Dev Diary: The Inspirations Behind Jumpgate Evolution

Steve Hartmeyer of NetDevil, Ltd., the makers of Jumpgate, Auto Assault, and upcoming titles Jumpgate Evolution and LEGO Universe joins us for the first in a series of developer diaries, this one delving into the question of…

The Inspirations Behind Jumpgate Evolution

In 1977, a boy named Scott Brown saw a movie that changed his life. A love of space and science fiction was born then that stuck with him as he grew to adulthood. The movie was Star Wars, and while its story thrilled viewers of all ages, its resounding success touched off a wave of popular space action movies, TV shows, toys, and games that entertained a generation. In 1997, Scott Brown founded a company to make computer games, and the first game his company would make was Jumpgate, an online space combat and trading game that released in 2001. Jumpgate drew upon ideas from several well-known space games that had come before, such as Elite, and Wing Commander, but Scott’s original inspiration was Star Wars, and his goal was to bring to Jumpgate’s online audience that same excitement of space fighter combat that so enthralled him as a kid.

Scott’s company, NetDevil, is now creating Jumpgate Evolution. Most of us on the development team share Scott’s love of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and other science fiction TV shows and movies, or books and games. The excitement and action we enjoy vicariously from these media are a big source of the ideas we’re using to create the experience we want our customers to have when enjoying our game. Our choices of special effects, scenery, or gameplay features all often arise as things we pull from our emotional memories are reprocessed and return to the surface, when we’re trying to think of ways to evoke excitement, tension, or just plain fun gameplay, within the setting of Jumpgate Evolution.

“Zeta Squadron, break and attack!”

Fighters in Star Wars flew in a manner reminiscent of aircraft during the Second World War, which was a deliberate choice intended to suggest the epic nature of the conflict depicted in those movies. The original Jumpgate development team was also inspired by battles in Space: Above and Beyond (1995), and Babylon 5 (1995), with their use of realistic physics for spaceflight instead of familiar, atmosphere-like flight. As a result, the flight model used in Jumpgate Classic and Jumpgate Evolution was built specifically to deliver the latter depiction of space combat. Scenes from Babylon 5, or from the modern remake of Battlestar Galactica (2003), showing fightercraft pivoting and shooting at targets perpendicular to their line of motion, or using thrusters to move vertically or laterally, represent the kind of tactical space combat that Jumpgate Evolution is designed to deliver.

“I do the job. And then I get paid.”

Jumpgate Evolution isn’t solely about fighter combat, though. Trading and manufacturing gameplay will be available for the pilot with a mercantile bent. Sources such as Joss Whedon’s Firefly (2002), the genre-founding classic Elite (1984), Wing Commander: Privateer (1993), and even the Traveller role-playing game (1977) are fondly remembered by many of us on the development team, and we’re working to also bring to Jumpgate Evolution something of the feel of piloting a tramp freighter, whether on the Kessel Run, across the Spinward Marches, or dodging Reavers far from the Core worlds. The satisfaction of a cleverly made profit, hopefully enough to replace that failing compression coil, can be just as fulfilling in a space game as blasting enemies into expanding clouds of plasma.

“Colonial Viper fighters, launch when ready!”

The moment of launch should be one of exhilaration and anticipation. TV series such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), and the original Battlestar Galactica (1978) captured this with launch sequences that included the sound of engines spinning up and visuals of the ship rocketing through a launch tube into flight. For Jumpgate Evolution, we’ve deliberately emulated these familiar old shows from the 70’s (perhaps reminded a bit by the recent re-imagining of Galactica) and we’ve modeled launch tubes, created special effects and sounds, and chosen timing that are all being combined to try capturing that great, heady thrill as your ship powers up and blasts free into space.

“…Closer to one of the big ones”

In Star Wars, Episode V and Episode II, there are great scenes where combat takes place within dangerous fields of asteroids. Ships dodge and weave around spacegoing mountains and boulders, cheating death while less-skilled pilots smack their spacecraft into the rocks and perish. To bring the white-knuckle excitement of this experience into Jumpgate Evolution, we’ve scaled up the asteroids considerably since Jumpgate Classic, made the clusters and fields more dense, and are deliberately arranging for some kinds of foes to take refuge among them. Players will be sent on missions to clean out nests of pirates or other hostiles among the rocks, or might choose to hide among the asteroids themselves, hoping to ambush other players in PvP action. “Threading the asteroids”, as performed by Han Solo, will be a very useful skill.

“Mission Update: incoming transmission…”

Players who enjoyed the iconic space combat game Wing Commander (1990) and its literal and spiritual successors, including the X-Wing series (1993) and Freespace (1998), know that in any good story or TV episode, not only do you have continuity, but the plot can suddenly twist and the mission you are on can suddenly prove to be nothing like you were told to expect in the briefing. We’re writing the new missions system for Jumpgate Evolution to build chains of related missions that a player can pursue, building a sense of story-like continuity. This system will also provide the possibility of changing goals mid-mission, occasionally offering some of the same surprise and dramatic effect, or at least consternation, of a good plot twist.

“You worry about those fighters. I’ll worry about the tower!”

Epic battles between capital ships have always been the high point of a fun movie or TV episode. We’re building technology into Jumpgate Evolution and its AI system to handle large-ship combat, not just dogfights, so that our players can have the experience of flying among dreadnoughts in a major engagement. It’s very important to us to support multiple combat roles, so that players can take part in any aspect of a major battle scenario, for both PvE and PvP fights. Some players might man strike craft on attack runs, others will pilot fighter escorts, and still others may perform recon duties or fly high guard over their side’s own base or cruiser, protecting it long enough for it to bring its big guns to bear on some enemy target. AI turrets and destructible capital ship components, as well as new missile systems, heavy ship-to-ship and point-defense weapons, and an effective and customizable combat HUD are just a few of the many exciting features being created to support this gameplay.

“Brace for contact.”

We’re drawing on many lessons and examples from good space combat games of the past, as well as NetDevil’s experience with the original Jumpgate since 2001, to try to construct the best gameplay we possibly can for Jumpgate Evolution. Ultimately, our goal is nothing less than to create a game experience that compares favorably in visual and emotional impact to the beloved movies and TV shows that are our inspiration, and delivers some of the same thrill and awe that we experienced seeing them.

– Steve “Istvan” Hartmeyer, Programmer

Quotes (in order):

(1) Cpt. John Sheridan, Babylon 5, Season Two, Episode 22 “The Fall of Night”
(2) Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly, Season One, Episode 1 “Serenity” (pilot)
(3) Flight Corporal Rigel, Battlestar Galactica (1978), generic clip, reused throughout pilot and series
(4) Han Solo, Star Wars, Episode V
(5) Pretty much any single-player space combat game of the 1990’s as bad news reaches the player.
(6) Luke Skywalker as Red Five, Star Wars, Episode IV
(7) Cdr. William Adama, Battlestar Galactica (2003), miniseries/pilot


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