Spacetime Studios: An Interview on the Future of Blackstar

Questions by Garrett Fuller, Industry Relations
Questions by Garrett Fuller, Industry Relations

Answers by Gary Gattis (Executive Producer) and Cinco Barnes (Creative Director)

Losing a publisher can be a disheartening event in the development of any game. Publishers often provide monetary support along with the means to distribute and market the game in question, which adds up to a lengthy list of supporting activities. So when Spacetime Studios made the announcement that they had been dropped from NCsoft’s publishing portfolio, it seemed like a collective groan rose from the MMOG industry. However, with their recent appearance at GDC 2008 and a heightened amount of activity on their official site, it looks like Spacetime Studios and their upcoming MMOG Blackstar are here to stay. Ten Ton Hammer’s Garrett Fuller recently caught up with founders Garry Gattis and Cinco Barnes to find out all the details on the split and where the MMORPG is going from here.

According to the co-founders, Spacetime Studios is financially stable and able to invest time in finding  the right partner.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us about the split between NCSoft and Spacetime Studios?

Spacetime Studios: NCsoft’s portfolio strategy changed somewhat with regards to large external development. We loved working with NCsoft, we think the feeling was mutual and hope we get the opportunity to work with them again. It was just business.

Ten Ton Hammer: Where did the split leave you?

STS: We are financially stable and able to invest the time needed to find the right partner. We were formed in 2005 to develop large-scale, cutting-edge, AAA video games. We have crafted a superb engine and tools set, developed a fantastic creative development process and assembled an eager team of vets. We have complete production pipelines, internal and external. The split left us in a crazy position of having a tremendous amount of production power and significant investment in team, tools, and infrastructure.

Ten Ton Hammer: You mention tools and technology a lot, what about them?
STS: We’re done with pre-production, which means we can confidently mass-produce engaging content. Our tools are data-driven, so they’re very extensible. Our unified ‘Editor’ environment brings all tools and processes together in an easy package. A single designer can create character classes, weapons, abilities, advancement data, monsters, environments, starships, items and equipment, and attach abilities and ability effects to the items.  An artist can export skeletal meshes, animations, build animating characters, destructible objects, clothing, vehicle equipment, build component appearances from base blocks, particles, and effects using a time-line-based, multi-track effects tool. Developers can have a fresh build of the game installed on their systems with a single-click. We’re hooked up. *smiles*

A concept drawing of a United Colonies individual.

Ten Ton Hammer:  Creating a sci-fi MMOG can be very difficult, tell us about creating the world from the beginning and how it will appeal to the sci-fi fan base.  

STS: At the very beginning we knew that we wanted a really vivid game world. So we created a place of fundamental, obvious contrasts: light versus dark, life versus death, technology versus magic. The ‘Scorn Empire’ is a dark magical society bent on converting the world to their beliefs, and the ‘United Colonies’ are a benevolent high-tech society full of hope and free expression. We then came up with a set of major characters. Each character represents a compelling power-fantasy that inspires great gameplay and fits well within our universe. Once the central characters’ fantasies are fleshed-out, we develop relationships between the characters. The resulting fiction helps us find ways to show a character’s point of view in meaningful ways throughout the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: The concept art that Spacetime released on Blackstar looks great; tell us about the character in the picture? What is her story and how does it tie into the overall world?

STS: She is ‘Diara Zath,’ a “Crusader,” an unholy warrior of the Scorn Empire – sworn to enslave the galaxy for the pleasure of the evil Star Gods. She comes directly from one of our earliest stories and we kept her around because the imagery and the character intent all worked together really well. The story depicts an ambitious woman who rises through the Empire’s ranks due to her intense, reductionist mentality, tremendous physical prowess, and cruel lack of empathy. We learn of her simple, black-and-white view of the world. The story shows us her clean, dispassionate thinking and her fixation on the rewards of service to the Scorn Empire. For her, certain things are perfectly good no matter how you slice them, other things are undeniably bad and nothing in-between could ever have meaning for her. The poster shows the very last moment of the story: she has come to silence a tiresome non-believer sowing seeds of dissent among the Scorn High Council. A dread minion of the Star Gods materializes around her as she utters a hideous death-prayer. It is the last thing her prey will ever see.

The Scorn are unholy warriors.

Ten Ton Hammer: You mention that there will be four races in the game. Tell us about each race and what they offer.  

STS: The four races are the Humans, the Mode, the Scorn and the Riven. The Humans are caught up in an epic destiny – something in the “fast-gates” has changed them profoundly. Their human qualities are amplified… they are becoming something more. The Mode are robotic allies to the human race – constructed long ago by mankind, they have evolved to become our greatest allies. On the other side of the galaxy we have the Scorn: beautiful, vampire-like aliens driven by an ancient Prophecy. Alongside them are the Riven: ‘undead’ Scorn resurrected from ancient tombs to fight once again.

Ten Ton Hammer: Players will be able to take advantage of both ship combat as well as having their characters run around on the ground as well. Is this almost like building two games?

STS: The trick is to design and build the common set of gameplay features first, and then diversify the avatar and starship experiences so each of them has a different feel. If you start off by building “two games,” you probably won’t finish either one of them. We approached it by creating a ‘Player Skills’ system that encompasses real-time projectiles (like a shooter) as well as traditional object-targeted abilities. Then we made it so that the character-defining abilities behave the same whether you are on the ground or in space. It’s really cool!

The developers behind Blackstar are hoping to learn from past lessons.

Ten Ton Hammer: What else have you learned while working on Blackstar?

STS: When we started work on Blackstar we wanted to take all the lessons learned in the past and apply them to the effort of developing a next-gen AAA MMO. This was about everything from corporate culture to technical development methodologies to proper pipeline creation to our relationship with the publisher. We hired the best of the best and spent two years crafting the engine, tools, systems, pipelines, and methodologies to build a huge game with a far-reaching vision.

Business and markets change but good people and good work remain constant. We are sitting on a metric ton of tools, talent and bandwidth. We feel very lucky to be where we are right now, and we can’t wait to see what is next. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to talk with you guys.

Which publisher do you believe will pick up the Blackstar MMO? Let us know on the forums!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Star Legends: The Blackstar Chronicles Game Page.

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