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I Played Jumpgate Evolution for 60 minutes at GDC and all I got was this stinkin' mou

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by AeonGamer, Apr 14, 2009.

  1. AeonGamer

    AeonGamer Guest

    [drupal=30430]I Played Jumpgate Evolution for 60 minutes at GDC and all I got was this stinkin' mousepad![/drupal]

    When you've done as much investigative work on the details of a game as the editors at JGEWiki.com have, diving into the game for the first time is an experience unlike anything the drive-by fan will ever know. At NetDevil's reception on the 20th floor of the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco, most folks sat down and started flying from minute one, learning as intended by Scott Brown and the rest of the crew. I sat down and started looking at the keymap.
    "Okay, where is the control to turn off dampeners?"
    Those who have been following the development of JumpGate Evolution (JGE) for the last 18 months already know it but I'll say it anyway - this is going to be a very different sort of preview.
    By the way... the answer to my question was F12.
    This is the story of my first impression.

    The first 20 minutes
    In an interview with The Corporation over a year ago, much was made of the first 20 minutes of any MMO. This formative experience is what makes or breaks a game and anyone who didn't crawl out from under an asteroid yesterday knows that in JGE you are born in combat. There's no friendly NPC to talk to, no orientation, no hand holding - just a single command. Go forth and scratch your first bird. It's bold, it's probably bloody, it's certainly explosive, and it's one hell of a way to start. With that in mind, let's move onto the details.[​IMG]
    The mouse and WASD setup I played on was surprisingly responsive. Far more so than anything you may have experienced in "Jump to Lightspeed". That said, I wouldn't trade my flightstick for all the keyboards in Babylon. Simply being on WASD, my first impulse was to hold down or tap the W key to move around. No need rookie... it's a throttle... and it didn't take me long to work out that the ideal dogfighting speed is not 100%. Truthfully, a throttle between 60% and 80% is pretty ideal because there are some very "Descent" style controls involved in JGE (see the section on lateral thrusters in this article).
    I'll be honest with you here, I've played a lot of alpha and beta clients in the last twelve years and NetDevil's engine is a remarkable achievement. Framerates are high and the technical side of the client, with a few hilarious exceptions (like one tester flying his ship off the screen and not being able to get it back) it's ready for prime time. In terms of technical playability this is the most solidly built game engine I've ever seen in a pre-beta state. Hell, it's more solid than most engines after twelve months of release.
    On the other side of the coin, the interface and mission roster have a bug list like the catch-tray of an electronic zapper during a Florida summer. Rest assured though folks, this is the easy part of the tuning process. None of the bugs I found were game breaking but this is why the beta isn't ready for public consumption yet. I'm told the next build will iron out all the nits the testing group was able to pick during our play session and I have to say, I can't wait to see the result.
    As you read along, you may also consider checking out Azmyth's YouTube coverage of the GDC reception event.
    (I did suggest to one of the NetDevil employees that the blue arrow leading to the mission objective should be explained a little more overtly as it's relying a little too much on a new player's intuition to figure out what it is. You can enjoy watching me get flummoxed at one point in the first video. I'm told it's quite amusing)
    Once I had finished studying the full keymap for JGE, I was off and moving. I knew going in that the community would want to see a few things in particular tested/reviewed:
    Dear Pedants: It's "near Newtonian" flight
    A note to the pedants out there, before we continue. Many years ago, when first designing the D.A.N.C.E.R. flight engine, NetDevil made the stylistic choice to support near-Newtonian flight rather than pure Newtonian flight. Several problems arise in a pure Newtonian model, the most obvious of which are difficulty controlling one's motion through three-dimensional space (due to drift) and unlimited acceleration. By adding a small bit of drag into the equation, NetDevil has made JGE accessible to an audience beyond the "hard core space-sim" crowd while retaining enough drift that it requires pilots to develop real skill. Using dampeners (next section) will increase the drag-force effect, making it easier to pilot a ship but almost impossible to take on a pilot who understands how to use near-Newtonian flight in a combat situation.
    A new concept in Jumpgate Evolution, dampeners are a very different experience later in the game than in the beginning. The newbie shuttle I flew had roughly the mass of a Jimmy Crack Skull Paper model. That said, whether on or off, there just wasn't a lot of drift involved. When I questioned Scorch about the subtlety of the switch (which, for the uninitiated, is sort of like going from Mario physics to Newtonian physics), he said it's currently "disappointing" and the effect will be scaled up before the game launches. Suffice to say, that newbie shuttle won't do a 180 degree flip & backwards drift (Starfury style) - yet. On the other hand, the higher level craft are heavier and even the Rank 15 Solrain fighter I piloted had significantly more heft to it. As a pilot ranks up through the levels, the bigger and better spacecraft are increasingly endowed with more mass and, thus, are more susceptible to the advantages and challenges of drift in near-Newtonian flight.
    Boosters are also new to Jumpgate Evolution and are best thought of as the equivalent of an afterburner. The newbie shuttle, which reached a maximum velocity of around 168 units un-boosted, would launch to almost 770 with the boosters engaged. The bleed off when cutting the booster was very fast, requiring perhaps 7 seconds to fall back to normal velocity on an exponential curve. In addition, taking any damage whatsoever would immediately shut off boosters and begin what felt like a four second timer before they could be re-engaged. Taking continuous fire would render the booster unusable due to constant timer resets.Also worth noting is that the booster is a near straight-line mechanic. When engaged only the most subtle course corrections could be made so while it's a great tool for open areas you might not want to go boosting through a heavily cluttered asteroid field as collision damage becomes significantly more severe in the heavier ships.

