World Series hero Curt Schilling takes on video games

Feb. 15, 2012 | 9:18 p.m.
curt shilling World Series hero Curt Schilling takes on video games

Boston Red Sox baseball legend Curt Schilling isn't pitching curve balls anymore but he is pitching his new video game, "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning." (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

When four-time World Series pitcher Curt Schilling started his video game company in 2006, some took it as a sign that the American League right-hander was simply indulging in an expensive hobby.

“People saw it as a vanity project,” Schilling said during an interview, spitting tobacco juice into a paper cup between words. “I get it. There’s not a long track record of people leaving professional sports to become a software developer.”

Last week, the world got to find out just how serious the former Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox hurler was. After spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money, he and his company, 38 Studios, shipped their first game — a lavish fantasy title called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

Although it’s too early to tell how well the $59.99 title is selling, critics have given it solid marks. One reviewer at the website Joystiq called the game “immaculately crafted and beautiful.”

For the 6-foot-4, 45-year-old Schilling, Amalur is a milestone in a long, arduous journey.

As a teenager growing up in Arizona, Schilling fell in love with two things: baseball and a computer game called Wizardry. That gave way to sword and sorcery games  such as Bard’s Tale, Ultima Online and EverQuest.

In the early 1990s, as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, Schilling was never without a 15-pound PC.

“I had the perfect job for a gamer,”  Schilling said. “From February to October, I’d get up at 7 in the morning with nothing to do but play games until I had to be at the park around 1 or 2 o’clock. When I got back after the game, I played until 3 or 4 in the morning.”

While some players requested fancy cars in their baseball contracts, Schilling wanted high-end gaming laptops and guaranteed Internet access in his hotel rooms when his teams were on the road.

The transition from passionate gamer to game developer began in 2000, when Schilling and his wife, Shonda, a skin cancer survivor, met with their financial advisor to discuss what he would do once he retired from baseball. The advisor told him to find his passion.

“Short of baseball and my family, it was gaming,” Schilling recalled. “And gaming is a $20-million to $200-million multi-year effort. It’s an insane, stupid and utterly irresponsible act. But I did it.”

Schilling footed much of the bill and retained more than 82% of the company, with expenses running in excess of $15 million, according to a Harvard Business School case study. To get additional cash flow, he moved his company last year from Maynard, Mass., to Providence, R.I., in exchange for a $75-million loan from the state.

Schilling was bursting with ideas and wanted to be involved in every detail — a trait that sometimes exasperated his collaborators.

“He’s like a  5-year-old boy,” said Todd McFarlane, a comic book artist whom Schilling recruited to be his art director. “We would have dinner together, and he’d stay up until 3 a.m. talking about games like we were having a slumber party. I had to beg him to go to sleep.”

schillling game World Series hero Curt Schilling takes on video games

'Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,' with Curt Schilling. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Schilling found out the toll he was having on his company when he suggested to his developers that they could make pigs fly.

“I wanted mounted combat on flying pigs,”  Schilling said.

The studio’s executive producer, Jason Roberts, calmly told his imposing boss, “I will never tell you no. I will only tell you how much it will cost.”

“It was an eye-opener,” Schilling said. “I realized all these emails I kept sending out cost me money. So I backed off. When it comes to making games, these guys were the pro athletes. I am not.”

Among them were McFarlane and R.A. Salvatore — both legends in the worlds of comics and fantasy literature. Salvatore’s science fiction books have sold more than 10 million copies, and McFarlane’s art work in the “Spider-Man” and “Spawn” comics have won him numerous awards and a die-hard following.

Salvatore crafted a mythological world for Schilling’s game, with 10,000 years of history taking up 90 dense pages of type, and compiled details on the Amalur races, their languages and cultures. McFarlane turned Salvatore’s words into images, crafting a dynamic world set amid lush environments.

“If we’re going to have a wizard casting a spell, let’s make it look crazy,” McFarlane said. “The cape needs to fly. The wind needs to be blowing. It should just feel alive.”

