Netdevil is probably most known for Auto Assault, their (literally) car-driven futuristic MMO that was published by NCSoft but only lasted a year due to low player numbers, but before that, they created a game called Jumpgate, a very early 3D MMO that featured real-time space combat simulation inside a virtual world. Next year, they're headed back into the Jumpgate universe with Jumpgate Evolution, a completely new game based on the old one, and Massively got a chance to sit down with Hermann Peterscheck, lead producer of the upcoming game, to talk about what Netdevil is up to.

The game is still in fairly early development, so there aren't a lot of specific gameplay details to go around-- Netdevil is still working on most of the core development plans. But we did hear from Peterscheck about how Netdevil plans to bounce back from Auto Assault, how they'll make JE different from that other big space MMO everyone's already playing, and we even got a chance to toss a few questions at him from you, our readers-- a huge thank you to reader Excelsior, who was able to get us questions from current Jumpgate players to ask here.

The exclusive Massively interview with Jumpgate Evolution's lead producer starts right after the jump.



Massively: Have you worked for Netdevil for a while? What's your history with them?

Hermann Peterscheck, Producer of Jumpgate Evolution: Well, I've known the owners since they started the original Jumpgate, and I worked a little bit on that, but I wasn't employed by the company until about five years ago -- it's actually just five years this month. And I was hired as a programmer on Auto Assault, and after Auto Assault, I became the producer on this project, which is sort of a second game in the Jumpgate universe, if you will. And I was really excited to get back into that world. So I've sort of been involved with Netdevil in one way or another since really the company started.

Have you worked on any other MMOs besides Jumpgate and Auto Assault?

Nope, that's it. The thing that's kind of funny about MMOs in that regard is that I know people that have been in the MMO industry for ten years and have never shipped a game. They take so long to make, and volatility is relatively high in respect to percentage of completion, and then beyond that, the success rate means that you can work a long time in the MMO industry and just never ship. So it's brutal that way.

Let's start with Jumpgate then-- what was the reasoning behind it? What was the point of it, I guess?

Really, it came sort of out of Scott Brown, he's one of the founders of the company-- he was a huge Elite fan, he was a huge Star Wars fan, he loves space and all that kind of stuff. So he wanted to make a game that sort of recreated the scenes in Star Wars, and have the same experience as kind of an Elite type game, but with more people. We were all sort of into online games early on, even before there were MMOs, really-- you know, the old Compuserv stuff and Warbirds, and I was heavy into MUDs at the time, and Jumpgate was the result of that. We didn't even know that we were making an MMO per se, because the word "MMO" didn't really exist when we started putting it together -- this is all pre-Ultima Online stuff. But the idea was just that we wanted to play a combat game with a lot of people, not just 32, but like 100 or 200. And Scott just really started working nights in his basement, while he had a quote-unquote "real" job during the day, and then he would work on Jumpgate at night with a couple of other friends, and then eventually he started Netdevil to make Jumpgate. And it released in 2001. I think at the end, when it shipped, there was like six or seven people in the whole company. And then from that, MMOs started to heat up more, so we did Auto Assault, and then from that...

Well let's not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, what do you think were your successes with Jumpgate? What do you think you did best with it?

Well, to be honest, just finishing an MMO. It's really, really hard. So just all the things that we learned in the process of making it were incredibly valuable lessons. And for me, it's succeeded in the sense that we had hundreds of people online playing it, and they had a good time, and the combat was really fun-- it was very heavily sort of PvP-centered. But it had things like, you know, mining and supply and demand, and economy, and a sort of rudimentary quest system. And there was a wingman system so that you could fly on the wing-- the game's still alive, so you could still play it. We sort of created those early features that became much more fleshed out and core to the MMO experience. And I think on that level, the game was very successful, and we learned a lot doing that.

And then, Auto Assault. I'm excited to talk with someone from Netdevil about Auto Assault, because the question I have is probably the same question other people have: what went wrong? I played it, I liked it, and it seemed like there were some really good ideas, but you just didn't have the players. What happened there?

