Jun 1 2010 1:51pm

JordanCon: Interview with Red Eagle Games

As promised, my eager beaver readers, I give you the Red Eagle Games interview, in which Larry Mondragon and I discuss the video game potential of our beloved Wheel of Time.

RF: You mentioned that the second project you are working on is video games. Why don’t you tell me a little about that?

REG: Well Richard, in addition to our work as producers of The Eye of the World motion picture, my partner (Rick Selvage) and I are building a world-class video game business from the ground up. We have launched Red Eagle Games, a new company that will produce a family of Wheel of Time branded video games. We are really excited about the prospects for bringing to life the wonderful characters and world that Robert Jordan has given to us in an immersive video game experience.

Over the past 18 months, we have taken some key steps towards this goal. We have announced a distribution agreement with Electronic Arts, who will make our game products available to retailers worldwide. To ensure that we can deliver games of the highest quality and creative value, we have enlisted the support of Obsidian Entertainment, an accomplished video game developer. Obsidian will supplement our internal development team and they give us the benefit of their considerable experience in making top-selling role-playing games.

Early on, we recognized that there are a great many online gaming and Wheel of Time websites that bind together a vast and energetic global community. We listen closely to members of these websites in order to learn what players want in a challenging video game based upon The Wheel of Time. In addition, these websites are a valuable way in which we can have a frank, open dialog with fans about our games and the type of game experience that we intend to deliver. In addition, in the near future, we plan to evolve our Red Eagle Games website into an online “destination” for a broad following of fantasy, sci-fi and Wheel of Time fans. In order to coordinate our online presence, Melissa Craib-Dombroski has joined Red Eagle Games as our Online Community Director.

And finally, we have engaged the services of a talented Hollywood screenwriter, Chris Morgan, who has come on board as our Story Director. Chris will use his proven story-telling skills and deep understanding of the Wheel of Time universe to ensure that our game characters and storylines really come alive.

RF: You mentioned RPGs. Are there any other types of games you plan on developing?

REG: Despite the tough economy, the past two years have been a time of great change for the game industry. While today’s top-selling game consoles (Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Wii) are unlikely to be replaced in the near future, an explosion of new technologies is nonetheless reshaping the gaming market—the rise of social networking games, user-generated content, 3D gaming, Flash games, cloud-based gaming, digital distribution, downloadable content, and mobile gaming. In addition, new motion controllers such as the Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Project Natal are poised to deliver a new level of realism to gameplay. We want to harness the best of these emerging technologies in building our Wheel of Time games. At the same time, we recognize it is better to remain faithful to our creative principals rather than rushing a product to market that is incomplete, buggy or dated.

With that said, I would like to give you an overview of our current product plan. We intend to begin by releasing a series of images and multi-media “samplers” of our work by the end of the year, giving Wheel of Time fans their first opportunity to see the characters and iconic settings they will encounter in playing our video games. Our first game releases will probably be a series of Flash-based games that will be available at our Red Eagle Games website. Soon thereafter, we will be releasing a family of advanced games on the Xbox, PlayStation, and PC platforms.

I expect that our initial slate of premium PC/console games will be completed in about 2.5 years. In addition to these premium games, we are also considering the release of a series of smaller, value-priced games that could be made available in an earlier timeframe, perhaps in about 18 months. We also are planning to develop a Massively Multiplayer Online game as well. The MMO will probably have a longer development cycle, so I can’t really give an estimate on its availability at the present time.

We are still in the process of putting our game company together, so some dependencies remain that prevent me from giving a more accurate projection of our product release dates. I can say however, just as with our movie project, that everything we do will be aimed at developing first-class products that will meet or exceed the demands of the most passionate gamer. It will not be enough to merely embellish our games with the Wheel of Time brand. Instead, we really want to push the envelope of the gaming experience—in the fundamentals of our game mechanics, in the format and objectives of our game design, in the characters and places we present, in the stories we tell—and we plan to bind everything together with a signature visual style that will become a hallmark of our Wheel of Time video and online games.

RF: How much interaction are you getting on the games from Team Jordan?

REG: In a very real sense, we are partners in continuing the Wheel of Time story that Robert Jordan started, though our respective books, movies and video games will each employ a different media. I have enjoyed coming to JordanCon, in part, because it has given me an opportunity to renew my relationships with Team Jordan, including Harriet McDougal-Rigney, Wilson Grooms, Brandon Sanderson, Maria Simons and Alan Romanczuk.

