We get to try out a beta version of the upcoming massively multiplayer space sim from NetDevil and 3DO.
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Massively multiplayer games have been coming under fire of late, as recently released games have had very rocky launches. The quality of online games can be unpredictable, and developers must struggle to fix any problems on the fly, after their products have already arrived on store shelves--resulting in a series of updates and headaches for fans of the game. Recognizing the problem, Net Devil and its recently announced US publisher 3DO have been taking their time with JumpGate, a massively multiplayer space simulation set within the deep reaches of space. The game has been in development for about two years, and extensive beta testing for the US version of JumpGate has been ongoing for well over a year. During the beta testing, Net Devil and 3DO schedule different events to test the game as well as the servers' capacity. For example, each Friday has become a stress-test day, where all of the beta testers attempt to log on at once, enter into a single environment, and watch how the game deals with having a huge number of ships in a single area. Of course, beta testing and an actual release are two different beasts, and unaccounted for problems could crop up after release. But even in its current state, JumpGate's gameplay is solid and offers as many features and customization options as any typical massively multiplayer RPG.
After going through the registration process, you're immediately launched into one of JumpGate's space station screens where you begin the process of constructing your first ship. Once your ship is ready, you have to choose from one of the three factions in the game, and unlike other massively multiplayer games that somewhat dismiss the role of factions, JumpGate's factions are in constant competition with each other. They also have advantages and disadvantages that come into play almost immediately. The first of the three factions is the Solrain, which is probably the most balanced of all the factions because of their ability to engage in just about any form of activity within the JumpGate universe. Solrain ships have larger cargo bays for undertaking missions that require you to retrieve items or to engage in trade with other players, and they also have impressive shielding technology that gives them a defense boost that players in other factions aren't going to have. The Octavius faction seems to be the exact opposite of the Solrain faction. Considered to be the mercenaries in the JumpGate universe, the Octavius faction has all sorts of internal political problems, which can make voyaging to new territories difficult since your political standing with the native faction may not be high enough to warrant passage through the area. But to counteract their political instability, the Octavius have access to an impressive array of weaponry, making it an excellent choice if you want to get off to a quick start and engage in combat right away. The last faction to choose from, the Quantar, have a major skill bonus that the other factions don't have: speed. Every Quantar ship is initially outfitted with an advanced engine that can reach higher speeds than any other faction can, and though that may not seem incredibly beneficial at first, you see how useful a fast ship can be after undertaking one of the game's first missions, which can involve one of the two NPC factions.
Missions and Medals
Though you can basically fly around the JumpGate gameworld and do basically anything you want, the real gameplay starts when you engage in missions. There is a surprising variety of missions to choose from right away, including basic missions that involve combat or reconnaissance to more complicated missions where you must deal with trade negotiations. Of course, when you're first starting out, all of the missions are fairly basic and only require you to accomplish a few simple objectives. For example, one of the first combat missions asks you to travel to a sector controlled by another faction and to take down at least two conflux ships--one of the NPC factions--along the way.
If you're not feeling up to the task of undertaking any of the available missions, or you want to try out higher-end ships, then you can enter JumpGate's simulator mode--accessible while you're in a station--where you can test a ship's speed, its weapons, or even try out some dogfighting. But even before you do any of that, you'll want to become familiar with how a ship controls. Surprisingly, JumpGate actually has a fairly realistic physics system where your ship continues to move in a particular direction even after your engines are turned off. As you might imagine, it becomes difficult to pilot your ship into a small airlock area, and collisions with the side of the space station are quite common for all young pilots.
The overall goal in JumpGate is to get as much money as possible so that you can buy upgrades for your ship, but even when you're not participating in missions or using the simulator, there are other incentives for being an active participant in JumpGate. These incentives are the statistics and medal systems. JumpGate uses a special Web site named JOSSH to compile statistics on every player in the game and post them on the site's main page. These statistics--such as kills, kill ratio, bounty collected, and duty hours--add a significant level of competition to the game, extending its replay value past hoarding money and buying upgrades for your ship. Along the same lines, you can receive medals for performing certain types of tasks. You can view all of the medals that other players have and what they've accomplished through JOSSH--you can make challenges to other players based solely on what medals they have or the medals they're missing.
The JOSSH site has already brought a strong community element to JumpGate, and it's strengthened even further by the fact that you or any other player in the game can form a special squad. If you join a squad, you have the benefit of being able to call for backup in case enemy ships surround you, or if you need additional pilots for a mission. JOSSH also gives each squad its very own site where members can post information or news on what's happening in the game, and what has happened to their squad recently.
JumpGate has a surprising amount of content to offer both space simulation and massively multiplayer RPG fans. Even in the last few stages of the beta test, the JumpGate community was already very active and should continue to be active after the game's release thanks to the JOSSH site. It only remains to be seen if JumpGate can remain stable in light of an onslaught of players to be brought about by a retail release.
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