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Dev Journal: Flight Dynamics

Posted by Jon Wood on Jan 09, 2008  | Comments

Dev Journal: Flight Dynamics -

In this new Developer Journal, NetDevil Programmer Steve "Istvan" Hartmeyer talks about flight in their upcoming MMORPG, Jumpgate Evolution.

Jumpgate Evolution owes the basis of its flight engine to NetDevil's first product, Jumpgate. Arguably a unique feature, the Jumpgate flight engine allowed the game to be distinguished as an online spaceflight simulator, rather than a run-of-the-mill MMORPG, which were only then (in 2001) beginning to be churned out by a nascent industry. Jumpgate's distinguishing element was that, as in prior spaceflight and combat games such as Elite, the Wing Commander series, the X-Wing series, Freespace, and Alliegiance, the player directly pilots their ship, often with a joystick instead of a mouse.

Though often described as realistic when compared with other games' flight models, the Jumpgate flight engine is neither strictly realistic, nor is it by any means arcade-style. Perhaps the simplest description is "playably realistic". Underlying the flight model is basic Newtonian physics: engines apply a force to the ship's mass, which accelerates in response. During experimentation with early builds, the original Jumpgate developers quickly recognized that a wholly realistic flight engine would be incompatible with their vision of hands-on flight. Strictly realistic spaceflight creates a demoralizing list of playability issues: unreasonably large potential speeds, impossible reaction times required of players, inability of ships moving at greatly different speeds to fight or even interact effectively, as well as complications to travel because of the need to slow down again to rendezvous with a destination, just to name a few of the problems. The ultimate goal of Jumpgate was to re-create white-knuckle fighter combat as seen in movies and TV such as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, or Babylon 5, so solving the gameplay problems by departing from the hands-on control paradigm just wasn't an option.

Read it all here.