To my great surprise, I was delighted to recently discover that Brandon is an avid gamer. As Robert Jordan’s successor, Brandon naturally has a keen grasp of The Wheel of Time universe; his added gaming intellect makes him a valuable resource to anyone who would attempt to make this complex world come to life in video and online games.

Harriet has been tremendously helpful in our efforts to produce Wheel of Time video games. In announcing the launch of Red Eagle Games, she graciously provided a statement of her support for inclusion in our press release. Harriet’s good wishes are very important to me personally, and give us added motivation to see our gaming projects through and make them successful.

RF: Are the games going to focus mainly on the text of novels, of what we know, or are we going to be going into more of an expanded universe that we haven’t seen yet?

REG: Let me first cast aside a false rumor. We do NOT plan to make a movie-based game. We spend substantial time following the online discussions about our Wheel of Time games, and we know that limiting ourselves to the characters and events of the movie would be a letdown for our audience. Moreover, we have far too much material in The Wheel of Time to take such an easy path in our game development. Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson have given us this unbelievably rich canvas to paint on. And we want to explore every inch of it in our video and online games.

We have tossed around design concepts such as the training of a Blademaster in the mastery of the various sword forms, the testing of an Aes Sedai candidate as they walk through the three-arched ter’angreal, and even games that might involve seeing life through the eyes of the Forsaken as they engage in their internecine struggle to become the one and only Nae’blis.

So rest assured that we intend to offer video games that will provide players with the ability to experience Jordan’s world in a way that will be nothing like the story that will presented in our motion picture.

RF: Have you played around at all with the idea of something based in the Second Age, the Age of Legends?

REG: We are giving serious consideration to making a series of games that are set in a time before the events chronicled in the main novels. The eons of world history that lead up to our introduction to Rand and his friends in Emond’s Field comprise a fertile area for game development. We are exploring the possibility of making video games that may be set during The War of the Shadow, the Trolloc Wars, the War of 100 Years, or the Aiel War. In fact, I don’t believe that you can successfully tell the story of the Forsaken in the Third Age without going back to their roots in the Age of Legends. To know Lanfear, you need to know Mierin, and her jealousy of Lews Therin and her role in unwittingly unleashing the Dark One from his prison through her experiments at Collam Daan. Or Aginor, who led the vile experimentation and cross-breeding that created the armies of Trollocs and Myrddraal that now ravage the world in the name of the Dark One. Or Sammael, once a celebrated sportsman, who turned against his fellow man and massacred millions while leading the army of the Shadow. Each of these members of the Forsaken are so much more compelling when you learn how they were lost to the Light during the final days of The Age of Legends.

RF: I know it is early in both your game and movie productions, but there is a lot of influence in Robert Jordan’s world from early fantasy works, such as Tolkien. So much so that one might face some difficulty in creating the Green Man, for example, and not making it look like an Ent, or the Myrddraal and not making a Nazgul. What can you speak to on that?

REG: Robert Jordan absolutely owed a debt to Tolkien. When asked about the similarities between his work and The Lord of the Rings, he explained that it was his intent to give the reader a familiar beginning to The Eye of the World before moving the story in a new, original direction. And I believe that he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations; Jordan’s epic truly stands on its own. While certain elements of his writings may be derived from Tolkien’s epic fantasy, The Wheel of Time is a distinctive story that no reader of the series could possibly confuse with The Lord of the Rings. Therefore, we want to give our attention to the unique aspects of the story and wherever possible, and explore ways in which we can visually differentiate the settings and characters of our games (and movie) from Tolkien’s world of fantasy.

In my view, one of the most distinctive aspects of Jordan’s writings is that the reader is seldom required to suspend logic and rational thought in order to understand the story. There is an ominous and foreboding air of plausibility throughout The Wheel of Time as Jordan describes a world of fantasy that is rooted in the ashes of our future. Jordan’s world has a remarkable consistency about it. Take for example, the story’s magic system, the One Power. In contrast to Tolkien, the reader is never asked to blindly accept the use of magic in the story. Rather, Jordan carefully describes the evolution of the One Power throughout the ages, explains how this power is wielded differently by men and women, the limitations on the use of the One Power, both individually and in groups, its “alter ego” that emanates from the Dark One (the “True Power”), and the overwhelming sickness that is inflicted upon male channelers who succumb to the taint that has poisoned the One Power. When looked at in this way, it becomes easy to envision how each of these important aspects of the magic system in The Wheel of Time could add a wonderful dimension to a role-playing challenge presented within a video game.

