Jumping Out of the Gate
A Pre-Public Test Interview with Jumpgate Evolution Producer Hermann Peterscheck
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
March 18, 2008 - On the day when the active space combat MMORPG Jumpgate Evolution saw public playtesting for the first time, we spoke with Producer Hermann Peterscheck about a few introductory-level questions we had about the game after his presentation and debut showing of the game's first video teaser. What we got in return was a spate of detailed, high quality answers about the state of MMORPGs and that of Jumpgate Evolution from one of the industry's most earnest and approachable veteran developers.
Jeff Woleslagle, Ten Ton Hammer: Jumpgate, as a mature IP, has a really rich backstory. But with the game’s reintroduction, you’ll be bringing lots of new players into this universe all over again. This isn’t an easy proposition for sci-fi games, in particular, since you’re ability to intuit things entering the game is more limited than with, say, a fantasy game. How do you ease people into your world and check that initial sort of cognitive barrier?
Hermann Peterscheck, Producer, Jumpgate Evolution: I think you have to be much more focused on what you’re trying to say, and I think you have to be much more belligerent about explaining how things are. In a fantasy game, I understand that wizards wear cloth and fighters wear plate. Most people that play games know that. I also know that the picture of a shield is a shield. But what’s the picture of a shield on a spaceship? There isn’t one, so you use a traditional shield for a shield. When you can’t do that, then you have to explain it to people,
My general rule for design is - and it seems to work pretty well - is that if you’re going to explain something in terms of categories, you want to have few enough that you can remember them without looking anything up. If you can do that, people will understand the language of your game very quickly, and they’ll embed it in their mind by using it over and over again. I think a lot of the problems that sci-fi games have is because developers don’t define things strictly, and they end up with a thousand things which don’t really make sense. In fantasy games, you can’t break the categories because they’re already defined for you. But if you only define three or four different things, people will remember it really well. If you define a hundred, no one will know what they’re doing. That’s one way of doing it.
Then, in terms of story, if you look at Star Wars, the reason Star Wars works is that it’s a sci-fi fiction, but its very much attached to very core principles in storytelling, There’s good guys and bad guys, there’s an unexpected hero with an interesting past, there’s guys that are subduing goodness, corrupting the civilization. Its actually Lord of the Rings in many, many ways. Look at the way the movies begin: “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” How different is that from “Once upon a time”? So I think sticking to those core ideas is the way to do things on the story side.
Ten Ton Hammer: Did Auto Assault kind of scare NetDevil away from creating a avatar, in-character (as opposed to the ship wholly encompassing a player's identity?
Peterscheck: No, not really. We added faces [in the communication panel]; it's a minor customization to give you some sense of connection and personality. That’s actually tested pretty well. But we’re not going to do people walking around on a station or beaming down on planets and fighting monsters really because I don’t see us making WoW and Jumpgate at the same time; that seems a bit ambitious. I think that some games error really because they try to do too much, and they end up doing lots of things halfway instead of doing a few things really well. So I want to make sure that the things we do, we do really really well. I think the only way to do that is to consciously omit things are potentially risky to omit.
To me, a really great parallel is this: WoW doesn’t have housing, which is considered kind of a core casual gaming mechanic. They actually don’t have a lot of character custimiation either – you can’t dye your clothes, you can’t dye your hair, you can’t do any of that. They don’t have a lot of customization in that sense, they don’t have housing, but they seem to have done ok. Because what they did, they executed very, very well. And they consciously omitted things – I know for example that they wanted to do mounted combat, which got axed.
Probably more important than what you do is what you don’t do. We’re of course concerned with the attachment value of the game, but I think the problem is that people say that you can’t relate to a ship, so you need avatars. But I look at it more like: how can you emotionally connect people to our universe? There’s many ways of doing that; we’ll have to find ways of doing that rather than adding these big features, doing that badly and ruining the game.
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