Interview: Serafina on Atriarch

It’s an odd phenomenon in a world that sees games announced, canceled and released every day, but Atriarch is now in its 9th year of development. This science-fiction MMORPG has been the passion project of WorldFusion and their leader Serafina for years. Today, we catch up with Serafina and find out what is going on with Atriarch.

WarCry Q&A: Atriarch
Answers by Serafina (WorldFusion)
Questions by Dana Massey

WarCry: Your website says it all: “All Content © 1998-2007 World Fusion®”. It’s been roughly nine years since Atriarch began. What has taken so long and why should anyone still trust that this might one day be complete?

Serafina: You ask about trust? *big grin* I think you answered your own question.. After nine years of pursuing our dream to see Atriarch a reality, I think most would trust by now that we are stubborn, passionate and persistent enough to see it through 🙂

Everyone seems to be stuck on the fact that it is taking a long time. I understand. Believe me when I say I want it to go a lot faster too. However, things didn’t go as planned. I say so what? That’s life. I’m not going to toss out a beautiful and epic world just because it took longer than seven days to create.

In a nutshell, World Fusion is an independent company (established 1987) that has had both ups and downs. During the ups we focus entirely on making our dream, Atriarch, become a reality. During the downs, we work on software architecture consulting, contracts and part-time on Atriarch. (Let’s just say we prefer the ups.)

WarCry: Do you have a timeline for testing and an eventual release?

Serafina: The most honest answer I can give is that it will be ready when it’s ready.

WarCry: One of the biggest challenges with such an old game still in development has to be keeping technology current. Can you talk about some of the technical things you’ve added/changed over the years to keep the game up to date?

Serafina: When Atriarch releases, some of it will be cutting edge and some of it will be a blunt edge. We are working on some smoking hot new features that you have not seen in any MOG yet to date. As soon as we know it works as planned, we’ll be plastering about it online all over! It is very exciting. In other areas, there are some features that are not the hottest. oh well, can’t win them all.

A cool graphics feature we just added is shadow mapping. Not many MOGs have that. Recently at GDC, I was having fun changing the time of day to see the shadows move with the sun. Everything had a shadow, even the tall player-buildings. It was sooo cool 🙂 I had three other MOG developers walk by me when I was playing around with it, and they did a double take. I won’t say from which company. They simply said “WoW, that’s awesome, what game is that? We don’t even have that.” (On the other hand, they have everything else.) hehe

Overall, as seasoned veterans in the software industry, we know how fast technology changes. More so, those changes don’t always go when and where you expect. Therefore, we knew from the start that whatever we did with Atriarch would eventually need to adapt as technology, standards, and gaming expectations evolved. So that’s how we went about building it… making sure it would always be adaptable.

The beautiful thing about online worlds, like Atriarch, is the ability to continuously enhance and evolve both the engine and the world. Atriana is an organic world after all, shouldn’t the technology the game runs on be as well 🙂 When Atriarch comes out, it will keep to its roots and be a breath of fresh alien air.

WarCry: For those who have not followed the game, can you explain the base premise and your high level goals for players in this game?

Serafina: From a gameplay sense, Atriarch is considered an Empire Building Game. An “Atriarch” is a title that essentially means “Emperor” or “Leader”. I like to say it is like Matriarch without the “M”.
Essentially, Atriarch is a big alien sandbox where your roleplay while building your empire. You build your empire through city-building, politics, fighting, crafting. The starring feature of Atriarch is the player-construction. It is based on in-game building blocks that you piece together to form unique buildings for your city.
If you don’t want to city build, then you can you can always join forces with someone else or even decide to be an adventurer and explorer, neutral with all lands.
In the end, the ultimate premise of Atriarch is for you to influence a living and breathing alien world.

WarCry: The game world seems to be something that you’ve invested a lot of time and thought into. Talk to us about it.

Serafina: We have spent much time writing a game world that is completely unique, epic, bizarrely alluring and follows physical and natural laws consistent within itself. Players of online worlds deserve no less.

What I love most about fantasy and science fiction worlds is when I’m drawn in so far that there is the feeling I’m actually there and am experiencing strange and different lands and cultures. I want to reach out and touch them! I want to be emotionally invested in the characters and care what is happening in the world. It is this emotion we want to bring with Atriarch. The beauty of Atriarch as a virtual world is that players can act on their emotion to change things rather than just passively read about what happens.

The unique and epic World of Atriana, surrounded by its three moons (Fury, Frost, and Fire) and a single sun, is a planet rich with organic life and bizarre inhabitants. Atriana has a colorful history and a robust alien culture & politics in which player characters not only participate, but also influence. Players will enter the world after the most recent Torpor Storm has passed revealing some mysteries of the organic planet upon which all live.

Player Characters are born into the world as one of five main sentient species of their choice… Cavolon (botanists/scientists), Eshlar (architects/builders), Lokai (explorers/traders), Tyrusin (warriors), and Unarra (beastmasters). Although player characters can develop any of the available skills, a cultural identity deeply rooted in tradition has evolved over the currans (cycles of the seasons) for each of the species.

