Beyond Drizzt - Part Two

The Conclusion to TTH's Interview with 38
Studios Director of Creative Content and Novelist R.A. Salvatore

by Cody
"Micajah" Bye

R.A. Salvatore (or Bob, as he prefers to be called) has created some of the most memorable characters in the fantasy genre. Many characters essential to the D&D Forgotten Realms campaign setting - Drizzt, Jarlaxle, Artemis, and others - have been produced from the mind of this well-versed author, whose page-turning style and charismatic wit have led to his status as a N.Y. Times best seller.

Lately, Salvatore has turned his attention to a more tech-oriented pursuit and is the acting Director of Creative Content for 38 Studios, an MMO development company founded by Red Sox pitcher – and fantasy aficionado – Curt Schilling.

The following article is the conclusion to the introductory interview that the TTH team first posted on May 21, 2007. In the final part of the interview, Salvatore gives us some insight into the challenges in writing for an MMO rather than a novel or a single-player RPG, addresses who is the biggest nerd among the “big three” at 38 Studios, and what is on his plate for the next few years. Please enjoy!

In novels and single player games, the story authors have the benefit
of being able to point out the one main protagonist that is available
throughout the plot. MMOs, on the other hand, don't have this same sort
of concept. Everyone tries to be the "hero" in a massive online game.
What sort of intricacies do you need to work into the story to make
sure that each and every gamer feels like a "hero" and part of the
world around them?

style="font-weight: bold;">Bob: First off,
there is a Groundhog Day experience in parts of MMOs. It can't be
helped. Your friend killed a named monster and got a nice drop, so you
go and kill the same beast and hope for similar luck. We call these
"sandbox quests," where the game world needs to have many repeatable
storylines so that thousands of players can participate at different
times and at their own pace.

href=""> src=""
alt="RA Salvatore, convention" title="RA Salvatore, convention"
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Salvatore at a convention.

creating a second type of storyline, one more unique and one-shot, we
have to make sure that everyone playing, from a first-level character
to those who have achieved the highest level, can contribute to the
overall success. In that regard, what you're talking about is an
enormous task.

the second regard, it's not so big a deal, and by that, I mean that
we're not creating a "scripted" world here. Players are free to
rock-and-roll as they see fit. They can explore, and the more choices
they have, the better the game. I cannot stress this enough: we're
giving people a place to write their own stories. They will set their
own goals and set out to find a way to achieve them – that's
the joy of playing an MMORG. I know, I know, it's just a few bits of
information that looks like a cool sword, but dang it, achieving that
sword feels good! It provides a sense of accomplishment, and that, more
than any lottery win, is the basis of happiness. Any author who thinks
he's going to "write" the script for gamers to follow is a lousy
dungeon master.

It is pretty common knowledge that both you and Curt are big MMO
gamers. You've both been playing EQ and EQ2 for some time, and that
certainly lends to your credibility in the MMO marketplace. However,
with that knowledge in mind, how do you guys plan to create an MMO that
is ready to stand against the big boys like WoW and the host of other
similar products that are coming out in the next few years? What will
set you apart from these other games and how are you going to avoid
that "dual-wielding dark elf" stereotype that many people have made
light of?

style="font-weight: bold;">Bob:
Who says I'm going to avoid it? I'm certainly not going to shy away
from the things that have been so well received by my readers.

your bigger point, I am indeed a lover of games. I've been
playing MMORGs since a few weeks after Everquest's launch. And yes, I
do plan to help 38 Studios create a game that can stand next to the big
boys. I do not in any way, shape, or form mean that as an insult to all
the games that have gone before. I have nothing but respect for the
people who created Everquest and Everquest II, or my many friends at
Blizzard, or the team that built Vanguard with Brad McQuaid (Keith
Parkinson, the art director on that game until he passed away, was one
of my dearest friends in the world, and one of the most talented human
beings I've ever known). Or the guys at Turbine – and I hope
their new games kick butt. I can't wait to get back into DDO and
adventure in Lord of the Rings Online. Or the guys at Ironlore. Or my
many friends at Mythic. And may Warhammer Online garner a million
subscribers in its first week. Or any of the others. We stand on the
shoulders of giants, of people who have provided me, personally, with
so much entertainment over the years that I can feel nothing but
kinship with them.

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alt="drizzt from darkelf trilogy"
title="drizzt from darkelf trilogy" name="photo_j"
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Although a prolific writer, Salvatore doesn't compete
with other writers, like King and Martin.

don't compete with other writers. Sure, I can be jealous as
hell of Stephen King or George Martin (he got an HBO series, the rat!),
but that just drives me harder. To me it's all a good-natured
competition, if a competition at all, and how privileged, blessed, and
just downright lucky are any of us to be allowed into other people's
lives? How amazing is it that a soldier in Baghdad writes to me to tell
me that my book helped him get through a day? How humbling is it to see
something I wrote translated into another language, to go to Italy for
a convention and see people lining up to meet me? Wow, how the hell did
that happen?

I say
all of this because I want it to be clear that none of
us went into this to fail. That's not an option. We aren't operating in
a vacuum; we know what's out there. We know what other games did well,
and maybe some things they didn't do well. We know the choices involved
that make some games stronger in some areas and weaker in other areas.

of this leads to an important distinction: we're not out
there to "defeat" World of Warcraft or Everquest or anything like that.
I can't wait to see Blizzard's next game and hope it knocks my socks
off. These other game companies are our friends, our "friendly"
competition (and by that, I mean the people who constantly raise the
bar and force us to be better), and also our vendors. We're gamers! We
want other companies to provide us with good games.

that line, we're trying to create a game that people
will feel compelled to play, that people will enjoy. A few years ago, I
saw a home video that someone had done of his Everquest experience,
showing all the milestones that he and his guildmates had accomplished.
That video was a work of art and was so moving that I sent it to Alan
Crosby, a dear friend of mine up at Sony Online. I said to Alan, "Do
you guys even realize how profoundly your work has touched peoples'

style="color: rgb(0, 0, 153);">It was a humbling moment for
Alan. I've had those moments with
my books. Now I want them with a game, with this great new medium.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016