Longtime readers of Lum The Mad know him from his days as an updater on that site, and being one of the first to \’e2\’80\’9cturn to the Dark Side\’e2\’80\’9d of game development. Since then he has been involved in UO2, (Not the UO 2.0 that was recently announced.) and more importantly JumpGate. Jumpgate, while reminiscent of the Wing Commander series and games like Decent: Freespace, takes the concept in a new direction: flying against 80 other living opponents who want to kill you before you kill them. You can be a trader or a miner as well, but this game delivers player versus player with a vengance.
I managed to corner Gbob in #lummies and extort an interview from him. I didn\’e2\’80\’99t even have to use the feared onion bagel of doom.
When did you come in on the project?
Well, after the cancellation of Ultima: Origin I was trying hard to decide what I wanted to do in this industry. One of my big concerns was finding a project that could excite me as much as Ultima did. The idea of working on another sword and sorcery game just didn’t hold that much appeal. That’s when I remembered a game I had signed up for a year earlier called JumpGate.
When I saw they were located in Colorado, my mind was made up. I absolutely HAD to get a job with them. I sent in my resume, we had a few discussions and I was brought on board. I spent the first month or so packing up my things in Austin and getting to know the game from the inside out.
I couldn’t be happier. I absolutely love this game.
What inspired this as a MMOG?
I think everyone who has ever played Elite or Wing Commander thought at one time “wouldn’t it be cool if I was actually flying against other pilots?”.
Before, it just wasn’t technologically possible to do it. There is, without a doubt, a need for this game. The other night I experienced the best damn justification for JumpGate you could imagine. We were fighting in the simulator. There were between 80-150 pilots all mixing it up. All around me was combat. Missiles were flying left and right. Ships exploding around me. I started taking hits on my port side.
I cut my thruster, whipped around and tore open the SOB trying to down me. His ship was ripped to shreds right as a missile hit me from behind. It was an incredible experience.
The biggest problem space sims have always had is the difficulty in
generating that emotional rush when you beat a computer controlled opponent. Take the aces in Wing Commander. Sure, shooting down Hobbes in WC3 was a good feeling, but it just doesn’t compare to what you feel when you shoot down another living breathing human. Of course, there’s a cost to moving the space sim[ulator] into the online realm. For one thing, there isn’t the cut and dried “good” and “evil” that you have in a single player game with a narrative. Your good feeling of victory comes at a cost of some other person having an experience that wasn’t as rewarding. That’s one of the reasons I just can’t bring myself to attack a lower level player, or someone who is not expecting an attack. Basically, I make a lousy pirate because of this.
Who is your target Audience?
I think there are a couple of different kinds of gamers we’re shooting for.
The first, of course, is the player who is experienced with playing online games. The kind of player who has felt trapped into deciding if they want to play a game with swords, a game with swords, or a game with swords. I just think there’s much more out there the industry can be doing. It’s one of the reasons I’m excited about the upcoming diversification of the market.
Anyways, the next big audience for us is the die-hard space sim fan — the kind of player who spent long nights trying to figure out how to dock in Elite — the kind of player who jumped for joy when they dropped the Tremblor bomb on Killrah in WC3 — the kind of player who almost fell out of their seats the first time they saw a cap ship launch an energy weapon in Freespace. I think we have something to offer to those players. This is the first time they can play a space sim in a persistent online universe. Finally, I think we also have something to offer to the hardcore online war gamer. Warbirds is a pretty big influence around here.
Ultimately though, the team made the kind of game that they wanted to play themselves. JumpGate started as a labor of love for this group. There was never a marketing meeting where they ran ideas in front of a focus group. It was a bunch of hardcore gamers sitting down and saying “this is what we want to play. If this game isn’t out there, we’ll make it for ourselves”. And they did.
I have heard that there will be PVP (Player Versus Player) involved, do you expect that to affect the number of new sign ups?
We’re a PvP game. If you absolutely feel that there should not be combat between players, stop reading. In this regard, we’re much closer to Warbirds or WW2 Online than an RPG such as UO or EQ. Space sims have always been about battles between pilots… it would be pointless, in our eyes, not to have PvP in the game.
I can understand the point of both sides of the PK debate. I know I’m not going to change anyone’s mind on the issue. I will say this. Different styles of games should approach the issue of PvP combat in their own ways.
The level of acceptable violence in Hockey, for example, is far different from that of Baseball. I don’t think that the level of PvP in JumpGate would work in a RPG game, but for a space combat sim? It’s just about right.
In the beta, the main focus right now is getting the technology to work well, what is the philosophy of the designers in respect to playability. Is this game catering to the broadband crowd or will my new 56k modem be sufficient?
