Questions by Cody
"Micajah" Bye, Managing Editor

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Answers by Hermann
Peterscheck, Producer for Jumpgate Evolution

How many of you remember the golden age of space gaming? When the style="font-style: italic;">Wing Commander
series still amazed reviewers and Descent
was a wholly joystick-based game? Or who can forget the epic dogfights
that players of X-Wing
vs. Tie Fighter
would engage in over the gaming networks?
Many of you probably lost some amount of time playing one of these
award-winning games, yet the current gaming climate seems to hold no
love for the desk-bound space jockey. Thankfully, this will be changing
in the very near future with the release of style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution.
Not only are the developers at NetDevil putting together a solid space
combat simulator, they're also integrating those mechanics into a
massively multiplayer game. Cody "Micajah" Bye recently tracked down style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution
producer Hermann Peterscheck to discuss some general questions
regarding JGE.

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Jumpgate can run on
very humble system specs compared to its more modern brethren.

Ten Ton Hammer: You've
listed the specifications on your home page as being an 800 MHz machine
with very little in the RAM / graphics department. How were such low
system specifications achieved? How can you do this when so many other
games are requiring multi-GHz CPUs to run?

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann Peterscheck:
It takes a lot of discipline and dedication. First of all you have to
be convinced that running on a lot of machines is more important than
requiring some new visual effect. Second, you have to be convinced that
it is possible to do this and still make a good looking game. Those are
really two commandments that we have and we do our best to follow them.
From time to time they are in direct conflict with each other, and you
have to be creative to come up with good solutions. My personal opinion
is a lot of games, especially MMOs, do not reach close to their full
potential because many customers experience poor performance in their
games. I don’t care how awesome your game is, if the frame
rate is low, the game sucks; it’s really that simple. Some
people may disagree, but try watching your favorite movie with hitches,
sound pops and blackouts from time to time… I guarantee you
it will suck. Games are no different.

So with that said, you need to make sure that as many people have a
smooth game experience as possible, and that is your base. Once you
have that you can add bells and whistles so that if people have some
monster system they can get more. I think that a lot of high system
requirements are a result of developers wanting to push the envelope
all the time instead of thinking about if they should be doing that.
Once you design your game around high system specs, it’s
almost impossible to lower them later on. If you constantly focus on
running well, it’s comparatively easy to add high end effect

The other issue is longevity. If you make the most amazing looking game
(technically), it’s likely you won’t be that game
in about 3-6 months. If you make a game that looks great, but
it’s not because of some new graphics technique you are
likely to still look good after 6 months or a year. You’d be
surprised how many effects can be faked with cheaper implementations.
You’d also be surprised at how creative your artists and
programmers get when you give them tight restrictions.

Ten Ton Hammer: There's
been quite a bit of speculation by the old Jumpgate community about the
changes that the latest set of developers are bringing to the game.
What sort of changes are actually being implemented into the new game?
How do you justify these changes to the community?

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann: Anyone that
has worked on MMOs for the last 5-10 years knows that the
“rules” for making a successful MMO have changed
drastically. If you have been on a project that ended up not doing very
well, you know these lessons even better. I believe that a game that
was successful in 1997-2001 would likely fail in today’s
market – just as a car built in 1997 would unlikely compete
with ones built in 2008. A lot of the things we are doing are a result
of living though those changes and learning those lessons. The
justification is in the result. One of the worst things that can happen
to an MMO is that they feel “empty.” It’s
the kiss of death. The way you make your game full is by attracting
lots of players to it. So, the goal is to design a game that appeals
broadly in a general sense. Then, you have to make deep experiences
which tend to appeal more narrowly. An example of this is PvE and PvP.
There are people who hate PvE and people who hate PvP – each
may never believe that the other has value. So, if your game does not
cater to both, then you will lose one or the other. However, making a
deep PvP experience can not isolate the PvE players and vice versa. I
also believe that if you design them well, most people will actually
try both. I know I do.

