Jumpgate Evolution Interview with Hermann Peterscheck


In 2001, NetDevil got their start on the MMO scene with Jumpgate. While the game continues to run to this day, it has always existed quietly in the background. It never caught on like CCP’s EVE Online, nor did it suffer a public meltdown like EA’s Earth and Beyond. Jumpgate was always just there. Now, six years later, NetDevil returns to the space genre with Jumpgate Evolution.

Since Jumpgate’s launch, NetDevil has built Auto Assault with NCSoft. It too was a commercial failure but unlike Jumpgate, it didn’t survive. The game was shut down earlier this year. Undeterred, NetDevil promptly announced the acquisition of the LEGO MMOG license and a PhysX driven online FPS, Warmonger. Jumpgate though remained close to their hearts and so, six years after the original game went to market, they have decided to give it another try.

“The more we thought about it the more we thought we could probably make a really good space game,” explained Producer Hermann Peterscheck. “What would it be like if we could do it again with the knowledge and resources we have now?”

Jumpgate Evolution is not an update or patch to the original game. Technically, it’s more like a sequel. The original game runs smoothly for its small but devoted fanbase, and the development and eventual release of Evolution will not change that. NetDevil has taken what worked in Jumpgate and hopes to mould that into a modern, AAA MMOG experience.


The new game sets itself apart from games like EVE Online through its emphasis on action-oriented space combat. Where EVE Online’s combat is more analogous to naval battles, Jumpgate aims to corner a brand of combat derived from aerial dog-fights.

“The thing we’re trying to nail is that it’s a space combat action MMO,” Peterscheck said. “[Our combat] is skill based combat, certainly.”

Make no mistake, Jumpgate Evolution is an RPG. Player characters/ships advance, but the actual combat definitely requires active player skill. Players need to advance and level up to buy bigger guns, shields and other ship upgrades. That doesn’t mean they don’t still aim their own guns.

“If I hit you it’s because I actually hit you, but how much damage I do is based on the equipment I have,” he explained.


In some ways, that is the epitome of a true RPG experience. Like real life, people need the proper equipment to excel and Jumpgate Evolution is no different. They want to give people the chance to be a space pilot in a science-fiction universe, just as they did in the original game. Peterscheck admits, though, that they often took that too far.

“It’s ok if someone plays the game, doesn’t like it and then doesn’t play anymore. It’s not ok if they cannot learn how to play.”

That’s why the emphasis is now firmly on accessibility. Take for example the flight mechanics of Jumpgate. They created realistic physics, a virtual simulation of space that was so exact that a joystick was practically the only way to play. This is something many die-hard fans loved, but obviously this time, they hope to attract a few more subscribers. To that end, they’ve put in two versions of space flight. There is a simplified version for the average player and an advanced engine for those who really want the full experience.


Unlike the first time, they’re now a company that has created a number of products and this has changed how they approach development. Like many companies, they see the value of a constantly playable version of the game. Right now, Peterscheck says, the game can be played and if a patch breaks it, they fix that before they move on. They want to get a handle on how everything works together, rather than stitching it together at the last minute as is so often done.

This allows for a greater emphasis on accessibility and play testing. He told us that they frequently have people into the office for what he called silent focus tests. They just give them the game, let them go and tell them nothing. Then, they analyze where people got lost, bored or stuck and make sure to fix it. Real gamers don’t have designers over their left shoulder when they first play.

NetDevil also has the advantage of their six year old game to go back to as an example of what was good and what was not. For example, players frequently complained that the universe just seemed so devoid of life when there were not many players around. As such, a centerpiece of the new project is an advanced, reactive AI system that makes Jumpgate’s universe active, not just a series of spawns for players to farm.

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“We created a separate AI server that handles all the behaviors of all the opponents in the game,” Peterscheck said. “It’s a way for us to make the world more engaging.”

“Advanced AI” is a tagline most every game ever launched has thrown on the box, so what does it really mean for Jumpgate Evolution? Peterscheck explained how they did simple things. For example, if one station is low on a particular product, it calls out for it and then other stations send cargo ships, loaded with the stuff. These ships must physically fly from station to station and that fact does more than just make the world seem alive, it created content for players.

To one player, that ship can represent an easy mark for piracy. To another, it might be vital that the resource reach his home station and he defends it. And what if that pirate decided to take a shot? Well, the hauler certainly cannot fight him off, so off goes a distress call. Support, real or virtual speeds that way and an impromptu dogfight is underway.


Peterscheck noted that the most advanced AI has to have the simplest of rules. The more they define things, the more “A” and the less “I” there is. As such, they have created many of these simple little frills, but each with an eye towards the depth of the player experience.

As advanced as AI can be, Jumpgate Evolution still has a significant reliance on player vs. player. While they no longer feature completely free for all PvP – Peterscheck noted that was one of the hurdles to the original’s accessibility – they do continue to emphasize the importance of PVP.

Now the game features safe and dangerous areas of space, like so many other MMOs. However, they hope to create a situation where players feel free to explore both options equally. Too often, he believes, PvP is a kind of fork in the road. In Jumpgate, both PvE and PvP are viable forms of advancement and pose their own unique challenges. He provided the example of scale.

“The original Jumpgate was very much a single pilot vs. single pilot scenario,” he noted. In Jumpgate Evolution, players can expect epic encounters. They made it a goal to ensure players could live out the epic battles of science-fiction literature and film in their game. That means, in PvE, players can expect epic raids, while in PvP, fleet battles are in order.


Visually, the original Jumpgate was never really a looker. NetDevil has learned their lesson and hopes to create a product that is visually inspiring, but also technologically realistic. Their goal is to craft a world people want to live in.

“Nothing breaks immersion like a game that doesn’t work,” he said. For this reason, Peterscheck quite honestly admitted that they had simply copied World of Warcraft’s minimum system requirements. It’s an industry standard and he believes they achieved a good balance of technical accessibility and visual quality. He hopes Jumpgate Evolution can do the same.

“All games with bad frame-rates are bad games,” he added. It has to work and for them it’s much easier to make a game that works on low-end machines, but can be dialed up, then to make a game for high end machines then try to dial it back down.


The emphasis on low system requirements does not mean it’s ugly. The advantage of a space game is that there is no horizon, no trees to render and no grass to draw. With few environmental concerns, the ships take the day and to date their screenshots show an attractive game that can compare to EVE Online.

Jumpgate Evolution is a game about the experience of a pilot in space, but that doesn’t mean that the economy and management aspects were ignored.


“We want to create a floating economy, so trade is a much bigger part of it,” he said. There is a much bigger emphasis on loot, items, collection and trade. These factors were largely marginalized in their first attempt, but are an important part of the genre they now embrace.

For NetDevil, a remake of a commercially mixed game seems like a risk, but Peterscheck was unfazed by the challenge.

“If you’re risk adverse, you shouldn’t be in the gaming industry,” he said bluntly. “At the end of the day, you have to do the game that you want to make.”

Jumpgate Evolution is currently in early Alpha and NetDevil hopes to launch the finished product in the second half of 2008.

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