Jumpgate Evolution @ LOGIN Conference

During our waterlogged adventure in Seattle last week, we managed to catch up with Scott Brown from NetDevil to ask him some questions about the upcoming space MMO, Jumpgate Evoultion.

Every time we see Jumpgate Evolution, we walk away impressed and more eager than we were before to get our hands on the game. Walking away from our demonstration at the LOGIN Conference in Seattle last week, those sentiments remained unchanged.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten about you! In addition to our exclusive screenshots that we brought you yesterday, we have an interview with NetDevil President, Scott Brown. Enjoy!

ZAM: Hi Scott, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us.

Scott "Scorch" Brown: No problem!

ZAM: Looking back over the games NetDevil has produced so far, we can see they're not what we'd class as "typical" MMOs. Is this something that was planned from the start, or is there another reason behind it?

Scott: We feel that a lot of passion goes behind development of games. So when we started the company, we wanted to make games we wanted to play that nobody else seemed to be making. Of course this helps put us in a space that is not heavily saturated with competition too.

ZAM: Where did the idea for the original Jumpgate come from?

Scott: We were huge fans of a game called Warbirds and also the Elite/Privateer/X-Wing series of games and we wanted to make a game that could combine the online play similar to Warbirds but in space like the other games.

ZAM: While we enjoyed the first Jumpgate back in 2001, the game didn't experience the level of success that it deserved. Did this result in you encountering any problems in securing a publisher for the sequel?

Not really because once people saw the graphics, even early on, everyone was excited about the game. Also we were doing a lot of things that help cater to a broader player base and lowering the cost of investment for a publisher such as going for low system specifications on the server and client; therefore making it a very attractive project.

ZAM: As with EVE Online, the original Jumpgate suffered somewhat from repetitive missions and the absence of a strong story. How have these issues been addressed in Jumpgate Evolution?

We have a much stronger story now, with help from Keith Baker (the creator of Eberon for D&D) and we have significantly more focused PvP so players have even more reason to fight against the other nations.

Please, could you give us a brief overview of Jumpgate Evolution's storyline?

The back story is that humanity has been pulled to a new part of the universe, they don't know why and they don't know who lives here. The player comes into this story just after the first jumpgates have been built in this new part of space and first learn what has happened to their nation and then begin to define which role they want to play in this new space.

During a gameplay demonstration we attended last week, we saw a lot about the user interface - it was impressive, to say the least. One of the things we saw that we really wanted to know a little bit more about was the built-in voice communication. What's going to make it stand out from other games that have tried to implement voice communication?

Scott: Well, first off, it's included into the game, and so it's easier to use. Things like when you form up into a group, it automatically just puts you into a channel, or when you're playing PvP, you're automatically placed into a channel, or your guild can have a channel to talk. Aside from that, it's just quality. It's hard to describe without people hearing it, but Dolby has built voice technology that uses the bandwidth of other technologies, but sounds unbelievable. Typically, a comment you'll hear when you're on other voice tools is that, "oh you sound different in person!" you don't sound different in this. Whatever that means, whatever quality level you have to get to, they've somehow achieved that. You can actually really tell who everybody is, and the quality just amazing.

From what we saw, the User Interface looked really customizable and like you guys had spent a lot of time polishing it and getting it ready for players to enjoy. What kind of support will you guys give the UI community and the UI modders?

We built it with the goal of letting people mod the UI. There's still a little bit more work to do that, so I don't know if it'll be ready at launch, but all of our UI is built in flash. This is with the idea that anybody can build something with Flash and put it in the game. Now, there are problems, for example, if you do certain things in flash that might cause the game to perform really slowly. We've still got to figure out how to educate people or how we verify this so that you don't make a mod that I download and my game experience is destroyed. We want it to be easier than that. I think that there will be some work to do, but the goal is that, eventually, people will be able to, using Flash, make their own UI.

ZAM: From what we've seen there isn't any lack of variety in the kinds of ships you can pilot; however, we haven't seen anything massive. Will players be able to work together to obtain extremely powerful ships like the Titan line in Eve Online?