    Lateral Thrusters
    Another new addition in JGE, lateral thrusters have been greeted with equal parts excitement and skepticism. The amount of force generated for lateral thrusters is fairly weak. They do allow strafing and quick dodging of objects (such as debris) without turning your ship but are not powerful enough to allow someone to fly sideways at anywhere near the full velocity of forward thrust.
    • Space bar is a brake
    • "S" will reduce throttle. Backwards movement is not supported. In order to move backwards, a pilot must turn off dampeners, accelerate, cut thrust, and spin around 180 degrees.
    • A pilot can move laterally up, down, left, and right. It's not serious thrust but-
    • Yes, you can essentially circle-strafe
    The idea of a circle-strafe will be anathema to many veterans but it's a fact of the new game and it's here to stay. From what I can tell though, it will be a pretty useless PvP tactic except for making flight a bit more erratic. I didn't get to perform too much missile-dodging but as AI is predictive, one might imagine that using lateral thrusters to make flight more erratic could be a useful tactic for both avoiding NPC fire and throwing off player's targeting computers, which use the same AI logic as an NPC would.
    The Targeting Computer
    Serious pilots will be glad to know that the targeting computer, while much improved from the "Duelist" ModX in Jumpgate Classic, is still no magic bullet. As we have discussed time and again both on the forums and the JGE Wiki, a pilot's targeting computer uses the same predictive AI as an NPC pilot. Whether or not the accuracy of the AI scales relative to rank, the same as an NPC pilot's skill, remains unknown. The fact is, the target lead can still be easily fooled with erratic movements in combat.The computer itself functions as anyone who has played a space sim might expect. A small red target lead will appear somewhere around the radius of a locked target once a player's guns are in range. Aiming at the target lead will, if the pilot does not make sudden course corrections, guarantee that the weapon fired arrives at the target on a perfect intercept vector. As has been theorized, tested, and implied, I will now state explicitly for the record: that the old advanced piloting tricks from Jumpgate Classic are still 100% relevant in the sequel.

    First Person vs. Third Person
    Among the more troll-worthy community flame ups in 2008 was the idea that a player in third-person view somehow had greater situational awareness than an immersion-focused pilot in first-person view and, thus, third person view should be eliminated.Personally, I didn't notice a significant difference in peripheral view between the two view modes. I can see where rendering in a cockpit might hinder a pilot's view a bit but in terms of situational advantage, honestly, this one is purely aesthetic. If the trolls need something to jump up and down about they would do better to scream "nerf triple-monitors" as they give an unbelievable peripheral advantage to a pilot who has invested in the right hardware.
    Not that I would in any way support removing 3-monitor play from the game. Frankly, it's how Jumpgate should be played. It's gorgeous.

    AI Scaling During Early Rank Progression
    Many of the folks lucky enough to play a demo build of Jumpgate Evolution have lamented that the AI seemed too easy and worried about how this might affect the quality of the game. The canned answer has been that the real AI in JGE is so damn good it would wax a newbie pilot all over the sector if it was put into the early zones. With that in mind, I paid particular attention to how the AI scaled between ranks 1 and 5 and I'm pleased to report that even in this limited timeframe I saw a real difference in how NPC ships reacted and coordinated with one another. [​IMG]
    In the opening mission, I won't BS you here, the Conflux I fought may as well have been in rowboats. That's okay because in the newbie shuttle, I may as well have been throwing darts at them. Either way, given the fact JGE drops you into the game with no instructions, no context, a picture of a basic keymap, and a directive to kill six enemy combatants this is probably a good thing.
    By rank five, the differences were profound. The enemies I faced were only moving a bit faster and were not yet aggressive unless fired upon but, once engaged, showed remarkable coordination. The weakest target would actively draw me after it while two or three more of its buddies closed in on my flanks and rear. Now I'll give you that my piloting skills are pretty rusty but if I flew like I'd expect most new players to I managed at best a 2:1 kill ratio. I died... a lot.
    I'll add this in closing - on the early AI a simple trick worked wonders. I simply held down one lateral thruster and circle-strafed my target at about 75% thrust. That completely threw every NPC for a loop. I'm hoping that won't work on the higher level missions and, having shown the technique to a couple of developers, I think it's safe to assume it won't.
    I'll say this too, as an aside. It's easy to die in JGE. In fact, it's far easier than it ever was in the original game and exponentially easier than it is in Eve Online. 5-7 deaths per play session might be too conservative a guess for an aggressive or solo pilot. I still don't know how the player economy will run properly with a no-loss-on-death mechanic (the current game works like WoW) but total loss, in this environment, would be a complete disaster.

