When you’re on a roll, you just want to share your success with the world.
NetDevil, recently pulling in 150,000 sign-ups for the Jumpgate Evolution beta,
has a lot of good news to share these days. MPOGD.com chatted with Hermann
Peterscheck, Producer for Jumpgate Evolution, to get his thoughts about where
development of NetDevil’s sci-fi space-based MMO game is heading and how it fits
in with the insanely competitive massively multiplayer online game space.
MPOGD: It was announced in November that NetDevil had achieved 150K beta
tester sign-ups. Do you know how many of these folks are going to be allowed in
during the first round of beta testing? Do you have a date for the start of open
PETERSCHECK: No to both of those. In terms of the numbers of people,
it’ll be the way betas are normally run. You start small and you put your toes
in to make sure everything works when you let people in from the outside. Then
we’ll grow that to test log-in infrastructure, land-rushing, first areas, and so
forth. I don’t know exactly how many people that will be at this point. I see it
as a reactionary process. If they find a bunch of stuff that’s terrible, then
you take more time to fix it. If everything’s great, you let in a bunch more
MPOGD: In closed testing and in live public demos, where has the
community been the most vocal about the development of Jumpgate Evolution?
PETERSCHECK: That’s actually a really interesting question, because I was
expecting it to be much more varied based on where we’re testing. But it is
fairly unified. We literally go to GameStop and say, “Hey, you guys want to test
the game?” and the people there are “Yeah, cool!” Then we’ll bring them to the
office and let them play for an hour. Then we go to PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) or
fan events and let people play there. The common response is that the game is
pretty accessible to play and the mechanics are fun. The core game play is
This is why I think more extensive beta testing is so important. What do people
do next? There’s a lot of meat in the game that’s there, but in an hour you
can’t really get to it. In an hour-long playtest, you’re kind of rushed in an
MMO. I think people are curious how we’re going to keep them for 10, 20, 40, 100
or a 1,000 hours. The response has been, “This is cool. I want to play more.”
That’s a great sign we’re ready to go into that kind of testing.
(With Jumpate Evolution), people seem to be surprised how easy it is to jump in
and play. I think there’s an expectation that, especially with space games, they
are really hard, difficult to get into and very serious. We’re making a game
that’s trying to go for accessibility, so you can sit down and play with a
joystick, a mouse or whatever input device desired.
MPOGD: Jumpgate Evolution looked spectacular at PAX on the high-end
gaming rigs you had set up, which is to be expected. However, you’d mentioned
you’re trying for a mainstream audience. So, how different will the Jumpgate
Evolution experience be for players on low-end PCs compared to those on high-end
PETERSCHECK: Surprisingly, it’s not that big of a difference. Where the
main difference comes in is if you have a graphics card that doesn’t support
shaders, for example. We don’t have any shaders that are super advanced. We’re
not doing anything visually that’s really, really advanced. We’ve tried to keep
(performance baselines) relatively low, and then add things as we go.
For example, our minimum specification box has a GeForce 2 (video card) and it
runs the game well. The framerate is always important. Because of the way we’re
doing sky boxes – the background imagery – that’s relatively the same. So you
get some differences with things like the jumpgate effect, which is a cool
shader, so that doesn’t look quite as good or quite as advanced. Little things
like that are different, of course.
What I look at as the benchmark is, I look at comparative games on that same
spec and make sure we exceed that, and I thin k we’ve managed to do that now. So
it’s really an issue if you have a card that doesn’t do shaders, then you’re
kind of used to not seeing shaders. Obviously, when we demo the game, we want to
turn everything up as high as we possibly can. If you’re partnering with
hardware vendors and they’re really awesome to work with, then you want to take
advantage of their high end stuff. This is what drives the industry forward.
It’s not like we want to hold back there either. We’ve tried really hard to make
it when you have a high-end system, you can turn everything up a notch. If you
don’t, maybe you can’t see as far, but the game is still visually compelling. We
built it to look good on that spec, then crank it up, as opposed to building a
game for a monster rig then turning everything down.
MPOGD: What hardware vendors are you partnering with right now, as far as
you are aware?
