Almost everyone that works in the video game industry can remember the
first time they played an Atari console. Whether you were blessed to
start off with fantastic games like Pitfall
or you were
one of the unfortunate children whose parents bought E.T. the Extraterrestrial,
we all had our cherished moments with the heavily pixilated, joystick
driven games and their console.
However, after their heyday in the early parts of the video game era,
Atari took a bit of a downward turn until 2001 when the company was
purchased by Infogrames who quickly “reinvented”
the Atari brand. Now late in 2008, Atari is ready to jump back into the
gaming spotlight; this time by turning themselves into a high caliber
publisher of massively multiplayer online games. As of December 9,
2008, Atari became the owner of Cryptic Studios and added two MMOGs - Star
- to their portfolio of high caliber games.
When the Ten Ton Hammer staff heard
of the purchase of Cryptic Studios
we immediately got on the phone with Jack Emmert, Cryptic
Studio’s chief creative officer, for an extensive interview
about how the deal with Atari came to pass, how the acquisition will
affect the studio, and what we can expect from the future of Atari and
Cryptic Studios. With solid IPs like D&D’s Forgotten
Realms, Godzilla, Dragon Ball Z and Alone in the Dark to draw from,
there’s definitely plenty to be excited about in this deal
and this interview definitely exudes Cryptic’s enthusiasm.
Ten Ton Hammer: First
off, how will being acquired by Atari change the studio and/or any of
the games that are going to be developed by Cryptic?
Champions Online and Star Trek Online are now part of Atari.
This will allow us to focus on our games and not focus so much on
keeping the lights on. The job of an independent developer, especially
the larger the studio gets, is as much about running the company as it
is about developing the game. Those two roles are extremely hard to
balance the larger and larger you get.
With a company the size that Cryptic is it certainly becomes a bit of a
bear. Now with the resources and backing of a company like Atari, we
can knuckle down and focus on making Champions Online
and Star Trek Online
the very best MMOs that we’re capable of making.
Ten Ton Hammer: When did
talks begin with Atari? Did they approach you, or did you approach them?
have been discussing numerous options from investors and publishers
across the board for quite some time. To be quite frank, these
conversations almost never end. It’s really part of this slow
burn that’s always going on, and when John Needham came
aboard as CEO [of Cryptic Studios] we spent more energy really looking
into these sorts of opportunities. I think that’s more or
less when we really started to chat a lot more with other companies.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is Atari
really trying to become another premier MMOG publisher?
would hope so. Our focus at Cryptic was to become a premier MMO
developer; to put out numerous titles in a variety of genres while
being able to appeal to a wider audience than a hardcore MMO would.
That’s been our company goal, and I know that Atari wants us
to continue expressing that. At the same time, Atari will be able to
use the Cryptic technology with their various other projects.
Ten Ton Hammer: Cryptic
has been an independent developer for a long, long time. Why was it
suddenly the right time to be purchased? Was their a switch that got
flipped, or did the right offer finally come across the table?
think it was really finding the right people. There were certainly
offers that have been available in the past, but they really
weren’t situations that we were comfortable with. I think
having met Phil Harrison and David Gardner helped; both those guys are
really sharp, have a great vision of where they want to take Atari, and
I really wanted to be part of that.
I wanted to be part of the team that made Atari a namesake just like it
was for me. I don’t think there’s anyone in the
video game industry today that doesn’t look back at their
Atari and remember Adventure
or any of the other titles. That’s really where most of us
got our start.
Jack Emmert hopes to make Atari the same sort of legendary brand it was during its console years.
I think to join that brand and support Phil and David in making it
great once again is something that I really fell in love with.
Ten Ton Hammer: What
sorts of opportunities will this open up for Cryptic Studios? Might we
see an Atari / Cryptic “BlizzCon-type” of event?
Are we going to see a major expansion of the studio? Is the sky the
mentioned BlizzCon, and that’s actually what I was thinking
of myself. Our corporate identity has always been about reaching out to
the community. We’ve always had more of a presence in
conventions and even online. We’re always trying to reach
out, and I think that’s a great idea that you suggested.
You can absolutely guarantee that I’ll throw that by the
powers that be. Why not? We’re part of the Atari brand, Atari
has fantastic products from Neverwinter
to the Witcher
to Alone in the Dark
Let’s get all the fans of all the Atari products together and
talk about it and share our enthusiasm.
As for major changes, I think what you’re going to see will
be more organic. We don’t have any big structural changes
planned that will shake the foundations of the world. We really just
want to get Star Trek
out and make them the best games they can be.