    Mission Progression
    The opening missions that I played required no multiple-sector jumping or long haul escorts/transports. They alternated between "kill" missions and "inspect" missions with the later "kill" missions requiring me to collect dropped loot items. While this sounds to be pretty standard mission grinding (and on some level it is) the fact it is real time twitch combat makes it much more interesting. In addition, the soft-grouping mechanic did a great job of ensuring that kill-sniping was impossible since both parties got full XP credit for a shared kill, grouped or not. In addition, the sector-wide Dolby voice chat was really useful for figuring out objectives and teaming up on them. [​IMG]
    With all that good stuff in mind, I'll come around to my single biggest problem with the current Jumpgate Evolution build - I could only take one mission at a time. I won't kid you here, NetDevil. Forcing me to go back to the station after every mission, while each one lasts only about four minutes, was nothing short of soul-crushing. It seriously reduced my enjoyment of the game and the lack of what amounts to grinding efficiency was the most frustrating thing about the whole experience. Please, for the love of the Skein, give me a multi-mission log in the newbie zone! Really, I'd rather do 3x more missions than have to fly back to the station every time I want to progress. Besides this is what, the 40th century or something? Can't we just update missions over the wire and only dock to complete turn-ins?

    Player vs Player Combat
    I've taken a bit of heat from the community for things I didn't get around to testing but I have a good excuse. At around 7:45pm Scorch got busy showing off parts of the game no one had seen yet - and I took the bait. Seriously, that sort of exclusive first-look would draw anyone away from play-testing. When he opened up a PvP instance and told us all to grab a station... well that was just too much for any red-blooded gamer to resist. Testing the distance to open space, crashing into jumpgate petals, and attempting to figure out rudimentary manufacturing just went right out the window. [​IMG]
    I'm not sorry either. I'm glad to report that instanced PvP doesn't suck in Jumpgate. I had my doubts but the depth of thought that has gone into these mini-games is above and beyond any silly resource-collection counter in World of Warcraft. The one game we played was immersive, addictive, and just writing up this article makes me want to do it again. Allow me take you on a short tour of how it worked.
    We jumped into a repair & reload station on the edge of an instanced PvP sector. In the distance were three capital ships, one for each race, and they were generally engaging one another with NPC drones. The objective was obvious - be the last faction with a capital ship. Ah but here's where it gets interesting.
    Each cap ship had flight pods, Battlestar Galactica style, where dead pilots were revived. The catch was that the flight pods, like all capital ship systems, could be destroyed. Once they were down, any dead members of the crippled capital ship's faction would spawn all the way out at the distant repair & reload station where they jumped in. You see, this is the first death blow you can strike against a faction in this case because it really does take a minute to get back into the action even at full burn. Less experienced squads will just end up with a single-file line of incoming fighters being picked off one at a time on their way back into the action.
    There is another pair of twists that I should mention here.
    First. There are always three factions in a battle, meaning the strongest faction may find themselves ganged-up on by the other two. Having the wildcard of three-way fight makes things really interesting in terms of how a battle develops.
    Second. Capital ships are being upgraded in the next build. Light fighters will no longer be able to damage them with their puny guns and a squad will need heavy assault ships in order to take out capital ship components. Think of a B-52 here folks (or perhaps a Cylon heavy raider). An assault ship is a slow lumbering nuke. If it gets to your capital ship, it's going to do some real damage, but it's not fast enough to fend off light fighters so it is vulnerable to counterattack from fighter wings and in many cases also heavily defended by its own support craft. Oh, and one final note... don't bump into a capital ship, that's instant death. As in boom, done, go respawn. Collision penalties in the big leagues are no laughing matter.
    What NetDevil has managed to do with instanced PvP is commendable. I had no idea it could be so strategic, immersive, and to be honest, fun. I want more.
    Rest assured there is plenty of world-PvP to go around. Scorch showed us how space is divided pie-like into three slices, one of them being unregulated, and once again talked about sector control mechanics with the destruction of one faction's battle station followed by the three-way rush to build a new one. World-PvP should be just as vibrant and exciting as instanced PvP. However, it is something they are really working towards making right, which is why they haven't been willing to give us a glimpse of it yet.

