Interview: Masthead Talk Earthrise

Since its announcement in 2008 things have been quiet at Earthrise towers. Bulgarian devs Masthead have been quietly working away on an apocalyptic sci-fi MMO, which has long been sounding like one of the more interesting prospects from Eastern Europe. A free-form, sandbox approach, a player-driven economy, politics, PvP and PvE conflict over resources, and a claim to be doing things in an “old school” way that belies a love of UO. Well, it’s certainly interesting, if a little mysterious. But now it seems things are hotting up as Masthead are beginning to work on their closed beta, which you can sign up for on the site. We spoke to Atanas Atanasov at Masthead Studios to find out a bit more about the game, and see how things are coming along.

RPS: Can you tell us a little about Masthead Studios and how you came to be working on such an ambitious-sounding MMO?

Atanasov: Masthead Studios was formed in 2005 with focus on development of online games and technology for online games. Earthrise is our first MMO, which from the very beginning was planned to return the sandbox and open world experience of the old school MMOs. At the same time graphics and overall user experience will be at par with the best MMOs on the market.

RPS: What is the basic philosophy behind Earthrise? What sets it apart from other MMOs?

Atanasov: From its early days Earthrise has been designed to differentiate from the traditional MMO games on the market with a unique setting that contrasts post-apocalyptic future with science-fiction society that has risen from the ashes of destruction to shape into a unique society. To the survivors of the Continoma Project, that have managed to preserve humanity in its underground complex, the Librarium, the brave new world brings new challenges: a mutated and dangerous environment to conquer, and technology advancements that have not been even thought of before. Facing danger of unimagined proportions, humanity conquers death by mastering cloning, but in return sacrifices its freedom. The control-hungry government controls whoever gets cloned back to life and who doesn’t, and this is the point of turmoil between the authorities and a shadow opposition called Noir that seeks to take down its regime. While many elements ring close to popular science-fiction ideas, it is the way they are executed together in a believable and immersive fabric that makes Earthrise different from many other games.

Along with the unique story, the freedom sandbox approach to the MMO gameplay places players in control of the fate of not just their character, but the world itself. Player-based economy means everything that exists as a usable object can and must be made by the players themselves. Resources have to be won back from the natural dangers of the game world and unique rare resources must be mined and fought for in a world-wide territory conquest. In a game that pits players against each other on many levels such as Earthrise, PvP combat has a new meaning and is the most important aspect of the game.

RPS: Can you explain a little about how the skill system works? How does the lack of class systems work in practice? If there are no levels as such, how do you decide which enemies are too tough for you?

Atanasov: Earthrise allows players to develop their character as they desire without class constrains. Instead of forcing players to accept an archetype of gameplay, we let them experiment and advance their character without limitations to what they can learn. What limits player’s capabilities is his gear, as certain armors and weapons will contain the required electronics and systems needed to execute the knowledge of a skill. This means that while players may eventually learn all skills, it will not make them more powerful, only more flexible. There are no levels either, and what measures the player’s abilities is what gear they have collected and put in use. This means that a new character may spend their accumulated points into exactly what skills they need to become experts in combat as fast as possible, but it will not make more powerful as combat in Earthrise will require tactical considerations that will always benefit those who have more flexibility and know how to execute it on the battle field.

RPS: What led the team to develop a title that is very PVP focused?

Atanasov: Our early market analysis showed that the PvE MMORPG market is highly saturated with many games that cater to exactly the same type of player who enjoys pre-constructed gameplay, predominantly filled by repetitive even if rewarding tasks. What we decided early on was that Earthrise has to be different and target a different breed of players: those who seek freedom, those who seek cooperation and competition, and those who want to see real consequences to their actions. Earthrise could not have become reality without the strong support of our fans that have shown us that this sort of PvP focused gameplay has great potential. Today’s MMO players are looking for real challenges – the very kind that Earthrise can provide.

RPS: What sort of challenges are there in PvE?

