Jumpgate Evolution Interview (P3)

27 Nov 2008  by   Paul Younger
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Earlier this week we spoke to Jumpgate Evolution lead producer, Hermann Peterscheck, about everything from classes to the original Jumpgate servers. In the final part we discuss lore, IP and hardware.Well, that’s certainly helped clear a few things up, and it’s interesting that we don’t have to choose a class. Actually leading quite nicely to my next question which is about lore and background story. What’s the story here, what’s the background all about Hermann? What’s the pretence for the game?

HP: Basically there are three major nations which are Solrain, Octavian, and Quantar. These three groups were re-building the galaxy after a massive wipeout and that is what the original Jumpgate was about. This is a really good way to start an MMO actually because it allows you to have a lot of creative freedom.
Then there was the Conflux which were a race of aliens that no one really knew anything about. Then there was this group called the Amananth which are a super high-tech race which no one knew anything about.

Also what’s great is that we can build up the game the way we need and can be creative without having to be consistent to previous stuff.

The thing that is cool is that we’re trying to create some tension, and it’s not going to be obvious to you, but we want you to ask “who caused this event to happen?”, “what was their intention?”, “is it good or bad?”

And there is still the rebuilding story line which I mentioned earlier, but you’ve still got the Conflux flying around and pestering and frustrating people in the game. There is also a natural conflict, well, more of a tentative co-operation between these three nations which players will define in a lot of ways. Then you have the Amanath which we’ll discover a lot more in the game, and then there’s the Hyperial which will take a much stronger role. They’re like the inter-galactic pirates and they have their own agenda. What we plan to do, when the game launches, is to continue into the story deeper and deeper by adding more content into the game to stay ahead of the players.

You mentioned earlier Star Wars, and other Hollywood titles, as well as some books? What I want to know is what really influenced you most when creating this game, and I know we’re going back a couple of decades? I kind of feel there is a Douglas Adams influence here for some reason…

(Chuckles) How’s that?

Just because of the diversity of space and the missions you have. I’m half tempted to ask if you need a Babel Fish to speak to other factions.

(Laughs) I think that really recapitulating all the stuff you already know. There was no real main influence as such. What we wanted to achieve in particular areas is different, so let’s look at combat. What we wanted was large scale combat, so what we wanted was the last scene in Return of the Jedi where all those ships come in and there all battling and there are huge explosions, or the first scene of the last movie. We watch those scenes and we think “ Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to recreate that?”

To me a big part was also Freelancer to be honest. It always felt like Freelancer really had a very immersive, Han Solo type of experience, where you’d be going off and flying your own missions, you were on your own, you were moving a story forward, there was intrigue, you’re mining, you’re fighting. A lot of the MMO game mechanics tie closely to a game like Freelancer. I went back and played Freelancer, and that game, when you’re playing it you think to yourself that it would make a great MMO. It’s an MMO and no one else is around.

But it must be great to be able to create a game like this where you’re not fighting with a license holder about the IP and how you want to progress it. It’s your own game and you can draw the best bits from other games and add them to your own game without having to worry about copyright issues and the rest. You can make the story up too and not have to worry about how it fits into the IP. It must be a really good feeling?

IP is a double-edged sword. On one hand it gives you huge recognition, it gives you huge amounts of existing fiction to draw from so you don’t have to make everything up yourself. Depending on who the owner of the IP is, and I don’t know because I’ve not worked on a big IP, but I have heard stories, they dictate who much freedom you have. So you could have ten people sitting in a room and discussing some great content for a game, but there is always the risk that the IP owner will turn around and say that the idea doesn’t sit with the IP. To be fair IP owners have to protect their IP too as what you’re doing has affects them and their brand.

But it is nice to have that open book, but the downside is that you have to fill it.

Is that why then, it’s taken so long to get the game developed, because you want to have a compelling and driven storyline, beautiful graphics effects, a great game with loads of missions? And obviously to keep people subscribing is the other side of that, keeping them in the game for a reason?

That’s exactly right. One of the hardest things about games in general and MMOs in particular is that you can do everything right, but if you get a couple, or one thing wrong, the game is bad. That’s how it works. So you really have to hit all of the components just right in order to get people to forget that they’re in the real world, but in your world and they believe they’re there.

Speaking of subscriptions then, do you know how much subscription will cost? Is this something you’ve spoken about? We know it’s a monthly subscription game, but how much will it be? And as far as the business is concerned, how many subscribers are hoping for in order to break even?

I don’t think we’ve announced a business model. I’ll leave that to other people. There is always a huge debate about price points and the amount of people that need to subscribe in order to make it a successful business. Those are discussions that involve a lot more people than just me, so I don’t think we’ve announced a final business model.

I will say this though, it’s kind of funny, although it may seem like I’m dodging your question a little bit, but I remember something Blizzard was talking about with regards to subscriptions because there is a huge debate about free-to-play micro-trans monthly fees, etc. There are basically loads of different permutations of how you can monetise your game and I remember something they said that what you should do is make your game really really fun and then figure out what the proper way to monetise it would be.

For example, Diablo III I think will be exactly like Diablo II because that’s the kind of game it is and it works. I don’t really care how a company makes money on it’s game if I find the game fun. If the game is fun and I enjoy it, I don’t mind giving them my money in whatever form. If they start asking for too much money then I’ll stop playing and play something else.

Sometimes it feels like it becomes a manipulative conversation which takes the guise of ‘how can we trick people into paying us money?’ and rather than looking at it that way I like to think about it in the sense of ‘how do you get people not to mind supporting you financially?’ because these games are expensive to make and take a lot time, are high risk and cost a lot of money to run. The operational costs, the servers and everything else and after all it is a for profit business. The goal of a company is to get a return on the business, which I get, but I don’t mind the game that I love making money.

OK, cool. Well, I’ve got my last question here, and it’s a hardware one. Something which Jumgate Evolution is doing is supporting pretty much all flight sticks and peripherals that are currently on the market. How difficult was it to implement that?

It is difficult in the sense that you have to do a lot of double work in various places. So for example, how you control a game with a keyboard and mouse is completely different to how you control it with a joystick.

The way we’ve done is that we’ve done it from the beginning, and when you do it from the beginning you pay the price in small chunks over a longer period of time, instead of trying to add joystick support all at once at the last minute and run the risk of having the game not run with joysticks at all.

So it was a conscience decision from the start and it’s a lot of work, but it was definitely the right decision. I think it’s to do with the number of people you reach. A lot of people out there, and especially some of the people on the team, have really elaborate joystick set-ups. When you come out with a really cool space-sim combat game and you don’t support joysticks, people are going to think what’s the point. So I absolutely think it’s worth it and I think it defeats the point if you don’t have it.

Yeah, it’s not a huge mass market, but for the people that are interested, it’s a huge part. It’s also a bit of a geek thing, and we think it’s cool to support hardware, especially when people invest so much on joysticks. It’d be a shame if they couldn’t use them for the games that should really be supporting them. It really sucks.
It feels really weird, to me, to make a space-action flight-sim without supporting joysticks.

And it’s also fun to do that stuff you know, it kind of reminds me why I got into games. It can be very stressful and time consuming, but the bottom line is people get into this industry because they played games when they were kids and they want to make stuff that other people can enjoy. So when you get that feeling of achievement it’s unparalleled.

Well, that’s about all we have time for, but thank you so much for your time.

No worries, we’ll see you in game.

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