GDC '08: Jumpgate Evolution First Impressions

NetDevil goes back to its roots with this action-oriented space combat game that's also a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

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SAN FRANCISCO--In 2001, NetDevil released Jumpgate: The Reconstruction Initiative, an online space combat game that was generally well regarded by the critics. After stumbling a bit with the failed Auto Assault, NetDevil has gone back to its roots with Jumpgate Evolution. This promises to be a revamped version of the game, with a brand new graphics engine and all of the lessons learned over the past six years.

A good way to think about Jumpgate is to imagine something like Elite or Wing Commander: Privateer, but with a massively multiplayer scale. You fly a small spacecraft--ranging from fighters to slightly larger transports--and go out into the vast expanse, travelling from system to system by a series of jumpgates (hence the title). In this fast expanse, you battle enemies and pursue quests that you get in space stations and other ports.

Jumpgate Evolution won't be a sequel to the first game, but it will be set in the same universe. The three original playable factions are back, as well as the Conflux, the universal enemy controlled by the computer. NetDevil gave us a short look at some of the action, like flying between monstrously huge asteroids, shooting down pirate fighters, and flying by gigantic space stations. The scale of the game is impressive, and one thing that NetDevil is thinking about for player-versus-player battles is to have capital ships in the mix. Imagine two capital ships approaching one another--guns blazing--and swarms of fighters (piloted by the players) mixing it up.

The controls and handling of the fighters is being tuned to mouse and keyboard, but there will be joystick support for the hardcore space fans. More importantly, the physics engine is being tweaked a bit. The first Jumpgate had a pretty unforgiving physics engine that would result in you slamming into objects and exploding. Realistic, but not too much fun. We'll see how the revamped physics will work, but we did see at least one collision where the fighter slammed into a larger object at low speed and bounced off.

Like any good MMO these days, Jumpgate Evolution will have a dynamic, player-based economy. Details are scarce, though. This was just a first look at the game, on an offline laptop in the middle of GDC, so it was all fairly rudimentary. Still, it'll be interesting to see where NetDevil goes with this game. We'll find out more in the coming months, and Jumpgate Evolution is aimed for launch in the second half of this year.

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