PETERSCHECK: We work with a lot of them. I can tell you we talk to Saitek,
a joystick providers; we talk to the various video card providers, Intel, IBM
and guys like them. I think for companies like them, games are not only cool,
they push things (for them) in ways other applications don’t. For a game like
Jumpgate Evolution, a space-action game, companies that do things like joysticks
and other peripherals are very excited. Also, I feel that genre has been ignored
for a while.
MPOGD: NetDevil has dabbled with PhysX, physics simulation technology in
the past. Are you going to be using a more demanding realistic physics model or
more arcade-style control for the sake of more accessibility?
PETERSCHECK: I’d say we’re somewhere in between. The flight engine is
about physics. It definitely works on “force equals mass times acceleration.” If
you bump into things, they exert force on you and push you back. In order to
make the flight more responsive, to make it feel more like it’s underwater,
rather than in space, you add drag. By changing things like drag, we can make an
experience that feels more under control. We spent a lot of time tweaking that
exact thing, to make sure it felt like a ship still. So it wasn’t like you push
“W” to move forward, then you stop when you let go. It’s not like that at all.
Certainly, it’s a flight engine where you feel like you’re flying around. At the
same time, you don’t have to be an astronaut to control the ship moving around
One of the things we did to appease the religious war about how realistic a
flight engine should be. We have a switch to turn off the dampening, so you can
fly in a much more unconstrained way. It turns out it’s actually really fun to
be able to switch between those two things, based on what you’re doing. For
example, if you’re in combat and you need to quickly fly backwards while
shooting behind you, you can turn off your dampeners, swing around, fire behind
you, turn dampeners back on and get away. It added a really cool style to the
game play, and it wasn’t originally intended for that reason. I was expecting
people would play one way or the other, but once they learned that option was
there, they switched between them, so it became an alternate kind of game play.
It’s not really an issue of either being purists or arcade-y. It’s about being
Then, of course, different ships have different control. If you have a cargo
hauler, it should control more like a semi truck, than if you have a light
fighter, which should control more like a Ferrari. If you have a cargo hauler
and it controls like a Porsche, it’s really alienating. It goes against your
expectations. You expect that thing to be hard to turn.
MPOGD: Going back to PAX, what updates for Jumpgate Evolution have you
been working on since then?
PETERSCHECK: We’ve been doing a lot of work on how PvP will work. There
was PvP at PAX, but there wasn’t organized PvP. Also, we’re making more content
through the level ranges, such as more sectors, more different enemies, more
playable ships, more weapons and so on. As one random example of one of our
updates, we have a mortar weapon that does area effect damage, which is really
cool. So, you can sit back at 4 kilometers and fire this bullet and all the
ships in the area take damage.
50% is still iterating on thousands and thousands of random, little bugs. I
think the unsung hero of the game development process is all that the time we
spend on the minutiae. It’s never on the back of the box; it’s never on the
attached notes; it’s never anywhere, but it makes all the difference in the
MPOGD: What is the development path for Jumpgate Classic, as Jumpgate
Evolution development continues forward? Do you expect player cannibalization?
Is there a path to migration you’ve created for Classic to Evolution?
PETERSCHECK: In one sense if there was no Classic, there’d be no
Evolution. Evolution exists because we had that game to start with and there was
an existing group of people interested in it. When you finish one game – in this
case Auto Assault – and you start thinking, “What do I want to do next,” a
number of different ideas come up. If you go deeper into something you’ve
already done and built well, you’ll probably do it better the second time.
That’s what Jumpgate Evolution represents, taking the original game, expanding
it and making it better. People react different to that, because some people
have played Classic for seven years – or longer if they were in the beta.
They’re very attached to all the details of the game, so changing those things
is very upsetting sometimes. I understand that and I am sensitive to it.
Most of the people who show up at these events we go to are Classic players.
They check out Evolution and give feedback, and it’s interesting to hear their
opinion. They’re mostly really supportive of Jumpgate Evolution.
As far as transitioning people from one game to the other, I don’t know how
we’re going to do that as far as what we’re going to offer in particular. I
suspect almost all of the Classic players are going to at least try it. I’d be
surprised if they didn’t. If not, we have no intention of turning (Jumpgate
Classic) off. I don’t like destroying people’s hangouts and people’s
experiences. You pour seven years into something and somebody turns it off, that
really sucks. Our motivation isn’t so much, “If we release this game, will we
cannibalize these other players?” It’s more about making games that are fun that
MPOGD: With Warhammer Online and Wrath of the Lich King out right now,
has it sucked a lot of the air out of the room for most other online game
developers? By that, I mean has it forced NetDevil to alter your development in
any way to be able to compete for MMO gamers?