We wanted to keep the focus of the game to the cockpit experience. That's what the game is about, it's about flying these fighters. We have the capital ships that are on the order of between a kilometer and two kilometers long, so they're big compared to a ship. But there's nothing that dwarfs them right now in the game. You know, I think that just like with what EVE's doing, it will, over time, evolve to whatever it is that players are working towards. Do they like building the battle stations to control space? Is that cool? Do they want more things there? Do they want bigger ships? Do they actually want to fly the bigger ships? You know as much as it sounds cool to fly the bigger ship, I'm imagining it's kind of like one of those Battlefield games where you could drive the aircraft carrier around the island. Well it turns out that aircraft carriers are slow and they don't move very fast, and it's not that exciting a thing to do in an action game. In a strategy game, however, it's very cool, like in the EVE sense, or even in the RTS sense - it's cool to build that big unit that moves slowly and shoots everything, but when you're actually flying it? Maybe that's not so cool. We'll go wherever everybody wants. I think it will become obvious, as we get more players into the game and they've played for a while, what it is they want next. I mean, that's the beauty of an MMO, right? We're never done. We've been working on this same game for over ten years, so we've already learned a lot about it. It's an advantage we have, making evolution, because it's based on an existing game and we've already learned a bunch of those lessons.

We know that players will be able to pilot a wide range of ships in JGE, but how differently will each type fly? For example, what sort of chance would a cargo ship have in combat against a fighter?

Scott: The various ships all fly very differently; for example, while a heavy fighter might have much more armor and firepower, a light fighter is significantly more manoeuvrable and can stay out of the firing lines of the heavier fighter. A cargo ship would not really be meant to take on fighters one on one but they have their role to play in combat as well.

ZAM: As JGE is a "twitch" game, how much impact will players' ping times have on gameplay, and what steps have been taken to minimise ping times' effect?

Scott: We have spent extensive time working on our network code. Even the original Jumpgate had over 200 ships all fighting on a 9600 baud modem and we have learned many more tricks to ensure the highest quality play even with some less than perfect ping times. But don't get me wrong, at some point it can make a difference. Players should shoot for under 200ms ping for the best experience with acceptable game play closer to 350ms.

ZAM: Still on the subject of combat, does JGE employ an "open PvP" system like its predecessor, or has this been replaced with something else?

We are looking to include both PvP with flag and open PvP sectors in the game. Players can choose which maps to play in based on the type of game they want to play that day.

You've mentioned that, when it comes to players buying goods, the idea is that the majority of purchased items will be built by other players. Can you go into detail about the crafting system and how it will keep players engaged?

Well, what we tried to do is a couple things. One is that it's not wildly different than what they're used to, so it shouldn't be learning some brand new thing. There are some things about crafting in other games that just work really well, so we don't want to re-invent the wheel if we don't have to. So there's that, but then we've tried to make it a little more action oriented. I think we talked about this a little bit, but by putting crafting out in the middle of difficult places. Maybe you have to destroy an alien base in order to get access to one of their factories, which is the only place where you can combine these elements to make some certain piece that you use somewhere else. It's a different approach to crafting. Some of these things are out in the middle of PVP areas, so you have to defend the cargo ship while it goes in to build the stuff, and then gets back out of there while players could be attacking it. That's kind of the twist we're trying to put on manufacturing. We're trying to add the action element, not into the crafting itself where you're like, "click at the right time to make something cool!" but rather that the environment that you're in is dangerous.

ZAM: Is that going to apply to both group situations and guild situations? Like where you have some people for groups and even more people for raids to make much more difficult items.

Scott: I don't think we'll have any sort of PvE things on the order of needing a 'raid level' of players, like you won't need 50 players in order to be able to do it, but in the PvP sense, it's very unpredictable, so it could be anything. A guild could say that they want to corner the market on something by shooting anyone who comes near a certain area. That's more the way we want players to have control over that.

ZAM: Finally, do you think JGE's low system requirements give it an advantage over some of the other MMOs out there right now, and were the low requirements planned from the start or did they arise mostly from the game's setting?

Scott: We started this project with the goal of the lowest spec possible. Lower specs not only mean more players but they also mean we can render more players at once and still maintain a very high frame rate. High frame rate is a must for any skill based action game.

ZAM: Thanks again for talking to us, Scott. We're looking forward to Jumpgate Evolution's release later this year.

Thanks for reaching out; I look forward to flying with everyone in space soon!

Andrew "Tamat" Beegle


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