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[Interview] JumpGate Evolution’s Hermann Peterscheck

Posted under Interviews by Chris Benson on Monday, December 21st, 2009 -

jumpgate

Not long after our interview with Hermann Peterscheck, the Lead Producer of JumpGate Evolution, we found out that he was leaving the company. While we had plenty of questions about that, we were also unsure of what to do with the interview we’d just finished. Should we go ahead and run it? Toss it in the trash?

In the end, we decided to post it, but not because it was informative. Sadly, quite the opposite.

It can be frustrating when you reach the end of an interview and realize that you have gained almost no new information from the exchange, be it due to equivocation, question dodging, or excellent PR skills. Let’s just say that Hermann left us pretty frustrated.

Should you infer some sort of problem with the game from this? That’s not at all what we’re saying; we decided to publish the original interview, in its entirety, so you can make up your own minds.

GD: For those of our readers who might not be overly familiar with Jumpgate Evolution, how would you describe the game? Just for fun, let’s say in 30 words or less.

Hermann: Jumpgate is a massively multiplayer space action combat game. It combines MMO elements with core gameplay similar to Freelancer, Wing Commander and Freespace.

GD: Will Jumpgate Evolution attempt to win over the coveted casual gamer demographic with any sort of social focus or avatar (ship) personalization typical of a casual-friendly title?

Hermann: Well, there’s a rather large assumption there which is that casual gamers are distinct from non-casual gamers and that the reason why is customization of avatars. Something that comes to mind is that the #1 facebook game (Farmville) doesn’t actually have any avatar customization or chat or anything other than a really fun and addictive progression system. The social elements of that game are all asynchronous. So that’s about 30 million people per month playing that game?

Maybe it sounds like I’m dodging the question but my point is that I think it’s dangerous to approach game development by placing players into buckets and associating features with those buckets. I think there ARE things that separate different types of players but it has much more to do with platform and time commitment than just about anything else (at least that’s what our research indicates). So-called “casual” players are casual because they can’t or won’t commit 20 hours a week to a game or, perhaps, they don’t have a super powerful computer, or they don’t want to reverse engineer complex systems in order to play a game.

So our approach is to make a game that looks good, runs well and is fun to play. I think that’s what the vast majority of people are looking for. Once you have that you also add rich and deeply rewarding systems and now you will have a game that attracts a large group of people. Naturally there will always be some audience that you reach and another that you don’t reach, but I don’t think that players are as exclusive as we like to think. My wife loves games like Diner Dash and Castle Crashers but she also likes Halo 3 PVP. I would argue what those games have in common is that they are fun to play.

GD: How do you plan to make Jumpgate stand out in a crowded MMO market, or differentiate the game from closer competitors such as Black Prophecy?

Hermann: That’s a very difficult question to answer, especially since I haven’t played Black Prophecy, although from what I have seen it looks really great! There’s this myth that somehow development time and cost is linearly correlated to game enjoyment. Anyone who played Tetris knows this is not the case. I think that as developers we should focus more on making our game as good as possible within the focus of what we are trying to do instead of just building a list of differentiating features and hoping that good marketing will make people buy it. I am 100% focused on creating a quality game experience for people and in some ways that will be similar to other games and in others it will be different. When I think about games from a player’s point of view I don’t really play a game and think “Ok. How is this game different than that other games I liked.” It happens on a much more emotional level. Usually I think “Wow! This is really awesome” or “Oh my god, this game sucks.” There’s actually very little in between. It’s only after I have those emotions that I can go back and analyze what it was that made me feel one way or another. More often than not what makes games stand out is the execution of the idea, not the idea itself. I hate to say it, but ideas are easy. There are so many MMOs that have tons of features and yet fail to succeed; similarly there are successful MMOs with very few features. I think in the end we need to keep our eye on the ball, which means focusing on making the game really awesome. When you approach your feature and content choices that way I think you are much more likely to stand out instead of trying to stand out by adding something that “no one else has.” The other thing, of course, is that the reason no one else is doing something may very well be that it’s not a good idea :). My short answer is, we will stand out by virtue of superior execution and not some list of features or content that players don’t really care about.

GD: In general, how will the PVE compare to the PVP? Also, It is a given that the PVE will have an ongoing storyline, but will the PVP have anything similar?

Hermann: We’re setting up the story to interact with the PVP elements of the game. PVP by nature is a less guided experience and so, yes, it doesn’t follow the same path as the PVE focused game, but it’s not just slapped on either. What we want to do is create an integrated, complete experience which allows people to do lots of different things. I think that in analysis we like to break games into small pieces and pull them apart, but when we actually play them, they should be a unified experience and that is the goal.

GD: How much of both the PVE and PVP will be playable solo? Will grouping be encouraged or enforced?

Hermann: I think it’s safe to say that a full featured MMO must have both compelling group and single player combat in both PvP and PvE game styles, so that is what we have to do. The game has a soloable story experience and instanced PvP allows solo players to just jump in and fight. On the group side we have more challenging PvE content as well as large scale PvP requiring more coordination in order to really be effective. I wouldn’t say we enforce grouping, but there’s certainly advantages to playing with other people.

GD: How will such a fast-paced, skill-based game handle group tactics and coordination in a 3D space?

Hermann: This is the core of the game and so it’s not something that is very easy to sum up in an answer on a page. We do lots of tests in order to try and make coordination easier and more intuitive, but it’s definately a more challenging area. Voice chat is one thing that does help, so having that integrated was an important step. We’ve also got lots of UI indicators to give players a sense of situational awareness. I expect that we will continue to add things that help in this regard.

GD: How will the game’s three playable nations differ from one another? Will each have their own strengths and weaknesses?

Hermann: Each nation has it’s own identity and story line. Also, the ships are quite a bit different, so there is a lot of replay value in that sense. We’ve elected to not give one nation a game play advantage over another because we didn’t want people to have to choose form and function simultaneously.

GD: Tell us something new about Jumpgate Evolution that we haven’t heard before.

Hermann: The longest last name of one of our developers has 16 letters in it.

GD: How close are you to announcing a firm release date? What is the current status of development?

Hermann: Each day brings us one day closer to being complete. J Currently we are spending a significant amount of time on improving the combat experience such as sound effects, AI behavior, UI enhancements etc. Once that’s tested with positive results, we will move into public testing. Like I said, every step of progress is one step closer to going public. We can’t wait to get everyone into the game.

GD: What kind of Zombie is Hermann Peterscheck?

Hermann: Spacefaring Zombie.

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