by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
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by Hermann Peterscheck, Producer, Jumpgate Evolution
Have you ever wondered what goes into building an MMOG? How the
developers come up with those crazy ideas that you encounter in your
virtual world? Some of those questions may be answered in our latest
interview with Jumpgate
Evolution’s Hermann Peterscheck as we took a
behind the scenes look into what kind of development process the
designers at Jumpgate
Evolution are going through. Check out the interview, then
make sure you head over to the forums to comment on this intriguing
Ten Ton Hammer: What kind
of work schedule do you guys have on the style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution
team? Do you all have different times that you come in and work, or do
you have a strict schedule system?
The Jumpgate Evolution developers work on an organic schedule.
have what I like to call an “organic’ work
schedule. Basically people know what they have to do and when they are
trying to get it done by. They also generally have a good idea as to
who needs to do what in which order, which is largely a just in time
kind of process. Thus, as long as there isn’t any blocking
going on, people come in and leave at various times of the day. That
being said, there are core work hours which are generally between 11
and 5. We have our daily scrum meetings at 5PM instead of in the
morning as that is when everyone is around. I don’t like
policing people and saying “be in by 9AM or I will write you
up” or something like that. In general people work much more
than a normal “40 hour work week” which is fairly
typical of the gaming industry.
Ten Ton Hammer: How many
designers are actually a part of the JGE team? What are your areas of
focus and how do those separate focuses work to create a cohesive
Designer is probably the hardest position to fill. I never really
understood what it means, actually. I mean there are designers who come
up with feature details, then there are people who are good at systems
and balance, then you have people that can build maps or crafting
systems. On the other side you have people that can write stories,
quests and all kinds of other fiction. On JGE we have a dedicated
writer and then a person who spends about 50%-70% of their time on
specific systems balance (that means things like AI loadouts, equipment
stats and things of that nature). Beyond that, everyone is a designer
of sorts. We try and play the game a few times a week as a group and
almost daily as individuals. Everyone is encouraged to find things they
like and “stuff that sucks.” I think a lot of good
game design is good implementation. People tend to have lots of good
ideas and then it takes several days or weeks to make it work just
right. We try lots of different stuff and then test it, polish it and
test it again until it works right or it gets axed.
Ten Ton Hammer: Making
decisions in the creation of an MMOG is an incredibly and fundamental
part of the development of a game. How does the JGE design team decide
go about choosing whether to include certain elements in the game, like
whether to be able to walk around outside your ship or not?
like to say that game design is deciding which feature you
don’t want to do. It’s very easy to come up with a
huge list of “critical” features and then come up
with another list and another. Choosing which ones to try is a tricky
thing. Basically what you do is design a strong concept first. With style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution
it’s pretty easy. You look at other games that you loved,
look at popular space fiction movies and then try and come up with ways
of recreating that experience in a way that is appropriate for the MMO
world. Then comes the next part which is determining which of those
things are the most reasonable to do within the given constraints (time
& people). If you imagine a graph with time and labor along the
bottom and “coolness” of feature along the side,
you want stuff that is the coolest that represents the least amount of
time and materials… i.e. bang for the buck, to quote a silly
This is, of course, a gross simplification. There are times when you
have something that you just have to add even though the schedule and
cost goes against it. That is where experience and gut feeling come in.
The other huge issue is remembering what is core to the game
experience. It’s very tempting to play the me too game and
put every feature every other MMO has into your game so that you can
fulfill the checklist. The problem with this strategy is that people
don’t play games as a series of disconnected features, they
play experiences. Thus, instead of comparing your game feature by
features, you should compare it by experience. Does the game give me a
great and memorable experience or not. If it does, I’ll come
back for another, if it doesn’t, I’ll play one that
does. So when doing feature evaluation it’s all about adding
up pieces to give you that experience.
The final piece is implementation details. I think this is where most
games fail, actually. Little things like: fonts being too small, tab
not going from text field to text field, buttons not responding
correctly, camera controls that seem obscure and annoying. That is
where things really fall apart. Those things tend to not be on feature
lists and yet in many ways they are critically important. You find
those things through playing the game and watching testers play the
game. At the end of the day, those small things add up to fun or crap,
it really is that black and white I think.
Design decisions in MMOG range from incredibly easy to terribly complex.
Ten Ton Hammer: If the
JGE designers could pick one space combat video game to play for the
rest of their gaming careers, what would it be? Why was it important?
(You can’t pick JGE!)
That’s all over the place. I think a lot people would
actually point to Elite actually since we have some old school gamers
around here. I would have said Freelancer a year ago, but I think that
Freespace 2 is climbing the charts really quickly. That game feels so
good to play, it’s a perfect example of what I talk about
with the “experience” monologue above.
Ten Ton Hammer: What sort
of components do the designers of JGE need to think about when
designing a “sky box”? Why are these elements all
crucial to the design of an area?