That's something that we've talked about for, of course, you can imagine, lots and lots of hours. Scott and I did a postmortem at OGDC last year, and you can probably look that up online, and that outlines some of the things that we think we could have done better perhaps. In general, I think that for one thing you really don't know what's going to succeed and what isn't. As a company, we've sort of deliberately avoided making the standard sort of fantasy MMO. We don't have any of those in the works currently, and since we're a 10-year-old MMO developer, I think we're one of the few third-party MMO developers who haven't gone down the traditional road. City of Heroes is another example, and that was a successful example, right? So you don't really know when you're making a game how it's going to be received by people, but some of the things that sort of were tricky in Auto Assault is that we were trying to create sort of innovative gameplay -- you're mixing a car game, which has car mechanics that are integral to car games, racing, driving around, cars that drive at different rates. And on top of that, we had skills that you could cast, and then there were physics-- it was a very heavily physics motivated game, so you could destroy everything and drive through stuff, and so on. Those three things seperately are pretty well established things that you can do, but when you throw them all together, it makes the game hard for people to play in their head.

So the elevator pitch in Auto Assault was "Diablo in cars"-- you have lots of random loot, you have skills, you advance, it's an RPG, but you're in a car. Trying to capture the sort of auto duel/car wars kind of thing. But it turns out that doing things like making an interface that's intuitive so you can both drive and shoot and cast skills at the same time -- that's really hard. So we spun a lot on that, and then doing physics in a massive way on the servers is really hard, so we had to solve those problems. And if you have enough hard problems to solve, your game can lose focus. And I think that might have thrown people. When they looked at Auto Assault or hear about it, they're sort of like, I don't get it. And if your game doesn't have that initial, "Oh, I get it-- it's Super Mario Bros. Online," you capture a certain audience very strongly, but maybe you miss a mainstream audience. And maybe that's sort of what happened. It's hard to say.

So now you're headed back to Jumpgate. Why are you starting from scratch rather than just updating the old game? Why start a whole new game based on the same universe?

That's a great question, I think. We started out thinking that we were going to update the game-- give it a graphics overhaul, add AI, basically identify the weaknesses of the game and plug those holes. Graphics is always a big deal-- your game is six years old, your graphics don't stand up any more. So we want to do that. So it kind of started on that road, but we ended up finding that in order to make the game more mainstream accessible, which was an overriding goal, it required such significant changes to the game that it really started to become a different game. We didn't want to turn off the old game, because there's still lots of people playing it. I would hate the idea of telling people, "Sorry, your game's gone now," especially if they're invested for five years. We didn't want to do that. But then if we do an update and change the game fundamentally, it made more sense at that point to make a whole different game. So in terms of code, in terms of actual production, we started with the original game, and then modified it. But at the end of the day, it's going to be a completely different game.

One thing that struck me about the old game and the new game is that most MMOs are based on clicking-- you click to move, you click to attack. In Jumpgate, you're actually flying the ship-- there's actually physics and things like that. Tell us about that a little bit.

The original game was a Newtonian flight model -- you did fly around. We were all using joysticks at that time, X-wing vs. TIE Fighter was a hit, so that seemed to be a good route to go. You can play the original game with a mouse and keyboard, but we really did a lot of things to make it sort of a joystick-based combat game. And in general, a key differentiator with both Jumpgate classic and Jumpgate Evolution is that it is a skill-based game in terms of combat. You are flying a ship, you are shooting, there's no sort of accuracy or to-hit calculation. If your laser or bullet or missle collides with the object, you hit, and that does damage. It's not a dice roll. And so that's sort of a fundamental difference between, I think, Jumpgate and probably most other MMOs out there, that there is that skill element.

But of course the big question with that is how you balance skill with getting everyone involved. If I'm docking and I crash and destroy my ship, that's not a fun game. So how do you balance that twitch element with making it fun for everybody?

