Ken Rolston Talks Kingdoms of Amalur & How it Will Change RPGs (INTERVIEW)

One of the coolest things about working in this industry is that you occasionally get a chance to meet and talk to some amazingly awesome people. Case in point: we recently got a chance to chat with legendary game designer Ken Rolston. He’s currently working on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the upcoming epic RPG from 38 Studios. Prior to this, he’s been lead designer for Oblivion and Morrowind as well as a creative visionary in the tabletop RPG industry.

Rolston’s always a great interview. Not only is he extremely intelligent, but he brings a unique understanding of RPGs to the table. If you don’t believe me, just check out the interview below and all the awesome answers he provided us.

GameFront: For the folks who don’t know you, can you talk a little bit about your background prior to Kingdoms of Amalur, both in video games and tabletop games? Can you tell us what it’s like working with such well known folks as R.A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane, and of course Curt Schilling?

Ken Rolston: I began in pen-and-paper RPG design back in the late ’70′s, best known for my work with Paranoia, Runequest/Glorantha, GAMES WORKSHOP, and various incarnations of D&D. I migrated to computer games in 1994, and since then I am best known as lead designer of the Elder Scrolls games, Morrowind and Oblivion. I retired after Oblivion, thinking there were no more frontiers to explore. [Oops. Apparently, I am an idiot.]

Within four months, I was suckered into joining a group of old cronies at Big Huge Games, and have been working on the systems and narratives that became Reckoning since then.

Curt Schilling is a huge human, scary to stand next to, but otherwise surprisingly charming. He is a good, honest, fearless, credible leader, and obsessed with winning. Me, too.

Todd MacFarlane is an artist and a teacher, and a pleasure to steal wisdom from. He is the only Visionary who is unquestionably crazier and more dangerous than I am when speaking to a crowd. He gets enthusiastic and climbs on tables and flails around when demonstrating his theories about visceral, dramatic animation, so I duck a lot and keep a careful eye on him.

R.A. Salvatore is the most painful Visionary to work with, but only because he can create better fantasy settings and narratives than I can. I will slowly get over this terrific blow to my ego. In compensation, he did all the work on creating the history, themes, and major characters of a living, breathing fantasy world… 10,000 years worth. Normally, it would be me who had to do all that work. So I am busily forgiving him.

GF: With your extensive background in RPGs, how do you see the genre in video games right now? Is it progressing, regressing, or treading water? How has your background in tabletop games affected your approach to creating video games? Are there specific examples you could give us of systems in Kingdoms of Amalur that draw on that background?

KR: Video RPGs are so good now, and there are so many to choose from, that I make the frequent mistake of thinking we live in the Perfect Golden Age of RPG Utopia.

And then someone goes and makes something new and cool, and we’re off to the races again.

But despite the fact that video RPGs have made such deep and passionate inroads into the mainstream market, I still feel they are slow-paced, abstract, and awkward. Reckoning reflects my hunger for a faster pace of action and combat drama, and a desire for simpler, easier-to-use interfaces. Video RPGs are naturally the deepest,longest, and most complicated kinds of video game entertainment… that’s whatmakes them great. But making them just a tiny bit less clumsy in the interface, and just a big, fat, huge amount more physical and exciting in combat, gives them more fun-per-unit-time. Me? I want All-Fun, All-the-Time, Right-Now, thank-you-very-much.

Pen-and-paper narratives and settings continue to influence me in video game design, but systems? Not so much. Combat in tabletop RPGs is already, and always has been, slow-paced and awkward, mired in its wargame traditions. Dialog, improvisation, open-ended story-telling… that’s what tabletop RPGs are still best at… WAY better than video RPGs.

Want to see how Rolston compares Reckoning and Skyrim? Click here to continue to page 2!

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2 Comments on Ken Rolston Talks Kingdoms of Amalur & How it Will Change RPGs (INTERVIEW)


On January 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm

“So many to choose from..”? In what alternate universe? We get at best two – or rarely, three – triple-A RPGs in a year for the PC. And, inevitably, one of them will be crap due to bugs, terrible design, repetitive content, whatever. nothing about Amalur sounds the slightest bit interesting to me. All I’m reading is “console port” in giant flaming letters, replete with over-the-top arcadey twitch combat, more attempts to push the inferior controller on PC users and all the other nonsense we’ve grown tired of hearing. This game will change RPGs? It sounds like the epitome of every bad trend plaguing the genre (and the PC gaming industry) right now.


On February 11, 2012 at 2:07 am

I’m sorry, but there’s a reason RPGs have the mechanics they do. The slow awkward combat you seem so keen to change is really what a lot of the genre’s consumers enjoy. We are interested in using our brains, taking our time to form deep tactical choices. Twitch based fighting has been tryed in RPGs before, and its failed before. I hope your game is successful as it seems to do the twitch RPG thing well, but I highly doubt it will be genre changing. I’m sure all the 15 year olds with their Xboxs will eat this “Kingdoms of Street Fighter” game up, but good luck pushing it on PC gamers.