Jumpgate Evolution Exclusive Interview: Crafting and Resource Gathering

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

The roles of crafting and resource gathering in most MMOGs are important. These activities often provide players with the downtime they need if they are waiting for someone to jump online or if they simply want to engage in an activity outside of combat. The developers of NetDevil’s upcoming space combat MMOG, Jumpgate Evolution, have noticed the desire for players to have these essentials and have put a heavy emphasis on resource gathering, crafting, along with combat. Recently, the Ten Ton Hammer staff sat down with JGE's producer, Hermann Peterscheck, to discuss how these two non-combat activities function in the game world. We hope you enjoy his answers!

The three big components of JGE are combat, resource gathering, and crafting.

Ten Ton Hammer: In a previous interview, you mentioned that there would be a variety of different activities to engage in Jumpgate Evolution. Can you go into more detail about what sort of options players will have? What kind of mining, crafting, and alternate options will there be?

Hermann Peterscheck: Well the big ones are combat, resource gathering and crafting. Of course that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Lots of things come from the interaction of a few core features. For example, you might try and be a “hutt” type character and just engage in market speculation. You might want to help cargo haulers on dangerous runs and collect fees that way. Maybe you just want to do missions and get more and more powerful equipment. Perhaps you want to do PvP against other players to get the top spot on the various ladders and rankings. Medals and titles are also cool things to strive for so we have plenty of those. Personally I’m a bit of a kleptomaniac so I will want to collect as many different ships as I can. Another area we are thinking about is having some fun little mini-games to break up the core game. I always loved that stuff in games like Grand Theft Auto. After spending hours driving around and doing hard missions it’s fun to just chill out in the arcade and play some games. If you can tie that to progression in the game, now that sounds really appealing!

Ten Ton Hammer: How are you making mining interesting? In other space-based games, the mining mechanic functions more like a "click-and-wait" sort of scenario. What can you do to spice things up?

Hermann: The trick here is that different activities have different purposes. For example, Everquest 2 made crafting a mini game. I’m not sure that was a good idea. One of the joys of crafting is that it’s downtime that allows me to relax and chat with my friends while I still progress in the game. If something is just constantly engaging you don’t have time to relax and it can become tiring. A great example for me is counterstrike. That is a game of short bursts of intense action followed by down time where you can brag, chat, or strategize about what you want to do next. That sine wave of excitement and release is very important I think.

Now having said that, I think we have a pretty good solution for mining. I agree that flying up to a big rock and pushing the button is not the most exciting thing in the world. There’s another problem though, which is that in space games asteroids are one of the critical ways to make areas look interesting. If they are also the primary source of raw materials, you have a conflict between aesthetic level design and economic balance.

Uh Oh! That’s a nightmare! I hate the idea of making an area look bad to balance the economy or trying to make something look more interesting and worrying about the balance. So what we came up with is making mining like an easter egg hunt. Basically you fly through fields of asteroids and from time to time you will see a sort of high-density nugget. These will be nice sparkly pretty things that attract you. Once you see one you will interact with it (i.e. shoot at it with your mining laser) and gather the resources. Obviously different nuggets will yield different rewards and occasionally you might get something really special. So basically mining is a more down time activity but it still has the kind of anticipation/exploration factor to it, so it’s not just 100% tedious.

Ten Ton Hammer: In-game economics has been discussed a major portion of the upcoming functionality of Jumpgate Evolution. Are you making the economic system as complex as what we've seen in a number of other MMORPGs? Or will there be only a modest degree of complexity?

Hermann: A common mistake we see in MMOs all the time is that the developers think that one size needs to fit all or a solution must be universal and apply to all cases. Why is that so? What I’m getting at is that in the beginning people are trying to learn the rules of your game. Thus the rules should be simple and straight forward. The complexity can come later. As an example, take crafting. In the beginning it should be: go get 2 of these things, fly over here, boom, there’s your gun. So now you’ve learned how to get things, how to make things and that making things is fun and rewarding. At the end of the game it might be: go get this super rare thing that takes 1 week, now combine it with this other thing that you can’t make so you have to buy one from this other guy. Now go to this part of space, but you can’t go there without these two other people because it’s just too tough. Now combine those things together and you have 1 of the 4 pieces you need to make the item you want. At the end of the game that’s perfectly fine, and actually really satisfying. At the beginning it’s frustrating and annoying. So the one size fits all approach doesn’t work and so what we want to do is be really easy to understand in the beginning but make the stuff at the end really challenging. The golden rule is that fun must always come first.

Crafting is going to be a major part of JGE.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is crafting going to play a major part of Jumpgate?

Hermann: Yes. Our goal is that items enter the world in 4 major ways: stores (some of them faction rating restricted), loot drops, mission rewards and crafting. All of those need to be about equal in value otherwise players won’t do them. It’s a very difficult thing to balance, but it’s really important.