Ten Ton Hammer: What sort
of storyline should we expect from Jumpgate
? Space combat simulators are notorious for being
high on the action, but low on the story. Do you think this is true for
all the games in the genre? How is Jumpgate

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann: This is an
area where we have been a bit scarce on sharing information.
We’re lucky in the sense that we have a rich history to draw
from as well as an excellent writer who is creating a compelling story
for us. I feel that reveling a story before it is complete is a
dangerous thing to do. If we have to change something early on because
of something we need to change towards the end, we will be sending out
a confusing message. So the answer is, yes, you can expect a great
story, but we are being deliberately quiet about it.

I think a lot of MMOs are “story light” because
players want to get to the “end” of the game. I
know that people play World
of Warcraft
Everquest 2
and never read any of the stories. Does this
mean the game has a weak story, or is it that players don’t
want a strong story? I don’t know the answer to that. Both of
those games have a rich story and spent a lot of time writing thousands
of pages of text. I also think that the nature of MMOs is that you are
constantly in contact with other real people who have their own
experiences and stories. This makes it harder to tell an immersive
linear story – and I think that’s fine, actually.
What is not fine is to have a world that seems flat and meaningless, or
to make it so linear that you lose all the MMOness of it.

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This is NetDevil's
second space-based MMOG.

Ten Ton Hammer: There
seem to be a large swath of companies that are considering (or have
considered) making an online, space-based combat game. Will style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution

stand out from the crowd when it is finally released? How and why will
this be the case?

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann: I think we
have one large advantage in that this is our second time making a space
MMO. I don’t think any other team has that advantage. If you
look at other companies with successful titles, they tend to do better
with their second shot. Think about the evolution of style="font-style: italic;">Halo to style="font-style: italic;">Halo 2, or style="font-style: italic;">Quake to style="font-style: italic;"> Quake 2, or style="font-style: italic;">Warcraft to style="font-style: italic;">Warcraft 2…
and on and on. I think the appeal of making a space MMO comes primarily
from two sources. The first is the unusual level of success that EvE
has enjoyed in a brutally competitive field. The second is the fear of
going head to head with World
of Warcraft
. So, if you are a publisher or developer and
you don’t want to compete with WoW and you are worried about
unproven genres, space seems like a pretty good choice.

Our motivation is that the space genre was our first love and
it’s an area we have years of experience in. I feel confident
that our second offering into the genre will be better than the first.
This doesn’t mean that the original game isn’t
good, it simply means that if we are doing a good job we should get
better and better with time and iteration.

Ten Ton Hammer: How much
bigger do you anticipate the development crew becoming? Will there be
more additions to the team as you get closer to launch?

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann: As big as
it needs to be and no bigger. Honestly I try and listen to the needs of
the team as opposed to following some arbitrary design and content org
chart. Working backwards is a difficult thing to do. If you know you
want to have features x, y and z; and then you assume they will take
this long and such and such expertise, that’s fine. If you
think that at the beginning of a game development cycle that you can
stick with that without it changing, you are delusional. There is one
thing that doesn’t change in game development and that is
that you don’t know what problems you are going to have
before you begin the project. Will content development work the way you
expect? If not, do you need more content producers? Will a certain set
of features actually be twice as hard? If so do you need more
programmers than artists? If you don’t have a flexible hiring
methodology, how can you possibly manage these things that can, and
will, come up. It’s possible that I’m just really
bad at my job in that I can’t anticipate these things
perfectly, but I suspect that it’s not something that can be
done very well and the games that end up being the best are the ones
that take a “work on it until its done” approach
coupled with a “work on the stuff that matters”
mentality. If you go and read the Diablo 2 post mortem it’s
reasonably instructional in these areas.

Ten Ton Hammer: When will
we start seeing some more "concrete" pieces of information about
Jumpgate Evolution? It'd be interesting to see some specifications on
particular ships and how they might affect your maneuverability,
firepower, etc.