Their work paid off. A game reviewer at IGN said, “Amalur demands your attention.” Overall, the game, which is playable on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and computers, scored a respectable 80 to 86 points out of 100 among 85 game critics surveyed by the website Metacritic. And the title is in the top three games for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sold by GameStop as of Wednesday, eight days after its launch. On, Amalur was the 19th-best-selling game.

But the main event for Schilling is yet to come. As a single-player game, Amalur is the flashy prelude to the game that Schilling  set out to make six years ago — a multi-player online game with the code name Project Copernicus that’s expected to be released  this year.

Set in the same fantasy world as Reckoning, Copernicus represents everything Schilling wanted as a gamer who’s spent about as much time playing video games as he has playing baseball. That game is still shrouded in mystery, with the company reluctant to give away details.

For now, Schilling is content to have created a team capable of making games and proving his skeptics wrong.

“I’ve helped create over 400 jobs in the worst economy of my lifetime,” Schilling said. “That’s cool.”

— Alex Pham


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18 Responses to World Series hero Curt Schilling takes on video games

  1. Bobby says:

    Don't buy games from this GW Bush supporter! Fight wrongheaded war!

  2. madsircool says:

    Dont take advice from adolescent trolls!

  3. Mike says:

    Do you know the politics of every game maker you have purchased games from? Don't jump on him because you know about him and remain ignorant of others. I do not like his politics but as long as it's not in the game, I couldn't care less. I only care if it'sa good game.

    No point denying myself quality entertainment because of irrelevent politics.

  4. gaucho420 says:

    Cool read. And Politics does not belong in this discussion!

  5. Shawn says:

    Amalur rocks. The combat is fun and varied, and totally eclipses Skyrim (which I like, but melee combat in all the Elder Scrolls titles is lame).

    Great first effort. Can't wait to see what keeps coming.

  6. Frank says:

    yeah politics may not be involved in Sports Gaucho420 , but Schilling had his own agenda to advance right, or is that Right wing?

    • gaucho420 says:

      This is supposed to be a VIDEOGAME DISCUSSION. No where in the article are politics mentioned. And if he accepted a loan from RI, that is the State's to give out and for him to decide to accept. It is normal for State's to help foster young businesses with incentives, such as below market financing.

  7. Rob says:

    Ya, it's so bad to start a company and employ 400 people. Some would prefer that he pitch a tent with a group of hippies and drain the working taxpayers money.

  8. @dbuckley4 says:

    What a Republican hero! "To get additional cash flow, he moved his company last year from Maynard, Mass., to Providence, R.I., in exchange for a $75-million loan from the state." So he sucks off Rhode Island's teat and claims he is creating jobs.

  9. @dbuckley4 says:

    75 million dollars / 400 jobs equals $187,000 for the year. Think anyone in R.I. got paid that much, except the owners?

    • gaucho420 says:

      The cost of development isn't free. Using game engines isn't free. The average videogame programmer, at all companies, gets paid slighly less than $100,000, so I would imagine that the enterpreuner (Shilling), who spent his own money as well as taking a loan, is entitled to get the most money back. The risk taker should get the spoils!

      What is this? Socialist France? I came from there and left as that's exactly the attitude I hated…let's hate on a man for taking a risk and opening a business. HOW DARE HE!

      That's not the America I want, I don't care if he supported GW or not. And I vote democratic and hate GW…but I will not hate on a man for taking capitalistic risks and playing the capitalistic game.

    • Derpy says:

      I think you forgot to include the cost of the development kits for each system, the building they work in, electricity, payroll taxes, insurance, etc. Also, it does not say he spent all of the $75 million dollars. You are also assuming that it was spent over one year. How long did the game take to develop after he received the loan?

    • Troy says:

      There are some truly stupid people on this planet who seem to revel in their own lack of knowledge about things. Why should the fry station manager make $150,000 a year?

  10. Virgilio Powell says:

    Really why are you guys bringing politics in this discussion. He had an idea of making what could be a great game and you're narcing on the guy and calling him a Bush supporter. So what if he's a Bush supporter. Stop judging the guy

  11. Jake says:

    I had not heard about the game, but I will check it out now. The detailed history is intriguing to me. I would have liked for this article to talk more about the pros and cons of the game though.

    – Jake

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