Atanasov: From the very beginning of the game Earthrise will involve players in the growing tension between Continoma and Noir, learning each side’s political ideals and agendas and finding out how they can aid their cause. Many of the quests that players will be offered will put them in dangerous locations that offer low or no security and where PvP factor will become of crucial importance. Minor organizations who support one of the major factions but have their own plans will offer players hard tasks that will open access with exclusive rewards offered for their reputation as a supporter. Despite their political affiliation, players may help out the economy of the island by protecting mines from mutant invasion, which not only causes larger amount of resources on the market which forces prices down, but also will earn them free resources they can use in crafting or sell on the auction. Many of these mines will be target of attacks of extremely powerful creatures angered by their operation and players will have to gather together to bring the threat down.

RPS: What benefits do territory conflicts give to players?

Atanasov: Controlling a territory is not just a prestigious feat to brag about, but also a source of extremely lucrative profits. Territories owned by Guilds will be the only main source for rare resources that are required for the crafting of the most powerful items in the game, as well as designs that augment armors and weapons capabilities. It is safe to say that guilds who own a territory will have both control of the distribution of the resources on the market but also decide whether to keep powerful arsenal to themselves, making sure they remain superior in combat, or trade them to earn as much as the market can bear. This seemingly unfair advantage will be hard to maintain as guilds will rage fierce competition among each other for the control of those important resources.

RPS: It sounds like you’re aiming for a player-driven economy, can you explain a little about the processes in involved in that?

Atanasov: Simply put, players will be able to craft every item in the game, as well as design augmentations that modify the item’s properties. When the game launches, players will have to first build the game’s economy and technology advances by learning crafting skills and establishing a market based on their own rules. While players may actually buy items via vendors, these items will be significantly weaker than player-crafted items, and vendor-bought items will break considerably faster compared to those that players have crafted. Player-crafted items can also be repaired and taken care of, extending their longevity. Players will also be able to dismantle any items to its ingredients and use those ingredients to craft a different item, of course, not without risk for damaging the quality property of the resources. Quality is the most important factor in crafting and it measures the bonuses that the item (weapon, armor or a device) will receive from using superior ingredients and modules in its crafting process. A functional market and auction will be in place to make trade simple between players.

RPS: Can you tell us a little about combat: how does it work? How much is based on skill?

Atanasov: Combat in Earthrise is presented through third-person perspective shooter where the player has to control his character movements and target his opponent in combat to make sure his attacks are successful. This sort of control and gameplay requires as much player skill with shooter and action games as much as tactical placement and execution of character’s combat abilities. We have broken player control into two modes – Battle and Exploration Mode. They are both differentiated and balanced – players move faster and able to run away from opponents in Exploration mode but take more damage if hit, players will be slower and easier to shoot at but will have the complete protection of their combat suits. Entering combat is not a fire and forget action, it requires players to balance out the need for mobility and protection in combat all the time, and will make them think and act fast in the face of danger. This means that combat in Earthrise will be faster, more dynamic and more memorable especially in mass combat or against a powerful foe.

RPS: Science fiction MMOs have traditionally not done all that well, does that worry you?

Atanasov: How a game will be executed does not depend on the genre it decides to establish itself with, but the skill and dedication of the development company. It is true that sci-fi games are a risky endeavor, and it is also true that smaller companies such as Masthead Studios are more likely to take risks to earn the attention of the niche audiences that love that sort of games. For Earthrise, we made sure that we do not repeat any of the fallacies of the genre and that the game will be as fresh, rewarding, and addictive as many of the fantasy games out there, only aimed for a different crowd.

RPS: Can you tell us about your plans for release, and beta?

Atanasov: It is still early to tell when the game will be out on the market. Earthrise is currently in its closed beta stages. During the summer months we will keep sending more beta invites to players who have registered for our beta.

RPS: Thanks for your time.


  1. Jockie says:

    Aren’t these the blokies who are supposed to be making Fallout Online as well?

  2. Thatim says:

    No, the Fallout Online team uses the same engine.

    Masthead is not developing Fallout Online, but only gave them their engine.

    • sfury says:

      “Masthead joined the project in early 2009 and development continues under Interplay’s direction and control.”

      link to

      Sounds to me like they’re at least co-developing, at least that’s the impression I had from all the announcements so far.

    • sfury says:

      At least I didn’t forget to write at least 2 times.

  3. Batolemaeus says:

    I’ve been keeping my eye on that one for quite some time now. :)

  4. SanguineAngel says:

    I won’t lie, this is the first MMO that has genuinely interested me in years.

    • Biscuitry says:

      Yeah, it caught my eye as well. I think I’ll be following this one from now on.

