It seems like daily the muses deem one of us mere mortals worthy of inspiration. Yet, sadly--whether because of school, work, the newest Game of Thrones novel, or pure laziness--we let that inspiration fall to the wayside: forgotten and trampled under the weight of our day-to-day lives. It’s rare for someone to find the strength to bring to fruition a concept from these inspirations. Rarer still is that one of these concepts should come from a place of genuine want to help others.
Sam Grzelak of Chicago, Illinois is one of these remarkable people.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Sam and talk about the original concept, avatar community that he has been creating from scratch for the last three years. At 22 years old, Sam has managed to pull together an entire team of people--from artists to developers--to make his dream come to life.
Voltra--which aims at creating an inclusive community for youth and adults--offers several outlets of expression: including gender neutral characters and safe-space style forums. Making it the perfect avatar site for the LGBTQIA+ community. The site, which launches on September 1st, is currently offering special promotions and avatar gear to those who make early launch donations.
Read on to see the full interview with Sam Grzelak and his amazing avatar site, Voltra.
What is Voltra?
Voltra Online is an avatar forum site. Members of our community have access to forums where they can discuss a variety of topics and connect with others through shared interests. Unlike other forums and social media platforms, users will create an image for themselves with the use of our avatar system. Outside of the forums you will find games, events, and shops that will grant items to dress your avatar and express your own individual style!
When did this concept come to you?
I was introduced to avatar sites when I was 13 years old by my cousin. I’ve always had an interest in art, but it wasn't until I joined avatar forum sites that I found others who shared my interests in technology, web design, and art in general. This fueled my interest in graphic design and, eventually, I got my hands on photoshop and my first drawing tablet. From then on I found myself drawing art for other members of avatar sites: either trading art work, sharing critiques, or doing collaborations.
As I continued to meet others on multiple avatar sites and share my art, I began to become pretty well known in the avatar world. Eventually I was asked to join an avatar site that was developing. They helped me perfect my art and design skills by teaching me how to pixel and tool-shade: the techniques necessary to create avatars, clothing, accessories, and more.
Over the past 8 years I’ve worked as an artist for multiple avatar sites. A handful of these sites either aren’t around anymore or have become quiet. It’s sad to see so much work and effort be put into these avatar communities (my art and others) for them to disappear. Now I’ve decided to not just be an artist, but the owner and administrator for my very own avatar community, Voltra Online.
Why was Voltra created?
I founded Voltra Online officially in September of 2014. I decided to start up a new avatar community after I noticed other communities failing due to matters outside of the community members’ control. I too would be left without a community to share my art and interests with, so I decided to start my own project.
As long as I am around, and the admin of Voltra, it will be a welcoming, inclusive, and progressive community [for] current and future members. Voltra will offer entertainment, discussion, freedom for artistic expression but, most importantly, support for anyone and everyone who is apart of our community.
Why should the LGBT community find Voltra particularly appealing?
The LGBT community will find Voltra particularly appealing due to the fact that our community is very accepting and supportive of all our members. Not only is our community open, but as our site grows you’ll notice we have taken steps with our site developement to make sure that everyone can see a bit of themselves in our community and original characters to keep them connected to Voltra.
Our non-playable characters/shopkeepers represent different aspects of the LGBT community. The details on these NPCs have not yet been released, but our current cast is slated to include a range of sexualities.
And as a community we try to be as inclusive and progressive as possible by implementing features that play a key role in interactions between members. One unique feature of Voltra is that we have implemented a pro-nouns preference under account settings so members can be aware of one another's preferences when communicating over the forums.
For the layman nerd, someone who might not be too familiar with avatar based sites, what should we know and why should we choose Voltra over other sites?
An avatar site offers an individual a supportive community, the opportunity to experiment with their choice of artistic expressions, and fun! If there is anything to know or take away from Voltra and other avatar sites, is that the community is very open to diversity, change, and individual expression. Voltra is here to offer members a stress relief from the “real world” we call life. There are multiple activities for entertainment and fun, but also space for thoughtful discussion to share and vent.
All avatar sites are great and I urge anyone looking to dive into this kind of community to explore Voltra and other avatar forums. Voltra will offer its members an expansive and detailed site lore that truly brings Voltra to life. Members will feel like true citizens of Voltra (referred to as Volties) when they join factions and gain access to exclusive forums, items, and storylines.
Volties will have the chance to create super cute/cool/awesome avatars using an assortment of items that our NPCs offer them for being active participants in creating an enjoyable environment in our forums. There will be events and contests to keep users engaged and active. To make things more fun and unique, Voltra forums will have custom emojis designed from our original characters!
Most importantly, Voltra brings an excited staff looking forward to delivering the most enjoyable experience. We will take advice and recommendations from users to make our community bigger and stronger as time progresses.
When does the site launch? Are there any promotions?
Voltra will enter an open beta on September 1, 2017. Prior to this date, a discounted rate is being offered on pre-launch donation items as a special promotion, where each dollar donated will give the donator 1 limited item box that can be opened to choose one of the two pre-launch mascot items for their avatar. Donating also grants the user access to the closed Alpha that will be launching shortly before the official opening of the site, sometime after August 18th, to help us test features and get a head start on gaining site currency and items. The official beta launch will also kick off the site’s very first event, a special meet and greet event revolving around the site’s lore and NPCs.
There are some rumors that Voltra might include a roleplay aspect similar to some text based online RPGs. Is that true? If so, what can we expect from it?
Voltra itself will almost act as a community roleplay thanks to our talented writers working on the site lore. There are many stories and events to come that will unravel the mysteries of Voltra’s past and how it became the city it is today. These events will rely on user participation for the story lines to play out, this involves choosing factions, solving mysteries, and more!
Aside from the Voltra story line, we offer a forum specifically for roleplaying. Members can create their own threads and story lines with groups of friends and let their creativity run wild!
What else do you want us to know about Voltra and/or your personal journey during it's creation?
I’d like to share that even though I had the original thought and drive to make Voltra happen, it wouldn’t be possible without my amazing staff of artists, writers, and especially our developer! Many of them are working voluntarily and have invested so much time and effort to make Voltra happen. Voltra started out as my own project, but thanks to my amazing team, it’s finally happening!
Our staff currently consists of myself and 10 amazing individuals all bringing their own talents, styles, and fantastic personalities to the table! We have our developer, who I consider my partner-in-crime for making Voltra happen. He works hand and hand with our Illustrator and together Voltra looks great and runs smoothly! Our current team of writers is a killer duo who deliver amazing background stories for our shopkeepers/NPCs, create events for users, give us key clues to unlocking Voltra’s past! Last but not least, we have a team of six artists! Their talents range from creating art of Voltra’s NPCs/ShopKeepers, creating item designs, and implementing those designs into our site so our members can create more unique avatars!
What do you see in Voltra's future? Where do you want to take it after launch?
I hope the future of Voltra will have a lively, strong community that continues to grow. It would be wonderful to see Voltra expand to multiple platforms and real life. Our developer has made it so our current site is fully function from desktop to mobile, but eventually we plan to create an app for users to access and enjoy our site on the go! Some of our members are already requesting t-shirt designs and plushies of our site mascots! Maybe one day we will have actual merchandise and meet our community members at conventions!