Jumpgate Evolution: Hermann Peterscheck
With Codemasters Online in the process of getting very excited about new charge Jumpgate, we thought we'd get in on the MMO buzz with Hermann Peterscheck, Lead Producer at developer NetDevil.
Jumpgate promises a new twist on action, compared to other MMO titles, what can you tell us about how the title will differ?
What we want to do is bring back the experience of Wing Commander, Privateer and X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter and then add to it the depth and fun of an MMO experience. That’s really the vision. We feel that this kind of experience is not around in the mainstream MMO arena and we’re hoping to change that. Having said that, the game will have many familiar things that have come to be staples of MMOs: a player driven economy, loot, multiple advancement paths, social features, quests, “crafting” and things of that sort. Fundamentally, however, it’s a space flight game and that’s where most people will be spending their time.
What is 'twitch-based' combat?
Again, it’s reminiscent of games like Wing Commander, Privateer and Freelancer. I suppose the technical differences are that you aim and fire to hit as opposed to having a % to hit that is based on equipment. That’s not to say that equipment is irrelevant – upgrading weapons, shields, ships and so on makes a difference, but you will always have to aim to hit. Also, flight is controlled by player input as opposed to “point and click.” Jumpgate gives you the sense of being in the cockpit flying your ship through space, and we have spent a lot of time making that experience feel correct.
What does the space-based setting allow you to do as designers? How do you think it compares to other MMO stalwart, the fantasy genre?
I think designing compelling worlds is always a challenge, no matter which genre your game might be in. Just like fantasy games, we have to create various and compelling looking areas with nice lighting, interesting objects to look at and so forth. I suppose some things we can do is take advantage of 3D space – things can be above and below in addition to forward, back, left and right. This, of course, comes with its own set of challenges as well. Another issue that is tricky for SciFi games is that people don’t intuitively know what stuff is. Thus you have to be careful when you make your fiction that people can easily understand what things are and what they do. This, of course, gives you tons of freedom in design which I suppose is the pro to the previous con. The other thing that is a bit tricky is that I think it’s harder to get away with things that are completely unbelievable. With fantasy you always have “magic” and while the Force, for example, is like magic, I think that Star Wars had to do a lot more to make the battles believable. In SciFi there is always that difficult balance between believability and “coolness.”. All in all I think designing one genre or another is not really easier or harder, just different.
Will Jumpgate help those that are new to online games get started? If so, how will it also titillate hardcore MMORPGers?
Here I must defer to the Blizzard Donut example, which in my mind is the best description I’ve ever heard. You basically have the core in the middle and the mass market around – the bigger the core, the bigger the mass market. That’s the idea in a nutshell. Obviously it’s infinitely more complex than that when you get into the details. I think the trick is to recognize that they are two different groups, but that the membership changes over time. Thus you have to make sure that the beginning of your game is smooth, fast and easy so that the new players aren’t intimidated and the hardcore players aren’t unnecessarily held up. Then as the game goes on you have to make sure you have enough for each group to do, and you shouldn’t be afraid to separate the experiences.
In Jumpgate you can imagine something like fighting from area to area taking on tougher and tougher opponents who give you better and better rewards. That’s one style of game play. Then you have something like a brutally hard battlestations that might take 40 or more players to take down. I think most of those solo players will eventually want to know what that is all about. However if you force them to fight the 40 person battlestation before they can progress you are likely to lose a lot of them, so it’s important to keep that in mind. I think to have a successful MMO you need to cater to both of those groups, and you must do so in different ways.
Yes, we will have epic battles and we will have competing nations. One area where we are doing something a bit different is that the different nations can communicate and play with one another. We are not forcing the war down the player’s throat which is a deliberate design decision with numerous consequences. So we’re trying to make that decision play out in fun game play ways: large scale combat being one of them. One of the things we have done is brainstorm what those great moments in Science Fiction are (movies, games, etc.) and then figure out if we can deliver the essence of that experience. It’s really tough and can be incredibly frustrating, but when it works it’s like magic.
Beyond battling, how can players amuse themselves in the world of Jumpgate?
We’re trying hard to make sure that there are alternatives to just combat. Any activity done for a long period of time will become boring and monotonous, except, perhaps, killing monsters in Diablo 2. That aside, we want to have more “down time” activities such as mining and crafting. There’s also a strong role for things like hauling cargo if you are into that. I’m hoping that we can try and work some mini-games into the mix too.
What's your approach with the community side of the MMO - so important to growing and retaining gamers?
Connected audiences are a tricky thing. They are vocal and passionate; which is great if they like your game J. I think what you have to do is listen and take into account what people say they want. There are also many different kinds of communities. For example, there’s the people that are the avid posters: Then there are the people who just play the game from time to time and don’t really chat much but have lots of real world friends they might bring into the game. Then there’s the people that treat the game as a giant chat room. All of these people are part of the community and they all have different needs and wants. I think that the more of these groups you keep satisfied, the more successful your game will be. Of course you can never make everyone happy and people tend to be more vocal about what they don’t like than what they do like. After all, if you are enjoying something why would you stop to tell the developer about it!. Keeping the people playing the game happy and entertained is the best way to grow and retain. This IS entertainment, after all, and if people are not entertained they are happy to take their money elsewhere; only if you are lucky will they even tell you when they do it.
Visually, how rich is the world you're crafting, and how expansive is it?
I believe that it’s very rich and expansive. So, in context of Jumpgate you want to make sure there are enough things to do to keep the player going, but that there is enough distance to give a sense of size. The only way I know how to do this is to play the game and when you find yourself thinking “Jeez! Getting here takes FOREVER” it might be time to make an adjustment. At the same time, if you don’t give players a break and let them just kind of sit back and enjoy the world, it can become hectic. So what we want is to create enough variety between the areas that people want to keep exploring but not so much that they can’t enjoy it. There’s no magic formula… it’s all design and test, design and test.
Are you concerned by the competitive nature of the MMO genre?
Yes. Always. Anyone working in the gaming industry, or any entertainment field, needs to be constantly aware of what others are doing. As developers we need to live with the reality that most people will play the same small number of incredible games. How much your game cost to make, or how long it took doesn’t (and shouldn’t) interest them. Therefore if you want to make sure you compete you can’t make a crappy product. I really think it’s that simple. With MMO players it’s even more critical because they are a highly connected audience. I think the rule is simple: if you want to be competitive, make a good game.
Any plans for a beta test?
Yes! We have been taking Beta applications for a few months now, which sounds like a long time, but isn’t in the grade scheme of things. We want to make sure we don’t beta too early, as we feel this is another mistake that lots of MMOs make. We want to make sure that people who Beta test are actually testing a more or less complete product as opposed to a barely stitched together half working game. Check out www.jumpgateevolution.com if you want to register.