E3 2009 is well under way, and one of the many games on display at the fabled Los Angeles Convention Center is JumpGate Evolution, the massively multiplayer starship exploration and combat game from NetDevil. In the game, you'll start off as a novice space jockey with a single ship, but after running many missions, blasting many aliens, and maybe doing some interstellar trading, you'll amass a fortune you can use to purchase an entire hangar full of starships and customize each one with different propulsion, defense, and weapon systems. The game has some 60 different outer-space zones, all of which will be huge and all of which will now apparently be supplemented by interior zones, which have been recently added in the development process as a way to help make the game experience more varied and to make player-versus-player battles more intense. Apparently, even large-scale 50-vs.-50-vs.-50 battles of dogfighting starships, along with priority-target capital ships, didn't provide enough intensity for NetDevil frontman Scott Brown (players tended to go off to one side to get into their own little dogfights).
Who's Making This Game: NetDevil, a Colorado-based developer that produced the original JumpGate, which was a cult classic, as well as the perhaps-it's-just-as-well-we-all-forgot-it car combat game Auto Assault.
What The Game Looks Like: JumpGate Evolution looks a lot like it did when we last saw it at GDC, though Brown explains that this is because the team has mostly been working on carefully balancing the combat system, particularly the great variety of different weapons against the different ship classes in the game (such as heavy fighters, scouts, and others). The only thing that's clearly new from a visual standpoint is the new interior zones, such as an abandoned space station we visited that acts as a player-versus-player team deathmatch zone, though several such space stations can be captured to take control of various sectors in space and construct capital ships. Still, JumpGate Evolution already looked great. Even though more than 95 percent of the game takes place in deep space, the NetDevil art team has been tasked with making sure every area looks interesting and distinct from all the others. A lot has been done with colored lighting to create tinted gaseous nebulas and starlight, though there are also plenty of asteroid fields, planetary systems, and other areas of interest to make the far reaches of space easy on the eyes.
What There Is To Do: JumpGate lets you mine for space minerals and purchase new ships as well as upgrades for your ships. You earn money by running missions, trading resources, and successfully destroying any enemies you encounter, such as angry aliens or space pirates. The game will also have player-versus-player and high-end "raid" content in the form of battlegrounds, where players may either challenge one another or go hunting for huge armored capital ships that yield big rewards if brought down.
How The Game Is Played: As we mentioned in our previous coverage, you can control the game with a more-casual WASD keyboard setup that defaults to a momentum dampener so your ship doesn't drift as a result of inertia, though you can turn off the dampener and fly with full Newtonian physics, and you can use just about any recent flightstick or throttle peripheral. NetDevil is doing everything it can to support just about every modern PC gaming peripheral that's relevant, up to and including infrared trackers and lit keyboards that will change your keyboard's colors if your ship has taken fire.
What They Say: NetDevil doesn't have much to show at E3 that's visually new because the studio has apparently been focused on game balance (a new designer was recently hired to work on nothing at all except combat balance) and revamping systems that were adequate but not great (such as the mission system, which will now apparently have less exposition up front and will unfold, piece by piece, along the way). Brown also suggests that postlaunch, the two big priorities for JumpGate Evolution will be multiperson ships that allow for more than one player in the cockpit (such as one pilot and one gunner), as well as heavy-duty ship customization along the lines of the Forza Motorsport series for the Xbox 360, though the president confided that he's glad to be working with a publisher who understands that "you only launch once" and is giving the studio enough time to make sure the game is great before going live.
What We Say: Though it's disappointing we didn't get to see too many new things for ourselves, a lot of the new changes sound interesting and should hopefully help the final game a great deal. JumpGate: Evolution is scheduled to launch later this year.