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.