    New Sectors
    Near the end of the night, with my Caltrain deadline looming (I literally sprinted to 4th and King to commute home), Scorch opened up what proved to be the biggest treat of the night. He pulled out a coded list of sectors both finished and unfinished and started teleporting into them. Three, in particular left me in awe.
    1. One of the sectors only introduced in a couple of screenshots includes a gigantic sun with huge animated solar flares. The sun is so hot that all the debris in the area is glowing white hot on one side. Scorch reports that this sector may include damage over time done to ships, requiring them to take shelter behind various asteroids or debris while their shields recharge. It's beautiful, it's dangerous, and I seriously wonder what they plan to put out in such a hazardous area. </p>
    2. We got a look at a fully formed Conflux hive. The flux, in JGE, have become less fishy and more HR Giger. They are increasingly creepy and to be honest, I was reminded more of Dead Space than the often cheesy Conflux from the original game. Scorch flew around the hive, taking out turrets. He went on to explain that the hive would be crawling with flux and all its turrets would need to be destroyed before the other critical components could be damaged. I'd wager a good guess that, like a capital ship, the upper-level flux hives may be immune to regular fighters too. Bring a few assault bombers and defend them well.
    3. The Amananth are not doing well. Their planets with swirling Dyson spheres look downright post-apocalyptic. We don't know why the Amananth brought humanity to their area of space and we're clearly meant to be a little bit terrified of whatever could wreak havoc on such an advanced race. This idea is translated very clearly when you see the level of decay in their technology. The real treat in the Amananth sectors though are the Asgard-like motherships cruising around. I don't know what they do or how lead designer Markus Krichel is implementing them in the game. I just know they are enormous and a serious bit of JGE eye candy. Drool.
    I'll pause for a final digression before I conclude. On the subject of manufacturing (that's JGE for "crafting"), we know that many high-end items need to be manufactured or mined out of very dangerous sectors. I suggested to Scorch that perhaps some of those components requiring gooey Conflux technology could be manufactured on a defeated conflux hive. He dug the idea and suggested they might actually be manufactured from the remains of the defeated Conflux vessels guarding the hive. Scorch, I don't know if you're reading this, but I would love to see that happen.
    Concluding Thoughts
    Having played the original Jumpgate from friends & family alpha through the end of beta and briefly into release, I have had a lot of mixed hopes and apprehensions regarding the sequel. There is a lot of trolling, nay saying, and general skepticism within the various factions of the Jumpgate community. I can't promise that this will be exactly the game that every single person is dreaming of, because those fantasies are just too varied to please everyone. What I can tell you is that the current beta build absolutely exceeded my expectations. The back-end technology was, as I said, some of the best I've ever seen in an MMO. The front end stuff, while a bit clunky at the moment is being quickly tuned and I'd imagine it will be on point in time for a June release. It was a bit disappointing to learn that UI modification will not be supported at release but the reason made sense. Essentially, until the fan base learns how the game works and gains a basic level of familiarity with the game systems there is a risk of completely destroying the JGE experience through bad mods. Like multi-player controlled capital ships, UI modification is something the developers have expressed a serious interest in pursuing. Community interface modding is near the top of the post-launch release list. NetDevil, above all else, has become a company obsessed with doing things right or not at all in the wake of their last two MMO ventures.
    Having gotten a pretty good idea of when beta is set to begin for JGE, I'll see you all in space very soon. That's a promise.

    Aeon (Ian Armstrong)
    Editor -
    Contributing Author, Stratics

    A special thanks to "Selbie" for editing this article along with the Wiki and making us all look like real professionals.

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  2. AeonGamer

    AeonGamer Guest

    Sorry about the formatting folks... I'm having Den figure out why Drupal is blowing up my HTML in bad ways.
  3. Nok

    Nok Lore Master
    Stratics Veteran

    May 12, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Hi AeonGamer,

    Nice article though. Good detail. I've been looking forward to JGE for a while now.

    Descent like flight could be interesting. I'm hoping JGE will have a lot in common with Freelancer, but as an MMO.
  4. AeonGamer

    AeonGamer Guest

    The engine doesn't strafe quite like Descent. It's more of a medium to slow drift. Still, quite useful when navigating tight spaces. Much improved over the original Jumpgate in terms of accessibility.
  5. Nok

    Nok Lore Master
    Stratics Veteran

    May 12, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Have you ever play Freelancer, Privateer, or any of the Wing Commander series? I'm curious how JGE's flight controls and gravity effects compares to those games.