Spacetime Studios: An Interview on the Future of Blackstar
by Garrett Fuller, Industry Relations
style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">
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 style="font-style: italic;">Blackstar
are here to stay. Ten Ton Hammer’s Garrett Fuller recently
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?
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?
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?
We’re done with pre-production, which means we can
mass-produce engaging content. Our tools are data-driven, so
they’re very extensible. Our unified
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
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:
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.
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
their beliefs, and the ‘United Colonies’ are a
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
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 style="font-style: italic;">Blackstar looks
great; tell us about the character in the picture? What is her story
and how does it tie into the overall world?
She is ‘Diara Zath,’ a
“Crusader,” an unholy
warrior of the Scorn Empire – sworn to enslave the galaxy for
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
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
Ten Ton Hammer: You
mention that there will be four races in the game. Tell us about each
race and what they offer.
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
qualities are amplified… they are becoming something more.
Mode are robotic allies to the human race – constructed long
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
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?
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
games,” you probably won’t finish either one of
approached it by creating a ‘Player Skills’ system
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?
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
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 style="font-style: italic;">Blackstar MMO? href="http://forums.tentonhammer.com/showthread.php?p=215542#post215542">Let
us know on the forums!
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