As heard on Wednesday's PALGN Podcast we recently spoke to Scott Brown, co-founder of NetDevil, live from the floor of PAX 2008.
For those who may have missed the Podcast or are unable to listen to it, here is a full transcript of the interview.
PALGN: Joining us is Scott Brown, co-founder of NetDevil and current developer of Jumpgate Evolution. Scott, first of all thank you, thanks so much for taking the time to catch up with us, especially given that you're in the middle of setting up your booth at PAX.
Scott Brown: No problem, I'm glad to be here.
PALGN: Now for those who don't know much about Jumpgate Evolution and haven't been following it, can you give us a thirty second rundown of what the game is?
SB: Sure, Jumpgate Evolution is basically the idea of taking all of the fun of the old space flight sims that were out there - Wing Commander, Privateer, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, you know Elite kinds of games and bringing it online.
PALGN: So what's been the driving design philosophy behind development?
SB: Well the biggest thing has really been accessibility. We wanted to make a game that ran on everyone's computer, that was easy to sit down and start playing right away. So that way as many people as possible - who wanted to play the game - could play the game and then from there it's all about the action. So making sure nothing is necessarily about a dice roll or anything along those lines. It's all about getting in and flying your spaceship.
PALGN: Are you aiming at people who have not played the original Wing Commanders or are you really going for the old school crowd, or a bit of both?
SB: I'd say it's both. Our primary target for this game is people who are fans of space sims, that's really who we think the game is ideally geared towards. But what we're hoping is, is that it's approachable enough that people who wanted to try those or think this might be something fun, will find some interest in it as well.
PALGN: Are you aiming for a story-based universe, or are you going for a more multi-player driven experience, along the lines of EVE Online where content is created by players' interactions?
SB: Yeah, much of the content is really player directed. A lot of the missions that are offered or the actions that are available to you in the game, is based on what is happening in the world at the time. Though there is a story - and we've worked pretty hard to put something together - the majority of your time is going to be player directed experiences more than mission directed, if that makes sense.
PALGN: Given that space is notoriously big and empty how are you planning on filling it?
SB: Well we've done a lot of work to basically try to keep the interesting parts of the game packed full of stuff and it's more about moving from one of those to another than it is long, long flights where you're just watching a counter count-down as you're trying to get towards that next interesting thing.
PALGN: Can you say how you're dealing with the time between areas, because games like - for instance X2 and X3 - introduced basically a time-bending mechanic, or a time compression mechanic, to try and speed-up that distance. Are we going to see the full scale of large universes or are we going to see pockets with large amounts of action and then transport to other parts? How is it going to work?
SB: Well that's really kind of in the original Elite games, it had the time compression right, which works great in single-player but not so good in multi-player [laughs] so that was really the design of even the original Jumpgate, that Evolution is based on. The idea is that rather than flying through massive, massive empty spots to get to the next area, that's really the role that those gates play. So you move from the gates through a network of different sectors basically and the data within the sector is much more compact and interesting and then the gates themselves represent the large travel distance.
PALGN: What kind of scale of battles - multi-player battles - are you looking at? Are we talking one-on-one dogfights, a la` Red Baron back when, I think Sierra briefly put it online, or are we talking full-scale massive warfare?
SB: The goal is hundreds of players and we'll see how far we can push that in any one combat. We really wanted to push the scale as far as anyone's every pushed it before, especially in terms of an action MMO. So the numbers of either AI or players, or a combination of all involved in fights, we're trying to be basically the biggest possible.
PALGN: The MMO - this could be a bit of a hard question - the MMO genre is getting increasingly saturated. I mean there's sports games coming online, Interzone over in Perth is working on a multi online playing football game, and casual games are taking off. How is Jumpgate Evolution going to attract players from other competing options, because everyone only has so much time?
SB: I totally agree, which is again I think why our primary focus is on the people who love that sort of space combat experience and are looking for a place to do that online. That's really our primary goal, and as I said, for people who want that experience we're hoping we can deliver that in spades for them right, and then for people who are interested in online stuff then this will be an option. The idea is, we feel like it's a pretty unique offering in its space basically.
PALGN: [laughs] No pun intended.
SB: Yeah exactly [laughs].
PALGN: Okay, how are you dealing with the social aspects of online play - can we expect to see guilds, can we expect to see standard player interactions, or have you got anything additional planned?