  5. Tunips says:

    What an odd aesthetic it has. Space marines out for a pleasant walk in the park.

  6. Web Cole says:

    Sounds promising… but then APB sounded promising a while back as well.

    Also, it appears to be going for a monthly subscription model.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I really don’t have a problem with the monthly subscription model. What I have a problem with is developers abusing the monthly subscription model. Games such as WOW and most others of that ilk want you to pay and play for as long as possible so they produce games with ever increasing grinds and cookie cutter quests. These are simply a low effort form of extending game time. Far as I’m concerned it’s boring as hell and I see no reason to pay to endure it.

      If the content is worth it then I wouldn’t really have a problem paying monthly.

  7. Pmeie says:

    Sounds good.

  8. Rich says:

    Tyranid infestation is getting pretty high. Better do some missions.

  9. sfury says:

    brrr… hope you can turn the bloom off

    not that I’ll be playing any MMOs soon, even from my home country :)

    but who knows, if it’s THAT good…

  10. Mr_Day says:

    That fourth picture down gives me a funny feeling in my stomach. I wish to live there.

    • Torgen says:

      Hmm, player housing (or, fortifications, in this case)

      A good question to ask. Can you “own” existing structures, or make your own?

  11. BigJonno says:

    Why does every MMO that wants to be “old school” and “sandbox” have to focus on PvP? Is there something inherently wrong with wanting to adventure and roleplay in a sandbox environment, rather than a quest treadmill with raiding on the end one?

    • Kelron says:

      I was wondering that the other day. I assume because they want to draw back old UO players by imitating it. Having people lose items frequently helps drive the economy, but I don’t see why someone couldn’t design a more freeform MMO without harsh death penalties.

      Still, I like dangerous PvP, so I’ve signed up to beta.

    • Tei says:

      It make sense wen you add the other pre-requisite. It must work for the instasatisfaction people, that is now about the 99.999% of the players.

    • BigJonno says:

      The thing is, I loved UO and had no interest in PvP whatsoever. It was just another aspect of the game and one that I didn’t choose to participate in.

  12. DrazharLn says:

    I’m not sure about the combat.

    where the player has to control his character movements and target his opponent in combat to make sure his attacks are successful.

    Does that mean there will be aiming and shooting like regular shooters or does this mean we lock on and shoot, like EvE?

    Because that would suck.

  13. Kits says:

    This sounds incredibly similar to Fallen Earth. Same setting, skill advancement system and crafting focus, probably a bunch of other parallels too.
    I hate to say ‘clone’ (and that was a big point of Fallen Earth too, thinking about it), but if they’re not careful it very much could be..

  14. Mark says:

    Doesn’t answer the important question: will it have a monthly subscription? Because that’s the deal-breaker, right there. I don’t want to pay for time I don’t use.

  15. malkav11 says:

    Setting: neat.
    Screenshots: neat.
    World I want to explore: check.

    What’s this? PvP focus? Completely player-driven economy where everything good is crafted? No levels and gear-centric advancement? Oh. :(

    • Harlander says:

      You find a levelless progression to be a negative point? Why’s that?

    • Kazang says:

      He’s a pve carebear and needs to feel rewarded with new items dropped from rats and a nice level up animation.

    • malkav11 says:

      It’s certainly not the main negative – I’d probably at least try the game out if that were the only thing, as I’ve run into one or two CRPGs where levelless progression was nonetheless rewarding (Vampire: Bloodlines being the main one). PvP focus and player-driven economy ruin things for me, though. I hate PvP and avoid it in every MMO I play. If I can’t avoid PvP, then I don’t play. This isn’t some knee-jerk reaction. I’ve played PvP in several MMOs and MUDs, and I’ve played competitive multiplayer in other genres, and I’ve never once enjoyed it. It’s too lopsided and random.

      And I don’t like bothering with player economies, either. I don’t want to be reliant on other players for the things I need, I don’t generally want to craft myself, and I certainly don’t like dealing with shifting and arbitrary values. I avoid auction sites and in-game auctions whenever I possibly can because I want a fixed price for things that I can take or leave, not to have to compete with other people and watch prices skyrocket, or pay way too much for an item because other people have seriously skewed ideas of what something is worth. I vendor all my spare loot in games like Everquest II and WoW because I simply cannot be bothered to convince someone else to pay more. This is really, really not for me.