Beyond Jordan’s magic system, The Wheel of Time goes into great detail about the world’s various nations, political systems, ethnic groups, fashions and dress, weapons and warfare, and even cultural mores and values. Moreover, Jordan never spoon-feeds the reader. Instead, his story requires a thinking audience capable of putting together a subtle trail of clues that would rival any Agatha Christie novel. Taken together, all of these aspects of Jordan’s work engender a complex, realistic world that stands apart from Tolkien’s realm of fantasy. The intricate contours and texture of this world is one of the reasons that I believe the Wheel of Time community is knitted together so tightly and why readers of the series find so much enjoyment in the time they spend poring over the writings of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

So if someone wants to play a video game set within a traditional world of fantasy filled with wizards, elves, Ents and Nazgul, I would recommend they run out and buy a Lord of the Rings video game. But for the game player who wants to experience first-hand what is truly special about The Wheel of Time, we promise to have some surprises waiting for them.

RF: Well then, Red Eagle Games. Thank you.

For more information about Red Eagle Games, visit http://www.red-eagle-games.com.

Richard Fife is a blogger, writer, and a bit of an RPG junkie. You can read more of is ramblings and some of his short stories at http://RichardFife.com.

1. Hammerlock
I think an MMO would be a mistake. Yes, there's money there, but only if you succeed. And you rapidly run out of fingers and toes when counting all the failed MMOs out there.
2. Branwhin

Despite the issues, I actually liked a number of things the Legend crew did with the original WoT PC game (the Fades and Shadar Logoth's atmosphere, and the voice acting, were particularly good).

That said, having a bunch of people who are *really* knowledgeable like this, and obviously WoT fans, coupled with the advances in gaming since 2001 ... drooling on my keyboard here!

Mr. Mondragon, I would *really* like to see something along the lines of the Oblivion engine! That's the one I'm most familiar with, mind, I'm sure there are many other products with awesome 'open' concepts like that. Absolutely correct that the 'world' is enormous, and deserves to be fully explorable.
j p
3. sps49
It is probably too late, if it was possible at all, but I would love a game using the engine from Troika's Temple of Elemental Evil D&D 3.5 game.

Mostly because I h8 online multiplayer games (dealing with other players, fees, etc.).
Ben Frey
4. BenPatient
I'm going to be honest...I think the movie and the video games are complete and total smoke and mirrors.

I hope to be proven wrong some day, but I'm not going to hold my breath at all.

I just get a vibe from all of the interviews and the language used from Red Eagle and around these projects...it's like they are still trying to talk someone into something. Like a website saying they have "millions of visitors" when in fact they have had 1,000,002 hits in the last 5 years.

I hope I'm wrong, though.
5. wawwen
Red Eagle Games reminds me a lot of Tigon Games: a "studio" set up in name, with some executives, that has a property and no development team.

Quite honestly hearing "value priced" games makes my skin crawl. I've never seen a "value priced" game come out any better than the dredges of a movie licensed title.

I don't have any faith in a "premium PC/console title" being anywhere near decent in 2.5 years development time. Most of those "premium/AAA/etc" games spend 4-5 years in development before being released. 2.5 years is only a little more than what a movie license title will get, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have 1-2 years of pre-production and proof of concept work behind them.

At this point I'm going to hope they aren't making an MMORPG. I think WOT could make for an excellent MMO game, but the fickleness of releasing an MMO, even a big name property MMO, isn't a guarantee of success (see Star Wars Galaxies, Lord of the Rings Online, decent but nowhere near the comparatively good success of an EVE Online, FFXI, Aion, or Lineage II).

I hope I'm wrong, but I've been in the games industry long enough to recognize that almost nothing was said in this interview. There's almost no buzz about hiring going on for these titles or a ramp up and studios "affiliated" with Red Eagle Games of the size that would indicate full production on a title.
Luke M
6. lmelior
I was pleased with the answers to the questions about the subject matter, as I was fully expecting a poor rehash of the events in TEOTW as a first game. Just like BioWare (and then Obsidian) did with the Star Wars universe, the best games are going to be those set in the distant past, where there is simultaneously enough general direction and enough room for creativity to make spectacular games.

I posted excerpts of my design notes for a game set between the founding of Tar Valon and the Trolloc Wars in the Wheel of Time Open Thread, comment 84. So obviously I think it's a great idea.

My only gripe is:

M = Massive
M = Money
O = hole

If you must, at least do it last so the other games can come out before you go under.
Sean Arthur
7. wsean
wawwen: "a "studio" set up in name, with some executives, that has a property and no development team."

