Jumpgate: Evolution Preview

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Publisher: NetDevil
Developer: NetDevil

Platform: PC
Official Site jumpgate-evolution.com

Jumpgate first appeared on the massively multiplayer online game scene in 2001, offering the opportunity to battle and trade in space to online gamers previously engaged largely in exterminating the online rodent population for experience and glory. With the emergence of Jumpgate, joystick jockeys could pilot starfighters, run interstellar trade routes or manage their own space stations. Jumpgate has maintained a small, dedicated following, but has aged well past the point when new players could easily join the long-running game.

Jumpgate: Evolution is an update and overhaul of the original Jumpgate that brings this flavor of futuristic space combat, trade and exploration back into the modern era of computing.

Projected Release: "When It's Done"

Kyle Ackerman

There's no denying that Jumpgate has aged. This clever and innovative game launched in 2001, and maintains an extremely dedicated community to this day. But a loyal fanbase doesn't necessarily make a combat-heavy game with complex controls accessible to a newbie, and no matter how solid, a game that runs on a 200 MHz processor doesn't wow newcomers with its visuals anymore. So, ten months ago NetDevil began developing a complete overhaul of Jumpgate with an eight-man team. That project has been dubbed Jumpgate: Evolution and the recently launched official Jumpgate: Evolution site is accepting applications to be part of the beta test.

The goal of Jumpgate: Evolution is to provide an updated experience that continues to offer everything that keeps Jumpgate fans so attached to the game while making the game accessible to newcomers and looking as pretty as other current games. Jumpgate's heavy focus on combat remains. That's not to say that combat is the only available activity in Jumpgate: Evolution any more than it was in Jumpgate, but players should be ready for spectacular battles in the void of space. Players will still be able to run trade routes, fly with squads, manage stations and hunt for artifacts. All three factions from the original game will return, allowing players to pick sides on a galactic scale.

Prepare for Lens Flare

The graphical overhaul for Jumpgate: Evolution is the first jaw-dropping thing you'll notice in this update. Everything is remade anew. Space has a massive sense of scale, while still being filled with the eye-candy such as planets, nebulae, stars, asteroids, dust clouds and ships that keep the void of space from being, well... dull and void. The system requirements for Jumpgate: Evolution will be a lot higher than the original Jumpgate's basic tech, but should be accessible for nearly all gamers. The team has built a custom engine that it expects to function on systems that can run existing games like World of Warcraft and Eve.

Taking a cue from World of Warcraft, Jumpgate: Evolution relies on exciting effects, elegant art and saturated colors, rather than high-end computational power, to make the game look great. Planets loom over far-orbital combatants; ships can dogfight in colorful blazes of shield discharges and energy weapons; and nebulae shimmer like vast pools of oozing color in the background. Battle is gorgeous, but it's just as pleasant to take a quick Sunday spin around the solar system to see the sights. Weaving in and out of the support struts of a nearby station is simply a sight to behold, and should look good even on a comparatively low-end system. All asteroids can be mined, and it's attractive enough to weave through a field of potential ore... but spectacular rocks, glowing and shimmering with exotic colors, are sprinkled sparingly in these fields like the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Of course, the Jumpgates are impressive. As producer Hermann Peterscheck points out, "Since the title of the game is Jumpgate, we figured the gates better look really cool." They do. Jumpgates are gigantic watery-looking portals that swirl in the distance and quickly dwarf approaching ships before hurling those ships to distant destinations.

"Space is big, but it shouldn't be empty."

No matter how many players are online in Jumpgate: Evolution, space will never seem empty. The team has been busy developing AI routines to populate the universe. As current players know, Jumpgate may revolve around combat, but that's hardly all there is to do. A galactic economy requires resources and trade, and players won't be the only folks hauling ore between stations for fun and profit. Fleets of AI-controlled transport ships will respond to stations' requests for supplies and run commodities back and forth. And the AI won't just be hauling cargo. Defensive ships and pirates will also patrol and plunder the universe, respectively.

The team is currently working to find the balance between effective, convincing AI and preternaturally powerful, computer-controlled entities. For example, if the AI traders were perfect, the galactic economy would be in a state of efficient equilibrium and players interested in jockeying ore would never be able to eke out a living. To ensure that there's always a niche for savvy PC traders, AI traders will function like their human counterparts, failing to completely fill their holds and pursuing good (but not necessarily optimal) prices.

There will be AI pirates and defenders, each with their own routines and algorithms. A defender might respond to a freighter's distress call if it comes into range while on patrol just as a pirate might raid a juicy target, PC and AI alike. Both might then call for reinforcements that may or may not be in range. Be it a standard trade route or piratical raid, the vacuum of space can get hairy quickly... but never boring. Peterscheck proudly proclaimed, "If the AI could pay us $15 a month, we'd be in great shape." Fortunately, the servers dedicated to maintaining the AI presence will ensure that players who do subscribe will be the elite competitors in a busy space race, not lonely pilots staring into inky blackness.

Back to Basics

More than just adding shiny graphics and AI citizenry, Jumpgate: Evolution is being designed to make the experience more accessible and engaging for new and old players alike. The UI has been rebuilt and is already a clear and comprehensible way of interacting with the universe, with which any MMOG player can be comfortable. Of course, Jumpgate: Evolution supports joystick play. Without the ability to use a flight stick, it just wouldn't be Jumpgate. But Jumpgate: Evolution also supports an intuitive mouse and keyboard interface that will let players of any preference participate. And each type of player will get the appropriate view. Joystick junkies can play from a first-person perspective while mouse mavens can use the "over-the-shoulder" perspective that works better with that control scheme.

The entry experience gets easier thanks to more than just the interface and flight model. Many fundamental aspects of the game are being tweaked. Docking, for example, used to be hellish torment for some players, while skilled pilots scoffed at newbies' difficulties. Now, at least for well-traveled stations, you can just pull into the landing lane and easily dock. It's just as easy to launch and start plinking pirates as soon as your laser cannons touch vacuum. There may be stations in the far reaches of space that present more of a challenge, but such challenges will be for expert players, not the greenest of new pilots. Of course, there will also be more. More what, you ask? Everything! Jumpgate: Evolution will have more weapons than the original Jumpgate , more procedurally generated missions, more ships, more interstellar traffic, and (hopefully) more players.

There's already a lot to commend Jumpgate: Evolution as a true evolutionary step up from the original Jumpgate, but it's reassuring to know that it should be a more refined, souped-up version of the classic, not a swamp-thing-like mutation that would anger and confuse existing fans. This is still, ultimately, a combat game, whether you and your squad are taking on AI fleets or raiding other players. And if you're one of the throng of folks looking for an excuse to dust off the old flight stick, Jumpgate: Evolution is your ship sailing... or flying at sub-light-speed... in.






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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 24, 2007 5:49 PM.

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