SB: Yeah we're really going to be building off of the system we used in our first game, we call them squads. Effectively it's the same as a guild that people know today. The idea was that once you formed one, we automatically build a webpage for you and then we let you basically go in and customise all kinds of things about your squad and its page, and there's squad versus squad combat and a lot of those things basically are all a part of the experience. There's a lot of things you can do, there's a mentoring system for new pilots as they come in. You can fly on other pilot's wings, which is the same as being in a group, a pick-up group, in other games. We're working out a lot of those kind of things. It's a pretty different experience though, because when you're moving at high speeds, especially in three dimensions...grouping isn't what it is in other MMOs, it's not you standing together and an agromanagement type of gameplay, it's really different.
PALGN: I've got to ask actually, is there the concept of friendly fire within the game?
SB: Yeah it depends on, we haven't decided ... beta's going to really help us decide which way to go, the way to go right now. You've got to be really careful with what you're doing and then the question becomes can you kill other players, can you kill friendly players, so some of those specifics are all going to be worked out once we start testing. What's more fun, that's what the answer will be.
PALGN: Speaking of the beta, last time we caught up you said the beta would be announced when it was fun. Are we any closer and are there any indications of when an Australian release is likely to occur?
SB: We're certainly closer. As to how close we are, I don't know. I love making a game this way, it just feels like the right way to do it. We'll just continue to play it, think about what would make it better, add that, play it some more, think about what would make it better, so we're just constantly iterating on that. We're sort of beyond that new user experience, and again we feel like someone could sit down and get comfortable with it, and now we're much more focused on the MMO features of the game. Stuff like auction houses, and mail and the mission system and a lot of those other pieces that were needed for, beyond the first hour of play, and now your first twenty hours of play and that's really where a lot of our focus has been. I think once we feel like that's great, that's when we're going to start letting some more people in and testing. It seems close, but I don't know how far close is.
PALGN: What are the odds on an Australian server?
SB: It's something that we want to do, and it's something we're talking to people about and talking to different partners to see if there's something there. Because it is an action game, latency does matter more then it would in more, say a turn-based MMO, and so we're certainly talking to different people but we've also worked to try and minimise the effect of latency. The short answer is, I don't know if there will be or not, but if we can find a partner who can be as passionate about it as we are, we can try to make something happen, then it's certainly something we're interested in.
PALGN: Well speaking as an Australian gamer, it is a major point of differentiation. There's only a handful of games that actually have local servers, so I'd strongly encourage you to.
SB: Well we've done everything we can to make running a server simple and cost-effective and not overly expensive, and so we're hoping that it opens as many opportunities as possible so we can find somebody to run it there, it's something we want to do.
PALGN: Excellent. So you're literally setting up your booth at PAX at the moment, what can we expect to see at PAX?
SB: Well we've got a number of different workstations set up here, some with joysticks, some with mouse. So whether you're the sort of hardcore sim guy or you've never flown anything before, we want to show both experiences and let people get a sense of what the early gameplay feels like and look like. So we'll be showing that off, we're also showing-off the voice technology we've included in the game from Dolby, so we'll be showing that to anyone that wants to stop by as well, so we've got some neat stuff going on like that.
PALGN: What does the voice technology do?
SB: It's built in voice so you can chat to other players. Obviously being an action game there's not a lot of time for typing on the keyboard and we can do some pretty neat stuff. We're working with 3D positional audio, and some different things like that we have functioning here as well, so people can check that out and see what they think.
PALGN: I've got images of the trench run from Star Wars with Red Leader in my mind...[laughs]
SB:Absolutely, someone saying, 'Cut the chatter.' [laughs]
PALGN: [laughs] That's really cool. Now onto one you're probably not going to be able to say much about - I think it's fair to say a lot of people are watching Lego Universe with great interest, especially after Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Star Wars, I think it's fair to say, completely reinvigorated the concept of Lego in gaming. What can you tell us about Lego Universe?
SB: Well, what I can say is it's something that we've got a big team working on, they've been working on it for quite awhile, they've made some great progress. We've been doing a lot of kid testing on the product so far and I think we've really made some strides to define exactly what it is, how it's going to work and what it's going to be. Hopefully soon we'll be starting to talk more about specific features and areas inside the game and more about what's going on. It's certainly made a lot of progress from when we first started working on it and Lego is one of the most amazing projects that anyone has ever worked on, they take a very non-traditional publishing approach to how to make a game and it's been an amazing experience to work on it with them.
PALGN: Well I can say with no shred of doubt that I'm looking forward to both Jumpgate Evolution and Lego Universe, I'm a big fan and I'll be following them both. Thank you so much for your time Scott, I appreciate the busy schedule and I hope to talk to you again soon.
SB:Great, thanks a lot for the interview.
PALGN would like to again thank Scott for taking the time to give this interview.