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August 10, 2010
Earthrise Interview - The New Sci-Fi MMO On The Block

By Jason Van Horn

I'm always trying to find the next big MMO that game that manages to captivate and sucks you in for long stretches of time. Most of the time those MMOs fizzle and deflate after only a year (at best) on the market, but there's always that hope that one will takeoff and really thrive. After a short delay, Earthrise the upcoming futuristic MMO is back on course, and it's looking like it's set to deliver an experience MMO fans have been waiting for. To learn more about the game, we sat down with Atanas Atanasov (Producer of Earthrise and Director of Masthead Studios) and Momchil Dilov (Lead Writer for Earthrise) to see what they could tell us about the upcoming Earthrise.

First up, it's nice to be talking to you. I know a lot of fans became worried when it was announced that Earthrise was being delayed. Could you catch people up on the happenings that have been going on since that announcement? What was worked on during that delay? Do you have a new timetable for the beta process and then final release?

Atanas Atanasov:  MMO delays are not something new during development stages and surprisingly it happened to us, too. The main reason for that delay was that we did not feel ready to present Earthrise to the public and we wanted to work more on a game that we would be proud of, not just a launch another average MMO. Since that announcement came out, we have invited beta testers into Earthrise, and are gathering valuable information and feedback from them. We are also focusing on the main things that make an awesome MMO, and those are combat and crafting, servers, social gameplay, economics, performance and stability.

We currently have a new timetable, which we are planning to announce soon.

Could you please talk a little about the story and world of Earthrise? In a genre filled with high-fantasy and Asian inspired worlds, it's refreshing to the MMO genre get another sci-fi offering?

Momchil Dilov:  Indeed, Earthrise is a post-apocalyptic setting, but in it, humankind not only survived a treacherous war, they thrived using cutting-edge advances such as nanotechnology, quantum physics and memory storage. Even with the hostile, mutated environment that the first Pioneers confronted, humans managed to colonize the first landmass they arrived at Enterra. By the time the player-controlled characters arrive on the scene, humankind has become imprisoned by the technology that ensured its survival, with the settled island becoming a battlefield where the long-suppressed dark nature of humankind emerges to seed destruction and discord. In Earthrise humans remain the top predators as well as the main threat to themselves.

Now I'd usually ask about what classes there are in the game, but Earthrise is instead using a skill-based character progression system. How exactly will that system work? Will there be a series of trees you must advance to get to certain skills? Are there literally no restrictions when it comes to the powers and abilities you pick and choose?

Momchil Dilov: You've guessed correctly players can easily, and without restriction, learn any ability in Earthrise. The abilities in Earthrise are arranged in skill lines and are closely related to specific gears used by the character. The only requirement for an ability to be used by the character is the presence of certain equipment you can't call for reinforcements without a radio, can you?

By giving the player so much freedom in their skill options, it sounds like it'd be theoretically possible for someone to grab whatever they think looks good and end up with a character that is nothing more than fodder. Given how many options there are in the game, I'd imagine there would be a kind of "try before you buy" system or either an easy way to respec. How is Earthrise going to approach this issue?

Momchil Dilov: The free skill-based system of Earthrise distinguishes it from most MMOs. As players have the complete freedom to experiment with their character builds, we have ensured that the initial costs of many abilities are low enough for players to try different options in the game before making up their minds to take further steps into the development of their character. There is not a level cap in Earthrise and a player can earn enough experience points to learn all the skills in the game there's no catch to it.

Most MMOs have pre-defined classes, because they're often essential to gameplay. You need that tank to take a beating. You need that healer to keep you alive. Given the lack of classes, will questing group makeup be relatively the same as in other games? Say you'll still need someone with the skills to perform that typical function? Or do you see Earthrise's customization system allowing for more non-standard groupings?

Momchil Dilov: In Earthrise, both the combat and the economy are completely player-driven. This essentially means that players will setup their own rules, creating an ever-changing combat environment for their allies and opponents. As such, Earthrise has no predefined roles. Currently, we are providing enough tools for the players to create their own builds. We clearly won't drive the players to set up specialized or hybrid builds - all of them have a place on the battlefields of Enterra.

