Interview: Hermann K. Peterscheck on Jumpgate Evolution’s Design Philosophy

Jumpgate Evolution lead producer Hermann K. Peterscheck.Most of my interviews last from between ten to fifteen minutes. Some last for twenty, a scant few for thirty, and only one has ever approached anywhere close to an hour.

You can’t get into any sort of meaningful discussion in ten minutes. It’s not physically possible. The only thing you can do is to try and pack in as many questions as you can, and hope that at least one strikes a chord with the readers.

Then, one day in late December, I received an assignment to interview Hermann K. Peterscheck, lead producer of Jumpgate Evolution… and the interview subsequently went on for the next three months.

Suffice it to say, there was no shortage of meaningful discussion.

On one topic in particular, innovation (or the lack thereof) in the genre, we agreed to postpone further debate for now—perhaps to get into it in further depth in a roundtable discussion at Austin GDC this coming September.

The MMO Gamer: It’s been over six months since our last interview. At that time the game had just recently been announced, and details were, understandably, hard to come by.

So, let’s see if we can get started with some details right off the bat: What has the team at NetDevil been up to since the last time we spoke?

Hermann K. Peterscheck: Heh! Lots. First of all our team has grown from 6 to 9 people, which has been helpful. At the time of the announcement we were mostly focusing on solidifying the graphics engine and basic game play issues – flying around, shooting stuff and so on.

Once we had performance and basic pipeline stuff working we began on implementing all the various things there are to do. That includes multiple types of guns, missiles, AI formations, UI enhancements; you name it. We’ve also been working on some more interesting features that I’m not ready to talk about quite yet.

The MMO Gamer: Are there any particular reasons for such a relatively small team? I know from reading your company history that the original Jumpgate was developed with half a dozen people, but, these days, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking “MMO development” is a labyrinthine maze of cubicles manned by a team numbering in the dozens at bare minimum.

Hermann K. Peterscheck: To be honest it’s what we need right now. If you think about it there are many MMOs that had giant development teams that did not fare so well in the commercial market. Then there are examples of games that did very well but had small team (Club Penguin, anyone?).

The reality is that players do not consider developer investment when decide the entertainment value of a game. When you play Tetris do you think to yourself: Wow. Not bad for one guy! No! You enjoy the game enough to play it and maybe even pay for it, or you don’t. I think there is a strong tendency to get carried away with thinking about team size first and game second. Personally I think it’s much more interesting to make a game with as small as a team as possible.

The key is to know what it is you can do and want to do and building the team to that development goal. For example, it is hard to make a game with 10,000 custom quests with a team of a dozen people. Keep in mind, however, that Diablo 2 had about 24 quests and I played those about 100 times each and they were more fun the 100th time than many games that have hundreds or thousands of quests.

As developers we should be more concerned with quality of execution the quantity of content. I think a team of 2 or 3 people working within their knowledge and limitations and focusing on a particular game experience can make a better game than a team of 50 or 60 working beyond their means and without any focus. It’s not that big teams are bad or small teams are bad, it’s about knowing what you need to have to make the game you want.

Hopefully we can prove that to be the case.

The MMO Gamer: This is a question I’ve been making a habit of asking lately…

As a writer, I’m very big on the concept of “the hook.” I believe that the very first moments of the experience are just as important to get right in a good book as they are in a good MMO.

Would you agree with that sentiment?

Hermann K. Peterscheck: Absolutely.

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