by Cody "Micajah" Bye, Managing Editor
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!
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?
The three big
components of JGE are combat, resource gathering, and crafting.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is
crafting going to play a major part of Jumpgate?
Crafting is going to
be a major part of JGE.
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?
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.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will
trade oriented players have any reason to engage in-space combat? Can
they avoid combat altogether if they choose to?
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?
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.
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?
transports aren't "insta-kills" in the JGE universe.
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.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there
anything else you can tell us about the economic possibilities of Jumpgate Evolution?
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.
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
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