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Jumpgate Evolution: An Exclusive Look at Crafting and PvP

Posted Fri, May 30, 2008 by Cody Bye

By Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

Every time I travel to a convention, it seems inevitable that I’ll run into the folks from NetDevil. Much like the Ten Ton Hammer staff, NetDevil has had a constant convention presence for years appearing at all the shows and always eager to talk about their upcoming MMOG project. For the last few months, the project that has received the most attention from the NetDevil crew is Jumpgate Evolution, a science-fiction based spaceship shooter that is hoping to embody all of the finer points of classics like X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, Wing Commander, and Privateer.

At this year’s ION Games Conference, I again had an opportunity to sit down with Hermann Peterscheck, Grace Wong, and Scott Brown, each of whom exude a nearly palpable passion for their upcoming game. As Hermann set up his laptop on our conference table, I asked him if there was anything new with the game since our last conversation at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Hermann’s answer actually surprised me.

The NetDevil developers are ready to launch into more in-depth discussions about JGE.

“For the last year or so, we’ve been talking about the accessibility of the game, and I think people really get that,” Hermann said. “What we want to focus on now is the really in-depth features, which I think are really important. These are the things that make me want to play the game.”

“What we’ve basically been working on is mining, manufacturing, refining, and the economy – basically the crafting system,” Hermann continued. “One of the things I’m pretty excited about is the mail system we’ve engineered.”

As he brought up the screen, he showed me a fairly intuitive interface where he could make a new message and attach items to it.

“Mail is basically what you’d expect, you can send items, money, and notes. But there are a few things that are a bit different,” he said. “The mail system actually interfaces with our mission system. With it, the mission can actually be more proactive and send mail from different events in the game. I think it’s a really cool way to push fiction towards the players.”

“For instance, you might be out killing pirates,” Scott added. “Your faction drops because you’ve killed so many of them, and they might send you a mail saying ‘We’re going to kill you! This will not go unpunished!’ Something like that. We think it’d be really cool to do fictional stuff like that.”

“One of the things we did was give items in Jumpgate real positions,” Hermann said. “Let’s say you open up your locker in a particular station and drop something in it. You would have to go back to that station to retrieve that item. We did this because moving things from place to place has actual value in Jumpgate.”

“When you buy something in the – let’s say Octavian – auction house, you have to go to the Octavian station to get it,” he continued. “Or you can go into the mail system and have a ship send it over. Then the Octavian station will spawn an AI ship and will fly your cargo through space to get it to you.”

“And if the ship gets destroyed, the AI will send it again,” Scott interjected.

At this point, red flags went up in my mind. The possibility for griefing people in this system would be enormous if people could actually steal your goods. I voiced this concern to Scott and Hermann.

Hermann was quick to respond. “No, no,” he answered. “That would be exploited like crazy.”

“Players might get things from the ship, but they won’t actually be getting your goods,” Scott continued. “That said, I think it’s fantastic that items actually have to fly through space and don’t magically appear in a person’s inventory. It has to actually get there.”

“If there’s a huge PvP battle going on in the area, it’s going to get toasted,” he concluded.

After the new mail and auction system was thoroughly explain, I asked Hermann and Scott what other areas of the game they’d been working on. Apparently, they’ve been pushing out a number of different systems, including a player reward set-up that’s very similar to the original Jumpgate’s medal system and a licensing system.

“We’ve also added tons of medals into the game,” Hermann noted. “For lots of things that you do, you’ll get medals. The license system is also something we haven’t really talked about before. You’ll need to get a mining license before you can equip a mining laser. However, different ships have different hard points where you can attach things, and certain ships may not have particular hard points where you can attach things. “

Even the concept art behind JGE is fantastic looking.

“You’ll need to advance those licenses in order to be able to mine all the different kinds of ore out there,” he continued. “The other side of licenses is your relationship with corporations. The way crafting works is that the different corporations will have different levels of access to what equipment they can make. So you get affiliated with a corporation, which allows you to build things at their buildings. That said, you have a limited number of affiliations you can have.”

As Hermann continued to explain, I found myself really interested in the different corporation structures. According to Hermann, a player could be allied with “Cromforge” (that’s a placeholder title) and have access to their equipment, but then players would only be allowed to make Cromforge equipment. Let’s say you need a certain component to make your next item, but it might only be built by a competing corporation. I was fascinated.

“The other aspect with crafting is that in a sci-fi game it’s hard to make people understand the exact function of what’s being built,” Hermann continued. “Crafting a piece of leather in World of Warcraft makes sense. But it’s hard to describe ‘plasma energy’ stuff.”

“So we thought it’d make a bit more sense if players associated pieces of equipment with the corporations,” Scott said. “They could see exactly what each corporation built so they’d know who to affiliate with.”