There are two different things. One of those -- this sort of touches on the whole accessibility thing, which I've thought about extensively, and I think it's very important -- you touched exactly on the issue, that one of the key things with Jumpgate classic is that it was a extremely punishing game. Sort of like in Everquest when you died you lost experience or in Ultima Online when you died, you dropped all your stuff on the ground and became a ghost. So I think the early MMOs were punishing environments -- in Jumpgate you flew your ship, it was real-life physics, so it was very hard to learn how to fly, there was very little drag, collision damage was brutal-- if you hit an asteroid, your ship was destroyed, and then you lost your ship. So the answer to that problem is: don't make it so brutal. In Jumpgate Evolution, you don't die when you crash into things -- you don't lose all your stuff. When you dock with a station, at least the early stations, there's like an auto-docking mechanism, so if you fly in it flies it for you.

I think failure in general is enough of punishment for people. If there's a fight and you lose, the act of losing and the time it takes to go back to that fight is enough of a punishment. You really don't want to kick somebody's stomach after falling to the ground by taking away their stuff or by docking them XP or anything like that. And so really you have to analyze it and look at it more from the point of view of what do you need in order to make people care -- because if everyone isn't vulnerable, then there's no risk and that's not fun either. You want to do just enough to make them care, and not so much that they feel like they're hopeless. And I think the kind of game you have, whether skill-based or RPG is a separate question from the death penalty aspect.

The first thing that jumps to mind when you talk about space-based MMO combat is EVE Online. How's PvP going to work, and how are you going to differentiate yourselves from EVE? Which is not actually a flying game, but it is a ship-based combat game.

Right. There's a few differences between us and EVE. Obviously, we get compared because they're space games. But besides that, they're really very different games. EVE is sort of an empire building game-- they have an incredibly rich economy, they focus on corporations, and it sort of builds up to this gigantic war, that might take a month to get going, and last a few hours. So it has that sort of a steep curve to it. Jumpgate is much more a space combat game. Where I'm in my ship -- I'm primarily fighting against AI or other players. There's all this secondary stuff -- there's mining, commodities, and crafting-type stuff, and all the economy things you need. And there there's also the social elements -- you have to have squads, and engage in those kinds of things. But the basic gameplay is flying around and, you know, shooting things. That to me is fundamentally different than EVE. So I think as a result, it's easier to get into. In terms of differentiating ourselves, I think that's really what we're trying to go for-- EVE has a long tutorial at the beginning, where you learn how to do all these various things, and we're trying to make it so you just jump in and play right away. You're blowing up bad guys, you're collecting your loot, you're making your ship a little bit better, and you sort of advance quickly through the game that way, and it opens up as you get into it more. Kind of the World of Warcraft approach-- click, kill, collect, click, kill, collect, and then later on, you learn, "oh wow there's talents and there's raids," and that kind of stuff.

The other question is how PvP will work-- if I head out right away, am I going to be facing veteran players right away, or what?

So in Jumpgate classic, PvP is pretty much open, but there's areas that are safe, that are protected by patrolling defenders. And that's sort of like the anti-PvP mechanism. It reminded me a little bit of Ultima Online, which means I could kill you at any point, but you could put a bounty on my head. And I don't think that works, because as a player I'm dead, and that already sucks. And I don't really care if the other person gets punished, I'm dead. And so I think that what MMOs have learned over the years is that most people don't want to PvP, at least not at the beginning, and you have to protect those people rigorously. But at the same time, the people that are into PvP, you don't want them to feel like they're gimped. The two areas of PvP that we're looking at are regulated space, in which there isn't PvP, and unregulated space, where there is PvP. And so maybe there'll be something like a challenge, where I can challenge you from anywhere in the world, and say I want to fight you -- like a dueling kind of mechanic -- that would be voluntary PvP. And so the idea is that PvP should be voluntary. Perhaps we could do something like have a server that's completely open, so if people can want to play on that, they can. But in general, there'll be safe zones and then there'll be areas that are not safe, which is sort of similar to EVE-- what do they call it?

Low sec space and high security.

