As our traumatized country continues its slow march through the longest week in recorded history — which is really saying something in the year of our Lord 2020 — the video game industry continues to sneak in bizarre little announcements during the late-night hours. First was last night’s ludicrous unveiling of the Sega Game Gear Micro, and now this: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, a graphically enhanced Xbox One version of the 2012 fantasy RPG financed by the state of Rhode Island (I’ll get there), has appeared on Microsoft’s website.
“The hit RPG returns!” proclaims the listing. “From the minds of the bestselling author R.A. Salvatore, Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolston, comes Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. Remastered with stunning visuals and refined gameplay Re-Reckoning delivers intense, customizable RPG combat inside a sprawling game world.”
THQ Nordic is listed as the publisher of the remake on Microsoft’s site, but it doesn’t appear to have officially announcement the game on its official Twitter profile or anywhere else. Likewise, the Xbox storefront and Microsoft’s website both return zero results when searching for “Re-Reckoning,” so it looks like the min-maxed cat may have slipped from the bag. We caught wind of the listing through Twitter user WalkingCat, who seems to be a developer crawling the web for unlisted changes to Microsoft’s various internet presences. There’s no word on when the game will come out, what it might cost, or if it’ll be coming to platforms besides the Xbox One.
The original Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a fine action-RPG in its own right by most accounts, but at the time of its release, it was always spoken of in the shadow of its developer’s parent company, 38 Studios, which was mired in a financial boondoggle with the state of Rhode Island. But to explain what that was all about, we first have to talk about baseball.
Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Shilling, an avid fan of the classic MMORPG Everquest, decided in 2005 that it’d probably be cool to make his own video games. Through his various celebrity connections, he convinced acclaimed fantasy novelist R. A. Salvatore and comic book mogul Todd McFarlane to get onboard with his new project, which eventually culminated in the founding of Green Monster Games in 2006. The company would rename itself 38 Studios (after Shilling’s jersey number) the following year, and shortly thereafter the company acquired Big Huge Games from THQ during its historic bankruptcy.
Fast forward to 2010, and 38 Studios — then located in Massachusetts — still hadn’t released a game. Meanwhile, the state of Rhode Island was looking for the next set of projects that it would help develop through its “Economic Development Corporation” (EDC), which made bank-style loans (funded through bond sales) to promising endeavors that were likely to improve the general economic health of Rhode Island. One thing lead to another, and by mid-2010 Curt Shilling had convinced Rhode Island that 38 Studios should be one of those promising endeavors, to the tune of $75 million. The studio fully relocated to Rhode Island over the course of the next year, with the agreement being that in addition to (eventually) paying back the loan, 38 Studios would create a total of 450 jobs in Rhode Island by the end of 2012.
After the move, 38 Studios was working on two projects simultaneously: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning at subsidiary Big Huge Games, and Project Copernicus, an MMO, at 38 Studios proper. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was released for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on February 7, 2012, to positive critical reception and encouraging (if not bombastic) sales, and everything seemed fine until 38 Studios gave the state of Rhode Island a bad check for $1.125 million to cover its May 1, 2012 loan payment. The check was returned for insufficient funds (can’t imagine what the fees were like), and thus began 38 Studio’s downfall.
In order to make the payment, 38 Studios had to eat its payroll reserves and forego paying its staff. The executive director of the Rhode Island EDC turned in his resignation shortly thereafter, as did 38 Studios CEO Jennifer MacLean and senior vice president of product development John Blakely. Before the month was over, 38 Studios had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protections and laid off its entire staff, both at 38 Studios and Big Huge Games. Investigations were opened by the Rhode Island State Police, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office, the United States Attorney General’s office, and the FBI.
In 2017, the Securities Exchange Commission sued both the state of Rhode Island and Wells Fargo, who had helped facilitate the loan side of everything, claiming that both had known the $75 million loan to 38 Studios was insufficient to cover the full cost of completing Project Copernicus, and that by failing to inform bond buyers of this fact, both the state and the bank had committed securities fraud. The state of Rhode Island settled in 2017 for a reduced civil penalty of $50,000, but was still on the hook to pay back the $75 million in bonds it had sold to fund the loan in the first place. Wells Fargo settled with the SEC for an undisclosed amount in 2019.
In order to recoup these losses, the state sued everyone involved with 38 Studios, including founder Curt Shilling, former Rhode Island EDC director Keith Stokes, former 38 Studios CEO Jennifer MacLean, and essentially, anyone else that had told the state of Rhode Island that nah, this was all a good idea. A total of $61 million were gained from these lawsuits, leaving Rhode Island taxpayers holding the bag for the rest. Eventually the rights to Kingdoms of Amalur and Project Copernicus were sold to THQ Nordic, and here we are.