      But I do tend to view levelless systems as a potential negative. They talk about still receiving experience which you pump directly into skills to get better, so that’s at least a little bit better than something like Eve, where your actual play has little or nothing to do with your progression except in terms of gear. But there’s still some unpleasant directions that could go. I generally prefer level-based systems because there are regular, distinct progress events and I am then usually (outside of JRPGs, of course, as they tend to have limited to no customization of one’s character) granted full control over how to allocate any level-related features. The other red flag for me is the emphasis on gear. I don’t find gear particularly interesting as a goal or a measurement of progress. It’s one reason my interest in WoW’s endgame tailed off once I’d seen most of the dungeon content I could reasonably see without a lot of repetition. I just didn’t care about getting new swords or bits of armor. And like I say, it’s one of two major reasons I didn’t stick with Eve. Learning skills through real-time accumulation of points rather than play meant my only reward for in-game accomplishment was more cash for stuff. Booooring. (The other would be the emphasis on PvP, of course.) A gear emphasis is even less appealing in combination with the player-driven economy.

      Ultimately, I’m in it to explore, to see story, to fight interesting scripted battles, and to get funky new abilities. There’s probably a fair bit of that in Earthrise, but it sure sounds like there’d be a lot of other crap getting in the way.

  16. vine says:

    They really need to release some new media on this game. Those screenshots have been doing the rounds for over a year now.

    Generate some new interest with some fresh content!

    • Tei says:

      Who knows? maybe these images are mockups, made with something much like a “garrys mod” where you can place characters in any pose you may want. If are anything like that, represent a Dream, a target, a potential, and not something playable, or our gamming world.

  17. Leon Del Aros says:

    This gives me a reason to pass the bugfest that is mortal online.

  18. neofit says:

    Atanasov: “Our early market analysis showed that the PvE MMORPG market is highly saturated with many games that cater to exactly the same type of player who enjoys pre-constructed gameplay, predominantly filled by repetitive even if rewarding tasks.”

    Quite a bit of wrong in this sentence.

    You may want to redo your research before it’s too late. You and 100 other reserchers somehow “figured” this same thing 4+ years ago. So now we have, from the top of my head, Wurm, Darkfall, Mortal Online, Perpetuum, Xsyon Earth 2012, Jumpgate Evolution, Allods, and I am sure I am forgetting a few (including 10 pvp-pve grinds every month from Asia). All are about PvP, freedom, old-schooledness and what have you. Now it’s just PvP MMO #1234, just like it was with RTSes and then corridor shooters with WW2-inspired textures a few years ago. Talk about “saturated”, with a much smaller market than PvE games to boot.

    Still all, and this includes the likes of Fallen Earth, will manage to piss off PvPers because of the PvE grind and the time needed to become competitive in PvP; and piss off the PvEers because of the PvP always getting in the way of their PvE. And then: GEAR-based PvP? I suppose a “WTF!” is in order, for which I apologize in advance. Or belatedly. Whatever.

    Unfortunately their site is being filtered by our firewall at work where I am typing this from, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t do what everyone else did in their Sci-Fi MMOs: in a world and era ruled by ranged weapons, they would add melee, then give its users huge health bars for survivability, then stuns, roots, etc. People are silly like that. I blame George Lucas.

    No matter how they spin it in all of their thoroughly researched MMORPGs, I see no better PvP than in WW2OL and Arma2. Cover, concealment, one-shot kills, situations, solutions and behaviours that make sense – they have everything, including a reason to fight. Gear/level/NPC-based MMOs are better left PvE. But hey, I’m just a consumer willing to pay (and I started with $3/hour for Internet access plus $2/hour for Warbirds back in the day) and they did extensive market analysis and stuff.

    • _Nocturnal says:

      Do you share your low expectations based on a single sentence about each game you happen to see or just this one?
      I wish the guys all the best, they’ve certainly set a high goal for themselves, and pretty nice of RPS’ writers to interview an unproven but promising studio like Masthead.

    • Tei says:

      PvP are cheaper to make.

    • neofit says:

      There is this thing called “experience”. But stay optimistic by any means, that kid you saw burning his fingers with matches was just unlucky, keep playing with your box ;).