Jumpgate Evolution: Combat and Controls Interview - Part Two

Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
Questions by Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
Answers by Hermann Peterscheck, Producer for Jumpgate Evolution

Creating believable space-based combat is no simple feat in the video game realm. Gravity is taken out of the equation and strangely functioning objects (like asteroids or gravity wells) are tossed in. Still, the developers at NetDevil are attempting to do just that with Jumpgate Evolution. As the second part of our two-piece series on the combat and controls of the game, Ten Ton Hammer's Cody "Micajah" Bye caught back up with Hermann Peterscheck to sketch out the rest of the details of the combat in the upcoming space-based MMOG. However, make sure you check out Part One as well, if you haven't already done so!

The Jumpgate developers hope to provide an introductory experience that allows old and new players alike to learn the new game with ease.

Ten Ton Hammer: Not all MMO gamers are familiar with space dog fighting. How are you going to introduce them to that style of gameplay? Will there be an extensive tutorial and will advanced players be able to skip ahead to other sections of that tutorial?

Hermann Peterscheck: Part of the core design philosophy is that the game should be accessible, but that doesn’t mean that it is inane or simplistic. Our approach to a “tutorial” is for it to function in an on demand way. Tutorials need to be timely and meaningful. My favorite example is teaching someone how to drive a car. If you give someone a huge manual and 2 hours of time, then take away the manual and put them behind the wheel odds are they won’t remember what they read (not to mention they will be bored out of their minds)! If you put someone in a car but let them drive anymore and try to give them the idea of what it might be like to drive the car, that might be timely but it isn’t meaningful.

My favorite games are the ones that put me right into the game and then tell me what I need to know at the moment I need to know it. This is what we are doing. It’s a very time consuming approach, but I think in the end it will work well. A separate goal is that if you have started the game for the 10th time (hopefully we have a lot of replay-ability) you shouldn’t feel like you are forced to get through the “boring part” in order to do the “fun stuff.” Fighting the first guy should be satisfying and fun, even if you have done it 100 times.

Ten Ton Hammer: What are some of the ways that you're keeping combat from becoming too difficult? One of the big sticking points for some players of the early Jumpgate was the high difficulty level of the game? Is there a solution to this?

Hermann: Yes. You test the game on beginners and make sure they are able to succeed, right form the start. Then you make sure that further on in the game people who have more experience have challenges. I have found no fast and simple way to do this. If you want to know if your game is playable by a beginner you have to watch a beginner play and see if they can do it. Then you can evaluate whether or not the game meets what you want to accomplish.

The trick with difficulty level is that the more buy in a player has the more tolerant they are of difficulty level. If you play a game for the first 3 minutes and get killed over and over again, that’s not very fun. If you play a game for 400 hours and are never challenged, that’s not very fun either. The progression of difficulty is one of the landmarks of a great and highly replayable game. I have not found an easy way to do this… it’s tedious and frustrating and I think it’s where most games actually really fall apart.

Ten Ton Hammer: How many different weapons will the players have to choose from when they're equipping their ship? Will weaponry play a large part in determining who the best dogfighter will be?

Hermann: Range of equipment is another one of those accessibility things. If you make people choose from 300 weapons right off the bat they will likely be confused and worried that they are making “the wrong choice.” If after 400 hours of gameplay I’m still using the same weapon, I’m going to be bored. I think games like Zelda do this brilliantly. They introduce new weapons and mechanics gradually which simultaneously avoids confusion and reducing boredom; so we’re going to try something like that.

The equipment/skill thing is probably the most difficult area to balance. Because games like World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 are dice roll combat it’s pretty much all about equipment. Skill doesn’t come into play until the very end when everyone has more or less the same amount of power in terms of their equipment. That being said, WoW has a very rich PvP game that relies very heavily on skill and strategy. Games like Quake and Counterstrike rely almost exclusively on skill and strategy as there is no equipment advancement, per se.

My point is that the way it works is that equipment will create a range in which skill matters. So if the difference in the first weapon and “best’ weapon in the game is 1 point of damage then you have a mostly skill game that relies very little on equipment. However, there is very little incentive to advance. If you make each rank you gain double the power of equipment then you have removed much of the value of skill outside of the particular level range of the player.

My guess is that this is something we will be balancing for a long time, but the general thinking is that the level range of effectiveness will be much larger than other MMOs. Also, I expect that the players that care the most about this will tend to be the people that play the most and thus they are likely to consume content much quicker than we are able to create it, putting them at the “end game” much of the time. You can see this effect with almost any other MMO – the toughest most powerful groups also eat through any new stuff within a week or two, even if it takes the developer a year or more to make it.

NetDevil knows that combat needs to be epic in Jumpgate Evolution for the game to succeed.

Ten Ton Hammer: Combat is always a huge part of any space combat sim. What sort of guarantees can you give the gaming populace to assure them that Jumpgate has their dogfighting needs in mind?

Hermann: The wonderful thing about this is that the best way to “punish” a developer for executing a core game feature poorly is by not paying for the game. So I can guarantee you that if we make a space combat game with crappy combat we will not succeed as much as if we make the greatest space combat experience in history. So we are extremely motivated to create a great space combat experience. How do we know if we have a great dogfighting experience? Easy. People are dogfighting all the time and can’t stop playing.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you tell us anything else about the dogfighting in Jumpgate Evolution?

Hermann: You’ve done a great job at “being exhaustive” here. *smiles*

For you, what's the most important part of space combat? Is it the control system or something else? Let us know on the forums!

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