First, I just want to say that the game plays very well with a 56K modem.
Obviously, we want people to have fun testing the game, but the most important factor for us is the actual testing\’e2\’80\’a6 The game hasn’t begun yet, and anyone testing shouldn’t have the expectation of being amused and entertained.
I think right now the game is a great deal of fun, and I can tell you that it’ll be even more fun once we launch. One of the main thrusts of our game is this narrative story. Players haven’t even begun to experience that aspect of the game…let alone the political aspects.
What kind of game play will be encouraged? I have seen a lot of leanings toward traders and also combat type missions, with little intermediate ground. Will this change?
The game is a great deal more than just trading and combat. One of the things I’m working very hard on is making sure that there will be meaningful player driven fiction in the game. If you played UO, you may recall when they did the “Followers of Armageddon” story line. For many players this was the most fun they had in the game. Well, I defiantly took some notes from that. Players deserve a context to play in, a universe they can have a meaningful impact on, and a reason for logging on besides just gaining another level.
From the game mechanic side, exploration is a major aspect of game play. We won’t be adding anything new to the game unless the players discover it and help build it themselves. Let me give you an example. Let’s say we decided to put in something like “angry space kittens” that the players can strap to their ships. We’re not just going to patch it in. In the “space kitten” scenario, a player may have to first discover some floating space kitten in some deserted sector. Other players will need to build a kitten kennel to raise the space kittens. That kennel will need to be supplied. While all this is going on, the GMs may be running an event to disrupt the building of space kittens. Will the players be able to build them? It’s up to them. After a certain amount of time we may call the scenario off and the kittens never get introduced. It’s some risky stuff. Part of me wonders if we can pull it off. I think so.
Is there a plan for Launch Day? Have you planned for what if’s?What do you think of the launches and customer service of Anarchy Online and World War II Online? What will NetDevil do if it faces that kind of situation?
Well, I’m not going to get into any specifics of what someone else should or should not have done. Obviously, nobody wants a bad launch. There’s a certain inevitability that launches will be a painful experience. Think about it. On launch day you your servers subjected to stresses that they would NEVER encounter in the course of normal game play. You also have no way to test to see if the servers will work or not. Let me give you an example from JumpGate. We were running a stress test by holding a player event in one sector of space. Everything was working perfectly until 1 person too many entered the sector. Suddenly everything went to heck. We got lucky that we found that “magic number of crashing” before launch. What if one person less hadn’t showed up? Would we have spotted it?
We’ve had a longer beta test than any other game out there. I’m convinced it will go smoothly, though. End of the day, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best.
What does it feel like to be on the other side of the server?
The good news is that I love my job more than anything. I wake up every morning looking forward to doing what I do. I drive to work thinking “Christ, I’m the luckiest bastard on the planet. People would kill to work in games”. That’s a pretty good feeling. To use the vernacular, “mad props” for Tyrant for convincing me to join the dark side.
I can’t imagine anything cooler than games. It’s art, it’s engineering, it’s psychology, it’s a business. Name another industry that allows so much creative freedom. It kicks ass.
There are, however, some drawbacks. Being told how badly you suck every day by people isn’t exactly good for one’s ego. Let’s go through last weekend. I was mail bombed at my home address, I received three e-mails telling me what a shitty person I was, read a message board where some idiot says “UO2 would have sucked, I’m glad the team got fired” (those of us with children really love being told how glad you are that we lost our jobs), read 16 negative messages about perceived problems with JumpGate design (in one case there were two people telling me how bad the game sucks for allowing PKs, and another two telling me how bad the game sucks because we don’t have enough PKs), was mailed a virus (you can’t open executable files when you work this business), and was harassed on IRC. I can’t even fight back. If you have a thin skin, you’re in the wrong business. It’s the price you pay to make games. I hate celebrities when they whine about being stalked; I’m not going to start bitching because of a couple of yahoos. Comes with the territory.
After having this discussion with GBob I have a new respect for those that make the move from being an \’e2\’80\’9carmchair designer\’e2\’80\’9d to actually doing the work and taking the heat. Is JumpGate going to be a PvP environment that makes survivors out of newbies? Probably. Will it have some issues come launch day? Most Likely. Will it be playable, or at least, more so than its recent competition? My opinion is YES. There is a calm surrounding GBob that almost tranquilizes the mind into believing everything is peachy. Perhaps it is because he doesn\’e2\’80\’99t seem harried or forced, because his company appears to be taking their time and ensuring the game will be ready to be play when it launches. As he mentioned Jumpgate has been in beta longer than most of the games available today, perhaps with that and the dedication from developers like GBob, they will set the standard for smooth launches.