Electronic Arts' EA Partners division will publish the next game from 38 Studios-owned Big Huge Games, with development led by RPG veteran Ken Rolston (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
) and collaboration by fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and artist Todd McFarlane.
Codenamed Project Mercury
, the game is a single-player RPG set in the fictional world of "Copernicus." When it ships for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 it will be gamers' first opportunity to explore the universe that will underpin future games developed by 38 Studios, which acquired Baltimore-area developer Big Huge last year.
Salvatore, best known for his series of Forgotten Realms novels, and McFarlane, creator of the Spawn comic book character, were initially tapped by 38 Studios founder (and former MLB pitcher) Curt Schilling to serve as creative principals on 38's upcoming MMO. Now the pair is simultaneously contributing to Project Mercury
"When Curt founded 38 Studios, he did it not just to create one game, but to create a whole fantasy world," 38 Studios CEO Jen MacLean told Gamasutra in advance of today's announcement. "When Curt set up the company, his plan from the very beginning was to create a universe."
And even though Salvatore and McFarlane aren't in-house at Big Huge, she says they have regular creative input.
"R.A. lives about 45 minutes away from the studio, and Todd has a fantastic video conference set up -- he's interacting on a weekly basis," she explained. "These guys are very hands on in shaping the vision and the strategy. They're always working hand in hand with Ken [Rolston]."
MacLean added, however, that it is Rolston -- a longtime game designer who led Bethesda's two most recent Elder Scrolls
games after a noted board game design career -- who remains the primary leadership on the Big Huge Games project.
"We can't mention enough the depth and experience Ken has brought to the project," she said. "He's working in [the studio] every day, and it's created an amazing creative environment that has really blossomed into a fantastic and creative product."
Rolston has been working with Big Huge since 2007, after briefly flirting with retirement, but MacLean herself has experience with members of the studio going back even further. The company was founded by former Firaxis developers who had previously worked at original Civilization
developer MicroProse, where MacLean also got her start in games in the mid-1990s.
"Big Huge Games was the perfect team, with all they've accomplished." she said. "They have a perfect development record, going back to Civilization II
when I first worked with them."
And the past industry connections go even further -- EA Partners GM David DeMartini told Gamasutra that Schilling had previously gotten in touch with now-EA Sports head Peter Moore, laying the groundwork for the EA Partners deal.
"During his illustrious baseball career, he made a lot of contacts," DeMartini said. "He made contact with Peter Moore, and when he was looking for people to bounce some ideas off of in the development area, EAP spring into action. We've been in conversation for quite a long time, and when Curt was able to pick up Big Huge Games and was able to marry that with a great creative team, the whole thing blossomed."
Founded in 2000 by several former Civilization
series developers, Big Huge Games achieved commercial and critical success with its Rise of Nations
series. In early 2008, it was acquired by THQ, but just over a year later, the publisher said it would close the studio unless a buyer could be found. Schilling and 38 stepped in a month later, and allowed Big Huge to retain its existing name and location, although its staff size was reduced.
"We've maintained the Big Huge brand because it has such a great reputation not just in the industry, but also among consumers," MacLean said.
And the studios' relative proximity on the East Coast means they can retain a fairly convenient working relationship, she added.
"It's such a short plane ride, so there's a lot of face to face interaction as well," said MacLean. "We work so closely with these guys -- not a day goes by when there's not a lot of interaction between the teams."