There is much too much about the world of Atriana to reveal in a couple of paragraphs. Our focus on story is really designed to be interacted with rather than read. We look forward to meeting you in the world for some good ol fashion alien emotion 🙂

WarCry: Are you worried that such an alien world will be difficult for players to accept, with a lack of “familiar” things to latch onto?

Serafina: Why would I worry? Part of what sets Atriarch apart is the very fact that it is a unique, all-encompassing alien world. I would worry if we were a human-based game and had to compete with the billion other human-based games. Many game companies shy away from venturing into new genres for fear of alienating (ok, bad pun) a particular segment of the market. My belief is that something new and unfamiliar done well is very stimulating to the senses and imagination of a gamer. In online virtual worlds anything is possible! So why do game companies keep doing the same thing? An epic alien world where players become an integral participant in an organic alien culture… not only is it possible, but it’s compelling!

That being said, even as alien and bizarre as Atriarch appears, it is still familiar enough for human consumption. It is not as if there are amorphous shapes everywhere with no form or function. Physically and visually, the world is consistent and makes sense. There is plenty for players to latch on to. Of course, the aliens have some very real human issues… politics, history, culture, trade, physics, crafting, chatting. And since humans will be the puppet masters behind the alien characters, no doubt, plenty of humanness will be in the game 😉

WarCry: Over the years, your core design must have also changed. While ideas can never be outdated, current thinking on how to make an MMO certainly has evolved. How has this affected Atriarch?

Serafina: We don’t allow much from the outside industry to influence Atriarch anymore. We believe in sticking to our own vision. Following a trend or “current thinking” means you are at least one step behind. As an independent developer, we are much better off holding true to our belief and passion in what will make our game fun and compelling rather than gambling on a fickle industry trend. We think by sticking to our vision, we will emerge a trend maker instead of follower.
We have gotten distracted in the past by paying too much attention to what the industry trends. All it ends up doing is fragmenting our cohesive and thoughtful game design and story. Whenever we allowed our team to be lured into “current thinking” we ended up so far off the path, it was time consuming and expensive. If we truly want Atriarch to be what we originally envisioned, then we must resist the temptation of the sparkly widget in the industry window. (By the way, that sparkly widget is usually just empty marketing hype anyway.)

We’ve been building massive, distributed software systems for 20 years. We are well ahead of the curve in knowing what needs to be done and how to do it. That being said, experience and knowledge can only move so fast with little money. Let’s be honest, we are getting it done, but certainly not at lightening speed 🙂

Internally, we have morphed the scope of the game a bit to follow more along the lines of our original vision. There are some things that will change, but mostly for the better. In the future, we will also address improvement in graphics and physics.

WarCry: Can you talk about World Fusion’s history and how you’ve kept Atriarch in development? How many people are currently working on the game?

Serafina: World Fusion’s was founded in 1987. This is our 20th Anniversary… woohoo! We’ve participated in many, many projects from building ADA compilers to designing massive distributed financial systems. Games were always in the background somewhere 🙂 In 1995, World Fusion began developing a 3D interface to the world wide web. We also started playing Meridian 59 and entering into other online worlds. Eventually, we were inspired to build our own. It was the culmination of everything we ever wanted to do… 3-D interface, story writing, music, sophisticated distributed software system and simulation, persistent world, and most of all… FUN!

From our history, we knew the only way we would ever see our vision come to fruition was to maintain the rights to everything ourself. That meant, we had to do everything ourself. (Of course, that decision was easy since there wasn’t any MOG engines available at the time.) We continue to work in corporate, entertainment and product software to make money to apply toward Atriarch development. Our team size ebbs and flows according to finances.

I’m leaving out a nasty little few year period where everything went horribly wrong and Atriarch took a huge financial hit. Some day I’ll send out a press release about it and things will make more sense as to why it is taking so long. Let’s just say that our commitment to Atriarch was underestimated by some people.

WarCry: Your features page seems to indicate that all players will cohabitate one massive world. This is a huge challenge in terms of content and infrastructure. Why do you believe your company can pull it off?

Serafina: Technically, it is definitely challenging, but absolutely doable! First of all, we’ve done similar stuff before for other companies. Also, it is not a new concept. There are several other games that have everyone (hundreds of thousands) simultaneously in one world. In terms of content, it is more of an issue when your game is designed around static content. Atriarch is designed around dynamic player content. As long as we have enough content to get players started and having fun for quite some time, then the dynamic content model will evolve sufficiently to support a single world. To me, it sounds really fun to all be in the same world. However, if it truly doesn’t work out, it is easy enough to open another world. This is one of those things where it is an easy fix if we need to change it… but hopefully not 🙂

WarCry: Since you began, hundreds of games have been launched, even more have been announced and canceled. What keeps you going?

Serafina: Passion! Commitment. A feverish belief that what we have is worth it! There are plenty of works that took a long time to complete. Didn’t it take Tolkien 12 years to finish Lord of the Rings? There are plenty of examples like that. Dune books are still being written by family members. Length of time doesn’t concern me. Having to upgrade graphics and tech because we take so long is more of a concern, but not enough stop us. We are committed to seeing the beautiful and alien world of Atriarch become a reality. Unlike many other game companies, we are independent which means there is no one that can cancel us. Woo Atriarch!

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