What JGE Can Learn from Sci-Fi Games
Jumpgate: Evolution is sort of a re-launching/re-imagining of the original Jumpgate which NetDevil released all the way back on September 25th, 2001. Never quite a blockbuster success, Jumpgate still has a loyal following to this day, and obviously the staff at NetDevil have a passion for the IP. Later this year (at least we hope so), published by Gazillion, NetDevil will unleash their new spaceflight MMO unto the public. A lot has changed in the industry since 2001, and NetDevil themselves have launched and closed another online offering in that time. And with the game still pretty under wraps, here are some of the major things we hope the developers keep in mind while crafting Jumpgate: Evolution.
Don’t Try To Do Too Much
One of the cardinal sins of sci-fi MMOs is trying to do too much at once. Being everything to everyone is actually a mistake that a lot of MMOs regardless of setting have made in the past. Drawing a comparison to their own deceased game, NetDevil would do well to avoid one of Auto Assaults faults. As fun as the car combat was for fans of AA, the tacked on feature of requiring players to create avatars was not necessary. Not only that, but when moving around in towns, the avatar based portion of Auto Assault seemed very awkward and poorly done.
It’s understandable why NetDevil felt the need to add it in, hoping that players would connect better with their characters if they had an avatar to reference, and that the MMO convention of towns and quest givers could be taken care of in a more believable fashion than simply having the world populated by thousands of cars. But let’s keep in mind the phenomenon that is EVE. EVE may be planning the whole Ambulation/Incarna update that will allow players to get out of their ships and walk around space stations, but the game has done just fine with nothing but customizable photos of the players’ characters.
The main selling point of Jumpgate: Evolution seems to be its space combat which has drawn comparisons to Wing Commander in the past. The core of the game seems built on the action and piloting your own fighter starship. If NetDevil concentrates on getting this right first, they can always add the other parts later, just as CCP Games has with EVE Online.
Get the Combat Right
Space combat is something altogether different than typical MMO hotkey-driven turn-based affair. The thrill of games like Wind Commander, X-Wing, and Tie-Fighter was all about just how much these classics made you feel like you were piloting a dangerous weapon and engaging in intergalactic dogfights. If Jumpgate is going to succeed, they need to come as close to this feel as possible, and even surpass it. The fact that NetDevil is aiming to allow massive warfare between players of three distinct factions boosts our hopes that they don’t screw this part up. In a game billing itself as an aerial combat-centric title, they’d better not.
Three Factions Please!
When you want to do Faction versus Faction PvP, simply having two sides has rarely worked out well. The best examples of factional PvP have been in games where at least three sides compete. Though not a Sci-Fi game, Dark Age of Camelot is a prime example. Having three factions helps to counter the unavoidable population balance issues that rear their head in a live environment but allowing the two underdog factions to often team up and take down the one with bigger numbers. If your game is going to have factional warfare, three factions is the way to go. Good on NetDevil for recognizing that early.
Make Space Purdy and Sprawling
Space… the final boring frontier. Think about it. Space may be a thing of wonder that most of us will never experience, but once the initial feeling of “Wow, I’m in outer space… wicked!” is over you’re left with a bunch of nothing surrounded by more nothing. A visually appealing and enticing game does not the dark reaches of space make.
To help avoid this conundrum, we’re hoping NetDevil is already using their art team to add some punch to the universe. Going back to point number one, it’s not as though there’s going to be any planetary expeditions in Jumpgate. Yet one of the things that help players make a connection to your world (or universe in this case) is being able to identify landmarks. Judging by some of these screens, the developers are already way ahead of us.
Additionally, it would be a big bonus if space was, you know… spacious. I’m not necessarily harping on any particular game with this one, but when I’m playing a game that’s supposed to take place in something so infinite, I’d better not spend too much time looking at loading screens. For that matter, I hope NetDevil can do as they hope and keep the game on one server similar to EVE Online so that all players can and will interact with one another. If you have to zone off your universe fine, but let’s not bog down the stars with too many instances and copies of instances, shall we?
Get the Mission Generator Right
Early on in its life, Star Wars Galaxies had a pretty robust (for its time) mission generator to help give players tasks to do out in the wild. Still what it ended up amounting to was “find this, kill/get/talk to it, and come back”. Jumpgate Evolution is touting a robust content generator that will make sure players never run out of quests to do. The skeptic in me worries that what will wind up being in-game is a system that pumps out quest after quest involving the merciless slaughter of space rats. I pray this isn’t the case, and I trust that the company given the reins on something as crucial as Lego Universe knows what it’s doing. But time will tell if my trust is well-placed.