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Exclusive Jumpgate Evolution State of the Game Interview

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With every tick of the clock, the team at NetDevil's Colorado-based studio draws closer to finishing their work on their upcoming space combat MMO, Jumpgate Evolution. As the Game Developer's Conference gets underway in San Francisco, the staff at Ten Ton Hammer took a moment to sit down with Hermann Peterscheck, the lead man for Jumpgate Evolution, to talk about the state of the game and what the team is curently working on. We also delve into some questions regarding PvP and PvP builds. As always, Hermann's answers are full of little tidbits of information, so make sure you read it all!




Ten Ton Hammer: Can you give us a quick update on the status of JGE? What are you guys working on right now?

Hermann Peterscheck: There are a couple things that we've got going on. Obviously we've been making some strides in getting the Quantar race up and going. Since that's the area of the game that we've been working on most recently, that's also the coolest section of the game, in my opinion. But new stuff is always cooler than old stuff.

As we've grown, we've realized that what works well is when you put people into spaces that feel like interiors a bit more. That's one direction that we're going with some of the content in the game. Obviously we're always working on new ships and new enemies and moving capital ships.

Of course, when we create new situations or learn something new, we certainly go back and put that into the older content.

Ten Ton Hammer: Before you go on, how are you putting players into "interior" spaces in the middle of space? Are you just creating large opjects with holes and/or caves in the middle of them? Or something else?

Hermann: It's funny that you ask that question like that, because that's really the first thing we really thought about when we decided to put more of this type of content in the game. But what we realized is that in addition to caves and holes, you can create large land masses that take twenty to thirty seconds to fly over and you can put a bunch of those masses together and lay them out in such a way that you create the feeling of being "inside" something.

You're still in space and you can fly around in these masses, but there's still a sense of framing in your area. It's like your inside a compressed, small little cave or inside the husk of a planet, but you're actually surrounded by a bunch of very interesting looking objects that you're experiencing your gameplay around.

The interiors also give you a better sense of size, scale, speed and things like that. Just flying in open, empty space isn't all that interesting, so you need things around you to give you a sense of motion, depth, and interest.

So we're doing more, much more, of that now. It works out really, really well.

Ten Ton Hammer: What else are you excited about?

Hermann: It's nice to have all three nations in the game now. We're in the mode of filling out all the content now rather than dealing with weird bugs, database issues and that sort of thing.

It takes so long to get a game to a state where it's actually fun to play then working on completing it. At the beginning, you have all the nice ideas, and in the middle it's all the brutal grunt work. That's pretty much all we've been doing the last year, so it's nice to finally be coming out of the tunnel a little bit.

Ten Ton Hammer: How are things progressing in PvP?

Hermann: That's the other thing we've been working a lot on. We've got this battle scenario with flying capital ships and you have to destroy the capital ships.  We've had internal battles, and they get pretty heated.

That's good, because people care. They're staged battles, so we're taking out random components to see how it affects the outcome of the matches. Now we're working on this torpedo scenario where players can shoot a giant missile that does huge amounts of damage to an opponent or opponents objectives.

We're tuning the gameplay around specific types of scenarios, so that one player is going to come in with a heavier fighter with one of these torpedoes attached and that player needs to launch the missile in order to take out the enemy capital ship. You can whittle it down with little lasers if you want to, but it would just take a long, long time.

It's fun to create these little strategic moments in the game. So the capital ship fight is really the first epic "battle space" area in the game, and we've been taking a lot of time doing little tests and more little tests and tuning things to see how they work. And we've been doing that for quite some time.

I'm really eager to see what the response is going to be when we actually start testing it with the public.

That said, we ARE doing friends and family testing now. So we have a limited insight into how players are going to perceive those things. Luckily with such a small test group, we can quickly adjust and retest things to make sure it's all working properly.

Ten Ton Hammer: Backtrack to the scenario you were talking about where the player has a big missile strapped to them. How does that work? Is it random chance on who gets the missile attached to them?

Hermann: Right now, you can pretty much just buy one of these big boys and equip it to your fighter. If you have a heavy fighter, you basically have a slot that's large enough to hold the weapon.

The missile itself is also different in that it's not a guided missile. Most of the other missiles in the game lock-on before you fire them. With this one, you line it up, shoot, and it just goes very slowly in a straight line. If it hits something, that object will be destroyed, pretty much.

What we realized, especially on the PvP side, is that if you want to have interesting PvP in space, you need to concentrate people around objectives. If you have two people flying in empty space, what they tend to do is fly around in circles shooting each other. Imagine a Quake match without walls. It's not very interesting.

Space doesn't have walls, and on top of that you have complete freedom of motion. You have to create things that are the center of attention, like a capital ship that you have to blow up. People will fight around the capital ship, and that capital ship also has AI and is defending itself and launching ships, so its a much more Star Wars type of experience. You have to avoid the capital ship while also avoiding its shots while also fighting the other player.

By throwing in some other crazy mechanics, like this giant bomb that I'm talking about, it creates this other objective that's going on. We've just learned from playing what works and what doesn't.

Ten Ton Hammer: What has been different about taking this kind of approach to developing your game?

Hermann: It's interesting, because this kind of approach doesn't lend itself to "grand reveals." A lot of game developers fall to the temptation of working on the next really cool unique feature that nobody else has. These tend to sound really, really good when you describe it, but when you play it's not that interesting.