PETERSCHECK: On one hand, the audience is larger. World of Warcraft is
most of that, sucking in millions of people that weren’t playing MMO games
before now at least play WoW. How many of those translate into other games, I
don’t know. Companies don’t tend to be very public with their numbers unless
they are astronomical. My gut feeling is the MMO game market is growing. The
interest in MMOs is increasing into larger and larger groups of people. I think
there are (still) a lot of people who are potential MMO players that don’t even
know what an MMO is. Most people have never heard of an MMO. If you ask someone
“hey, what MMO are you playing,” they won’t know what you’re talking about
except in Korea.
As far as competitiveness is concerned, it’s hard because MMOs are so engaging
and people have so much ownership in them, that pulling them away from one to
the other has proven to be very challenging. It’s actually easier for us,
because we’re competing directly for your entertainment dollar and your
entertainment hour. In that sense, we compete with Call of Duty, Grand Theft
Auto, World of Warcraft, every game.
I think by making MMO games that open new genres or styles of game play, not
only is it more fun to try to do something different instead of copying everyone
else, but it also gives you an opportunity to place yourself into an audience
that is completely unserved. There are some people who have played Privateer or
Freelancer and so on, and they want an (MMO) game but don’t have one. If you
give them one, they’ll play it, right? Maybe they don’t want to play WoW. Or,
they might be playing WoW and want to play this, too.
MPOGD: Recently in an interview, Bioware’s Greg Zeschu said that game
developers trying to appeal to a broader and broader audience, has caused
consequence has to leave gaming, including online games – and that Star Wars:
The Old Republic will remedy that. Do you feel this criticism applies to
Jumpgate Evolution. If not, how do you feel Jumpgate Evolution goes against that
PETERSCHECK: I think that statement is true, depending on how you make
your game. If you’re trying to appeal to a broad audience, that has implications
in technical terms and game design and so on.
I look at it like this: I played Ultima Online, which has the most brutal death
penalty ever. You dropped all your stuff, and anybody could pick it up –
monsters, players, anything – and I played the hell out of that game. I played
EverQuest, where the death penalty was slightly less (severe). You lost
experience, but you kept your stuff if you could manage to get back to your
corpse. Slowly, over time, the death penalty has gotten less and less (severe),
because it’s been proven through numbers that the more people you kick in the
face, the fewer people who play your game. Then, there’s all these people, who
feel there’s no danger getting in the ring, that I might get knocked out, then
the fight’s not very fun.
One of the things I loved in Diablo II was the Hardcore mode with permanent
death. I loved playing that way. But, if it was the only thing Diablo II had,
I’d have quit long before. I think the key is to give people compelling choices
and you have to proportionately reward them for increasing the level of
difficulty in the game. For example if you’re going to do something like a
hardcore mode, where if you die you lose half your experience and items drop,
make the experience points double or make the loot drops bigger or put some
giant medal in the dude’s chest so he can show off. I think the word “easy” and
“hard” (in games) is wrong. I think it’s “rewarding” versus “punishing”. I think
we’re seeing that games that are rewarding are more popular than games that are
punishing. I’d say that WoW is not easy. Very few people have gotten to the end
of WoW; very few people are in the top tier arena; very few people have killed
the end bosses. It’s really, really hard to do that, but it’s not punishing and
it doesn’t make you wish you hadn’t played. I think there’s strong value there.
Imagine if you could World of Warcraft, and you played a dungeon and you elected
to play it hardcore. So that means, if I die, I lose a level and I drop a random
item. But, if I win, my chance of getting that rare loot drop is times ten. I
think a lot of people would do that. That would be very punishing, but I elected
it; because I elected it, I wouldn’t mind so much. In that sense, yes, he’s
right. If you dumb everything down and make it easy, we’re all going to be
playing “Progress Quest”. At the same time, if death is permanent in every MMO
game, we’re going to have a couple hundred users.
MPOGD thanks Hermann Peterscheck for his time and insight into Jumpgate
Evolution and the increasingly interesting and complex MMO game industry!