Revitalizing a Classic

A Jumpgate Evolution Art Direction Q&A

By Cody “Micajah” Bye

In our latest interview with NetDevil, we speak with Darrin Klein, Art Director of the coming revamp for the original space simulation MMO, Jumpgate Evolution. We herd many oohs and ahhs over the sheer beauty of the visuals in NetDevil's planned revamp during a brief demo of the game at the recent Net Devil new site opening in Louisville, Colorado, and were excited to talk with Darrin about what kind of pains NetDevil was taking to restore NetDevil's first MMO to graphical prominence.

Cody “Micajah” Bye, Ten Ton Hammer - First off, thanks for taking the time to talk about Jumpgate Evolution. How did you come to be on the Jumpgate Evolution project and what sort of experience do you have with art, particularly in video games?

Darrin Klein,
Art Director,
Jumpgate Evolution

Darrin Klein, NetDevil - I started on Jumpgate Evolution a few months after Auto Assault shipped. I had been on [Auto Assault, or AA] for most of its production (3 years). At the time, Warmonger and LEGO were in their early stages. I was approached by my Art Director, Peter Grundy, about working on JGE rather than moving to one of the other projects. I saw it as an opportunity to take a stab at heading a team and gaining the further experience of creating the art from the ground up. I started by working closely with the programmers to hammer out things like geometry exporters, shaders, lighting, etc. Because of my work on AA I had a lot of experience with modeling/texturing and particle FX. That experience really helped me to determine what the art production pipeline would initially need for JGE.

Cody “Micajah” Bye, Ten Ton Hammer - What are you responsibilities concerning the JE project?

Darrin - For Jumpgate Evolution my responsibilities are to oversee that the art team produces the visual content we need at the level of quality that we have set for the project. Seeing as the art team consists of three people, this has been very challenging. Because of the size of the team we had to really focus on methods used to develop graphics at the quality we wanted. We spent a lot of time on the first few assets to really make them polished all the while keeping in mind the techniques used to create them. Once we had some really great pieces made, the others came much quicker and of the same quality if not better. We knew that it would take more time with this approach but the end result has been well worth it.

Ten Ton Hammer - The graphics from the original Jumpgate are obviously very dated and were pretty simple even in 2001 when the game was released. It needed a lot of work. How did you know where to start as far as the graphics are concerned?

Darrin - Initially we didn’t know where to start with graphics and art direction. We spent a lot of time considering different avenues. Cartoon, hyper-realistic, happy-pappy, dark. These were all directions we could explore. Finally we settled on a more realistic feel being mindful to keep it from being too gloomy. We achieved this by having sharp contrast, lighting and high saturation in the textures and skyboxes. In order to “tie” these elements together we implemented things like lens flares and random particle debris or clouds. All of this is kept at a pretty high color saturation to ensure that any given “scene” has a dramatic feel.


Images from Jumpgate Evolution


Ten Ton Hammer - When you did get started, did you have any particular priorities on what needed to be accomplished? What sort of goals did you set as an entire art team?

Darrin - Priority number one was “RUSH TO PLAYABLE”. As soon as we could fly around in what would become our “space” we would have a much better feel for what would need to go in it visually. The three of us as an art team have one goal, and that’s make it look awesome. We agreed early on that we wanted to come as close as we could to FPS visual quality in an MMO. All of that while maintaining a nice low min spec has been our biggest battle.

I feel that we have maintained that standard as a direct result of “iterate, iterate, iterate”. The JGE team as a whole has adopted the approach of taking the first sector (equivalent to a level or map) and reworking it till it’s awesome in both visuals and game play. Until then we don’t move to the next one.

Ten Ton Hammer - Some of the new screenshots really stand-out from the crowd as being absolutely gorgeous. To a casual observer, the graphics look phenomenal. Are you using a completely new graphics engine to run the game, or are there remnants of the old code still in the game?

Darrin - We started from the ground up with a new graphics engine developed specifically for JGE. While it is new, it isn’t technologically taxing. We always have min-spec looming over our heads and because of that we really only have the engine do what is absolutely necessary. We saved time by removing graphic effects that really aren’t apparent to most players. This allowed us to once again keep system specs low and spend more time on the quality of the art. A large factor in what was necessary for the graphics engine came from the time spent in concepting great pieces. With finished concepts in hand we could easily point our graphics programmer in the right direction. If we absolutely need to add something new we just have to make sure that it’s worth the payoff.

Ten Ton Hammer - How did the development of an engine, or the integration of the old code affect the graphics update process?

Darrin - In many aspects it was the other way around. The concept art really set the tone for what the new graphics engine needed to be capable of doing. After we had our first ship modeled and textured we put it in game and developed the shaders for it to make it look like the concept. For us it’s the mentality that if you start with great concept art and maintain that quality through the rest of the pipeline then you get great assets. And if great art doesn’t pop out the other end of the art assembly line then it can only be one other thing. Crap!

Ten Ton Hammer - Accessible system specifications was something that Hermann [Peerscheck, Producer] talked about a lot in his presentations at the anniversary party. But by just looking at the Jumpgate Evolution screens, a person would assume that the game requires a pretty hefty computer to run. What sort of tricks and secrets did you use to make the game accessible to the average computer?

Darrin - A lot of our art production techniques have been developed out of the need to have as low a min spec as possible. For instance we’re using normal maps and detail maps much more extensively and wisely. We want a lot of detail but not the poly counts. Also we use little tricks like adjusting the overall specular power in the mip maps of our textures. This allowed us to give objects in the distance a sort of “shiny glint” with out having the programmers develop some sort of distance based texture bloom. A lot of our work comes down to “What can I do or figure out on my own without adding support time to other peoples work load”. It’s all born out of necessity… you have to make due with what you got.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Jumpgate Evolution Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.