Interviews

Earthrise: Interview with Masthead CEO Atanas Atanasov

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Masthead Studios announced Earthrise earlier this week, a skill-based, PvP focused science-fiction MMO slated for launch in 2009. We spoke to Masthead Studios CEO Atanas Atanasov about the game, why he believes they’ll deliver on their ambitious design and more.


WarCry Q&A: Earthrise
Answers by Atanas Atanasov (CEO of Masthead Studios)
Questions by Dana Massey

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WarCry: For those unfamiliar with the project, give us a basic overview of who you are, the origins of Masthead and what Earthrise is all about.

Atanas Atanasov: Masthead Studios was founded in 2005 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Our goal was to create a top quality game development studio, consisting of the best graphic artists and programmers in our region. There are a lot of IT specialists and graphic artists in our country who are involved in outsourcing; all we had to do was to pick the right people for the right job.

Being a MMORPG fan since Ultima Online and knowing that virtual worlds are the future of PC gaming, it was an easy decision for us to focus on the realization of Masthead’s first project – Earthrise.

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WarCry: Obviously, as a skill based, classless MMO, you’re not out to clone WoW. What were your major inspirations in the design of Earthrise?

Atanas Atanasov: Our team has played a lot of different MMO games including all major titles released up to date as well as some free to play Asian games. During the design stage of Earthrise we wanted to focus on getting the best out of the existing titles and at the same time to implement some new ideas not seen in other MMOs.

If I have to name some game titles UO, EVE in terms of gameplay and Crysis and Gears of War in terms of visuals were major inspiration for us.

In terms of philosophy that stands behind Earthrise, movies such as Equilibrium and Aeon Flux inspired our writers and game designers.

This does not mean that the game will resemble some of the titles mentioned. We will present our interpretation of a futuristic sci-fi world in a post-apocalyptic setting. However, don’t expect to see just the typical dark, devastated environment, there are many different places to explore in Earthrise.

WarCry: You mention your inspiration for a sci-fi MMO is because the genre is underdeveloped and there are some interesting moral questions you can explore. How do you hope to explore current day morality in a way that is fun, original and not preachy?

Atanas Atanasov: Games are made to be fun and the fact that some companies and government institutions are planning to develop educational MMO titles makes me believe that such virtual worlds are actually reflecting our society as a whole. Avatars in those games are real life people and they react naturally, there is no AI standing behind this.

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In regards to Earthrise, we will see what may happen if such scenario as described in the game story becomes a reality. Cloning and nanobotics are already a reality. Most weapons in the game are either existing or being prototypes and will be widely used in the near future.

In Earthrise we will see what will happen if several thousand humans are left in a close environment facing the danger of extinction. The game will offer them all available technology which is theory at the moment and they will react according to their human instincts. We will see what will happen 🙂

WarCry: You mention a focus on meaningful PvP in Earthrise, can you expand on this?

Atanas Atanasov: If you take a close look at most MMORPGs available on the market today, what they offer as PvP is often about friendly and in many ways regulated competition between players for fame, glory and rewards provided by the designers of the game. While such rewards are important incentive for many participants, for a sizable audience that we strive to attract, it has nothing of the cutthroat competition and the sense of risk associated originally with the PvP experience. The PvP in Earthrise is going to be not just about winning valuable resources that you as a player, your guild and even your faction need to survive in the highly competitive world of Enterra; it is about protecting these same resources from everyone else, because all that can be won can be lost and the success of PvP is going to be determined by striking the perfect balance between aggressive offense and thoughtful, often paranoid defence. This sense of danger and risk will run on many levels – from the personal rivalry between players to faction wars and the grand territory conquest that will shape the ever-changing military, political and even economic balance between Continoma and their Noir rivals.

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WarCry: Many games have touted PvP as a focus and time after time, they seem to fall short of market expectations. Why do you believe Earthrise can succeed as a PvP game where others have failed?

Atanas Atanasov: The PvP experience is the ultimate challenge for every MMORPG designer not because of technical limitations or balance issues only, but because of the practical impossibility to please every segment of the genre audience with a single implementation. Those who have tried have failed so far to meet the high expectations, especially of the more hardcore (and for many reasons, most vocal) group of PvP-oriented players. At Masthead Studios we believe that we can create a truly exciting, challenging PvP that will satisfy those players. Earthrise will have a meaningful PvP with consequences in the world.

At the same time we do not want to focus only on mindless PvP and miss the fun part in any classical MMO – socialization and roleplay.

There will be some territories in the game, suitable for those who don’t want to engage in PvP, in other words, every casual player can find his place in Earthrise.

WarCry: Your FAQ says you’ll launch in 2009. How long has Earthrise been in development and why do you feel that launch target is realistic?

Atanas Atanasov: Earthrise has been in development for 2 years. We have some short term and long term milestones, which we meet for the time being. This makes me believe that 2009 launch is realistic.

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WarCry: Crafting, a market based economy and customizable items are a huge part of Earthrise. Tell us about these systems and how your game will distance itself from its competitors through them?

Atanas Atanasov: Crafting is going to be the foundation of Earthrise economy system, period. This means that almost all useable items in the game, from the stock handgun to the most powerful items available in the game, will be available for crafting by the inhabitants of Enterra island. Item rarity will not be based on how many times players can kill the grand boss of a raid, but rather how many people exist who can excel in both design and manufacturing. We believe that this will create an unprecedented economy where crafters will not feel like they are doing a boring chore, but that their knowledge and hard work actually benefit the whole game world by creating unique item configurations that gives them and their guild a competitive edge. What makes Earthrise crafting system different from all other games currently on the market is the emphasis on item customization by the item’s designer and manufacturer, not just the player who is going to use that item. By creating unique designs and modifying items for specific purposes, truly talented crafters will entertain an unprecedented influence on the game economy and will be able to exert that power upon others in both political and economic sense.

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WarCry: Bulgaria is often seen in a less than positive light among fans of video games, largely due to incidents involving unrelated projects. What can you say to reassure people intrigued by your idea that you’re really in this for the long haul?

Atanas Atanasov: Our country has a lot of local talent. With proper management and clear goals, this talent can be focused in creating a great game with up to date graphics and technology.

It is not unusual for a small country to ship a great game. Example: Iceland and EVE Online

WarCry: The last few subscription based games to launch have had some difficulty attracting audiences. Why do you want to go that route vs. a free-to-play microtransaction or advertisement supported model?

Atanas Atanasov: By introducing subscription based model we want to point out that Earthrise will be a high quality game with lots of content, which will be available to everyone who plays the game, rather than those people who have the money to pay for items.

In addition we want our fans to expect that Earthrise will be comparable to any popular subscription based game currently on the market in terms of player experience.

WarCry: Your listed system requirements seem to be lower than most big AAA MMOs. Was this done on purpose and what are you doing to ensure that this game runs smoothly on a large number of PCs?

Atanas Atanasov: We are still working on and improving our engine. Hardware requirements are not final yet. Earthrise engine is designed to scale and take full advantage of the hardware and to support wide range of configurations and adapting parameters to achieve the best experience. The engine will support and use latest features, such as newest versions of Direct X and multi-core processors, but the game will look and play good on mid-range hardware too.


Editor’s Note: For full disclosure, it is important for us to note that Masthead Studios is a client of TAP Interactive, who is owned by the same parent company as WarCry.

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