E3 2009: The evolution of Jumpgate Evolution

The last time I personally saw anything about Jumpgate Evolution (Netdevil's re-imagining of the the very early space MMO) was almost two years ago when I spoke with the executive producer. At that time, we had little more than a few screenshots and concept art. Massively has spoken with Peterscheck and covered the game multiple times since then, but when I stepped into Netdevil's little booth at E3 (so little, in fact, that it didn't even have their name on it -- it was labeled with Gazillion Entertainment, their publisher), I didn't have any idea what to expect.

What I found was both surprising and impressive. Way back in that first interview, Peterscheck told me that they were trying to make a space shooter MMO that depended on skill rather than stats, that offered up a fully realized universe for players to explore, and gave some new options for PvP and space combat that we hadn't seen before. Sitting in their booth watching the game get played on three big screens, I saw all that and more. Hit the jump (gate) below for impressions and even a gameplay video from last week's show.


The first new thing Netdevil was showing off on the convention floor was a brand new PvP map called Bombardment. Unfortunately, we were told that the Internet connection on the show floor had died previously that day, but they had hooked the game up to a local server and populated it with bots, so we could at least see a simulation of what it might be like on the live realms, and for what it's worth, it looked pretty: just staring out into the empty space, the galaxy appeared peaceful -- until Scott Brown, Netdevil's president, who was demoing the game for us, turned on the HUD, and suddenly, the display lit up with hundreds of little triangles, each one representing an enemy ship.

Bombardment is a "battlespace," reached from inside any station you decide to park your ship in, and Netdevil is aiming to have it running around 50v50v50 at any given time, so like most of the world of Jumpgate, it's scaled pretty large. The objectives consist of three different "capital" ships, one for each faction in the game, and there are about five or six levels of targets to get through on each ship before each group of players can actually bring it down.

Combat in Jumpgate is designed to be both simple and immediate -- unlike EVE, which is the current dreadnaught of space MMOs, Jumpgate asks players to take direct control of their ships. Instead of just choosing a target and placing a command to fire, it plays more like an actual space shooter. Brown showed me how to use the right mouse button to set a target (which also showed up in the HUD, and tracked even when the actual ship flew out of view), and then hit the left mouse button to fire. Each ship you can buy, trade, and gain in the galaxy has a base set of stats for speed, defense, attack, and so on, and then you can add on improvements to that ship (guns, missile launchers, engine attachments) to make it faster or stronger. So what they're aiming to do is make skill a big factor -- how you fly is nearly as important as what you fly.

Which folds back into their philosophy of advancement as well -- Brown repeated the phrase "unlocking choices" quite a few times as we talked. While you will be able to gain XP and currency as you play through Jumpgate (whatever you choose to do, be that mining or PvE combat or PvP combat), those earned points will go not towards increasing your own skills as a pilot, but simply unlocking the types of ships and gear that you can use, as well as the missions you can take on and places you can go. So again, skill is a big factor -- "We want to give you unlocking choices," he told us, "rather than leveling through an artificial RPG structure."

They also showed us another new PvP level -- this one was called "The Descent" (perhaps in tribute to a certain 3D space shooter game), and it actually was based inside a gigantic space station, with circular structures offering pathways around a central core. The size of the map, again, was just staggering -- Brown piloted the ship through vast areas with massive windows on either side, and said that they originally wanted to build the whole battleground completely surrounded by metal (because they wanted to oppose the wide open feel of Bombardment), but then realized it was very hard for players to keep their bearings. With the windows, you could always see the beautifully-rendered planet outside, and that helped players orientate themselves. The Descent wasn't populated, but Brown told us that they planned to use the central core to do a capture-and-hold battlefield, where players came from the various spokes to capture the central point.

We asked to see some of the actual world, and Brown consented -- he warped us back to a station, where you can see your ship in the dock and coordinate all of your external gear (while checking your specs -- power on each ship is used to limit what you can put on it, and each ship has its own DPS, speed and size that can be increased with attachments) and quests. He showed us the ship interface -- for most of the demo, we actually used a GM ship, which made it easy to take out large structures and enemy ships quickly (so we haven't gotten a good look at how balanced combat actually is yet), but he showed us a whole garage full of faction-based and factionless ships -- some ships will be limited by where you come from as a player, and also limited by which licenses you've picked up as a pilot, while other ships will be sold and traded around, so you'll have to make some money to get one of those.

There is an auction house system in the game, and there's even a crafting system, though it's a little more complicated than just sitting in your station and pressing a button. Crafting requires certain factories for certain items, and the factory you need to make an item might be easy to reach -- or it might happen to be in PvP or alien (PvE) territory. So you might need to bring a group of friends along if you want to get into a hard-to-reach factory.

Speaking of PvE, we asked to run a quick quest, and Brown assented yet again. He pulled up a quest from the quest log ("This is being revamped," he said -- the game was previously delayed and brought back into friends and family alpha, and while they're hoping for a closed beta soon, Brown seemed determine to make sure everything was perfect: the quest log looked good to us, but he was adamant that it needed work), and we exited the station off into open space.

The world looks gorgeous -- while some of the textures weren't perfect, the version we saw ran at impeccable speed, and the vistas behind the spaceships were very beautiful, with lens flares flying off of glowing suns, and planets looming large among the stars. Brown said that they wanted to have a vibrant-looking world instead of just empty space, with different zones that had a different feel depending where you are, and they pulled that off. We flew directly from the station to a glowing red ball of energy, and he explained that this was an alien jumpgate. And sure enough, right near it was a huge meteor bustling with alien tentacles and ships.

Our GM ship made short work of the alien ships outside (he didn't say how many people it would take to bring down an alien hive like this one, but he did hint that it would be a group effort), and then actually dived inside the hive to fly down into a core. The scale was very impressive -- to fly up to a gigantic alien structure, blow the covers off of it, and then fly inside it to another open area battle looked really great. He said that if players made it into the core and finished off the hive, the structure itself would be destroyed (hard to believe, we remarked, that an area the size of World of Warcraft's Stormwind could be routinely demolished by players). Until, that is, the next alien invasion spawned there.

Finally, we went back to Bombardment, and Brown decided to show us what happens when a group of players wins the battleground, and blows one of the ships up. You can see it in the video below -- clearly, the size and scale of what players can do in this game is quite impressive. We're definitely looking forward to Jumpgate's beta -- they've already got quite a few great ideas up and running, and they seem committed to polishing the final product until it's good and ready.

Massively was on the ground in Los Angeles last week and covering all the latest E3 MMO news coming from the convention. Check out our breaking coverage (or all the Joystiq network E3 reporting) and keep your eye on Massively's front page for the latest developments.