Bulgarian developer Masthead Studios considers its PC MMO Earthrise to be different. The sci-fi setting is not space-based but rather post-apocalyptic, and there are no levels or pre-determined classes, but a free-form skill system. Quests and story have also been pushed to one side; more than half of the world will be given over to open player-versus-player combat and fierce, strategic wars for territory and resources. Being different makes all the difference - at least, that's what Masthead chief Atanas Atanasov told us when we sat down for a chat with him recently.
But we've heard this all before, and we've seen braggers like Tabula Rasa open and close in the blink of an eye. Can a newly-formed Bulgarian developer with no track record really hope to launch a subscription-based MMO and stand a chance against the Blizzards, CCPs, Turbines, Funcoms, NetDevils, and BioWares of the world? Atanasov believes he can when Earthrise (hopefully) launches later this year.
Eurogamer: Sci-fi MMOs don't seem to do too well. Star Wars Galaxies struggles and Tabula Rasa sank; only EVE Online has made a really significant contribution. What's going wrong?
Atanas Atanasov: There's lots of ground for improvement in the sci-fi genre. It isn't the IP, but game production problems. I don't want to comment on specific titles, but it's important for fans to see a game stick to its original promises - the game they wanted to play.
Eurogamer: And what are your promises?
Atanas Atanasov: We're not going to release Earthrise before all the promised gameplay features are included. We're designing a skill-based game, we will have crafting in a much more advanced form than other games, and we'll have PVP action. Once those gameplay features are in place we will release the title. We don't want to skip any of those things because we've promised them to our fans. And that's the first thing we're planning to do differently.
The second thing is that the game design and concept is a bit different. For example, the skill-based system and the crafting are not very popular at the moment, and they offer a different approach for an MMO. Then there's the post-apocalyptic setting itself with some sci-fi themes, which is also very unique in the genre; most of the sci-fi MMOs so far have been space-based, with spaceships and planets. The action of Earthrise is based on the planet Earth after the apocalypse.
Eurogamer: A bit like Fallout 3?
Atanas Atanasov: Yeah. Fallout but with more technology, and, I would say, more creatures which are not just humanoid mutants.
Eurogamer: And who was responsible for your apocalypse? Was it those mean Americans?
Atanas Atanasov: Haha. It wasn't America, it was our writers! They came up with the idea by saying there will always be a super-power on Earth - the Roman Empire, the British Empire - and that around 700 years from now something goes wrong and causes everything to start again. Our Third World War happens and only a handful of people manage to survive on Earth, and everything starts over. That's where the title comes from: Earthrise.
Eurogamer: My old history teacher used to say the Third World War will be fought with sticks and stones. He was a bit crazy - or maybe he meant we'd blow ourselves back to the Stone Age. Is that what you mean with "everything starts over" in Earthrise? Will I have to throw stones at aliens?
Atanas Atanasov: Ha! When designing the title we wanted to add more technology than typical post-apocalyptic settings because it brings more fun to the game. And we're designing a game, not writing a movie or a book. We want our players to have more fun with big weapons and blow up things, and use all kinds of special attacks.
The sticks and stones that you mention are very limited.