Greetings all! I’ve been asked to take a moment and discuss an exciting new feature we’ve been building in Jumpgate Evolution – Event Sectors. In a nutshell, an event sector is a non-instanced sector that is available to players for short durations (this could be once a day, once a week, etc. – depending on how rare we want a particular sector to be). Event Sectors emphasize immersive, repeatable content; content structured to blend player vs. player and player vs. environment while supporting each faction’s unique goals and ideologies and remaining fictionally relevant.
JGE is, at its heart, a game about massive space battles, and this epic scale is what our Event Sectors deliver: Hundreds of players and AI battling for control of key alien artifacts. In the coming paragraphs, you’ll get a glimpse of our design approach to this new game play feature.
We’ve all played MMOs with PvP environments teeming with abstract objectives that make game sense (a flag or a capture node) but have little fictional context. What is carrying that flag actually achieving in real terms? In truth, this lack of context is our problem with PvP in many current MMOs: Why do I care if that flag makes it to my base? And why the hell am I mindlessly repeating this act over and over? On JGE our goal is to provide fun, repeatable content that actually has some real context attached. And while I can’t talk about all of our plans for end game PvP just yet, I can unveil the role of Event Sectors in JGE and how they will support our goals. Here is a list of our goals for the Event Sectors in an easy-to-consume bulleted list:
- Immersive (in all aspects of the design – mission objectives, story, sector layout, etc.)
- Objective-oriented game play that exhibits both PvP and PvE goals
- Randomly accessible for short durations of time
Some of you may have seen a glimpse of our first event sector at this year’s E3. For those that missed it, we showcased the Octavian invasion of Beck’s Crossing - a Solrain city-sector. Our E3 demo was relatively simple in structure: Octavian players were ordered to systematically destroy the major structures in the sector in an attempt to position themselves for a final coup against the station in the sector. This assault takes a dramatic turn just moments before Octavius makes their push on Beck’s Crossing Station. A nearby moon – thought to be dormant for generations – erupts in a mighty explosion introducing hundreds of Amananth combat drones to the mix. The factions are immediately given new objectives to deal with this unexpected enemy.
From building the sector out we were able to do some internal analysis.
The Good: We quickly observed that players were immersed in their objectives and took actions in support of their faction. Our ability to shift the focus in a sector via an unforeseen twist was also a good indication of how we could play with future sectors. We can successfully deliver surprises to the player through a mission system that proved very flexible.
The Bad: The sector wasn’t very repeatable. If I participated in this sector on Monday night and reduced Solrain’s infrastructure to rubble, how did they rebuild that by Thursday afternoon? How can we expect players to be surprised by a legion of alien drones when the moon is blowing up every third or fourth day?
The good was very good – this concept works – but the questions raised in the process were daunting. We dug in and created new prototypes that attempt to solve the problems exhibited by their predecessor.
So, what have we come up with since E3?
We have recently brought several new event sectors online for internal testing and have learned a lot about delivering this type of game play.
- If you blow something up, you’d better have a good reason it’s back the 2nd or 500th time players see it. Or, alternatively, we can use our mission system to create these special events based on a combination of discrete actions – so that big blow up doesn’t happen very often and when it does – wow!
- Use AI to assist in opening and ending a sector. This isn’t a golden rule by any means, but we’ve discovered that using AI as the controlling “faction” at the start of an Event Sector serves as a great “The sector is online! Everybody get here!” time buffer that also gives us buckets of free context. Not only that, we’ve found a few interesting ways of ending sectors with a massive retaliation from the group of AI that you stomped when the sector became active. What? You thought those Hyperial zealots would just let you push them away from the alien technology they worship without calling in throngs of reinforcements? The AI gives us the ability to deliver a crafted experience while keeping things flexible.
- Communal goals for factions that are supposed to be at war with each other feel odd. We tested a few event sectors where factions worked together in the initial stages to either clear out the AI or rebuild something that was destroyed and it felt weird – so we cut it.
- Feature simple game play mechanics in a complex environment, not complex game mechanics in a simple environment. We plan on having a ton of these event sectors… we don’t want players relearning the game play mechanics with each one. We do, however, want them to be blown away by the environment each and every time.
- Massive ships are just freaking cool. What Solrain pilot doesn’t want to see all their hard work occupying an alien facility pay off in the arrival of a massive flotilla of Capital Ships emerging through some recently popped Anomalies? Perhaps Octavius and Quantar wouldn’t be too thrilled about it. But, I’d bet they’ll be given the chance to do something about it…
All of this isn’t to say that we have the magic formula. There is still a lot of testing and iterating that needs to be done and problems that need to be solved. For example, our current delivery system for Event Sector objectives is starting to show its limitations. We’re using a system that functions similarly to a normal mission tracker - a brief text-based display on the right of the screen that highlights your objectives. Our goal for this system is for players to quickly and easily gather the information they need in order to make an informed decision concerning their next move in the sector. Given JGE’s fast-paced dog fighting style, the text-based tracker just isn’t quick enough. This has pushed us to explore various methods to better convey the mechanics of a sector in small and easy to consume chunks. We’re now leaning away from the conventional mission tracker toward a more graphic/icon-based system that uses on-screen ephemeral text to update players of key changes and happenings. I think when we nail this – and trust me, we will – we will be able to make the Event Sectors all about the experience… The mechanics will be second nature.
In ending, I’d like to give you a very specific example of the kind of experience we’re going to be delivering in JGE:
Imagine, if you will... You’re a pilot working for The Company, Solrain’s foremost security and corporate protection firm. You get a call in from Targus Atcheson – ostensibly The Company’s lead science guy, but you know he’s a bit of a cold fish. Primus Channel, a sector known for its alien technologies, mobile sun orbit and remarkably unstable environment, has a small window of access.
Atcheson warns you of the danger (you have about two hours before the next cosmic flare rips through the sector), but tells of an alien factory sitting dormant and partially destroyed in the center... ripe with technologies unknown. He needs skilled pilots to help activate the factory and the recovery of its contents... You agree to investigate and leave Solrain Core immediately…
En route, you receive another transmission – this time from Morrison Viper, the commander of the operation. She’s curt (that’s her way) but her news is grave: The sector is overrun with Conflux, a strain of Conflux who have adapted to the rigors of Primus Channel. To make matters worse, reports confirm that elements from the Octavian Regiment – the Emperor’s elite guard – are already there (as are members from several of the Quantar Lordships).
You’re in for a hell of a fight.
You’ve got two hours to clear the Conflux from an area of the factory so you can repair its ports for the science dorks to work their research magic. Two hours to make sure that same factory doesn’t fall to the other nations…
You up for it?