Jumpgate Evolution: Battle Station Interview with Hermann Peterscheck at GDC '08

By Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

By Cody
“Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

When Star Wars
was released on May 25, 1977, no one could have imagined the impact the
movie would have on the future of popular entertainment. However, it
wasn’t just the films that made the idea of space combat
exciting. Rather, it was the parallel emergence of video and arcade
games that would forever cement the idea of space flight and combat
into the minds of our world’s impressionable youth.

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title="JGE - Codemasters - 03"> src="/image/view/21434/preview"

style="font-style: italic;">The creation of
battle stations and capital ships are of utmost importance to NetDevil.

Video game players often found themselves piloting the controls of a
virtual X-Wing, careening down the Death Star trench while looking for
that elusive exhaust port. Or, if they picked up the Lucasarts game, style="font-style: italic;">X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter,
they might have manuevered their incredibly slow Y-Wing into position
to start a bombing run on an Imperial Star Destroyer. Immense battle
stations are a staple in any space combat fans diet, and it’s
also one of those elements that cannot be ignored by any serious
developer of a space combat game.

While the list of recent space simulators is fairly short, the crew at
NetDevil wanted to insure that their community was aware of the team's
recent additions to their upcoming MMORPG, style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution.
While the Ten Ton Hammer staff was attending GDC ’08, we made
sure to check in with the Colorado-based crew to see how their upcoming
space MMORPG was progressing. As always, we weren’t

After chatting with Jumpgate producer Hermann Peterscheck, we were
pleased to find out that battle stations – along with capital
ships – were some of the most important features being
currently implemented into the game. Loading up the client on his
laptop (which looked like your average Dell computer), Hermann
explained that the game simply didn’t feel complete without
the bigger weapon platforms. “Our whole philosophy with style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate is really
to test, retest, and change things when necessary,” Hermann
said. “A few months ago, we were talking about the game and
there was this feeling that going around and fighting ships was fun,
but it’s not really enough. There was this big hole, this
need to fight large ships that just wasn’t being expressed
through our current gameplay. Therefore, we decided to put them in, and
our first iteration on that is the battle station.”

Commencing our launch sequence, Hermann gave a brief tour of the
surrounding area, which was full of asteroids and a huge enemy base
that comprised the interior of one of the larger asteroids. To make
sure players knew who the base belonged to, a large insignia was
emblazoned on the outside of the base. As we watched, fighter were
launched out of the ship to intercept us. After a bit of fancy flying,
Hermann directed us away from the base and to a nearby area that held
the battle station. As we flew close, it was really apparent just how
big the base was right off the bat. This was some small piece of space
junk – the battle station was huge. Each of the five turrets
was easily as big as or bigger than the small ship Hermann was
piloting, and he felt the heat from the guns rather quickly.

Flying out of harm’s way, Hermann began pointing out items on
the battle station and explaining some of their functionality.
“There’s a whole bunch of technical stuff with
implementing these battle stations,” Hermann said.
“I mean developing the AI of a turret isn’t easy.
You have to determine how accurate you want them to be, how they track
the player, and all sorts of other issues.” So while creating
individual NPC ships wasn’t easy, battle stations were many
times more difficult to construct.

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title="Solarain Figher Battle"> src="/image/view/16060/preview"

style="font-style: italic;">Battles stations
will have different stages that need to be defeated before they will
ultimately explode.

Despite the pounding Hermann took from the guns, he was eventually able
to breach some of the battle station’s defenses. When he did
so, the strategy to take down the battle station seemed to change, and
Hermann eagerly explained how battle station combat may proceed once
it’s in the live game. “What we ended up with was
something like your traditional console boss experience,”
Hermann continued. “In reality, the more you attack
something, the weaker it gets. However, you really want these opponents
to get tougher as you go to make the experience more engaging. First
you might have to destroy three or four turrets, then you blow up the
shield generator, which finally opens up the core area that has tougher
guns than anything else you’d faced previously. You take out
the core then fly away to watch the huge explosion.”

And the explosion was tremendous! As Hermann took out the core of the
station, he immediately hit the reverse thrusters and pushed himself as
far away from the ship as he possibly could. As he backed away, you
could see the detonation then the consequential bloom of energy as he
flew away.

Of course, there must be some sort of loot that players can pick up at
the end. Unlike most games, however, Hermann doesn’t seem to
be stingy about having the enemies drop loot. “I prefer the
term ‘loot fountain’,” he said.
“If you kill a big tough base, you expect a really big
reward. I don’t understand why some designers don’t
want players to feel rewarded.” Much like taking down a
higher-end monster in a standard MMORPG, players don’t want
to feel like they came away from the entire encounter with nothing to
show from it.

Since we were on that line of thinking, Hermann immediately answered
the next unvoiced question, which revolved around the idea of using the
bigger ships and stations as end game type content. Hermann was eager
to point out that it was something his team had already discussed and
was musing over. “There’s a lot of potential in
this system,” Hermann said. “Especially so in the
higher end content. There might be a station that spawns out tons of
ships as you’re trying to take it out, or one that is covered
in turrets that players have to destroy. The possibilities are really
wide open.”

At this point, Hermann leaned back from the computer and turned to me,
a flash of mischief in his eye. It was apparent that Hermann was really
passionate about his next statement. “The dream –
to sort of expose this a little bit – is to really integrate
some of these big battles into player versus player combat,”
Hermann said. “The best scenario – in my opinion
– would be the two capital ships flying directly towards each
other while blasting volleys from their laser cannons as they pass. The
players would escort these two capital ships and attempt to destroy the
enemy before they destroy you.”

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title="Blinding LIght"> src="/image/view/11948/preview"

style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution
hopes to capture the entire space combat genre.

These would be the sort of epic battles that science fiction fans are
familiar with. For a frame of reference, pull out a copy of style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
and watch the final space combat scene where star fighters are jetting
around the giant capital ships, blowing up shield generators or
blasting other fighters into thousands of space particles. Those are
the sort of battles that NetDevil wants to eventually create.

However, there are still some limitations on what the developers can
do. Even with the game being incredibly well-developed, not all of the
functionality may be readily available at launch. “Of course,
the next thing the people ask is, ‘Can I fly the capital
ship?’ Then you get into a whole new realm of
complexity,” Hermann stated. “If one player is
gunning and the other is flying, what happens when one of the players
encounters some lag? It’s a very cool idea, and I’m
sure we’ll figure out a way to do it at some point. However,
it’s just somewhere in the future.”

And the future – at least in this reporter’s eyes
– seems bright for the upcoming game. From what
I’ve seen and experienced, sitting alongside Hermann through
event after event, Jumpgate
can only be described as something of a
miraculous achievement. With an incredibly small team and a large
heaping of ambition, the developers behind Jumpgate Evolution are
creating a game that will really resonate with the common fan and space
combat gamers alike. Space is a wide open frontier, and style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution is
hoping to fill it.

What do you think of
Hermann's explanation of battle station combat? Does it ring true with
you? href="http://forums.tentonhammer.com/showthread.php?p=211217#post211217">Let
us know on the forums!

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