Exclusive Atari Interview with Jack Emmert - A Potent Mix of Star Trek, Forgotten Realms and Godzilla
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 Pac-man 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 Trek Online and Champions Online - 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.
Champions Online and Star Trek Online are now part of Atari.
Jack Emmert: 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?
Jack: We 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?
Jack: I 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?
Jack: I 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, remember Pac-man, remember Warlords or Pitfall 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.
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 limit?
Jack: You 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 Nights to the Witcher to Alone in the Dark and… why not?
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 and Champions out and make them the best games they can be.