When it comes to combat, it seems like you're heading in a sort-of Tabula Rasa vibe a game that kind of bridges traditional MMO fighting mechanics, but with a third-person action-adventure style movement and speed. Would this be an accurate sense of the game's combat? What can you tell us about the game's combat systems? Is it strictly long-range or will there be melee abilities too?

Momchil Dilov: The gameplay experience of Earthrise will be a unique mix of action and RPG elements. While the players have to target their enemies and allies action-style, they would have to maintain precise timing and coordination to make sure their attempts result in victory. Currently, we are working towards a combat style where the distance between players changes constantly, and we're focusing on more situation-based combat elements that would take the battles in Earthrise to a new tactical level.

Earthrise will feature a market-based economy, which to me means lots of crafting opportunities, and perhaps being able to make a lot of money in the process as well. What can you tell us about the crafting system? How is it handled? Can players only have one profession? How many different crafting professions are there? Etc.?

Momchil Dilov: Earthrise places no restrictions on the number of crafting skills a single character can learn. As Earthrise is a player-driven economy, it strongly depends on strategic thinking and healthy economy cycles. Thus, we're focusing our attempts on creating an economy where the endless possibilities of the crafting system form a gradually unfolding learning curve. We will neither encourage the players to specialize in a single crafting skill, nor have several skills at the same time. The number of crafting professions is still in beta testing, but our plan is to have more than 50 of them.

The PVP mechanics sound a bit different than what most people are accustomed to. One press release mentioned fighting for order, joining the underground, or striking off as a criminal on your own. How do these specific images fit in to the overall PVP of the game? Are we looking at good versus evil here when it comes to choosing the sides for a battle? Is there going to be objective based scenarios depending on which side you're playing? What can you tell us about the PVP?

Momchil Dilov: We want to make this clear once and for all the ground story of Earthrise forms nothing like faction-based PvP for the players. As players can shift their allegiance to one NPC organization or another, it strongly reflects on the way the story is organized. Factions often make unhealthy alliances, plotting against each other - trying to maintain balance and independence. In Earthrise, organizations form a network of political support or opposition to players, depending on the way they negotiate terms with them.

Earthrise will feature the so-called free for all PvP where a player can attack virtually anyone. The limitations in this PvP environment will come in the form of secure areas where PvP will be prohibited, such as towns and economic hubs. Players who like to kill other players will be marked as player killers and will not be welcomed in secure areas - they can also become targets of player killer hunters because there will be no penalties for killing such a player. There will also be no penalties for killing players belonging to opposite groups.

Territorial conquest also seems to be a big factor in the game when it comes to PVP. Is this going to be a more guild-based system? It's mentioned setting rules or letting the place go to hell? The going to hell part I can see, but what types of rules will the conquerors be able to set?

Atanas Atanasov: Territorial conquest in Earthrise will be very similar to a strategy game where players can capture territories and build bases on those territories. They will have space limitations and will have to choose carefully between military buildings that will give them a boost in combat and strong defenses, or economic buildings that will help crafters by providing the best resources and generate income for the guild that owns them.

What type of subscription model are you currently looking at for Earthrise? Game + monthly subscription, Game only, F2P with microtransactions?

Atanas Atanasov: We are planning to make Earthrise a subscription-based game, which means game plus monthly subscriptions.

Is there anything else you'd like to say or talk about regarding Earthrise that perhaps we didn't cover? Why do you feel Earthrise is the next big MMO that everyone should be paying attention to?

Atanas Atanasov: Earthrise will bring a breath of fresh air to the MMO genre, which is choking with class-based or free-to-play titles that introduce a lot of limitations to the player. We are going in a direction that I believe many people are looking for. By offering a lot of freedom, RPG customization options, and a huge sandbox world waiting to be explored and conquered, Earthrise will be a title that all fans of open-world sandbox games should be paying attention to.

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