It’s pretty easy actually. Does it look awesome. Seriously
though, there’s lots of stuff that goes into skyboxes since
it’s kind of the terrain of space. There’s the
basic colors and patterns which are sometimes a result of a sector
needing a certain flavor and sometimes just the artist playing around
with ideas. The other piece, of course, is lighting as that changes the
entire mood of the area. There’s also lots of little details
like stars, random objects in the distance and so on. Planets also add
a lot and our artists spend a lot of time making those feel really
special. You know you have a good skybox because people stop and look
at it while it’s still being developed. The goal is to give
you that feeling in your gut where you say to yourself “Wow,
that is really badass!” Then it’s just a question
of making enough variation that people don’t get bored.
Ten Ton Hammer: How long
does it take the JGE designers to come up with a ship? What do you
focus on and how does that affect the final gameplay of the ship?
depends if it’s a player ship or not. Player ships take quite
a long time to get going. Visually we go from concept to in-game in
about 1-2 weeks. However, to get all the effects, hardpoints, handling,
and loadouts right may take many more weeks. That part is really an
ongoing process in any event. The goal, like most other things, is to
create strong choices. People want variety so a ship that is hauling
tons of cargo around needs to feel different than a little fighter
ship. However, it needs to feel just as “good” just
different. This is the hardest thing to nail as it’s critical
to the game’s success. If people find the control too easy or
too hard, or too touchy or not responsive enough, they will quit. Not
everyone will like every ship experience of course, but they should
like at least some of them!
Ten Ton Hammer: Did you
(the designers) play a lot of Jumpgate
Classic before you were brought onto this project? If not,
have you put in some time since then? What elements were done really
well in the Classic game?
personally did. In fact I did some work on the first game so I played
it a lot. After JGC’s launch I didn’t’
play it much anymore as I moved on to other projects, but we tested it
quite a bit before starting on JGE. The best thing about making a game
like JGE is that you have a test case to work from. You can take people
and have them play the original game and work out what they like and
don’t like. It’s really quite a different game so
it’s hard to compare the two. I think a lot of this is
because the entire MMO landscape has changed since JGC was developed.
Compare things like Ultima
Online to Age
of Conan or something… I mean UO had NO
grouping mechanics when it launched. It just wasn’t something
that people had thought of at that point.
I think what the classic game did well is to create a complete and
believable space game that people could interact with. That is, and
will always be, the core of Jumpgate.
Just like a game like Diablo
is Kill->Collect, Jumpgate
is essentially Fly->Shoot. The rest is just deepening and
expanding on that core mechanic.
Ten Ton Hammer: How are
you trying to improve upon the original style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Classic
model to make JGE an amazing game? Which area needed the most work?
When you're making an MMOG, it's important to put your ego aside.
personal take on this is that you have to take your ego out of it.
There are things that I like and don’t like, but at the end
of the day you need to get players into the game. The way to do that is
to watch them play and see how they respond to your guesses –
and they ARE guesses. My voice is just one in the crowd. A really good
tactic is to get people who don’t like the game, but like the
genre and ask them why they don’t like it. It is very
difficult to steal people away from other MMOs so you are much better
off going after an underserved market. There are a huge number of style="font-style: italic;">Privateer, style="font-style: italic;">Wing Commander, and
fans out there who never played Jumpgate
Classic. Why not? What was missing? What would make them
play? If we can reach those people we will create an entire new market.
I think that almost every major successful MMO out there has done this.
WoW added soloing, AoC added a kind of seriousness, EQ added an
immersive experience and group play, EvE created a single rich universe
with tons of depth and so on. It’s not that hard really, you
just have to ask… the trick is listening and knowing what
the answers mean.
Ten Ton Hammer:
Fundamentally, what’s the biggest difference between
designing a game like JGE compared to a typical fantasy MMOG like style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft
or Age of Conan?
don’t know, I didn’t work on those games J. I would
guess that many things are exactly the same: networking architecture,
database issues, latency, exploit protection and so on. Then you have
basic mechanics like combat, crafting, advancement, grouping, social
features and so on. Where I think there are core differences is that in
a game like JGE we have three dimensional space and momentum movement.
This means that when you take your hands off the keyboard you are still
moving. It also means that it’s harder for people to get a
sense of location – for example “I’m
behind you” is a different thing to express when
you’re in space. This means that you have to tailor things
like grouping features, UI, chat and so on to respond that difference.
Thus, you have to play the game with a bunch of people and see what
sucks and fix it. My guess is that in the end it’s not all
that different. If you want to make a good game, pick a strong idea,
implement it, then add stuff you think you need and test and polish
until it’s great.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do you
have any little tidbits you could share with style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution
fans and the Ten Ton Hammer readers?
long battleships look really damn cool.
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