All we've seen so far of "Project Copernicus," the Kingdoms of Amalur MMO lost in the collapse of developer 38 Studios, are still shots and videos of in-game environments. It's helped build up the idea that the game might have been pretty, but it wasn't any good. Curt Schilling, the 38 Studios owner, himself said "the game wasn't fun," and that nobody was playing it inside the studio.
Well, someone who worked on the game wants you to know that's not true. 38 Studios employees were playing it. They did think it was fun. And here are some videos of its pre-alpha gameplay so you may judge for yourself.
The former 38 Studios employee reached out to Kotaku earlier this week, stung by the portrayal of Copernicus as something its own makers had disowned. He offered the following detailed defense, which we're publishing in its entirety, plus the three videos and more than 30 screenshots.
I'm a previous employee of 38 Studios and I would like to set the record straight about something Curt said in an interview. It's true that we were not playing the game during our lunch breaks, and that employees playing the game we were making was rare. It is even true that the game was not fun for the longest time. What is not true, however, is that we did not want to play the game.
Figuring out which servers we were "allowed" to play on was a nightmare, and half the time if we did want to playtest, we couldnt as those servers were reserved for private demos. Playing during lunch was not a possibility for 90 percent of the time. When we could play, some of us would come in on the weekends.
Heck, at one point six of us all logged on to run through the first dungeon of the game, and it was really fun, and we said as much to the rest of the team as well as giving constuctive feedback about the game. There would be frequent groups playtesting the game outside of regular work hours, and from my experience at least, it was thoroughly entertaining.
It played very much like World of Warcraft, which earned quite a lot of ire from some of the dev team. But where it differentiated itself was with the abilities and their uses, which were original and fun (and you never had more than 10 abilities, some with multiple contextual uses).
"The last playtest, two days before the debacle, was immensely fun."
For instance, the Sorcerer was a marriage between the WoW Warlock and the Diablo Necromancer, summoning up to eight pets to heckle enemies. You could make the pets explode, dealing acid damage, have them tank targets, sacrifice them for health and cast spells of their own. The Sorcerer himself (or herself) had to manage mana as well as potential backlashes from powerful spells, dealing damage to the player. So it was a balance to try and keep as much power as possible, boosting your own damage (until you floated above the ground with arcs of lighting around you) or potentially got overloaded and shorted out.
It was a fun class, as were several of the other complex ones, different classes delivering different play styles and difficulties. The combat was all about the player feeling powerful, and having the combat feeling tactical and visceral, it was about enemy manipulation and tactical use of your abilities. As a player, you would never fight enemies 1v1, it would always be 2 or more.
The last playtest of the company, literally two days before this debacle happened, was immensely fun. It was the first time PvP was in the game and many of us did not want to stop playing. It was the first time that there had been a company playtest where we had to force ourselves to get back to work, where the game was really fun, the servers were smooth and the quests and zones were starting to feel polished (not all the zones). As for the quests and zones, all the 1-25 zones had the base story and quests in, but only 2twowere close to a polished state with full scripting and NPC interactions, and those areas were hugely immersive and fun as well.
When Curt said that the game was not fun, and that we were not playing the game, it was not for lack of trying to play and the last time we all played it we enjoyed it thoroughly. If we had the last nine months we needed to finish, it most certainly would have been at the very least entertaining, if not downright fun.
In these videos, you will see a character creation menu, gameplay involving a quest, and free roaming gameplay. The former employee cautioned that this gameplay from a pre-alpha state—so it lacks visual effects, some animations, and final abilities. The character creation screen was also pre-alpha and lacked final art.
Schilling said "Copernicus" was to have been the "first triple-A, hundred-million-dollar-plus, free-to-play, micro-transaction-based MMO". The work done on it now belongs to the State of Rhode Island, which provided a sizeable loan to 38 Studios to start up and locate in Providence. The assets, which include the Amalur MMO, will be sold off by a receiver, with the state in line to be paid first.
If the game is as far along as this person and these videos suggest, perhaps someone will come along and snap it up. But if it's ever finished, it could end up completely different from the original vision.
A second gameplay trailer showing free roaming in-world.