It's not often that you see an MMORPG being played on three monitors. It's rarer still that you see it being played on three monitors for very good reason, as NetDevil's upcoming MMO, JumpGate Evolution, proved during E3. The developers were in more than a mild sense of panic as I stepped into their booth for my appointment. Their demo machines had been connected to the game's live server during the current friends and family beta test, but I can attest that E3's wireless is only remotely stable in the media lounge. After quickly starting up a server using one of the two demo machines, the developers began their demonstration.
At a superficial level, Jumpgate Evolution is extremely similar to EVE Online: stations as the downtime, and while you're out, ships can fight, explore, etc. However, the similarities quickly start to break down with the introduction of partial World of Warcraft-like factions and a much, much faster pace. The very twitchy action can even support flight stick controllers, for those desirous of more realistic play. In fact, one major feature of the game has been support for all kinds of advanced-play technologies; Some of Alienware's keyboards will change color in response to in-game stimuli, Saitek's in-keyboard LCDs can take some information off the screen so you can see more action, and multiple monitors will let you see what's going on from all sides, which will give players an advantage.
The basics of combat are a moderately realistic spaceship-to-spaceship combat system. The different types of phaser, missile and shield represent the core, but movement is more important than anything else, for the game follows a true Newtonian model; just because you stop putting thrust on the engine doesn't mean you're going to stop moving. (Motion dampener items are available to allow you to break realistic physics, though.)
JumpGate Evolution's PvE is fairly standard, so missions, grouping and AI opponents are the norm. However, there is no instancing, and all bosses are world-based; the NetDevil representative compared the idea to Warhammer Online's public quests system. Further, there is no "tagging" of enemies, so if you're on a quest to kill an X number of enemies, enemies of that type killed by anyone while you're in the area count, so that you don't have to spawn camp. For enemies that have true loot tables, anyone who significantly contributes to the kill gets an individual roll at the tables, too. NetDevil representatives explicitly explained that they felt that this was a better way to handle things, because, as avid WoW players, they noted how seeing other players in an area usually felt like a bad thing (people stealing your kills), and they wanted to turn this right around to encourage cooperation on the fly, without requiring players to directly join a group as a prerequisite.
PvP involves some instancing, with fights inside of ships or rocks that can involve as many as 150 players. I got some hands-on time with PvP, and I played against AI opponents. I quickly noticed that shots were directly handled; no dice rolls or the like are involved, instead emphasizing first-person shooter-style skill. The Newtonian physics provide for some creativity and a lot of challenge. For example, my ship, with its front-mounted cannons, let me build some speed and then rotate to blast enemies to my sides while focusing solely on aiming. The match was a King of the Hill variant, though the developers promised other styles as well. The three-faction system also affects how many of the PvP battlegrounds are built.
The images I saw during gameplay were beautiful. Ship models look nice while avoiding ludicrous detail, with effects being controlled but not ignored. NetDevil explained that the game was being aimed to run on pretty marginal hardware, in hopes of catching audience segments that aren't supported by much of the overall market. Fights remained smooth even as they got rather manic, and stages were well-modeled, with the subtleties of their design affecting play. If you can see through the cracks in that wall, you can shoot — and be shot — through it.The developers hope to get Jumpgate Evolution into a more open beta by July, although what I saw indicates that they're much further along in terms of gameplay aspects than they were giving themselves credit for. Hopefully, upon completion, Jumpgate Evolution, with its fine looks and great ideas, will offer another decent shake-up for the always-shifting MMO genre.
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