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Q&A: Blizzard, Lionhead, Epic China/Titan Vet Chris Millar Launches Atomic Operations

Q&A: Blizzard, Lionhead, Epic China/Titan Vet Chris Millar Launches Atomic Operations

March 25, 2010 | By Christian Nutt

March 25, 2010 | By Christian Nutt
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Producer and industry veteran Chris Millar was most recently heard from at Titan Studios, originally founded as Darkstar Industries and acquired by Epic China in 2008. The company developed Fat Princess for Sony before transitioning to work on unannounced projects and MMO-ready tools for Unreal Engine 3 aimed at Asian markets.

Millar, who was a key member of personnel on the Diablo and StarCraft series alongside his brother Ron at Blizzard, as well as at Lionhead Studios prior to Darkstar/Titan, is joined at new firm Atomic Operations by creative director John Mundy and senior programmer Chris Coster.

The company promises to enable "stakeholder-driven production teams", according to its press release, in a similar manner to the creative times driving Hollywood film development processes, and plans to expand its projects across social, mobile, and next generation gaming platforms.

Says Millar, "we aim to be involved across various types of media outside of the game realm." The company has already supported work for Deadmau5 and Steve Duda on "virtual studio technology" called Nerve. "The Nerve app is just one example of how we are leveraging our cross-media talents to work on projects that our team are passionate about, outside of standard game dev."

Gamasutra talked to Millar about his new venture and why he thinks this alternative approach makes sense in today's market:

Why did you form this new company?

Chris Millar: Atomic has been an idea bubbling away in my head for a while now. I've been very fortunate to share numerous working experiences with some of the most incredibly talented people from around the world, and I've always been interested in creating a studio that would bring together these amazingly creative people for different projects.

Now that we are proceeding with the Atomic group, we are becoming a collective of industry specialists who are finding new ways of working together to make great things happen. It has been a rewarding experience, these past few months; reconnecting and discovering colleagues who are anxious to sign up and join us in the process of working on new and different kinds of media projects and creative endeavors.

What’s the goal for the company?

CM: The goal for Atomic is to work in an evolved production method similar to that of movies, and also to change how we think about making games and interactive media. Although the industry has grown up a lot, it doesn't seem like there have been many significant changes in how we develop interactive entertainment.

Atomic is a new way of thinking about games, by bringing on specialists, and extending our quest for great people outside of the industry. It is similar to how movie studios bring on key specialists and stakeholders to increase the quality or finish a certain aspect of a film, depending on the content. Atomic's goal is to work with the right people for each project, whether they come from games or elsewhere.

Why did you guys break away from Epic China/Titan?

CM: After co-founding and then merging Darkstar Industries with Epic Games China, life at the new studio just kind of sucked. The goals of the studio I'd helped to create had changed, and so the separation was mutually amicable.

You have a background with major developers such as Blizzard and Lionhead. What’s the appeal of a startup like this?

CM: Both of these amazing high-quality studios have a similar genetic makeup, and its been an invaluable lesson to be an integral part of these growing production houses. Each of them are built by passionate daydreamers with an entrepreneurial spirit for doing something that no one else has done before. They take great game ideas and brilliantly execute on them beyond expectations.

I've been lucky enough to kickstart a similar dream of my own with a handful of talented people within the Atomic collective. We're all passionate about what we're doing and excited about the prospects of where Atomic is headed. If I was to win the lottery tomorrow, I'd be building Atomic in the same way as we are now.

The market is rapidly changing – what are your focuses, platform-wise?

CM: We are amazed at the proliferation of handhelds, the mass appeal of social apps and we still have a lot of love for the consoles, especially with the quality bar being raised with each first-party release.

We are also really curious to see if something like an OnLive model can work, now or in the future. At this stage, it is too early for us to narrow all of our focus, as there are so many incredible options out there.

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