Jumpgate Evolution: PAX Hands-On Report
At this year's Penny Arcade Expo, Carolyn Koh had the opportunity to get her first hands-on look at NetDevil's upcoming MMORPG, Jumpgate Evolution. In her report., she talks about controls, the feel of the game and how it managed to somehow avoid activating her motion sickness.
Netdevil showcased Jumpgate: Evolution at Penny Arcade Expo this year together with Dolby sound & voice technology and Plantronics’ new gamer head sets. I had been given a sneak peek at the game at the Ion Conference early this year but this time we were given the chance to actually fly a ship as Netdevil had set up 8 laptops to run off a local server, giving players the chance to play a few bits of an alpha build.
“Why and how,” I asked Herman, “did a graphics overlay for Jumpgate turn into a completely new game?”
“It took on a life of its own,” answered Herman. “We did one thing, and then another, then we wanted to put in all those things that we didn’t have in Jumpgate and before we knew it, we basically had Jumpgate II on our hands. We have a robust player economy system designed for Jumpgate: Evolution. Manufacturing (tradeskills) is in game as are Auction Houses, better AI, and just a slew of other features.”
I had seen the Battlestation (Boss Mob) fights at Ion and Herman now showed me a “dungeon experience” which was flying and fighting within a large meteor. With tunnels and pits, enemies behind corners, and with the ability to move in all three axes, it totally felt like a 3-D dungeon. Throughout the flight through the meteor, there were enough visual cues for me to figure out what was considered “Up” and what was considered “Down” in the game – and this was mainly conveyed by the direction other ships and objects were situated in free space of the meteor.
I was a little apprehensive as I sat down to play as I am susceptible to vertigo, otherwise known as motion sickness. I’ve never been able to play a space game. One roll in Wing Commander (1990) and I was done for. I didn’t do too well with space combat simulation games that followed either. Star Wars X-Wing / Tie Fighter? Privateer? Descent: Free Space? Forget it! So, you can’t blame me for getting excited when I found that I could play the entire newbie mission in Jumpgate: Evolution without getting sick. My take on Jumpgate: Evolution suddenly went from “Cool concept, nice graphics.” to “Omigosh, I can play a 3-D space flight game!”
Has this colored my perception of the game? Well it made me want to find out a lot more about it, and Producer Herman Peterscheck was there to oblige me, but first, the flight experience. Since keyboard and mouse was used, it was not as intuitive as it would have been with a joystick / throttle set up. With keyboard and mouse, W and S were the throttle controls, A and D strafed you right and left, R and F strafing up and down, and Q & E rolling you left and right respectively. Your mouse movement turned you, the left mouse button was your trigger and the Shift key is your Afterburn.
Ships have several stats: Power, Speed, Armor, Radar, Shield and Inventory (Cargo size) but not all were demonstrated. Your Shields and Armor contribute to your “Health”, the difference being that shields are recharged while armor is repaired. Once your Shields are down, your armor is the tin-foil between you and death.
Character creation at this time is very simple. Netdevil has put in a selection of avatar portraits, but is still working on the ability to do avatar customization, to create more of an avatar identity for players. I picked an avatar, gave it a name, jumped into my newbie ship and I was away. Visual cues were intuitive and simple to follow. The mission showed up in the UI, a discreet red flashing arrow cued me to where my targets were, a target ring helped me lock in on my target and when it came into optimum range, changed into a larger, flashing target ring.
The Damper was on as default and that assists newbies in space flight as it, well, “dampens” the physics of moving in zero gravity space, but turning it off allowed some neat maneuvering. I could throttle up, turn the damper off, and while still traveling in the same direction spin my craft around and fire at enemies in my wake. Très cool.
After I had destroyed all of my mission targets, a discreet green arrow cued me to where I needed to go to dock and complete the mission. I flew into a meteor just to check collision. Yes, it works. It also works when you fly into your target because you didn’t throttle back or avoid it. But once I got the hang of the controls after a few “How do I roll again?” type questions, I was enjoying myself and did not realize that I wasn’t getting motion sick! What I had not realized until I was done with the mission was that I had not felt disoriented once, watching Herman play the game. If playing a 3-D space flight game turned my inner ear balance mechanism totally out of whack, watching someone play was usually worse.
“We’ve been working hard on that aspect of the game,” said Herman, “Grace, our Business Development Manager is sensitive to motion sickness and so we use her to test a lot.”
Whatever you did, guys… don’t change it now. Anyone who has always wanted to play a space flight combat game but could not due to a sensitive middle ear, beta signup for Jumpgate: Evolution opened up in mid-August, and PAX is a good barometer for them to see how close they are to beta. The graphics look awesome. The game looks better each time I see it, especially for their mantra of keeping specs low for wider gamer accessibility, and the game is still in Alpha. Flying with keyboard and mouse was simple for me to get used to but I would love to try this with a joystick and throttle set up. From what I saw at PAX, Jumpgate: Evolution is looking good and it’s looking close.