MMOs tend to do it with combat systems. You hear the description and think it sounds really cool, but then you play the game and find out that you're just hitting 1-2-3-4. I'm convinced there's probably a unique, cool system in the wiring, and I don't think people are lying or exaggerating. I just think they're forgetting about the experience. If you make a cool combat system, and I don't see it, it doesn't matter.

Rather than trying to make these really cool, awesome, unique things that fill up bullet points on the back of a box or make for interesting press interviews, we resist the urge to put in new things and try to enrich and deepen the things we already have in the game. It's a very hard thing to do. As a developer, you always want to add, you don't want to refine. Refinement is less rewarding and less interesting.

Developers want to move on to something new. But my experience has been that when you refine, you always get WAY more out of it than when you add something new. It's been our approach from the start.

Ten Ton Hammer: It's like writing the next great American novel, right? I mean Stephen King will write 120,000 words and whittle that down to 90,000...

Hermann: I actually remember reading that; he writes 10 pages a night and cuts it down to one page.

A lot of studios that use that methodology have their own names for it. Blizzard calls it "concentrated coolness." Instead of making 15 character classes, make five. Take those fifteen and boil them down into the five core components and make those really strong.

It's not really an intuitive way to work, right? If you're in the development world, your develop. If you're in the writing world, you write. I mean, you can put all of these great ideas on paper, but maybe what's better is to have one idea and make it really, really, really good.

I'm hoping that that focus will pay off.

Ten Ton Hammer: What about your open PvP? You've talked a lot about scenarios and instanced spaces, what about the open PvP? Is it going to be cool and dynamic, or will people just fly in circles and shoot each other?

Hermann: It's a similar kind of approach to what we're taking to the instanced PvP. In the original game, you had beacons and you'd fly through a beacon with a control object and it would switch over to your nation and you'd get experience and money the longer you held it.

It's a similar kind of mechanic that we have in the new game. You still take over parts of space by implementing a special object that you use in particular areas. The thing that we've expanded on, and this is a great example of enriching the experience rather than expanding upon it, is a mechanic where instead of beacons we have these husks.  You go to these husks and use what we call a "mod" and there are different kinds of "mods" you an use to convert these husks.

So when you convert a husk, it basically sets up this defensible area of space, and the husk becomes this big station with a bunch of turrets on it. It'll defend itself even if you're not there. If you want to take over a part of space that's already owned, you have to go take out that defense unit and use your object on the husk to make it yours.

Of course, if you get shot down while you're in the midst of trying to control the husk, it interrupts the process.  What I imagine will happen is that there will be groups of players dedicated to taking over space.

If there's enough of those players on each side, it will turn into this constant struggle for balance that players are looking for. You want to turn the balance of power to your nation, especially if you get the glory for it. It takes time to build these installations and it takes time to blow them up again, so it gives people time to jump over and defend their stations. It creates focal points for that type of combat experience.

One of the unique aspects of Jumpgate is that you can have lots and lots of ships in the same area of space fighting against each other. You can have conflicts of up to a hundred ships fighting against each other. Of course, at some point that just becomes nonsensical, but we saw that that was cool and we want to endorse that.

You can open up your map and see what areas are controlled by the various factions, so that'll give you an incentive to go over to that area and beat that guy back. There are, of course, long term gains attached to that. Medals and items and new ships and things like that.

The core mechanic is always the key, and I think that's where the game's going to be strong.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you think you're going to have players that just PvP or just PvE? Does there have to be at some point?

Hermann: I think there will be a blend, but there doesn't have to be.

People typically want something when they go into a game. They might decide that they want to just PvE at the start of the game, because they don't want to deal with fighting other players. However, when they get into the game they will be hearing about these PvP things that are going on in the game and seeing the map with the contention areas.

I'll be damned if there's a player out there who is active for a long period of time in Jumpgate and doesn't even try those PvP battles when it's so easy and rewarding to do so. I think people have a conception of PvP as this really hard elitist behavior, and they don't want to fail. They don't want to be embarrassed.

When we introduce it in a much more fun and easy to do way, at least at the beginning, I think we'll run into some people that are much more willing to try that aspect of our game. By natural affinity, some people are going to find that they really love that part of the game.

So what I envision happening is that the game is going to start out polarized, and then it's going to become much more meshed. That's my speculation.

Ten Ton Hammer: In a lot of skill-based or item-based PvP games, there seems to always be a focus on the "meta-builds" or the min/max build that excels at PvP. Do you think that's going to be the case in Jumpgate?

Hermann: If we do it right, there won't be. But my guess is that there will be a few ships that show up, especially in player combination groups, that really excel. It's easy to singularly prevent this sort of activity, but it's harder when people start grouping up with others.

That's VERY hard to test, because there's almost an infinite number of combinations players can create. You just have to be vigilant.

I mean, all MMOs have this problem to a degree. There is always that one build that seems to be dominant for a time, and then the developers have to be a combination of reactionary and patient.

If you're too reactionary, someone may come up with a combination that seems unbeatable but other players haven't discovered the counter to it yet. Once that counter becomes well known, that strategy then no longer works.

If you wait too long, you have created a super weapon, and if you don't address that super weapon, people stop playing. You just have to be clever and know when to do which.

 Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks so much for your time, Hermann. Best of luck with the future of Jumpgate!
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