That's about the impression I'm getting, as well. Not at all confidence inspiring. :/
Fake Name
8. ThePendragon
Yeah, this is all vaporware. It'll turn out about as well as the comics. I have to wonder why Team Jordan let's these guys keep going, when RJ himself expressed such a clear amount of displeasure with these guys.
9. NaeffOfDreams
These guys are smooth talkers. They use a lot of words, but they don't actually answer the questions asked. How will they make Someshta look, feel, and sound different from Treebeard? Don't tell us it's a cool and complex world. That's why we're here; we know this already. It's great that they're not making a game based on the movie. How about the books?
10. Freelancer
So, thanks Rich. At least nobody will wonder if Larry Mondragon knows anything about the story.

His intentions are noble. As has been said, the development cycle on a state-of-the-art game, even at houses as big as Sony, is regularly 3.5 years or more. If built on the engine of another game, with story-unique graphics, terrain and sequencing, it would save perhaps 6 months, since the most intensive work today is the modelling, imaging, and texturing.

WoT fans who have remained WoT fans all this time are folks who prefer quality to speed, if forced to choose between the two. I'd suggest that the gamers among those would rather wait and find the product done well, than get it sooner and be disapppointed.
Bobby Stubbs
11. Valan
I'm a fan of having a healthy amount of skepticism, and I tend to agree with some of the above statements, but I really hope to be pleasantly surprised. I for one would absolutely love an Age of Legends game based on the exploits of the Forsaken. Not only is there plenty of room to create an awesome story - you have (almost) no chance of screwing up the one already there. Win-Win

I will add my vote for no MMOs though, just not my thing. An Oblivion-esque RPG is much preferable.

Lots of great ideas, I hope you come through.
12. Ghenjei

I know you're doing a good job, but call a spade a spade and describe how insincere Larry was when he said this. After 5 years of waiting for him to deliver on what we bought from him back then (the NS comics) and coming up empty-handed, do you really think he can actually do anything here?

so be honest, were his fingers crossed or was he just mouthing the "BS" during the whole interview?
Rob Trotter
13. shadar
I'm with 2.
Legend did an awful lot of good things... The graphics were good, the level design was solid, the gameplay was somewhat innovative, the atmosphere (esp. Shadar Logoth) was amazing. And the best decision of all was that they didn't screw up the storyline.. the took all the world building elements of WoT -- White Tower, Shadar Logoth, Ways, Trollocs, Myrdraal, Whitecloaks, Black Ajah and they didn't do the obvious (and bad) option of you controlling Rand/Mat/Perrin on their adventures..

Sure 1 or 2 things were stretched to fit (Ishamael was rather weak, The fringe bunch of whitecloaks using ter'angreal, the too-weak Keeper, the Shadar Logoth Legion).. but in the end it was an incredibly fun game that let you experience the world of WoT - and stayed the hell away from ruining the characters of WoT.

These guys are a couple of suits with a powerpoint pitch.
Evan Langlinais
14. Skwid
Count me in with the fans of the Legend game. It was revolutionary in a lot of ways, but the complexity of its control scheme made for a learning curve that was too inaccessible for most gamers.

Ah, well. I loved me some Citadel.
15. Rahvin3
I am going to remain optimistic about this. Although optimism is rare for me as I tend to follow Verin Mathwin in "always plan for the worst, that way any surprises will be pleasant ones".

I really hope that they do a good job with this, as it is something I would love to see done. The original was great for its time, and I hope to see great things now.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I also really want to see an epic RTS come from this. The WoT universe supplies an excellent opportunity for it as well as stories for great campaigns, from the extended universe.
16. BDC2010
I have heard all of this grand talk from Red Eagle before. Every time they come up with a new press release concerning Wheel of Time it always feels like a pair of fan boys in their mother's basement talking about how great it would be it their favorite thing in the world made them a ton of money.

There has never been a profession vibe from them and I think it would be best for WoT and the fans if Red Eagle released the property to more professional companies so that something REAL can be developed.
17. Undying
I've been a fan of WoT for at least a good 4 years now. Obsidion does have valid qualifications for this sort of thing... and I have been praying for an MMO since I read Eye of the World. Just please, don't half-ass it with great gfx and crappy gameplay, or vice-versa.
18. MegaZeroX
I know this is a very late comment, but oh well. This seems to be pretty much the most recent news from them. I am neither optomistic nor pessimistic, only anxious to hear more. Obsidian did do a good job with New Veagas, but horribly screwed up Alpha Protocol, and they do seem to be a hit or miss company. I hope Red Eagle does fine, at least they eased my fear of being know-nothings like the makers of Dragon Ball Evolution (shiver).

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