Atari surprised everyone last week with the out-of-nowhere acquisition of Nightdive Studios, the developer responsible for bringing back classic '90s shooters including Turok and Turok 2, Blood, Quake, and Powerslave, as well as the upcoming System Shock remake.
The news wasn't received with universal enthusiasm due to Atari's less-than-stellar contemporary reputation, which has arisen from ventures like the underwhelming Atari VCS and baffling Atari Hotels, as well as its embrace of cryptocurrency and NFTs, which went over about as well as you'd expect—which is to say, not well at all.
But Larry Kuperman, Nightdive's director of business development, said in an interview with PC Gamer that those concerns are misplaced. "The new Atari," as he put it, "is dedicated to the same principles of bringing back classic and classic-style games that Nightdive has always pursued." And to that end, Nightdive will continue to do what it's always done, effectively independent of Atari.
"We're going to continue to go forward," Kuperman said. "I've watched a lot of the comments on Twitter, and people have said, 'Oh, they're so disappointed that Nightdive won't be doing this and won't be doing that.' And in fact there was a whole long list, but two of the titles that were mentioned that people are disappointed that we're not going to be doing, we're doing already. They're already 75% of the way complete.
"This past weekend, we showed off Rise of the Triad Ludicrous Edition, which is something I'm really excited about. It's a joint project with the team at Apogee and New Blood. It's the first time we've ever done anything like that, but clearly, there are a lot of companies that are playing in the same space. We have great relations with those companies and we believe that through this partnership with Atari, not only will we be doing as much as we ever did, but we'll be doing more of it."
Nightdive actually had a relationship with Atari CEO Wade Rosen for years prior to the acquisition. In 2019, Rosen had invested in Nightdive during a round of corporate fundraising—becoming the only external investor—and took a 13% ownership stake in the company, which he still holds. But Kuperman said Rosen has been "100% hands-off" since taking the top position at Atari in April 2021.
"And that is part of why this took place, because we absolutely know that Wade was supportive of what Nightdive had been doing, and will continue to do going into the future," Kuperman said. "That there were going to be no radical changes, there was going to be nothing that was not mutually agreed upon—that we had this relationship that had gone on for quite a long time, so that element of trust was there."
Rosen, the CEO of Atari, acknowledged the feelings among Nightdive fans in a separate interview with PC Gamer, saying that "when you have a beloved company that does something really well," it's natural to be concerned when someone else takes over. But he said Atari has no intention of changing what Nightdive does or how it does it, nor will it direct the company to work exclusively on Atari brands or projects.
"I've just known those guys for a very long time and I liked them both personally and professionally and view them as kindred spirits and that we both operate with a similar love for gaming and specifically innovative retro gaming," Rosen said. "And that was really the reasoning [for the acquisition]."
Rosen also touched on the idea of the "new Atari," which he said is focused on a return to "innovative retro" game development. The Atari Hotel project is still active, and the company is still involved in blockchain development, although it's no longer affiliated with the Atari Token cryptocurrency, having split from that venture in April 2022. Atari has also enjoyed recent success with projects like the outstanding Atari 50 anniversary collection and the more recent Akka Arrh, a well-received "modern take on a scrapped project from the 1980s" developed by Jeff Minter's Llamasoft.
Atari is obviously deeply connected to retro gaming—the original Atari VCS console came out in 1977—but Rosen said that there's more to that particular niche than simply re-releasing old games and hoping for the best: "It's about being good caretakers and stewards of this classic and seminal videogame IP, but at the same time, finding a way to do that in innovative ways," he said. He cited Atari 50 as a good example of this approach in the way it bundles more than 100 games from throughout Atari's history with archival footage and interviews with former employees that also makes it an interactive documentary.
The Nightdive acquisition is kind of an extension of that effort: Rosen said the studio is "working in retro, but they're doing it in such an innovative way, you don't even think of it as retro because what they could do what they produce is like is very relevant for the consumer and the hardware of today." Atari's main role will be to support those efforts by handling the more mundane aspects of the business, like "technical infrastructure issues or staring at contracts."
"I almost view [Nightdive] as caretakers of a lot of these games and caretakers of a specific industry, especially in first-person shooters," Rosen said. "That's what they've done better than anyone else in the world. And so it'd be crazy to change that or to pull them away from that. So if anything, we just want to take off all the non-value-add stuff from them, so they can focus on doing those things."
Kuperman said much the same thing, noting that Atari spent $10 million for Nightdive and may pay out another $10 million over the next three years based on the company's future performance.
"Why anyone would spend that kind of money to destroy the company—why?" Kuperman said. "Why would you do that? It's kind of obvious that they're making an expensive commitment to allowing Nightdive to do more of what Nightdive has become famous for doing.
"Atari's strategy, like Nightdive's, is rather than telling you about what we're going to do, we do it. That's always been the way that we've worked. Press releases are fine, but people really judge Nightdive by the quality of our games. I would say the same thing is true for the new Atari ... We're very much playing in the same space of restoring and bringing back gems from the Golden Age of gaming."
Atari's acquisition of Nightdive Studios is expected to close by the end of April. Nightdive's System Shock remake, which we are all very much looking forward to, is set to come out on May 30.