Yeah, so it'll be unregulated and regulated. The key though is that you can advance to the end of the game taking either pass. What you want is for the PvP players to do this kind of stuff over in PvP world, and they're rewarded for doing that and there's advancement in doing that. And PvE players can advance over here in this part of the world, and there's reward for doing that. And it's not like well the good stuff is all in the PvP area, or the good stuff is all in the PvE area. You have to have those alternate routes.

And then the other thing that we really want to do is -- in the original Jumpgate, it was called a "simulator," but it'll probably be more like an Arena-type system, where these are sort of matching battleground-type scenarios. You'll go into this map, where it'll be 10 vs. 10, where there will be some sort of objective to do, and there will be a reward for doing that. But really the goal is keeping the people who don't want to be killed from the people who want to kill them. I played UO as it went from open PvP to this kind of system. The people you lose are the ones who like to kill people but don't want to be killed. And they are an audience, and they do get frustrated when they can't kill whoever they want. But that audience is much smaller than the group of people who just don't want to be killed-- they just want to mine, they want to craft, they want to socialize, and they don't want to be attacked, and you have to cater to that audience.

The other main line of questioning I had was about the economy. EVE is obviously known for the economy, and as you said, EVE is really an empire-building game. Does that mean that you'll shy away from the economy? Is it going to be player-based or run mostly through vendors? How will that work?

Another thing we learned from Jumpgate, and most MMOs have now sort of embraced this idea, is that most MMO economies are unavoidably inflationary. People want to succeed, and the way to succeed is by earning, so the longer you play, the more money you're going to get in any MMO, which means, by definition, your economy inflates. So if you have fixed prices in stores and an inflationary economy, what happens is that the older the game gets, the more worthless money becomes. And so therefore, the value of money becomes less. And so the only way to really deal with that is to have a floating price on things, and so to do that, we have to have a player-driven economy. So we have embraced the idea that you have to have a player-driven economy.

The specific features on how to implement that -- things like auction houses, crafting, loot drops, and so on -- those are things we're still playing with. But yes, the idea is that the economy will be much more regulated based on players interacting with other players, as opposed to, you go to a store and buy the next best gun. Because that system-- we talked about it for a while, trying to make the prices in store go up and down based on the wealth of people in the game, but wealth is always unevenly distributed, so what will happen is that the people who don't have friends in the game can't afford anything, and you lock out all those new players. So we quickly came to the realization that the solution is just-- the economy floats. So if the price of a gun triples, and the price of the materials triples, then the money that the miner who is at level one makes also triples. So it floats real nicely all the way through. And that's hard enough to keep a control on. You do something a little weird, there's an exploitation, and now someone suddenly has billions and billions of credits-- we have to watch those kinds of things, because some people are enormously good at controlling the economy. And what you do on the top end is that you keep adding more and more powerful stuff that's really expensive -- give people reasons to get money and spend money. So yeah, the economy will be a big part of the game, but really it's a metagame to support what the real actions are.

Great. So hopefully you'll be into this-- we have readers who are big fans of Jumpgate, and they had lots of questions about Evolution. So I collected some questions from them, and I was hoping we could try firing through them real quickly. I'll throw them at you, and you can just say yes, or no, or no comment, and anything else you want to add to them. Sound alright?

Sure, that's fine.

So these are just quick questions from the original players of Jumpgate that are looking forward to the new game. First question is if there will just be one server for the game, or multiple servers across the game?

Umm -- well. We are going to shard, is the answer to that question. We're not going to do the EVE thing, where there's 30,000 players on a shard, just because the kind of game we have doesn't really work with that. So there will hopefully be multiple shards... [laughs]

[Laughs] Assuming players show up, you mean.

Right. We're aiming for 2000-2500 people, or something like that, per shard.

Will ships be capturable?

I don't really understand what that means. Can you take someone else's ship kind of a thing?

I guess that's what they mean, yes. And it's yes, no, or no comment-- if you guys are still working on it, don't worry about it.

No. There's nothing planned like that.

They also would like miners to be able to mark their favorite asteroids.

