Spring is right around the corner and with it comes warmer weather, rain showers, blossoming fauna and Jumpgate Evolution. As much as I'd love to think there are thousands of you out there that know all about the game, I get the feeling that in actuality the number is significantly lower. Granted, real-time action space shooter MMOs aren't exactly a mass market genre, so it's probably a fair shake overall.
But what's really worrying me is that even those who should be excited for Jumpgate Evolution are seemingly unaware of it's forthcoming release. This won't do, and so I present to you the essentials of why a sci-fi fan should give this game some serious consideration for their 2009 MMO budget.
Jumpgate Evolution isn't EVE Online
Both of these games are set in space and the players are ships, but the similarities end there. EVE Online is about selecting a target, clicking on "orbit" and making sure to use the right weapons at the right times while you watch your ship float about space like a mother pushing a baby carriage down a sidewalk. On the other hand, JGE is all about crisscrossing an asteroid field as fast as possible while trying to train your weapons on a pirate ship -- or enemy player.
(For those wondering: Yes, a cockpit view is most certainly in the game. Yes, this is a newbie mission, newbie craft and newbie player. Also, this player wasn't nearly as daring with the boosters as I was, hence the slow-and-steady maneuvering. Guess I'm just a bit more adventurous!)
EVE Online is battleships in space to JGE's F/A-18 Hornets in space. Both take a lot of tactical thinking, but ultimately JGE is the game where you can live out your Luke Skywalker or Starbuck fantasies as much as you'd like.
All machines created equal
Something that NetDevil has almost certainly learned with Auto Assault is that it's important to design a game engine and everything within it (ship models, effects, etc) from bottom up. As far as they're concerned, JGE needs to run on a huge array of computers. Low-end, high-end, rear-end -- doesn't matter, the game needs to run well on it and still have amazing vistas and ship designs.
Despite the low-end system focus, NetDevil has managed to make an astonishingly beautiful game. A large part of this success is owed to the space setting where things like water and foliage are replaced by volcanic planets that have shards of themselves floating off into space. But it also has plenty to do with the challenge of creating impressive object design using a minimalist approach. A lofty challenge for any developer, and probably the reason why things have been coming along at a slow-but-steady pace. Still, the results are truly something to behold.
Controls, controls, controls
Sitting down to play JGE for the very first time at PAX 08, I was immensely impressed with how right the game felt on a keyboard and mouse. My biggest worry going into that first play experience was that I'd want to use a joystick. And upon speaking with NetDevil producer Hermann Peterscheck afterwards, the thing that really stood out was just how important everything surrounding the controls of ships in JGE was to the team.
It's more than just how the button presses and mouse movements affect the ship's movements. Things like camera movement -- how "springy" it is -- or the way that the targeting cross-hair informs the player of what they're doing. So if you were happening to wonder if you would feel at home playing JGE with a keyboard and mouse, rest easy knowing that you will.
Coming soon to a space near you
There's more intricate things to discuss when it comes to JGE. Things like player-driven PvP and economies, which are subjects better left to another time and place. However, these are the talking points -- the core aspects of the game which are already in place. I'm not speaking of promises in the paragraphs above. I'm speaking of things that I've already seen and experienced in person, with the exception of seeing the game run on a low-end machine. Although I can say that what I did see was running smooth the entire time, even while I was careening through space guns blazing as I fired across the backside of a twisting and boosting enemy craft.