There is a hole…an unfulfilled need in my life that I’ve tried to fill. I want to do things in video games that I can’t do in my everyday existence – explore, blow stuff up, be some nobody shmoe and create something awesome through my own resourcefulness. This may sound reasonable enough, but I want to do all of these things in space and in the future. A few games in the past have come close to satisfying my fantastic desire–Wing Commander Privateer, Freelancer, Freespace, the X series, and closest of all, Westwood’s Earth and Beyond—but none of these have done the job fully. I routinely hope that a game will one day come along to completely fill this void, and after playing Jumpgate Evolution at GDC 2009, my hopes now fall squarely on NetDevil’s space combat MMO.
Several of you are probably already scoffing. “I hate MMOs,” you say, “I hate grinding and if I wanted an MMO in space, I’d just go play EVE.” First off, outer space is about the only thing that JGE and EVE have in common. JGE is an action MMO game, which means there are no activated skills, no cool down periods, and no randomized damage; just a player in direct control of a ship with his/her skill determining how many shots hit their mark.
Given that players are in direct control of their craft – and also directly responsible for landing hits or evading enemy fire – responsive controls are a must. JGE’s controls will be immediately familiar to anyone that has used WASD in the past, and even more so to any Wing Commander vets out there. Within ten seconds of sitting at the keyboard, the game’s intuitive controls allowed me to fly around like an elite space captain. Hardcore space jockeys need not throw out their $200 flight stick and throttle just yet, as JGE supports almost every peripheral under the sun and even caters to the sim crowd by allowing them turn off the game’s “inertial dampeners” to give their craft more realistic vectored momentum when flying around. Imagining blasting the engines, cutting them to cause your craft to drift off in its initial direction, and then thrust-turning to the side for a strafing run along the fuselage of a capital ship. That’s just one Rush album short of the coolest thing ever, and Windows Media Player can always run in the background to help with that.
JGE also takes great strides towards fulfilling my own personal fantasy by looking gorgeous. Systems in JGE hearken back to the environments you’ve seen in Freespace 2, Star Wars, or some of the more fantastic vistas in Star Trek. Colorful nebulae, massive planets, and detailed space stations will temporarily steal the breath of any spaceophile. The developers wanted to keep space from being empty and lonely – something with which they wholly succeeded at as traveling to new systems and encountering different spacecraft will be worth the trip just to take in the sights.
Despite looking eye-ticklingly magnificent, most of the assets in JGE were designed for very low hardware specs. Shaders and post-process effects give the game that glowy awesomeness on higher end PCs, but toggling them off will (according to NetDevil) allow JGE to run on incredibly dated hardware. The dev team even claimed to have the game running on a GeForce 2 system, so your eight year old Dell in the basement might have found a new use. Tailoring to a low system spec has another benefit: the game can easily handle hundreds of players pitted against each other in massive PVP battles. The prospect of these hordes of warriors duking it out in space with lasers flying and ships exploding made my mouth water, but such a situation could sadly not be arranged as there were fewer than ten people in the demonstration room.
Of course, JGE wouldn’t be an action MMO without some sort of advancement system. A traditional leveling system is there, with experience earned by defeating mobs, completing quests, exploring, mining, etc. Since the combat isn’t primarily stat or level based, a gimmie level here or there won’t unfairly tip the balance of the game. This frees the developers to throw experience more liberally at the player. Quests will be automatically shared with anyone in a given group, and merely being close to other players participating in the same quest as you will “soft group” them together–giving them credit for each other’s actions.
Progressing through the game should be a varied experience as well due to NetDevil’s attempts to never lock the player into any role. JGE’s zones are dedicated to either PvE or PvP, and as players level up, they can travel to whichever areas they feel like. Additionally, a player isn’t restricted to any class of character – only by what equipment is being piloted at any given time. If a player wants to blow up some pirates, hop in the fighter. After that, they can jump in a bomber to take down a capital ship. Once the big one has bitten the dust, your guild might need some resources to make some more torpedoes, so hop in the mining vessel to score some more rock.
After spending some time with Jumpgate Evolution, it appears as if all of the pieces are in place for it to become one of the best simple-yet-complex MMOs we have seen thus far. With EVE requiring a master’s degree to play and Star Wars Galaxies being Star Wars Galaxies, JGE has the chance to corner the market with its fast and accessible space combat. The only potential downfalls at this point are the same stumbling blocks that most MMOs face–infrastructure and balance–but since NetDevil has been at this since 2001, I’m confident they have the experience to overcome those problems. All I can do now is wait for the game to come out, so I can call myself Captain Dash Speedex and spend all day in my apartment wearing a flight jacket and motorcycle helmet.
Jumpgate Evolution is scheduled to be released in June.