That's an interesting idea. Not planned, but it's a cool idea.

Are you planning on unique equipment depending on the class of the ship?

Not directly. But we are going to try and make the classes of ships more structured, if you know what I mean. One of the things on ships with equipment -- it's not restricted. Like a warrior wears plate, a rogue wears leather. It's harder to balance, because what happens is that if I put this ship with this gun, then you suddenly have this unbeatable combination. So we're trying to make the rules for ships much more strict. To give you an example, we're talking about making hardpoints for guns specific. So this hardpoint can take mining laser or repair beams, but not lasers and ammo guns. So that way you can have a mining ship that has like five mining slots and two fighting guns. Or make a battleship that has five laser slots but no mining slots. So that way we can control this ship matching with this kind of thing.

Cool. I think the answer to this next one is "no," but our readers want to know: will pilots from the original game be able to transfer to the new game?

No. It'll be a separate game. So you'll be starting a new "pilot" if you will. But we do want to reward people for playing the original Jumpgate classic game for a long time in the new game some way. We just don't want to destroy the new game by having super powerful people in right away. And the game is different enough that you can't really translate it. So yeah, you will be starting over, but we want to recognize the long term audience from the original Jumpgate in the new Jumpgate Evolution in some way.

They ask if there's going to be any way to do "squad warfare."

That's kind of interesting -- so, a formalized way.

Yes.

There's no plan for formal squad declaration of war, but also a very interesting idea. Another thing that we're doing as we go through this is -- as a developer you can sort of get into an "ivory tower" mentality where you're arbitrarily adding features that you think people want, and ignoring what it is that people actually want, so we're trying to protect ourselves from that. So once the game goes live, with the core set of features, I plan to spend a lot of time just watching people play the game to see what they do, and then responding to it. So if there's a bunch of people that are forming squads, and what'll happen is players tend to do stuff -- they'll create outside-of-game ways of creating squad warfare. And when that happens, what you want to do is bring that into the game so people can play inside of it. And so I'm hoping that as these ideas come up and that as they have traction, they can influence the way we make the game.

Yeah, they're also asking for squad-owned stations, buildings, jumpgates, and things like that. So the question, I guess, is what kind of things you'll be able to do with the people you group up with in game.

Yeah. Squads are still kind of being worked on, so I can't really comment on that.

Fair enough. And then the last question they had was if there would be updates on mining. More ores, more skill required to mine?

Um. There will be mining, and we are going to change it. With regard to specifics -- we want to make mining play a bigger role. Right now, you sort of mine, and then you sell your ore to the station, and then the station makes stuff. And we want it to be a more sort of player-useful experience so that players mine stuff and sell it to other people, and they do stuff with it, and so on. And then the other thing I think is that we want to make more deviation between common and rare. There should be this ore that's very easy to get, but then there's this other stuff that's incredibly rare, more rare than the other game. And so that curve will most likely change.

Cool. I know it's really hard to talk about a game that you're still working on, in terms of what's going to be in it, and what isn't, but I think they'll appreciate any information that you give them, so thanks for that. Finally, last question is just: release scheduled for 2008, right?

Yes, second half of next year.

And is NCSoft going to publish, or do you have a publisher?

We have not announced a publisher at this time.

OK. Anything else you'd like to tell Massively readers about the game?

Yeah, I'm glad-- you took a different approach than a lot of interviewers. Like, we generally spend a lot of time on the AI, and the visuals, and how we did that kind of stuff, but it's kind of nice to have something different. I'm just glad to know that there's so much interest in the game, especially from the existing community, and we're really looking forward to get it into people's hands. I'm just now starting to play the game quite a bit -- I got myself to rank 20 or something over the Thanksgiving holiday, and it was quite a bit of fun, and I'm really looking forward to getting people in there, and letting them play and have a good time. I really hope that they enjoy it.

On that note, any word about a closed beta? Open beta?

Nothing solid, no. [Laughs]

Ok. Well thanks for speaking with us, we really appreciate it.

Thank you.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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