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann: Would it?
Ok, the base starter ship has a thrust of 75,800 right now. One of the
upgrades has a value of 90,000. The first ship has 2 size 1 weapon
hardpoints and the second one has 2 size 2 hardpoints. Ok, sorry,
I’m being silly. What I can tell you is that we are making
strong types of ships. For example, the light fighters will be light,
maneuverable and have moderate amounts of firepower. The heavy fighters
will tend to be less maneuverable but be able to carry larger weapons
and missiles. Cargo tows will be able to carry significantly more cargo
(i.e. think order of magnitude), but not be the best things in a fire
fight. Mining vessels will be somewhere in between fighters and cargo
tows. Thus they are good at mining and carry more cargo than light
fighters, but are not as good at combat. Within the combat ships are
also various types. For example one class of ship may have a lot of gun
hard points but have fewer missiles – sort of like a jet
fighter. Then we will have the bomber types of ships which will be much
more missile heavy. Within that are different types of guns and
missiles which each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

I think it’s pretty hard to get a sense of this without
playing the game, which leads to the question of “Ok, so when
can we play?” which brings us to the “when
it’s ready” answer. *smiles* I understand the
frustration here, but I can tell you that there is a good reason for
it, and that is that I don’t believe that features will save
you. I can think of, and won’t mention, many examples of MMOs
that have tons of features that I never cared about because the core of
the game just wasn’t any fun. So the question is, which is
more important? You need to have a certain number of features to have
longevity, but you absolutely need to have a fun core mechanic to have
a shot at all. I think a game with rich features, but poor basic game
play fails immediately. A game with great gameplay but not enough
features fails immediately. A game with rich features and great
gameplay succeeds for a long time. So in my mind the order of
development should be great gameplay -> rich features.
There’s another reason for this which is that until you have
great gameplay how can you evaluate whether you have enough features?
Do you ever find yourself thinking “Wow. This game sucks, but
it has 15 features so I’ll keep playing anyway.” I
know I don’t. Features are the temptation of the
devil… they always seem so much sweeter and juicier than the
tedious thing you are working on right now. It’s takes a lot
of patience and self restraint to spend 50 iterations on a mouse flight
mechanic when what you really want to do is add multi-pilot
battleships. Giving in to that temptation opens you to the risk of
having crappy flight controls for that mediocre multi-pilot battleship

Ten Ton Hammer: 
What sort of hopes do you have for
Jumpgate Evolution
? What would be your optimal scenario,
aside from the game finding millions of users?

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann: Honestly I
don’t understand the “revolutionize the
industry” motivation. When I was not “in the game
industry” I just played games and wished there were more fun
ones. I didn’t understand why so many games just
weren’t any fun. Now that I am “in” the
industry I think I have a better understanding as to why there are so
few really fun games. It’s because making a fun game is very,
very hard. There are lots of great ways to make bad games.
What’s worse is very talented hard working people can make
really bad games – so a bad game is not the result of a bad
development team, company, or whatever. It’s much more subtle
than that. So for me the goal is and always will be to make a great
game – how do I know the game is great? Easy. People play it.
As much as elitist game developers want to talk about the sort of
abstract value of popular vs. good games, the reality is that most top
selling games also score very well with both the press and the public.
That is not coincidence. Once in a while there will be a game that is
really great (i.e. rated highly) but fails to see… and of
course there are games that sell like mad but get panned by critics. I
can’t do anything about anomalies and it’s always
possible that we make a great game but it doesn’t see
– just as it possible that we make a game that gets panned
but it sells a zillion copies. I don’t count on either of
those. I count on the fact that if you make am enjoyable and immersive
gaming experience people will want to buy it. If you don’t,
they wont.

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Without actually
playing the game, it's a bit difficult to grasp how many of the ships
work in Jumpgate.

Ten Ton Hammer: What is
the actual release date for Jumpgate?
When do you think players will start getting into the beta testing
portion of the game?

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann:
I’ll tell you the exact release date the day after the game
ships J. We’re planning on a 2nd half of 2008 release and
that’s as accurate as I can be right now. Beta will be before
release. *smiles*

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there
anything else you'd like to tell the Ten Ton Hammer readers and style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate

style="font-weight: bold;">Hermann:
I’m just glad for the opportunity to talk about the game so
much with you guys. Probably our biggest struggle is that we do not
have a huge IP or the ability to place commercials with William Shatner
on the Sci-Fi channel (god, I love those!). We have to rely on grass
roots word of mouth which means that we have to make a game that is
that much better than the competition. I hope that we aren’t
being too boring or repetitive and that what we are doing seems
interesting and fun.

Do you have the desire to jump into the
depths of space to engage in some epic dogfighting? What else would you
like to know about Jumpgate
? href="">Let
us know on the forums!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Jumpgate Evolution Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016