Interview With Producer Hermann Peterscheck
WarCry: Could you introduce yourself for the record? What is your name and your role on Jumpgate Evolution?
Hermann: My name is Hermann Peterscheck and I am the Producer on the project.
WC: JE still has the three player factions from the original Jumpgate: Octavius, Quantar, and Solrain. How has the world of Jumpgate changed since the first game? Are the three factions still pretty much the same or have there been changes within their ranks?
Hermann: We’re keeping the basic framework of the universe in place, although the physical location is completely different. We want to allow ourselves a fresh start so that we can make the changes we feel are necessary, but we also want to keep the same basic world structure. Think of the differences between Star Trek and The Next Generation. Same world, but very different flavor. The main focus has been on making the world richer and deeper. This includes making the nations have a stronger identity and getting more character and history in there. We have some really good ideas, thanks to Keith and everyone else, but it’s injecting that into the game that becomes the tricky part.
WC: Much of the fiction in JE is being penned by Keith Baker, the designer of the Eberron setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Will players be moving through a “story” of your creation? If not, how are you planning on revealing the fiction behind JE to players?
Hermann: It’s sort of in between. The problem with MMOs is that you have this massive world with lots of stuff going on so trying to create and evolve hundreds of different story lines is really hard. On the other side you need to have some kind of compelling things going on otherwise the world seems pointless. Thus in JGE there’s a mix of the two which enables players to always have something to do but still being able to look forward to a story that unfolds and evolves over time. The other nice thing about MMOs is that part of the game is continuously adding content and so we can keep moving the story forward post launch.
WC: The official JE site describes the combat as “a unique twitch-based combat system,” and joystick control is supported (as in the first game). Could you elaborate on this? Is the combat in JE closer to, say, TIE Fighter than a more “traditional” MMOG?
Hermann: Certainly. The main differentiator is that combat is fly and shoot a la TIE Fighter, Wing Commander or Freespace. Actually if you think about a game like Freelancer the mix of RPG elements, story and action game play lends itself very nicely to an MMO. I know that when I think about something like Freelancer online it sounds really fun, and that’s what we are trying to make.
WC: JE has a somewhat small development team-what would you say are some of the pros and cons of working in a team this size?
Hermann: We don’t really think of it that way; that is to say, it’s not that a team needs to be this many or that many people. I think the best development environment is as many people as you need to accomplish whatever goal you set for yourself. The thing about game development is that teams have become massive in order to keep pumping out the amount of content needed within a given time frame. A lot of this team size is an effort to trade team size for development time, which everyone in the software industry knows doesn’t work. As a producer I feel that it’s my job to keep the team as small as I can. My feeling is that as a small team you can respond to changes more quickly. It also is much easier to communicate ideas and visions and everyone has more buy in on the project.
Once you get to 30-50+ people jobs become a lot more about meetings and task lists as opposed to just making a great game. Another thing to keep in mind is while the actual number of developers is smaller than other studios our publishing partner (Codemasters Online) has people who do QA, Community management, Marketing, Customer services and so on. So if you add the development team to QA people, marketing and customer services people the numbers add up quickly. The other nice thing about a smaller team is that everyone can contribute which builds the excitement level… I think that if you have a team that is having fun and cares about what they are working on, that will show.
WC: Will JE consolidate its entire playerbase onto a single server a la the original Jumpgate and EVE Online? What are some of the benefits from this as opposed to a system with multiple servers (like more traditional MMOGs such as WoW or EQ)? What are some of the difficulties?
Hermann: Our servers are designed to handle between 2 and 3 thousand people per world, thus we will shard more like WoW or EQ. The reasons are both technical and game play. If you think about EVE, their game is built for one enormous server. The design and architecture is created to support this kind of world. Imagine WoW with 2 million people in one area waiting for a world boss to re-spawn… that doesn’t sound very fun to me. Also there are issues like number of packets per player per second. In an action combat game, that is much higher than a more strategy based game and so that has to be taken into account as well. At the end of the day I don’t think there is a better or worse way to handle it, it’s really an issue of the kind of game.
WC: When building the game, what did you want to take from the first Jumpgate and what did you want to omit or improve?
Hermann: We really wanted to keep the core game play of flying and shooting, that’s the heart of the game. We also wanted to keep the sense of exploration, team work, and a more player driven world. So I guess it’s a question of the feeling of the game. Improvements are always challenging, because you don’t necessarily know what constitutes improvement until you try something. Much of game design is try it and see if it works, then iterate. So we did a lot of early testing with the game to try and figure out what worked and what didn’t work. Then it’s just a question of exploring more options and seeing what it is people respond to.
The obvious stuff is something like a new graphics engine. People expect some level of visual quality and if you do not hit that, you turn a lot of people away. At the same time, you want to be sure that your game runs well on low and mid range hardware in order to ensure the broadest possible market is reached. The other thing we wanted to make sure is that space felt full. So early on we knew we needed a complete and dynamic AI system to achieve that.
WC: How much of the game’s content are you leaving up to players? Will they be able to create and run their own institutions or will there be a more rigid framework, and if yes how will that work?
Hermann: We want to let players do as much as possible. That being said there are always limitations to what you can do in a game – some of these are practical things like time and money . Others are game design issues. Imagine if you let players make their own missions. If they get to assign experience and money rewards, you have a potential balance and exploit nightmare. Player created content is the same kind of thing. How do you deal with offensive material? How do you deal with people submitting so much stuff that game clients start to get poor performance?
Every design choice has consequences and I think it’s really important for developers to consider what is best for the game, and something that is not what is the most obvious thing. Things like guilds and groups and so on are well established. “Housing” or its space counterpart is also something that has been done, so those are areas we want to get into. There are lots of ideas floating around internally so it’s just a question of how many we can do, and how many of them actually work.
WC: What part of the game do you personally find the most entertaining at the moment? Why?
Hermann: Fighting big stuff. I’m not sure why. I suppose it’s because that’s what I like in science fiction movies. It’s great to be in a quick and dirty dogfight, but nothing is more fun than taking out some giant station, watching it go boom, and then picking up the loot .
WC: Where would you like to see Jumpgate Evolution in five years?
Hermann: Running well with tons of happy players! Seriously, the goal of any MMO developer is to make a compelling game world that players enjoy for many years. Very few games actually accomplish this and so to be able to reach that goal would be very rewarding. There are also TONS of things we want to add, but I’ll leave speculation for later. Right now we have to focus on what we’re doing now.
WC: As you ramp up for beta, is there anything else you’d like to let readers know?
Hermann: I think we’ve covered a lot of it!
Thank you for your time!