Curt Schilling: From baseball to video games
A screenshot from the "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" video game is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
It's a day to remember for Curt Schilling.
"It's Opening Day on a second career," the former major league baseball star said. "I don't know any other way to put it."
Tuesday marks the release of "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning," the first title from Schilling's 38 Studios video game company (Schilling wore No. 38).
The fantasy role-playing game has been more than five years and many millions — Schilling himself has invested some $35 million — in the making.
A longtime video game aficionado, Schilling was still in the majors when he founded his own studio in October 2006. He had some 10 employees and a dream to make the kind of MMO (massively multiplayer online) game that had entertained him during many road trips.
"I've gotten an education in these last five years," said the former Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia, Arizona and Boston right-hander.
"You talk about 'Oh, I want to open a business and I want to make games.' Then you actually do it, it's an entirely different world."
As the costs rose, Schilling says he remained committed to the cause.
"At some point, in my mind, it became too good and too big to walk away from. I had plans around what my initial personal investment was going to be — in time and money. That changed over time, because I knew we were doing something uniquely different.
"At some point, walking away became not an option. Like everything else, we went all in."
"When you set goals, a lot of times there's pain points along the way," added the former pitcher famous for playing the 2004 playoffs for the Red Sox while blood oozed out of his sock. "And you have to overcome them and endure them to get where you want to go."
Schilling, 45, assembled an all-star team for his gaming project.
Best-selling fantasy author R.A. Salvatore created the fantasy world. Canadian comic book and toy creator Todd McFarlane created the look. And veteran game designer Ken Rolston made it a fun sandbox to play in.
The idea was to showcase their "product eco-system" across a variety of platforms, starting with an MMO.
But the initial game plan took a detour when another studio, Big Huge Games, went on the market in 2009. Big Huge Games was about 72 hours away from going out of the business when Schilling stepped in and bought it from THQ.
Big Huge Games had already been working on a single-player game for some years.
"Our IP (intellectual property) with their technology seemed to be kind of a match made in heaven. That's how we got 'Reckoning.'"
Work on the MMO continues at 38 Studios under the code name Project Copernicus.
Schilling says he wanted "best in breed" partners when he started his studio.
McFarlane, a native of Calgary, lives in Arizona and the two met five or six years ago through some mutual philanthropic work while Schilling was a Diamondback.
In 2004, Schilling essentially cold-called Salvatore. The author turned out to be a Red Sox fan and lived about 45 minutes from Schilling in Massachusetts.
Rolston provides the gaming glue, having worked on the acclaimed RPG "Elder Scrolls" series while at Bethesda Softworks, and a slew of other fantasy titles during a design career that stretches back some 40 years to the days of paper-and-pencil role-playing games.
"He was the icing on the cake for us," said Schilling.
Schilling's last season as an active baseball player was 2007 — he was injured in 2008 — meaning he combined the role of pitcher and studio chairman for a while.
"I have no patience," he explained when asked why he didn't wait until after his baseball career to branch into game development.
"Honestly when I look back on it, it probably wasn't the smartest thing to do from a timing perspective. But I've come to find out, I think as with a lot of other things in life, there is no perfect time to do anything. And sometimes you have to take chance, take risk and take opportunities."
Today he has some 400 employees, spread between 38 Studios in Providence, R.I., and Big Huge Games in Baltimore.
"It's a team sport on a bigger level. That's all it is," said Schilling.
"There are so many parallels to my former life," he added. "It's a long, arduous season, so to speak, and keeping people focused on the day-to-day and the tasks at hand and execution on the day is a challenge. And it's no different than baseball in that sense. ... You put your players in the best possible position to succeed and this is exactly like that."
Schilling has long been interested in military history — his late father served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper — and fantasy.
"I sure as hell wasn't really into sports gaming because that's what I did every day. I was a 'Dungeons and Dragons' guy, geeky, nerdy all those things."
Married with four kids (three boys and a girl aged from nine to 16), Schilling notes that these days "the terms geek and nerd are flipped."
"I think if you can't get on the Internet and download a song from iTunes and a movie from Netflix and search Wikipedia, I think that makes you a geek and a nerd nowadays. ... This is a connected generation. The new street corner is Facebook and that's where kids hang out.
"As a parent, it behooves you to be involved in your kids' social life as best as you can to know what they're doing, what they're saying and who they're hanging out with. We're in a different age and gaming has always been an incredibly positive influence on my family."
Spending nine months on the road as baseball player, Schilling says logging onto an MMO away from home allowed him to play with his kids.
He lists games from Strategic Simulations, Inc., and "Baldur's Gate," "Everquest," "Mass Effect" and "World of Warcraft" as among his favourites over the years
"Now I'm stuck on 'Star Wars: The Old Republic.' MMOs are kind of my thing, that's my passion. ... (But) at the end of the day, I'm a bigger fan of great games than I am of any one genre. 'Portal' is a great example — not a game that I generally would be looking to play a lot but I played through because it was incredibly well-made."
The early reviews for "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" have been positive. IGN.com rated the game a nine out 10 while the Official Xbox Magazine scored it eight out of 10.
"Honestly I'm incredibly proud," said Schilling.
"I believe the reviews. I really do believe that this game is going to have really long legs, so to speak. And that the more you play it, the more people see it, the more people that will want to buy it."
Key to that is a conscious attempt to see what other game designers have done well and learn from it.
Schilling points to "God of War" as having influenced his game's combat system, for example. Gamers loot fallen foes as they did in "Diablo" and other games.
It's also a lush game world that adapts to the player. If you want to run around fighting everything in sight and upgrade your character's combat skills, you can. If you want to explore and keep the argy-bargy to a minimum, you can go that route too.
Schilling's team has plans to extensively leverage the world. Salvatore has crafted a 10,000-year history, so there is plenty of content to mine.
"When we say 10,000 years of history, we mean it," Schilling said. "There is literally no platform, no entertainment medium we couldn't put massive amounts of content though and 'Reckoning' is our way to introduce that and to get people stoked about it."
And for those about to play the game for the first time, Schilling offers the following advice:
"Go in with your eyes wide open because if you're not paying attention, you're going to miss a lot of fun and a lot of stuff.
"At the end of the day, this is not NASA-level rocket science. It's incredibly complicated to make this software but the end of the day people are looking to be entertained and enjoy and have a fun experience. And I think there are hundreds of hours of that level of experience, no matter what play style you choose to play 'Reckoning.'"
The game is available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.