Ten Ton Hammer: What sort of mechanics are you using to implement crafting? Will players need to go back to stations to craft anything? Or will they be able to make items in the holds of their ships?

Hermann: Our initial approach is to make crafting “manufacturing.” This means that it happens on various building spread throughout the galaxy. The idea is that moving things around in space is an important part of the economy, so by crafting things and bringing them to a central location I add value to players that don’t want to fly far out there to get what they need. However, difficulty needs to scale. At the beginning making cool and useful stuff will be quick and easy. At the end it will be challenging and more complicated. That’s all part of the fun of games I think!

Ten Ton Hammer: How are you balancing player-made items versus the end-game encounter sort of drops that will come up?

Hermann: It is a very difficult thing to balance and I know of no game that has successfully done it. I think what’s important is that you try and balance it and act in a responsive way when there is an imbalance. The nice thing is that many times these issues can be solved by adding more stuff and most people don’t complain when you do that, as long as you don’t add a super-weapon, but that’s a different kind of problem.

Ten Ton Hammer: Aside from mining asteroids, what other sort of "collecting" trade activities will there be? Will we see gas miners or ancient artifact explorers?

Hermann:Good idea! Exploration and finding stuff will certainly be a part of the game. Also, looting will yield crafting materials as well. I love the idea of gas mining, mind if I steal it?

Ten Ton Hammer: For those players that choose to use a hauler or cargo ship as their main form of gameplay, how are you going to insure that they'll have as enjoyable an experience as the players with combat oriented vessels? Will the haulers be easy targets for combat-based ships?

Hermann: I think the way to make sure that people in different roles have positive experiences is to test and make sure they do. The nice thing about games is that you can define the rules in any way you like and as long as they promote fun and fairness people tend to suspend disbelief as much as they have to. With regard to haulers, obviously we can’t have a game where if you play a hauler you are electing to play a game that is impossible.

This goes into larger PvP and PvE discussions which I don’t want to get into here, but assuming those are solved, the focus has to be on making a good risk/reward relationship. For example, let’s say there are many ways of getting form one location to another, but some are fraught with more danger than others. Now as a player you have to choose if you want to risk it and make faster, or play it safe and take a bit more time. I’m always trying to figure out how to give the player meaningful choices instead of inflicting a certain play style onto them. I think there are some people that will find it tedious to just fly around in a risk free environment. Others feel that they just want to fly around safely and make money. If we can make both of those game play choices satisfying, why not support both?

Ten Ton Hammer: Will trade oriented players have any reason to engage in-space combat? Can they avoid combat altogether if they choose to?

Hermann: I hope they have a reason in that combat should be fun! I think the notion that players fit into some kind of bucket is a bit of a simplification. I think most people will try most options provided they are fun and easy to get into. The really hard stuff is what tends to be reserved for set groups of players. I think most WoW players will try instances and PvP at one time or another if they play the game for long enough. Obviously people gravitate more to one game style, but I want to design every feature so that most people will at least try it. Having said that, I think it would be possible to succeed in JGE without doing much combat, or perhaps any beyond the first few missions. I also suspect there will be people who do that and wear that as a badge of honor. I suspect, however, that non-combat roles in JGE will probably be more satisfying than they are in most MMOs.

Haulers and transports aren't "insta-kills" in the JGE universe.

Ten Ton Hammer: You've mentioned several times that when the trade lanes in certain sectors aren't being populated by players that NPC units will spawn to mine and deliver goods to other stations. Can you explain this in a bit more detail? How are you going to insure that the market doesn't become over-saturated with the combination of PC / NPC trading?

Hermann: This is another balance issue. Another common mistake I think game designers make is that they forget we are making a world for entertaining players, not a world that functions as close to reality as possible. What good does it do us to make the AI that can do everything perfectly and the player has nothing to do and stands no chance? That might be “realistic” but it sure as hell isn’t fun. So the purpose of the AI is to augment the player experience. As an example, let’s say that a station really needs something in order to function, but players for whatever reason can’t be bothered to do it… that’s where AI can step in.

Also, the demographics of a shard are constantly in flux. It’s possible that in a young shard, there are tons of players doing a certain activity. Once the shard is a year or two old, those same activities are not done anymore. You can always sort of “magic” them in, but it’s just way cooler to see AI actually doing it. It also means that we can “fill” space if we need to. Nothing is worse than an empty universe and so if an area becomes a bit more abandoned AI can fill some of that gap.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you can tell us about the economic possibilities of Jumpgate Evolution?

Hermann: Hmmm. Not really. I hope that we design something that is fun and intriguing and provides players with a major reason to play the game over a long period of time.

Are you content with the way Jumpgate Evolution’s crafting is devised? Do you believe that there will be a large crafting community in this fast-paced game? Let us know on the forums!

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