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Interview: Spacetime Studios Talks Re-Acquired Blackstar IP

Austin-based Spacetime Studios has announced that it has reacquired its Blackstar PC space combat MMO IP from previous publisher NCsoft - Gamasutra speaks to Spacetime president Gary Gattis, revealing possible console plans for the franchise.
Austin-based Spacetime Studios has announced that it has reacquired its Blackstar PC space combat MMO IP from previous publisher NCsoft. The developer - which includes veterans of Ultima Online, Shadowbane and Star Wars Galaxies on its team - originally signed its title with NCSoft back in 2005. However, the publisher cancelled the Blackstar project in January 2008, with resulting layoffs at Spacetime, but a continuing determination on the developer's part to work with the game's world. According to a news release from Spacetime on the IP reacquisition: "The new Blackstar Chronicles development underway is a space fantasy combat game based on the single-player traditions of Wing Commander and the multiplayer feel of Descent." With the news that the company now fully owns all the tools, technology and intellectual property from their previous publishing deal, Gamasutra spoke to Spacetime president Gary Gattis on the state of his firm and possible plans for the franchise. Why did the original iteration of Blackstar end up having its development cancelled by NCSoft? All I can say is that is that NCSoft's portfolio strategy changed. They were a great publisher to work with, and everything ended on good terms, it was just business. We would work with them again at any point in time. The specifics of why they cancelled the project really are because their portfolio strategy change. But we like them a lot. How was the original deal structured, and how did you acquire the IP? We hooked up with NCsoft back in 2005, and they're old Origin folks and we've got old Origin folks as well. When we were ready to form a company, they were very looking forward to what we were putting together. With regards to getting the IP, our initial deal was that we owned all the tools and tech, and they owned all the IP. We built the tools and tech for multiple projects, we built them very well. So when our deal ended, it was on good terms, but they still had the IP, then we approached them later on to talk to them about doing that. They were very reasonable as to the terms. We were able to negotiate the IP back in a way that would still allow us to operate for quite some time. Your game currently has space flight, real-time shooting, and RPG-style combat all in the same MMO - what makes you confident you can execute on this? The team is made up of guys that have done this kind of stuff before. As we started off with NCsoft - you're right, it is a challenge to do this in an MMO universe. The mechanics can be at odds. As we were making a game, we realized the actual game part was so much fun, so we made the MMO -a lot of the team's pedigree is from some of the great MMOs. We built the MMO around the core gameplay, and realized it was getting more and more fun. Now that we've got the IP, we are examining other options. How about your thoughts on the MMO market in general and its future? There's a lot of debate about where the genre is going. We certainly feel that the gameplay we're developing is a lot of fun, and certainly lends itself to MMO and heavy multiplayer. We think that console MMOs are going to be big. They're definitely the next frontier. It'll be some matter of quality of games, and some matter of first to market - and we'd love to be part of both. When we were negotiating with NCsoft, it was a PC MMO, but when we were negotiating the IP we plugged in some console controllers and got that gameplay working. THe game has a 6D space flight mechanic, and it really lends itself to the controller. We're really excited MMOs will be coming to consoles, and we think our product is viable for consoles. How have things changed with this announcement? The original deal with NCSoft was leveraged pretty heavily towards them, because they were fronting all the risk. But we're in a place right now where that risk has been mitigated - we have a fun game and a great set of tools. Now all of a sudden we're independent and we're in a great place - that investment has already been made.

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