As Scott explained the corporations, Hermann was piloting the ship around one of their latest “sky boxes,” a brand new upgraded look for a battle station. When Hermann got closer to one of the stations, I immediately noticed some improvements made upon the original model. Not only was the station physically bigger, but each of the pieces were more detailed; it simply looked better than it did before.

“Our art team is a victim of their own success. They keep making things look good, so I keep making them go back and improve upon their old models.”

“The scary thing is, that’s actually half the polys of the old model,” Scott said. “They’re going nuts.”

From what I could see, the new station looked exquisite, much more like a city than what I had seen previously. When I looked closer, I actually realized that the fighter Hermann was piloting had a different look as well. I made a comment about it, and Scott chimed in.

“We’ve actually designed a variety of skins for each of our fighters as well,” Scott said. “We have red, chrome, and all sorts of other things.”

As the fighter pulled up to the station, it was readily apparent just how huge the actual station was compared to the fighter. In a word, the station was immense. Even the frigates, which could have held two or three fighters, were dwarfed by the massive building.

But that wasn’t the end of the structure. Along the sides and around the different areas of the structure, the station had all sorts of factories and refineries outside for players to use. Hermann maneuvered his fighter around each of the building and asked me to imagine what the space would look like with hundreds of ships flying around the structure. I commented that it would probably look like a beehive with hundreds of drones buzzing about the structure.

Eventually the conversation turned towards PvP and how that is going to play out in Jumpgate Evolution. “We’re going to have specific zones that have wide open PvP and zones that are PvE but have PvP objectives in them,” Scott said. “So you may not want to engage in the wide open PvP, but you can do the PvP objectives in the PvE zones so that you can still shoot other players but not have the constant battle going on. It’ll be by choice.”

“In essence, it’s going to be consensual. We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure it’s not a server choice. We really don’t want to split the community that way.”

“At the same time, PvP is tricky,” Hermann said. “It’s a religious debate. No one can win. The people who love PvE can’t understand why the PvP guys are so brutal. They’ll never win. At the same time, both populations are huge, so you can’t ignore one over the other.”

With the partial separation of the PvE and PvP space, I moved on to my next question, which had to deal with crafting and resource gathering in contested space. To put it simply, I asked Scott and Hermann whether gatherers would need to go out into PvP space to get high end materials.

“Yes,” Scott said emphatically. “The goal is that you have different types of equipment to build in the different types of gameplay areas. There will be particular items that are only built in PvP space and require elements only found in PvP space. Then there will be different high level PvE stuff. In some cases in order to build an awesome piece of equipment for PvP space, you’ll need to destroy a massive battlestation that takes a lot of players working together.”

“That said, we don’t want to force players to intermix their components,” Scott continued. “Nothing will have half PvP items and half PvE items. Whatever it is they want to do, they should be able to do it. We’re basically going to have items for PvP and items for PvE.”

Along with my questions about PvP, I was also really concerned about how players identify with their characters in the game. Without humanoid avatars, many individuals find it difficult to relate to their in-game personas, and I asked Scott and Hermann how Jumpgate was going to help players identify with their characters.

“We want players to make their own story,” Scott said. “We don’t want to write the story and simply inject the player into it. We want to give them a cool backdrop to play in. Do the factions hate each other or like each other? It’s up to you. Keith [Baker] had a really great idea in that he gave players three nations to play for, but he included all of these subfactions in each of the nations. For example, there’s a Solrain faction that absolutely hates the other nations, and their objectives are going to be very aggressive towards the other nations, even other players in PvP.”

Jumpgate Evolution hopes to embody the essence of classic space combat.

“On top of that, each of the subfactions may have their own particular art styles for their ships,” Scott said. “Everything you do is really geared towards unlocking different things in the game. If you’re doing PvP, you’ll be unlocking certain things. If you’re playing through missions, you’ll be unlocking different things. It’s really different between your playstyle and who you work for.”

When Scott mentioned being able to unlock different aspects through the various factions, I instantly wondered whether there would be any factions that rivaled one another. For instance, if you advanced in X faction you lost reputation with the Y faction.

“There are some that will be like the sort of Aldor / Scryer rivalry,” Scott said.

“You want to force choices in some instances,” Hermann continued. “If everyone can be anything at the same time, you’ll never foster cooperation. It’s psychological: If you’re allied with a certain faction you’re the enemy of another faction. It’s a deliberate choice, and you’ll want to group with players that are your allies after that.”

“And it’s really about helping players find the story,” Scott said. “If you’re flying and fighting with a particular group and you see another player group that’s an ally or enemy, you may want to find out more about that particular faction.”

With that, Scott and Hermann wrapped up their presentation. As a player of sci-fi based combat games, I find it incredibly exciting that with every demonstration I see of Jumpgate Evolution, the game continues to get better looking and more interesting. Now that Hermann and Scott are willing to discuss the more in-depth portion of the game, expect to see a number of interviews hitting the internet concerning the finer details of Jumpgate Evolution.


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