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion before joining Big Huge Games in 2007. He was part of the merger, and as lead designers, is chiefly responsible for the many innovative combat systems in the game. But that's also seemingly why the core gameplay loops so closely resemble an Elder Scrolls game.
8. 38 Studios relocated to Rhode Island after securing a $75 million state loan
The Rhode Island economy was struggling in 2010 as unemployment inched up towards 12 percent, and sitting Governor Don Carcieri struck a deal with Schilling to relocate all of 38 Studios to the capital city of Providence in exchange for $75 million in bonds. The idea was that it would create RI jobs and stimulate the economy.
These funds covered moving costs for many of the company's 375 employees, but it was also a loan that would have to be paid back over time — a requirement that proved difficult for a company that would wind up spending a lot and making very little. Between payroll and high-end perks for employees, one estimate claims the company was burning through several million dollars a month.
7. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning can take more than 200 hours to play
Reckoning was the potentially longest RPG on the market at the time of its release. Lead Designer Ian Frazier told Strategy Informer in 2012 that a speed-run of every quest and fight in the game took around 200 hours.
"I think in terms of a selling point – bang for your buck – I think it's great," he said. "It should be on the back of the box. But as a developer, I have to look at it and think: 'Did we overdo this?' I really don't know."
In reality, many players report beating the game by about the 80-hour mark, and the story can be completed within about 30 hours. And then there's one guy on the Steam forums that boasts spending 626 hours in the game. Wow!
6. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was released only three months after Skyrim
Upon its February 7, 2012 release, Reckoning had to compete with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which had hit shelves on November 11, 2011. While they do offer similar high fantasy concepts and a great deal of character customization, there's a level of depth and polish that's more forward-facing and innovative in Skyrim that just isn't there in Reckoning.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a good game. It just couldn't compete with a great one — especially one like Skyrim that was one of the best entries in an already widely loved franchise. Couple that with the general economic recession that began in 2008, and you have a recipe for disaster.
5. It didn't matter that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning sold over 1.2 million copies
Schilling himself wrote in a tweet on May 23, 2012: "Reckoning, 38 Studios' first game, has outperformed EA's projections by selling 1.2mm copies in its first 90 days." In the longer run, it hit somewhere close to 1.5 million.
The last paycheck 38 Studios employees received was on April 30. Shortly thereafter Lincoln Chaffee, the current RI governor at that time, said that "the game failed" and that it needed to sell over 3 million copies "just to break even." He called it a "flop" and "just the worst investment that’s ever been made, I think, in the history of Rhode Island."
Schilling may have been banking on $14.3 million in RI tax credits that Chafee refused to authorize, and Schilling later claimed that a potential partner had been considering investing $35 million in the company before Chafee's public comments scared them away.
Within 24 hours of Schilling's tweet, Chaffee's assessment was proven correct.
4. 38 Studios filed for bankruptcy in late May 2012
On May 24, it was made official that the company was bankrupt and all employees would be laid off. The company was $150 million in debt.
An email (obtained by local news) confirming the news was sent to all employees on May 24: "The Company is experiencing an economic downturn," it read. "To avoid further losses and possibility of retrenchment, the Company has decided that a companywide lay off is absolutely necessary. These layoffs are non-voluntary and non-disciplinary."
3. Just one 38 Studios employee maintained the IP for years
More than two years after 38 studios was shut down, Jeff Easley still worked for the company (sort of) maintaining and preserving the intellectual property, including assets related to the MMORPG. Providence attorney Richard Land, a court-appointed receiver initially in charge of selling off 38 Studios' property, hired Easley (who had worked at 38 Studios previously) to maintain whatever remained of Amalur's digital assets.
Easley died in 2015, but we have his efforts to thank for the existence of Re-Reckoning and whatever else might eventually come from the world of Amalur.
2. Schilling lost $115 million of his own money
An April 2020 report from SportsCasting recounts that Schilling lost all of his career earnings, which included an initial $50 million investment to found 38 Studios. After paying back investors and settling a lawsuit with the State of Rhode Island, Schilling was bankrupt.
“I put everything in my name in this company, and I believed in what we built,” Schilling said. "I never took a penny in salary, I never took a penny for anything.”
1. An Amalur MMORPG could still happen
THQ Nordic purchased the rights to assets previously owned by 38 Studios for $900,000 in September 2018. A Providence Journal article from that year reported the sale included "the Amalur franchise and the unfinished work that had gone into Project Copernicus, 38 Studios’ massive multiplayer online game." Some reports claim that the game was already about half finished at the time of 38 Studios' demise. In theory, THQ Nordic could still finish Copernicus. But will it happen?
Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is now available.